Monday 10 September 2012

Further Reflections on the Earls Court Design Review Panel Final Report

It is just two days since CFCTruth were the very first blog to uncover and publicise the utterly damning Earls Court Design Review Panel report which set out a long list of fundamental flaws with the current plans for the Earls Court Opportunity Area. If you haven’t yet read the document please take the time to do so.

It still surprises us that this document had not been reported far and wide both through the many blogs who have paid attention to the scheme and in the mainstream media – especially as the whole Earls Court development is so contentious. However, we hope this will quickly be remedied and that people across London will soon be made aware of exactly what kind of scheme Hammersmith & Fulham Council are likely to vote through on Wednesday 12th September.

Perhaps it is because the vote on the planning application is so imminent and the outcome so close to being inevitable, that some local commentators have struggled to recognise the potential importance of the report both to the people of London as a whole and also to the future of Chelsea Football Club.  So we will try to spell it out for them.

It is quite clear that the Panel have a series of concerns about the current plans for Earls Court. There is no need for us to restate them again - you can read the Panel’s criticisms in the report itself. But do we expect these comments and criticisms to affect the decision of the LBHF Planning Applications Committee on Wednesday? No we do not.

However, the decision on Wednesday is far from the last word on the scheme. Such a major development also requires the approval of the Mayor of London and, despite expectations to the contrary, Boris’s approval is not a foregone conclusion. Those who disagree might take the time to read the letter  dated 7 December 2011 from the GLA Development & Environment Directorate which sets out the 44 ways in which the first version of CapCo's planning application is inconsistent with Boris's London Plan.

What is obvious when reading the DRP Report (which is based on the latest version of the planning application) is that many of the long list of infringements of the London Plan that were identified by the GLA DED have still not been properly addressed by the developers.

The role of the Mayor in the process is quite clear. All applications for development which are of Potential Strategic Importance (and Earls Court certainly belongs in this category) have to be submitted for approval by the Mayor and he must respond within six weeks stating either that he:
  • allows the planning authority’s decision to stand.
  • directs that the application should be refused, or
  • will take over the application himself.

Any one of these outcomes is possible when it comes to Earls Court but based on the DRP report it seems highly unlikely that the Mayor will be in a position to give immediate approval to the scheme unless various issues are addressed. Otherwise, the Mayor himself could be opening himself up to potential legal challenge.

What could this mean for Chelsea's chances of working with CapCo and the councils in order to build a stadium at Earls Court? CFCTruth believe there is a possibility of a positive impact on this front as a result of the Mayor’s intervention but that, on balance, it would be best not to expect too much. As we have stated previously ( we believe that Boris is open to the idea of a stadium at Earls Court. Indeed his London Plan states specifically:

Earls Court & West Kensington
The potential for a strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction and strategically significant offices should be explored together with retail, hotels and supporting social infrastructure.

But, as of now, we still do not believe that the councils have seriously looked at incorporating a strategic cultural anchor into the Earls Court site let alone a stadium. And Boris may have an opinion on this specific point.

n.b.  It is worth noting that the Mayor's London Plan did not see any potential for such a “strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction” at Battersea/Nine Elms so perhaps it should not have been a surprise to us when his deputy came out so strongly against the idea of a stadium on that site.

So, as we have stated, our understanding is that Boris is open to the idea of a stadium at Earls Court (as are some key people within RBKC). But do we really think that the Mayor would be willing to fight for a stadium against the wishes of the local authority (and quite probably a sizable proportion of the local residents)? Sadly, we think probably not.

So is that the end of the matter? We think not and to explain why we need to go back to the Earls Court Masterplan and the DRP Report.

The current plans envisage the development being phased over a twenty year period with the final phase not due for completion until 2032. What this means in reality is that the developers intend to build on all the prime areas of the site first – areas which also happen to be cheaper to build on due to less of a need to build over existing railway tracks. Then, from autumn 2018 onwards, the developers promise they will build Phases 5, 6 and 7 which will require more extensive and expensive decking over the railway lines.

The DRP Report has real doubts about this. They state:

A further concern is the viability of the later stages of development where large areas of ‘building over’ are required. The Panel sees a risk that problems of viability may mean that the northern part of the masterplan ultimately does not proceed, and this would adversely affect any coherence that is achieved in the scheme. 

Interestingly, we have been reliably informed that this northernmost part of the site (the area due to be developed in Phases 5, 6 and 7) is by far the most likely location for a stadium on the site if permission could ever be secured. So we have a situation where even if the plans proceed exactly as expected, the potential stadium site would not start being developed until late 2018 at the earliest. And where the expert Design Review Panel is questioning whether it will ever be viable for the developer to build anything else on the most likely site of a new stadium whilst also separately stating that the whole development would benefit from a ‘significant cultural anchor user’.

