History – From Core Strategy to Kensington Academy

gag BANNER

In the summer of 2010 the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea ‘Core Strategy ‘ was approved by a government-appointed examiner after a series of hearings held at the Town Hall in Hornton Street. The Core Strategy set out the Council’s planning and development strategy for the forseeable future, together with the policy statements that embody that strategy.

Chapter 23 of the Core Strategy deals with the site allocation for the Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre development (Policy CA 4). The site is comprised of two land parcels, the first of which already hosts the Kensington Leisure Centre. This area is earmarked in the Core Strategy for a rebuilt or redeveloped leisure centre on the same footprint, more or less, as the existing structure. The second adjoining land parcel is earmarked for a new secondary school, the proposed Kensington Aldridge Academy.

The Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre (KALC) project was destined to become one of the biggest and most ambitious development projects sponsored by Kensington and Chelsea Council in recent times. An application for planning permission was submitted in May 2012 and was duly approved.  Demolition and excavation to prepare the site for development began as soon as planning permission was granted.

The Grenfell Action Group was formed in 2010 to oppose the KALC project and defend the rights of the residents of Lancaster West Estate, a sprawling inner-city housing estate of nearly a thousand dwellings, mostly working class, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. The people of  Lancaster West stood to lose a great deal to this massive over-development at the heart of our estate, not least the well-loved and well-used open-space of Lancaster Green, the defence and protection of which was one of our primary aims.

The Site

In order to decide whether or not the site in question was suitable to host the new academy, and to judge whether or not the Council acted properly in designating it for this purpose, it is necessary first to establish the nature and composition of the site.

Chapter 23 of the Core Strategy described the proposed KALC site as:

“Kensington Leisure Centre and adjoining land, Walmer Road, including the area next to Grenfell Tower” (23.4.1)

and described its’ current uses as:

“sports and leisure centre (Class D1: Non-residential Institution), including dance, gym & sports halls, large & small swimming pools, café, football pitches, car parking and incidental open space.” (23.4.5).

Whilst this is a reasonably accurate description of the eastern land parcel, which contained the leisure centre, it largely ignored, and grossly misrepresented, the western land parcel earmarked for the academy. The reference to “incidental open space” was particularly misleading, as approximately 80% of the western land parcel was public open space, mostly green space, which was used constantly by the local community for informal recreational purposes.

The earliest reference to hosting a school at this location appeared in the “Towards Preferred Options…” document,  a precursor to the Core Strategy, in the summer of 2008, when it was first suggested that the Sports Centre and a new school might share what was known as the “Kensington Sports Centre Key Site”.  Even at this time the suggested school site was considered only as an under-utilised appendage to the Sports Centre, and there was no recognition of the substantial open space/green space at this location which had been used for many years as an open access community resource.

In fact, apart from a car park (which serves the whole community and not just the Sports Centre) there were three other discrete areas of open space in this land parcel, which together accounted for about 80% of the total area. These were as follows:

(i) The Grenfell Tower playground and amenity space. This area was designated as essential amenity space for the use of residents of Lancaster West Estate. It was particularly important to the residents of Grenfell Tower for whom it served as the only existing residential amenity space. It was listed in the Council’s ‘Open Space Audit’  as “private, residential” amenity space and it should never have been included as part of the KALC site. In fact, it was not included as part of the site until after the the Council had been made aware, through two separate consultants reports, that the remainder of the site was too small to satisfy the government’s BB98 recommendations for the building of a new school. Site maps published prior to the Strategic Sites consultation (summer 2010) did not include this space as part of the school site

(ii) Lancaster Green. Approximately 40% of the proposed academy site was composed of open green space which included footpaths, grassed areas, flowering shrubs, and a significant number of mature trees. Lancaster Green, as it was called, had been designated, for a number of years, as one of the Council’s local parks. It was listed as a park on the Council’s website and was marked as a park by an official Council signnpost. It was listed in the Council’s ‘Open Space Audit’ (2004), as the ‘Grenfell Tower Amenity Space’ (4350 sq metres), and was listed in the ‘Parks Strategy’ (2010) as the ‘Lancaster West Secondary Park’.

