Response to Application 20/02499/OUT – Lever House site.

Part of our response to the “Eden Campus” Planning Applications

 

20/02499/OUT : Unilever Kingston 3 St James Road Kingston Upon Thames

Outline planning application for the demolition of Lever House and the erection of a Residential building not exceeding 22 storeys with all matters reserved except for access, layout and scale.

 

Objection

This Society, which promotes high standards of planning, conservation and design, strongly objects to application 20/02499/OUT referred to henceforth as the proposed residential tower, for the reasons set out below. We also object strongly to the first phase of the overall development submitted as application 20/02495/FUL (office towers & car parking) for which we have responded separately. For the sake of determining the applications I have summarised our conclusions here, followed by our reasoning:

Our main objections: 

  1. Harm to the settings and significance of designated historic assets.

The proposed residential tower would cause a high degree of harm to the settings and significance of a large number of Grade I, II* and II listed heritage assets over a wide area due to its dominating and intrusive height and form.

In particular to the settings of the Church of All Saints, Guildhall, Market House, Market Place, Kingston Old Town Conservation Area, and to historic assets and Conservation Areas nearby and over the wider area. The cumulative effect of the proposed residential tower together with the proposed buildings of application 20/02495/FUL would cause cumulative harm to the settings and significance of many designated heritage assets.This harm caused by both applications is greater than that described in the Appeal Decision for the previous scheme. Therefore for the reasons stated in the Appeal Decision there are compelling reasons to dismiss this application as well as the related application on the basis of harm to the settings and significance of the following designated heritage assets alone: the Old Post Office, the United Reformed Church, the Guildhall listed buildings, the listed buildings on the east side of Market Place and the Kingston Old Town Conservation Area. The Inspector considered this to be determinative in the Appeal on the basis of paragraph 11(d)(i) of the Framework and he needed to go no further. To be consistent with the Appeal Decision of the Secretary of State for the previous scheme, Planning permission must be refused.

  1. Harm to character and appearance of the area.

The proposed residential tower is over three times the height of the 6-8 storey guideline in the EQDB and would intrude significantly into many of the areas designated Very Highly Important Views, with a design and scale completely at odds with the composition of the views. Due to its height, scale, massing and form the proposed residential tower would cause harm to the character and appearance of the surrounding area.

  1. Conflict with tall building policies.

None of the approved “tall” building locations identified in the EQDB are situated in the Development site which states heights are to be limited to 6-8 storeys ie below 30m. The proposal in this outline application for a tall building does not comply in any way with this expectation. Due to its design, height and location it would conflict with applicable planning policies on the location and design of tall buildings.

Here below I set out the reasoning for our objections:

Reasoning for Objection 1. Harm to the settings of designated historic assets

At the Inquiry held over 7 days in June 2019, the applicants appeal was dismissed by the Secretary of State and planning permission was refused. The Appeal was for the previous scheme located immediately adjacent and to the North of this site. The Appeal Decision document (ref APP/Z5630/W/19/3223667) authoritatively describes the character and significance of the settings of some of the heritage assets that would also be affected by this application. Therefore we refer to these descriptions throughout our assessment.

The Appeal Decision stated (96). “In terms of the weight to be given to the harm to designated heritage assets, the courts have confirmed that less than substantial harm does not equate to a less than substantial objection. Indeed, paragraph 193 of the Framework establishes that when considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation, irrespective of whether the potential harm amounts to less than substantial harm.”

In his Appeal Decision for the previous scheme the Secretary of State considered “(98)..the harm to the settings and significance of the designated heritage assets alone to be determinative in this appeal and on the basis of paragraph 11(d)(i) of the Framework I need go no further”.