This is when the dots start to be joined together. The Panel are stating in their report that the Earls Court development is inappropriate in terms of its scale and density. The GLA Development & Environment Directorate also said much the same in their letter which listed the 44 ways in which the planned development breached the London Plan. If Boris does act to reject the current planning application or (more likely) to ask for changes to be made then this can only impact further on the already marginal viability of CapCo’s plans for the north of the site thus making it all the more likely that the fully phased plan will never be completed. This would clearly put Chelsea back in the game.

However, it has to be said that this is not an entirely optimistic assessment of the situation. What if this scenario did come to happen and Chelsea were eventually given the chance to build a stadium at Earls Court? The Panel Report states that:

The reasoning for the siting of buildings to avoid them being located directly over the rail lines is understood as it would involve heavier long span structures and consequent high site formation costs.

What seems clear is that if everything falls into place and the club did somehow get the opportunity to build a stadium at Earls Court, they would also face huge logistical and engineering challenges in order to make the site in the North East of the Earls Court Opportunity Area work as a stadium location. This means that it would be an expensive option too, even setting aside the many likely planning obstacles. Would it be viable for the club? This can’t be determined at this stage but it would at least be a genuine option.

None of this is certain of course; all of it is speculative. But what IS certain is that the future of Earls Court will not be decided in a council committee room this week. It will not even be decided in Boris’s office in the next few months. This is a story that won’t be finished anytime soon whatever the council says. Instead, it will play out over the next decade and beyond. Watch this space.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Other emails

LBHF Planning Applications Committee
Councillor Alex Chalk (Chairman)
Councillor Matt Thorley
Councillor Colin Aherne
Councillor Michael Cartwright
Councillor Georgie Cooney
Councillor Oliver Craig
Councillor Rachel Ford
Councillor Peter Graham
Councillor Wesley Harcourt
Councillor Alex Karmel


Some people have asked for email addresses to which they can send their thoughts about the Earl's Court development.

The first two would be Mayor of London and the leader of LBHF council. More will follow;

Mayor of London

Leader LBHF            

We await contact from Cllr Adam or anybody else in response to our invitation. We will keep you informed.

Earl's Court plan rubbished by councils' own panel

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.

Friday 7 September 2012

Comment from LBHF

Readers may be interested to read comments at the bottom of our 3rd September post....

All eyes back on Earl's Court

Apologies for the long post this morning but it is worth the effort.

With Battersea Power Station seemingly drifting out of sight, all eyes are now back on Earl's Court.  LBHF's cabinet recently rubber stamped the CLSA with CapCo, flying in the face of the residents of the two estates, West Ken and Gibbs Green. We expect the matter to get fierce and political in coming months with the residents vowing to fight the development through the courts and you can see what they think if you use the links in our previous blog.

However, Chelsea are not idle on the matter either. In February they lodged an objection in the planning documents for the Seagrave Road element of the development and have done so again for a paper on the 12th September, when the scheme goes up for outline approval. 

We have for some time been explaining that Chelsea have been quietly working up plans and ideas for Earl's Court, playing the political system and seemingly getting support for a stadium at EC from Boris. Their submission to the planning committee is very explicit; Chelsea would bring speed and cash to the project and the opportunity area guidelines and London Plan leave open - nay, demand - the possibility of a stadium there. Indeed, CFC contend that the current master plan contravenes the expectations of the London Plan by not including sufficient cultural or leisure facilities.

Below we print the text from the planning paper. The first thing to note is that this text is written by a planning officer from LBHF and is his interpretation of the submission from Chelsea. In bold are three statements of interest; the first is a curiosity insofar as we are interested what other borough locations have been explored. The second perhaps offers a clue as the grounds upon which Chelsea might make a legal challenge and the third is a line we were amused by...the officer has chosen not to list the benefits CFC believe a stadium would bring to the area! 

Chelsea Football Club

Submit that the current application fails to take advantage of the potential for a
new strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction such as a new stadium
development, with associated conference and exhibition spaces.
• Also consider the application to be premature until the "OAPF has been fully
• CFC have been "exploring options to relocate elsewhere in the Borough. These
options are limited but it appears that the ECWK OA could accommodate the
club's requirements."

• Support the efforts of the authorities and landowners to comprehensively
regenerate ECWKOA, but consider that the current applications does not fully
recognise the opportunity the site presents to provide "a strategic leisure, cultural
and visitor attraction" as identified in the London Plan.
• State that the overall level of leisure, education, health, community and cultural
uses in the proposed development "account for only approximately 3% of the
overall floorspace applied for".

