Cautious Welcome for Parts of Brentford Master Plan

Disappointment over ambiguity about future of Watermans Arts Centre

The masterplan aims to enhance Brentford's strengths. Picture: Hounslow Council

March 14, 2024

Hounslow Council has published a new Masterplan for the Brentford Area which will be a guide to how the area is shaped in the future.

It has been drawn up after consultation with residents and local amenity groups and aims to identify future development opportunities and strategies for improving the town centre.

The public consultation on the plan ran from July to October 2023. This included pop up events in the town centre. A staffed masterplan exhibition took place at the Brentford and Syon Area Forum on 19 July 2023. Officers and consultants had meetings with landowners to talk through the draft proposals and there was a well-attended consultation event arranged and facilitated by Brentford Voice last September.

The plan is in part a response to the number of large development projects being undertaken in the area and a wish to better co-ordinate the various proposals. It will set a framework for how detailed applications should be submitted as development of the area continues. The document aims to ‘stitch together’ schemes such as the Brentford Project, the Heidelberg site and the Albany Riverside development on the Watermans Arts Centre site ensuring Brentford has a ‘coherent and inviting’ town centre.

The council describes the masterplan as an aspirational guidance document that seeks to go beyond traditional land use planning, with consideration of development, design and socio-economic matters.

The masterplan replaces guidance in the 2009 Brentford Area Action Plan and the 2015 Local Plan and the Council is preparing a Brentford Town Centre Delivery Plan to take forward proposals in the Brentford Town Centre Vision. The document identifies delivery partners, funding sources and next steps for local initiatives and investment in Brentford and will be a live document that will be reviewed and updated annually.

The council is keen to adopt a long-term approach, supporting diverse, independent businesses and workspaces.

It also wants to see a new, central home for Waterman’s Art Centre, the revitalisation of the High Street with cafes, restaurant and community spaces with a possible music venue at refurbished St Lawrence’s.

However, the document does say that, although the former police station site on Half Acre has planning consent for a new home for Watermans in the basement of a building containing 105 new flats, this is ‘under review’ and subject to amendment.

Further expansion of Brentford market is envisaged with a range of products for the whole community and links with local artists.

A community hub by Brentford station, with active use of Carnegie Library, a new health centre and rejuvenation of the former public baths on Clifden Road is also proposed.

The plan wants to see an attractive, accessible and continuous Thames River Path that connects to the River Brent and Grand Union Canal which could be part of a heritage/museum trail, centred within the Grand Union Canal and Boston Manor conservation area.

It is suggested that Brentford could become part of the Heritage Harbour programme. This is a joint initiative between local groups and Maritime Heritage Trust, National Historic Ships and Historic England to recognise the value of ageing ports and harbours and breathe new life into existing historic buildings. Twelve Heritage Harbours have been established to date, with three of these being inland harbours.

Beter signage towards the waterfront is anticipated along with the maximising of street level river views. Better connections between the High Street and the water including via The Ham would be secured by partnership working to invest in Brentford’s historic yards.

As well as better links with the river the council would like to see improved walking and cycling links to Boston Manor Park, Gunnersbury Park and Syon Park, as well as exploring the opportunity for a new River Brent footbridge to Syon Park.

A new nature reserve, The Bee Line, at the former rail line to the west of Commerce Road with learning and volunteering opportunities is also being considered.

The plan admits that, at this stage, funding is limited for many of these projects, but it is hoped that it can be secured in the future.

The plan also sets out loose guidance on the height of buildings in the area saying, “The scale of development coming forward in the town centre should avoid dwarfing existing townscape, and should respond sensitively to the character or heritage of the area.
Developments should use carefully crafted scale and massing to mediate between existing and emerging areas. Creating a human scale should underpin all development proposals, particularly in pedestrian-centric areas such as the High Street and riverside.”

The eastern section of the High Street is recognised as being ‘ill-defined’ and it is suggested a retrofit and extension of the County Court building could help ‘anchor’ the area perhaps with additional space for the new Watermans Arts Centre with links to the Heidelberg site and the development on the former Morrison’s site.

It is suggested that the current site of Pets at Home at 2-10 London Road could be ripe for conversion into flats with access to a linear park, The Bee Line, on the former railway embankment. The historic rail arches would be retained for industrial or creative uses.

The McDonalds site opposite the Watermans Art Centre, is also earmarked for flats although the council admits this would be subject to the restaurant ceasing to trade as there are no plans for a Compulsory Purchase Order.

There was a mixed reaction to the plan from Brentford Voice which said that, although it could be seen as a ‘developers’ charter, it was best to have expectations set out in advance of the submission of planning applications and, with the exception of the McDonalds site, most schemes outlined in the plan were likely to happen anyway. However, it particularly welcomed the prominence given in the Masterplan to Market Place, the Brentford Beeline, The Ham, and the proposal to establish a Brentford Heritage Harbour.

A spokesperson for Brentford Voice said, “We are disappointed by the continued failure to provide any clear plans for the relocation of Watermans Arts Centre to the site of the police building in Half Acre. We would also have liked to see specific proposals for the culture-led regeneration of Brentford and for the provision of affordable workspace, including ‘meanwhile uses’.

“We await the publication of the Delivery Plan for the Brentford Town Centre Vision. A consultation on the Hounslow Single Local Plan is scheduled to take place later this year, and this will provide another opportunity to seek to promote Brentford's best interests.”

You can see the full Brentford Masterplan here.

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