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Ealing and Northfield

Paradise lost?

This Monday saw the final decision on Glenkerrin’s Arcadia development on Ealing Broadway. John Denham, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, came down against the scheme following the advice of the planning inspector David Richards. Quite what value Denham added between the date of Richards’ report, dated 6th October, and Denham’s announcement on 7th December is not clear.

For myself I am disappointed that a by no means perfect, but entirely reasonable scheme has been scotched. The perfect is too often the enemy of the good and Ealing may well regret this repudiation of its own future in the years to come.

Eric Leach of Save Ealing’s Centre is exultant on the WEN website, copied verbatim on Ealing Today. Typically Leach is wrong on his facts. He says:

It’s rumoured that Glenkerrin and Ealing Council’s costs incurred to fight and lose this inquiry reached £7 million.

Total nonsense. I could imagine that figure, or one like it, was Glenkerrin’s total fee costs for the whole design, engineering, planning and legal advice, etc. The Council will have had to spend some tens of thousands of Pounds in legal fees to represent itself at the planning inquiry. Anybody who complains about this needs to bear in mind that the Council would be liable for some significant costs if it took a misstep in such a planning battle.

Notably Leach and SEC are not linking to the actual planning inspector’s report – mainly because it is not the vindication that SEC would suggest. You can download it here from my blog here.

Leach’s main misrepresentation relates to the station. He says:

A good place to start would be SEC’s Vision for the centre. This Vision mandates the design and implementation of an integrated transport hub based around Ealing Broadway Station as a pre-cursor to any other spatial development in the centre.

On their site SEC repeat the trick:

For the Arcadia site, this means a scheme that takes fully into account the need for an integrated public transport interchange at Ealing Broadway station …

The planning inspector says:

I fully appreciate the desirability of adopting an integrated approach to development and transport planning, and national policy encourages that approach. Nevertheless I do not consider that it would be appropriate, or reasonable, to inhibit or delay a development of the appeal site which was desirable in other respects, provided the development itself would not prejudice the achievement of these objectives.

In other words this site does not have to carry the weight of solving all of Ealing’s transport problems. The kind of public transport interchange megaproject envisaged by SEC would run into tens if not hundreds of millions of Pounds. SEC cannot “mandate” this kind of sum.

The report’s conclusions on page 132 speak at greater length about the scheme’s positives than its negatives. The inspector says:

The evidence to the Inquiry demonstrated that the appeal proposal would deliver a number of substantial benefits, which would fulfil some important objectives of development plan policy. In particular it would maximise use of a sustainable brownfield site in a key Town Centre location, taking advantage of excellent existing and proposed public transport facilities available in Ealing, in accordance with Policy 3A.3 of the London Plan.

It would also contribute strongly to the Council’s regeneration objectives, by re-invigorating Ealing’s retail provision and reinforcing its status as a Metropolitan Centre. The retail and commercial units would frame attractive new pedestrian streets and spaces, which would substantially improve the permeability of the site, improve pedestrian links between Haven Green and the Broadway and repair the historic fracture created by the railway lines. Station Square, offering a much improved arrival space opposite Ealing Broadway station, and the new street framing the tower and spire of the Church of Christ the Saviour would be attractive new elements in the townscape. The widening of pavements on the main street frontages, and provision of new crossings would be of significant additional benefit to pedestrians.

The scheme would also deliver a significant volume of housing, again in a sustainable location, including a range of unit size and tenure, and a proportion of affordable housing, which has been independently assessed as the maximum the development can sustain and still remain viable. The signed S106 Agreement would deliver contributions to off-site provision of community and physical infrastructure which are made necessary by the development, and which I consider would be proportionate to the scale of the development and generally in accordance with the provisions of saved UDP policy 1.10.

Relatively few words are dedicated to the scheme’s shortcomings:

Notwithstanding these clear benefits, I consider that the bulk, massing and certain aspects of the design would be inappropriate in its surroundings, and would fail to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Town Centre conservation area, and the setting of Haven Green conservation area, for the reasons set out in full in my consideration of the main issues. The massing of development facing Haven Green, and the elevations to Ealing Broadway are of particular concern. The height of the southern elevation of the scheme would in my judgment also harm the setting of the Grade II* listed Church of Christ the Saviour, diminishing its role as an important Town Centre landmark. While I accept that, considered in isolation, the design of the proposed tower is of high architectural quality, I consider that it would not contribute to the distinctiveness and identity of Ealing, and would be dominant and overbearing in the predominantly low rise context of Ealing Town Centre and development surrounding Haven Green.

You might paraphrase this as “a good scheme, but too big”. It is worth considering what drives this “bulk and massing”. Sure it is profit. That’s what gets property developers out of bed in the morning, but profit is also what makes the world go round, so don’t knock it. Another key driver is all the public benefits we expect developers to pass on. The 79 social homes and some £10 million or so Section 106 contributions that came with this scheme, are also a major driver of the bulk and massing. The developer was asked to provide parking, and indeed there were many complaints that there was not enough, this drives bulk and massing. The cost of spanning the railway, which would transform the town centre in a very positive way, drives bulk and massing.

To fund a public transport interchange from this site would require you to drop the Twin Towers on it. If SEC want to be taken seriously it would help if they stuck to the facts first and then got realistic on the costs of public transport infrastructure.

5 replies on “Paradise lost?”

The plain and most telling fact is that the Council lost. Without the residents opposition, the Council would have won.

That logic shouts out that the Council must listen more carefully to the wishes of the residents, who by the simple nature of politics have a longer term view than politicians.

Try the consensual approach next time – hard though it will be.

Phil,

This is a credible attempt to try and describe a defeat as a victory.

Ealing needs an integrated transport hub built around Ealing Broadway Station. It didn’t need a by-pass in the 1960s; it didn’t need the Tram proposal in the 2000s; and it didn’t need Arcadia in 2009.

Listen to the residents of Ealing – it might help get you re-elcted in May 2010 if you did.

George,

The council did not lose – Glenkerrin did. The council’s formal, non-political, quasi-judicial role as a planning authority is to hold the ring. That is one reason why you don’t see planning decisions covered on the website like other council decisions. Authority in the council flows down from full council to the leader, cabinet and officers. In planning authority flows from the cross party planning committee. Planning decisions very rarely end up being consensual. They pitch opposing (typically private) interests against each other and there is always a winner or a loser. Politicians hate them because you always end up making someone miserable. Glenkerrin had the right to chance their arm and residents had the right to object.

The Ealing Conservative group and even the cabinet itself have a range of opinions on this scheme. There is not an Ealing Conservative group view on the scheme. I have expressed my own personal opinion. I think people appreciate direct talk from politicians so I think I will be around for a while.

Eric,

The famous integrated transport hub. Can we get real over this? Let’s pull a number out of the air – £200 million. That is four year’s worth of this council’s capital spending to give you an idea of size. That is totally unaffordable by TfL for at least ten years. No government will give it to Ealing in the same period. It is way too big for any one developer to fund, indeed it would take 20 Arcadias to fund through Section 106 – and remember the planning inspector said the Arcadia Section 106 bill was “proportionate”. Other words you could use would be right, reasonable and correct.

Yes, we should be smart about transport planning. Yes, we should lobby hard for Ealing. Yes, we shouldn’t do anything in the town centre that precludes transport infrastructure improvements. But, the planning inspector was clear and unequivocal that we can’t expect the Arcadia site to deliver an integrated transport hub. I don’t expect to see such a beast before I retire.

Phil
So you, quote, “pull a figure out of the air” and then say it’s far too high. Is this the sort of logic which has got you where you are Phil?
If so all I can say is “Oh dear!”

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