• Submit that the "creation of a new stadium, as well as additional conference and
exhibition space at ECWKOA could facilitate regeneration and create a high
quality flagship development, providing a gateway for London and meeting the
objectives of the London Plan to provide "a strategic leisure, cultural and visitor
attraction within the Opportunity Area."
• Want to ensure that the opportunity is taken to "explore fully how a new state of
the art football stadium can be integrated into this major development
opportunity", and consider that "such a component in the opportunity area would
make a significant difference in terms of the deliverability and quality of the
infrastructure needed to make the area a success in the shortest possible time".
• The letter goes on to list a number of specific benefits that CFC believe the
incorporation of a stadium would offer (these not repeated in this report as there
is no stadium proposed in the planning application currently before the

This next text is from a story in CoStar news

Capco set for Earls Court all clear as Chelsea FC lobbies for stadium
By Paul Norman - Thursday, September 06, 2012 15:35

Capital & Counties is poised to gain outline approval for its redevelopment of Earls Court in west London but Chelsea Football Club continues to lobby vigorously for a major new stadium to be included within the 10.04m sq ft scheme.
Capco lodged two other outline applications in June of last year for a Sir Terry Farrell-designed 11.4m sq ft scheme that in total proposed demolishing the Earls Court One and Two exhibition centres and building up to 7,500 homes and 2m sq ft of offices, retail and leisure including two hotels.

It also lodged detailed plans for the 7.5-acre Seagrave Road site proposing 808 residential units. These detailed plans were approved in February of this year.

Following widespread consultation, Capco has subsequently revised the overall plans, reducing it from 942,861 sqm to 932,831 sq m (10.04m sq ft). The proposed total number of residential units has been increased from 5,759 to 5,845 while business space has reduced by 20,064 sq m to 84,701 sq m.

Planning officers have recommended that at a 12 September committee meeting next week, subject to there being no contrary direction from the Mayor for London, that Hammersmith & Fulham council authorises the Executive Director of Transport and Technical Services to grant permission upon the completion of a satisfactory legal and section 106 agreement and subject to a series of conditions.

Officers write glowingly of the scheme saying it would "contribute to the regeneration of the area, improve education and employment opportunities, and promote sustainable economic growth".

The proposed development would be a "high quality development which would make a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Earls Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area".

European football champions Chelsea FC however remain among a number of objectors seeking significant changes to the proposals.

Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, has been linked on several occasions to the site alongside other nearby major development sites including the BBCs White City site and Battersea Power Station, which it was an unsuccessful bidder for earlier this year.

However, the club, advised by CBRE, is understood to favour a site at the north of the Earls Court project as it is closest to its current home and is well served by transport.

The club initially objected to the plans claiming a decision should be deferred until a Supplementary Planning Document for the area is adopted taking into account its preference for the overall development to include a new stadium with conference and exhibition spaces.

In March Hammersmith however adopted the Supplementary Planning Document covering the Earls Court & West Kensington Opportunity Area and supporting the planning policy basis for the consideration of Capcos application.

Chelsea has now written to again oppose the application because it "fails to take advantage of the potential for a new strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction such as a new stadium development, with associated conference and exhibition spaces".

It now considers that the application is premature before the "Opportunity Area Planning Framework has been fully adopted".

Hammersmith writes that CFC has been "exploring options to relocate elsewhere in the Borough. These options are limited but it appears that the [Earls Court opportunity area] could accommodate the clubs requirements."

The club, which is currently at the top of the Premier League table, does however "support the efforts of the authorities and landowners to comprehensively regenerate ECWKOA, but consider that the current application does not fully recognise the opportunity the site presents to provide a strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction as identified in the London Plan".

It also adds that the overall level of leisure, education, health, community and cultural uses in the proposed development "account for only approximately 3% of the overall floorspace applied for".

Chelsea FC says the "creation of a new stadium, as well as additional conference and exhibition space at ECWKOA could facilitate regeneration and create a high quality flagship development, providing a gateway for London and meeting the objectives of the London Plan to provide "a strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction within the Opportunity Area."

Chelsea calls on the council to ensure that the opportunity is taken to "explore fully how a new state of the art football stadium can be integrated into this major development opportunity", and consider that "such a component in the opportunity area would make a significant difference in terms of the deliverability and quality of the infrastructure needed to make the area a success in the shortest possible time". 


So what does this all mean?

