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

Although the application for the hotel was rejected last night the developers are now appealing to the Mayor.

Any applicant has the right to appeal a decision, which will normally go to the planning inspectorate.  This is unusual in that it’s not, technically, an appeal, but instead a request that the Mayor takes responsibility for the decision (and presumably, having taken responsibility, approves it).

I’ll also confess I don’t really understand the motives.  The usual justification for asking the Mayor to rule on an application is because it impacts on his wider London strategies.  It’s hard to argue that London is in desperate need for more hotel capacity.

You can argue that Wandsworth needs more capacity – but that’s a Wandsworth, not a London, matter.

Another reason might be that the application has implications for more than one borough.  Again, it’s hard to see how, the site is some miles from the nearest border with Lambeth, and the size means it’s unlikely to have any effect on any of our neighbours.

I would hope this doesn’t get anywhere with the Mayor.  The developers best way forward is to work with the council to come up with an acceptable scheme, rather than touting the application around in the hope someone will eventually say yes.

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

Planning officers have recommended that the Planning Applications Committee reject the application for a 16 storey hotel at the site of the old Job Centre on Falcon Road.

Following the Clapham Junction ‘towers’ application this had been another controversial scheme, especially as it backed onto residential properties in Mossbury Road.

Local residents’ objections mainly concentrated on the height, but also included complaints ranging from the quality of the design to the perceived lack of quality of the proposed hotel!

The full report can be read on the council’s website (see pages 45-55).  The conclusion is to recommend rejection because:

  1. The proposed building by reason of its height would be an unduly prominent and incongruous development and together with its poor detailed design would fail to preserve or enhance the character of the Clapham Junction Conservation Area and the setting of nearby listed buildings…
  2. The proposal does not comply with sustainable design and climate change policies in terms of renewable energy and low carbon development…
  3. The proposal does not ensure an accessible environment for people with disabilities and fails to include any wheelchair accessible bedrooms contrary…

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

Residents living near Falcon Road might be interested in the current consultation the council has received for the Woburn House site on Falcon Road.  The site was the old job centre and is currently a solicitors.  The application is for a 16 storey, 132 bedroom, hotel.

I know many who objected to the Clapham Junction application will have similar reservations about this scheme, but also know many who feel that the area desperately needs some hotel provision.

If you wish to see more details, you find them on the council website’s planning section.  The application reference is 2009/1291.  If you wish to make a representation, in support or opposing the application, you can do so by emailing or on the council’s website.

It is worth noting that your comment will be publicly available – so you might want to send your comment as an attachment if you do not want your email address publicised.

As with the Clapham Junction application I do not wish this to be seen as pre-determining my views in any way, this post is merely to provide information.

The Wandsworth Guardian have a little, but not much, more on the reasons behind the withdrawal of the planning application by Metro Shopping Fund – it seems by the simple expedient of phoning them and asking!

It seems to boil down to the officer recommendation to refuse permission with Metro Shopping Fund saying they “have invested significant resources to date, however in the absence of the council’s support at the last moment we have been forced to withdraw our application.”

I’ve just heard that the Clapham Junction planning application has been withdrawn by the developer.

The application had provoked an organised opposition and last week was recommended for refusal by the council’s planning officers although there were a few stirrings of support in recent weeks.  Obviously the Planning Applications Committee are not bound by the planning officers decision and were to meet on Wednesday when, I suspect, that Clapham Junction application would have been the dominant item on the meeting’s agenda.  Obviously with the developer’s withdrawal the application will not be considered by the committee.

At the moment, I do not know and will not speculate on why the developers have withdrawn, nor do I know their future intentions.

The agenda for next week’s planning applications committee has just been published.

You can read the full report on the council’s website.

Many, however, will be interested in the planning departments recommendations which are that the main application be refused.

The recommendation is for two reasons:

  1. Officers believe the application does not provide sufficient benefit to the transport infrastructure.
  2. Given the late change to the financial package the authority is not satisfied affordable housing should be omitted from the scheme.

Also recommended for refusal are the plans for a temporary station and the application for conservation area consent.  The reason for recommendation in both cases being the absence of an approved scheme to replace.

As I have pointed out before, I have reserved my position so, in the event of the application going to full council, I can retain my vote and am presenting this purely for information.  The actual decision will be taken by the planning committee at their meeting next week.

The council recently issued ‘advice’ on swine flu.  More accurately, it did a  cut and paste of some advice already issued by the Health Protection Agency and featured it on the council website.  And this has caused some mockery and criticism – why are we issuing it when there are only five cases in the UK?

I have described myself as a sceptic on this sort of issue, but fear that’s the wrong way to describe my view.  I would not trot out the cliche that nothing happened with SARS or bird flu, for example.  But do feel that the media sometimes over-hypes the risk.  There were risks that SARS or bird flu would become pandemics, just as there are risks that swine flu will be a pandemic.  But that risk should be considered proportionately, sometimes the news media struggles with proportionate coverage.  The excellent Ben Goldacre covers this far better than I ever could on the Guardian website.

And of course the government is on the bandwagon, helped by the traditional increase in public expenditure as elections approach and the drop in advertising costs caused by the recession.  You could argue that this increases panic and that the council’s press release does exactly the same.  But it seems to me that it’s a no-win situation.  We warn of a danger and offer prevention advice, possibly averting the threat, but are criticised for the “needless” warning.  We don’t warn, something happens, and, of course, we should have done something.

So is there anything wrong in the council’s approach or the government’s advertising?  I don’t think there is.  The advertising is largely about covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, no bad thing whether there is a potential swine flu pandemic or not.  Ordinary flu kills thousands each year and is transmitted in exactly the same way.  It reminds me of the government’s incredibly stark AIDS advertising in the 80s.  It has been criticised for over-hyping an epidemic that never materialised, but the then health minister, Norman Fowler, has commented that the fact there wasn’t an epidemic was testament to the campaign’s success.

But while these various messages have a prevention slant it also shows that authorities are thinking about the issues involved.  Wandsworth would have a key role, along with emergency service partners, in dealing with the consequences of a pandemic, and that takes preparation.  To use a very recent example the council responded remarkably well to the heavy snow in February and received some praise for its work.  But that response was no accident, but a consequence of robust contingency planning.

Only this week I was at a meeting looking at the lessons we had learned from February’s snow, what we’d been doing to implement them and discussing how we could test what we’d learned before they were needed for real.  While we coped with the snow magnificently, it does not mean there weren’t areas for improvement, and these aren’t just things that affect planning for heavy snow, but issues that can affect any event that requires an emergency response.  It doesn’t really matter if a meals-on-wheels driver can’t come to work because of snow or because they have flu; the council still has to make sure food is delivered to vulnerable people.

It’s sensible for a council to prepare, plan and offer advice.  The size of the risk may be small, but the consequences could be enormous.  So mock all you want, because while I hope the council’s emergency plans are never needed I know that if they are then Wandsworth will respond admirably to the challenges.

Another video from the council, this time of Leslie MacDonnell explaining the decision to reject the Springfield Hospital planning application.

A good decision by the Planning Applications Committee, and again I’m pleased that the council is exploring things like YouTube to communicate – although I am starting to feel very left out without my own video.

(I am not intending to put every council video on this post, but do feel I should promote them in the early days.)

Clapham Junction
Clapham Junction

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.