A planning applications committee hearing a representation.

I’ve no doubt the planning applications committee are bored of me attending their meetings. I know the Conservative side have never reflected a point I made when representing residents (unless it happened to be a point also made by a Conservative) but I do think it’s important residents are represented.

I don’t think I have ever referred to any of those meetings in this blog though, since they are invariably very local issues and, I assumed, perhaps of limited interest. Indeed, this post is perhaps stimulated more by the Let’s Talk meeting (the echoes of Cllr Senior shouting about his role at a meeting he never attended, while criticising me for missing a meeting when, as I apologised to residents, I was on holiday) than by high-minded desires for transparency.

Since I once again find myself missing a meeting, this time unable to rearrange work and travel commitments to attend a meeting, I am hoping to avoid such unfounded accusations and instead am submitting my comments via email and publishing them below.

However, I did find myself, while drafting them, considering the council’s approach to planning policy. Many suspect, perhaps with good reason, that it favours the developer over local residents. It is certainly a view that many local residents have started to share having seen small, but contentious, applications decided in the favour of developers despite vociferous opposition. Policy is always the excuse.

But policy is (and should be) flexible, its implementation open to the exercise of discretion.

There are lots of factors to consider, and they do not always neatly align, so the committee has to choose how to apply them. A classic one in Wandsworth is affordable housing where it seems that, all too frequently, the committee is persuaded of the benefits of lowering that requirement.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the decision is not based on the scheme’s individual merits, or some discernible weighting of the factors, but on the desired outcome: which is usually to support the developer. While a small example I am amused by the Crosland Place application which in the space of three paragraphs is both close and not close to Clapham Junction, depending on which is most convenient to the approval recommendation.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. Leading councillors have very close relationships with developers and lobbyists. The planning department spend a lot of time talking with the same developers about their applications which are refined and honed before they are ever made; no time is spent with residents who might have different opinions.

But the flexibility that leaves people feeling planning favours developers could also be used to reach decisions that favour local residents; that leaves them believing the council is on their side. Unfortunately I fear we’ve a long way to go until we are there.

My email comments to the planning applications committee on Crosland Place (application 2017/3214):

Residents asked me to represent them on this application. Unfortunately I have not been able to rearrange work and travel commitments to enable me to attend the committee, but I hope members will permit me some comments on this application by email.

Residents and others have commented on some of the more practical points, including the overlooking, loss of outlook, overshadowing and parking concerns.

It is difficult to ignore these issues. Car use is declining, but the area surrounding Crosland Place still has high demand for parking spaces and it’s hard to imagine there will never be demand from Crosland Place residents (current policy would allow 10 or 11 parking spaces for a scheme of this size). And while the developer has addressed some of the overlooking concerns it remains the case that there is significant overlooking, particularly of the gardens and rear of no. 13 and other neighbouring properties.

The council’s policy DMS 1a and 1c requires “buildings ensure a high level of physical integration with their surroundings” and avoid harming “the amenity of occupiers/users and nearby properties through unacceptable noise, vibration, traffic congestion, air pollution, overshadowing, overbearing, unsatisfactory outlook, privacy or sunlight/daylight.”

This scheme fails on both counts. It does not easily fit into the style of Victorian buildings in the area, but it’s not just the aesthetic impact that affects the nearby residents. Taking the building to the northern edge of the site will deprive Craven Mews residents with south facing windows of significant levels of direct sunlight. The element of the building adjacent to the garden of 13 Taybridge Road will overlook significant amounts of private space of the residents at 13 and beyond. All those who have windows that face onto the site will see the quality of their outlook reduced, but especially those who live at the lower numbers of Taybridge Road who will have residential properties a short distance from their rear windows (even if the apertures in the walls have been removed from the first floor, the perception of loss of privacy remains and impacts quality of life).

I would also like to address some broader matters.

Cllr Belton commented at the last committee that my points about the history of the site were not relevant. A point on which I must disagree (and to which I will return), although recently it has fallen into disuse the site has a history of employment.

