Master Brewer planning application update

Following the London Borough of Hillingdon’s February 2020 decision to refuse permission for the 514 home application on the former Master Brewer site, the Mayor of London called in the application for his own determination. On 3 September, before the Mayor of London made his decision to approve the application at a public hearing, the Greater London Authority confirmed that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government intervened to delay the granting of permission to give him time to consider whether to call in the application for his own determination.

At the 3 September public hearing, an Ickenham Residents’ Association committee member spoke in opposition to the application on behalf of three Residents’ Associations (Ickenham, Oak Farm and North Uxbridge) and the Ickenham Neighbourhood Forum.

If the Secretary of State calls in the application, it is likely that there will be a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector, who will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.  The Secretary of State would then make the final decision, and publish the recommendations of the inspector, along with his reasons for agreeing or disagreeing.

We were recently approached by the Architect’s Journal for a comment on the Mayor’s decision. Our response is below…

… quoted as An Ickenham Resident’s Association spokesperson said:

“This attempt to over-rule the London Borough of Hillingdon is particularly controversial as the Local Plan was adopted so recently. Planning policy says tall buildings and suburbs don’t mix and we agree; and it’s just not acceptable to propose so many miserable poorly lit single aspect homes. The Community Masterplan we helped draw up with other local groups provides community facilities, better residential quality and is in proportion to the surrounding area. We very much hope the Secretary of State intervenes. This is not gentle densification, it’s tower block desuburbanisation.”

Our five minute speech at the 3 September public hearing (written in collaboration with the local community groups mentioned above) is reproduced below:

“Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I am speaking on behalf the Residents’ Associations of  Ickenham, Oak Farm and North Uxbridge, the areas bordering the site,  and the Ickenham Neighbourhood Forum which includes the site in its Planning area.  These associations do truly represent the communities they serve.  For example the Ickenham Residents Association has a paid up membership of 2/3 of the households of Ickenham.

Mr Mayor, you will know that Hillingdon has a brand new Local Plan developed in close consultation with its residents and adopted earlier this year without objection by your Authority.  It is a plan which recognises the substantial need for new housing and caters for it.  We’ve taken a plan-led and democratic approach to agreeing on how our local area should grow. So it’s no surprise that Hillingdon has an impressive track record for delivering new homes, in some years double its target.

But it is quite clear, Mr Mayor, that this proposal is in stark discord with our new Local Plan and indeed the current AND emerging London Plans.  The buildings are too tall and the concentration of dwellings too dense.  The site is set in a typical metroland  suburban location with 2 storey dwellings and a parade of small shops.  The proposed development has buildings up to 11 storeys.  It would dwarf neighbouring properties across the road and mar the skyline from miles around.

The London Plan defines tall buildings, as ones that are “substantially taller than their surroundings, causing a significant change to the skyline”  and says they should be plan-led by the boroughs.  The new Local Plan, agreed by your authority, identifies the sites suitable for tall buildings in Hillingdon as Hayes and Uxbridge town centres.  The MB site is nowhere near either of them.  Indeed your own officer reporting on this application acknowledges that there is a clear conflict.

But even if the development were on a site zoned for tall buildings such as Hayes Town Centre, it would still fall well short of guidance on many other matters.  It performs dreadfully against the requirements of the emerging London Plan tall buildings policy on visual impacts, street scene and relationship with surrounding areas.

The density is twice the acceptable level set out in Hillingdon Local Plan and consequentially around a third of the homes would be miserable single aspect units, including 3-bedroom family units facing West over the heavily congested Long Lane, the main N-S arterial route in the borough.  Forced to keep their windows closed due to the noise and air pollution, these homes would overheat horrifically.

As you know, Mr Mayor, the site sandwiched between the A40, its exit slip road and Long Lane, is in an Air Quality Management Area and noise pollution saturates the entire site.  The applicant has failed to show how in this dense collection of contiguous tower blocks the impact of these pollutions can be mitigated successfully.

The fallout of the pandemic will undoubtedly have consequences for the future of our built environment.  Exactly what these will be we cannot say.  But it is clear that societal changes due to technology have been accelerated.  More and more stores have closed in the move to online shopping and  the need for offices is reducing as more employees work from home.  Indeed earlier this week Capita announced plans to close more than a third of its offices.

So surely, Mr Mayor, this cannot be the time to start the desuburbanisation of suburbia when so much town centre space could be re-purposed for residential use, breathing new life back into dying town centres. And with more people working from home, the need for homes with gardens and access to good quality amenity space will increase.

Hillingdon Council has identified the Master Brewer site as one suitable for mixed use residential–led development.  It has been actively engaged  with developers to find good quality housing solutions for the site which fit within the framework of its new Local Plan. Community groups have even drawn up a masterplan for the site. Unfortunately the developers seem only able to come up with increasingly dystopian visions of ever higher, denser and poorer quality development proposals which have been rejected with very good reason.

We ask you, Mr Mayor, to respect the framework of our recently adopted Local Plan and your own London Plan, and in the words of the shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonnaire, not to bypass local democracy and allow development based on increasing sales and profits rather than actual living conditions, quality and environmental sustainability.”