As I posted via Posterous earlier, Boris Johnson came to Clapham Junction to formally announce the East London Line would be extended to SW11. It’s absolutely fantastic news for the area, and marks the end of eight year’s campaigning by the council to get the line here.
The new route will take commuters from Clapham Junction all the way, if they want, to Dalston Junction on the London Overground route via Surrey Quays. It means there will be new routes to the City and Docklands. Most importantly the route does not mean heading directly into zone one, but is orbital. Hopefully this will relieve pressure on the station and services passing through the station. As anyone who uses Clapham Junction at rush hour will know, it’s a bit of a crush and seems to be getting worse.
The new services should start before the Olympics, so there are a few more years to go, but after campaigning for eight years, it’s great to see the end in sight.
One Clapham Junction development I am allowed to talk about are the council’s plans to improve the area around the road junction.
Anyone who knows the area will know the junction of Lavender Hill, St John’s Hill, St John’s Road and Falcon Road is something of a mess. Visually, it’s full of clutter, and it just doesn’t work that well as a junction for traffic or pedestrians.
Tonight’s Planning and Transportation Overview and Scrutiny Committee will, hopefully, be passing a report to make a start on improvements.
A decluttered Clapham Junction?
The overall scheme, which has been in development since 2007, it too expensive for the council to undertake alone, but elements of it can be done. The suggestion is to look at the ‘traffic management’ since, by improving the way vehicles move through the junction it will improve the quality for all users, including pedestrians – and most importantly improve safety.
Drivers will get a better junction to traverse, and some may be able to avoid it altogether, with a right turn now being allowed onto Falcon Lane (past Asda). Pedestrians will benefit from wider pavements and better crossings. And everyone will benefit from a visual improvement, with a much cleaner and more attractive gateway to one of our busiest town centres.
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.
Last night I attended a meeting of the St John’s Hill traders to discuss the use of A-boards on the street outside their shops. It is fair to say that the council’s enforcement of this had put a few backs up, not just there, but also on my own ward on Lavender Hill.
As with so many things, it is a balancing act, the council has to consider the needs of residents, some of whom may have accessibility issues and need to have clear pavements as well as the needs of businesses who want to advertise their businesses to the passing trade. I would throw in a third consideration, that allowing businesses to display outside their store actually enhances the look of the street.
And of course what’s right for St John’s Hill is not necessary right for the rest of the borough. We have a real problem in Tooting, especially places like Upper Tooting Road where pedestrians are forced to compete for narrow pavement with overflowing shop displays and illegal traders.
However, the compromise that council officers are proposing seems sensible and workable, allowing shops to use and enhance the pavement while also ensuring a minimum clearance so pedestrians can use the street without having to weave around obstacles. The basic plan allows displays directly outside the shop, and requires a minimum 2 metres clearance on the pavement – so the narrow pavements of Tooting won’t be overcrowded and the wide streets of Lavender Hill and St John’s Hill won’t be barren.
Obviously nothing’s perfect, and this will have be reviewed once in place to make sure there are no anomalies, but the response of the St John’s Hill traders was uniformly positive, and hopefully everyone will be happy with the outcome.
The new enforcement protocol will come into force next month after going through the council’s Planning and Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Executive.
I have already blogged about our Northcote Road plans so was pleased that these were agreed at the Regeneration and Community Safety OSC on Wednesday night.
Peter Dawson, one of the Northcote Councillors, attended the meeting and spoke in support of the plans. Peter has been involved right from the start – standing up for the Northcote Road traders and doggedly pushing officers and me to come up with a good scheme for the road. He deserves a lot of credit for the work he has done over the past two years.
The action plan seeks to protect Northcote Road as one of London’s special places and will look at de-cluttering the street, expanding the market, holding special markets and events as well as providing help to businesses and lobbying TfL to improve the awful junction with Battersea Rise. Hopefully, we can create a vibrant street that can win the fight against the spread of mobile phone and coffee shops.
The council’s plans for Northcote Road will be going before the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee early next week. They are the end of a process that was started before the recession started to bite, but now times are getting harder the recommendations will really help traders.
The basic thrust is to help local traders by working with them to increase footfall on the road. One of the key thrusts will be the expansion of the current market and the introduction of specialist markets on Sundays. Additionally the road will see more special events and the council will work at providing extra promotion of the street.
One innovation will the be introduction of business ‘succession’ planning. It has been a major concern on Northcote Road that when independent shops close they are replaced by chains – so far the new shops have tended to be sympathetic to the nature of Northcote Road and a good fit for the local demographic, but there is no guarantee this will continue and we won’t see a blight of mobile phone shops there. The idea is that independent traders who are starting to think about retirement can work with the council and possible successors in order to retain the shop as an independent rather than selling the unit or the lease and leaving succession to the luck of the draw.
The next step is getting funding for all these schemes – which is likely to be trickier in the recession since the calls on business support will be getting louder – but together the proposals represent a strong start in keeping Northcote Road one of London’s special places.
It was a good day for Clapham Junction with the opening of the new Waitrose store on St John’s Road. It seemed to be doing a roaring trade from the outset, but most importantly it was a vote of confidence in Battersea and Wandsworth at a time when other high street names are closing.
It is very hard to be positive when the economic outlook is looking bleak, to say the least, but Waitrose will provide some stability (they replaced a Woolworth’s store) and will provide around 130 local jobs. It would be irresponsible to suggest that Wandsworth won’t be hit by the recession – but there is some evidence, like Waitrose’s confidence, that the borough is well-placed to avoid the worst effects.
On a brighter note Northcote Road celebrated Christmas with the turning on of their Christmas lights tonight with a healthy crowd braving slightly damp weather to join the Deputy Mayor in the switch-on. The whole of Northcote Road joined in with a late night shopping event with many stores offering one day sales. If you went along I hope you managed to snap up a few bargains!