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.
Dear Cllr Cousins,
Regarding Clapham Junction planning proposal, I was actually wondering why other Councillors of the adjoining wards made comments: I have emails and public statements of Cllr Peter Dawson, Cllr Martin Johnson, Cllr Philip Beddows (to cite the ones from your own party) and Cllr Tony Belton and Cllr Leonie Cooper (from the opposition).
Contrary to what you say, some of them published in a newspaper about the development, and went as far as taking a microphone to speak at a public meeting that you did not attend. Several of them are even member of the Planning Committee that will be the first committee to judge on the application, before you could have the opportunity to do it.
As you say “I feel my role as a councillor is best served by retaining my right to vote than by commenting”, can you explain why your other colleagues feel concern about the proposal and you chose to remain silent?
Thanks in advance for you response.
M. Richert, as you know I was away last week, so apologies for being slow to respond. Since this covers the same ground as your email I hope you would not mind if I simply copied the emails I sent you last week and earlier today.
My first response from Wednesday 4 March:
And my follow-up email from Monday, 9 March:
Dear Mr Cousins,
I am a little bemused by this exchange. As the excellent Councillors of Northcote and Latchmere Wards have shown, it is quite possible to raise awareness and ask legitimate questions of the developers without offering any opinion as to whether the development should be accepted or rejected. If it would assist, however, here are seven legitimate actions that you can take now which would be vastly more effective than a policy of doing nothing.
1. Use your newsletters to raise awareness of the issues. As the map published by CJAG on its website shows, Shaftesbury Ward is vastly underrepresented in having offered any opinion, positive or negative. Let people know that the development will include towers which will be visible from every household in Shaftesbury and cause three years of construction work. These are simple facts and if people still consider that the development is worth it, then no doubt they will tell the Council that.
2. Join CJAG’s campaign to get the developers to place their scale models in the station so that everyone using it can have a good look at how it will look when completed. What do they have to hide?
3. Call for clarification of some of the more obscure claims made by MSF in brochures delivered to homes in Shaftesbury Ward. These include the claim that £34 m will be spent on station improvements when, as CJAG and the Council’s own planning officer have pointed out, most of this money appears to be being spent on land acquisition and temporary structures.
4. Canvass your constituents and find out how they would like you to vote on this issue. Publish an online survey, knock on peoples’ doors, hold a public meeting. All of these things re being done by your constituents with no input from our Councillors at all.
5. Investigate the questions being raised by your consitituents and let then know the answers. These include questions relaing to Network Rail’s own responsibilities to develop the station and to make it a safe environment for everyone to use.
6. Stand up for the businesses within the ward and in particular PSU who object to MSF’s plans to close them down.
7. Find out why the Council considers the Clapham Junction site to be a suitable location for tall buildings and let us know. I do not recall being consulted once on this important issue which goes to the root of why the present applciation is being made.
I hope that these suggestions are helpful and explain what other Councillors in the area are doing to their credit.
Many thanks for your suggestions.
As you know the Conservative Party parliamentary candidate distributed a leaflet around the area, including Shaftesbury, which was delivered by many volunteers from the local association. As I have repeatedly said, I have advised every resident who has contacted me how to make representations to the planning applications committee. We regularly canvass in the area and, if asked, would provide the same advice on the doorstep, although I have to admit that Metro’s planning application has never been raised with me in this way and I don’t think it has been raised with any of my colleagues in door-to-door sessions.