While the report plays this down, stating that it is not in an employment cluster, it is close to the Clapham Junction town centre (the report takes the usual planning approach of judging distance based on desired outcome rather than as an objective measure, stating it’s “not near to a town centre” in paragraph 1.4, while also stating it’s “close to Clapham Junction town centre” in paragraph 1.7), immediately adjacent to the Lavender Hill/Queenstown Road local centre and is a close neighbour of the fully occupied Battersea Business Centre.

Given that a significant proportion of employment currently being created is through self-employment and small business we should not be so easily relinquishing B1 space. Local plan 4.49 and 4.64 are particularly relevant to this, stating it “is important that new housing is not provided at the expense of employment land needed to support the prosperous, local economy in Wandsworth” and seeks “employment floorspace specifically targeted at the needs of the local economy, in particular the provision of flexible business space will be sought … to cater for the full range of Class B1 uses to accommodate a range of business uses.” While paragraph 1.5 of the application report argues that employment space is not enough to merit rejection on its own, this should be given some weight, and I would argue far more than the report suggests, by the committee.

Like some local residents I’m also concerned about the lack of affordable housing. While below the 10 unit threshold at which affordable units should be provided. Policy DMH 8a (iv) states that where developments fall below the 10 unit threshold but exceed the London Plan space standards the affordable housing requirement can be applied.

The scheme gives the impression of being designed to avoid triggering the affordable housing requirement. The total space of the nine proposed units has, by my reckoning, 108 sq. m. of space above the London Plan requirements (although unit 8 is currently slightly under standard). Almost enough for two 1-bed apartments, or for 11 2-bed, 3-people apartments over two floors if the scheme were reconfigured that way.

While spacious, the committee may want to consider whether this part of inner London would benefit more from affordable housing than a few lucky owners (or perhaps more likely private tenants) would from those extra square metres.

To return to Cllr Belton’s point, I accept there is a limited role for local history in a planning decision. However, if planning policy is to have meaning to local residents it should be able to reflect their community, of which their history is part. This is an application that does not complement the local area, and offers very little—if anything—to compensate for that. I hope members can reflect local opinion, and policy, and reject the application.

The every-two-years-or-so Let’s Talk meeting took place at Shaftesbury Park school on Wednesday. About 35 residents attended to hear councillors and raise issues affecting the Shaftesbury ward. The three ward councillors were joined by Rex Osborn, leader of the local Labour party, and by Paul Ellis, Cabinet Member for Housing, who was standing in for the council leader (which seemed a peculiar slight to Jonathan Cook, who is the actual deputy leader and chaired the last meeting).

While I always wonder about the relevance of public meetings in the 21st century (it was 35 residents from a ward population of over 10,000, although it’s a fairly open secret it’s more a justification to fund a leaflet to every household) they do offer an interesting evening and are a great way of finding out if my sense of the public issues actually match public issues.

So what were the issues? Well, in something like the order raised.

Pavements… and trees
The poor state of the pavements were raised and particularly the effect of tree roots on them. This expanded into a wider discussion on the impact of trees generally, those that are seen as overgrown and the impact they have during autumn.

Fly tipping
There was lengthy discussion about a number of fly tipping hotspots in the ward. The council tends to be quite good at removing fly tips when it knows about them. And that is the key, if fly tips aren’t reported, they may as well not exist as far as the council is concerned. You can report fly tips on the council’s website.

Neglecting the Shaftesbury Park Estate
One person expressed the opinion, and several agreed, that the council neglected, and had perhaps even abandoned, the Shaftesbury Park Estate. I don’t think that’s true at all, but equally I can understand why the perception has formed. The roads, for example, seem noticeably worse than elsewhere, and even though I have been through a phase of assiduously reporting faults it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

However, I think that is far more a factor of the age of the surfacing than any policy of neglect and I’ll certainly continue to highlight those places where I see (or am told about) issues.

Waste collection
There were several complaints associated with waste collection, including concerns about the timing of street cleans in relationship to rubbish collection, the provision of recycling facilities and the collection process itself.

