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White City developers hit back at urban design jibes

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Chelsfield director Nigel Hugill and Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council's planning chief lashed out at the Urban Design Group (UDG) this week for declaring that the developer's £600 million retail scheme at White City in London fails to live up to the design standards set out in the Urban White Paper.

Last week the group - whose patrons include Terry Farrell, Peter Hall, Les Sparks and Richard MacCormac - fired off a statement headed, 'White City fails White Paper test', following a three-day public exhibition of Chelsfield's Ian Ritchiedesigned proposals for the former London Underground Central Line depot site.

UDG director Robert Cowan told the AJ that the project had the potential to provide a blueprint for brownfield development but that a 'big hole' in the planning system - that urban design frameworks are not a statutory, integral part - meant that such schemes continue to ignore the spirit of the task force and 'risk repeating the disastrous mistakes of the past'.

'Instead of providing a robust and adaptable urban fabric, the proposal consists largely of an inward-looking megastructure, raised over parking for 4,500 cars, ' said Cowan. 'The developer's publicity leaflet uses the language of urban design without any hope of delivering the substance. The 'streets and squares' it promises are mainly internal spaces in a shopping mall.'

But Hugill reacted with fury, slating the comments as 'arid nonsense' from 'self-appointed guardians', adding that putting cars underground allowed a new public space above and that the 'streets and squares' jibe was 'like dismissing Foster's new glass structure at the British Museum as an internal atrium in a library. I am a little tired of individuals looking to make a name for themselves by cheap and facile comments which have a currency only because of the high nature of the location, ' he said. Chelsfield has spent £100 million on changes to underground stations in the area and £25 million on pedestrian bridges to improve access on the scheme.

And Hammersmith's director of environment Peter Bishop - a member of the UDG - called the claims 'facile' and an inaccurate attack on a council showing its 'long-term commitment to the borough'. 'I'm furious and absolutely astounded, ' he said. 'It's outrageous.'

The project, which is on site and will be completed in four and a half years, was the subject of two failed appeals over car parking by the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, but deputy prime minister John Prescott refused to call it in for a public inquiry. The UDG slammed the council for commissioning urban design studies only after the fate of the site had been settled.

Chelsfield has worked with Hammersmith and Fulham for the past two years to try to establish a development framework and the BBC has committed cash and an Allies and Morrison offices plan as part of the emerging framework. The BBC this week submitted a planning application for the £200 million, 131,000m 2'media village' at White City by Allies and Morrison - eight new buildings including a TV broadcasting centre and a possible new home for the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

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