Chiswick Curve Public Inquiry: Calling All Residents

Guest blog by Marie Rabouhans

As you will be aware, the developer of the Chiswick Curve is appealing against the London Borough of Hounslow’s Refusal of the 32-storey building and the media screens. The Appeal will be the subject of a Public Inquiry to be held in June. If, like me, you love living in this part of London and you appreciate the richness of our heritage, please attend the Inquiry. Over 200 people came to the public meeting we held about the Curve in April 2016 and this had an impact. The fantastic community support for, and response to, the Chiswick Timeline project is a recent example of local enthusiasm for our shared environment and history.

As Chairman of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Society I am calling upon Chiswick residents and our neighbours in Brentford and Kew to attend this Public Inquiry as it is immensely important for the future, not only of this part of the borough of Hounslow but also, more generally, of West London. The outcome will set the scene for other developments in the area. What is at stake is our precious heritage, the character and context of our neighbourhoods and the quality of our lives and those of future residents, including any who might live in the development at Chiswick Roundabout should it be built. Much of what is at stake is what will be lost —and it will be lost forever.

But why, I hear you ask, do I need to be there?

By attending you will demonstrate to the Inspector and all those participating in the Inquiry that this is a matter of great concern and importance to all of us as local residents. Your commitment in attending will send a powerful signal and provide great support to all those who are defending the Council’s refusal of this wholly inappropriate development. While members of the public will not be able to speak, your presence will speak volumes. A Public Inquiry on this scale is a rare opportunity to hear planning policy thrashed out in public. Come and listen to the arguments and see how decisions with major consequences for where and how we live are made.

The West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Society has been active in opposing the Chiswick Curve since early in 2016 and, in writing to the Inspector on the Appeal, we have maintained our strong objection to the proposed development (building and media screens). We fully support the Council’s refusal of the applications. WCGS has requested that the appeals against refusal of planning permission and advertising consent by LB Hounslow be dismissed.

The Society not only tries to protect and enhance the quality of life for those who live in our area, but we also take a lively interest in the broader community and our shared environment. We love our part of London and wish all those who live and work here or visit to be able to enjoy and celebrate its rich heritage and natural assets and appreciate the delightful human-scale of its residential streets. We are not alone, many others from statutory consultees such as Historic England and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, other resident groups and our MP, Ruth Cadbury have expressed their opposition to the proposed development at this site.

There is much background information about the development on our website but to summarise the major objections to the Curve relate to:

• Unsuitability of site for residential use
• Negative impact of building and media screens on heritage and low-rise residential areas
• Negative impact on traffic and public transport and lack of infrastructure

Before highlighting some of these issues, here is some key information about the Inquiry:

The Public Inquiry will begin at 10 am on Tuesday, 12th June 2018 at Brentford Free Church, Boston Manor Road, Brentford, TW8 8DW.
The draft programme for the Inquiry and other details are available on the Inquiry website:
More information will be made available on this website closer to the Inquiry start.

Weeks 1 and 2 The Council will present its case followed by the “Rule 6” parties, Historic England, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Kew Society. This will be followed by “third parties” including WCGS.

Week 3 The Appellant, Starbones will present its case.

Week 4 Closing submissions.

While you may not to be able to attend the Inquiry in its entirety, please attend as much as you can. Talk to friends and neighbours – you could, perhaps, work out a rota between you. Your support would be especially welcome on:
Days 1 and 2 (Tuesday 12th June and Wednesday, 13th June),
Day 7 * when the Society and other resident groups speak (Thursday 21st June)
Days 9 to 11* when the developer presents his case
Day 13* for the closing submissions (Wednesday 4th July)
*Please note that these later parts of the programme are subject to confirmation.

Comment on some of the issues

Unsuitability of site for residential use
We acknowledge the need for housing and welcome appropriate development. However, the development potential of Chiswick Roundabout and its environs is severely constrained by the extremely hostile environment (noise, air pollution, severance and visual intrusion) created by the major road network (especially A4/M4/N Circular) and by the sensitivity of the surrounding residential areas and heritage assets. The development potential of the appeal site itself is further compromised by its small size and “island” nature. We consider that the locality is, in principle, totally unsuitable for residential use. Any development on this site should be non-residential.

The measures proposed by the applicant to mitigate air and noise pollution for future residents of the development only address the internal environment of residential units. Whenever residents leave the building they will be exposed to the unacceptable environmental conditions of this site. This will militate against the residents adopting active, healthy lifestyles including active travel modes (walking, cycling) or engaging in social interaction.

The concept of a development where residents are encouraged to remain indoors is reflected in the developer’s Travel Plans that are inter alia designed to… try to reduce the need for people to travel in the first place (by provision of broadband internet to every dwelling to enable home working, online shopping). What quality of life will future residents have confined to their mechanically-ventilated, hermetically-sealed pods, looking down on the grid-locked Chiswick Roundabout? Leading the sedentary, socially isolated lives thus envisaged will be detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of such residents and to community cohesion. How can anyone reconcile such a dystopian forecast of life in the 2020s with the vision of our recently adopted Local Plan or that of the Mayor of London?

Negative impact of building and media screens on heritage and low-rise residential areas
The location of the site and the scale, height and design of the proposed development are such that it would be prominently visible from within the surrounding area. WCGS considers that the development would inflict severe and lasting harm on the natural and built environment of the area compromising its current qualities and undermining strategies for its enhancement. In addition to the harm to the visual amenity of the area caused by the scale of the building and the number and size of the digital media screens, the negative impact on traffic and public transport would be detrimental to the quality of life of local residents and to the visitor experience and hence to the viability of the visitor attractions.

The developer, on the other hand, claims that this clearly significant impact is beneficial on the basis of the architectural quality of the design and the scheme’s contribution to urban intensification. His approach is tantamount to saying that the despoiling of the wider historic area is justified because its time this heritage was ‘put in its place’ and made to offer homage to the grand urban gesture of the Golden Mile and the major road infrastructure.

Talk of heritage assets may seem cold and academic but Heritage is our inheritance – it is the visible link with our history – it connects us to where we live. I have lived in Chiswick for over 40 years and am actively involved in seeking to protect and enhance our natural and built heritage assets. The Conservation Areas that would be affected have been designated by this Council or by neighbouring Richmond in recognition of their value and the contribution their character makes to the context and quality of people’s lives. Buildings, parks and gardens are Listed in order to ensure they continue to educate, intrigue and delight us. World Heritage sites are designated by UNESCO in recognition of their international significance. The townscape is where we live –– our streets and homes and the ultimate “receptors” are people – us.

The views assessed in reports provide snap-shots from a specific point but the impacts would be felt over a wide area. We move and how we experience our surroundings is dynamic; this very tall building would not suddenly disappear as we move from the chosen view point. It would dominate the view as we walk down our street, relax in our garden, look out from our window, stroll through the park, across the green, along the river towpath or visit the cemetery. It would appear alien – demeaning and belittling the intimate, human scale of our neighbourhoods and destroying our sense of place. The change in scale is brutal and the impact would be inescapable.

What is at stake is what will be lost —and it will be lost for ever.

Marie Rabouhans
Chairman, WCGS
May 2018

Marie Rabouhans is Chairman of the West Chiswick & Gunnersbury Residents Association