|Ealing's 15 Year Plan Under Government Scrutiny|
Eric Leach reports on the LDF investigation (and warns he may bring his chips next time)
Government Inspector Elizabeth Fieldhouse continued her examination of Ealing Council’s Local Development Plan Core Strategy (LDF CS) 2011 – 2016 today.
The LDF CS sets out the strategy for how Ealing’s 21 square miles of land will be used over the next 15 years.
The LDF CS specifies a two kilometre wide east/west development strip straddling the Uxbridge Road from Acton to Southall. Here over the next 15 years over 9,000 new homes are proposed. 2,600 of them alone will be on the Southall Gas Works site with another 2,600 built in the centre of Ealing.
Transport issues loomed large at the beginning of the meeting. Although Ealing Council had allocated £1.5 million for bus service ‘improvements’ it was Transport For London (TfL) who dictated strategy and were the only ones who could change existing bus routes or initiate new ones. 88 of the total of 301 bus stops in the borough will be ‘improved’. Ealing Fields Residents’ representative said there were some aspects of bus capacity which could not be increased to cope with the increased population (40,000). For example the roads could not be widened. The congestion early in the morning was bad now in his area. With a significant increase in population the congestion would get worse. The Council said that what it could do was improve junction throughput. He alluded to the upcoming new arrangements at the Lido Junction, at which all vehicular traffic would be on red at the same time. He also alluded to throughput improvements at Acton Vale.
Sue New pointed out that there were not enough double bus shelters. She also slated the new buses which will soon replace the bendy buses. They are unsuitable or impossible for disabled passengers. There are no tip-up seats; no luggage racks; and getting wheel chairs on and off the buses is incredibly difficult.
SEC brought up the Uxbridge Road Tram history (a £1 billion project which was eventually cancelled in 2007, after £34 million had been spent). The Mayor and TfL in 2005/6 told us that without the Tram we would have chaos on the Uxbridge Road. This has not happened. Also at the point that the Tram was cancelled lots of promises were made to significantly improve bus services along the Uxbridge Road. This doesn’t seem to have happened either.
WEN pointed out that there is no public transport service which directly traverses north south through West Ealing. WEN emphasised that we have been lobbying for over three years for a new bus service which would uniquely run along Northfields Avenue and Argyle Road. Ealing Fields supported these demands.
Crossrail issues were raised, and it appears that the latest plan for West Ealing Crossrail (new station in Manor Road) will be revealed in January 2011. The Council would then carry out a two year project to review all the local and West Ealing traffic implications and infrastructure needs to accommodate Crossrail in 2018.
The Park Community Group raised a number of queries relating to the accuracy of some of the LDF CS text. The document states that the widest range of cafes/restaurants is in West Ealing centre. He said this is clearly not the case as the widest range is to be found in Ealing centre. He also queried the office strategy. In the so-called Office Alley separating Ealing centre and West Ealing centre many of the tenants were local companies. In order to attract non-local companies to occupy offices in the Ealing central area the offices would have to be much closer to Ealing Broadway Station than the 10 minutes walk away Office Alley. And there appeared to be no specific plans to do this.
On the subject of accuracy, Ealing Fields questioned the description of Ealing Broadway as a ‘high quality retail destination’. Surely it was obvious to all that there are very few high quality retailers there. A much more accurate description for Ealing Broadway would be ‘mid-range/mass market retail destination’.
The LibDem representative was concerned as to why the retail floor space target had ballooned from 20,000 sq metres in 2009 to 50,000 sq metres in 2011. New data from the GLA appeared to be the answer.
Save Ealing Centre (SEC) questioned why this corridor should have to suffer so much demolition and new build housing. He picked out West Ealing centre specifically. What was the logic for this approach? Why wasn’t this approach applied to Hanwell town centre, which bears many similarities to West Ealing centre. The only answer forthcoming was initially that the GLA analysis picked out the development sites not Ealing Council. After quite a bit of probing it became clear that West Ealing centre was a major development site as it was part of The London Plan (TLP) designated Ealing Metropolitan Town Centre (EMTC). KRA then pointed out that the EMTC was a very artificial concept conceived because Ealing centre wasn’t big enough to be an MTC all on its own and West Ealing centre was added in to ‘make up the numbers’.
I raised the issue of ‘..a comprehensive range of sports facilities to be provided in Ealing centre’. The Inspector wanted to know how and when such facilities would be provided. I wanted to know where. I said in a heavilly built up area some of the built environment would have to be converted or more likely demolished and replaced with custom built sports facilities. In the detailed LDF sites document no such sports facilities are planned. Dickens Yard offers no sports facilities across its 4+ acres. Even the Green Man Lane Estate (GMLE) gym plan had been abandoned (and the gym company had elected to occupy the old Daniels Department Store site on the Uxbridge Road instead – which gives us our fourth Ealing centre gym). So for some 4,500+ new residents occupying 2,600 new flats they will have no new local facilities for badminton, indoor climbing, indoor tennis, snooker, ten pin bowling, table tennis, squash, five a side football, basketball or netball. The Council’s response was that it was its policy to encourage schools to open their sports halls out of school hours to local residents. However as someone politely pointed out there are no State Secondary Schools in Ealing centre (W5) or in the whole of West Ealing (W 13). It was mentioned that £12 million was to be spent on (another) refurbishment of Gurnell Sports Centre. No-one bothered to point out that Gurnell is way outside the two kilometre development strip under discussion.
I then pointed out that the Council’s policy for protecting existing sports centres in and near the Uxbridge Road Corridor was inadequate. Where it was obvious that no new sports facilities were to be provided, to offer no protection to 100+ year sports institutions like Ealing Cricket Club and Ealing Lawn Tennis Club was astonishing. Together, for example, the clubs have 620 junior members. They are both leading amateur sports clubs in the west of London.
