People living next to a construction site in Fitzrovia say they have been treated with contempt by property developer Great Portland Estates (GPE) after the FTSE 250 company made numerous alterations to the design of new offices having gained initial planning consent.
In November 2014 the PR company Four Communications held an exhibition of plans for the redevelopment of a series of commercial and residential buildings in Great Portland Street and Riding House Street.
On behalf of Great Portland Estates architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands presented residents with plans to extend a low level office building to the rear of the site but promised a living green roof and all ductwork and plant equipment to be enclosed.
The design team said they were mindful to respect residents’ privacy by preventing overlooking and to draw up a scheme that looked attractive when viewed from surrounding homes. The development site is within the East Marylebone and the Harley Street conservation areas.
Despite the increase in the bulk of the commercial buildings neighbouring residents welcomed the green roof and the promise of biodiversity and the removal of unsightly mechanical equipment.
However, after planning permission was given by Westminster Council, Great Portland Estates submitted numerous amendments to the original plans which local residents say now amount to quite a different design.
“Following dozens of additional planning applications, the final development looks nothing like the original presentation,” says Gordon Tees of Middleton Place Residents Association.
“There are already over a thousand documents relating to these applications on the Westminster Planning website.
“Contained within this mountain of paperwork are radical departures from the original plan which include the addition of a large toilet block, the replacement of skylights with massive new structures that negatively impact neighbouring properties, balconies that differ from those proposed, the loss of large areas of the proposed green roof and the externalising of ugly ductwork, flues and venting.
“We are left with the feeling that we are being conned by a planning application process that massively favours developers over residents, small businesses and other locals,” says Tees.
Middleton Place which was originally built in 1759 is a residential walkway and an otherwise quiet part of Fitzrovia. But for two years the residents have had to wade through the new applications and paperwork to attempt to understand the changes to the original plans while enduring the disturbance from the ongoing construction work. But since the original public exhibition the developer has not bothered to contact the neighbours and describe the alterations.
“There has been no engagement by GPE with residents in order to explain the changes and why they have effectively gone back on their undertakings, presumably based on their assumption that these revisions will be rubber stamped,” says Christopher Shaw of Langham Street whose residents and business people are also affected.
“So much for community engagement. This is a cynical approach and a misuse of the planning system,” says Shaw.
Other neighbours complain that their lives have been blighted by not only the scale of the construction work but by the attitude of the developer. To add to the misery construction work is about to start on a third front on the corner of Langham Street and Great Portland Street carried out by a different property developer.
“I am feeling so besieged by developments all round us in Langham Street that I am feeling tempted to move out of an area that I have lived and worked in for over twenty years,” wrote one resident to the local councillors.
West End Ward councillors have supported the objections raised by the residents about the latest planning application and criticised the “planning creep” which has occurred. Normally minor amendments to planning applications are delegated to officers to decide, but in this case local councillors have requested that the changes are brought before a planning committee.
However the City Council’s planning officers are recommending approval of the plans. According to the officers’ report the original plans submitted were inaccurate as — due to a mistake by the applicant — the drawings did not show some of the details.
“The true extent of these works was therefore not fully appreciated at the time the case was originally considered, though the applicant argues that both officers and members were aware of the ductwork when making their original decision,” states the report.
“The mistakes in the original application in not fully showing the extent of required ducting around the roof of the central building is most unfortunate. However, it is a common occurrence that as the detailed design of developments progress, changes are required, and not only to correct mistakes. Residents’ concerns about the cumulative impact of these works, and other developments within their block, are understandable, but this in itself does not justify refusing the current application.”
In a statement to Fitzrovia News Andrew White development director for Great Portland Estates said:
“GPE prides itself on being a responsible developer, providing high-quality buildings and is committed to being a good neighbour. In the case of refurbishment projects such as this, it is commonplace to make small changes to proposals, as further information inevitably becomes available about the structure of the existing buildings. During the course of refurbishment works at 84/86 Great Portland Street, GPE has submitted appropriate applications to ensure that all amendments receive the proper scrutiny.
“Furthermore, GPE and its contractor have been in regular contact with neighbours around the site throughout the construction, with a regular newsletter, email updates and monthly neighbour meetings. GPE’s commitment to maintaining good neighbourly relations is demonstrated by the voluntary amendments to its plans across the development site, including the introduction of plant screening and the omission of consented balconies, following requests made by neighbours.
“GPE will continue to engage with neighbours to listen to their views on proposals and make amendments where appropriate and practical,” said the statement.
A final decision is due to be taken by councillors at Tuesday’s planning committee meeting.
84 – 86 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 7NR. Westminster City Council, Planning Applications Committee (1) Tuesday 17th January, 2017 6.30 pm.