Monday 19 March 2012

H and F and the SPD. Extraordinary Council meeting tonight

You will have heard mention of the draft SPD in these pages. It is the document that will inform the planning decisions of the two councils at Earls Court over the next few years. Tonight the council will hold an Extraordinary Council Meeting to discuss and then presumably sign off the draft SPD. In this very large document are appendices that set out the various aspects of the development. It also gives a summary of the consultations on it  - which includes a cursory dismissal of the concerns of West Ken and Gibbs Green residents. It is not surprising that the council are so determinedly driving their concerns to the periphery as we predicted they would and so it comes down to the Mayor (see previous blogs). But the section of the SPD that concerns Chelsea is the Cultural strategy.

All such large developments need to satisfy particular policies within the Mayor's London Plan. The one that concerns culture states;

'Support for and enhancement of arts, culture, sport and entertainment provision' (Policy 4.6)

This is a fairly loose policy as you can see. In the SPD, the detail surrounding this issue is seemingly not going to change and it would be wrong to expect the council to explicitly state a football stadium.  It then becomes an issue of interpretation. In their submission to the council on Seagrave Road, Chelsea provided a strong indication that they could satisfy the needs of the SPD with a stadium. The SPD indicates that a cultural facility (and they use several large museums as examples) would need to provide similar use to the existing exhibition space and should be one of the first things to go up on the development to help sustain the businesses that have come to rely on the exhibition centres.

It goes further;

8.11 An analysis of various cultural venues throughout Great Britain is shown in Table 8.1. With this in mind, the authorities will expect that, to be considered 'large', cultural facilities should have:

  • a minimum footprint of 2,500sqm (GEA);

  • a minimum floorspace of 10,000sqm (GIA);

  • a hosting capacity of at least 2,000 visitors; and

  • attract approximately 750,000 visitors per year.

8.12 The extent to which one or several attractions anchor the cultural destination will not only depend on the size of the venue(s), but also the offer, location and how the attraction(s) are supported by smaller cultural venues, artists' studios, other creative workshop and studio space and bars / restaurants. Table 8.1 lists examples of smaller cultural facilities, showing that they can occupy relatively small spaces, which is likely to meet a demand for cultural space from local organisations. The extent to which the arts and cultural offer create a destination must therefore be considered in the cultural strategy, as required above.

8.13 RBKC Core Strategy Policy CA7d indicates that a cultural facility must be located near to public transport accessibility. As Earl's Court Underground Station is the busiest station in the OA, at least one cultural facility must be located in the same general location. The type, size and offer must be such to sustain a culture facility in this location for the longer term. In this location it will help to create a sense of arrival to the OA from Earl's Court Underground Station. It will also ensure cultural facilities are provided early in the site's development, aiding those existing business that depend on the current footfall from the exhibition centres.


So what we have is an attempt to attract a large cultural provider. We have hinted that within certain circles, it is accepted that a football stadium qualifies as a cultural destination or provision.  Interesting to note that a very short distance away, The Design Museum are about to begin work on their brand new home at The Commonwealth Institute so it is hard to imagine who might want to take up residence at EC. However, with the desire for "Artists studios" etc, it seems to us that Chelsea are batting on a sticky wicket. It is possible they could include provision of such things or contribute to a smaller venue although you must note the minimum scale the council expects this cultural facility to attract. Truth is, 750,000 visitors per year is only achievable by a major cultural institution and one wonders who would want to invest in a new home here or how CapCo can make such a thing pay. Of course, a 60,000 football stadium would bring at least 1 million per season so CFC would more than qualify. 

It is necessary to note the sort of numbers the council want as a MINIMUM so one wonders why they might object to a stadium?  But let us be honest, whilst the club have plenty to work with on this, it is clear the councils don't want a stadium because with their housing plans and provision within the existing masterplan, there is simply no room. That leaves us relying on the Mayor and other potential judicial reviews, financial problems for the development and CapCo themselves managing to carry the whole thing off. 

There is plenty of evidence to suggest there is a lot of very dodgy business about EC. Chelsea have been trying for over a year to have this SPD changed and we have seen the abhorrent behaviour of the council over the expansion of SB.  With the (likely) signing off of the SPD tonight, the chances of a stadium at EC have diminished slightly but have certainly not been extinguished since the Mayor has to sign it all off and see the full planning applications. In one way, this is just process. But the council are playing a game with the club with regard to Stamford Bridge and as soon as they believe their position is secure at EC and they have successfully railroaded their plan through, they will no doubt adopt their traditional intransigent position on the club. That is why the meeting with the council and the CPO board is critical in getting them to actually say what is possible. Anybody who believes a single word of the council's statements on SB is genuinely being duped. You should ask yourself one question; why would a 60,000 stadium at SB apparently be aceptable after years of restriction but one a short distance away on a huge new development NOT be acceptable. A cursory glance through this blog will give you the answer.

More is, of course, to come.

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