The tower reaches its full height

Imperial College held a ‘topping out’ event recently, to celebrate the near completion of the 35 storey residential tower at its White City campus, in Wood Lane London W12.

A local campaign which started back in 2012, in an attempt to prevent the onset of a series of very tall buildings in this part of London, clearly failed in its aims.  The western skyline of North Kensington and Shepherds Bush will within a few years join much of the rest of inner London – with a vista of a series of high density residential towers.

Imperial tower from Eynham Road


The decision by Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 2013 to approve Imperial’s planning application was followed by other development proposals at Phase 2 of the Westfield Centre, and at the adjacent St James scheme in Wood Lane.

The architectural merits of the Imperial development, as built to date, are a matter of personal taste.  So far there are few who see the cluttered mix of buildings in Wood Lane as examples of the highest standards of design.  Compared with what is being built by Oxford University, in the city centre, they do no credit to the College as a leading global academic institution.


Whether the residential tower will prove a financial ‘folly’ depends very much on the state of the London housing market over the next few years.  The lower third of the building was originally destined to house Imperial ‘key workers’ (junior academics and medical staff working for Imperial Heathcare Trust).  It is now being said that the College will retain the upper two thirds also for its own staff, rather than sell or rent these apartments on the private market.

Demand for apartments in this part of London, directly overlooking the pollution hotspot of the Westway elevated roundabout, is hard to forecast at a time when London house prices have stalled..  Other residential developments nearby, at the former BBC TV Centre and at the St James scheme dubbed White City Living, may prove a more attractive option for a reduced clientele of overseas buyers.

St James White City Living development, under construction

St James White City Living development, under construction

At the more affordable end of the market, a series of residential towers of  ‘build to rent’ flats have been granted planning approval along Scrubs Lane, by the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC).  Looking like a throwback to the 1960s these tower blocks (around 20 storeys high) have been hustled through the planning system despite objections from adjoining London Boroughs, in an effort to demonstrate that proposals for 24,000 new homes at Old Oak are a viable reality.

Imperial College is consulting on plans for its final two buildings adjacent to the tower on its northern site at White City, along with outline proposals for the 11.5 acre site that it purchased in 2015 south of the Westway.   The two buildings fronting onto Wood Lane will be a few storeys higher than when first approved in 2013, further overshadowing the ‘public square’ at the centre of the development.

Details of the consultation on the southern site are at this link

The plans remain at a fairly early stage.  An application for outline approval, setting parameters on building mass and height, will be submitted once this latest consultation has concluded.

Imperial College outline plans for the southern site at White City

Imperial College outline plans for the southern site at White City

This development, intended to be phased over a longish period, will include research and business buildings of 6-13 storeys, and two further residential buildings of 17 and 32 storeys.   The 32 storey tower is sited at the southern end of the site, close to Westfield and the Central Line, which makes sense.

This means that the original ‘vision’ of two tall towers creating a ‘gateway to London‘ for drivers approaching Westway, will never be realised (thankfully in our view).  First proposed by Dutch urban planner Rem Koolhaas in a 2004 masterplan competition for White City, the ‘gateway’ concept was always an idea that appealed to planning officers rather than to residents destined to live in the shadow of such towers.  The ‘gateway’ term, along with ‘landmark building’ continues to be used regularly in planning statements submitted by developers across London, in an effort to justify their commercial aspirations for building tall.

London’s second love affair with tall buildings shows little sign of ending soon, despite noises from the Mayor of London that future growth will be ‘good growth’.  The first love affair ended not that well, with the collapse of Ronan Point in 1968.  Lessons learned by those who had actual experience of bringing up families in tower blocks were later lost, and will take time to be re-learned.

Imperial’s 35 story tower will have its place in the history of London’s urban design, as the first example of a building of this height in a sector of London which had previously been spared anything on this scale. Time will tell how this place in history will be viewed.

Image of development at Imperial's southern site at White City

Image of development at Imperial’s southern site at White City

The folly grows higher

Construction on the 35 storey tower at the Imperial West development is now well under way – see image below.   ‘Building D’ has been re-badged as the I-Hub and was completed in December 2016.  Imperial have taken part of the floorspace for their own 18,000 ‘technology incubator’ and the first other tenant is Polymateria, a company that has developed a 100% biodegradable plastic

A second tenant, recently announced, is workspace provider Central Working.  This company already has premises in other parts of London, Cambridge and Manchester.   It remains to see whether all further tenants will add to the aspiration of creating of world-class scientific and biomedical cluster at White City, or prove to be more run of the mill commercial tenants.

