Westbrook distorts the truth
Feb 23, 2020 —
In a 27-page Statement of Case in support of their planning appeal, Westbrook has made a number of misleading claims about the nature of the development and what its impact will be on the local Pimlico community.
The document, which is dated 20th January last, is headed as being “against the refusal of planning permission by the City of Westminster for the part redevelopment and refurbishment of Dolphin Square.”
In truth, there is no need for planning permission for the refurbishment of Dolphin Square. Westbrook claims that they need the profits from redevelopment to pay for necessary refurbishment.
In reality, the building generates £35 million of annual income which could be used for necessary refurbishment except for the fact that Westbrook has a £514 million mortgage loan on the property which swallows up the income.
It is also relevant that Westbrook paid only a total of around £400 million for Dolphin Square, £100 million less than the loan on the property and calling into question their financial credibility and a claimed current valuation of the property of £850 million to support the level of the loan.
Another falsehood in their case is that Rodney House will be demolished “to provide a new ground plus 9 storey building with 2 basement levels to provide residential (Class C3) serviced apartments (Class C3 temporary sleeping accommodation).”
In reality, Rodney House currently operates as the Dolphin House hotel, confirmed by many travel websites, which is use Class C1 and the layout of the proposed replacement building shown in the plans is more akin to a hotel with a central core and many single bedroom studio units. And ground plus 9 storeys is actually 10 storeys, four storeys more than the current six which critics say will create a sense of enclosure to the listed gardens.
The two large basements planned make way for the conference and other facilities that the current hotel lacks. The basements will extend into the gardens destroying the current art deco pool and leisure facilities located under the Spanish garden terrace. It is common knowledge to Dolphin Square tenants that the hotel use has spread to the whole of Dolphin Square with many hotel style trollies serving flats in all of the buildings.
When permission was refused by the council planning committee, one councillor commented about the use and described it as “Airbnb on an industrial scale”. Another councillor pointed out the increased profitability from the hotel use (£180 a night for a one bed studio instead of £300 a week). Another councillor commented on Westbrook’s claim that it was not a hotel and said: “When it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck it is a duck!”
Westbrook state “The application now includes 57 on-site affordable and intermediate rented units.” In reality, only 23 of the units are truly affordable social housing and the remainder will be let at rents claimed to be at a 20% discount to local market rents which at £500 a week for a two-bedroom flat will put them totally out of reach of most local people.
The appeal statement says the estate is owned by The Dolphin Square Estate Limited. This company is an off-shore vehicle registered in Jersey and formed specifically as a Single Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to receive the £514 million mortgage granted by M&G and MetLife against the property. It has no other assets.
The statement states that the Appellant, Dolphin Square Limited, which manages the property, and the owner are both companies controlled by Westbrook. In its latest accounts filed at Companies House, Dolphin Square Limited shows accrued losses of nearly £50 million and a shortfall of £19 million in its balance sheet. It is hopelessly insolvent and the accounts show that its lenders have a first charge over its shares. In reality, both companies are controlled by the lenders. The directors of the company, which is also registered in Jersey, are all resident in New York and are named as Ms Cindy Woon, Mr Kashif Zahid Sheikh and Mr Diego Enrico Rico. Their only concern is likely to be their financial interest, not the public interest.
Under relevant planning history, Westbrook refer to a Certificate of Lawfulness granted in December 2005 by the city council for the use of 143 flats in Rodney House as temporary sleeping accommodation within a 1973 Greater London Council regulation concerning Use Class C3 (residential) as it affected service apartments. This certificate was granted by the council on the understanding that Westbrook would utilise Rodney House for normal residential use following the acquisition, the previous use being service apartments which required lettings of more than 90 nights duration under GLC policy at that time.
Westbrook uses this to justify the Class C3 description of the proposed current use rather than C1 which is misleading and has been the subject of a recent enforcement investigation by the council. In reality, the proposed development is clearly Class C1 which is only permitted in the designated Central Activities Zones of Westminster and not in Pimlico.
The appeal statement refers to the Dolphin Square gardens as having been “registered” on 28th June 2018 by the Secretary of State as being of “special historic interest”. It fails to state that the gardens were listed as Grade II. The gardens are a unique example of the work of the noted thirties landscape designer and author, Richard Sudell, and should be preserved for this reason alone. Westbrook states the new rather bland garden design will be open to the public. The Sudell garden is already open to the public.
The statement states that the redevelopment “proposes the comprehensive refurbishment and reconfiguration of the existing buildings and new build elements to increase the overall number of residential units across the estate by 230 from 1,225 to 1,455 (this includes the temporary sleeping accommodation which will be increased from 143 to 160) including the provision of 57 new on-site affordable homes.” It is clear from these figures that the redevelopment is effectively a major hotel development in the middle of a residential area. Only six of the claimed “57 new on site affordable homes” will be truly affordable.
The statement glosses over the loss of the fine art deco shopping arcade in Rodney House and confirms that it will be replaced with a parade of shops on Chichester Street “to provide flexible retail and restaurant/café uses.” In reality this will completely change the character of the neighbourhood with the likelihood of fast food outlets, estate agents, and other city centre uses capable of paying high rents right opposite Pimlico Academy school with a likely detrimental effect on the children who attend.
Neither does the statement comment on the fact that Dolphin Square is already more densely developed than any other housing scheme in London and the UK with 1,250 homes on only 7.5 acres. Thames Water have stated that there is insufficient water supply and sewage facilities for the development and Tfl have stated that the transport infrastructure is inadequate.
In justification of their development, Westbrook claim that the appearance of the buildings will be improved by their fashionable architect, Eric Parry, especially Rodney House which they claim is inferior to the rest of Dolphin Square. At the planning hearing, one of their architects was unable to explain how the Rodney House design was superior and could not answer critics who stated that the new building would destroy the character and quality of Dolphin Square as a fine example of thirties architecture which has been registered as a “building of merit.”
A similar argument was used to justify the radical changes to the existing listed gardens proposed by the trendy garden designer, Todd Longstaff, and its claimed extension. There is no extension in the plans, only the demolition of the sheltered and beautiful Spanish garden and loggia to create a wide and desolate open space to replace a historic and listed garden. The destruction of the Spanish garden will make way for the huge basements below to extend the hotel facilities.
In short, Westbrook state that their development will be in the public interest contrary to what has been expressed by local residents in the huge local opposition to the development expressed before the council refused the plans and by the more than 160 local residents who attending the planning committee meeting.
Westbrook has stated in the trade press that they expect to make a profit of £500 million on their redevelopment plans and it is likely that planning permission is needed to justify the £850 million valuation that has been put on the property to obtain their £500 million mortgage.
We urge you to voice your opposition to these plans by writing to the Planning Inspectorate urgently setting out why you think this proposed development is against the public interest.
You can go directly to their planning portal using the short link:-
Otherwise you can write directly to the case office who is Helen Fisher. Her email address is helen.skinner@planninginspectorate gov.uk.
The reference number for the appeal is 3245289.
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