The view of a town planner

[Edit – Cyril Richert: With the author’s consent, we have published below a letter addressed to Jane Ellison, Conservative Spokesperson for Battersea. You also also wish to refer to the opinion of a fellow Town Planner published previously: here]


Author: Chris Brodie

Dear Ms Ellison

The redevelopment of Clapham Junction must have full and proper regard to its surroundings and this requires a collaborative stance from the Council. Currently, as I read it, the debate is concentrated on the over-sized taller buildings. However, it doesn’t really matter too much if a few storeys are knocked off or not: there are more important matters at stake, primarily the future of Clapham Junction as a retail centre and secondly the movement to, from and within the busiest railway station in the country. I would expect the Council to demonstrate a vision for Clapham Junction and demand that the development reinforces this. They must insist that the developer provides a study which models projected movement of commuters; otherwise they should commission one themselves. They must have an idea of what height is appropriate for the taller buildings and again should commission a study with appropriate methodology to demonstrate what is appropriate in relation to nearby conservation areas. Finally, we must all ignore the nonsense about this being the only chance to regenerate the station and the assumption that there should be no affordable housing. The likelihood at the moment is that nothing will be built even if planning permission is granted and neither will it be for the foreseeable future. It simply isn’t possible to predict what is financially viable and the redevelopment must be of a form and content that is sustainable in the long term. The rail authorities should go ahead and make the station DDA compliant, but the decision to develop over and around the station should be taken with a much greater planning input, which seems an odd thing to say, but would undoubtedly appear the case from what I have seen and heard so far.

Here’s my earlier message to the developer: [NB: previous to the Mayor of London’s election]

“Mr. Pleasants –

The Clapham Junction drop-in session invited comments, so I am setting some out and will follow some of the points raised in the publicity leaflet. Without having a full presentation or reviewing any supporting documents, it is obviously only possible to give impressions rather than to carry out a proper analysis. For convenience, I shall break these down under headings. I am copying them to Harvey Heath of the Battersea Society.

Masterplanning

I’m not sure whether it is lack of ambition on behalf of the application, lack of direction from the local authority or the composition of the consultant team, but I didn’t see too much of a masterplan at the exhibition. I was told that the development would complement work being undertaken by Urban Initiatives on improvements to the public realm and pedestrian movement, yet this has to be shown. Only a very limited part of Grant Road is included within the proposals, and while they might not form part of a planning application, the use and treatment of the area and wide ranging improvements to it surely need to be shown. Nor was there any mention of development on Falcon Road outside the likely application site and how the proposal might relate to land currently occupied by Lidl, Boots and Asda. An intervention such as this has to demonstrate how it might affect land beyond the red line of a planning application. In the case of land in Grant Road , presumably this is controlled by Network Rail/Spacia anyway.

Retailing

It is wholly inadequate to say that the development would complement the shops in Northcote Road and is a cheap attempt at popularism. How exactly would this be the case? The main question to be asked is how the development would contribute to revitalising Clapham Junction as a whole. The proposal doesn’t mention St. John’s Road or shops off Falcon Road . St. John’s Road has experienced prolonged decline and it is unclear how this development is meant to assist. Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem if the centre of the shopping centre moved to the north, which might be one outcome of this proposal, but it needs to be carefully thought through and undertaken in consultation with the local authority and with shoppers and residents. As far as the occupation of the units is concerned, I believe that the question is premature and should be taken up with the Town Centre manager. Clapham Junction as a whole is sadly lacking in quality outlets and is a fairly dismal place.

The Station

The material at the exhibition called for the creation of a sense of place. Well funnily enough it already has two. One is the shopping centre described above (not the one mentioned in the leaflet, which refers to the shops at the station as an entity) that is in desperate need of attracting some of the affluence of the area and the other is the station itself. The station has been shortchanged since proposals in the ’70’s fell through and we ended up with today’s development, which ironically has it most useful range of uses since it opened. The station is of course overcrowded and its surrounds feel unsafe, even with so many people around. However, I feel that the development is flawed fundamentally.

The current proposal suggests moving the entrances to the station to the west and to close the underpass for passengers other than those who are changing. I questioned the developer about this. He told me that it would be too expensive to widen the underpass and that the overbridge had greater capacity. I am not in a position to comment on the viability of widening the underpass, but there is clearly plenty of space alongside I would imagine, dating from the time when there were individual ticket offices along its route. However, I do know that in moving the station entrance away from St. John’s Road , there will be less connection with shops in St. John’s Road and people may well choose different routes to approach the station, which will hardly help with revitalisation of the Town Centre. I asked why it would not be possible to keep both routes open and was told that more people would choose to use the underpass and the overcrowding would not be solved. The proposal therefore strikes me as a strange outcome: a route that is less convenient not only in terms of distance, but one which introduces two sets of steps to the platforms for the able bodied rather than the one at the moment.

The proposed station entrances both seemed quite weak to me. I was told that the one on St. John’s Hill had to be designed in the way it was because of the adjacent listed building. This is a moot point and demonstrates a lack of desire in this area, but would not be relevant if the entrance was near its current position. The building on Grant Road is also limited because of the amount of land available. This could be addressed by pulling the study area beyond its existing limits.

Overall, I feel that lessons could be learnt from the past and in the recreation of a station approach should be a primary objective. It should make the station much function properly and relate fully to the town centre: there will be plenty of development opportunities to fit around it.

Community Facilities

It’s not appropriate to comment on what’s needed within this development in isolation. This is something that must be discussed with the local authority in a wider study of social impact. In my view, and that of other parents at local primary schools, there is a pressing need for a decently functioning state co-education secondary school in the area and there is a continuing debate about healthcare with the imminent closure of Bolingbroke Hospital . A significant financial contribution to either of these might be more useful than a facility on site.

Parking

I understand that 280 car parking spaces are proposed. I didn’t notice where these would be located, but can see little reason for any parking, other than for wheelchair users and for a car club. A parking study should be addressed in conjunction with that available on the other side of Falcon Road . The servicing of commercial units and the relationship with bus movement should a higher priority.

Affordable Housing

Unless the GLA has indicated that it would be prepared to accept no affordable housing, I find it astonishing that the proposal is proceeding on this basis. Even if the Council were to accept a proposal with no affordable housing, it would seem out of the question that the Mayor (if re-elected) would. A level of affordable in line with Council policy has to be factored in otherwise it would be all too easy to blame the Mayor if necessary contributions to infrastructure had to drop out subsequently.

The Towers

It’s not really possible to comment on these on the basis of the material I saw as there would need to be a significant level of detail to demonstrate their quality. A study of higher buildings through the Borough should also be commissioned. The timetable of an application by May sounds ambitious.

Consultation

I’d be interested in the form of consultation that is intended. The questionnaire doesn’t give any meaningful opportunity to contribute. Hard-to-reach groups should be targeted and the proposals should be relevant to children and young people and to older people.”

I trust that you find these comments useful and I look forward to seeing how proposals develop.

Chris Brodie

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