In the Summer of 2018, residents and campaigners living south of Kensington alerted us to the plans to redevelop the Holiday Inn Forum Hotel in Cromwell Road, South Kensington and we heard a number of concerns raised – both from residents in the immediate area affected. and others from nearby.
Residents whose lives would be blighted and who would suffer from severe loss of light, disruption, long lasting negative changes to the locality as a result of this scheme, and increased levels of pollution, were the Mayor to permit this proposed monstrosity .put their cases and they have our full support in their fight to stop this.
This “South Kensington saga” continues and a number of changes have taken place (and not largely changes for the better) to the scheme and the decision making process and we thought we would fill our readers in as to what has been happening since then.
At the end of last month at the RBKC Planning Committee there was quite a departure from the usual meetings of Committee members deciding to approve or reject applications; instead the committee members were deciding on what representations to make to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan over the controversial – to say the least – plans — the hearing is in just under two days.
Unfortunately the developers are determined to get their way, and as we previously predicted, have fought to get this through and Sadiq Khan appears to be in their side, and he has interfered in what ought to have been a matter for the RBKC Planning Committee. So now the final decision over the scheme rests with him.
Anyone wondering what the possible motivations of Mayor Khan could be for favouring these hotel plans, interfering and continuing to override council decisions and the vast majority of residents may wish to see this post of ours :
Here, first of all, is a timeline of what has happened so far:
– In the Summer of 2018, residents and campaigners living south of Kensington alerted us to the plans to redevelop the Holiday Inn Forum in Cromwell Road, and we heard a number of concerns raised – both from residents in the immediate area affected. and others from nearby. THINKers went to two residents’ meetings, one, on the 8th of August 2018, at St Mary the Boltons, which we posted ahead of to here and another, on the organised by ACGRA (Ashburn and Courtfield Gardens Residents Association) and the Stop The Towers campaign at Baden-Powell House on the 7th Sepember 2018 . We saw that on both meetings, local residents were unanimously opposed to the scheme.
– On the 27th of September 2018, the RBKC Planning Committee refused the initial application. We posted ahead of the meeting here – “Judgement Day is also here for South Kensington and the Holiday Inn Forum” ( with details of the original plans included in link in the blog post) , and we reported the meeting a few days later in tbis post: “Some good news for South Kensington residents – Holiday Inn Form redevelopment plans rejected”
– On the 5th of November 2018, London Mayor Sadiq Khan issued a direction under Section 7 of the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of Lomdon) Order 2008 that he would take over the application and act as the Local Planning Authority for the purposes of determining the planning application.
– On the 14th of December 2018, RBKC filed a claim for a Judicial Review seeking to quash the Mayor’s decision on the basis that the GLA Officer’s report, recommending the Direction, had erred in its calcultion of performance against housing targets.
– On the 19th of March 2019, the mayor filed a consent order agreeing that the Direction of the 5th of November 2018 should be quashed and this was approved the following month
– On the 21st of June 2019, there was a public representation hearing at CIty Hall and the Mayor granted planning permission , issuing the decision on the same day.
– RBKC filed another claim for a Judicial Review, the consequmeces of which were the Mayor eventually filed a Consent Order, on the basis that the decision to grant planning permission was made for an improper purpose.
– On the 13th of March 2020, the High Court approved the Consent Order. The Mayor must now redetermine the application and is consulting on the application again given the passage of time and changes to the development plan and the submission of updated documents by the applicant to address these changes of policy .
(The scheme consists of three buildings – two of which would be towers – one at 30 storeys high and the other at 22 storeys.)
The five members of the Planning committee sitting were : Cllr James Husband (Conservative, Abingdon Ward) – Chair, Cllr Charles O’ Connor – Deputy Chair (Conservative, Holland Ward), Cllr Mo Bakhtiar (Labour, St Helens Ward), Cllr Tom Bennett (Conservative, Redcliffe Ward) and Cllr Walaa Idris (Conservative, Brompton and Hans Town Ward)
Derek Taylor, RBKC Deputy Head of Planning Management made a presentation including pictures of the existing Holiday Inn building and pictures of the proposed new development, as well as going through RBKC’s main reasons for objection,
“The task this evening is to reaffirm the position of the council as a key consultee and just to remind the Mayor of the updated objections that the council has to the proposals” –
– The height and massing of the proposed development, including an additional tower,would cause more than substantial harm to the character and appearance of nearby heritage assets, especially in nearby views. The elevational treatments would be of an insufficiently high design quslity to have a wholly postive impact on the character and quality of the townscape, and the relavant tests for tall buildings in the Building Height SPD have not been undertaken. The benefits of the development would not outweigh these harms. The proposal is therefore contrary to Local Plan policies CL1, CL2, CL3, CL4, CL11 and CL12 and the Building Height in the (Royal Borough) SPD.
