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.