The Woodlands site forms part of the White City Opportunity Area. This area stretches from Shepherds Bush to north of Westway. The southern half of the area is occupied by the the Westfield Shopping Centre. The northern half includes some large under-used sites, owned by different developers.
The Woodlands site (on Wood Lane) is the only part of the Opportunity Area that lies to the north of Westway (the A40M). The site was fomerly the home of BBC Enterprises, and was acquired by Imperial College in 2009.
As a site within an Opportunuity Area within the London Plan, the Mayor and Greater London Authority are involved in future plans, in addition to Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council as the local planning authority.
The Borough Council and the GLA drew up and published the White City Opportunity Area Framework 2004 as the guiding planning document for the area.
This document was adopted by the Council as Supplementary Planning Guidance in July 2004. It states Building height, which may generally rise towards the A40 and A3220 must be subject to detailed examination to ensure there are no adverse effects on the amenity of surrounding buildings, especially the setting of the listed building, buildings of merit and views. Subject to that, and as part of the overall design framework, consideration of tall buildings of exceptional design quality is encouraged;
It goes on to state ‘North of the A40 building height and massing must respect the adjacent residential area’ (see page 21 of the document).
Throughout the planning process for Phases 1 and 2 of Imperial West, planners at the GLA and Hammersmith & Fulham have chosen to ignore this key statement. Most people who look at the location for themselves would see it commonsense. The Woodlands site (which is the only part of the OAPF north of the A40) has low rise terrace housing to its north, and the Oxford Gardens Conservation Area to its east. To the west are the playing fields of Latymer School, and open views unobstructed by very tall buildings. It is an implausible location to consider for very tall towers.
In 2006, a consortium of private developers in the northern part of the Opportunity Area commissioned the Dutch firm of OMA to prepare a ‘masterplan’ for the Opportunity Area. The commission was project managed by Helical Bar, one of the major landowners.
Details of the resultant masterplan can be seen here.
This OMA masterplan, financed by commercial developers, came up with the concept of a cluster of very tall buildings next to the Westway elevated roundabout. These, it was argued, would form a ‘gateway’ to central London for drivers entering the city along Westway.
This theme of very tall buildings was carried through into proposals prepared for Imperial College, by a number of architectural firms which took part in a competion to prepare a masterplan specific to the Woodlands site, in 2009. The architects involved were Make, Squire & Partners, TP Bennett, Swanke Haydn, Hamiltons and Aukett Fitzroy. Four firms prepared proposals, and three of the entries proposed very tall ‘signature’ or ‘landmark buildings as part of their plans. One did not.
There appears to have been no local consultation with residents of the area about these alternative masterplans.
Aukett Fitzroy Robinson were selected as the preferred architect, and have subsequently been working with Imperial on the development at Woodlands.
As more detailed plans were prepared, and early discussions took place with the planning authority, Imperial decided to split their planning applications into two phases. Phase 1 involved the construction of 4 blocks of postgraduate housing, on the north of the site. Phase 2 includes the remaining buildings, including plans for the 35 storey residential tower. It was recognised that these building heights would prove more contentious, and were likely to run into problems with the Borough’s planning framework. Hence the decision to split the proposals into two phases.
Meanwhile, the Borough Council was part way through the long process of replacing its Unitary Development Plan (UDP) with a suite of updated planning policy documents, in the form of a Local Development Framework.
This updating exercise has run for several years. The new Core Strategy for the borough was the subject of a public inquiry and Inspectors Report in early 2011. The new Core Strategy was adopted by the council in late 2011 and is now a key planning policy document.
Joint work has been undertaken by the GLA and Hammersmith and Fulham on revising and updating the Opportunity Area Planning Framework for White City. Initial public consultation on a new draft took place from April to June 2011, and a second round of consultation was due to take place from October 2011. This was then delayed for many months. A second round of consultation (statutory) was due to start in early 2012, and then postponed until after the May 3rd London elections, and then rescheduled for July. To date, no such consultation exercise has started. The council now concedes that the 2011 draft WCOAPF has only ‘very limited’ material weight in decisions on planning applications. It has also admitted that the 2004 version of the WCOAPF has never been formally revoked and remains ‘extant’.
The Mayor of London’s London Plan is also a statutory plan against which planning applications are considered. Policies in Chapter 7 are particularly relevant to the siting of tall buildings.