eric's daily blog - a very personal view of the arcadia public inquiry

Day 2: Wednesday 24th June 2009

June 24, 2009
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I walked into the Inquiry at 10:10am with LSE Professor Robert Tavernor in full swing on the subjects of Townscape and Heritage in support of developers Glenkerrin. This guy’s qualifications and credentials filled up four pages of A4 in his Proof of Evidence.

I soon began to glaze over – partly because he spoke in an unenthusiastic monotone and partly because he was attempting the impossible i.e. trying to talk about architecture. The latter is as impossible as people trying to speak about performances of music or art. I soon got irritated by his bizarre use of language e.g. calling the tall tower a ‘Lantern’; ‘sinuous balconies’;‘stable anchor’; and ‘..can be held in the mind as representing place.’

He made great play of the tall tower being a landmark and how it needed to be the landmark of Ealing Metropolitan Centre (EMC). It did occur to me what ‘harm’ would be done to the EMC if it didn’t have a landmark. He also made great play on the fact that it was a residential landmark. The latter could have a smaller footprint than an office landmark he said (oh really what about Centrepoint in W1?). Also Ealing’s creation was a result of the massive Victorian/Edwardian residential villas, semis and terraces building programmes following the railway and underground’s arrival in Ealing. Hence a residential landmark of 26 storeys?

I was yearning at this point for someone in the audience to jump up and yell ‘this is all bulshxt’ – but folks were much too polite for that.

He made it clear that the final (of four) different iterations of the tower design in the Planning Application was thrashed out by the London Mayor, Tavernor, the Fosters+Partners team, and CABE. This seems completely intuitively wrong. Why weren’t immediately adjacent residents, residents groups (GRASS, CERA, WRA), and Ealing Town Centre/Haven Green Conservation Panel representatives involved in this ‘final’ or indeed the initial designs?

The Professor lost the plot completely at one point and referred to our town as Epping!

He also said that the Arcadia tower was great because it was designed by the world’s leading architects. This is a bit like saying this painting is by Picasso therefore it must be a great piece of art.

Views, renditions and images were endlessly described by the witness for what seemed like an hour.

After lunch, SEC’s barrister Tom Cross began cross examining the Professor. He began with a factual question. How high is the tower? Tavernor didn’t know, and none of the Glenkerrin and Ealing Council teams knew either. Just how sloppy and arrogant is that? Eventually someone on his team came up with a height which was soon corrected as the original height given was height above sea level (Above Ordnance Datum – AOD – in architectural jargon).

The Professor then got progressively irritated as Tom asked him to comment on the vast differences between the Arcadia proposals and what existed around the site re materials, heights, solids to voids, shapes, colours and look and feel. He also forensically went through the details of the recent Conservation Area Character Appraisals  and Tavernor was clearly not happy with this.

At the end of this, Tom actually raised his voice slightly (for the first time) and said that ‘..Arcadia will effect radical change to the character of both Ealing Town Centre and Haven Green Conservation Areas’.

The Professor’s parting shot to Tom was that Arcadia was ‘great architecture’

The Inspector then asked the audience to ask questions.

Val Clover, a local resident raised the terrorist angle – tall ‘landmark’ tower; on top of a major rail route; next to a major station; close to shopping and residential areas. The inspector made small attempts to curtail her point – but she got it out anyway. He said the Professor was the wrong formal witness to deal with this. He said someone else subsequently would answer her question. However I personally doubt that the subject is dealt with at all by any of the Statutory or Rule 6 witnesses.

Sue New wanted Tavernor to tell her how a community was going to be created in Arcadia; why we’d had four tower designs – two in one month alone; and she wanted the public to have access to the top of the tower. I didn’t detect she got any of these questions answered.

Julian Edmunds then asked 10+ questions mostly on views and many that had already been dealt with.

