Friday, 15 January 2021

Another Alperton development approved despite huge misgivings over height, amount of truly affordable housing and impact on neighbouring residents


 Existing store

The site

New development heights cross-section with Burns Road

Some familiar themes emerged at this week's Planning Committee discussion about the planning application for the Currys-PC World site in Alperton Lane off Ealing Road.  The site is away from the main high rises at the Grand Union Canal development and, as can be seen from the section drawing above, will dwarf the two storey terraced houses of Burns Road and Cromwell Road.
Apart from the out of local character nature of the development and the impact on the 'right to light' of residents, parking (or lack of it),  the amount of truly affordable housing, the height of the building exceeding local guidance, the affordability of the rent in the promised community space  and the pressure on local infrastructure were all major concerns.
On the parking issue a resident described how even without the development, parking spaces were so rare that she filled up her hot water bottle and sat in her car for hours until she could move into a vacated space.  On the 'right to light' she said she had served an obstruction notice  on Brent Council.
A Cromwell Road resident told the Committee that pandemic restrictions had made it hard to organise opposition through public meetings and collecting signatures on petitions.  She had never imagined that the area would change so much and in such a dramatic and negative way. They had been told that there would be no tall buildings in the area according to the 2011 Alperton Masterplan. Now Edwardian terraces will be sandwiched between tall buildings.
Residents pointed out that commercial premises incorporated into other developments with the promises of new shops etc, remained unlet and the rent of community spaces too high for local community organisations. 

Max Plotnek, the developer's agent promised low or even zero rents for the community space. He said that there had been 4 pre-planning meetings with council planning officers and the developer had responded to concerns with the highest point of the building away from residential streets. Two extra storeys had to be added to the building, over and above the 5 storeys in the local plan, because without it the development would be economically unviable. This has been confirmed by the independent consultants for the developer and the council and in fact the offer was above the maximum reasonable amount.  He said that the tricky aspect was that the profit generated by the development had to match the exisiting value of the site.  This was 'pretty high' because existing use was a large retail unit and it took quite a lot of development to overcome the deficit.

Responding to Cllr Matt Kelcher, Chair of Planning Committee, who had said he would feel better if the accommodation was genuinely affordable, Plotnek said, 'I appreciate people saying its not affordable but that's not this developer causing the problem. The housing marker in London is in the situation it's in. So this will be a range of unit types, studios and one bedroomed flats, that will be at the affordable end of the school. A huge CIL [£3.5m] contribution will go to the council to deliver wider benefits across the borough in whatever way the council wishes to spend it and the developer will contribute £75,000 towards a Controlled Paking Zone (CPZ) consultation.

Committee member Cllr Kennelly said that below guidance provision of amenity space, the two additional storeys, shortfall in the amount of affordable housing - particularly affordable rent, all added up to quite a large contradiction of the Local Plan.  He struggled to see how the development was policy compliant with such a huge shortfall. 

Mr Plotnek said that provision of more amenity space would move the development further away from viability and 5 storeys would reduce the amount of affordable housing.  He claimed that the amenity space specified in Brent's Local Plan was higher than the London Plan and the former was still at a draft stage, so too much emphasis should not be put on it. He said that the London Affordable Rent (10% of the entire development) was close to social rent rather than the 80% of market rent commonly called affordable. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Anton Georgiou, Lib Dem Alperton councillor, made a presentation that you will find below. The Labour councillors for Alperton did not make a presentation.

The planning application was approved by 5 votes to 3. The three against were Cllr Johnson (citing the low amountt of affordable housing, over-shadowing and lack of light to neighbouring properties), Cllr Kennnelly ( height, level of affordable housing despite the explanations) Cllr Maurice (non-compliant in many ways, height 30% policy, effect on Burns Road and Cromwell Road, above guidance; local residents had been ignored, it should never have come to the committee).

Cllr Anton Georgiou's Presentation

I am here to object in the strongest terms to the planned development on what is currently the Curry’s site on the Ealing Road. I do so, as I have done before, on behalf of countless residents in my ward who are simply sick and tired of what can only be described as the overdevelopment of Alperton.

This development continues the worrying trend in my ward, which has seen non-stop building of massive tower blocks, whilst established residents continue to struggle with a lack of GP and health services, limited leisure facilities, and in light of the last year, which has highlighted how important this is, a distinct lack of access to open green space. All the while this authority continues to hoard tens of millions, at last count close to £120 million in community infrastructure levy, collected in large part from developers building in Alperton, of which more will be collected from this application, if you, make the mistake of approving it. Where is all this money going? And why is this authority sitting on millions which could be spent improving the area as it is intended? 