Although managed by the Council’s Parks Department the legal status of Lancaster Green was actually more complicated than this would suggest. A Title Review of the proposed KALC site, carried out by the Council’s Legal Services Department in June 2010, revealed that both Lancaster Green and the Grenfell Tower Playground area were covered by the same title deed as the adjoining part of Lancaster West Estate, and therefore properly belonged to Lancaster West Estate, rather than the Sports Centre. This was a clear indication that both Lancaster Green and the playground area were originally created as essential amenity space for Lancaster West residents. These amenity spaces were particularly important to Grenfell Tower residents, who have no balconies or private amenity space, and whose public areas receive no natural light. It is noteworthy also that Lancaster West Estate is generally deficient in playspace, and the open space in the western part of the proposed KALC site, including the sports pitches, had always served to mitigate that deficiency.

(iii) The sports pitches. This hard-surface 5-a-side football or tennis facility was ostensibly maintained and controlled by the Sports Centre. However Sports Centre managers had long since abandoned any attempt to secure it for the exclusive use of their patrons, and it had long been freely and informally used (ie as of right and free of charge), by local people (including local children) as a sports and play space, albeit shared with paying Sports Centre patrons, who enjoy preferential use of the facility.

open-spaceIt would be difficult to explain or justify how or why the Council managed to so completely misrepresent the true characteristics of the western part of the site, both in the Core Strategy and throughout the accompanying consultation. However, that is exactly what occurred, in what can only be described as an exercise in wilful myopia. Indeed, the boroughwide Sustainability Appraisal, produced for the Core Strategy by independent consultants, was highly critical of Chapter 23, stating that:

“The proposed allocation of development on the site is devoid of all references to environmental constraints… the extent of development on the existing open space is unclear….(and) it is not clear as to the likely sustainability credentials of the proposed new infrastructure”. (page 57)

These criticisms were completely ignored by the authors of the Core Strategy, who chose not to amend the draft .  Comments recorded in the Core Strategy Consultation Report, around the same time, are also noteworthy. According to this report:

“Concern was …raised regarding the impacts of a new school and the new road layout to existing residential amenity…. and clarification was needed regarding the loss of open space.”

These remarks were followed by an editorial comment which said:

“Clarification has been added”

In fact no such clarification was ever added, and the contempt with which such criticisms were treated is evidence of a prejudiced and prejudicial attitude to the site on the part of Councillors and Council Officers throughout this entire period. This attitude is evident also in the following chronology.

A Chronology of Events 2008 – 2010

29th July 2008 – 10 October 2008 “Towards Preferred Options…”

The idea of building a school on the “Kensington Sports Centre Key Site” was tentatively suggested in consultation for the “Towards Preferred Options Core Strategy and the North Kensington Plan” document  between 29th July 2008 and 10th October 2008. It was suggested that the Sports Centre and ‘a new school’ might share the site. There was no mention in this document of the open space on the site, or of its’ importance as an open access community resource. The site was presented only as an underutilised appendage to the Sports Centre.

17th November 2008 Oversight and Scrutiny Committee
Working Group

On 17th November 2008 the ‘Family and Children’s Services OSC Working Group On Secondary Provision In North Kensington’ recommended the Lancaster West site for a proposed new academy:

“The Director for Property presented a report to the OSC Working Group meeting of 17 November 2008 on possible locations for a new school on sites within Council ownership… Of a number presented to the OSC Working Group, it was agreed that the school would best be located on the site of the Kensington Leisure Centre.”

This recommendation was subsequently featured in a report, “Development of a New School in the North of the Borough” submitted by the Working Group to the OSC dated 11th March 2009.