By this stage I was hot and sticky in the unchilled room on a hot day. Russell Harris QC for Glenkerrin had his rebuttal against Tom’s and other’s points. Before we slipped away into the hot Broadway air we received the joyous news that we would have to switch rooms within the Town Hall for tomorrow’s sessions. Tomorrow it’s Glenkerrin’s Transport witness Mike Axon.

Government Inspector David Richards deserves some praise here for the very fair way he’s conducted the proceedings so far. He’s given everyone ample chance to speak, respond and do research.

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Day 1: Tuesday 23rd June 2009

June 24, 2009
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Euphoria kicks at 8:30am when I see on Google News that the much rumoured English Heritage (EH) survey  on Conservation Areas (CAs) being at risk and threatened by ‘..neglect, decay or damaging change…’ has been launched.

Euphoria turns to anger, dismay and shame when on arriving at Ealing Town Hall at 9:00am when I’m told by my SEC colleagues who have scanned the survey that Ealing is not in the survey. Why? It appears that Ealing Council did not fill in the EH survey forms – consequently details on how Ealing CA’s might be under threat are missing. Incompetence or malevolence? I guess we’ll never know.

I pushed past a crowd of Police and PCSOs as I entered the building. However upon entering Victoria Hall, the venue for some on the Public Inquiry, I was pleased to see that Police were not stationed in the Hall – in contrast to various recent Ealing Council Planning Committee and Ward Forum meetings.

By 10:00am  around 100 local residents had taken their places sitting strangely some 25 yards from the Inspector, David Richards. Separating the residents and the Inspector were a rank of Rule 6 parties – SEC, ECS and Conservation Panels – to his right. To his left were Glenkerrin’s and Ealing Council’s troops. All these folks with formal speaking parts – some 30 in number – were 15 yards apart. Sean O’Gorman, Glenkerrin’s long haired almost Hippy looking UK boss, was in amongst his troops trying and trying to get a Wireless connection to work on his laptop.

We had an hour of housekeeping by the Inspector on proofs of evidences, core documents, common ground etc. Glenkerrin’s QC Russell Harris – a powerful Welsh Blunderbuss of a man– waded in about the lack of SEC proofs. Tom Harris, our Rule 6 Barrister, calmly quoted the date on which we couriered four copies of all the proofs to the Government’s PINS office in Bristol (which met the Inspector’s deadline date). It was confirmed that the ‘batting order’ for presentations was going to be Glenkerrin, Ealing Council and then Rule 6 parties and then anyone else. Morag Ellis QC, dressed all in black, introduced herself as Ealing Council’s representative, being instructed by Ealing Council’s Helen Harris.

The Inspector estimated that the Inquiry would last for 12 (working) days. Week 1 would be taken up by Glenkerrin’s  presentations; followed by Ealing Council’s spilling into week 2; and then Rule 6 folks and then local residents spilling into week 3; followed by Conditions and Obligations.

SEC confirmed its batting order is:
Will French – Planning
Robert Gurd – ECS
Anthony Lewis- CAs
Eric Leach – Social and Community Infrastructure
Tony Miller – Transport
Nick Woodward – Sustainability
James Guest – Retail

Glenkerrin’s order:
Hugh Stewart –Architecture and Design
Robert Tavernor – Townscape and Heritage
Mike Axon – Transport
Julian Carter – Town Planning and Control

Ealing Council:
Dick Johns – Planning Policy
Brendon Walsh – Regeneration
Neal Bleakly – Development Management

The Inspector asked the audience who else wanted to speak and 27 people said they did. They were Alex Engler, Mike Harlow, Audrey Jones, Sian Vasey OBE (Ealing Centre for Independent Living), Corinne Templer, Louise Sheard (Christchurch School), Councillor Ms Phil Greenhead (HobbayneWard), Susan New, Arthur Breens (Kingsdown Residents Association), Julian Edmunds (Central Ealing Residents Association), Bill Soper, Simon Rowley/John Beeston (transport – EPTUG), Peter Smith (BID Co), Colin Bradbury, Patrick Kennedy (CoC), Zeta Warner, Anthony Elley, Councillor Phil Taylor (Northfields Ward), Councillor Anthony Young (Ealing Broadway Ward), Councillor Ann Chapman (Walpole Ward), Councillor Jon Ball (Ealing Common Ward), Patrick Chapman (Walpole Residents Association), John Rhodes, Clive Whitcroft, Tony Palmer, and Penny Mason (Ealing Village).

