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  • Writer's pictureCarolineShah

Kingston's Fairfield/ Knights Park Conservation Area - sacrificed without scruple

Unjustified destruction of a Conservation Area at the heart of our Royal Borough

On 15 July, 2022, Kingston Council approved its own plans for a new leisure centre in the heart of the town, in the Fairfield/ Knights Park Conservation Area ("The Conservation Area")

It is left to us, the residents of Kingston, to demand what is right

We need to find out urgently if there are legal grounds to challenge the council's decision. Please donate now so we can request a legal opinion without further delay

In approving the plans for a new leisure centre, the Council had to conduct a balancing act and - through that act - show that the public benefits that the scheme will bring outweigh ANY harm that the scheme will have on the significance of any designated heritage assets

However, nowhere in the report did officers even describe any assessment of the existing “significance” of the designated heritage asset that is The Conservation Area. They rather repeatedly asserted that the proposal will improve and enhance the significance, the current degree or nature of which they had not established.

In regards to the Fairfield/ Knights Park Conservation Area, officers concluded that the harm that will be caused to the Conservation Area by the proposed development is “proportionate to the significance of the relevant heritage asset” and that the proposal will have a “neutral impact on the special interest of the Conservation Area”. But they provided no evidence or justification for these assertions.

Indeed, they completely overlooked - in drawing these conclusions - the detailed desciption in the Conservation Area Designation Document 1984 ("The CADD 1984") of the particular features of The Conservation Area that justified its designation and protection.

The Heritage, Townscape and Visual Impact Assessment (The “HTVIA”) on which officers based their own conclusions explicitly stated that it based its assessment on a few sentences from Kingston Council’s website and their own brief assessment of the Conservation Area, which is limited to five bullet points

No reference is even made to any assessment of the impact of the proposed development on The Conservation Area by Historic England, a statutory consultee whose silence on this massive development is quite extraordinary. Historic England is not even mentioned in the officers' report in relation to the Heritage Balance

Why not?

Nor did officers refer to any detailed exposition by Historic England that exists that should explain the basis of why the condition of The Conservation Area is considered to be deteriorating.

Surely, if a Conservation Area has been found to be "deteriorating", the causes of that deterioration must have been logged by Historic England and all efforts made to reverse such deterioration?

The failure to consider matters that are so obviously material to the consideration of the significance of the Conservation Area and of the harm that the proposal will have on the Conservation Area undermines the conclusion of the authors of the HTVIA and the concurrence of officers that the proposal will only have a “negligible” effect on the Conservation Area

So what are the specific features of The Conservation Area that should be protected according to its designation?

In the CADD 1984, the proposed Conservation Area listing is based on the character, appearance and position of houses and streets in the area, with the streets seen to be “expressing their own identity whilst remaining in character with the area as a whole” and with Knights Park and roads to the West displaying a particular “harmony of style”

The CADD 1984 states that these properties “create an attractive and entirely appropriate setting for the open space [The Fairfield]”

In contrast, officers in their report to Members do not mention the houses and streets and refer only to the “other public buildings” around The Fairfield

Of particular significance and materiality is the statement in 6f the CADD 1984 that by its position and character this area acts as an effective residential buffer to the expansion of the town centre

This is a strong statement advocating protection of the area subject to possible Conservation Area status from over-development with the type of dense, urban expansion being seen in the town centre and which the proposed new leisure centre replicates. Officers and the authors of the HTVIA make no reference to this critical statement supporting the Conservation Area’s designation

Point 6c of the CADD 1984 states that the current Kingfisher Leisure Centre “complements” the Library and Museum at the north-west corner of the proposed Conservation Area – a material factor in the designation of The Conservation Area

In contrast, no justification is given by officers to Members for their agreement with the statement made in the HTVIA that:

“The former leisure centre building detracts from the character and appearance of the conservation area due to its fairly plain form and inward-looking design which does not match the civic refinement of the other public buildings within the conservation area and singles it out as a conspicuously modern building which does not respond to the character and appearance of the conservation area.”

We must stand up for what is right. We need to find out if there are strong enough legal grounds to challenge this decision

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