As is our habit, we have been digging around for further information on the Earl's Court project. And we think we have come up with something that ought to have a fuse and and explosives warning attached.
Hidden away on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea website is a report by a panel of experts including architects and individuals from English Heritage and GLA. The report is dated 12th August 2012. This panel was formed by both the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and LBHF in order to report on the viability and general quality of the application by CapCo for the full development and implementation of the Earl's Court Masterplan. One assumes the report is to be considered prior to the outline planning application being heard next week. The report can be found here
This is a fascinating document and if the council take heed of it, they will reject the application. The Panel says that it cannot support the application in its current form. In fact, when you read its catalogue of criticisms and at times barely concealed incredulity, you can only reach one conclusion; the Earl's Court masterplan is load of rubbish. It questions whether it will ever be finished too.
Among many criticisms, the Panel (paid for and commissioned by LBHF let us remember) say;
That there is no central "anchor user" or cultural heart of the project
That the north of the development does not appear to be viable for the use proposed
That the "four villages concept" is a decent one, the development will be nothing of the sort and will in fact resemble a high rise, densely populated urban sprawl
That the nature and vagueness of the outline approval sets up a real risk that the development will eventually be beyond the control of the planning authorities
That the economic benefits the applicant claims will be generated have not been evidenced
That the development looks to be totally out of keeping with the area, will overwhelm it and is architecturally very unimpressive and "underwhelming"
They suggest the buildings and dwellings could be dark and oppressive
The panel has many concerns about the deleterious effect on the surrounding area such a densely populated development will have both in terms of quality of life for people living there, traffic chaos and congestion
The development has no "purpose" it leads nowhere, has no destination.
In every paragraph there is criticism.
In essence the panel has drawn a picture of a monstrous, densely populated, ill thought out soulless place with no purpose or point. They comprehensively condemn the whole idea, a conclusion that is easily drawn even with the reserved and cautious language of such reports.
The panel were also critical of the applicant and councils for not providing drawings and information when asked. It would, in any normal circumstance, lead one to believe that the planning application will be thrown out on its ear and sent back to the drawing board. The panel haven't said it, but a large cultural anchor use (like a football stadium perhaps?) would bring purpose to the development. But of course, these are not normal circumstances. LBHF now has a conditional land sale agreement in place for which they will receive over 100 million quid. The council is in partnership with CapCo. The panel allude to the sense of unbridled townscape vandalism that may well occur with such vague plans and that each consequent phase of the four villages concept is at risk of lacking harmony and coherence. But in effect, LBHF are not really in a position to turn their face against their generous new partner.
We will leave readers to digest this report themselves but we would urge fans to think very carefully about the picture that is emerging here. LBHF are about to give the go ahead to a project that their own experts have categorically rejected. Our reading of their conclusions is that the EC development has the potential for planning disaster.
We remain convinced that LBHF have some serious questions to answer. Fans should make every effort to lobby the council (not on their view that SB can be developed which they have yet to substantiate in any way beyond suggesting the club try to buy Oswald Stoll Mansions) but on why they are so ferociously opposed to working with CFC and CapCo to help the club move to Earls Court. Such a partnership would bring cash and purpose to the project and create a development with a solid vision, real purpose and heart and which would have a less crippling impact on the people living in the area. Chelsea have also offered the exhibition industry the prospect of retaining EC as a major and vital facility that maintains the heritage of the site.
Very little of what is going on appears to make any sense whatsoever and Chelsea fans must start to call the council to account on it. Now.