The plan to build a 32 storey tower of mixed use, offices and residential flats, on Chiswick roundabout has been turned by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Planning permission for the skyscraper was initially turned down by Hounslow Council and went to a public inquiry last summer when developers Starbones appealed the council’s decision. Planning inspector Paul Griffiths recommended the tower should be built, but Secretary of State James Brokenshire has overruled his recommendation. He has also rejected the application for three huge digital advertising billboards beside the M4, which were intended to be part of the development.
West London’s special heritage
The Secretary of State said he was persuaded by the arguments put forward by Kew Gardens, Historic England and others that the building would just be too large and would dominate the skyline, ruining views of Kew Gardens and Kew Green and Strand on the Green. ‘The Secretary of State has paid special regard to the desirability of preserving those listed buildings potentially affected by the proposals, or their settings or any features of special architectural or historic interest which they may possess’.
The Inspector considered the development would bring a ‘massive uplift’ to the area. James Brokenshire disagreed. He accepted the argument of local residents groups, outlined at the Inquiry by Marie Rabouhans of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury residents association, that there was not enough public amenity space for 327 residential and office units, but the most telling argument for him was the harm to ‘heritage assets’. Kew Gardens, Historic England and residents groups at Strand on the Green and Kew Green argued that the views from the World Heritage site and the River Thames would be spoilt and that the huge building, which would have been the tallest in West London, higher than Trellick Tower in Paddington, would have dominated the landscape for miles around.
Marie Rabouhans, Chairman of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury residents association told me: “Obviously we’re delighted by his decision , but aware that there’s another appeal stage. I don’t know if he will appeal, but knowing his (Kim Gottlieb’s) track record he probably will’. The developers have six weeks in which to appeal the decision.
The Chairman of the Strand on the Green Association also expressed the group’s pleasure at the Secretary of State’s decision: “SoGA with its members other local groups and residents had mounted a spirited campaign to oppose the latest unattractive and overwhelming development and now hopes that any similar application submitted in the future will also attract the same close scrutiny that enabled The Curve to be rejected.”
What next for the Chiswick roundabout site?
This is a significant decision in terms of the impact of tall buildings, especially on potential future developments which will affect Chiswick. The capital has a housing shortage and Draft Replacement London Plan is looking to optimize the density of housing, with the possible provision of 7,500 new homes and 14,000 new jobs in the Great West Corridor ‘Opportunity Area’. But our area of west London has a number of sites of historical and architectural value: the Royal Botanic Gardens World Heritage Site, Kew Green Conservation area, Strand on the Green Conservation Area and Gunnersbury Park Conservation Area. All have a number of listed buildings. This decision sends a message to developers that, while recognising the need for more housing, and especially more affordable housing, it cannot be at the expense of our cherished heritage.
The Secretary of State has turned down this proposal on the grounds of its scale and mass but says ‘it could be possible for an alternative scheme with lesser impacts on designated heritage assets’. It’s not ideal to have a scruffy looking, derelict site welcoming people coming into Chiswick from the M4. In its closing submission to the Public Inquiry last summer, Hounslow Council suggested the developer’s earlier proposal the ‘Citadel’ building would have been preferable. The 13 storey office block, was approved by the council in 2002 but when the developers resubmitted their application, wanting more parking spaces, it was then turned down. Since then we’ve also had the ‘Octopus’, a ten storey office block covered in LED advertising, which was also dropped. Developer Kim Gottlieb, has been at the centre of all three proposals – The Citadel, the Octopus and the Curve, his plans becoming more ambitious as the residential market became more attractive.
The Secretary of State stated: ‘the Citadel scheme, should it proceed, would offer benefits in terms of job provision, and would comply with the Council’s emerging policy for this area’. It remains to be seen whether the developer will appeal, or whether he will be prepared to return to an office only development on fewer floors.