Antisocial behaviour
A couple of antisocial behaviour hotspots were raised: action is being taken at one already, while the other perhaps needs a bit of attention. The sad fact is that such ASB hotspots tend to be recurrent because they have features that make them attractive, perhaps being comfortable and convenient places to loiter, being out of areas of natural surveillance and therefore having a degree of privacy.

The council’s planning policy, and specifically a concern that it didn’t do enough to protect special places like the Shaftesbury Park Estate, sparked some discussion, partly on extensions and then on the protection of frontages.

Formula E
One resident raised Formula E. I won’t go into length on this because I have written enough about it already. I was, however, pleased to see that most (if not all) those pleasant appeared to share the residents opposition to holding the event in Battersea Park.

I did find it an interesting and useful meeting, and was pleased to be able to chat with several residents afterwards to pick up some more issues and get contact details so I can follow up on some of those raised. However, if you have something you want to bring up, you don’t need to wait two years for another meeting, just get in touch.

Shuttered shops in Freeman Street, Grimsby
Welcome to Grimsby

Nick Boles recent suggestion that empty retail be more easily converted into residential property left me somewhat conflicted: part of me felt he was right, local authorities should be able to do what they want with their local plans. Yet a bigger part of me couldn’t help thinking our town centres and high streets need protecting and developing, they need champions not quitters.

Admittedly my feelings were coloured by the fact I was visiting my family in the Grimsby area when I heard it, going through the predictable bout of depression I experience upon seeing how my home town has declined. Feeling, as I always do, a strong sense that the local council has brought about a lot of that decline with planning policies that lack vision or purpose.

Like so many areas, the town had its historic heart ripped out during that awful period of the fifties and sixties when the artifices of Victorian success were demolished in favour of modern brutalist architecture. Grimsby compounded this in eighties and nineties by developing the brutalist town centre into a more modern covered mall, but one which had blank walls around the outside, as if to emphasise how it had turned its back on the old working buildings that overlooked it across a small river and the docks.

If destroying the old wasn’t enough, even the relatively modern now gets a kicking, with the town’s second huge Tesco Extra allowed to open just a few minutes from a main shopping mall that now seems to have died a little more each time I visit: its death throes marked by each addition of a discount store.

Listening to the local radio the council’s leader took the opportunity to criticise the government which had, a few years ago, rejected plans to turn a major portion of one of the traditional shopping streets into residential property. In doing so he made me think that, perhaps, the government was right to protect the area from the plans of local politicians.

Instinctively his idea seemed wrong. Taking what was once a major shopping road and market (as a child I took part in twice-weekly expeditions with my mother and grandmother to hunt for fruit, vegetables and meat) in what is one of the most deprived areas in the country where a little over half the residents are dependent on benefits1 their plan was sacrifice employment space in favour of housing in an area that has no housing shortage.

Thinking there must be more to the plans I looked them up, but my investigations found little else. They have pretty pictures of how they might look–still featuring vacant units–but it all seems rather predicated on an idea that if you build it, they will come. Indeed, one of the plans accepts that they might not want to come (PDF), so suggests some of the demolished buildings could just become park until the demand was there.

Good buildings make a difference but without any vision I fail to see how what difference nice buildings in a consolidated retail area would make. Unless the goal is to create a slightly smaller high street to fail.

It’s not like it’s hard to come up with a vision. The road is just a short distance from the town’s docks and all the history they offer (the town’s small fishing museum is rather good, and a definite hit with my children), so there is heritage there. Along that the town has always marketed itself as ‘Europe’s Food Town’ yet has no discernible restaurant offer. Why not capitalise on this? In an urban area of 150,000 people there must be some demand for eating out, but Trip Advisor’s recommendations are mainly out-of-town pubs and mid-range, family friendly, restaurant chains I’ve come to love as a father (be it Nando’s, Pizza Express or Byron) are conspicuous by their absence in such a large town

I recognise that even my combined hometown nostalgia, continued reading of the Grimsby Evening Telegraph and frustrating support of GTFC does not equate to expertise of the social and economic needs of the town. That said, every time I visit I cannot help feeling it is a place let down by a lack of imagination and sense of place from those in charge.

