Fury as Minister Overrules Inspector on Tesco/Homebase

Approval given to scheme against recommendation of public inquiry

A visualisation from the developer of part of the scheme viewed from the Great West Road
A visualisation from the developer of part of the scheme viewed from the Great West Road

December 12, 2023

There has been an angry reaction from local campaign groups after the government’s Planning Inspector’s conclusion that the combined Tesco/Homebase schemes should be refused was overruled.

The letter sent to interested parties informing them about the decision says that it was made by Lee Rowley MP, Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, although the document detailing the reasons for move refers constantly to the opinions of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up Housing and the Communities, Michael Gove. Opponents of the Berkeley Homes scheme widely believe that Mr Gove was behind the controversial move to ignore the inspector’s report made following the inquiry held between March and September last year.

The Inspector Jennifer Wyse had determined that, due to the negative impact on local heritage assets and the lack of adherence to both the emerging Local Plan and the London Plan, both applications should be refused.

Although she had a more positive view of the portion of the scheme on the Tesco site, she concluded that their linked nature required both to be turned down.

She said in her report, “To my mind, the taller blocks within the scheme are not seen as elegant structures with a necessary sense of openness around them. Rather, they would be conjoined with lower, but still substantial blocks. This would result in a stark, assertive transition in scale, particularly on the exposed approach from the east, heading out of London on Great West Road.”

However, the Secretary of State disagreed saying that more weight should be given to the benefit of the extra housing provided and that the harm to local heritage assets was less than substantial.

Part of the justification for the decision was that Hounslow Council had withdrawn documents relating to its emerging plan which contains policies at odds with the scheme.

The Secretary of State said that the tall buildings in the Homebase scheme would mark a gateway position on the Great West Road continuing , “In the context of the development's location in a designated Opportunity Area, significant intensification of development is
anticipated to fully realise its growth and regeneration potential, and the Secretary of State considers the proposal would not cause material harm in townscape terms.”

A visualisation of the local impact of the scheme created by Mike Spence
A visualisation of the local impact of the scheme created by Mike Spence

The report justifying his decision added, “The creative use of materials would mean that the development would present with good interest and articulation. He finds that the architectural choice to reduce the height of the main elements of the frontage to a height no greater than the distance across Syon Lane to the facing residential development creates a gradual transition to the lower prevailing scale of development on Syon Lane.”

The Secretary of State did not accept the Inspector’s conclusion that the proposal would cause ‘significant harm’ to the character and appearance of the area and disputed that it would appear ‘excessively large’ despite the tallest blocks being 17 storeys high. He determined that any harm that did result would be ‘moderate’ rather than significant.

The conclusion of the Inspector that the proposals were not in compliance with the London Plan and that “the development is of the most appropriate form for a site responding to the existing character of the place” was also not accepted.

The report continues, “Weighing in favour of the proposal is the regeneration of under-utilised brownfield land which carries substantial weight. Also weighing in favour is the delivery of up to 2,150 homes which carries substantial weight, and the delivery of 750 affordable homes
designed to meet the current housing need profile in Hounslow, which each carry substantial weight.”

The decision may be challenged through an application to the High Court within six weeks by requesting a statutory review. It is not unprecedented for a Secretary of State to overrule a planning inspector’s decision. Eric Pickles did so in 2013 in relation to the approval of the Kingsnorth power station which he determined would be too damaging to the environment. Robert Jenrick pushed through the Westferry Printworks development in 2019 over environmental objections and earlier this year Greg Hands overruled a decision to block the Slough Multifuel Extension Project as part of the government’s drive to NetZero.

The Osterley & Wyke Green Residents' Association (OWGRA), who were supported by Historic England in their objections, said, “We deeply regret this decision. We remain of the view that the plans for the site represent an enormous over-development which will be harmful to the character of the area, and where local infrastructure is already severely stretched and inadequate for an extra 5-6K residents.”

The association will comment further once it has read and analysed the full 298-page report into the decision.

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