The proposed buildings and the pitch layout will have a substantial impact upon the appearance and use of the Park. The last date for sending in comments is 23 December so we propose to meet by the main Children’s Playground on 19 December to walk through the plans with Friends between 10 and 11am. We know that is a big day for Christmas shopping but this is almost our only opportunity.
Applications to Hounslow Council for Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent were submitted in mid October; we were notified by email on 2 December, gaining access to the details on 4 December. We put up a news items on gunnersburyfriends.org that day with a short description and links to over 50 files. As they all had meaningless code numbers, making it impossible to identify what was what, we have renamed and listed them. Please note that a number of documents have had to be duplicated to meet the requirements of the two applications. The Design & Access Statement provides the best summary. To submit your own comments via the Hounslow Council Planning web pages you should use System Ref no P/2015/4519 or Planning Ref 00885/A/S32 in the search box for the Planning Application or P/2015/4520 or 00885/A/L15 for the Listed Building Consent Application. If you feel strongly, do comment; please don’t just rely on the Friends’ response as more comments help make the planning officers aware of our concerns.
An initial review of the documents suggests that these are some of the issues we have to consider:
The appearance of the sports hall The architects have chosen to use black painted timber cladding for the upper floor. They say “Black painted cladding was chosen because it is a traditional colour. Historically agricultural outbuildings and barns were black from being coated in protective tar so black has strong associations with buildings in nature. Black as a background colour can emphasise and appear to ‘lighten’ a bright colour adjacent to it. The green foliage of adjacent trees and of trees in the foreground of views of the building will be emphasized in front of a black background.”
The black cladding will make the building far too dominant and ugly. The justification for this choice is completely out of keeping with the nature of a public park. The Design & Access Statement reports that Historic England were concerned about uneven discolouration through weathering and about its durability. However they have been ‘reassured’ that the kiln-dried modified timber, factory painted, with a warranty life of only 15 years, won’t weather. The grassland falls away below it and this black upper wall will be seen from many parts of the park. In winter there will be no tree cover or emphasise-able foliage in the foreground. The architect’s drawings of the elevations in the proposals, which give a preferable impression of lightness and silver, are unfortunately wholly misleading.
Fencing and lighting The open field will have three, possibly four, fenced areas, two with floodlighting. The tennis court fencing will be 3-metre (10ft) high green plastic-covered chain-link with 15 galvanised column lights each 8 metres (26ft) high. The artificial grass pitches will have 4.5 metre (15ft) high fencing with 9 galvanised column lights, all 13 metres (43ft) high. The Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA on the plans) will have 3-metre high green chain link fencing, but does not appear to be floodlit. There are also plans for the golf course to move to the top of the field, and this site will presumably be fenced as well, but the golf proposals are not included in this planning application.
The visual impact of the fenced and floodlit artificial grass pitches The fencing and flood-lighting will also have a major visual impact on the park. One of Hounslow’s Planning Officers, Sean Doran, is quoted in support of siting the Sports Hall on the bowling green: the “location of the new sports hub is determined by two main factors; the benefit of using a part of the site that is previously developed and the fact that locating it here will not impact on the historic protected landscape setting, views within the setting to and from the listed mansions and other listed buildings/structures, and will not further remove any openness from the Metropolitan Open Land.”
The Visual Impact Statement presents several views of the fenced enclosures but none includes the floodlight columns, and the viewpoints chosen diminish the impact of the proposals. One of the most delightful experiences at Gunnersbury is to follow the route past the Round Pond to the Children’s Playground and, at the point where you stand by the Rothschilds’ polo mounting block, the whole western sky opens up in front of you and lifts the heart. The lowest horizon in west London, and not a tower block in sight. Right in front of you will be 15ft high fencing, which will do nothing for the “openness from the Metropolitan Open Land”.
Cycle routes within the Park The Transport Assessment (para 4.3.5) states “As can be seen cycle routes are provided within Gunnersbury Park. Full off-street routes are available close to the perimeter of the Park, whilst there is also a cycle route provided on a north south axis across the centre of the Park.”
This statement on cycle routes is repeated throughout the supporting documents, so either this is a mistake or the Ealing Project Team has briefed their consultants accordingly. At each public meeting where this contentious subject arose it has been only as a consultation, with promises that no decisions have been made. The Park’s Bye-laws clearly state that cycling is forbidden; other than issuing this map nothing has been done to change this.
Enlarged Car Park There are currently 130 spaces in the main car park, in two areas, one tarmac and the other a “grasscrete” type cellular surface). Another 153 spaces will be added by taking over the PHS/Greenscene site behind the walls. The existing entrance/exit at Popes Lane is deemed to be wide enough for two cars to pass and it is not possible to change it because of the boundaries.
This project provides a fine opportunity for upgrading the sports facilities and recognising how needs have changed since the Park opened. Such a chance is unlikely to arise again for another century so getting both appearance and disposition right now really matters, to ensure we don’t lose in the process the significant features we value today.