Acton residents are concerned developers have a ‘secret plan’ to push through a 15-storey increase to a tower block which would bring it to just four storeys shorter than the Gherkin.
Local residents agreed to and accepted the redevelopment at Friary Park back in 2019, but some noticed that the developers, Catalyst and Mount Anvil, had recently added a proposal to increase the heights of two buildings considerably.
Residents have formed a group called Cap the Towers and are fighting the height increase proposal which they claim is all about ‘developer greed’ and using the area as a ‘hub for the global rich’ with little benefit to locals.
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(Image: Cap the Towers)
The site used to be home to a 1950s social housing estate, but residents voted in favour of redevelopment in 2019.
The development, named The Verdean, will create around 990 new homes, 45 per cent of which will be affordable.
The original plan was for a series of blocks between three and 24 storeys high which ‘prioritises people over parking, with green open spaces, allotments, an exercise trail and play areas improving the lives of residents’.
The new homes, which range from studio to one or two bed, were billed as ‘more spacious and well insulated, with economical heating, plenty of natural light and with every home enjoying private outdoor space’.
‘It feels like this area is being used as hub for global rich’
This was all well and good for residents, until they noticed a ‘ proposed enhancement ‘ to two of the buildings.
This proposal would raise one building from 24 to 29 storeys, and another from 22 to 37 storeys, in an area that mainly consists of two to three storey Victorian and Edwardian family homes.
None of the proposed new homes would be ‘affordable rent’ – instead they would be ‘shared ownership’ or ‘private’ homes.
The developers say these homes will help fund scheme enhancements such as a new community square, a cycle hub, and an edible garden.
Cap the Towers campaigners claim the proposals were hidden in a consultation about those enhancements.
They are worried their concerns won’t be heard and that the height increase will just be pushed through by the developers.
Sean Fletcher, 47, one of the local residents in Cap the Towers and a journalist who has worked on Good Morning Britain and Panorama, told MyLondon: “It felt quite sly. We’ve accepted this. We’re not against new homes and we understand the housing crisis.
“What we don’t like is increasing this tower by 68 per cent to four storeys shorter than the Gherkin.
“And they’re trying to do it without consulting people.”
Another key Cap the Towers member, David Tennant, 79, branded the move ‘a secret plan to get this through on a minor amendment’.
He added: “Local people are the small people in this.”
Another of their concerns is that the proposed height increase is all about ‘developer greed’.
Sean and David believe the homes are being marketed to foreign investors.
Henry Faun, Head of London International Projects Sales MENA at Knight Frank Middle East acknowledged that the area would be an ‘easy decision for many of our Middle Eastern buyers looking to London for opportunities’ in a blog post last year.
“Originally it was just social housing,” David explained.
“Catalyst was responsible for it. Now, the other developer is far more aggressive – the vast majority (of the proposed homes) will be private housing and have been sold in Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.”
Sean added: “Investors will pay lots of money now. But first time buyers don’t have the money.
“It feels all wrong when there’s a housing crisis. If you try to buy a flat there you’re on the waiting list.
“It feels like this area is being used as a hub for the global rich. We are completely cut out and the only way we can matter is to make noise.”
‘Ealing Council need to protect us’
The proposed height increase hasn’t gone to a planning application yet, but local residents have already raised their concerns.
Cap the Towers want to hold the leader of Ealing Council, Peter Mason, to account for his announcement earlier this year where he said: “From now on communities will be in the driving seat when it comes to regeneration in Ealing.”
Campaigners claim 600 residents have contacted him expressing their concerns about the proposed changes.
Sean said: “Ealing Council needs to protect us. Without the council we are nothing. We elect politicians to do this for us.
“It’s changing our community. It’s not NIMBY. We don’t accept our views being ignored.”
In an email response to Cap the Towers campaigners, Cllr Mason admitted he didn’t think the planned increase in height would be ‘appropriate, proportional, or necessary’, but he said it would be ‘unlawful’ for him to seek to influence the planning committee and encouraged residents to make their views known to the developers.
Campaigners are disappointed in the council, and claim the planning system is ‘broken’ as objections from local residents on planning applications are ‘brushed aside’.
They have the support of MP Rupa Huq, who Tweeted: “Behind the hoardings, major construction going on at Friary Park near Acton mainline to exceed original plans granted for 900+ homes marketed overseas to Arab/ Chinese investor market with monster 37 storey tower in Edwardian neighbourhood.”
An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “No planning applications has been received to date from the developers of the site to increase the height of the towers. Any applications of this size would be considered by the planning committee and not be able to go through a non-material amendment route.
“The leader of the council, Councillor Peter Mason, met with local residents earlier in the autumn and made clear his opposition to the proposals. This week he met with the Chair and Chief Executive of Peabody-Catalyst and reiterated that opposition.
“We always encourage residents to make their views known and would encourage them to raise any concerns around any proposed amendments with Catalyst and Mount Anvil.”
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‘Improvements would be funded by more private homes’
A spokesperson for Catalyst and Mount Anvil, said: “The design of this development was frozen two years ago, pre-pandemic, when planning was initially lodged.
“Having consulted widely with the existing residents on the estate, we believe there is an opportunity to improve the plans we submitted, delivering 64 additional affordable homes in phase one, with more affordable workspace, better shared outside space and larger balconies for the benefit of all residents.
“These improvements would be funded by more private homes, with the 45 per cent ratio of affordable homes in the development overall staying the same.”
The developers also noted that the homes were initially marketed in the UK and that 40 per cent of current sales are from the UK.
However, they said they welcome buyers willing to invest before the homes are built to help finance the project.
They added that while they understand the concerns raised by local neighbours, the vast majority of those living on the estate agree with the regeneration.
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