– The revisions secured by the GLA subsequent to taking over the application in April 2019 worsen the negative impacts of the proposal and weaken the design rationale for the original development.
– The public benefits are insufficient to outweigh the harms caused to the character and appeaance of nearby heritage assets, and character and quality of the townscape
– The changes to the policy environment and guidance since the last consideration of the proposals in June 2019 do not fundamentally alter the council’s original position that this development fails to comply with the development plan.
– There are no material considerations that indicate a decision should be made otherwise than in accordance with the development plan.
Complete agreement between different political parties in RBKC is a real rarity, but these proposals have united all sides of the political spectrum locally in their opposition to them..The scheme has had cross party oppostion from local Courtfield councillors and other Conservative councillors, through to the RBKC Leadership, Labour councillors and also Lib Dem Cllr Linda Wade. Former Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad opposed the scheme and present Kensington Conservative MP Felicity Buchan has objected to it.
Here are just a few of those initial objections to the proposals :
Cllr Janet Evans – Courtfield Ward Proposals too ambitious for Courtfield Ward and have will intolerable environmental impact for residents, including air and noise pollution, overlooking privacy and increased traffic congestion. Proposals should be built within parameters of the present site and offer other added benefits to the surrounding area. Object to the addition of another tower on site and further constraints on infrastructure.
Queen’s Gate Ward councillors – Cllr Maxwell Woodger , Cllr Max Chauhan and Cllr Matthew Palmer: Object to height and scale; its harm to existing local architecture and does not meet Local Plan policy.
Emma Dent Coad: Object to height, bulk and massing and its impact on the skyline; impact on the transport infrastructure; impact of demolition amd construction impacts; impact on conservation areas; does not accord with London Plan and Local Plan policy.
Cllr Charles Williams – Redcliffe Ward: Proposals by being larger than the existing building fail to comply with local building heights policy
Kensington and Chelsea Liberal Democrats: Proposals are contrary to the Local Plan, are out of scale with the local area, could put off visitors, likely to increase air and noise pollution
Cllr Greg Hammond – Courtfield Ward: Object to replacement of one tall building with a taller bulkier structure; increased height would loom over conservation areas; fire risk and safety concerns; object to massing; is a lost oppotunity to redevelop the site for more housing and object to separate residential entrances; access arrangements; strongly support proposed garden square; support public realm improvements although require further details; water and drainage infrastructure concerns.
The vast majority of residents also share this oppositon to the towers. the local Local resident and conservation groups who objected included: Ashburn and Courtfield Gardens Residents Association (ACGRA), The Kensington Society, Cornwall Gardens Residents Association, Nevern Square Conservation Area Residents Association, The Boltons Garden Enclosure Committee, South Kensington and Queen’s Gate Residents Association, Earl’s Court Gardens and Morton Mews Residents Association, Orpen House Residemts Association, Kempsford Gardens Residents Association, Earl’s Court Society, Cornwall Mews South (West side) Residents Association, The Boltons Association, Victoria Road Area Residents Association, Grenville Place, Southwell Gardens and St Stephens Walk Residents Association, Courtfield Gardens West Garden Committee, Onslow Neighbourhood Association, Thurloe Owners and Leaseholders Association, Cromwell Mansions Residents Association, Elm Park and Chelsea Park Residemts Association, The Chelsea Society, Ashburn Garden Square Garden Association, Courtfield Gardens East Garden Committee, Princes Gate Mews Residents Association.
The current Holiday Inn Hotel on the site has a four star rating but we would give these plans for the hideous new supposed “luxury” Kensington Forum Hotel a 0 star rating if we could….
However, the “stars of the show” were the people who spoke at the meeting to air their objections and points to the Committee:
🌟 Greg Hammond is a Conservative councillor for Courtfield Ward, where the hotel is located: “I don’t think that any of us, whether the ward councillors, the residents or colleagues who were on the Planning Committee at the time will actually forget the meeting two years ago when the Committee voted to refuse what planning permission to what one of our colleagues poetically called ‘the twin towers of Mordor’
That decision to refuse was the right one, but we were all dismayed when the Mayor of London overrode our local democracy amd tried to ram the proposal through in a second attempt. Thanks to the council, for twice taking the decision to a Judicial Review and won both times, but unfortunately we do face this third attack by the Mayor.
The report presented by the council officers is in my view the right strategy for the Mayoral hearing on the 22nd of October. The reason for refusal in the first place were the harms that would be cause by the excessive height and mass of the proposed buildings to the adjacent conservation area that we all value so much. These harms would be made worse by the amendments thay have been made to the proposal since 2018 in increasing the Courtfield Road end of the development by two storeys.
In addition, as the officers mentioned, RBKC now has a good story to tell on affordable housing – in fact much better than at the time of the last Mayoral hearing and as we’ve heard, if an increase in hotel rooms becomes an argument, then not only the one in Notting Hill mentioned, but also the Harrington Hall Hotel is about to come back online with 201 bedrooms after many years of vacancy.
