The Chelsea Society and very many local people objected to this planning application, but two Chelsea members of the RBKC Planning Applications Committee (Cllrs. Hargreaves and Zvedeniuk) abstained, thereby allowing permission for demolition and rebuilding to be granted.
The Chairman of the Planning Committee of the Chelsea Society, Sir Paul Lever, has written to the Mayor of London as follows:
“I am writing on behalf of the Chelsea Society about the planning application to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) ref. PP/23/00968 for the demolition and redevelopment of 81 – 103 King’s Road SW3 4NX, which has been resolved for approval by the RBKC Planning Committee and which will shortly be being submitted as a Stage 2 Referral to the GLA.
The Chelsea Society was founded in 1927 to preserve and improve the amenities of Chelsea for the public benefit. We have over a thousand members. We strongly urge you to reject this application, which in our view is incompatible with a number of local, London and national policies.
Our objections reflect those set out in the letter to you of 6 November (copy attached) from Gail Collins on behalf of the Directors of the Charles ll Place Management Ltd and in the two independent reports, on the heritage and environmental aspects of the application, referenced in that letter. (Charles II Place objection 6.11.23) We support all the arguments made by Ms Collins. We attach particular importance to two issues.
THE PRINCIPLE OF DEMOLITION
The application proposes the demolition of a building which is only 40 years old and which is in serviceable condition. Emerging Policy GB2 of the Local Plan prioritises retention and refurbishment over demolition and rebuilding. Similarly London Plan Guidance requires the benefits of redevelopment to clearly outweigh the harm arising from demolition. The only public benefits associated with this redevelopment would be a small increase in office space, for which in Chelsea there is not a high demand. This would be offset by a reduction of one third in retail space for which in the King’s Road there is an identified shortage. Overall therefore the impact would be negative.
HERITAGE AND TOWNSCAPE
The proposed building would be significantly taller than its surroundings and would be damaging to the heritage of Chelsea. In the consideration of the application by RBKC proper attention was not paid to the potential impact on important heritage assets. RBKC planning officers took the view that no harm would be caused. By contrast your colleagues in the GLA assessed the level of harm as less than substantial; and the specialist conservation architect, Mr Paul Velluet, rates it as on the border between less than substantial and substantial.
National Policy (NPPF para 202) requires that even a level of less than substantial harm should be weighed against the public benefits of an application. In this case there are no such benefits.
There are other aspects of the application which, in the view of the Chelsea Society, are objectionable. They are set out in Ms Collins’s letter. The fact that there is a huge amount of local opposition to it, reflected in a petition with thousands of signatures, is also relevant. So too is the prospect of the partial closure of the King’s Road carriageway for up to two years. But we believe that the issues of the acceptability of demolition and the damage to Chelsea’s heritage and townscape are particularly compelling. We hope therefore that the Mayor will use his authority to reject the application.
Chairman, the Planning Committee, the Chelsea Society”
See below a letter from local resident Graham Love to Cllr. Elizabeth Campbell, leader of RBKC.
“Governance failures in Council proceedings”
I am writing on behalf of my friends and neighbours of the Smith Street Residents Association to bring to your attention serious failings of governance in the way that the Planning Department and the Planning Committee currently function.
This is particularly concerning given that many of these issues were flagged in a report commissioned by you over 2 years ago, which identified a “qualitative and quantitative deficit in effective council engagement”, but have apparently continued unchecked.
It is disappointing, to say the least, that a council that claims on its website to put residents’ concerns at the centre of its decision-making, in practice pays no heed to these concerns at all.
We base our observations on the process we have seen followed during planning application PP/23/00968, which is the application to demolish the existing building at 81-103 Kings Road, currently majority occupied by M&S, and replace it with a new, much larger building.
You will be aware that there was very substantial local opposition to this proposal, with over 1300 residents submitting written objections and over 4,000 signing a petition asking for the application to be rejected.
In addition, local residents commissioned and submitted at their own expense reports by planning consultants, carbon consultants and heritage experts, which clearly demonstrated that the project breached the council’s planning guidelines; was unnecessarily damaging to the environment, and was of an inappropriate scale for the heritage and conservation areas situated all around this site.
Our experience as residents seeking to engage with the planning process in the run-up to the Committee meeting itself was quite negative, and it was clear that the developer got much better access than we did as concerned local citizens.
Planning officers are reluctant to engage with residents or to provide information unless forced by FOI requests. The planning website is poorly organised making it very difficult to track documents, comments etc.
Turning to the Committee process itself, as an experienced Chairman myself I was surprised at how this was run.
The objectors had submitted detailed factual reports on the impact of this project from both a heritage and carbon emission perspective, as well as planning consultants who had identified a significant number of RBKC policy breaches, and these experts also presented their cases at the Committee.
An overwhelming concern was the excessive bulk of the proposed building on a site surrounded by listed buildings and conservation areas.
However, there was no 3D model presented to the committee, only scarcely intelligible drawings. The objectors had commissioned architect-drawn CAD drawings showing the new perspectives, but these were not permitted to be shown to the Committee.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary and extensive objection from local residents, the Chairman was happy to accept bland assurances from the applicant and from planning officers that “it was all ok”, ignoring the additional evidence presented by the objectors.
The carbon emissions report, which clearly showed that rebuilding would create vastly more environmental damage than refurbishment, was not even addressed, other than obtaining equally bland assurances from the applicant that the existing building, despite being less than 40 years old “could not be brought up to modern standards”.
At no time was there a proper discussion of the fundamental objections raised by residents to this development, nor any real acknowledgment of their concerns for the impact on the area.
As you will know, the normal practice in a meeting is for the Chair to request views from the members of the committee and then to sum up, adding any personal views of their own as appropriate.
In this case, the Chair led off with his own views, which paid no heed to the views of residents, and only afterward did he ask members of the committee to offer their own.
Despite this rather dictatorial approach, 3 of the 5 members of the committee expressed concerns about the proposal. In the end, the proposal was carried by only 2 votes (including the Chair) out of 5, with 2 members abstaining- which is itself an extraordinarily poor way to reach a decision.
In summary, we believe this preference for the interests of an overseas developer over those of local residents represents a clear failure of proper governance and a breakdown of local democracy, and we invite you to examine the processes currently followed by the Planning Committee with a view to putting urgent corrective measures in place.
10 October 2023