Only time will tell if I’m right about Grimsby and, for that matter, if I’m right about Wandsworth. But when you allow new buildings to turn their back on your architectural assets, create overwhelming competition a short dawdle from your main retail centre, or even remove employment space from one of the country’s most deprived areas it’s hard to see how time can ever be your friend.

  1. By comparison Latchmere and Roehampton wards in Wandsworth, which are currently the focus of significant work to tackle deprivation have benefit claimant rates of 19.7% and 20.0% according to the most recent Office of National Statistics figures. The relevant figure for the East Marsh ward in North East Lincolnshire (which covers more than the estates) is 41.8%. 

Further to my post on the Boris Bike scheme in Wandsworth and Shaftesbury (and being parochial) the planning applications received for locations in, and near, Shaftesbury ward are:

  • Ashley Crescent (2013/0435)
  • Clapham Common Northside south of Grove Mansions (2013/0433)
  • Eckstein Road j/w Comyn Road (2012/5713)
  • Eckstein Road/St John’s Road (2012/5714) – Approved
  • Dorothy Road (2013/0078) – Approved
  • Grayshott Road/Holden Street (2013/0076) – Approved
  • Grayshott Road/Sabine Road (2013/0075) – Approved
  • Heathwall Street, north of 53 Eland Road (2013/0821) – Approved
  • Lavender Gardens (2012/5954)
  • 103-113 Lavender Hill (2013/0943)
  • 139-143 Lavender Hill (2013/0073) – Approved
  • Robertson Street (2012/5735) – Approved
  • Sheepcote Lane/Latchmere Leisure Centre (2012/5716) – Approved
  • Stanley Grove (2012/5862)

To view them visit the council’s planning website and enter the reference number in the search box. Of course, my definition of ‘near Shaftesbury’ is subjective, the council’s press release has a fuller list of applications.

NB Post was updated 5 and 12 Feb, 7 and 14 Mar, 11 and 18 Apr 2013 to add in new applications and annotate those that had been passed. It’s worth pointing out that an application, even if successful, may not result in a stand being erected since TfL are also applying for contingency sites in case their preferred options are unsuccessful. I assume this is the case with the two nearby sites on Grayshott Road.

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Crest Nicholson, the developers who now own the Elsley School site, are holding an exhibition this Friday so residents can see their plans for the site.

The old Elsley School was the last remaining building on the old Gideon Road after the Luftwaffe and the post-war planning did their bit (that’s probably a bit unfair to the Luftwaffe, who didn’t get that much of it) and was never technically part of the Shaftesbury Park Estate or conservation area, although many assumed it was.

However, it is important to see what goes there ‘fits’, since it will be the architectural bridge between the Victorian estate and the post-war Gideon Road estate. And it will be a significantly different development for the immediate neighbours than the previous, relatively low, school and referral unit buildings.

The exhibition is between 3pm and 9pm on Friday 9 December at the St Nectarios Church in Wycliffe Road.

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Last month I highlighted the (what I thought) unusual application to turn The Crown on Lavender Hill into a pub and hostel.

Since then the applicant has withdrawn their planning application. While this often happens when it seems rejection – or a recommendation to reject – is likely I do not know if this was the motivation in this case. Since the applicants already own the property, and their business model seems to be pubs and hostels it may well be a revised application will be forthcoming.

Or alternatively, it seems they might just go ahead and become a hostel anyway!

I noted that I was a little concerned that, on the basis it was not a criminal offence, they opened their first hostel in Tower Hamlets without planning permission. But am a little shocked to discover that they didn’t just open without planning permission, they have never got planning permission.

A search on the Tower Hamlets website reveals that they have put in a number of applications for various elements of work to their first hostel. However, two key ones, seeking permission for the hostel element have both been refused. The applications (references PA/11/00268 and PA/11/00998 which you can search for on the Tower Hamlets planning site) sought to gain a ‘change of use’ which essentially claimed it had been a hostel for 10 years anyway (this was refused because there was no evidence, indeed, the owners had paid residential council tax on the property!) and then applied for a formal change of use which was again rejected.