8th January 2009 Notting Barns South Masterplan

Cabinet approved the appointment of ‘Urban Initiatives’ to carry out a masterplanning study of the Notting Barns South area, with a view to largescale regeneration of the council owned estates.  As part of the brief the consultants were tasked with exploring options for the KALC development on the Lancaster West site, as a core element of the regeneration scenario. The masterplan ultimately recommended:

“A new academy on the existing site of the pitches and Leisure Centre Car Park…(and) a new local park near to the proposed Academy, to serve the local community (who have a strategic under provision of open space) as well as provide space …for sports, outdoor teaching, provision of biodiverse play space and other uses.” (Notting Barns South Masterplan page 17)

The new park proposed in the Masterplan was intended for the site currently occupied by Verity Close, a residential area and part of Lancaster West Estate. The intention of the Masterplan was to demolish Verity Close to create the space for a substantial new park. This idea was subsequently shelved.

The recommendation to site the new academy at Lancaster West was, of course, followed through in the Core Strategy, but there would be no new park. Most of the existing open space would be lost to the massive bulk of a new 1200 pupil academy, and a much reduced Lancaster Green would be left in it’s shadow. This represented a net loss to the local community of at least half the existing open space, and there would be enormous pressure on the remaining green space to serve the patrons of the new leisure centre, as well as the 1200 students attending  the academy, which would be built without a playground of adequate size, and entirely without external sports facilities. The fact that Lancaster Green was needed as essential residential amenity space for the residents of the adjacent Grenfell Tower hardly figured in the Council’s plans for the site.

6th April 2009 Location of a New Secondary School In North Kensington

“Location of a New Secondary School In North Kensington” authored by James Masini supposedly considered and compared six possible sites in North Kensington to host a new academy – Barlby Rd Primary School, St Mary’s/Middle Row Primary Schools, the Princess Louise Hospital site, the Kensal Gasworks site and the Latimer site.

Having excluded the other five sites Masini recommended the Latimer site (ie Lancaster Green) as the site for the Academy.

“Development is likely to take place within the next 3-5 years in line with Central Government Funding making this the most realistic and achievable location for a new Secondary School. The Latimer site is also the only area with space to commence development within the next 5 years, due to the relatively insignificant amount of demolition required.”

According to a Council newsletter published in July 2011, all of these sites, together with the Silchester Garages site and the Virgin Active site in Lancaster Road were “carefully examined but ruled out” by the KALC planners. However there is no evidence of any modelling or feasibilty studies, apart from the one conducted at  Lancaster Green, at any of the other sites which were allegedly considered, either before or after Massini’s study.

Another inconsistency of the Masini study is that the Working Group on Secondary Provision in North Kensington had already earmarked the Lancaster West site for the academy in a report to the OSC on Family and Children’s Services in November 2008, several months before Masini supposedly performed his exploratory study.

5th May 2009 McAslan Initial Design Workshop

John McAslan & Partners (Architects) led a workshop attended by senior Council officers to explore the feasibility of the KALC development on the Lancaster Green site. Mc Aslans produced a report of the workshop and the following year conducted a full feasibility study which was used as a foundation for the KALC Supplementary Planning Document. According to the workshop report:

“The new school will be part of the council’s wider vision for this part of North Kensington…. The site identified is the open grounds to the north of the North Kensington Sports Centre, including the sports centre, the existing five-a-side pitches, a children’s play area and a supporting car park.”  (Page 8)

It is noteworthy, that in McAslan, just as in the Core Strategy, the site is described without reference to the substantial green space (ie public park) at the heart of the site. To the casual reader, Lancaster Green, which is left unnamed, might well have been mistaken for derelict wasteland, and one suspects that this may well have been the intention of the chosen wording.

21st  May 2009 BSF Strategy for Change, Part 2

“Building Schools For The Future” was a major funding initiative brought in by the previous Labour Government to enable a massive school building and modernisation programme (it was subsequently replaced under the Con-Dem coalition with the far less ambitious “Partnership For Schools”).  Submission of a document called “BSF Strategy for Change, Part 2” by a deadline in Spring 2009 was a mandatory part of the bidding process for BSF funding.  The RBKC submission named the Lancaster West site in a bid for BSF funding for the academy:

“The proposed site is the current site of the North Kensington Sports Centre, Lancaster Road (including the area next to Grenfell Tower) in the Notting Barns ward”  (RBKC Strategy  for Change page 25)

Again Lancaster Green is not named, and there is no reference to a park or public open space.

