Lukewarm Reaction To Ealing Council's New Tall Buildings Strategy

Residents' groups and opposition say 'too little, too late'

Ealing Council cite Inspector's overriding its refusal of Manor Road tower as example of how subjective the system can be
Ealing Council cite Inspector's overriding its refusal of Manor Road tower as example of how subjective the system can be

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There has been a mixed reaction to the publication of Ealing Council’s new strategy concerning tall buildings in the borough.

Ealing’s adopted local plan defines tall buildings as, “those that are substantially taller than their neighbours and/or which significantly change the skyline” and it is now attempting to more tightly define the kind of development that will be encouraged. particularly in the wake of the overriding of its rejection of the Manor Road application in West Ealing by the Planning Inspector which it cites of an example of how subjective the process can be.

In its statement on the policy the council says that “we must also be realistic in recognising that tall buildings have been an integral part of the overall development story in London, particularly over the last few decades, and will continue to be so. Moreover, with our green belt, metropolitan open land (MOL) and parks afforded the greatest policy protection against development, land is a finite resource in the capital, and it is therefore prudent to consider all forms of development on brownfield land to optimise its use. Scale and density can therefore be influenced by the need to accommodate a range of land uses that are required by nationally imposed planning policies, most notably a compliant level of affordable housing. This gives a sense of how complex the task can be when assessing proposals for tall buildings and the multiple policies that must be carefully weighted.”

It says it will continue the ‘plan-led’ approach that it has adopted since 2012/13 adding however, “we cannot control the submission of speculative proposals for tall buildings that clearly contradict our plan-led approach. All local planning authorities have a legal obligation to consider any application on its merits, including the speculative applications. Helpfully, our grounds to resist speculative applications for tall buildings has been strengthened further with the adoption of the new London Plan 2021, which reinforces plan-led approach for the capital.”

The council has commissioned an Ealing Character Study and Housing Design Guide, which contain generic design principles that will be applied to the consideration of tall buildings and future development in general. These design principles will be used to assess planning applications as they come forward.

The council’s approach means that it will continue to try to direct tall buildings to only be approved in sites already identified in the development plan and to generally resist speculative applications for tall buildings on unidentified sites.

Alongside the statement on Tall Buildings, the Council’s administration has set out new Local Planning Policy Guidance that aims to set out the character of each of Ealing’s seven towns, introduce a new housing design guide to encourage good quality and sustainable buildings and put the character, context and identity of Ealing at the heart of decision making. As this guidance is now adopted, and planners and councillors involved in deciding planning applications are now expected to follow it.

Cllr Peter Mason, Leader of Ealing Council said, “We do not want to see the spread of skyscrapers in Ealing. London has an affordable homes crisis and a climate emergency, and we will not solve either with ever more luxury apartments in the sky.

“With 11,000 families on our housing waiting list, and with all of us craving a better quality of life in the wake of COVID-19, our focus continues to be on providing homes that families can truly afford in sustainable communities they can enjoy.

“The seven towns that make up our Borough have so much character and identity. We’re as committed as ever to preserving what is great about Ealing, and protecting its future.”

Cllr Shital Manro, Cabinet Member for Good Growth said, “In making this statement, we are making it abundantly clear to both developers and planners alike what our expectations are going forward.

“Work with us to deliver good jobs, decent living incomes and genuinely affordable homes. If you are only interested in building them tall and stacking them high, don’t bother. We’re not interested.”

Justine Sullivan, co-chair of Stop the Towers (STT) said of the new guidelines, “This is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Or horses in this case.

“We just hope it’s not too late, because a lot of very tall buildings have already been built and many more approved in areas unsuitable for tall buildings and totally out of keeping.”

Denise Colliver, of STT added, “Both Peter Mason and Shital Manro were at the helm of Ealing housing and planning policy over the last few years whilst all these towers were approved, many against the wishes of thousands of residents. So much as we welcome this idea as a positive step in the right direction, it feels far too late and comes over as electioneering. The STT planning team are currently looking at the guidance in more detail, but our initial concern is that as this is only guidance, it will be ignored by developers or the planning officers.”

Ms Sullivan adds, “On the council’s website it says: ‘In the last few years Ealing a seen a larger number of tall buildings being proposed by private developers outside designated areas for growth.’

“We’re asking why? Why was this? Did it have anything to do with the fact there was no existing policy on tall buildings? What about the outdated local plan which would have protected these areas if it had been properly updated?

“Was it because Ealing Council didn’t fulfil its duty as the planning authority and publicise a record of the number of homes built and still have not published their five year housing forecast? An omission which the developers at the recent Manor Road Tower appeal used to their advantage.

“Or was it because the former leader Julian Bell and his chums went to the south of France with developers selling off Ealing as ‘the most connected place in the universe’ with ‘shovel ready’ sites. In our opinion it was this councils pimping out of our borough which is why Ealing is seeing a larger number of tall buildings.

“Sadly we just don’t believe Cllr Manro when he claims, ‘If you’re only interested in building them tall and stacking them high, don’t bother. We’re not interested’. This is quite the opposite of what he said when he came to a STT meeting back in 2019. And also, why did he vote FOR the 22 storey mega block on Manor Road despite his planning committee rejecting it at 6/4? He knew his vote wouldn’t count, yet he still decided to record his vote saying: “I should make it clear. I would be voting for”. (he has a record of voting for tall towers.) Something the developer’s lawyers focused on when they took the rejected decision to appeal last summer.”

The Liberal Democrats described the new policy statement as ‘very vague’ but said it, “appears to open the door on possibly resisting some taller buildings” which they welcomed.

Ealing Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Gary Malcolm said, "There is no absolute prohibition of tall schemes outside of the specified sites even in conservation areas or close to listed buildings and other landmarks, so it doesn’t take Ealing Council very far. We will judge this subtle change by Ealing Council to see whether developers change the types of buildings that they are looking to build and whether Labour-run Ealing Council keep on giving the developers the rubber stamp to build more and more tall buildings without the infrastructure such as schools and doctors surgeries.”

He added that the Liberal Democrats in Ealing have been pressing the council for a number of years that it needs to take a clearer line by properly consulting on the Ealing Plan to take into account the many concerns residents have. These include providing proper affordable housing, buildings that are too tall, too dense, the need for a suitable range of accommodation types to cover families and ensuring that new buildings have a zero carbon status.

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January 19, 2022

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