We shall save our homes!

On 12 September residents travelled to the Council’s Planning Committee at Hammersmith Town Hall. We wanted to explain why it should reject the planning applications to demolish the West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates and the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centres.

The Council was ready for us: “No deputations, no placards, no recording, no photographs”. However, it welcomed its development partner, CapCo, whose team arrived with smiles on their faces and springs in their steps.

For two hours, residents endured a presentation of the scheme illustrated by slides crammed with drawings and text that was too small to read. Officers explained that the Committee could approve the scheme because the Council had made it mandatory for the tall buildings to have a bottom, a middle and a top.

We only asked for 10 minutes to present the case for preserving our community and for saving the Exhibition Centres. Opposition Councillors told the Chair that all he had to do was suspend the meeting to allow us to speak, as had the previous administration in such circumstances. But no, he said we should wait.

 

How small can a cluster of 30-storey towers look when set against the petitions of the local community and the exhortations of the exhibitions and events industry?

By 9.15pm, with many elderly people and children in our group, we’d had enough. We stood up and insisted that the Chair decide whether or not to hear our petitions, so we could catch our coach to go home.

Again, the Chair refused to let us speak. Residents and our MP, Andy Slaughter, shouted we must be heard. The Chair caved in. He asked one of the Ward Councillors, from the Majority Party, to read out our deputations (published below).

As his Majority Party colleague rammed home how the loss of Earl’s Court would destroy real jobs, real economy and authentic heritage in favour of property and financial speculation, the Chair became agitated. He said: “We’ve heard enough of that!” and stopped him.

After more shouting, the Chair let his colleague to continue. The Majority Party Councillor finished reading our explanation why it was wrong to destroy our homes and wreck the economy, and then joined his fellow Councillors to support the plan to demolish our estates and the Exhibition Centres.

The Planning Committee voted to approve CapCo’s planning applications.  However, the scheme cannot proceed at the moment, and may never happen at all, because there are far too many nasty hurdles at which it could fall.

October 2012: Deputy Judge Straker QC will decide whether to proceed to a full hearing of our Judicial Review application for the High Court to declare the Council’s planning policy underpinning the scheme unlawful

October 2012: Kensington & Chelsea will consider whether to approve the demolition of the Exhibition Centres

November 2012: Mayor Boris Johnson has to decide whether to approve the applications to knock down the estates and the Exhibition Centres

March 2013: the Council will apply to the Government for consent to sell off the West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates

Autumn 2012: The Police will decide whether to investigate evidence of Misconduct in Public Office, the allegations that certain residents were promised new homes in Seagrave Road in exchange for them supporting demolition, and which could lead to criminal charges

2013: The Kwok brothers, who with CapCo own half of the Seagrave Road development, will be tried for bribery and corruption, threatening the only investment so far in the Earl’s Court scheme

2013: as the recession’s grip holds firm, and the property and financial speculation that caused it is further discredited, the markets will wonder. Should they take us on? Can they beat people power?

The developer and the Council are hurling £50,000 a day at us. Thanks to our campaign, the Council’s and the developer’s lawyers and financial consultants are raking in a fortune. But, we’re bleeding the scheme dry.

Far from these titanic efforts denting residents’ resolve to save our homes, we’ve been delivered with the very ammunition we need to stop them. The more they throw at us, the more our campaign is invigorated. The more they press on with this scheme, the deeper they embroil themselves in allegations of immorality, unlawfulness and criminality.

We won’t stand for “manifestly second-class” homes! We shall save our neighbourhood! We shall never surrender!

Left to right: Richard Osband (resident); Jim Wheble BBC Radio London journalist; Keith Drew (resident)

London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham: Planning Applications Committee 12 September 2012

Petition from the West Kensington & Gibbs Green Tenants & Residents Associations and West Ken & Gibbs Green Community Homes

In April this year, we submitted our formal response to the planning applications, prepared for us by Professor Drew Stevenson, who has summarised his submission for Planning Committee Members as follows:

The planning applications are opaque. Following a range of submissions and changes, it is not possible to determine exactly what the Council is now being asked to approve.

Within that confused context, the proposals for individual blocks are vague. It is not clear precisely what could, or could not, be developed within the loose parameters for the permissions being requested.

The status of the SPD is flawed and, despite the Mayor’s instruction, the applicants ignore the guidance in the SPD for the proper development of the sites.

The proposals to demolish the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are unsubstantiated, unnecessary, unsustainable and against national policy.

The proposals for affordable housing are contrary to the London Plan, Local Plan policy and the SPD.

The floorspace quantum still represents a gross over-development and does not meet the previously stated concerns of the Mayor and local consultees. It has been reduced by a mere 1.5% from the earlier proposals for over-development.

The housing densities are far too high. They do not conform with the London Plan, either in the ranges proposed, or in the basis used for calculation.

The omission of a proposal for a strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction is contrary to the policies of the London Plan, the Local Plans and SPD guidance.

It’s not possible to calculate transport impacts, given the lack of essential base data, including the number and location of existing and proposed jobs.

The transport infrastructure would be overwhelmed.