5th May 2009 – 16th June 2009 Strategic Sites Consultation

The Strategic Sites document formed part of the Core Strategy but was subject to a separate consultation between 05/05/2009 and 16/06/2009. The proposed site allocation for the KALC development was included as part of this consultation, and subsequently became Chapter 23 of the Submission Core Strategy which was ultimately approved at Examination in Summer 2010

It should be noted that all of the above chronology took place before the concluson of the Strategic Sites consultation, and therefore pre-empted the approval of the KALC site allocation in that consultation.

March 2010

Cabinet approved the selection of the Kensington Leisure Centre site as the location for the new secondary school, and approved funding of a feasibility study for the provision of the new academy and sports centre (cited in RBKC Cabinet paper CAB 22-07-10)

July 2010

The Feasibility Study by John McAslan and Partners was published in July 2010. Page 34 of that report refers to BB98 Guidance on the optimal spatial requirements of new-build schools, and notes that;

“….none of the Options actually provide the required site area needed for an urban area, some provide a lot less and this needs to be understood when reading this report.

In the subsequent report to Cabinet, which accompanied the feasibility study, the Executive Director for Planning was careful to note that;

“the open space on the site provides amenity for the residents of Grenfell Tower, who have no balconies and this will need to be reprovided”  (CAB 22-07-2010)

However, the Feasibility Study itself made no allowances for preservation or re-provision of the amenity space, and neither did the subsequent Supplementary Planning Document.

This chronology is remarkable for a number of reasons:

  • It shows a complete disregard for the open space on the western part of the site proposed for the academy. This is apparent from the various names given to the site in all Council documents, and from the accompanying descriptions, all of which invariably ignore, and therefore misrepresent, the substantial open space (approximately I hectare) which is arguably the key feature of the academy site. This suggests a significantly biased and prejudiced attitude on the Council’s part.
  • For two whole years prior to the approval of the Core Strategy the Council planned and conducted feasibility and modeling studies of the site aimed at the eventual delivery of the KALC project, yet at no time was the name ‘Lancaster Green’ mentioned in the documents. On a number of occasions the consultation process was pre-empted in the rush to progress plans for the project, and there is no evidence throughout the two years of the slightest regard shown to the Secretary of States Guidance in relation to planning for open spaces (PPG 17). This clearly demonstrates a significant bias or prejudice in favour of the Council’s intention to develop the site, come what may, and against the interests of the local population, to whom the open space on this site had real and irreplaceable value.
  • The misrepresentation of the academy site must surely have distorted the Core Strategy consultation. Only consultees with an intimate knowledge of the site, would have realised that the description of the site was incorrect, and as very few local residents had been invited to participate there were consequently very few comments or criticisms addressing the loss of open space that the proposed development would inevitably entail.
  • The chronology shows a general tendency to pre-empt the consultation process by assuming constantly that the academy would inevitably be located at the proposed site, regardless of whatever objections might be raised in consultation. A particularly blatant example of pre-emption was the submission of the “BSF Strategy for Change, Part 2” application for government funding in May 2009. This named the Lancaster West site as the site of the proposed academy in order to secure BSF funding, but was submitted to the DfE before the Strategic Sites consultation had been completed in June 2009.

The Flawed Core Strategy Consultation

The Latimer Masterplan And The Stock Options Review

Throughout the time that the Core Strategy consultation was ongoing the Council was also conducting another consultation exercise in the Latimer area. This was a ‘Stock Options Review’ which had been prompted by anticipated cuts to the government subsidy payable into the Housing Revenue Account, which funds all social housing provision.

The Council was exploring ways to increase revenues from its housing estates to meet the shortfall, and one of the options being considered was large-scale regeneration of the Latimer Area, also known as Notting Barns South.