The abbreviations below are the same as in the Appeal Decision document:

  1. OPO – Old Post Office
  2. URC – United Reformed Church
  3. KOTCA – Kingston Old Town Conservation Area

Historic context and principles of protection

“Kingston upon Thames was historically an important trading town dating back to the middle ages. Despite the number of large scale, post war developments in and around the town centre, Kingston retains its historic street pattern, with a number of listed buildings and the largely intact KOTCA, which provide an important heritage context for the site and proposal. The site lies within the setting of a number of heritage assets. The Framework defines the setting of a heritage asset as the surroundings in which it is experienced and confirms that its setting may contribute to the significance of a heritage asset”

The proposed residential tower would similarly and, more egregiously in some cases, affect the settings of multiple heritage assets listed in the Appeal decision, including “(27) .. the KOTCA to the immediate west of the site; the Grade II listed Guildhall and the Grade I listed Clattern Bridge and Coronation Stone, located within the KOTCA to the west of the appeal site and in the context of which the proposed building would be seen in views to the east; the Grade II* listed Market House together with a number of listed and unlisted buildings of townscape merit on the east side of Market Place, from where the Appeal scheme would be visible above their rooflines in views to the east; and a number of non-designated heritage asset buildings along Eden Street, framing views at the entrance to the KOTCA, Market Place and Apple Market, which the proposed development would be seen within.”

As the Appeal decision states, “(28). Section 66(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 establishes that in exercising planning powers on behalf of the Secretary of State in this appeal, I must have special regard to the desirability of preserving a listed building or its setting. Whilst no statutory protection is afforded to the setting of Conservation Areas, paragraph 194 of the Framework confirms that the significance of a designated heritage asset can be harmed by development within its setting. Policy 7.8 of the London Plan also expects development affecting heritage assets and their settings to conserve their significance by being sympathetic to their form, scale, materials and architectural detail. In addition, Policy DM12 of the Core Strategy seeks to ensure that development will preserve or enhance locally distinctive heritage assets, allow alterations which preserve or enhance the interest of a heritage asset or its setting, and respect features of local importance through consideration of form, scale, layout and streetscape”

The Guildhall Grade II listed building 

The Appeal Decision states ”(37).The significance of the Guildhall lies in its historical, communal and aesthetic value. Built in the 1930s, its neo-Georgian design is a well-preserved example of monumental civic architecture of that period. The striking combination of its semi-circular frontage and tower also gives it a landmark status within the KOTCA. The Guildhall stands on its own, set back from the High Street, with gardens to the front and rear and the Hogsmill River to the south-west, forming its immediate setting. The open and landscaped character of these surroundings contribute to the civic status and heritage significance of the Guildhall in terms of its communal and aesthetic value.” 

In the View Study Report of 2018 (VSR) discussed below Kingston has designated only 13 views across the Borough as constituting THE “Very Highly Important Views” .

The VSR specifically identifies the Guildhall as a primary landmark and requires its setting and open backdrop skyline should be retained. This is featured in VHIV9. So important and significant is this view it is used as the front cover of the VSR report.

In the applicants documents the TVIBHA Addendum clearly shows that the residential tower will totally compromise the distinctive silhouette and setting of the Guildhall when viewed from the Barge walk the entire length of the Hogsmill footpath. The applicant seeks to argue that the residential tower will have a minimal impact on the setting of the Guildhall. This is clearly not borne out by the principles set forth in the VSR which specifically states that the “open backdrop skyline” shall be retained.

Furthermore, in the applicants TVIBHA Part 6 document, views 22 and 23 compare the Appeal scheme with the current. Although not seen in the angle of views pictured, the proposed residential tower would clearly be extremely prominent in the background and wider setting of the Guildhall. Contrary to the applicants suggestion the impact of both this application and the related application would be damaging to the setting of the Guildhall when taken in the round. .

The proposed residential tower would be harmful to the setting of the Guildhall. 

Market House and Market Place

The Appeal Decision states “(41) The KOTCA Character Appraisal describes Market Place as the heart of Kingston, of historical importance as the focus for trade and hospitality since the Medieval period. The buildings which flank Market Place are of both historic and aesthetic value due to their variety of vernacular architecture dating from the 15th century. At its centre is Market House, a Grade II* listed building of historical importance, as the former town hall, and of aesthetic value, in its well preserved Italianate style architecture, dating from the early Victorian period.”