So in sum, the officers paper that we’ve heard Mr Taylor set out, sets out the arguments that we should present as a borough on the 22nd of October in much more detail than I could do in two minutes. I fully support that paper and I fully recommend it for adoption by the Committee and I’m also asked to say that the Ashburn and Courtfield Gardens Residents Association also supports that paper”.
🌟Michael Bach from the Kensington Society:”We’re not an objector, we strongly support the (RBKC) report but have made some positive suggestions for enhancing that report. The question of the affordable housing delivery was crucial as far as the Mayor was concerned, and he certainly lambasted the council, because its past immediate record was very small, but I think the report should go further then it has done and recognise that the council actually has got a program of affordable housing units, in addition to the ones that have been granted planning permission already.
With regards to the scale and location new hotel accommodation, this is a very intensely developed area as far as hotels are concerned, and the London Plan as intended to be published, recognises that in areas of high concentrations, further intensification is not necessarily a good idea.
You’ve (RBKC) dealt with the employment, its over-estimate; what you haven’t dealt with is that our grouping of residents’ associations has undertaken a townscape study which has really criticised the attempts by the applicant to say it really doesn’t have much impact – you’ve seen the diagram so you’ll understand.
We are concerned about the treatment of children’s play space on the tenth floor – in other words the roof – of the housing.
What we want really is for the comments of the addendum report to be fully reflected in the decision of the letter, because its not just the comments in the addendum report that need to be fully substantiated. So we’re hoping that will happen and we’re looking forward to seeing it.
The council’s case must be strong, challenging and must look forward ahead to a potential public inquiry.”
🌟 Laure – resident from Earl’s Court: “I just want to add five more points and suggestions to your report. The first one is the consideration of traffic management of this project given the number of beds and service apartments. At the moment if we’re looking at what is planned for that the number of parking bays allow for about 6 cars and 3 buses and I don’t think it’s sufficient for an events space that can host 1,500 people, which will result in cars idling in the street and disrupting traffic with a wide impact of the community.
The second point is relating to the air quality in this area – it’s one of the most polluted in London wbich actually exceeds the legal limits im terms of air polllution, and I’m just surprised that any increase in traffic and any pollution can be considered as negligible, which is what the applicants have stated.
The third point is that any health impacts have been omitted from the assessment, so physical health and mental health are not accounted for, which means the cost on health is assumed to be zero.
The fourth point is relating to all the net zero guidance from the Mayor for any new builds and I believe this new project is not net zero.
And finally the last point is related to the health and economy crisis that we are facing and we know that the forecast in terms of the number of beds have been revised and significantly reduced; so a lot of people believe that these changes are permanent , people have changed the way they work from home and the way they travel and these impacts are likely to last for decades.”
🌟 Kevin Christensen – Courtfield resident: “How much, if any consideration, has been given to the effect a 1,500 person conference centre will have on the neighbourhood? This is a looming disastrous problem that will include crime, crowd, prostitution, rubbish, traffic disorderly conduct, damage to the conservation and a general strain on the neighbourhood and I suspect it has not beem addressed at all. I work in the meetings and events industry and I can assure the impact will be a disaster”.
🌟 Craig Crawford – resident: “Has the impact of the restricted capacity of South Kensington tube station due to its planned refurbishment, been considered to the Gloucester Road tube station during the proposed Kensington Forum Hotel redevelopment?”
Then it was time for Committee Members to ask questions and make points:
Cllr Mo Bakhtiar (to Michael Bach) : “What would you like to add to the letter to the report on the representation if you could be specific? What have we missed ?”
Michael Bach: “Well all the things that were in our representation on this we’d like to see explained rather than just – I think the addendum report contains a comment we have put forward, but now I suppose we’re looking to the council to take ownership of the issue and to express it strongly in the letter they send to the GLA . So it’s got to look like it’s coming from the council rather than the residents and it’s got to be forceful because this really counts’
Cllr Walaa Idris (to Derek Taylor):”Two points: the first one is what is the Mayor’s criteria on playgrounds for children? Does he have any specific criteria where they should be, how high they should be, how big or is it just having playgrounds scattered everywhere?”
Derek Taylor: “Well essentially the Mayor’s criteria are quite high criteria because in the Mayor’s own SPD, the Mayor talks about provision of high quality for children’s playspace and similarly to our own policy in our own Local Plan, I dont think anyone is really envisaging a high quality playspace as being on the 10th floor of a building.
I mean there are buildings in many countries and other parts of London that do have high level playspaces but that’s normally because in that’s the only solution. An interesting way to look at it is that our policy in the Local Plan relating to play space is also in the same part of the plan that deals with open spaces and gardens and I think that is that the message is very clear that a high quality play space is not a hard space on top of a building but should actually be a ground level space, something much more amenable than a hard space at that height”.
