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King's Troop meeting 'whitewash'

PUBLISHED: 12:21 18 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:47 07 September 2010

ANGRY residents have branded a Westminster Council meeting to decide the future of an historic army barracks in St John s Wood a whitewash . The fury came after the chairman of the planning meeting, Cllr Robert Davies, deemed that the pl

Sanchez Manning

ANGRY residents have branded a Westminster Council meeting to decide the future of an historic army barracks in St John's Wood 'a whitewash'.

The fury came after the chairman of the planning meeting, Cllr Robert Davies, deemed that the plans to redevelop the Ordnance Hill site, currently the home of the prestigious King's Troop, were "moving in the right direction".

He ruled by majority that complaints the scheme was too dense were invalid - despite this view being aired by two other councillors on his four-strong team of decision-makers.

And despite sending the designers back to the drawing board to rethink other matters, residents who oppose the plans were still upset by Cllr Davies' apparent disregard for the planning process.

Richard Mitzman, an architect who lives in St John's Wood, said: "This is not democracy at all. You had two councillors saying it was too dense and that they didn't like the design and he says he's in a majority."

His wife Annabelle added: "It almost feels like it's crooked. It's very personal and it shouldn't be."

Cllr Ruth Bush, the Labour councillor on the planning committee who spoke out against the density of the 133 new homes due to be built, admitted the machinations of the meeting were flawed.

She said: "It was technically a majority because he's the chairman, and even though Cllr Burbridge and I felt that the density was a problem, his decision, which was backed by Cllr Mitchell, carries more weight.

"It's not an obvious and pure democratic process and I don't think it's a particularly satisfactory situation."

The row over the barracks dates back a year when residents launched their campaign to save the King's Troop after it emerged they were planning to relocate to Woolwich in 2012.

The Eyre Estate, the family company which owns the barracks, enraged locals when it revealed plans to build a residential estate after the prestigious army unit left.

Among the criticisms made about the development were claims that it was too bulky and not in keeping with the area.

The scheme to create more than 130 private and affordable homes on this site attracted a record number of objections when it was submitted to the council last April and it was eventually rejected outright.

A revised scheme was put forward to Westminster's planning committee last Thursday, but many of those who live close to the barracks still say it's not acceptable.

Councillors on the committee also had a number of misgivings about the new proposals.

Questions were raised about the size of the development, the related parking arrangements and whether enough had been done to meet environmental requirements. The suggestion that a refuse truck which would service the estate's waste management needs should be parked on Queen's Terrace, taking up valuable parking spaces, caused particular consternation.

Cllr Judith Warner also made an impassioned speech urging the planning to committee to demand architects rethink their designs.

She said: "One negative comment is that it looks like a penitentiary, which is not the type of architecture we want to see in St John's Wood."

Making his final decision, Cllr Davies told the Eyre Estate they must look again at the waste management problem, their green credentials and the availability of the leisure centre due to be housed in the existing riding school to the wider community. He ordered them to return in a month's time after making the necessary improvements.

A spokesman said: "There has to be a mechanism for resolving any deadlock, and the council's constitution clearly sets out the rules for this. The chairman of any committee is given a casting vote in the event there is not a unanimous decision among members.

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