• Acton tower forces Ealing committee to split

Ealing councillors have approved a dense residential development including a 42 storey tower at North Acton, in a decision that has split the planning committee.
Conservative councillor Joanna Dabrowska withdrew from the committee, accusing her colleagues of “bowing down to developers” in approving the scheme. Controversially, the project would deliver 578 flats at a density of 2,483 habitable rooms per acre, compared with an upper guideline from the mayor of London of 1,100.
Developer City & Docklands proposed a scheme with 578 apartments, the majority of which are one bed units, in towers of 42, 32, 11 and nine storeys, replacing the existing 4,700 sq m of two storey light industrial and office units on the site.
The site at 6 Portal Way is one of a cluster of developments within Ealing’s Southern Gateway development area, previously identified as Special Opportunity Sites. These are turning low density light industrial and office space around North Acton station into dense residential towers. To its immediate south is the Carphone Warehouse site, where planners have already indicated they will look favourably on a residential redevelopment with towers up to 33 storeys high, containing 764 flats. Private landlord Essential Living is also working up a scheme to redevelop the nearby Perfume Factory site with 534 flats for rent.
The report to planning committee, recommending the scheme for approval, noted its “high quality architecture” and “highly sustainable” design. It added: “The proposed height of the taller buildings is considered to be acceptable and will contribute to a cluster of taller buildings at this important gateway site. The height has been assessed in terms of short, medium and longer distance views and is considered to be acceptable with impacts that are considered to be acceptable.”
On the density of the scheme, officers noted: “This would be significantly above the upper guideline in the Mayors density matrix of 1100hrh, however the Mayor also advises that this guideline should not be applied mechanistically and outlines circumstances where exceeding this range can be acceptable. In this case a number of attributes of the proposed development including exemplary design in terms of both the buildings, private amenity spaces and public realm,excellent transport connections with a PTAL rating of 5, delivery of a significant number of new homes (including affordable) and new jobs and the contributions to the making of place all
support a higher density scheme on this site within this strategically important location.”
The scheme provides for 30% of the homes to be made affordable, in the form of discounted market rental at 20-30% below market rent, for 20 years.
Councillor Dabrowska said the density was simply inappropriate in the area. “They said in the planning report that this tower is acceptable according to the Central London Density Matrix. We are not a city, North Acton is urban. Labour is flouting its own plan-led planning policy. It seems they rewrite their housing planning policy to suit the developer’s wish list. Does Labour really want future residents to live like sardines?”
An Ealing Council spokesperson responded: “The planning committee carefully considered the details of the application as set out in the officer’s report following a site visit and heard representations on behalf of residents and the developer.The committee sought clarification on specific issues at the meeting and following a debate, decided by majority that on balance they were minded to approve the application.”

LPA Perspective: The cluster of apartments around North Acton is, on the one hand, a textbook example of how to densify development around key transport nodes. While businesses have been displaced, the urban block of the Southern Gateway is delivering substantial volumes of new homes, adjacent to North Acton station, and a short walk from the upcoming Acton Crossrail station.
On the other, the disgruntled councillor does have a point. The Southern Gateway is an urban block, surrounded by busy roads, that is being turned into a collection of ever taller residential towers – with little in the way of decent public realm, and very little to recommend it by way of street level connections or ambience.
And City & Docklands seems to have played its part well, in extracting maximum development value from the site. The developer is familiar with the area, and the local planners, having completed the 255 flat Westgate W3 development in the area, in 2007.
And there does appear to be mission creep in terms of the height of buildings thought to be acceptable. The council’s attitude towards tall buildings in the Southern Gateway has modified considerably. In a 2008 document, it noted the recently approved Costume Store development, an 18 storey student accommodation block, should be “considered to be among the tallest buildings appropriate for this area.”
Perhaps, with City Hall putting on the pressure to deliver homes, that is only to be expected. And it is City Hall that will now doubtless be lobbied by councillor Dabrowska, in a bid to have the mayor reconsider the ever denser cluster of towers taking shape in North Acton.

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