Wednesday 25 November 2020

Wembley Park Station car park – a TALL story

Guest post by Philip Grant. This planning application will be decided by Brent Planning Committee tomorrow, Thursday November 26th. The meeting starts at 6pm and can be viewed HERE


Elevation drawing from the planning application with heights added

What is a tall building? For Brent planning purposes it’s one that is more than 30 metres in height (ten storeys), or more than 6 metres above the general prevailing heights of the surrounding area.

The proposed Barratt London / TfL development which Planning Committee will consider tomorrow evening (Thursday 26 November, 6pm) is definitely a tall building (or five of them). You can see more pictures of this planning application in Martin’s 2 November blog.


Brent’s Planners, in the Key Issues comments at the start of their Officers Report to the committee accept that ‘the development would exceed the policy expectations in respect of tall buildings’. I think they should have been clearer than that, so let me take you through the tall buildings planning policies which cover the Wembley Park Station car park site. I’ll begin with my “old friend”, the Wembley Area Action Plan (“WAAP”).


Foreword to the Wembley Area Action Plan, 2015.


When Brent’s then Lead Member for Regeneration (now Deputy Leader) writes to say that this Plan, adopted by the Council after wide consultation with the local community, will determine ‘how Wembley develops over the next 15 years’, you would think you could trust her words. And you can, because the WAAP’s policies still apply, and form part of the Draft Local Plan that is currently being finalised.


The WAAP has a tall buildings policy, WEM 5. It’s opening words are: ‘Tall buildings will be acceptable in a limited number of locations within the AAP area.’ The locations where tall buildings are, or may be, appropriate are shown on a map. Wembley Park Station car park is in “the red zone”, labelled ‘Sites inappropriate for Tall Buildings’.


The Tall Buildings map from the WAAP.


One of the specific sites (W22) identified in the WAAP for particular proposals was called “Wembley Park Station Car Park”. However, that was the western end of the original car park, not the present site with that name. This is where Matthews Close was built, with blocks between 5 and 8 storeys high - a scale identified as suitable for the mainly residential area of Brook Avenue.


Brent Council adopted a new comprehensive set of Development Management Policies in November 2016 (as seen in an earlier blog on another planning case in August!). These did not set out any new policies on tall buildings, but it did confirm that ‘policies within the Wembley Area Action Plan will take precedence where there are locally specific policies covering subjects that might also be covered’ by the DMP and the forthcoming Local Plan.


Another “supplementary planning document” which will form part of the new Local Plan, when it is finalised, is the Brent Design Guide, SPD1. Its policies were adopted by the Council in November 2018. SPD1 has a section on ‘Density, height and massing’, which includes guidance on sites appropriate for tall buildings. Under Principle 3.1 it states: ‘Tall buildings will only be encouraged in areas identified as appropriate for tall buildings.’ As we have seen above, the Wembley Park Station car park is a site inappropriate for tall buildings!


A page from the Brent Design Guide, SPD1, dealing with building heights.


As well as this confirmation over tall buildings, SPD1 goes on to set out the rules for heights on all other sites. These include that ‘sensitive design should ensure that new development respects the character of the wider surroundings’, and that ‘new development should positively respond to the height of the adjoining buildings and local area’.


I’ve already made mention of Brent’s Draft Local Plan, which has been through several phases of local consultation and is currently undergoing a final review to ensure that it complies with both the National Planning Policy Framework and the London Plan. It should come into force next year, and shape Brent’s planning policies for the next 20 years, so that it’s right that how it would affect the Wembley Park Station car park application is taken into account.


The Draft Local Plan does include a site-specific policy for Wembley Park Station (BCSA7), covering two sites. For the southern site, the narrow strip of land between the railway lines and Brook Avenue, it identifies an indicative capacity for 300 new homes.


The Wembley Park Station site plan from Brent’s Draft Local Plan (Stage 3).


Details for the Wembley Park Station sites from the Draft Local Plan.


As shown above, the WAAP tall buildings policy, under which this site is inappropriate for tall buildings, still forms part of the planning policies within the Local Plan. The proposals for the southern site respect that, with just a small adjustment. You will remember that a tall building is one of more than ten storeys, and the design details for this site say: ‘Up to ten storeys will be considered acceptable to the western side of the site, stepping up slightly directly adjacent to the station.


One of the key purposes the Draft Local Plan has been designed to do is to deliver the housing target of providing over 2,000 new homes in the borough every year for the next 20 years. The Wembley Park Station car park site can provide the 300 homes which the Plan requires from it, with buildings no more than ten storeys high, possibly rising to twelve storeys next to the station. Any proposed new development on this site does not need to breach Brent’s tall buildings planning policies.


The Barratt London / TfL proposed development offers 454 new homes (152 of which would be “affordable”, but with 79 for sale as “shared ownership” and only 73 for “affordable rent”). But it clearly breaks the Council’s tall buildings planning policies. What does the Officer Report to Planning Committee say about that? This is just one of nine paragraphs on the subject:


’47. Whilst the Wembley Area Action Plan (WAAP) forms part of the development plan for the area, as it is the adopted policy, the emerging changes to policy as observed within BD2 of the emerging Local Plan are to be acknowledged and stand testament to the substantial increase in housing targets that have come into relevance since the publishing of the WAAP. Furthermore, emerging London Plan policy can now be afforded substantial weight and the sustainability of this location immediately adjacent to Wembley Park Station would identify it as a preferred site for maximising development opportunities. Wembley Park Station is the only tube station in Brent to be served by more than one London Underground line and its 6a PTAL rating underlines its sustainability.’


Heavy going! It’s not easy to follow exactly what the relevant planning policy is. You could easily think that they don’t intend you to, so that you'll just assume that they must know what they’re talking about, and accept their recommendation!


Policy BD2, from Brent’s Draft Local Plan.


Para. 47 (above) of the Officers Report refers to Policy BD2, as if it supports tall buildings on the station car park site. But BD2 only supports tall buildings in appropriate locations. The online version of the policies map it refers to is difficult to read, because it has so much detail, but this site appears to be within the overall “tall buildings zone”, but not in the Core Zone. This suggests that the site allocation details for BCSA7 above, which allow a slight stepping-up to a tall building at the station end of the site, should prevail.


Para. 51 of the Report does provide a couple of lighter moments, even if unintentionally. How about this one? ‘The buildings proposed would serve as a place-marker for the station.’ Imagine the scene:-


Visitor: “I need to get to Wembley Park Station. Can you tell me where it is, please?”

Helpful local resident: “Yes. It’s next door to a tall building in Wembley Park.”


Or this one – ‘A significant reduction in height from 30 storeys at this scheme’s initial pre-app stage is also acknowledged and has resulted in a building which establishes a reasonable maximum height.’


A man walks into Brent’s Planning Office, and says: ‘I want to build a tower block three times higher than your planning policies allow.’

Brent Planner: ‘I’m sorry, sir, we can’t accept that. We can only recommend a building that’s twice as tall.’


If a comedian said that, you might well laugh at his joke. But this is not “a tall story” * – it’s exactly what Brent’s Planning Committee is being asked to agree.


Philip Grant.


* If you are not familiar with the phrase “a tall story”, it’s colloquial English for ‘one that is difficult to believe’ (Oxford Reference Dictionary).

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