‘Building C’ is the the Molecular Science Research Hub, housing research from Imperial’s Department of Chemistry.  This building is at final fitting out stage, and can be seen on the left in the image below.

We have great respect for the College’s track record as an academic body.  We simply wish that it would not behave like an aggressive property developer when it comes to the planning and design of its buildings, and their impact on their neighbours.

Imperial's 35 storey residential tower under construction

Imperial’s 35 storey residential tower under construction

Work has also started on the Michael Uren Biomedical Engineering Research Hub, which will include new technologies for the early detection, monitoring and treatment of cancers and in regenerative medicine.   Again the public benefits achieved by those who occupy the completed building will no doubt prove to be huge, but the College will have over-developed a smallish site and created a sunless ‘public’ square unlikely to prove of benefit to building users or the local community.

Other ‘community benefits’ agreed to as planning obligations between Imperial College and LB Hammersmith & Fulham are proving slow to materialise.  The most significant of these is the £4m cycle and pedestrian underpass, allowing a through route beneath the railway line for Shepherds Bush and North Kensington residents.  The start date for this project has been pushed back first to 2017 and now to 2019, and there is growing concern that it will never happen.

The residential tower will deliver 192 new apartments including 59 earmarked for Imperial key workers at below market rents.  With many new residential towers in the sales and construction pipeline across London, we continue to query whether the apartments built for the market will be filled.

House prices in Hammersmith and Fulham dropped by 2.3% between November 2015 and November 2016, and public concerns over air pollution have rocketed up the London agenda.  An apartment overlooking the Westway roundabout, a pollution hotspot, will not be everyone’s first choice.

Buildings C and D now showing their height and mass

These two buildings form the second stage of the Imperial West construction programme, following on from the four blocks of student housing, constructed in 2011/12.

Building C will be the main ‘academic’ building, scheduled to include 23,000 sq. metres of ‘office, research, education and and computation space’.  It is not yet clear how much teaching will take place at the Imperial West campus, or what student numbers there will be on the site.

Imperial West - view from Oxford Gardens November 2015

Imperial West – view from Oxford Gardens November 2015

Building D (see image above) is to be a part 6 and part 12 storey office building, part to be leased on the open market and part as ‘incubator office space’ for start up businesses ‘emanating from Imperial College research’.   

It is understood that this building will provide additional office space for Imperial Innovation.  This is a Plc launched by Imperial College a decade ago, which invests in bio-medical and technology companies, including many with connections to the academic work of the College.

Imperial Innovations describe themselves as follows: We are a technology commercialisation company, combining the activities of technology transfer, intellectual property licensing and protection, company incubation and investment. We are focused on the commercialisation of the most promising opportunities from a broad range of technology sectors, with particular expertise in therapeutics, medtech, engineering & materials and ICT.

The proposed cycle pedestrian underpass between Imperial West and Latimer Road, first promised as major community benefit in 2013, has now been rescheduled for construction no earlier than 2017.  This is despite planning applications being submitted to RB Kensington and Chelsea and LB Hammersmith and Fulham a year ago.

The project, which involves a £4m contribution from Imperial as part of the S106 Agreement with Hammersmith and Fulham Council, appears to have got bogged down in negotiations between the College, the two Boroughs, and Network Rail.

Meanwhile businesses in Latimer Road, and local residents who saw this as one of the few benefits to come out of the development, are having to wait.  The new planning policies for Latimer Road included within the St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Plan (see at should help to give a boost to the street.  But the underpass is also badly needed to increase footfall and public transport accessibility for the southern half of the street.

Meanwhile the proposed 35 storey residential tower (Building F at Imperial West) has its planning permission in place but construction work has yet to start.   The financial viability of this part of the development must be a constant source of some anxiety to the College and its development partner Voreda.  While property prices in Hammersmith were rising sharply a few years back, they are flat or dropping slightly at the moment.