And “(42). The immediate setting of these buildings within Market Place is an important component of their heritage significance, but the wider setting also makes a positive contribution. Apart from the views of All Saints Church and the Guildhall to the north and south, development beyond the Market Place and Conservation Area does not noticeably intrude into views from within the space. This preserves the historical sense of enclosure created by the surrounding buildings and allows the varied roofscape which is so characteristic of Market Place and the Old Town to be appreciated against the open sky.”

And due to its excessive height the proposed residential tower would equally “(43) .. create additional intrusion into the currently uninterrupted views above the roofline of the buildings on the eastern side of Market Place, disrupting its varied and traditional roofscape, in a different location to the EW and OPO schemes“

“(44) As such, the proposal would be cumulatively harmful to the setting of the buildings on the east side of Market Place, including both the listed buildings and the unlisted buildings of townscape merit which contribute to the character and appearance of the KOTCA. Therefore, it would be harmful to the significance of these heritage assets.

It is important to stress that the Planning Inspectorate made an additional comment which is highly relevant to the current application as follows:

“(44) cont ..However, any harm to the setting of Market House in these views would be limited by the fact that the proposed building would sit below its parapet, and would not visually compete with its corner roof pavilions.”

In the applicants TVIBHA Part 6 document, views 18 and 19 which compares the Appeal scheme with the current scheme. It is clear that the intrusion is in fact increased by both the proposed Eden Street building and even more so by the proposed residential tower. Moreover, I the proposed residential tower would cause harm to the setting of Market House by the fact that the proposed building would not sit below its parapet, and would visually compete with its corner roof pavilions and indeed set up a disturbing and very damaging competing rhythm with the Market House which appears to bring it closer into the historic setting. The proposed building would be harmful to the settings of the buildings on the east side of Market Place and would cause harm to the setting of the Grade II listed Market House itself. 

Kingston Old Town Conservation Area 

The Appeal Decision states “(45). The KOTCA Character Appraisal advises that the character and appearance of the Conservation Area could be affected by development beyond its boundary affecting views within the area or the settings and backdrops of buildings and views towards its principal landmarks. Policy CA1.5 of the Character Appraisal states that particular regard will be had to development proposals in locations immediately adjoining the KOTCA and defined as the Old Town CA Hinterland. The north-western quadrant of the appeal site sits within this hinterland”

And “(46). I have considered above the impact of the proposed development on the settings of the key heritage assets within and outside of the KOTCA. The harm to the setting and significance of the URC at the gateway to the KOTCA and of Market Place and the Guildhall within it would also result in harm to the setting and therefore the character and appearance of the KOTCA”

The proposed residential tower would be harmful to the setting and therefore the character and appearance of the KOTCA.

The Grade I listed Church of All Saints and Grade II* Kingston upon Thames War Memorial.

The immediate and wider setting of the Grade I listed church of All Saints is of immense importance to its significance as the parish church to the medieval town center. The well preserved collection of historic buildings, with the varied and traditional roofscape and skyline of the buildings within the Conservation area and beyond contribute positively to the setting. Within this setting to the east the Grade II* Kingston upon Thames War Memorial sits within the Memorial Garden.

The applicants TVIBHA document view 17 shows the intrusion of the proposed residential tower into the setting of the War Memorial directly to the west of the All Saints parish church.

The dominance of the church tower would be threatened by the intrusion of the proposed residential tower in the skyline, harming its setting and reducing the status and significance of the church.

Nearby Historic assets and Conservation Areas

Due to its excessive height, the proposed residential tower would intrude into the settings of CA6: Fairfield/Knight’s Park with its Grade II Listed Kingston Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, Stone From King John’s Palace in The Courtyard Of Kingston Public Library, and Kingston Grammar School; CA7: Grove Crescent with its Grade II listed St John’s Church Springfield Road;

These settings are characterised predominately by 2 storey Victorian houses, overwhich the proposed residential tower would loom, harming the views into and out of these settings. 