The huge implications for viability and S106 agreements are not properly addressed.

The proposals for social and community infrastructure are inadequate and non-committal.

The responses given to consultations are either inadequate or non-existent.

Professor Stevenson is not the only planning expert to advise us that you should not approve the Earl’s Court planning applications.

Some time ago, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea Councils formed the Earl’s Court and West Kensington Design Review Panel to review the development proposals. This is what the Panel had to say about our community. Hear their concerns for our future!

The panel is concerned that the impact on the existing communities of Gibbs Green and West Kensington Estates of the Applicant’s proposals for such comprehensive redevelopment is perceived as a threat.

The Panel’s particular concern is that if the approved Seagrave Road scheme is seen as a detailed design precedent, there is little integration of affordable homes with the adjoining private development.

The panel believes it is important that good quality affordable housing is provided and that it is located and treated in a manner which properly integrates it with the new development, properly sharing in the open spaces and not manifestly ‘second-class’.

We have called the lawfulness of the planning policy, which underpins the proposed Earl’s Court development, into question. In June this year, we applied to the High Court for a Judicial Review, supplying grounds to support a declaration alleging that the Council’s planning policy is unlawful.

Our lawyer has advised us to advise you that it would be wrong for this Committee to resolve the Earl’s Court planning applications tonight, before the Court issues its decision on our Judicial Review request.

London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham: Planning Applications Committee 12 September 2012

Petition from the Association of Event Organisers (AEO)

The AEO represents the majority of the exhibition and event organisers in the UK and speaks on behalf of the industry. We are totally opposed to the proposed demolition and removal of the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centres.

At a time of deep economic recession, the exhibitions industry is a shining example of national resilience and economic growth. We’ve expanded the events economy by over 18% from £9.3BN to £11BN a year, at a time when the overall economy has contracted.

Earl’s Court plays an enormous role in delivering this growth; it plays a significant part in the UK’s export economy. It sits in the heart of Central London, close to the West End and convenient for Heathrow, attracting business from all over the globe.

Just when London is successfully projecting its image and position as a ‘World City’, the demolition and loss of Earl’s Court would relegate the UK’s position as a world leader in the exhibition and events industry.

This planning application would reduce the amount of venue stock at a time when competitor nations are subsidising, not removing, venues equivalent in location and status to Earl’s Court.

Unlike what’s proposed to replace it, Earl’s Court is authentic and loved around the world. It has a fantastic heritage. It’s home to a national institution, The Ideal Home Show, established 105 years ago, as well as the Royal Tournament, along with top events, exhibitions and concerts from Madonna to Pink Floyd.

Earls Court brings 2.5 million visitors, 30,000 exhibitors, hundreds of events, and over a billion pounds a year to London. It sustains thousands of jobs; it’s an anchor for London’s economy; it’s the most dearly-loved creative and business venue, locally, nationally, and globally.

Earls Court is an essential international marketing platform for thousands of small businesses and world brands. East London’s Excel is not suitable for most of the Earl’s Court shows. Some that transferred there, like the Boat Show, lost visitors; others were forced, by popular demand, to return to Earl’s Court

Approving the demolition of Earl’s Court will force successful, market-leading exhibitions and events to close, prevent hundreds of businesses from trading, and terminate the incomes of thousands of people.

We must ask why, in the midst of a property-busted recession, should anybody be allowed to destroy a sustainable, profitable, commercial, global brand, which generates thousands of jobs and maintains hundreds of businesses, to develop luxury flats for speculative gain?

The demolition of Earls Court would contract the exhibition and events industry, deplete foreign visitors, destroy jobs, decimate businesses, and take away the area’s heritage. The disruption would diminish economic output, and deprive the Treasury of billions of pounds of tax revenues.

It’s widely documented that London is already short of exhibition space for national and international events, and the UK is losing revenue and trade to other countries.

Currently, the event organising community is seeking MORE exhibition and event space, but alarmingly this is being ignored. The lack of space is forcing many UK, organisers who seeking to expand their businesses, to go abroad.

Far from preserving and improving what we have so we can enhance the UK’s offer, the demolition of Earl’s Court would substantially contract the exhibition and events industry. It would reduce the number of tourists visiting London just after the Olympics and Paralympics elevated the city’s stature in front of a global audience.

Should we destroy real economy, real jobs, and real business, in favour of luxury flats, which make no on-going contribution to the economy, flats that likely will end up in the hand of wealthy foreigners, and which are unlikely even to be occupied? What is more likely to sustain economic recovery: business and creative industry or property and financial speculation?

The per capita spend at The Ideal Home Show is £800. To put this into perspective, this one event attracts 250,000 visitors over a fortnight, generating £200 Million. The amount of business stimulated at trade and business events totals in the tens of billions of pounds.

UK organisers are amongst the most pioneering and prolific players in the global events arena, which is why we expect local and national government to support our industry. Earl’s Court is an engine for growth, a goose that lays golden eggs. For generations it’s underpinned the events industry and stimulated business.

Tonight you can save this national institution; tonight you can prefer creative industry, you can save our cultural heritage, and you can protect the real jobs we need to get this country out of recession.

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