Following a late but intensive internet campaign against the large Newcombe House project, the council’s planning committee decided on 17 March 2016 to refuse the application, although the planning department had recommended it should be granted. The reasons stated by the committee for refusal are the height of the tallest building and the loss of social rented floorspace (one building in the complex, Royston Court, contains 20 bedsits and has been sold to the developers by Notting Hill Housing Trust, which has promised to relocate the tenants to other sites that the trust owns).
The surprising refusal was a direct parallel to what happened with the second Odeon application in January 2015. That one had also had been supported by the planning department, but after a big public campaign the committee decided to refuse.
The Newcombe House complex covers the large 46m high Newcombe House office building at the corner of Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Church Street (with Waterstone’s on the ground floor); the buildings along the western side of Kensington Church Street, down to and including the Kensington Place restaurant and fish shop; and the large car park between the Kensington Church Street buildings and the platform roof of Notting Hill Gate underground station, where the farmers’ market puts up its stalls on Saturdays. The plan meant that all these buildings would be torn down. Newcombe House and the open area directly north of it would be replaced by a building designed to appear as a group of four, whereof two parts would much lower than today (18m), one slightly higher (55m), and one significantly higher (72m). The buildings along Kensington Church Street would be replaced by two new four-floor buildings, and a further two three-floor buildings would be erected along the tube station platform roof. In between, there would be a public square where the farmers’ market would be reinstated on Saturdays after construction. The ground floor in seven of the eight buildings would be set aside for 14 restaurants and shops. Above ground floor there would be 4,500m² of offices and 46 flats, most of them with two or three bedrooms. In addition there would be a large 900m² GP surgery, with nine doctors serving 18,000 patients, in the main building complex.
The plans were supported by the farmers’ market, the West London NHS Commissioning Group, the Notting Hill Gate Improvements Group, and Kensington Society and some of the local residents’ associations. Kensington Society and the residents’ associations would normally never publicly support an application, but felt that these plans, after intensive local consultations, on balance provided enough important public benefits – such as the retention of the farmers’ market, the public car-free space, a step-free access to one side of the District and Circle lines’ platform, and the large GP surgery – to offset the negative aspects, such as the high, narrow tower.
So, what happens now? As this is is a major application, the final decision lies with the Mayor of London. He may either allow the council’s refusal or decide to “call in” the application, which means that his office takes over the planning decision process. A call-in will eventually lead to a public hearing, where the council, the applicant and representatives for objectors and supporters will be heard. The mayor will then decide wether to allow or refuse. Normally, his decision whether to allow the council’s refusal or take over the application should come within two weeks, but according to the RBKC planning department it may take a bit longer in this case.
If the London mayor decides to allow the council’s refusal, or also refuses after a call-in, the developers may appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, hoping the refusal will be overturned. They may also produce a new application which addresses the reasons for refusal. Both these things happened with the large Odeon site on Kensington High Street: in January 2016, the Planning Inspectorate overturned the the council’s refusal of the second application, and the council had in October 2015 approved the developer’s revised third application – so that developer now has two approved applications to choose from.