Historic assets and Conservation areas in the wider area.

In addition, due to its excessive height, the proposed residential tower would intrude into the settings of designated heritage assets and conservation areas over a much greater area, including but not limited to Hampton Court, Bushy Park and Richmond Park, the Grade II* listed Kingston Bridge and Surrey County Hall, Conservation Areas in the wider area including but not limited to CA15: Park Road; CA24: Riverside South with its Grade II* Church Of St Raphael and Grade II Listed Hermes Hotel, 3 Surbiton Road, Lambeth Coal Store (Uncovered), Chelsea Fountain/Monument, Chelsea Office/Lodge, Chelsea Coal Store and Lambeth Muniments Building; CA25: Riverside North; CA13: Richmond Road; CA5: Liverpool Road with its Grade II listed Vicarage and Vicarage End, Church of St Paul, Garden Wall And Gate Piers To Vicarage And Vicarage End And To The Church Of St Paul, Hampton Court Park CA andHampton Wick CA. The applicant’s heritage statement does not identify all the heritage assets affected by their proposals contrary to paragraph 189 of the NPPF.

Conclusion:

The proposed residential tower would dominate the skyline, intrude into views and so cause a high degree of harm to the settings and significance of a large number of Grade I, II* and II listed heritage assets over a wide area due to its excessive height and form. In particular to the settings of the Church of All Saints, Guildhall, Market House, Market Place, Kingston Old Town Conservation Area, Historic assets and Conservation Areas nearby and over the wider area.

To be consistent with the decision of the Secretary of State in the above mentioned Appeal both this application together with Application 20/02495/FUL, must be refused due to the equivalent or greater harm to the settings and significance of the same designated heritage assets as was determined in the Appeal Decision.

The cumulative effect of the proposed residential tower together with the proposed buildings of Application 20/02495/FUL would cause cumulative harm to the settings and significance of many designated heritage assets.

To be consistent with the Appeal Decision of the Secretary of State for the previous scheme, Planning permission must be refused.

Reasoning for Objection 2. Harm to character and appearance of the area

Impact on designated Very Highly Important Views

The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Views Study Report 2018 (VSR) is a material consideration in the determination of planning applications.

As stated above the VSR identifies “the most important views in the Borough by identifying important assets which include unique townscape character and heritage assets as well as their settings” and these views “epitomise the importance of Kingston’s townscape and assets … and their identification will enable the enduring protection and enhancement of views toward landmarks, historical assets, their setting and backdrop and skyline features”

It provides that “a development proposal that blocks, dominates or detracts from a view by virtue of its scale, position in a view or design is likely to result in an adverse impact on the defined assets within a view itself”.

There are only 13 Very Highly Important Views identified in Kingston. These views are ALL considered to have the highest value for all three categories of: The Viewing Place; The Viewer; and The View, warranting the highest level of protection.

The proposals of 20/02495/FUL and 20/02499/OUT would materially impact a number of these VIHVs. Specifically VIHV9 is shown on the front cover of the VSR itself and shows the skyline setting of the Guildhall which would be severely compromised by having its silhouette destroyed and overshadowed by the 22 storey residential tower. The proposed residential tower would invade the skyline behind the Guildhall and impose a modern development of a scale which is completely at odds with the setting and appreciation of the Guildhall.

The applicant seeks to minimise the transformational and cumulative impacts these proposals would have on a significant number of the VHIVs and to assert that in some cases the impact is ‘beneficial’. This is not supported by the significance attributed to these views by the VSR and the obvious and material impact these proposals would have due to the excessive scale height and massing of the buildings and in particular the 22 storey residential tower.

The proposed harmful impacts on a number of VHIVs mean that the application must be refused.

Reasoning for Objection 3. Conflict with tall building & public realm policies

Location and design of tall buildings where there should be none.

The proposed 22 storey residential tower would be above 30 metres in height and therefore classed as a tall building.

