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TV presenter and campaigner Sean Fletcher raises concerns over potential changes to Acton’s Friary Park development

TV presenter and campaigner for Cap The Towers, Sean Fletcher has written to all 70 Ealing councillors including its leader Councillor Peter Mason over what he says is the potential of major changes for Acton’s controversial Friary Park development The Verdean without residents being aware of or consulted about.

The letter, as well as a video comes following previous concerns by Cap The Towers that Labour-run Ealing Council has been holding meetings and negotiations with Mount Anvil, the developer of the high rise tower apartments which the public have been denied information about.

According to Cap The Towers, the letter from Mr Fletcher was sent on 7 December 2023 and to date they have not had any response from Ealing Council.

A Cap The Towers spokesperson told EALING.NEWS: “There has been no response whatever from Peter Mason, any member of his Cabinet and any of the senior planning officers contacted.”

A video highlighting the campaign group’s concerns presented by Mr Fletcher has also been issued.

The campaign group said since its release, “Acton residents have expressed horror at this change of events”.

Speaking to EALING.NEWS, an Ealing Council spokesperson said: “An application has been submitted under S.96a of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) which allows non-material amendments to be made to an existing planning consent. This application involves two proposed amendments; the first is to revise the description of development as noted on the original decision notice and the second is to broaden the scope of the proposed affordable workspace to include all uses within the E Use Class.”

They added: “The changes proposed to the description of development only involve a restructuring of the decision notice itself and do not change the scope of development previously approved. The council has not therefore received an application from the developer to increase the height of buildings at Friary Park, any such application to increase the height or number of dwellings would be assessed and determined by the council in the normal way.”

The full text of Sean Fletcher’s letter:

“This letter is being sent exclusively to you and your fellow Councillors, though – as a matter of courtesy – it will also be sent to key personnel in Ealing’s Planning Department. We think most of you will be shocked to hear of what is now going on, effectively behind your backs.

“Your Planning Department, in collaboration with the Friary Park developer, have concocted a scheme to radically alter the description of the development which was approved by your Planning Committee on 19 October 2022 , and then officially granted on 3 May this year, just 6 months ago. (Ref No: 221747HYBRID)

“The changes – outlined in a Non Material Amendment (Ref No: 234548NMA) and validated by Ealing on 14 November, only 3 weeks ago – are major and profound.

“They propose that all references to the heights of the towers at Friary Park are to be removed from the formal description of the development which appears at the very beginning of the planning permission document. The reference to the size of the development (1228 homes) is also to be removed. In effect, the ‘new’ description will state: ‘Planning Permission … for multiple buildings containing residential units.’

“We think you will agree that no Planning Committee in the country would dream of approving a planning application which was as vague, open-ended and undefined as that. In addition, most Councils in England routinely refuse NMA applications which include changes in height or the size of a housing development, as seen in this particular NMA regarding Friary Park.

“The Ealing planning officer for Friary Park has admitted to Cap the Towers that the motive behind this change in the description is to pave the way for the developer and/or the Council to enlarge or increase heights of the development even further in the future, should they wish to do so: this in spite of the fact that Mount Anvil’s scheme is already widely perceived to be a massive overdevelopment on this site.

“It is a fact that officers in the Planning Department are empowered to consider and approve non material amendment applications: they are not required to consult councillors or residents of the Borough. This is acceptable and democratic if the NMA is genuinely ‘non material’, or ‘a very small change’ or ‘minor’. But, as we have shown above, the changes contemplated in this particular NMA are indisputably major. This means that the Planning Department, if it approves the NMA, will be guilty of dishonesty since it will be pretending that major changes, in the new description of the development within the planning permission, are only minor changes.

“This kind of manoeuvre from the Planning Department can only work if it can be done without anyone finding out. Now that you, as Councillors, are aware of this serious misuse of the NMA provision, we at Cap the Towers assume that you will want to prevail upon the Planning Department to dismiss this NMA application from the Friary Park developers, on the grounds that the amendment involves major rather than minor change.

“The reputational damage, not just for the Planning Department but for the whole Council, will be considerable if this whole situation becomes public knowledge.

Sean Fletcher

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