In November 2018, London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, called in the Kensington Forum Hotel application which had previously been refused by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RKBC) planning committee (primarily for the reason of insufficiently high design quality and harm to the surrounding area). The Mayor’s first reason given for the call-in was that ‘the proposed development has the potential to make an important contribution to the delivery of enhanced visitor infrastructure to London’s visitor and business economy’. However, the second reason given was RKBC’s significant under-delivery of its housing and affordable housing targets, as the proposed development would be providing 46 residential flats, with 20 affordable units, which would accord with the Mayor’s own London Plan policy of seeking brownfield housing capacity where possible in mixed use schemes.
The proposed scheme, which would replace the current Holiday Inn branded hotel, would involve the construction of two very large towers in the middle of a residential area, and would effectively deliver an additional 182 hotel guest units as well as 26 private dwellings and 20 affordable flats. The Mayor’s decision would therefore be whether the additional hotel rooms and the scheme’s contribution to the Borough’s housing targets (and of course, the Mayor’s overall London housing figures) would outweigh what RBKC considered to be a significant detrimental impact of the proposed scheme.
However, RBKC has now applied for a judicial review into the legality of the grounds for the Mayor’s decision, (rather than the merits of the decision itself). The application claims that the Mayor made ‘a material error of fact’ in assessing that the number of homes delivered in RBKC. In particular, the Mayor’s figures state that 153 homes were delivered in 2016-17 whereas RBKC say that the correct figure was 319. Had the correct figures been used, RBKC’s overall net delivery of homes between 2014-7 would still only be 65% of the London Plan target, so it is questionable whether this numerical error would have fundamentally changed the Mayor’s decision and justification for call in.
The outcome of the application for judicial review is awaited, but two themes emerge. Firstly, the hotel boom where London boroughs welcomed all hotel development seems to be over and applicants can expect greater scrutiny of their plans. Secondly, however, the growing trend of adding affordable housing to a hotel scheme may still catch the eye of the Mayor who is keen for as much residential development as possible, provided he gets his figures correct. HOTEL DEVELOPERS BE WARNED!