LonP Policy 7.7 sets the strategic context for tall and large buildings, which

  • should be part of a plan-led approach to changing or developing an area by the identification of appropriate, sensitive and inappropriate locations and should not have an unacceptably harmful impact on their surroundings.
  • should not affect their surroundings adversely in terms of microclimate, wind turbulence, overshadowing, noise, reflected glare, aviation, navigation and telecommunication interference
  • should not impact on local or strategic views adversely

Importantly it requires that tall buildings should “enhance the skyline and image of London”. Accordingly if they cause harm to heritage assets, by reason of impacts which arise (as in this case) from development on the skyline then they do not enhance it and conflict with Policy 7.7 arises.

LonP Policy 7.7E expects that the impact of tall buildings in sensitive locations should be given particular consideration. Such areas include Conservation Areas, and listed buildings and their settings.

Policy C8 of the Kingston Core Strategy 2012 states that “tall buildings may be appropriate within the Borough’s town centres but that some parts will be inappropriate or too sensitive for such buildings.” It provides that SPDs will provide further guidance on this matter AND that applications will be determined based on the criteria in the English Heritage/Cabe Guidance on Tall Buildings (July 2007) and the London Plan.

The relevant SPD in this context is The Eden Quarter Development Brief 2015 (EQDB) and as such should be considered as an integral part of the Kingston Development Plan. Only three sites are identified in the EQDB as suitable for tall buildings in the Eden Quarter.

The EQDB states “In specific places more significant height has been proposed. These building heights have only been proposed in locations where it is considered to be appropriate, either due to lower impact of the beneficial impact of establishing a landmark.” Landmark towers have already been approved at such locations for Royal Exchange and Eden Walk.

None of the approved “tall” building locations identified in the EQDB are situated in the Development site which states heights in the Development Site are to be limited to 6-8 storeys ie below 30m.

It is noteworthy that the height restriction plan in the EQDB clearly includes the area occupied by the current Lever House even though the existing building exceeds this height limitation. This would appear to reflect the Historic England guidance on Tall Buildings that recognises a tall building policy “highlights opportunities for the removal of past mistakes and their replacement by development of an improved quality and scale”.

Furthermore LonP Policy 7.8 makes it clear that development affecting heritage assets and their settings should conserve their significance, by being sympathetic to their form, scale, materials and architectural detail. Importantly, as there is no reference to balancing harm with public benefits in policy 7.8 of the London Plan, which states that development affecting heritage assets and their settings should conserve their significance. The proposal are inherently in conflict with that policy.

“Emerging Plan 

The emerging plan comprises the Intend to Publish London Plan (IDLP) 2019 (including Policy D9 (tall buildings) is directed by the Secretary of State to carry significant weight in any current applications and should therefore be considered in the context of these applications.

IDLP Policy D9 specifies that Boroughs should determine (i) if there are locations where tall buildings may be an appropriate form of development, subject to meeting the other requirements of the Plan; (ii) Any such locations and appropriate tall building heights should be identified on maps in Development Plans; and (iii) Tall buildings should only be developed in locations that are identified in Development Plans.

These provisions confirm the core principle of LonP that the location of “tall” buildings must be controlled and therefore reinforces the continued relevance of C8 and the EQDB in evaluating the current applications.

Policy D9 IDLP further requires that “Proposals (for “tall” buildings) should take account of, and avoid harm to, the significance of London’s heritage assets and their settings.

Proposals resulting in harm will require 

  • clear and convincing justification, 
  • demonstrating that alternatives have been explored; and
  • that there are clear public benefits that outweigh that harm. 

There is no clear and convincing justification for the proposals put forward by the Applicant primarily it would appear because they do not accept the harm that would be caused to heritage assets. Nor is it demonstrated that any alternatives have truly been explored which would deliver on the expectations of the EQDB and avoid harm to heritage assets. Again the justification for not doing so appears to be the Applicants contention that there is no harm to Heritage Assets and the assertion by the Applicant that the EQDB is not policy. We do not believe either of these assertions to be correct.

The harm to multiple heritage assets is clearly articulated in the abovementioned Planning Inspectorate Appeal decision and the same rationale is equally applicable to the current proposals.