I attended the public consultation regarding this application at the Fox and Goose Pub, where it was abundantly clear that vocal opposition to these plans exist. Since that consultation I have had many comments from residents in Alperton, especially in the residential roads close to the site, Burns Road, Cromwell Road, Riverside Gardens, who are alarmed that this is even under consideration. 

Firstly, approval would mean the loss of a much loved asset to the Alperton community, a large retail unit, that has until now been occupied by Curry’s. Many of the staff in store have worked there for a very long time and will face job insecurity. At a time as difficult as this, this would be tragic. 

On the affordability breakdown of this development, I am alarmed that Brent are even willing to consider moving this application forward with so few ‘affordable’ units included. Obviously the term affordable is in itself an illusion that has no basis in reality, particularly for my generation who are consistently locked out of the housing market. This application comprises of just over 20% of ‘affordable’ units, which means roughly 80% are simply unaffordable. This breakdown is below targets Brent has in place and flies in the face of this authorities undertakings to ensure that homes are provided to and for Brent residents. I am astonished that Brent can justify continuing to allow unaffordable developments to invade Alperton. What considerations will this Committee be making on this matter? If anything, this past year has highlighted how many in are community are struggling financially, more luxury, unaffordable units is certainly not what my residents need. Let’s face it these units are not for local people, they will be marketed for across London and overseas.

As I have continuously argued, the traffic and parking issues in Alperton will only get worse if Brent continue to approve developments like this one, without thinking long and hard about reconfiguring our whole road network and the parking situation in the area. I accept the need to discourage car use, particularly in parts of London that are so well connected to public transport infrastructure. With Hanger Lane and Alperton stations close-by I can see that possibilities exist for residents to benefit from public transport, however in light of the pandemic, and given the continued possibility of COVID travel restrictions, I can also see why people will wish to use cars into the future, rather than public transport. With this in mind, the fact that only 15 parking spaces exist for the 132 units at this site, simply will not work.

As I have already alluded to, there are huge pressures on local services in Alperton. I am particularly concerned about the stretched local GP and medical facilities. As this proposed development falls into the location catchment area for the Sudbury and Alperton Medical Centre, the demand issues that this practice faces will only get worse, if you approve this application. Things are already dire for the practice and the service local residents are receiving is lacking. Anecdotally I have been told that often only one GP is available and appointments often take weeks to organise. My resident, Hiren Patel, who lives close to the proposed site, has told me that getting an appointment is like ‘winning the lottery’ – this simply isn’t good enough for my residents and any who would move into the area.

This past year has shown us all that we will have to change the way that we live into the future. We will get through the pandemic, though, as many expect our living habits will have to be altered. My final argument against yet another large development in Alperton, relates to the safety of such buildings with COVID and other potential air-borne, highly transmissible viruses we might face. With limitations on ability to social distance, particularly in communal areas, like shared lifts, I am fearful about the continued building of developments like this one, particularly in relation to public health.

If you make the mistake of approving this development, as I have said before, Alperton will continue to be a place to sleep and not to live. Brent are turning my ward into a concrete jungle, and we are simply fed up of it. Enough is enough. 



Philip Grant said...

I am (yet again) dismayed, but not surprised, that another major planning application which clearly breaches important Brent planning policies has been recommended for approval by Brent's Planning Officers, and approved by a majority of our elected councillors on Planning Committee.

At least Cllrs Johnson, Kennelly and Maurice did the honourable thing, and voted against it, but they should never have had to go against the Officers' recommendation to do that. That should have been the advice from the Officers themselves.

The Alperton Masterplan of 2011 has been mentioned above, but that was actually ditched by Brent's Cabinet (in November 2019, if I remember correctly).

Brent had already allowed the Masterplan's tall buildings policy, with an upper limit of 17 storeys, and then only for a small number of "landmark" buildings, to be swept aside, starting with the controversial Minavel House case in 2017 (with its tallest tower at 26 storeys).

Information obtained later in 2017, in connection with hospitality received, as recorded in the Council Leader's "Register of Interests", cast a possible shadow over that planning approval, as recorded in a blog at the time:

It is time that Brent councillors, including Labour councillors, raised serious concerns about the planning process in Brent with those in the Council's most senior roles!

Paul Lorber said...

It is all about money for Developers (and Brent Council) and the comment from the developer proves it "Two extra storeys had to be added to the building, over and above the 5 storeys in the local plan, because without it the development would be economically unviable." What is the point of the Local Plan and height restrictions if Brent Planners simply cave in to the needs of the developers - without any consideration on the impact on local people whose homes back on the site and who have to put up with the problems the development will cause for them. Philip Grant is correct in highlighting serious concerns about the Planning Process in Brent. It simply no longer works for the people of Brent. As a Brent resident of over 50 years I have lost all confidence in the Brent Planning Committee or the Brent Planners.