The market for apartments in London tower blocks has taken a hit from the reduced number of overseas buyers (from China and Russia in particular).  The market flats at Imperial will have competition from the Stanhope scheme at the Television Centre and the St James development north of Westfield 2.  Cargiant is likely to be submitting an application for a development of 9,000 new homes on their site to the north along Scrubs Lane.

In terms of location, Imperial West cannot offer the attractions of a canalside setting and the open views of Wormwood Scrubs.  Nor the historic architecture and cachet of the BBC Television Centre (to which the BBC will be returning to occupy Studios 1, 2 and 3. Nor is it on the doorstep of Westfield and the Central Line, as the St James development will be.

Imperial’s residential tower will offer fine views of traffic on Westway, and levels of air pollution amongst the highest in the capital.  Entrance to the tower will be at one of the less salubrious spots along Wood Lane.  It is not going to be seen as the most desirable of a glut of similar buildings in London’s planning and construction pipeline.

Changes in the housing market, resulting from the Governments’s efforts to reduce the attractions of Buy to Let may also have an impact.  Following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, estate agents Mountgrange Heritage have been assessing the effect of the proposed 3% additional stamp duty on second homes and Buy to Let.  They comment: Locally it is not going to help new build schemes in say Wood Lane. Private investor purchasers are the back bone of these developments. We suspect the government is confident the boost in the help-to-buy scheme will take up the slack but we’re not so sure, it doesn’t do to turn away big investors.

Folly or not?  Only time will tell.



Imperial’s ‘minor material amendment’

The College has recently submitted to Hammersmith & Fulham Council a series of further planning applications.  One is a detailed application for the proposed Michael Uren bio-medical engineering centre, to replace the originally proposed hotel.

A separate application is for a ‘minor material amendment’ to the 2012 planning permission granted  in July 2012.  This was the crucial permission to the overall masterplan for the development, for Buildings C and D now under construction, and for the 35 storey residential tower.  This was the decision on which the St Helens Residents Association mounted a judicial review, but could not (quite) obtain a sufficiently favourable Counsel’s opinion on the prospects of success – needed for pre-event insurance to fund such a legal action.

Under the English planning system, applicants can submit an application for a minor material amendment under Section 73 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act.  There is no precise definition of ‘minor’.  This is left for local planning authorities to decide. But there is Government guidance that says the changes should lead to ‘a development which is not substantially different from the one which has been approved’.

The proposed Michael Uren building, replacing the approved 13 storey hotel

The proposed Michael Uren building, replacing the approved 13 storey hotel

We view the development now proposed by Imperial as ‘substantially different’.  Our letter to the Council, objecting to the application can be seen here SHRA to LBHF on Imperial 3 April 2015.V2.  This assesses the significance of the changes against a set of criteria used by Ealing Council.  Hammersmith & Fulham has no equivalent.

Comparing the proposed Michael Uren building with the original plans for a hotel, the changes are very significant.. The proposed use is wholly different.   Imperial have been careful to keep the building at 13 storeys, and you have to read the documents accompanying the separate application for the Micael Uren building to learn that the floor to floor heights have increased with a resultant building 29.5m (100 feet) higher than that approved.

The floorplans are entirely different, and the footprint 39% larger than the approved building.  The ‘public square’ (one of the claimed ‘community benefits of the development) has shrunk significantly as a result and will receive even less sunlight.  The density of development on the site, already higher than Canary Wharf, has increased still further. Wind tunnel effects, for pedestrians using the proposed underpass from Latimer Road to Wood Lane, will be severe.

We do not believe that Imperial should be allowed to make these changes as a ‘minor material amendment’ to the 2012 approval.  We believe that the Labour administration at the Council, which argued against the 2012 application, should require the whole masterplan to be looked at again.  We are asking for support from  Kensington and Chelsea Council, following their strong objections to the building heights in the 2012 proposals.

We believe that the financing of the scheme should be scrutinised further, and the £35m grant from HEFCE and the £40 donation from Michael Uren taken into account in fresh negotiations on the S106 Agreement (see posts below).

We believe the College should recognise that the proposed residential tower would be far better located on its additional landholding south of the Westway, closer to the Central Line, the new housing developments on the St James and Westfield sites, and where it would sit amongst other tall buildings rather than overshadowing two storey terraced housing.