IDLP Policy D9 (Ciii) also provides that “where the edges of the site are adjacent to buildings of significantly lower height or parks and other open spaces there should be an appropriate transition in scale between the tall building and its surrounding context to protect amenity or privacy.

The proposed 22 storey tower is adjacent to the residential conservation area albeit separated by Wheatfield way and represents a more than doubling in height compared to the current Lever House and as such will impact the amenity and privacy in the adjacent residential conservation area as there is no transition in scale incorporated in the design.

This is reinforced by the Kingston Town Centre – Historic Area Study 2016 which also sets out clear directions for the Eden Quarter Development site that “In consultation with Historic England historic building recording and archaeological safeguards have been recommended. The relationship with the old town centre and the low-lying residential area directly to the east and now part of the Fairfield Conservation Area, i.e. the mediation between two strong character areas, is an important consideration for development in this part of the town centre”

The proposal in this outline application for a tall building does not comply in any way with this expectation.

HISTORIC ENGLAND 

Historic England (HE) is the Government’s expert adviser on the historic environment. HE issued Tall Buildings Advice Note 4 in December 2015 which updates the previous guidance by English Heritage and CABE referred to in C8 above.

This Advice note 4 is therefore a material consideration for all planning applications involving Tall Buildings.

The HE Advice note 4 requires that “when considering any proposal that has an adverse impact on a designated heritage asset through development within its setting, ‘great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation’, with any harm requiring a ‘clear and convincing justification’ (NPPF paragraph 193 and 194). In assessing this justification, and in weighing any public benefits offered by a tall building proposal, local planning authorities will need to pay particular regard to the policies in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the NPPF that state that economic, social and environmental gains are to be sought jointly and simultaneously in order to deliver positive improvements in the quality of the built, natural and historic environment. This may involve the examination of alternative designs or schemes that might be more sustainable because they can deliver public benefits alongside positive improvement in the local environment…There may be good planning reasons to seek an increased development density in an area, but tall buildings represent only one possible model for delivering higher density development. Alternative forms may relate more successfully to the local context.”

The Advice note goes on to make it clear that “If a tall building is harmful to the historic environment, then without a careful examination of the worth of any public benefits that the proposed tall building is said to deliver and of the alternative means of delivering them, the planning authority is unlikely to be able to find a clear and convincing justification for the cumulative harm.”

In the case of the current application it does not appear that the applicant has been required to explore and report on “any alternative designs or schemes that might be more sustainable because they can deliver public benefits alongside positive improvement in the local environment” . Indeed the applicants appear merely to understate and dismiss the harm caused to Heritage assets and their settings and accordingly fail to provide the justifications and analysis required.

Furthermore as HE states “ A rigorous process of analysis and justification will be needed in each case.

HE advice states that an existing single tall building does not “naturally justify further tall buildings so as to form a cluster.” The only justification for the residential tower and the tall buildings proposed in 20/02495/FUL put forward by the applicant is the fact there are tall buildings at Royal Exchange and Eden Walk, both of which were specifically permitted by the Development Plan, and Kingston University building which pre-existed the Development Plan. These are not legitimate justifications for the placing of tall buildings on this site.

As stated above it is noteworthy that the height restriction plan in the EQDB clearly includes the area occupied by the current Lever House even though the existing building exceeds this height limitation. This reflects the HE guidance recognising “opportunities for the removal of past mistakes and their replacement by development of an improved quality and scale”.

Public Realm

Hogsmill River space becomes setting for the residential tower

The applicant clarifies in the documents submitted that they do not own the land around the Hogsmill although it is included in their planning application for outline planning permission. This land is already in public ownership. The improvements to the Hogsmill and its setting in this small area are to be welcomed however the incorporation of the Hogsmill area into the site would blur the southern boundary, thereby ‘claiming’ private ownership of this public space as the setting for the proposed tower.

 

In conclusion the Society objects to this Application which should be robustly refused, using all the arguments put forward above.