Sometimes life pulls you in two different directions.
Everyone knows that we have a desperate shortage of housing in Ealing North but there is a growing reluctance to support more large-scale developments.
The current debate around a proposal to throw up a twenty-six-storey tower block next to the GWR line on Manor Road in West Ealing has brought this dichotomy into sharp focus.
It’s not as though we lack major housing projects in Ealing North – Grand Union Village on the site of the former Taylor Woodrow offices and works and the developments on Rectory Park, Copley Close, Cheyney Path and High Lane are all cases in point and they have – by and large – been accepted by the local community as an essential component of the solution to the housing crisis.
We are currently looking at just under three hundred new homes on the former Kellogg (IBM as was) site in North Greenford and possibly the biggest yet; just under two thousand units on the old Glaxo and Hovis sites – also in North Greenford.
The Greenford Quay development by Greystar is a case in point about how best to engage with local people and temper the proposals to fit in with local wishes.
Originally, they proposed a primary school in the plan, but we are faced with falling school rolls in Ealing North and that idea was parked. Community police, a cinema, canalside development – very Venetian! – and the reopening of Berkeley Avenue after so many years have proved popular and it has been suggested that one of the buildings be named in honour of the late John Bivens, a hero of North Greenford United’s footballing history.
Not everyone loves the idea, but I only received five letters or e-mails objecting to the new use of a redundant former industrial site.
A recent proposal to build on the petrol station to the north of Tesco at the Hoover Building would have created the tallest building in Perivale and utterly altered the skyline of that part of the world. Councillors – rightly in my opinion – rejected the proposal.
Which brings us to the high tower proposed for Manor Road.
To date I’ve received two hundred and thirty detailed objections from the immediate neighbourhood and the Drayton’s Community Association have been both assiduous and ferocious in their lobbying of the local councillors and myself.
The fact that a very similar if slightly more modest application is being submitted for Hastings Road which may be in another parliamentary constituency, but which is just over the road from West Ealing Station – the boundary between Ealing North and Ealing Central and Acton (proprietor, Rupa Huq MP) – has added to the sense of anger which is being expressed so strongly .
Maybe the technology exists to make a 26-storey building located next to one of the busiest high-speed rail lines in the country vibration proof and maybe post Grenfell structural standards will ensure the safety of the residents, but the fact remains that there will be a huge loss of light and outlook locally.
It will, in all honesty, completely alter the area and change forever the architectural cohesion of Manor Road, Luminosity Court and the Draytons.
Is the end of such a settled and valued environment a fair price to pay for the provision of new homes – some of which are classified as “affordable”?
I have had to conclude that the provision is just not worth it and with house prices falling off a cliff in London and the population declining I have serious doubts as to the financial viability of the scheme in any case.
I am told that if Ealing is seen to be rejecting such planning applications we will gain a reputation as a borough which speculative developers will be reluctant to engage with or operate in.
There may be a grain of truth in this but – frankly – so what? Cash has no conscience and the speculators will go wherever they find a fallow field. I was taught at the LSE that the factors of production were land, labour and capital. We have very little spare land in London and labour is becoming rarer by the minute as the imminence of a catastrophic Brexit drives many of our valued fellow European craftsmen and women out of the country.
Capital there will always be but the supply ebbs and flows with interest rates and the prospects of a good return.
Refusing the planning application for what is being dubbed as the Fawlty Tower of Manor Road will not bring financial ruin on the London Borough of Ealing.
Approving it may bring disaster to a settled community who have come to value their part of W13 and want nothing more than to be left in peace to enjoy it.
I spent sixteen years as an Ealing councillor, and this included a spell as Chair of Planning. I would have turned down this proposal for a towering edifice that would bring darkness at noon to the Draytons. I urge today’s councillors to screw their courage to the sticking point and do as I would have done. For the sake of the future of our borough.