• Presentation to the public meeting on Wednesday 21 November 2012

last modified November 22, 2012 by andrewdakers

ANDREW DAKERS, CHAIR, BRENTFORD HIGH STREET STEERING GROUP

ST PAUL'S CHURCH, BRENTFORD

Background

We are a multi-stakeholder organisation, providing a forum where residents, businesses, developers and the local authority can come together to drive regeneration of Brentford High Street forward.  Fundamentally we are pro-quality development, rather than the status quo.

We are guided by the Community Vision which was developed through our facilitation of a year-long participative exercise in 2007.  This was recognised as a finalist in the Academy for Sustainable Communities awards in 2008.

As well as visioning over the past few years we have also worked with a variety of stakeholders including Ballymore to ensure the bottom doesn’t fall out of the high street economy through the recession: from Christmas light to markets.

In 2010 we co-commissioned with Ballymore a report by the Prince's Foundation for the Built environment to find consensus between the community, council’s policy and developer.   This was a triangulation exercise to find new consensus and a deliverable scheme.

Sadly, after five years of discussions with the Ballymore team, we were extremely disappointed that whilst some ideas have been picked up on, there is still such a gap between the planning application and both the Princes Foundation report, Community vision and planning policy.

Other perspectives

But what do others think?  Well, Ben Bolgar, Senior Design Director at The Princes Foundation for the Built Environment wrote to me last week: “I recently downloaded the drawings of the worked up scheme for the land south of Brentford High Street.  As you know the Prince's Foundation carried out a brief, but I believe valuable, planning exercise for the site to triangulate between the developer, the local authority and local stakeholders.  Good consensus emerged from the event and our brief report.  The report contained the following extract:  “New development should pick up on local clues (site has good warehouse buildings from different decades with framed structures, masonry infill and often metal windows) and develop places of subtly different character that marry well with heritage and function of area.” 

“We felt that our assumptions of relatively high density would only work successfully if the architecture responded adequately to the scale and character of the local context.  Having reviewed the latest drawings I don't feel enough attention has been paid to local scale and context, which is a shame, as it could mean that the scheme is slightly alien to the area and possibly overbearing at street level.  …I hope the scheme eventually lives up to local expectations as it is a fabulous setting and has real potential to regenerate the area. …I also understand many changes have been made as a result of thorough public consultation.”

The Lord Stern of Brentford, also asked me to convey a message to this meeting.  Whilst he is out of the country today, the internationally respected economist says: “I share your feeling that [Brentford] could and should realise the great potential of its special geographical position and its history. I [take] a strong interest and [would urge] that Brentford's great potential should be realised.”

A way forward

What are we looking for?  Brentford Community Council have picked up on a range of issues with which we concur and Brentford Chamber of Commerce the economics.  We would particularly emphasise four issues:

Issue 1: Aesthetics – “Develop the architectural aesthetic to include traditional styles, as well as the restoration of old buildings and modernism currently in the scheme.” In the proposals there a is a fundamental disconnect between the new and the old.  Mood setting photos selected are disingenuous.  In just a few days almost 200 residents have signed an online petition supporting this point.

Issue 2: Realistic massing  - The proposed density is significantly above the London Plan recommended density range. The site has a PTAL of 3 and is urban in nature which means that the guidance density range in the London Plan is for 70 – 170 units per ha. The question is what are the features of this site that might justify putting it nearer to the lower end or the upper end of this range. 194 units per ha proposed is 14% above the top end of the guidance range.  The Brentford Area Action Plan (BAAP) said: “The ability of the site to accommodate residential development at the upper end of this range is likely to be compromised by the need to provide a range of non-residential uses.  New developments should take account of building heights in the surrounding character areas, which are generally up to 4 storeys.”  The excessive scale of the proposals completely undermines the scheme before us.

Issue 3: Firm commitment on Watermans move – This could be a critical catalyst to the town centre working.  An indication of support is not enough.  We need solid plans codified in a legal agreement.

Issue 4: More work on the design code and approach – this will affect the whole scheme – the other 60% (we are looking at detailed plans for 40% of the site).  One of our volunteers – a design professional - has created two community-influenced mood boards that I have brought with me this evening and we would welcome people’s post-it comments on before you leave.  We will then pass these onto the architects/ developers.

Our detailed analysis of the scheme against 200+ indicators – based on planning policy and guideline studies, presently gives the scheme the following score*:

 Scorecard-Nov-2012.gif

* Near final version of assessment   

So definitely room for improvement.  We stand ready to work these through with the developer and local authority if they are genuinely prepared to act on the substantial concerns that remain.  

One final request.  The application should come to Isleworth & Brentford Area Forum (IBAF) before Planning Committee – so the community has two further opportunities to monitor progress of this scheme that will shape Brentford for the next century.