Development Committee misled by planning officer – result? Eden ‘Campus’ approved

We observed RB Kingston’s 31st March Development Control Committee (DCC) meeting and were disappointed to see that the Members were misinformed by the Committee Report and the officer presenting the Eden Campus applications in respect of a number of key planning policy matters as well as other material factual matters. Had the planning policy position been explained in a less contrived and more balanced way it is entirely probable that Members of the DCC would have reached a very different conclusion on these applications.

In our view the way that these issues were presented was a clear demonstration of bias towards the developer and a deliberate misrepresentation of policy.

The four policy issues are:

1. Inconsistent approach to Opportunity Area status
2. Inappropriate interpretation of London Plan car parking standards
3. Downplaying the status of the Eden Quarter Development Brief Supplementary Planning Document
4. Failure to address the requirements of the London Plan tall buildings policy

Opportunity Area status
The Committee Report and the officer presenting to the Committee are inconsistent in the way the Opportunity Area (OA) status issue is presented. When building heights are considered Paragraph 54 of Committee Report (A25) makes it clear that the site is within the town centre and that the town centre is within the Kingston OA. No doubt is expressed as to whether the site is in or out; it is clearly held to be within the OA. Thus, when seeking to justify the heights of the buildings proposed Members are advised that the OA status provides the justification, indeed this is identified as the prime reason for departing from policy/guidance on building heights (paragraph 108 A34). However, when it comes to considering car parking standards (Committee Report A55/56) the report sheds doubt on whether the site is within OA boundary (paragraph 227), suggesting the site could equally be considered to be in an Outer London location, which would provide a much more generous parking provision. Setting aside for a minute that it is not credible for the officer to suggest that this location would not be within the OA boundary, our concern is that this inconsistency – within the OA when it supports the tall buildings, and more circumspect when parking standards are considered -introduces a bias in favour of the developer, suggesting to Members that the scheme proposed may not be contrary to London Plan car parking policy.

This is clearly wrong as evidenced by the GLA’s stage 1 response to the scheme that considered that the scheme is within the OA and should be car-free.

Car parking
Linked to the point above, the report and officer presentation to Members was not balanced in terms of the matter of car parking standards. While the Committee Report does refer to the GLA’s view that the scheme should be car-free, as it is located within the Kingston OA (Stage 1 paragraph 31), the section of the report that discusses parking – Highways and Transportation (Committee Report A55/56) fails to mention and draw on this, and it is not considered in the weighing up of the Highways and Transportation issues. This omission demonstrates bias in the reporting.

A cornerstone of the applicant’s case all along has been that the site sits within the Kingston Opportunity Area, yet when the report and officer presenting came to consider the level of car parking allowed (the London Plan encourages car free in OAs and accessible town centres), Members were advised that it was equally possible that the site could be considered an ‘Outer’ London location, a category that affords a much higher parking ratio – allowing parking just about consistent with what the applicant proposes.

We do not dispute that the precise boundary for the OA is a matter for the LPA to determine in the future, but it is beyond the bounds of credibility that this site could be considered anything other than OA/town centre. Presenting a range of potential car parking maximums including that for the much more relaxed Outer London standard, when the GLA have said that the scheme should be car free presented a biased and unbalanced view. This will have misled Members into devaluing the weight they needed to apply to the GLA’s car parking objection.

There is a second, and equal if not greater concern with the consideration of car parking, again related to the London Plan Policy. The Committee Report at paragraph 221 refers correctly to how London Plan Policy T6.2 states parking provision should reflect the current approach and not be re-provided at previous levels where this exceeds the standards set out in this policy. This is critical for this scheme, which proposes to demolish one MSCP and replace with another. Given the policy position – not to re-provide at previous levels – it is incomprehensible that the Committee Report (at paragraph 234) and the officer presenting sought to justify the acceptability of a replacement multi-storey car park precisely because misrepresentation of policy and cannot go unchecked, because it goes completely against policy.

The status of the Eden Quarter Development Brief
The Report and officer presenting down played the significance of the EQDB SPD, devaluing it to the extent that Members in coming to their decision will have placed little or no weight on it. There are two issues here:

1. The status of the EQDB SPD as part of the Development Plan, and secondly
2. The relevance of the guidance it provides on appropriate and acceptable building heights.

