Chiswick Curve Public Inquiry – week two, objectors speak out

 

‘Narcissistic bling’

In week two of the Public Inquiry into the proposed development of a 32 storey building on Chiswick roundabout opponents of the mixed-used office and residential skyscraper outlined their objections.

Barbara Weiss of the Skyline Campaign, criticised the Chiswick Curve design as part of a current trend for a genre of ‘narcissistic … bling.’ Herself and architect, who has been member of the Royal Institute of British Architects since 1985, and worked on projects relating to the design and construction of Tall Buildings, including the Pittsburgh Plate Glass HQ and 101 California in S. Francisco, Barbara Weiss founded her own architects practice in 1987 – Barbara Weiss Architects, ‘an award-winning practice that is well respected for its high quality, highly bespoke design’ – which focuses mainly on residential buildings. She set up the Skyline Campaign to try and stop the development of Tall Buildings of poor quality or in inappropriate locations from ruining the London skyline.

Barbara has known the architect of the Chiswick Curve Christophe Egret since 1980 and describes him as a ‘personal friend’ but that didn’t stop her telling the Inquiry ‘the form, proportion, scale and character of the Chiswick Curve are in jarring contrast with the architectural identity typical of this part of West London. Clearly, the Chiswick Curve has been designed by its architects with the intention to create the greatest possible stylistic chasm between it and the prevailing historic character of the surrounding context’. While accepting that contrast is often a good thing in architecture, she said in this case it would be ‘hugely insensitive, disruptive and distracting’.

Barbara Weiss told the Inquiry a building such as the Curve promoted the ‘object’ rather than the ‘city’ as a whole and in pursuing this trend: ‘we are promoting isolated and isolating buildings, images of selfishness, greed and everything that is temporary, short-lived, and does not require commitment or meaningful social interaction’.

A recipe for mental health problems

Local residents’ groups also described the idea of living on a roundabout with no outside space – communal ‘winter gardens’ (enclosed balconies) rather than individual balconies to the flats and no space to relax in the immediate vicinity of the building as ‘isolating’ and depressing and likely to have a negative impact on the Curve residents’ mental health. They argue that a motorway roundabout is just not a suitable place for people to live, as residents would have to cross several lanes of traffic every time they went out in order to get anywhere and the nearest public space, the River Thames or Gunnersbury Park would be quite a hike.

Peter Eversden MBE, speaking on behalf of the London Forum which represents residents’ and community groups all over the capital, said: “This site is at a location of considerable noise, air pollution and dangerous access across main highways. It is not suitable for a building containing a large number of homes”. He referred to Policy 7.15 of the London Plan, which makes clear the link between noise and health and quality of life.

Computer generated images from the developer Starbones

Adding to the Chiswick gridlock

Peter Eversden received his MBE in 2016 for services to community engagement for residents in London and has immersed himself in the detail of numerous planning applications in the past. He told the Inquiry that the Curve does not conform with national policies of being safe and accessible; nor did it meet the criteria of having high quality public space. He also told the Inquiry that the local authority was not able to provide a sufficient increase in transport capacity to cope with the additional number of people using the building. “Adding a large number of people living on the site would exacerbate the current problems of peak hour temporary closure of Gunnersbury station due to overcrowding. The permissions granted for the accommodation with the development of the Brentford Football Stadium could bring the demand upon that station to an excessive level, without the addition of the residents on the appeal site”.

Martin Case from Brentford Community Council also talked about the impact on local infrastructure, pointing out that trains at Kew station were already full at peak times and that traffic around Chiswick roundabout went into gridlock regularly. “The application states, this is an isolated site, and we do not believe that 1200 people can enter and leave it at street level without disrupting the traffic” he told the Inquiry. “Access by public transport to this site is clearly inadequate”…. In a survey published last year of traffic routes in the UK, the stretch between the Chiswick and Hangar Lane roundabouts was found to be the most congested of any in the country, he said.

More than 1,000 homes already being built nearby

Martin Taylor of The Kew Society argued that the proposed Chiswick Curve development should be assessed in the context of other nearby developments. “This is only one component of this redevelopment contributing potential adverse environmental effects on the whole area. Unfortunately London Borough of Hounslow was slow to produce an overarching strategy for the redevelopment area and recent individual planning applications have been judged as though they are standalone projects”.

Other residential developments within the immediate vicinity of the Chiswick Curve include:-

  • Brentford Football Club Community Stadium (capacity 17,500) and surrounding tower blocks accommodating 910 apartments (now under construction).
  • Wheatstone House at 650 Chiswick High Rd. Redevelopment of the old telephone exchange to provide 95 flats (under construction)
  • Capital Interchange Way, Citroen site, – a development of 427 homes [planning permission refused by LBH, December 2017, but currently called in by The Mayor of London with a view to increasing the proportion of “affordable” housing].
    Capital Interchange Way – a bus garage with “enabling development” of up to 550 residential units. Although refused permission by LBH, an appeal or re-application remain possibilities.
  • Hudson Square – currently the site of a B&Q superstore, immediately behind the Chiswick Curve site. Reef Estates propose to develop 6 blocks of up to 20 stories for 200-300 flats, a hotel and student accommodation.

“In assessing the impact of the Chiswick Curve, the collective and cumulative effects of all these large residential developments (alongside the commercial redevelopments in the area) should be kept in mind” he said, “particularly the fact that they will generate more traffic and therefore more pollution”.

Computer generated images from environmental impact assessor Mike Spence

OK viewed fleetingly from the motorway, but not ok for us ‘groundlings’

Marie-Louise Rabouhans, the Chairman of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Society, speaking also for the Chiswick High Rd Action Group, the Grove Park Residents Association and Friends of Stile Hall Gardens, returned to the look and visible impact of the proposed skyscraper. Supporting the arguments of Hounslow Council, English Heritage and Kew Gardens, she emphasised the importance of our shared heritage in west London. While you might appreciate the Curve while passing it fleetingly on the motorway, she said for us “groundlings” we would not be able to escape the mass and bulk of this huge building. “A significant part of the “pull” of London is the great variety of what it has to offer in terms of its built and natural environments. It is essential that development enhances and maintains this rich tapestry rather than leads to an homogenised city of poorly distinguished areas, sterile neighbourhoods and an assortment of high-rise follies, competing for attention as they dominate the skyline”.

Richard Griffith, Chairman of the Strand on the Green Association, told the Inquiry that the Strand on the Green Conservation Area was renowned as “a particularly picturesque part of London”. He said: “The imposition of new multi storey high rise buildings between and above the roofline and the trees leads to an irreconcilable clash between the fundamental heritage aspects of an historic conservation area …and the intensity of rapidly changing modern London.”

The Inspector Paul Griffiths has until early September to make his report, which will then go to the Secretary of State for a decision.