Unlike the Core Strategy consultation, which was conducted on a highly selective and exclusive basis, the Stock Options Review was widely publicised on council housing estates in the Latimer area and most households were routinely and repeatedly contacted by mail.

The ‘Stock Options Review’ diverted attention away from the Core Strategy consultation.

In fact most local people were unaware that the ‘Core Strategy’ consultation was in progress, had never heard of the ‘Core Strategy’, did not understand what it was, and had no reason to suspect that it might be as important, or even more important, than the Stock Options Review. The Council meanwhile made no attempt to explain any of this to residents, or to engage them in the ‘Core Strategy’ consultation.

Furthermore, the ‘Stock Options’ documentation that local residents were receiving withheld information about the site allocation for the Academy, and gave false assurances that any new development in the area would be confined to the ‘Silchester Garages’ site. In fact the development plans for the Silchester garages were quietly expanded into a full redevelopment of the entire Silchester Estate. It should be noted that the ‘Core Strategy’ consultation was nearing completion at this time and the proposed site allocation for the academy was well known to Council officers involved in the ‘Stock Options Review’.

In a letter to residents in December 2009, the Chief Housing Officer, Laura Johnson wrote::

“The Council is examining options to establish a new Academy with up to six forms of entry (equivalent to 900 11-16 places) and up to 250 post 16 places in North Kensington. We are committed to increasing pupil places in the north of the Borough to meet local demand, provide greater choice, diversity and fair access for local parents and the local community.”

It is noteworthy that this letter specifies only a North Kensington location for the proposed school. Lancaster West is not mentioned.

The co-incidence of the Core Strategy and the Stock Options Review, both in time and in relevance to the Lancaster West community, raises questions about why it was deemed appropriate to consult the entire community on the Stock Options Review, but only select stakeholder groups on the Core Strategy. It also raises questions as to why the Stock Options review was used to mislead this community during 2009 about the proposed site allocation for the Academy.

Both the ‘Core Strategy’ and the ‘Stock Options Review’ were informed by a detailed masterplanning study of the Latimer area commissioned by the Council early in 2009. This was ‘The Latimer Masterplan’, also known as ‘The Notting Barns South Masterplan’.

This study proposed a radical regeneration of the entire area involving demolition of virtually all the council owned housing. However this report was withheld from the ‘Stock Options’ consultees, and they were shown only a much edited extract from which all the ‘scorched earth’ detail of the radical regeneration scenario had been removed. This appears to have been a cynical attempt to manipulate the ‘Stock Options’ consultation by witholding information about the more controversial aspects of the regeneration that was being considered.

The site allocation for the Academy, which ultimately appeared in the ‘Core Strategy’, was a key element of the Masterplan. The Council was eventually forced, in June 2010, to publish the full Masterplan under ‘Freedom of Information’ legislation.

When confronted at that time with the detail of the Masterplan study the Head of Planning insisted that it was just ‘blue sky thinking’ and there was never any intention to implement the radical proposals it contained. We believe that the truth is that they had every intention of bulldozing this whole area, and all that stopped them was the collapse of the world economy, the banking sector crisis, and of course the collapse of the housing market.

The redevelopment of the Silchester Estate is still going ahead, as is the KALC project, both of which were key elements of the Masterplan.

When and if the housing market eventually recovers we fully expect them to revert to type and come after the rest of Lancaster West.

KALC may be just the start of a much bigger fight.

Because only a select few local ‘stakeholder’ groups were invited to participate, the Lancaster West community was effectively excluded from the decisive stages of the Core Strategy consultation, and most particularly from the consultation on the Strategic Sites document, which determined the site allocation for the KALC project..

For this and other reasons, Chapter 23 of the ‘Core Strategy’, which deals with the site allocation, misrepresented the nature and composition of the site by failing to acknowledge that a significant proportion of the site is comprised of public open space/green space, including the Royal Borough park known as Lancaster Green. Consequently, we believe the site allocation was determined without proper regard to the provisions of Planning Policy Guidance 17 (government guidance) and RBKC Policy CR 5 ‘Parks, Gardens, Open Spaces and Waterways’, both of which provide for the protection of parks and open spaces.

