Many may find it odd that this blog doesn’t contain a single mention of the Clapham Junction planning application, often referred to as the ‘twin towers’. How can a councillor whose ward is right next to the area concerned not say a word about one of the biggest planning applications Wandsworth (and even London) has seen?
The simple answer is that I can’t say a word about it. Nada, nothing, zilch.
However, since I have had several emails about the scheme, I thought it might be worth setting out rules on this, since they don’t just affect me, but affect all councillors. I must stress that nothing here should be interpreted as offering any opinion, either positive or negative, on the Clapham Junction planning application – nor, indeed, on any other application, past, present or future.
The application process
A common question is ‘how can the council even consider this application?’ The answer is that we have to consider every valid planning application and does not mean it is being viewed favourably or unfavourably. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the council has received a valid application.
This applies regardless of the size, so if you wanted to extend your house and made a proper application it has to go through the full consideration process. If someone wants to build some towers, it has to go through the full consideration process.
A ‘tall buildings’ policy?
The council does not have a blanket tall buildings policy, instead the council considers what is appropriate for each area. There are some very good reasons for this.
First, appropriate height is going to be different from area to area. A tall office block might not look out of place on Upper Richmond Road, which already has several office buildings. It would look downright unsightly in an area of two-storey houses.
Second, setting an arbitrary limit would probably just encourage developers to build to that limit. If we set a height of 12 storeys I suspect pretty much every application would be 12 storeys as developers strive to maximise profits.
And you can’t say anything because…?
The reason councillors cannot comment on applications is something called ‘pre-determination’. If I were to express a view, it could be said that I had already made up my mind without regard to the merits or otherwise of an application. This would leave any decision open to legal challenge.
Instead, councillors have to demonstrate they approached the decision with an open mind and considered the application and representations fairly. This is especially the case with a major planning application that might end up being discussed at a full council meeting.
Personally, I think the rules on pre-determination are a nonsense, since it effectively bars elected representatives from representing their residents in cases like this. However, since they do exist I feel my role as a councillor is best served by retaining my right to vote than by commenting before the decision process has fully begun.