Residents in Holcroft Court and Cleveland Street have received an early and unwanted Christmas present after a planning application revealed the true scale of a huge building development mere metres from their windows.
The residents are furious with Dukelease Properties, Assael Architecture, and PR company Four Communications, who stand accused of giving out false information and trying to obscure the scale of three tower blocks one of which will be twice as high as Holcroft Court.
The planned development is to demolish a two-storey commercial building — a triangular site which is well known for Banksy’s “If Grafitti Changed Anything…” on one of its walls — and construct a new commercial street frontage topped with 105 apartments in three tower blocks.
The plans for 87-125 Cleveland Street were first put forward in September with residents invited to view sketches of the proposed development. Residents and community groups were immediately concerned about the scale of the development and the inclusion of a new petrol filling station in the narrow Clipstone Mews, and later met with the developer and architect in meetings facilitated by Four Communications.
During these meetings residents were encouraged to give their views ahead of a planning application to be submitted to Westminster City Council. But the Holcroft Court Residents Association and the Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum who participated in the meetings quickly became suspicious of the developer and the way the consultation was going. The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association and Charlotte Street Association have also expressed great concern about the plans. Russel Davies wrote an article about the September exhibition and analysed the plans and consultation.
Residents and local business people were frustrated when their questions about the height of the proposed buildings went unanswered, and said the whole process was a sham consultation.
Andrew Slee of the Holcroft Court Residents Association commented saying “on one drawing the relationship between the new ten-storey tower and the university building on the south side of Clipstone Mews has been understated by as much as 12.5m. This is a fundamental error and one that is inexcusable, especially as it has been repeated to varying degrees on some other sketches. No wonder [the architect] didn’t want to confirm the actual height of the ten storey building”.
Residents were left with the impression that the height of the tower was deliberately obscured in order to diffuse opposition to the plans. “These basic errors give the impression that the Architect has tried to mislead people about the relative height of the ten storey building and the buildings surrounding the proposed development,” said Slee.
In subsequent communications it became clear that residents views were not being taken on board. Richard Leslie of Dukelease wrote to Holcroft Court residents dismissing their concerns about loss of light.
“At Present Holcroft Court enjoys levels of daylight far superior to situations commonly found in central London and the reduction due to the proposed development brings the levels in line with those found elsewhere in the central area,” wrote Richard Leslie of Dukelease.
Wendy Shillam, chair of the Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum, expressed the irritation of many residents and questioned the developer’s motives.
“Do we really want to build modern blocks that hark back to the Victorian slums?” she asked. “It seems that in spite of major opposition to a number of aspects of this application Dukelease have seen fit to ignore every single point raised and submit an unchanged application,” said Shillam.
“If we start to cram our neighbourhood with too many flats, and expensive private flats are allowed to unfairly overshadow more affordable buildings, I wonder what that says about us as a society?
“High profits are to be made by any residential developer who chooses to build in this area. Because of this they can well afford to build the highest level of sustainable dwellings themselves and there is no imperative, except greed, to overcrowd adjoining homes.
“We welcome good development and redevelopment in Fitzrovia. But I don’t think we should welcome applications like this one,” she said.
Shillam condemned the plans saying: “I was shocked when I saw such a crassly over-developed scheme as this. It knocks out many small business units that are the life blood of Fitzrovia. It overshadows Holcroft Court, the mews and Cleveland Street frontages to an unacceptable level,” she said.
To make matters worse the planning application was validated by Westminster Council for consultation during the run-up to Christmas and New Year. This makes it very difficult for residents to mobilise opposition to the plans and calls into question the City Council’s motives as well as Dukelease.
In support of the planning application Four Communications provided a statement to Westminster City Council which went so far as to say “there is generally support for the Applicant’s proposals”. Some residents told Fitzrovia News the PR company should re-brand themselves as “Poor Communications”.
Fitzrovia News asked Dukelease and Four Communications to respond to the criticisms of the way they handled the public consultation. Dukelease did not respond to our questions but Four Communications issued a statement on behalf of themselves and Dukelease.
“Throughout this project, Four Communications has managed a thorough and transparent consultation process with neighbours around the site, including Holcroft Court. The team has had positive feedback from many neighbours, including some residents of Holcroft Court,” they said.
However, in the response they did not repeat the line that the plans were supported by residents. Instead they chose to say: “Feedback at the exhibition was mixed, with residents of different streets holding varied views.”
They added: “The team is committed to upholding this process of consultation with neighbours as the application progresses and will continue to respond to all residents’ queries and concerns.”
You can read the full Four Communications response here.
The other issue of local concern is that Westminster Council own the freehold of the site and expect to benefit from the increased value of the site when the current headlease expires in 33 years’ time and returns to the council. Fitzrovia News is currently awaiting a response from Westminster Council which will be the subject of a future news story about the sale and ownership of the site.
Update: The application will be heard at 6.30pm Tuesday 21 April 2015: agenda.
The planning application in detail.
The application is for a large site and contains many documents to be examined and analysed against Westminster Council’s planning guidance.
The existing site bounded by Cleveland Street, Clipstone Street and Clipstone Mews is 0.44 hectares consists of commercial units of 4,051 square metres gross internal area. The proposed scheme would be 14,291 sqm GIA.
The development will increase the above ground footprint of the site by extending the building line on the Cleveland Street elevation 1.6m east to in effect narrow the pavement. This would make the building-to-building width of Cleveland Street less than 12m. The three tower blocks would be only 8m away from Holcroft Court. (Fitzrovia News editors have measured these).
According to the published plans, two of the tower blocks will be equal in height to Holcroft Court (approx 16m high) and the tallest block will be more than double the height of Holcroft Court (approx 35m high).
There will be net loss of retail and a net gain of restaurant and bar uses on the site. The petrol station will be moved to a site closer to both Holcoft Court and Cleveland Street residents, creating a drive-through filling station entered via Clipstone Mews with vehicles exiting into Cleveland Street.
According to the retail analysis supplied with the planning statement, the current site of the petrol filling station in Clipstone Street would put off prospective retail occupiers. Whilst Westminster Council is asking for the station to be reinstated it is Dukelease who has chosen to place it next to residents homes and opposite existing cafes and restaurants.
The development will provide 90 luxury flats and 15 affordable housing units. By area, only 10.6 percent of the development will be affordable housing, far short of Westminster’s target of 35 percent stated in its Interim Guidance Note.
The density of the development is at the upper level of the London Plan guidelines for a central area. The London Plan identifies 650-1,100 habitable rooms per hectare (hrha). Westminster’s UDP identifies 450 to 800 hrha as acceptable. The Cleveland Street proposal would be a whopping 1,053 hrha.
The development only provides amenity space for residents of the new building. The developer has made a number of token gestures of environmental improvements which include tree planting, a rain garden and road humps.
View and comment on the planning application at Westminster City Council: 14/11837/FULL | Demolition of existing building and redevelopment to provide a building of three blocks (Block A – comprising ground and nine upper floors, Block B – ground and three upper floors and Block C – ground and three upper floors) with basement and smaller sub-basement below and each separated by landscaped areas. For a mix of upto 105 residential units, provision of a petrol filling station (accessed from Clipstone Mews, exit onto Cleveland Street), provision of a mix of retail (Class A1), restaurant (Class A3), drinking establishment (Class A4), office (Class B1), non-residential institution (Class D1) and assembly and leisure (Class D2) floorspace and associated landscaping, and provision of 46 residential parking spaces and associated plant space across sub-basement, basement and ground floor levels (site includes 87 – 125 Cleveland Street, W1). | 87-89 Cleveland Street London W1T 6PJ.