tower block plans slammed
Woodman of the Kew Society expresses disquiet about the "not
very distinguished" development planned at Kew Bridge and the
record of the developer
10 years ago Scottish Widows demolished buildings at the Brentford
end of Kew Bridge to leave a large cleared site fronting the Thames. In a community meeting On April 10, 2003 St. George Homes, a member of
the Berkeley Group, presented their draft development proposals
for the site to include 263 flats and 26,000 sq. ft. of commercial
Council's leader has already deemed the scheme "not very distinguished",
while an architect called it "horrendously condensed". (See
picture right) St. George's current plans show a 6 metre high ground
floor which will make the mass next to the river equivalent to five
storeys nearer the bridge and six storeys upstream (where the building
would also be much closer to the river). The blocks then rise
in one storey increments and include an 11 storey tower. Including
the higher ground floor and lift gear on the roof (not referred
to by St. George) the tower will be equivalent to more than 12 storeys
and will therefore be clearly visible from Kew Gardens.
site itself is of substantial (but divergent) interest to developers
and community groups for a number of reasons:
- It is located on the apex of a bend in the river and can be seen for hundreds
of metres up- and down-stream.
- Being adjacent to Kew Bridge, a key river crossing with a heavy traffic
flow, it is viewed by many thousands of people each day.
- It is the first in a series of major developments intended to stretch westwards
down Brentford High Street. It will establish the building
standard for those that follow and has been likened to the prow
of Brentford�s ship.
- The site will probably fall within the "buffer zone" of the Royal
Botanic Gardens, Kew (which is standing for election as a World
have several reasons for wanting to pursue the building program
- The Mayor's Draft London Plan is currently going through its Examination
in Public (EIP) and community groups are making strong representations.
While Ken Livingstone appears to like tall buildings, there is
evidence that he will resist them near the River Thames where
they can interfere with the riverscape. There is therefore
a benefit in progressing before the London Plan establishes more
restrictive planning guidelines.
- Arguments have also been made for designating the first fifty metres from
the Thames foreshore as a public space and this is coupled with
a campaign to prohibit development close to the river's high-water
mark. If the building line is moved away from the river
edge it will have a detrimental impact on the value of this undeveloped
- The government is currently encouraging brownfield development (and therefore
the secretary of state will be more amenable to approving the
development of contentious sites).
Debney of Thames Landscape Strategy has said "utmost care should
be taken of this site given its location on the river and that it
is directly opposite Kew Gardens, which is in the middle of a bid
for World Heritage Status".
The fact that St. George is the developer
has itself caused considerable local disquiet. In large part
the concern stems from previous cynical actions by St. George and
its sister company St. James (a joint venture with Thames Water)
in developing two large Kew riverside sites slightly downstream
on the opposite bank.
These two companies have shown a common strategy
of generally disregarding community views, avoiding community investment
and exploiting deficiencies in the planning process. A common
tactic has been repeatedly to submit multiple planning applications
that amend originally accepted proposals. If the first of
the multiple applications is rejected, the next one can be amended
to take account of the reasons for rejection, while itself remaining
in the queue for consideration. The result is a continual
stream of smaller changes that, in aggregate, cause the final development
to be substantially different from its originally consented form.
Buildings on the St. James site for example were first approved
assuming they had pitched roofs but have ended up with flat roofs
and an extra floor inserted. The overall height that is considered
by the planning authorities is equivalent, but the architectural
form seen by the community is very different. The number of
units available for the developer to sell is of course much higher.
In March 2003 St. George submitted a planning
amendment to add an extra floor to one block in their development
located in front of the National Archives (formerly the Public Record
Office). The plans submitted make no attempt to show how the
extra floor will look from the river despite this being a critical
consideration in granting consent for the original application.
The planning authorities can only look at each application on its
specific merits and will generally not pursue a legal process because
of the risk of having legal costs imposed against them if a dispute
went to court.
here for further details of these developers' actions in relation
to the Kew riverside sites or here for
information about their chopping of riverside trees in front of
St. Georges Public Record Office Development
After twelve years and five appeals against the council's
rejection of the plans, the Secretary of State, John Prescott, announced
on March 16, 2001 that he would allow the development by St. Georges
(ultimately owned by the Berkeley Group plc) to go ahead on the
riverside site next to the Public Records Office. Only two
months later and planning permission was sought for what looks suspiciously
like the Berkeley Group plc's creeping expansion tactics as employed
by the St. James's joint venture for the Kew Sewage Works site.
Many in the community, including the Kew Society and local
government, have fought to try to ensure that this development respects
the sensitive riverside location and scale of the rest of Kew.
Sadly the Secretary of State did not accept these views and granted
consent for six blocks of flats providing 192 units (including 48
affordable housing units).
The St. Georges's development, together with the adjacent
St. James's site (also Berkeley Group), will increase the population
of Kew by an estimated 25% over the next few years. The impact
of this will be most significant in those areas where current facilities
are already very strained including transportation, health, traffic
and education. Despite the developer making enormous amounts
of money from the sale of these properties, the whole community
is being expected to bear the social costs.
St. Georges's application in May 2001 seeks permission to
build a two storey sales office with a three-bedroomed flat in the
area originally designated for car parking. This is not the
usual temporary cabin type structure used for a sales office, but
a permanent building that could be just the first step in a process
to ramp up the scale of the development. Although we shall
monitor activities closely, the Berkeley Group's apparent practice
of ignoring the spirit of their planning consents is now notorious.
May 22, 2003
Article originally published on The Kew Society�s Website
which is regularly updated and can be found at www.kewsoc.org.uk.
Republished with kind permission
unveil plans for a �landmark� building on the riverside by Kew Bridge