The Inspector asked for press to identify themselves. Mathew Lynch of BBC Inside Out announced his presence. Jon Ball said that Ealing Gazette would appear at lunch.

Glenkerrin promised a copy of a signed Section 106 agreement at the end of the Inquiry. Tom Cross, for Rule 6 folks, asked for an early copy of the draft of this, especially in connection with new transport facilities and arrangements.

Glenkerrin’s Russell Harris then delivered (i.e. read) his opening broadside. His contention was that Arcadia met the needs of Ealing’s Metropolitan Centre status. He used flowery and emotive language about the proposal like ‘thoughtful’, ‘well considered and elegant’, ‘policy context’, ‘Ealing Metropolitan Gateway marker’ and ‘ no return to history’.

The Lady in Black was up next on behalf of Ealing Council. She basically said that the Arcadia proposals ticked all the Council’s Scrutiny boxes.

Tom was up next for our side;

‘Buildings need to be in the right place’.

His contention was that Arcadia might be fine somewhere – but not here in the centre of Ealing. The context had been misunderstood. The proposals don’t relate to their surroundings. It’s too big; out of keeping with its surroundings; delivers inadequate social and community facilities – which S106 will not compensate for; doesn’t provide an integrated transport hub; and will change Ealing centre for ever.

The harm is serious.

Glenkerrin then started stating their case and pretty soon Hugh Stewart, a Partner at Foster+Parners spoke for a long time on the Architecture and Design of the Arcadia proposal. His absent minded Professor-like demeanour; Ealing Council’s positively Medieval public address facility; and sun streaming directly into the eyes of the public audience; made for a torrid, challenging time for all. That being said it was the first time for many of us that we got any real sort of feeling for the external physicality of the proposals. He laboured the point about re-connecting The Broadway to Haven Green – a connection lost with the arrival of GWR in 1838. A £multi-multi-million  development of rafting supporting high rise residential tower blocks was seemingly the only choice when a million pound bridge(s) would have effected this re-connection was lost on Mr Stewart. He justified the tall tower (which to me looks like a stack of curvaceous office mail trays) as being a ‘symbol of Ealing’, a ‘symbol of the centre’, a  ‘marker’ and ‘.. (people) will know where Ealing is’. These are all valid English words and valid combinations of English words but their sense escapes me.

Then, our Tom tore Mr Stewart to shreads.

Mr Stewart, apparently, had only been involved in the ‘evolution’ of the design of the tower (from 40 storeys to 26 storeys). HKR, the designers of the Arcadia ‘master plan’, were not speaking at the Inquiry. Mr Stewart had presented himself as an expert on the whole scheme when in fact he had ‘inherited’ this whole scheme when he became involved in June 2007.

Tom then tortured him on the aspect of ‘..good design should be integrated into the existing environment’; PPG3 ‘..paying very close attention to respecting scale, height, massing and appropriate materials; site selection; post site selection; Conservation Area issues; and appropriate and missing views.

(We had in the middle of all this broken for lunch and as Ealing Council’s £1 billion annual turnover couldn’t run to providing facilities in-house to water and feed us, our team repaired to Poco Loco in the Broadway who did us proud with excellent fast food and drink).

Mr, Stewart began his presentation lacking a certain confidence. By the end, his confidence seemed to have deserted him completely.

The Inspector then took questions from the audience – some of which severely tested Mr Stewart and Russell Harris had to step in at times. The inspector also asked some questions, some of which were taken for objections and comments he had received.

