The legal battle begins

Hammersmith & Fulham Council issued the planning permission for Phase 2 of the Imperial West development on December 21st 2012.   This followed on from approval by the council’s Planning Applications Committee in July, endorsement by the Mayor of London, and several months of negotiations between the council and Imperial College on the detail of the Section 106 Agreement.

The St Helens Residents Assocation sent the council a ‘letter before action’ in early January 2013.   Advice from leading counsel Gregory Jones QC is that the council’s decision to approve the Imperial West planning application is unlawful.  Subject to the council’s response to our solicitor’s letter, the association intends to apply for judicial review of the decision.

The potential grounds for judicial review are twofold

  • the council erred in law in giving any weight to the emerging White City Opportunity Area Planning Framework
  • the council acted unlawfully by granting planning permission for a development which is in conflict with is Core Strategy policy on affordable housing, without any or any adequate reasons and having misdirected itself as to the correct meaning of policy.

Followers of this website will know the background to the White City Opportunity Area Planning Framework.   Billed as a strategic plan for the whole White City area, a first draft was published for public consultation in April 2011.  This was the document that introduced and promoted the idea of a cluster of very tall buildings adjacent to Westway – a planner’s vision of a ‘Gateway to London’ intended to justify for the 35 storey tower on the Imperial West site and its proposed 32 storey companion on the fomer Dairy Crest site.

A revised version of the WCOAPF was due to be published in late 2011, well before decisions on these two developments.  But publication was delayed, to early 2012, then July 2012, then to the autumn.  The latest promise is that the revised WCOAPF will be the subject of statutory public consultation in ‘Spring 2013′.  By this time, the future of 3 of the main 4 development sites in the Opportunity Area will already have been decided.  Public consultation will be a token exercise, carried out after the event.

The council has already had one such Supplementary Development Plan (for the Shepherds Bush Market area) quashed by the High Court as unlawful, in an important judgment in May 2012.  The similar document for the Earls Court area is the subject of another application for judicial review, brought by the tenants and residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green.  In October 2012, Mr Justice Sycamore granted this latter application a full hearing, stating that ‘the lawfulness of the defendant’s masterplan for the area is clearly arguable and should be considered at a substantive hearing’.

So there is much water yet to flow under the bridge, in terms of the actions of Hammersmith and Fulham and the series of massive developments that its has encouraged along the H&F/Kensington and Chelsea corridor.   The courts move slowly, and it will be many months before these judicial reviews are decided.   In the meantime, Imperial College has its planning permission and local residents await the resumption of construction work on the site.

This website has sought to gather together the available information on the financing of the Imperial West development.   We have long argued that the commercial content of the scheme (including the residential tower, offices, and hotel) is excessive and aimed primarily at generating capital receipts and income streams for the Imperial College Fund.

A new issue over funding arises from the £35m grant awarded by HEFCE to the College in November, as a financial contribution to the Imperial West development.  When we asked what difference this injection of public money would make, the College responded that it would simply allow the works to start earlier.

There is no clarity as to what extra public benefit this £35m will bring, to a project supposedly being fully financed through a mix of College funds and private sector investment.  When the planning permission was granted to the College in July, the committee report stated that officers were confident that the scheme would be undertaken (i.e. its financial viability was assured).  When the College submitted a grant application to HEFCE a month later, for £35m, it stated ‘Without this contribution the College would be forced to postpone development of the Imperial West Technology Campus until the remaining funding required were to become available’.

Something is not right here.  We are pursuing these matters through a letter to the Chairman of the College Council, and through FoI requests to all the parties involved.

These are public bodies, dealing with large sums of public money, and we will not be fobbed off with inadequate answers.  A copy of our letter to the Chairman of the College Council (to which we have yet to receive a reply) is at this link SHRA to IC on HEFCE and financial viability. Dec 2012.final

If the public purse is contributing an additional (and unforseen) contribution of £35m to the Imperial west development, the least the College could do is to increase the element of key worker housing in the 35 storey tower, from its present one third.  Otherwise it appears that the College will simply need to raise £35m less via its financial partner (Voreda Capital) and the two partners will be able over time to bank the same sum as additional proceeds, and planning gain, from this controversial development.