We have been advised that it is now too late to contest the site allocation policy in the Core Strategy.  However, the flawed Strategic Sites consultation has had repercussions that continued through subsequent stages of the planning process, and only in the consultation draft of the SPD was the open-space on this site actually recognised in planning documents. The right to the protection of our open space and residential amenity, offered by a number of Core Strategy policies, and by National Planning Policy, has thus been fatally compromised.

Residential Amenity

Paragraph 3.2 of the SPD acknowledges that the site contains 3, 500 sq metres of open space (ie Lancaster Green), and a further 1,100 sq metres of playspace (ie the childrens playground). All of this is essential amenity space, the loss of which would severely impact local residents:

“Lancaster Green and the other informal open spaces are considered valuable assets, especially to those living in Grenfell Tower where there are no balconies. These green areas are therefore the only external amenity space in immediate proximity to their homes”. (KALC SPD 5.2.1)

Policy CL 5 of the Core Strategy requires new developments to ensure;

“…that the conditions of existing adjoining buildings and amenity spaces are not significantly reduced or, where they are already substandard, that there should be no worsening of the conditions…”

It further states that there should be;

“…no harmful increase in the sense of enclosure to existing buildings and spaces..(and) no significant impact on the use of buildings and spaces due to increases in traffic, parking, noise, odours or vibration..”

The importance of amenity space is also acknowledged in the ‘Planning Obligations’ SPD which states that;

“…family-sized dwellings should have access to their own amenity space, which may be shared or private, to allow informal leisure and recreation activities by all the members of a household, particularly children…”  (38.9)

It should be noted that much of the accomodation in Grenfell Tower is occupied by families, and the only amenity space available to these families, and to other residents, is the external open space surrounding the tower, ie the playground area and Lancaster Green. Use of the playground is restricted to younger children only (ie under eights), so the remaining open space is essential to the recreational needs of older children and adults.

During consultation there were many expressions of concern that the SPD provided insufficient protection of residential amenity. The siting of the development in an already densely developed residential area, and encroaching on the essential residential amenity space, were key concerns.

The impact of the development on local residents is addressed on page 24 of the SPD, which suggests various measures, mostly design-based, aimed at mitigating this. However, we believe that the SPD underestimates the severity of the impacts, and that the suggested remedial measures are inadequate.

For example, the SPD suggests locating the school buildings away from Grenfell Tower and along Silchester Road, at the opposite edge of the site. However, the school structure is massive. It will leave little open space, and will effectively concentrate all the external activities associated with the school in the most sensitive part of the site (ie the area around Grenfell Tower), currently occupied by the Lancaster Green open space.

Furthermore, given the severe spatial constraints of the site, design-based measures are unlikely to be successful in significantly alleviating negative impacts like noise and congestion, and we believe that the only way to effectively safeguard residential amenity is by fully preserving the existing open space.  This would act as a buffer to create separation between the high density residential area and any new development on the site.

It is noteworthy that the Latimer Masterplan from July 2009, and the McAslan Feasibility Study from July 2010, both fore-warned the Council that the western part of the site, which is allocated for the academy, is not big enough to satisfy the Government’s minimum recommendations (BB 98) for a school of this size. Consequently all the early modelling for this project completely ignored the amenity-space needs of the existing community, in favour of the spatial needs of the school. The last-minute compromises offered in the SPD, in an attempt to mitigate these failings, are wholly inadequate.

Open Space and Play Space

Although the planning brief commited the Council to retention of the playground, it proposed retention of only a fraction of the existing open space, and also suggested that use of both resources could be shared between the academy and the local community

Given such equivocal statements it is hard to judge whether the intention was really to safeguard these assets for the community, or rather to create loopholes for the architects to exploit when drawing up detailed plans. The Grenfell Action Group suspected the latter rather than the former, and in time it became clear that we were abolutely right.