The officer presenting to the Members of the DCC stated time and again that London Plan Policy D9 – that sets out the requirement to identify where tall buildings are/are not appropriate, was a new policy introduced by the new London Plan, and as this was only adopted in March there had therefore been no time to implement this policy directive. But this is misleading as the encouragement for boroughs to identify locations for tall buildings was included in policy in the previous London Plan (Pol 7.7 part E – indeed both ‘Es’ are relevant and worth reading in this context), and thus the encouragement has been in place
for years. In 2015 Kingston did what the policy suggested it should do – it prepared the EQDB SPD that provided the guidance on where height was /was not appropriate.

The effect of the officer’s down playing was to suggest to Members that only minimal weight can be attached to the EQDB SPD as it was not part of, or required by policy until the adoption of the London Plan and policy D9 just four weeks ago. This is wrong – the EQDB is part of Kingston’s Local Development Framework, and was prepared through public engagement and consultation, and adopted by Kingston in conformity with the last London Plan (Pol 7.7E), and indeed in terms of its guidance on building heights the EQDB SPD remains in conformity with current London Plan Policy D9.

Granted that the guidance in the EQDB SPD has moved on in some respects, such as appropriate uses – development can no longer be expected to be retail-led. However, the guidance in the EQDB SPD on appropriate building heights is as relevant now as it was in 2015. The heights guidance was subject to extensive public consultation and carefullyconsidered. The adopted SPD identifies three locations for taller buildings, and Surrey House is not one of these. Surrey House is identified for between 6-8 storeys precisely because of the harm a building taller than 8 storeys would have on heritage assets and viewing corridors. This position has not changed – Kingston’s heritage assets have been with us for hundreds of years, and we are determined to pass these on to future generations without devaluing them. The officer failed to make Members fully aware of this.

London Plan tall buildings policy
The forth area that neither the report nor the officer presenting made Members aware of, concerns the London Plan tall buildings policy (D9). This contains two critical elements that the report and officer presentation ignored. Firstly, the policy states that tall buildings “should only be developed in locations that are identified as suitable in Development Plans” [our emphasis]. Secondly, the requirement to explore alternative scheme designs where there is the potential for harm to heritage assets [our emphasis]. These aspects of the policy were ignored in the report and by the officer presentation.

Considering the first point, the D9 policy position represents a ‘hardening’ of the position in respect of tall buildings compared to the previous policy 7.7 position. Whereas the previous plan said tall buildings should “generally” be limited to identified locations, the new Plan states that they should “only be developed in locations that are identified as suitable in development plans” [our emphasis]. The EQDB SPD does exactly what D9 requires. Kingston CS8 explains exactly how suitable locations will be identified and the EQDB SPD identifies suitable locations. As referred to above, the Eden Campus site is not identified for
tall buildings, and maybe the reason why the promoter and Council wish to downplay a document that guides how policy should be interpreted.

Turning to the second point, London Plan D9 states that proposals that could harm the significance of London’s heritage assets will require clear and convincing justification, demonstrating that alternatives have been explored (D9(C1d)) [our emphasis]. It is accepted by the Council and the promoter that the scheme generates less than substantial harm, and therefore D9’s requirement is engaged.

So here we have a scheme involving the provision of 354 on-site car parking spaces where the GLA seeks car free development, a development form (height and massing) that the Council accepts will cause harm to heritage assets / viewing corridors, a policy requirement (LP D9(C1d) to consider alternatives. But, rather than requiring the promoter to consider alternatives – that should include the non-re-provision of the policy conflicting MSCP, the officer instead did the opposite he sought to justify the MSCP by categorising the site’s location as outer London and downplaying the EQDB SPD guidance on tall buildings by
suggesting the requirement to identify suitable locations had only arrived with the newly published London Plan. The policy requirements in relation to this proposal were reported in an unbalanced way, and clearly presented with bias to the developer.

A further point for the GLA in respect of tall buildings in Kingston
In regard to the location of tall buildings, we note again that the GLA has misinterpreted Kingston’s policy on this, as set out in CS8 and the detailed guidance in the EQDB. It most certainly is not the case that tall buildings can be located anywhere in Kingston town centre, which is what the GLA Stage 1 response concluded. The EQDB identifies where these are /are not appropriate – the Surrey House site was deemed inappropriate for buildings greater than 8 storeys.

We consider that the Committee Report and officer presentation to the Members of the DCC Committee was biased in favour of the applicant, and was not balanced and was misleading and indeed an incorrect interpretation of policy as set out above. There is therefore an urgent need for either the Mayor or the Secretary to State to take over the determination of this application as the local decision-maker clearly has failed to do this in an objective and fair manner.

The Society strongly opposes these applications on the basis clearly set out in our collective responses. These applications should be refused.

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Last Updated on April 20, 2021 by Kingston Society