'Empire House' Challenge In High Court

Campaigners hope to get permission for judicial review

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The challenge brought by local resident Simon Kverndal QC against the Lend Lease development of Empire House and Essex place will have a hearing on Wednesday, 29th July, in the High Court.

At the hearing, Simon Kverndal hopes to get permission for a judicial review of Hounslow Council’s grant of planning permission. The claim is that the decision was unlawful because of the failure of Officers to properly consult and their failure to take into account and apply important local planning policies.

Fundraising has continued and people can continue to donate to the crowdfunding for the legal challenge until the end of today. The 30 day target was increased to £20,000 and supporters are hopeful that local people will continue to make donations, however small. It is expected that legal fees could reach £35,000.

The development consists of 72 residential units, including affordable homes, in Essex Place and Acton Lane. The Empire House tower block is currently being refurbished from office to residential, on sale as The Opus Collection, with new retail frontage of seven units planned below.

The Judicial Review being taken by Simon Kverndal QC, and is supported by local lawyers and four residents’ groups, challenging the legality of the planning decision. The Judicial Review application was launched on 14 May.

It is not enough to show that the Council made a bad decision: the decision must be shown to be unlawful.

An experienced team of planning lawyers has been engaged: Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law, Solicitors and barrister Dan Kolinsky QC, supported by Luke Wilcox, from Landmark Chambers.

Adrienne Copithorne, the solicitor handling the case at Richard Buxton has said: "We believe the grounds of this challenge are correct. There was a clear failure on the part of the Council officers to advise Committee members properly of the relevant policies when they were making their decision to grant permission for this inappropriate development.

"We are hopeful that the judge hearing our application will agree that the grounds are clearly arguable. We have the advantage of a very experienced and skilled planning QC arguing the case. Although going for an appeal is an option, granting permission at this stage would be in the interests of the residents of Chiswick."

"This case is important. It demonstrates how local planning policies, long established and new, can be ignored. The future of Chiswick depends on the consistent, rigorous enforcement of well thought-out local planning policies. In this case all the policies were there and could have been enforced. They were not. The result is that we have the prospect of a development that flies in the face of local policies "

The residents groups supporting the challenge include all four neighbouring groups: Friends of Turnham Green, Chiswick High Road Action Group, West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Society and Acton Green Residents’ Association.

The challenge will include the following criteria:

- Height of buildings – Local policies are against tall buildings in this area and there is a long standing aspiration to get rid of Empire House.

- Employment – The local plan site designation for this site provided for mainly continued employment uses such as offices or hotel space.

- Heritage - The proposed development will cause irreparable harm to the Turnham Green Conservation area.

- Housing - The development seeks to get round Hounslow’s policies on affordable housing by claiming the right to develop Empire House with no affordable housing contribution and the remainder of the site with only a fraction of the 41% affordable housing target. The result is just 11% affordable housing. All this is based on claims as to viability of the project based on calculations that have not been disclosed.

- Consultation – Officers recommended approval of this development despite strong opposition from the overwhelming majority of respondents to consultation. There were comprehensive objections from residents, residents’ groups and Sainsbury’s who own the adjoining superstore and car park together with British Land. These were ignored. In a final blow, the Council refused to allow time to examine and respond to a substantial amount of important documentation put in at the last minute, well after the consultation period was over.

Mr. Kverndal, who has lived in Chiswick for 17 years, says that he cares about the local community and is horrified about the prospect of it being "dominated and disfigured" by towering new eight-storey apartment blocks and the additional two storeys added to the unsightly 1960s block (Empire House). He spoke about the matter to The Chiswick Calendar.


July 28, 2015