MILNER STREET AREA RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION
Consultation on draft Hans Town Conservation Area Appraisal dated October 2018: response from Milner Street Area Residents’ Association to RBK&C
11 December 2018
The Milner Street Area Residents’ Association (MISARA) hereby submits its response to the above consultation. We have carefully reviewed the draft Appraisal and compared it with the existing Hans Town Conservation Area Proposals Statement adopted in January 2000. On almost all counts the draft Appraisal suffers by comparison with the Proposals Statement, and we call on the Council not to adopt the proposed draft.
By way of background, we note that the Proposals Statement was written with warmth and sensitivity by authors who plainly understood and appreciated the qualities of the area and the importance of protecting it from inappropriate development. By contrast, the draft Appraisal reads as a cold-blooded bureaucratic synopsis lacking in respect and affection for the area and downgrading the importance of its protection.
The defects of the draft Appraisal are summarised below.
1. Failure to follow Guidance from Historic England
Historic England refers to reviews of existing Conservation Area appraisals in its detailed Advice Note Conservation Area Designation, Appraisal and Management (February 2016). In Section 1.10 it states:
“The review might typically result in an addendum to the existing appraisal, recording: what has changed; confirming (or redefining) the special interest that warrants designation; setting out any new recommendations; and revising the management strategy.”
It would indeed be useful for the draft Appraisal to provide an addendum describing what has changed in the Conservation Area over the last 18 years and (more importantly) what new recommendations or policies have been made or are under consideration for its protection. But no such addendum has been provided. Instead, as the Council’s head of Spatial Planning, Mr Wade, has admitted to us (in an email of 23 October 2018): “The Hans Town CAA is a completely new document”. It has been written without reference to the Proposals Statement as if this document had never existed.
The justification given for this by Mr Wade is that the Proposals Statement “looks impressive but for decision making and for those putting applications in it is far too detailed and this rather defeats its purpose”. We believe, on the contrary, that the wealth of detail in the Proposals Statement is extremely useful and provides both (i) clearer guidance to applicants and (ii) a better basis for planning officers to resist applications which fail to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the area. It not only looks impressive but it is impressive, and it fulfills its purpose far better than the draft Appraisal.
2. Removal of Important Objective
The Proposals Statement has three defined objectives, the second of which reads: “To provide guidance in respect of any proposed changes: (a) to owners on appropriate action to preserve or enhance their buildings, including advice on changes for which no planning application is required; and (b) on the Council’s likely response to applications for planning permission”.
Unfortunately, in the draft Appraisal this objective has been removed and replaced with a rather different aim to “assist applicants in making successful planning applications”. This might be considered to replicate (b) in part, though without the benefit of giving guidance on applications which are likely to be unsuccessful; but (a) has simply been dropped without replacement.
We believe that the second objective in the Proposals Statement should be restored in its entirety, and the draft Appraisal redrafted accordingly.
3. Failure to link to Local Plan Policies
Mr. Wade told us in his email of 23 October 2018 that the draft Appraisal “links to policies in the Local Plan”. This is a remarkable claim because the draft Appraisal does no such thing. Apart from a list of policy headings in an appendix on the final page, there is virtually no reference to any of the policies in the Local Plan in the main text of the document.
By contrast, the Proposals Statement has a very useful section 5, “Control of Physical Change”, with 11 pages of valuable detail on how the Council’s policies affect physical change in the Conservation Area. Most regrettably, this section has been removed in its entirety from the draft Appraisal and not replaced with anything.
There have been a number of inappropriate developments in the Conservation Area since the adoption of the Proposals Statement in 2000. These should be commented on in the new Appraisal, but do not necessitate a radical revision. What has changed, however, is the Council’s policies as presented in the Local Plan, together with the impact of ever wider permitted development rights made by successive governments under the General Purpose Development Order.
We, therefore, call for the reinstatement of section 5 of the Proposals Statement, updated accordingly to provide links to current policies.
4. Omission of Important Detail
Section 3 of the Proposals Statement contains 56 pages of detailed description of the Conservation Area, written with obvious affection and sensitivity and reflecting sound aesthetic judgment. A good deal of historical research must have employed, either by the authors of the document or the work of previous generations, and the result is an invaluable contribution to public understanding of the characteristics of the area and what makes it special. It is an extremely important part of the “evidence base” in the context of which decisions are made.
In the equivalent sections of the draft Appraisal, however, this has been slashed by more than half, for no reason given other than that the officers consider the Proposals Statement to be “too detailed”.
We assume that if the draft Appraisal were to be adopted, the Proposals Statement would be removed from the Council’s website – as has happened following the adoption of previous Appraisals - and would no longer be available to assist in public understanding or in the making of planning applications and decisions. Copies of the document would become collector’s items, gathering dust in the archives or on the shelves of disillusioned residents.
