We all know we need more housing in London

Guest blog by Cllr Andrew Steed

Ealing, like Hounslow, is now holding ‘virtual’ planning meetings. Cllr Andrew Steed took part in his first such meeting this week to speak out against a planning application for 42 flats on land currently used as a car park  in his ward of Ealing Southfields. Here’s his guest blog on the meeting.

I was speaking as Southfield Ward Councillor against the planning application for four blocks of flats: 42 flats in total on land currently used as a car park. The car park is used by over 70 leaseholders many of who work in businesses on Canham Road or Stanley Gardens. Most of the site is used by Factory Quarter residents, which is actually situated in Hammersmith & Fulham. However the impact of the flats will be felt by those Ealing residents living on Greenend Road, Hawkeshead Road and Worcester Drive.

We all know we need more housing in London, but that does not mean all applications have to be supported uncritically, and there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed: lack of amenity space and the flats being out of character. The issue of the car park, the building of a new underground car park, and where the existing cars are accommodated whilst the build takes place make the application less than straight forward.

Finally the big issue for local residents concerned the fact that nearly all windows had a south facing aspect, so Greenend Road residents would be overlooked by ninety windows and 27 balconies. Local opposition was organised by Don Tanswell, (the Chair of the local residents association) and by Nadia Nostrati who spoke against the scheme at the Committee. However, many other residents were involved making Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and by last Tuesday 270 people had made objections on the Ealing Planning Portal.

After presentations and some debate the Planning Committee decided to grant the application. We had hoped that we might get a deferral at the very least, but no. We knew it was not going to be easy, but seemingly it is ever more difficult for residents to put over an alternative view once the local planning authority has decided to recommend an application should be granted. This is partly due to changes in legislation and I suppose the most obvious example is that a developer can appeal a decision whilst an opponent or objector can not.

Money from developers for council projects is not a sufficient excuse for sub standard developments

The option of Judicial Review is far too expensive for most individuals or even group of individuals. But the problems go deeper than that. I mentioned the lack of amenity space. The shortfall was 60%. This was resolved by the developer making a £187,000 contribution as part of the S106 settlement. Another £13,000 payment was made for Carbon Dioxide offsetting.

The S106 settlement is used to mitigate the impact of new housing on the local community. In principle they sound good, and provide much need funding that would not otherwise exist. We do not know where that money will be spent, yet, but the broader point is: should we accept that a development can be left with a lack of amenity space for families and children? Should a developer get a free pass (OK, one costing £187k) to build sub standard developments?

Another area of concern is many of the Planning ‘rules’, are not rules at all, they are guidelines and guidelines can be adjusted and are flexible. In the Greenend Road application, the issue of privacy was a key factor. Most of the houses were a suitable distance from the windows of the new flats. But a number were not on both Greenend and Hawkeshead Roads and Worcester Drive. That is unfortunate for those houses as the average measurement meant that the criteria had been met. Or take the Ealing policy for 50% affordable homes in any new development. Conveniently the London policy is 35% in a fast track application-guess which policy was agreed?

In addition residents had a problem in trying to consult with Ealing officers, especially in trying to obtain information via FOI requests. This process began last year, in December, and was never resolved. Despite interventions by residents and eventually myself with senior legal officers at the Council, information was not forthcoming.

The final insult was the issue of site visits. As Ealing never fails to point out, site visits are not a statutory requirement, but, all councillors agree that they are very useful. They also provide an opportunity for those members of the Planning Committee to learn about an application and for residents to ask questions and make their feelings known. Due to lockdown there are no formal site visits, but councillors can make private visits. This is hopefully a temporary measure. The issue was complicated with this particular application as the car park is usually locked, so access is problematic. I believe that no member of the committee actually visited the car park. No member could experience how close the new build would be to the existing homes.

I have touched on just some of the problems with the application and attempts by residents to successfully challenge it. Does this all matter? I believe it matters very much, it undermines the trust in local government, it results in ‘jokes’ about councillors taking backhanders. The system needs to be as transparent as it can possibly be.

Cllr Andrew Steed is a Lib Dem councillor for Southfields ward in the borough of Ealing

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