When the architects produced their detailed plans it was clear that much of the open space would be lost, and what little remained would be carefully positioned and orientated to serve the various entrances to the academy and the new leisure centre. They even  contrived to position an academy entrance near the back end of the complex, where the music and dance studios and the sports hall will be located. This entrance will dominate the supposedly private space reserved for the Grenfell Tower childrens’ playground. How crass and irresponsible is that?

Planning Policy Guidance produced by the Government (PPG 17)  stipulates that open spaces should be protected from development wherever possible. Only when this proves impossible should development be considered, and under such circumstances, a thorough assessment is required to show that the open space in question is “surplus to requirements”. (PPG17  paragraph 10)

PPG17 also requires that, in circumstances where development is unavoidable, the open space must be reprovided such that it is;

“at least as accessible to current and potential new users, and at least equivalent in terms of size, usefulness, attractiveness and quality”. (para 13)

It is noteworthy that paragraph 5.3.11 of the SPD recognises that the all weather sports pitches on the site serve a valuable social and community function, and paragraph 5.3.12 proposes to fund reprovision of this facility at the Westway Sports Centre. This would not satisfy the requirements of PPG 17, as the new facility would not be as accessible as the current facility, particularly to younger children, and the proposed reprovision would effectively exclude many younger children from the informal recreational use of the sports pitches which they currently enjoy.

It is noteworthy also that the SPD proposes neither a thorough assessment of the open space on site, nor reprovision of the substantial quantity of open space that will be lost. This is inconsistent with the requirements of PPG 17, and is therefore in breach of National Planning Policy.

Similarly,  the SPD also breaches Policy CR 5 of the Core Strategy  ‘Parks, Gardens, Open Spaces and Waterways’, which commits the Council to;

“…protect, enhance and make the most of existing parks, gardens and open spaces…(and to) resist the loss of public open space”.

Furthermore, the Council’s ‘Planning Obligations’ SPD describes provision of open-space and play-space as a strategic priority, and states that;

“The Community Strategy seeks to improve the quality and accessibility of all public open spaces within the Borough. Therefore, new developments should assist by providing high quality parks and open spaces that all people can use.”  (38.10)

Clearly, the Core Strategy at least recognises the serious deficiency of open space throughout the borough, and seeks to remedy this by prioritising the retention and improvement of existing open spaces, and by the creation of new high-quality open spaces. But these policy statements apparently mean nothing when it comes to the KALC project, which collides head-on with the open-space and amenity needs of Lancaster West residents, and then simply brushes them aside.

In december December 2009, at the same time that RBKC planners were conspiring to sacrifice Lancaster Green on the altar of the KALC project,  the Council wrote to the GLA in response to the Mayor of London’s Open Space Strategy, offering assurances of their good intentions:

“Unlike, most other London Boroughs we do not have any spare capacity for open space to be released to other uses. Open space that has existing or potential value, is protected from inappropriate development by Policy LR8 of the adopted Unitary Development Plan which states that:

‘To resist the loss of existing open space which meets leisure and recreation needs.’

This policy has been strengthened in the Publication Core Strategy to read:

‘The Council will protect, enhance and make the most of existing parks, gardens and open spaces, and require new high quality spaces to be provided.

To deliver this, the Council will (amongst other criteria) resist the loss of Metropolitan Open Land, public open space and private communal space, and private open space where the space gives visual amenity to the public.’

We are simply not in a position, and nor would it be appropriate, to release open space for other uses which meets the criteria listed above. In those very limited circumstances where open space needs to be re-configured, such as estate re-development, we would expect open space to be re-provided of an equivalent or better size and quality.”

It would be a gross understatement to say that the Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre project flies in the face of all these objectives. One has to wonder what is the point of the Council’s open space policy, or of the GLA’s open space strategy, or of the Government’s planning policy guidance, if RBKC can simply ignore all of them with impunity.

Who will hold them to account on this?

The Government?

The GLA?

The Courts perhaps?

We shall have to see.