We believe that tossing a large part of the evidence base out of the window indicates a disrespectful attitude by Council officers to the authors of the discarded material and to the Conservation Area and its residents, both present and future.
5. Omission of Important Advice
The Proposals Statement contains a wealth of useful advice on a wide range of matters such as the repointing of brickwork, the cleaning of terracotta, the preservation of stonework, the maintenance and repair of windows, the restoration of damaged paving and so forth.
All of this is omitted from the draft Appraisal. Why? In and amongst the discarded advice are some clear and important statements, e.g.:
“The removal of original windows and their replacement with inappropriate ones is often one of the most damaging forms of alterations within a conservation area”.
“Traditionally, York stone slabs were laid in formal, regular linear courses and such a paving layout should always be retained and new work married in to match”.
The failure to replicate explicitly statements such as this in the draft Appraisal suggests a general lowering of standards which we believe should not be accepted.
6. Failure to consider Article 4 Directions to restrict Permitted Development
MISARA and the Chelsea Society have both called on the Council to issue Article 4 Directions to remove permitted development rights in all our conservation areas, thus enabling the Council to refuse applications which fail to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the conservation area. On 14 October 2018 the Chelsea Society wrote to Cllr Pascall to request this, but we understand that no reply has yet been received.
The Advice Note from Historic England mentioned in (1) above states:
“The specific requirement on local authorities under section 69 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to carry out a conservation area appraisal provides a robust evidence base on which to assess the need for and scope of an Article 4 direction. Ideally a conservation area management plan developed from a conservation area appraisal may identify areas where removal of ‘permitted development rights’ is necessary to prevent the loss of characteristic architectural detailing or gradual erosion of the character and appearance of the conservation area through inappropriate development.”
The absence of a management plan puts the onus on the Appraisal to identify “areas where the removal of permitted development rights is necessary”; but the draft Appraisal fails to do this. In fact the draft Appraisal does not even mention permitted development rights or their impact on the area or the possibility of introducing Article 4 Directions to remove them. Since the ever growing extension of permitted development rights constitutes the main threat to the area, this is a remarkable omission. It should be rectified.
7. Improper Tampering with the Evidence Base
The Proposals Statement gives a 7 page description of Sloane Street, the most important street in the Hans Town Conservation Area. On p. 45 it says:
“Sloane Street branches off southwards from Knightsbridge in a long uninterrupted vista line towards Sloane Square. The most characteristic visual element of the street is the long expanse of the mature gardens of Cadogan Place on its east side. In addition, the sense of openness of the street is established by the generous pavement and road widths. Sympathetic tree planting is effective in nullifying the overpowering effect of the imposing buildings which line the thoroughfare and help minimise the disruptive effect of the incessant through traffic.”
And on p. 47 it says:
“With the exception of a handful of buildings… the individual facades express a clear sense of vertical emphasis which contribute to a sense of compact rhythm to the terrace”.
The vertical emphasis of the buildings in the street has been severely disrupted by the Cadogan Estate’s recent construction of George House at 127-135 Sloane Street, a massive and ugly horizontal lump completely out of scale with neighbouring buildings. The Chelsea Society protested at this, but to no avail. In our view this building should never have been granted planning permission, and the above extract from the Proposals Statement could and should have been used to refuse the application.
But in the draft Appraisal we see to our surprise that the section on Sloane Street has been reduced to a handful of paragraphs, that all references to long green vistas and generous pavement widths have been removed, and that the importance of the vertical emphasis of the buildings has also been removed. Instead, we find this extraordinary statement:
“The 21st century block at nos. 127-135 [i.e. George House] has successfully captured the spirit and form of the terracotta and red brick buildings of Hans Town in its sandstone modelled front elevation”.
We have to ask this question: has this tampering with the evidence base been made so as to facilitate approval of the Cadogan Estate’s unwelcome scheme to widen the pavements in the street, based on the ludicrous assertion that the pavements are not of “generous width” but “too narrow”? It is hard to avoid any other conclusion.
Conclusions and Recommendation
The draft Appraisal is a poor quality document which fails adequately to recognise the qualities of the Conservation Area or to provide material consideration for refusing inappropriate development. By contrast the existing Proposals Statement is a high quality document with valuable detail which should be retained. The draft Appraisal should be abandoned and replaced with a new document based on the Proposals Statement, amended as necessary to bring it up to date.
We can imagine that the planning officers may seek to impose the draft by saying that it follows the precedent of other new Appraisals, but this would be not so much a reason as an excuse. It may be too late to rectify the damage which has already been caused, but it is not too late to stand up in defence of the Hans Town Conservation Area.
We request that this response be placed on RBK&C’s planning website without redaction or reformatting.
Chairman, Milner Street Area Residents’ Association