The details of this planning application can be found here, and that for the Michael Uren building here.  The application for the minor material amendment tells one nothing of what has changed from the original approval – another reason why it should be refused.  You have to look at the details for the Michael Uren building to appreciate what is changing.

The deadline for comments is Monday 27th April.


Biomedical engineering centre replaces hotel

Imperial College has dropped plans for a 13 storey hotel on the northern part of its landholding at Imperial West (i.e. the former Woodlands site). The College will instead be using this part of the site for the new Michael Uren Biomedical Engineering Research Hub, financed in part from a £40m bequest from former alumnus Michael Uren OBE.

This building will be on that part of the site for which outline approval was granted for a hotel in July 2012 (Building E in the approved masterplan).   The architects are Allies and Morrison (also the architects for Westfield 2).

This is the third set of architects designing buildings for this site, following Aukett Fitzroy Robinson (designers of most of the buildings) and PLP Architecture (designers of the 35 storey tower and technology transfer centre). Difficult to see how this will make for a coherent ‘campus’ but Allies and Morrison are a well respected firm and can hardly make the overall scheme worse than the original proposals (see below).

Visualisation of the completed development

Visualisation of the completed development

Imperial has retained the same PR Consultancy (Quatro) as for the earlier Phase 2 proposals.  There will be a Public Exhibition of the proposals for the Biomedical Engineering Centre on Thursday 20th November (3.00pm-8.00pm) and Friday 21st November (1.00pm-5.00pm) at the Community Hall, Shinfield Street, W12.  We hope to have sight of the plans before then, and will add any information that we can get hold of.

Relocating the hotel to the southern part of the site, nearer White City Underground and Westfield, makes obvious sense.  It will also increase the academic, as opposed to the commercial content, of the Woodlands part of the campus.  We will continue to argue that the 35 storey residential tower should also be moved south of Westway.  Here it would be much less prominent, amongst what look likely to be a group of 28 storey residential towers in the St James development on the former M&S site.

Potential buyers of the apartments in the tower are also more likely to be attracted to a building closer to Westfield and the Central Line, as compared with a very unsatisfactory location right next to the slip road to the Westway elevated roundabout.

The 35 floor Imperial Folly will be competing for sales with nearly 200 other very tall residential towers in the planning pipeline across London – all likely to come onstream at a time when the city’s housing market looks to have peaked.  There are only so many overseas buyers out there.

Imperial College has a new President, and we have written to her suggesting that she has a fresh look at the current proposals and whether they will serve the College well.  You can see our letter here StQW to IC President Sept 2014  No reply, after a month, but we live in hope.

The new Michael Uren building will require a new planning approval.  A planning application is due to be submitted in the New Year.  We feel that this will be a timely moment for the Labour administration at Hammersmith & Fulham Council to review in depth the Imperial West masterplan, and the details of the Section 106 agreement entered into by the previous administration at the Council.

The financial viability of the development has changed significantly since planning approval was granted in July 2012.  The College has subsequently received a £35m grant from HEFCE towards cost of the buildings, and now a £45m donation from Michael Uren.. The public have a right to know how the overall deal now stacks up, and whether the scale of community benefits from the scheme (including key worker housing) remains sufficient.

News as of July 2014

The members of the Imperial College Council seemed to take little interest in our last letter and suggestion (see the post below) that Londoners are becoming increasingly disenchanted at the prospect of some 230 additional very tall buildings across the capital (of which Imperial Folly features as No.29).  Chairman Eliza Manningham Buller responded to us briefly to say that College Council members could of course attend the exhibition organised by New London Architecture if they wished to.  But no change of plan so far on the proposed 35 storey tower.

Meanwhile, one of the big shocks of the May 2014 local elections was that Hammersmith and Fulham voters chose to return a Labour council.  This has caused reverberations amongst the developers at Earls Court, and in the White City Opportunity Area.  No longer can the council be relied upon to deliver planning permissions that meet the commercial aspirations of developers as opposed to a Borough which aims to achieve a fair share of affordable housing and other community benefits for its existing residents.