There are a number of interpretations that can be extracted. The context, we believe is that CapCo have been keen to incorporate a stadium in order to bring capital and a real shot in the arm to the project. You all know by now that this was the reason behind the share buy back last October. CapCo are rumoured to be less than swimming in cash. The most optimistic of the possible outcomes is one where the club know they have sufficient support from the Mayor and will challenge the development at each stage, eventually persuading him to call the development in.  The most pessimistic is that Chelsea, despite their persistence, are flogging a dead horse. A project of this size rarely follows a simple path and within a year everything can change, especially with the toxic issue of the two estates becoming ever more prominent.

We have heard that there are in existence images of a stadium design at Earls Court and we would very much like to see the club publish those.

We would also strongly propose that all Chelsea fans direct their efforts to applying pressure on the council to loosen their position on Earl's Court rather than taking their unsubstantiated claims of SB expansion and trying to beat the club with them.  We have said it before; if they are apparently happy to countenance a 55-60k stadium at SB (which simply isn't feasible) then they ought to be comfortable with the club moving a few hundred yards along the railway track and so cfcretaining the financial benefits to the area they profess to be so keen to maintain. We should be asking WHY they are so resistant to Chelsea's obvious desire to bring cash and benefits to the project. When you think about it, it doesn't make any sense at all really does it?

Monday 3 September 2012

Earls Court: A Missed Opportunity

Chelsea fans may be interested in the Cabinet Meeting taking place at LBHF tonight. The sale of the West Ken and Gibbs Green estates is crucial to CapCo's plans to develop Earl.'s Court and produce a healthy wedge of cash for the council. We print below the press release published by residents of those estates and it makes a very serious charge of gerrymandering against the council. It also offers up an interesting challenge to the Prime Minister.

We have little doubt that the council, despite the consultation results, will force through the plan to sell and demolish the estates but it would appear that the whole issue could begin to generate quite a bit of controversy at a local and perhaps national level.  It also puts into context the challenge that Chelsea have been facing with this issue. Not acquiring the shares a year ago was a lost opportunity as CapCo were ready to do business with the club at the expense of the council. A shame. 

Is EC lost as an option should these plans be approved? Well, it isn't going to get any easier, that is for sure.

Here is the full press release:

Prime Minister faces final Big Society test: Will he let his favourite Council bulldoze our community? 
At 7pm on the 3rd and 12th of September 2012, Hammersmith & Fulham Council intends to agree the sale and demolition of our homes against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of residents. 
The Cabinet meeting on 3 September is for the Council to decide as landlord whether to sell the West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates to developer CapCo for demolition as part of the £8 Billion scheme to demolish Earl’s Court. The Planning Applications Committee on 12 September is for the Council to decide as planning authority whether to approve the whole scheme – demolition of the Exhibition Centres, the Lillie Bridge rail depot and West Kensington & Gibbs Green. 
Once it has made its decisions, the Council intends, in March 2013, to apply to the Government for consent to sell off our estates, and our MP, Andy Slaughter, shall insist that the Government reviews any planning permission. We shall lobby the Government to refuse consent for the sale of our homes and to throw out planning permission to demolish our community. We expect the Government to help us implement the Big Society. 
Three times since 2009, we have proved methodically that we are overwhelmingly against demolition and in favour of community control. But the local state rode roughshod over our needs and wishes to impose the very type of speculative property development that ruined the national economy. According to the former Leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who’s now in charge of the Metropolitan Police, the Council’s motivation is to obtain party electoral advantage by driving poor people out of politically marginal areas. 
We championed the Prime Minister’s goal for a more responsible local society, where communities take control of their assets and greater charge of their neighbours’ welfare. We pioneered cross-party localist policy for council estate communities to own their homes, mobilising residents to determine their future so they can contribute socially and economically to national recovery. We stood up for the economic powerhouse of Earl’s Court, a goose that lays golden eggs for this country’s culture and prosperity. 
What will the Government do next year when the Council applies for consent to dispose of our homes? Will the Prime Minister champion his Big Society by refusing the sale and demolition of the People’s Estates? Will he empower us to take charge, or will he impose the politicians and property and financial speculators on us? We don’t want to see him in the driving seat of the bulldozer that destroys our community and removes the last shred of credibility from his most heartfelt belief! 
Sally Taylor and Diana Belshaw, Chairs of the two residents associations, said: 
We remain true to the principles of the Big Society, and we stand firm by our belief that local people should take greater charge of where they live so they can exercise more responsibility for their environment and assume better care of their neighbours. We occupy the ground; these are our homes; and we shall restore ownership to the local community. Politicians and profiteers may come and go, but we the people shall never surrender.