OPDC are consulting on a second set of changes to the application submitted back in November 2021 for a highly ambitious development at One Portal Way, North Acton. The CGI below shows the intended project on completion, including 3 further residential towers added to the ‘North Acton Cluster’.
These latest proposed changes to a 20 month old planning application are described by OPDC in its notification letter in these terms:
• Amendment to the demolition strategy
• Amendment to the construction phasing plan
• Amendment to facilitate the provision of a temporary ‘Meanwhile Use’ within the site.
While such changes may sound innocuous, in reality they involve a rephasing of this highly ambitious scheme for 7 residential/commercial buildings. ‘Meanwhile Use’ of the existing Carphone Warehouse building means that the promised central public open space will not be created in the form that has been promised to the public as part of Phase 1 of the development. This open space, with new pedestrian and cycle routes, was the one redeeming feature of the overall scheme.
This public open space is described on the consultation website for the public as a new heart for North Acton to meet the needs of existing and future communities. It has the potential to knit together other local developments to create a vibrant hub with something for everyone.
It now looks as though this ‘new heart’ will not start beating for many years yet, were the project to be given planning consent by OPDC Planning Committee.
OONF has long had questions over this set of proposals from Imperial College. While Imperial already have a presence at North Acton, in the form of blocks of student housing, the proposals for One Portal Way have no academic or university content.
In October 2021 we asked to Office for Students (the regulatory body for universities) whether the College’s Charter provides the statutory powers to undertake solely commercial development activity as a form of investment? The OfS declined to pursue this question with their legal advisers. Imperial argue that their activities in relation to development are unfettered and that any form of ‘investment’ activity can be pursued.
These latest proposals for meanwhile use on the eastern part of the site at One Portal Way suggest that the College may be rethinking how it can finance the costs involved on a project of this scale. We have had no answers from Imperial on how they intend to meet borrowing costs at interest rates far higher than when the plans were drawn up by Pilbrow & Partners.
OONF has previously submitted four sets of objections to the 2021 planning application for this scheme. We have now added a fifth, in response to these latest proposed changes. This can be downloaded below, along with our 2022 submission to the Office for Students and a letter to the College.
We argue that the present application (for full permission for two buildings and outline permissions for a masterplan with the remaining five) should be withdrawn. The College is a university in receipt of public funds and (like all universities) an ‘exempt charity’.
We think the 2021 proposals are now very high risk and that the College should proceed more incrementally and cautiously – rather than attempting to add to very high-density/high rise buildings bringing notoriety to the ‘North Acton Cluster’.