Our most recent meeting with Imperial has told us the following:

  • on the original Imperial West site, plans for a hotel have given way to proposals to use the proposed hotel site as a location for a new bio-medical engineering centre, part funded from a £40m donation from former Imperial alumnus Michael Uren.  This is a welcome step, in that it will increase the ‘academic’ as opposed to the commercial content of what has always been portrayed as a ‘university campus’ (see earlier posts).  But no news yet on the height or bulk of this new building.
  • a fresh planning permission will be needed for this new building.  Will Hammersmith and Fulham Council take the opportunity to review the content of the S106 Agreement signed in 2012 on the current scheme?  Since this was negotiated, the College has received a £35m grant from HEFCE and a now a further £40m donation towards the cost of the overall development. These are not small sums.  It is hard to believe that these contributions, along with  the continued rise in the London housing market, have not improved the prospects for the overall profitability of the development?  Is a 35 storey residential tower still needed to underpin the costs of the academic element?  Is it right that only one third of this tower should be ‘key worker’ housing, with no social rented element and no further contribution to affordable housing in the area?
  • The College has taken a new line on what information it now posts on its website, in terms of papers presented to the College Council.  Until this year, reports as well as minutes were posted.  Now only the minutes appear.  We were a regular reader of the reports, and cannot help feeling that this change of policy results from our close interest in the College’s property deals.  As a global university which still includes in its mission statement the aim ‘to engage with the world’, we cannot help felling that this is a backward step in terms of openness and transparency.
  • The College has resolutely refused to provide information on the financing of the Imperial West scheme, in response to FoI requests.  This is despite the fact that it is a public body, non profit-making, and with charitable status as a university.  We are not asking for all the detail – simply the basic figures that will reassure local residents that the Imperial West scheme is a development premised on the public good rather than commercial profit.
  • The next major construction phase at Imperial West will start this autumn, with the ‘Research and Translation Hub’ towards which £35m of public funds is being contributed via HEFCE.  Voreda Capital are again the partners of the College, within a joint venture vehicle the terms of which remain obscure.  As local residents suffer a further bout of construction noise, and heavy lorries thundering along Wood Lane, we would appreciate the courtesy of some financial figures from the College.

Imperial may be a global university commanding respect across the world.  But is it continuing to fall down on the basics of an open approach to those who will be its neighbours at Imperial West.

The new council at Hammersmith and Fulham will make a difference to the future of the Imperial West scheme, and to the other major developments in White City.  There are signs of hope that the voice of local residents will be listened to more closely, and that the voices of the property consultants and financial advisers commissioned by Imperial in recent years will be challenged more robustly.  Let us hope that these expectations are fulfilled.

London’s Growing Up

This is the title of a study undertaken by New London Architecture, on the impact of new tall buildings appearing across London.   An exhibition at the Building Centre in Store Street, London WC1 includes photos and models,showing the impact on London’s skyline.

Most of these buildings have yet to be constructed.  Some 130 now have planning approval and a further 100 or so are at earlier stages in the planning process.

It is a wave of tall buildings of the like the capital has never seen.  The exhibition and report traces why tall buildings fell out of fashion, and the reasons why this trend has sharply reversed.  These are to do with shrinking construction costs and London’s ludicrous residential values.  Over 80% of the 236 buildings covered in the study are residential towers, rather than offices.  This boom in tall building is not about servicing the accommodation needs of the City.  It is about what maximises profit for speculative developers.

To what extent these towers will provide actual homes for people is a hotly disputed issue in London.   Increasing evidence points to the high proportion of new-build apartments sold off-plan and offshore, treated largely as a way of banking capital, and occupied for only a few weeks a year if at all.

The tower at Imperial West features at Number 29 in the study.  Its proposed companion, the 32 storey tower approved as part of the Brickfields development just south of the Westway, features as Number 27.

While the Brickfields project will not be built as approved (Imperial College having since acquired the site) there is every sign that the College will exploit the building heights and densities of the planning approval that it has inherited.

Most of the very tall buildings in the pipeline in London are clustered on the South Bank (Vauxhall and around the Shard), in the City, or in East London boroughs (Tower Hamlets alone has 23% of the total).  There are few in inner West London, apart from Paddington Basin.  Imperial College, backed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, appear determined to create a new cluster all on its own.  Development at the Old Oak HS2/Crossrail hub north of Wormwood Scrubs will doubtless follow.