One of the oddities of planning is that the applicant is irrelevant. Legally I can apply for planning permission to do whatever I want, regardless of whether I have the means to do it or even own the property. However, hearing of this sort of behaviour, which seems to pay little regard to the process (or the neighbours, it seems) really doesn’t fill one with confidence.

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I don’t often post about planning applications, mainly – I think – because planning is not one of my areas of interest on the council. I don’t know if this is a consequence of my personal predilections, or that Shaftesbury, as a ward, has relatively few controversial planning applications.

However, one did catch my eye because of the location – 64-66 Lavender Hill, which many may recognise better as Mish Mash. (Or Osmium, if you’re going by Google Streetview!)

The application is for a “change of use of existing bar at lower ground and ground floor levels to offices involving creation of two front lightwells, and introducing two one bedroom flats at basement and ground floor levels to the rear.”

Mish Mash (in both it’s locations on Lavender Hill, although I understand they are technically totally separate venues and businesses) has been a cause of problems and concerns for neighbours, largely associated with noise and disorder at closing time. I suspect many might welcome the change of use.

You can find more information on the council’s planning applications website (which can be flaky). The application reference is 2011/0278.

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I say this knowing that it could be taken the wrong way, so let me state that I obviously don’t like to see any business doing badly (except, perhaps, Foxtons – but doesn’t everybody?) but I couldn’t help but be pleased to see that there is a planning application in to change one of Lavender Hill’s many estate agents into a cafe.

155 Lavender Hill (on the corner of Lavender Hill and Thirsk Road) used to be We’re Moving – until they moved themselves to Battersea Rise.  The premises have been empty for a while, but are now subject to a planning application to change from a class A2 usage (which covers professional services like estate agents) into a class A3 usage (a café) along with some outside seating for customers.

A lot of people feel there are too many estate agents on Lavender Hill and sometimes it seems their expansion is unstoppable – so it’s good to see one going the other way.

The application in question is from Il Molino – who already run an excellent café on Battersea Park Road – so it should be a great addition to Lavender Hill.

If you wish to view the application you can see it on the council’s planning website by entering the application number 2009/2613.

I’ll confess I was surprised to get a letter today from Asda telling me that they are about to submit a planning application to Wandsworth to build a mezzanine level in their store at Clapham Junction.

Their plan, apparently, includes the creation of 1,229 metres of new retail space, extensive refurbishment and a new customer cafe – making it a significant development.

The main reason I was surprised was because the council would usually hear about something like this fairly early.  However, so far, the first anyone I’ve spoken to has heard about it was from me!  Of course, it might all be fairly straight-forward and good news – they reckon it will create 30 jobs – but we don’t know until the plans are submitted.

The store are running a display over the next three days (Thursday 6 – Saturday 8 August), so if you are in the area and concerned about the potential impact of a development you might like to pop along.

Update As a commented points out, saying Asda have a display probably overstates it somewhat (I took their letter at its word). In fact they have a pile of leaflets on their customer services desk. While I suppose you could call it a display, it’s being a bit generous.

Having said that, it seems the work is largely contained within the existing structure, makig it – I imagine – a fairly uncontentious scheme.

One of the applicant's drawings of the proposed hotel on Falcon Road
One of the applicant's drawings of the proposed hotel on Falcon Road

As I reported in June the developers had requested the Mayor take responsibility for deciding their application to build a hotel on Falcon Road.

The Mayor has decided that he is content with Wandsworth Council taking the decision, meaning the council’s refusal of the application stands.

Legally, the Mayor has powers to determine applications if they are strategically important enough.  When the council’s planning department recommended refusal of the application to councillors the developers turned to the Mayor, claiming their hotel was of such importance he should be the decision maker.

There is a three step test the Mayor must apply: first, that the application has a significant impact on the implementation of the London plan; second, that there are significant effects on more than one borough; and third, that there are sound planning reasons for intervening.

His decision was that the hotel failed on all three tests!

The developer can still appeal to the Planning Inspectorate – which is the last option remaining to them.  If they do, all objections made to the council will be carried forward.