Ealing Civic Society (ECS) wanted to re-visit the issues of heritage assets and a tall buildings policy. ECS presented a paper of the subjects. The Inspector didn’t like the Council’s use of the word ‘historic’ as the word had no legitimacy in planning guidelines. She preferred the use of the word ‘heritage’. ECS and others did not like the fact that although suggested in The London Plan (TLP) guidelines, the LDF CS did not specify where tall buildings would not be suitable or appropriate. All attempts to stick a height on what constituted a tall building failed and what we seem to be left with is that a tall building is one which is higher than surrounding buildings. So, for example, if you live in a small community of bungalows a proposed three storey flat block immediately adjacent would be described by Ealing Council as a tall building. ECS was also unhappy that no reference was made to the harm which tall buildings can inflict on their immediate environment. All attempts to learn from tall buildings policies from other boroughs including Hounslow and Islington were rebuffed by the Council.
SEC queried the logic behind how the number of (potential) new homes had been allocated to many of the development sites. The two sites he picked out as examples were Lamertons (200 new homes) and Ealing Broadway Station (140 new homes). Ealing Council’s defence was that the GLA’s strategic housing sites’ assessment had come up with these figures.
KRA expressed dissatisfaction at the way the draft LDF CS was being paraded in expensive colour printed magazines bearing the Ealing Council logo (‘Ealing in London’) as approved policy. KRA submitted copies of the magazines into the LDF CS Evidence Base.
Ealing Council delivered an extensive, critical and interesting verbal critique of SEC’s vision for the centre of Ealing, published in 2008. It has only taken some three years for this Council feedback to have been articulated. In many ways the Council sees SEC’s vision to be aspirational, impractical and unachievable. There is an ironic symmetry here as the Council’s vision to build 14,000 new homes will cost some £2.5 billion of somebody’s money. The UK is in a continuing recession. Our major customer – the Eurozone – is in serous financial difficulties especially in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal. One might realistically describe the Council’s LDF CS vision as aspirational, impractical and unachievable.
WEN raised the issue of no sites for new cultural facilities in Ealing centre and West Ealing centre. I pointed out that the major grass roots arts centre movement in the area is OPEN Ealing, temporarily located in 113 – 115 Uxbridge Road. Discussions have been underway for a time to find a permanent home for this very successful arts centre, which could be in the new Green Man Lane Estate (GMLE). The LDF CS has nothing to say on a spatial allocation for an arts centre in the central Ealing/West Ealing area.
The Inspector wanted an update on GMLE and the Council gave out the briefest possible information ie demolition is well under way for Phase 1, and that the first new residents would move in by Spring 2012 (which I find somewhat optimistic). I filled in the details about the loss of the gym and the £1.4 million hole in the budget because of it. SEC joined with me in describing the non-existent plans for integration with West Ealing Broadway. I emphasised the likely impact of the permitted development of a Middle Eastern style Mosque on the corner of Brownlow Road and Singapore Road (site of the Islamic centre). This would increase the capacity of worshippers and Friday lunchtimes would be even more chaotic with 100s/1,000s more out of town worshippers making car parking in the area - already chaotic – a public order issue. Yellow lining had made some improvement to traffic flows along Felix Road (immediately north of the estate) and the new CPZ would certainly help. However, with 1,200 new residents expected and two new roads disgorging traffic onto Felix Road traffic congestion will return to the beleaguered Felix Road residents. KRA objected strongly to the reduction of car parking on and around the estate. He strongly objected to the multi-storey car park being removed – effectively to be relocated in Southall.
Finally I echoed a point made earlier by SEC about the inappropriate use of the word ‘Regeneration’. At GMLE, out of the 2010 population of 800 only some 400 would remain at the end of the project. (73 owner/occupiers are to be compulsorily ejected. Some 90 one bedroom tenants are to be re-housed elsewhere as there will be no suitable one bedroom accommodation for them in the new GMLE. The rest who leave are tenants who just don’t want to stay for a variety of reasons). The real tragedy is that the new GMLE will house 53 fewer social renting tenants than the estate did in 2010. This really is social engineering at best and social cleansing at worst.
Ealing Fields expressed concerns that there were many areas in the two kilometre development corridor which although not Conservation Areas (CAs) were distinctive Victorian/Edwardian communities. His concern was that without the protection of being a CA these areas were vulnerable to development/demolition/rebuild. Nothing the Council said could allay his fears.
We are now half way through this public examination and the event is remarkable for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is just who has so far failed to attend these meetings. In a bizarre organisational structure within Ealing Council, the Planning Department actually reports to the Regeneration Department. These regeneration plans we have all been reviewing, attacking or defending must emanate from the Regeneration Department. But no-one from that department has attended any of the examination sessions. In May last year Ealing residents elected 69 Councillors ‘to represent their
However finally the most surreal happening at the meeting was courtesy of one of the people representing Ealing Council. She was sitting very close to the Government Inspector and to many people’s astonishment after lunch she produced an enormous apple which she noisily chewed and consumed throughout the afternoon session. Now this is only the second Government Inquiry I have attended but I have attended 100s of formal public and private sector meetings over the last 45 years and I’ve never before seen a disrespectful eating incidence like this. Now, to be fair, the Inspector didn’t request she stop her dessert consumption at the time and maybe the Inspector raised the issue after the meeting. However if this is the new formal meeting etiquette, I’m seriously considering bringing in an open bags of chips at one of the future afternoon sessions and filling my face with them throughout the afternoon.