To the Concerned Parties of the Ealing Planning Committee,
On 18th February 2018 a meeting of Ealing’s planning committee was convened. The first item submitted for approval at this meeting was a proposed residential tower block to be constructed in North Acton on the site of a former Art Deco wing of the Imperial College: the “Perfume Factory”.
A Powerful Objection
The proposed development was controversial because of its height and because of the density of its living spaces, which inspired a strongly worded speech from the designated objector, Mr Jonathan Notley, a local activist. There followed an equally strong debate, and by the time the vote came it was clear that at least two of the committee intended to vote against the motion, one of them citing the phrase “rabbit hutches in the sky” with reference to the 20 studio apartments that were well below what the new London Plan considers a “liveable space”.
The vote then took place, and this took the traditional form of the raising of hands of all those who approved of the application, and then the raising of hands of all those who objected. The Chair, Steve Hines, counted 6 votes in favour and 6 votes against the application. This meant that he could bring his own casting vote into play. He chose to wave through the motion, and thus the Perfume Factory development was, for the moment, approved.
An Extraordinary Mistake
It took an eagle eyed and bold member of the public to spot what had happened during the decision making process: and this member of the public, thankfully, took action by having a message sent down to Mr Hines from the public gallery. It transpired that a mistake had been made by the planning meeting’s adjudicator; a mistake that was missed by the 3 people who sat next to him (including the Planning Committee’s legal advisor) and faced those who took the vote.
The voting numbers had been miscounted!
There were a few moments of confusion, as this incident appeared to be without precedent. However it was eventually decided to take the vote again. Upon a second time of asking, it was seen that the application for the Perfume Factory had in fact been rejected by 7 votes to 5.
Footage of the meeting, including the two votes was recorded by Mr Notley, and can be seen in this humorous montage:
Upon viewing the footage, and in hindsight, it does not seem difficult to see that the hands of those approving in fact numbered less than those raised against. However, mistakes do happen.
But the vital question now is how do we take this forward? How can we ensure this does not happen again?
A Plea for the Future
What makes this doubly important now is the issue of trust. Because if there is another close vote, especially upon a contentious project like the Perfume Factory, then questions may be asked about the veracity of the decision. And even if they are not explicitly stated, this memory will be there.
It is clear that more transparency is required: with twelve members of the planning committee, votes should be taken one by one and then formally recorded. This would provide more accountability, and of course greater accuracy. Also, why is the recording or filming of planning meetings considered such an unusual step?
The level and style of development being seen now, not just in Ealing but across London and other major cities in Britain, has become a prominent and controversial issue. The public are, understandably, angry and mistrustful. The way to assuage this mistrust is with greater openness and democracy.
Mr Jeremy D Parker
Ealing Green Party