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Sunrise hearing ends – for now!

February 14, 2009

The initial phase of the appeal by Sunrise Senior Living against RBK’s refusal of planning permission ended at the Guildhall yesterday afternoon.

At least one of the ward councillors attended on all four days of the hearing and Paul Johnston gave evidence in support of the Council and the Residents’ Association on Thursday morning. This is a summary of his evidence:-

My name is Paul Johnston. I have been cllr for Surbiton Hill ward since 1998 and am also RBK Opposition spokesman on Health and Adult Social Services and Chair of the Housing Consultative Committee. From 1985 to 1995 I lived opposite the site under consideration in Mountcombe Close and was chair of the Management Company which ran that development.

I was present at the Neighbourhood Planning Committee which considered this application. I cannot help observing that the appellants were not. They had two chances to persuade councillors of the merits of this application at both the Neighbourhood and Development Control meetings. They made no use of these opportunities as they were not there.

The contention in the document prepared for Sunrise in submitting this application was that the site is a ‘brown field site’ which they would use more appropriately than at present. It is my contention that the site is scarcely brown, being currently occupied and cared for and largely laid to well kept gardens. The proposal will replace these with a massive 4619 sq.m. structure with 64 residential rooms, communal facilities and an underground car park. Not much of an exchange for the “brown field” gardens.

This application, with its V shape, places much more of its mass directly overlooking the houses on the south side of Croylands Drive. It will loom over them much more than either of the two previous designs would have done, coming, according to Sunrise’s own measurements within 19 metres of the walls of the closest of them. This is less than the length of a cricket pitch. I would ask you, Sir, to consider this aspect in the interests of natural justice when inspecting the site yourself.

Any contention that the proposal will help with housing need in the Borough is at best highly doubtful. The local need is for houses for families. This proposal does not supply it, unless you assume that only Kingston residents will be housed in it. I am not aware that one can impose any condition to that effect or how such a condition could be enforced if it were imposed. Much has been made of the changes around density considerations in former UDP policy H6. I would contend, however, that the London Plan and the Secretary of State’s direction in this matter intend to relate to the provision of housing. But this is not, surely, a housing project – certainly not an affordable one! It is a commercial enterprise affording long term and short term occupancy at a price. To all intents and purposes it is a kind of residential hotel. This impression is reinforced by a look at the proposed room layouts, the larger of which much resemble the layouts of suites in many hotels in the USA in which my wife and I have stayed. The Embassy Suites chain springs to mind.

My final concern is over the long term viability of such a massive building in such a place. The design statement says ( para 2.4.3) that a full topographical survey was undertaken of the site and the immediate surroundings. The undercroft parking feature for 23 cars was lauded by Counsel for the appellant in his opening remarks. Provision of this will necessitate major excavation. Quite apart from the noise and major traffic movements which will be caused during the excavation and spoil removal period, I would be very concerned about the impact of such a major exercise in moving earth and the stability of any major building such as this at the top of the hill and impinging on the downward slope. I mention this as 20 years ago, Mountcombe Close had to undertake extensive engineering works including the driving of deep piles into the ground to prevent slippage of its garages down the hill. This building, if erected, will be much more massive – heavier – than the garages in Mountcombe Close.

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