One of the most powerful parts of the exhibition is a display of the views of London from several key vantage points, such as Greenwich and Primrose Hill.  Using time lapsed images, the skyline fills with the 236 buildings in the study.  As the report says, in its dispassionate and understated way, ‘the scale of the change revealed in the study will come as a surprise to many’.

The future view of Vauxhall is below.  Others can be seen in the Guardian piece at this link

The view of Vauxhall

Will the tower get built?

Imperial College is due to restart construction on the Imperial West site within the next few months.  The building involved is the Research and Translation Hub, for which the College has been granted £35m from HEFCE for towards the cost.

No timetable has yet emerged for the building of the 35 storey residential tower.  The financing of this project, and how its construction date will align with the ups and downs of the London housing market, must be exercising the minds of the College Council.

The Financial Times reported earlier this year that more than 150 high end residential towers are planned for Central London.  These include very large developments at Battersea, Vauxhall and Kings Cross.  There are growing voices warning of a glut of supply, and that new developments in non-traditional areas will be the first to suffer from falling prices.

An apartment overlooking the Westway elevated roundabout, with its entrance adjoining the ramp to the roundabout and at a desolate spot on Wood Lane, unsafe at night, is not the dream home of every offshore investor.  Yet it is these investors on whom the Central London housing market now relies, to keep prices way above what many economists see as the true value of residential property.

We would again urge the College to rethink the location of the tower in the light of its additional landholdings south of Westway.  This southern part of their combined 22 acre site is closer to Westfield, the Central Line at White City, and the new housing development now being planned by St James.   It would be a more salubrious location, with better shops and facilities nearby.   And it would place the tower amongst what will inevitably be other very tall buildings, within the St James and Westfield 2 developments.

Until the Imperial Folly starts rising out of the ground, residents of North Kensington live in hope that the College Council will think again — and that this blight on the horizon will never be built as currently approved.





White City planning framework finalised – but how little has changed…

Hammersmith & Fulham Council on October 23rd will be adopting the final version of the White City Opportunity Area Planning Framework.

This will become a Supplementary Planning Document to the borough’s Core Strategy, and will be taken into account when decisions are made on planning applications for sites in the Opportunity Area.

The document has been through two rounds of public consultation, one in early 2011 and one in mid 2013.  In the long interval between the two, the council granted planning permissions to developments on most of the key sites in the Opportunity Area.

These included the Imperial West scheme (with its 35 storey tower), the Helical Bar scheme (32 storey tower) and the next phase of Westfield (20 storey tower).

In response to both consultation exercises, local people said they did not want to see very tall towers in this part of London.  The idea that it was somehow ‘appropriate’ to build a cluster of very tall buildings alongside Westway, as a ‘gateway to London’, has been widely derided and received no support in the consultation responses sent in the council.

Has the council taken any notice, in finalising the planning framework due to be approved next week?

If you read the Summary of Consultation Responses (on the council agenda) you might think the council would be making changes to final version of the planning frameworkl.  Council officers summarise the consultation responses as saying: 

The overwhelming concern expressed relates to guidance in theWCOAPF regarding building heights. Whilst there is some support for more flexibility regarding where tall buildings can be located in the opportunity area the majority oppose the building heights as being excessive and express concern regarding their impact on surrounding areas especially the impact on conservation areas.

Of most concern are the two towers proposed in the indicative masterplan on either side of the Westway and their detrimental effect on the skyline and their impact on local residents to the north and east including residents in RBKC and the Stable Way traveller’s site.

If you read what has actually changed in the text of the OAPF, as a result of this response from the public, you will see that the answer is very little.  Below is one of two textual edits to this part of the final document:

Slender towers of approximately 21-30 storeys (up to 100 metres) would be appropriate along the Westway has been changed to read Slender towers of approximately 21-30 storeys (up to 100 metres) could be appropriate along the Westway.

As before the document blithely ignores the fact that the council has already approved two schemes with 35 and 32 storey towers in this location.  Why has the wording not been amended to reflect current reality (as it has elsewhere in the document?)

Answer – because the council knows that buildings of this height have stretched national and London Plan policies beyond their legitimate limits, and they do not wish to acknowledge this in what will become part of the Borough’s statutory planning framework.