Cllr Idris: “My second question is on fire safety. What is the Mayor’s position on that? Does he have criteria? Or is it just kind of understood as opposed to being a specific item by itself? ”
Mr Taylor: “Well, in terms of fire safety, the Mayor has basically set out to address the Mayor’s own policy – which is policy D12 of the London Plan – that didn’t exist at the time the Mayor considsred this originally, but is now part of the intended to publish Lomdon Plan. D12 is a slightly curious planning policy, in the sense that it does rather overlap with the buulding regulations.
As you’ll be aware, the primary suit of framework for dealing with fire safety requirements are the building regulations, and they’ve obviously been beefed up significantly since the Grenfell fire and may be further expanded of course
Policy D12 does overlap with that but it also by definition as being part of the development plan, it then brings fire safety into the whole sphere of planning as well and how it would apply is that the Mayor needs to require a fire statement, which basiclaly explains everything to do with the physical structure ands its resistance in terms of fire, it needs to explain the layout of the building and how people would be safe within it and means of escape.
The fire statement brings all of those things together in one document and one hasn’t been prepared here yet, but part of the council’s position should be clearly that a fire statement should be prepared and needs to be scrutinised fully by the Mayor.”
Cllr Tom Bennett referred back to Cllr Hammond’s point on hotel rooms, Notting Hill Gate and the Harrington Hall Hotel . Cllr James Husband also pointed out that , RBKC had also approved a hotel in Pavilion Road as well.
Cllr Charles O’Connor asked about the hearing and whether the council just sends representations or if a council representative can speak at the hearing as well and Derek Taylor said that as a key consultee, the council can do both.
We know that some officers at City Hall do read this blog so we’ll just end with a few points of our own and respond to a few queries and points that others have made in the hope that Sadiq Khan sees this:
Some people have written to us and pointed out that other parts of London have barely raised an eyebrow to such large scale developments being permitted elsewhere
Well we have to say that just because some other local authorities do not raise too many objections to having their neighbourhoods filled with lots of tower blocks; that doesn’t make it right or acceptable – and what is also completely unacceptable is the noise, disruption and increased pollution that residents would face if this were to be permitted.
We especially thank the Stop The Towers campaigners and many of the the residents from ACGRA who first opened our eyes to what was going on back in 2018. Some of these residents would also face being shrouded in darkness and a complete loss of privacy as well as peace and quiet were this plan to be approved.
Yes, the existing Holiday Inn building dominates the skyline there and doesn’t exactly have too many fans of it.
But have a look at these pictures to show how much worse things could be with its proposed replacement dominating the streetscape as well as the skyline from all directions :
We support more social housing – and yes the “62 units of affordable housing” would be for social rent (and we would also like to see more social housing provided in this part of the borough and not just North Kensington), but developers Queensgate Investments and Rockwell Property are determined that this would come at a price – and that particular price appears to be the ruination and detriment of the streetcape and skyline of the South Kensington area and the wellbeing of its residents, because they are determined to get their supersized hotel and conference centre.
Also, given the Covid-19 pandemic , do we really need too many more hotel rooms and luxury serviced apartments? After all we’re hardly expecting a huge influx of tourists to come here anytime soon, and it is impossible to predict what could happen in these unprecendented times, which calls into question the particular target figures.
But if we do look forward past the pandemic, it is worth remembering that what attracts tourists to this area of our borough besides location in town and transport , are heritage assets, history, character and beauty – all of which would be substantially diminished were this to go ahead. Let’s be honest here; it’s an ugly inferior building design. If it belongs anywhere other than the bin, it would be a dull and depressed suburb or dead end town.
If this is supposed to be a luxury hotel, the design certainly does not say “luxury” – designed with care and consideration in looking that extra bit special . Instead it says “pile ’em in and push it through ” and that too, is part of the problem. This scheme has lack of care and consideration written all over it – for the surrounding area and environment, for the local community, for children , – and apart from the social housing which the developers threw in to get this past the Mayor, considers very little other than the huge potential profits to be made out of this hotel site in (what used to be before Covid-19) an area with a high influx of visitors.
There are many occasions on which we do have our disagreements with the council of course , but this time they do have it right – this scheme is wrong and the height, density, and mass of the proposed development is unacceptable in the eyes of local residents , to our local political representatives, and to us.
Whatever opinion Sadiq Khan (or anyone else for that matter) may have of RBKC, it is not right or fair to people living here for him to play either party political or developer-led games with a scheme that would blight residents’ lives and change South Kensington and the borough as a whole for the worse.
The council’s representations
were submitted a day after the meeting and residents will know the good or bad news when the Mayor decides this Thursday, 22nd of October at 1:30pm. Our readers can view the papers and also
tune in live via this link: