James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has rejected the Inspector’s findings and has refused permission for the developers Starbones to build The Curve. Starbones can still launch an appeal against this decision.
The Curve was to have been built on small plot of land between B&Q and the Gunnersbury Roundabout. It was designed in two blocks, one of 25, the other of 32 storeys. It was to be 120 metres high, which is 100 metres above the level of the Terrace along the garden side of Gunnersbury’s two mansions. It would have contained 327 residential units (from studio to four bedrooms), five floors of offices and retail or restaurant use, and a two level car park basement with a car stacking machine for 82 cars and racks for 548 bikes. The public would have been allowed up to a viewing platform 10 times a year. The development would have been very light on amenities for its residents because the developers claimed to have taken into account the nearness and high quality of Gunnersbury Park.
Starbones had appealed against LB Hounslow’s refusal to grant planning permission. Kew Gardens, the Kew Society and Historic England all supported the refusal, so the inquiry was full of QCs and their juniors. As this development would have so damaged the experience of park visitors, the Friends submitted a case, I spoke at the inquiry, and guided the Inspector and the group around the key parts of Gunnersbury Park.
The Inspector found that “the visual presence of the Chiswick Curve, in views from the terrace at the front of the Large Mansion in particular, would cause harm to the setting, and thereby the significance, of the Large Mansion, the Orangery, and the Registered Park and Garden, as parts of the Gunnersbury Park Conservation Area.” He also accepted this case for parts of other local conservation areas and Kew Gardens. However, in the end he believed that the benefits of the development would outweigh the harms. The Secretary of State has disagreed with him.
The Inspector appreciated the design of the Curve (“On my analysis, the Chiswick Curve is a quite brilliant response to the difficult problems presented by the immediate context of the site”) and the “verve” of the proposal, and wrote: “In terms of its wider impacts, by reason of its height, and more particularly its design, the proposal would bring a legible hierarchy to the new layer of urban development that will be coming forward in the Great West Corridor.” The language in the report about the Curve is of a marker, a beacon (for high standards), a key gateway site, hierarchical discipline, and a massive uplift to the local area. Again, the Secretary of State disagrees.
There are long-term implications for Gunnersbury Park in the report. Part of the Inspector’s reasoning was that there will be eventually a building on that site, of at least 60 metres (LBH’s preferred height). There is an existing, old permission for a 16 storey office block – the Citadel – but a lot of doubt about whether it is worth reviving. The whole of the M4/A4 Great West Corridor will eventually be built up to at least that height, and sometimes more. This, and the fact that some of the new buildings are already visible, is one of the reasons why the Inspector rejected our case for the other views in the park. The Corridor will be an “Opportunity Area”, running from Power Road near to the Gunnersbury Roundabout to Gillette Corner in Osterley. The plan is to build 7,500 new homes and create 14,000 new jobs. Already an important place, Gunnersbury Park is going to matter more to a lot more people if this plan for the future succeeds.
You can read the full report (183 pages), and the letter rejecting it, here.
22 July 2019