The only other textual change to this part of the document is as below:

The indicative masterplan identifies the limited locations where taller buildings might be suitable has been changed to read The indicative masterplan identifies the limited locations where taller buildings would be suitable

Note that this change has been made as the final outcome of a two-stage consultation exercise in which the responses from the public have said the complete opposite to the thrust of this revision.

So that is it.  A long-drawn out process of public consultation on a strategic planning document, spread over several years and costing large sums of public money, and these are the end results?

This is why the general public has lost faith in the planning system, and in consultation processes that are required by Parliament but which can be rendered meaningless in practice by a council that wants to get its way.

The council made up its mind several years ago, in close dialogue with developers, about building heights in White City East.  It has refused to listen ever since.  

The one hope now is that Imperial College may prove a better listener.  The College has acquired the former Dairy Crest site on Wood Lane, so the prospect of the Helical Bar scheme being built on this site is now past history.

The College has appointed the international firm of Skidmore Owings Merrill to prepare a new masterplan for what is now a combined 22 acre site.   There is the prospect of a much more coherent plan, with better buildings, emerging to replace the currently approved schemes.

The College has shown a recent willingness to talk to the Hammersmith Society, the St Helens Residents Association, and the new St Quintin & Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum, at an early stage in this new masterplanning exercise.

A revised set of proposals could create a university, health, and science innovation complex of world class renown, and one that sits well alongside its residential neighbours.

But this will need the council to join with the College in showing greater respect to the voices of local people.



Imperial’s new partner – and source of funds?

As forecast in the post below, Imperial College has now confirmed its intention to purchase from Helical Bar the large site immediately to the south of the Imperial West development.

The combined site is now 22.75 acres.  It is not yet clear what sort of uses and buildings Imperial will choose to place on their newly acquired land.  But it is likely to be very different to the current Helical Bar/Aviva scheme, granted planning permission earlier in 2013, for the ‘Brickfields Urban Community’.

This was to have been a mixed use development of 1,150 housing units with some retail and offices.  Imperial are likely to go for further academic buildings, high tech business space, and perhaps more student housing.   They say they are ‘actively attracting academic and business partners to work alongside our world-class experts at the new campus. In this new ecosystem for education, research, translation and commercialisation, thousands of experts will fuse science and innovation to tackle global challenges’.

The Financial Times reports that the first if these partners will be the Chinese telecoms company Huawei, and that the joint venture will involve academics and business experts working together to develop ‘big data’ technology.

Huawei have been in the news recently, following the Edward Snowden revelations on the use of big data in the US for spying purposes.  Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has highlighted the central role of Huawei in Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure since it struck a big supply deal with BT in 2004.  

The committee’s report can be found here.  It criticises the fact that at the time of the BT deal, the security implications for the UK’s ‘Critical National Infrastructure’ were not flagged up.  The report recommends that current arrangements for reviewing cyber security at Huawei installations within the BT network are given a closer look.

So an interesting choice of partner for Imperial College?  We do not know the extent to which Huawei are involved in financing the acquisition of the Helical Bar site (for a reputed £100m).  It is not clear from what source Imperial are raising these funds.

The main hope for local residents is that this new opportunity to build on a site double the size of its original Woodlands acquisition will prompt the College to come up with a revised masterplan for the overall 22.75 acres.  It looks as though the original Buildings C and D of the current scheme will proceed later this year (as Imperial are required to spend their £35m grant from HEFCE within a tight timescale).

But for the remainder of the site, due to be occupied by the proposed hotel, 35 storey tower, and further offices for Imperial, why should there not be rethink?   The hotel could perhaps be sited closer to Westfield 2 and Shepherds Bush Green, closer to public transport links.   The 35 storey residential tower could be relocated south of Westway, where it would do less damage to views of the western skyline (since the redevelopment of the BBC TV Centre also involves a tall building).

The St Helens Residents Association and the new St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum (see at will be urging members of the College Council to take one step back and consider the potential of a 22 acre campus development that is really well designed, shows more respect for its neighbours, and is a lasting credit to a world-class university.

Current plans for an incoherent set of buildings at Imperial West, designed by different architects, fall a long way short of such a vision (whatever the College may like to argue on its website and in its promotional material).

Please lend support in our efforts to encourage the Imperial College Council to think again. You can email us at or leave a comment below.