We then had the spectacle of Russell Harris trying to recover Mr Stewart’s performance by questioning him with questions that he could answer successfully. To my untuned eye this process is entered into in order to head off a subsequent Appeal in the grounds that ‘we weren’t allowed to rebut’.

Proceedings closed at 5:00pm.


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Day Before the Inquiry Starts: Monday, 22nd June 2009

June 23, 2009
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All combatants must be marshalling their troops and materials today – SEC certainly is. It’s become clear that the batting order will be Glenkerrin going in first for a few days; followed by Ealing Council, again for a few days; then followed by the so-called ‘Rule 6’ parties of which SEC is one; and I suppose anyone else.

SEC has hired a smart, youngish Planning Barrister called Tom Cross who works at the Chambers of a Robin Purchas QC, situated just behind El Vino’s wine bar at Middle Temple in W1’s lawyer land. Tom will question Glenkerrin’s and Ealing Council’s speakers – just like in a criminal trial.

Over 360 people in Ealing have given over £20,000 to pay SEC’s legal costs – and the money is still coming in. SEC has worked hard to raise this cash, but the volume and variety of contributions shows the depth and breadth of opposition to the Arcadia plans.

SEC/ECS/Conservation Area Panels speakers include Bob Gurd, Anthony Lewis, Nick Woodward, James Guest, Will French, Tony Miller and myself. Professor Sir Peter Hall is also expected to speak for our side. English Heritage is also expected to speak.

Glenkerrin (‘The Applicant’) appears not to be speaking itself, but will be represented by an expensive barrister and highly paid planning, ‘urban design’ and architectural experts.

As I understand it, Ealing Council’s speakers include Dick Johns, Neil Bleakley and Brendon Walsh, Ealing’s planning supreme. Aileen Jones is apparently unlikely to speak. Ealing Council’s famous penchant for missing deadlines seems to be holding up as they seem to have missed the deadline date for submitting so called ‘Proofs of Evidence’ by two whole days.

I’ve been advised not to expect luxurious facilities to be provided (and to be paid for) by Ealing Council to accommodate the visiting warring factions. Three weeks ‘accommodation’ – such as it might be – will be provided in the 1889-built and little updated Ealing Town Hall. Of course the home team – Ealing Council – has local facilities in the Town Hall itself and in Perceval House next door, which have not as yet been offered to the opposing, visiting teams. It would of course have created a much more level playing field if this event had been held in a large, central Ealing hotel. As there isn’t such a facility, perhaps the Ramada Jarvis at Ealing Common could have been used. With Ealing Council announcing only last week its ‘…strong (financial) reserves…’, it might have been more appropriate for Ealing Council to have hosted the Inquiry in an environment with facilities consistent with those expected in the 21st century; and to have offered free meeting facilities to all involved parties.

My final pre-Inquiry comment is that how could it be remotely possible for a normal, in-paid employment, concerned Ealing resident to attend this three week event as an observer, never mind as a participant?


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Arcadia Public Inquiry 2009

June 21, 2009
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At 10:00am on Tuesday 23rd June, 2009 in Ealing Town Hall David Richards an Inspector at the Government’s Planning Inspectorate in Bristol (PINS) will begin conducting a Public Inquiry on the so-called Arcadia Planning Application. The Inquiry is expected to last some three weeks, and a decision is not expected before Winter 2009.

There are at least two organisations speaking in support of the scheme. These are Ealing Council and the developer Glenkerrin. Organisations speaking in opposition to the plans include Save Ealing’s Centre (SEC), Ealing Civic Society (ECS) and town centre Conservation bodies. SEC is an alliance of 26 local residents’ and community groups who are united in promoting appropriate, proportionate and sustainable town centre development.


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A local residents’ group – West Ealing Neighbours (WEN) - Also runs WEN Abundance. We pick unwanted fruit and turn it into juice, cordial, jam and chutney to sell in the local area. All profits are ploughed back into the project. Please email wenabundance@gmail.com If you are interested in volunteering, or have a fruit tree to pick!

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