Planning Decision Deferred Again!

Author: Kate Williams

You might think things have been pretty quiet on the site of late. And you would be right!

The reason has been continued confusion over the date of the planning committee meeting to consider Metro Shopping Fund’s application (MSF), which it now seems will not be considered on 12th March 2009 after all. In fact, we have been told it is unlikely that it will be considered in April either.

Although we still don’t know the reason for the latest deferral, we are willing to speculate that the developers need more time to respond to a substantial letter from Mark Hunter, the Council’s Planning Officer sent on 23rd January 2009, raising concerns about a large number of aspects of the Scheme. Many of these have clearly been generated by your letters – a welcome demonstration of the impact of local democracy in this process.

Key aspects of the Planning Officer’s letter include:

  • Value of Station Improvements: MSF to explain why a substantial part of the £39.5 million set aside for ‘improvements’ to the station is being diverted to costs which the Scheme would generate in any event. These include the purchase cost of  Windsor Castle pub, the provision of a temporary station, and the ‘debateable’ question of the land swap being proposed with Network Rail to enable them to press ahead with their straightening of platforms 15-17. “I would appreciate if you could provide an additional breakdown of the station improvements and other proposals in the £39.5 million package in a user friendly way that could be easily understood by the public, given that the issue of clarity has been raised by a number of objectors.
  • Transparency of Network Rail’s role:Without further information being provided by Network Rail, it may be difficult to progress the application in a positive way, if a compelling case cannot be made for the provision of railway facilities, over other public benefits, including other transport benefits, given the direct relation of those facilities to the very substantial quantum of development and the local impact proposed here.
  • Lack of Affordable Housing: Questions regarding the non-viability of affordable housing within the scheme. “I consider that this is a significant issue concerning one of our primary policy considerations that requires a robust response.
  • Viability of the Scheme in the Current Economic Climate: The Council’s Valuation Office has concluded that the scheme would be unlikely to start in the near future, and given the length of the build programme would be delivered in an uncertain economic climate. MSF are required to provide a revised viability scheme to include transparent costing.
  • Design of the ‘tall buildings’: The Council has concerns as to the overall design of the two towers acknowledging that they will be highly visible in short and long distance views. Reference is also made to the considerable opposition of local residents in this regard. MSF to address comments made by CABE, English Heritage and the Mayor of London and to address concerns in a face to face meeting with the Council’s Planning Department.
  • Detailed design: MSF to address concerns regarding wind tunnelling and over-shadowing. Further work to be carried out on the proposed line of the shopping centre towards the egress onto Falcon Road.
  • Station congestion: Concern at the reduction in number of station entrances from three/four to two/ Concern also at the fact that MSF’s studies only show walking distances being increased from the old entrances to the new ones, and do not take into account the increased walking distance across the over-bridge compared with the shorter distances along the tunnel.
  • Lack of provision for an integrated bus interchange: No consideration given to the station’s position as a major rail/bus interchange. Longer walking distances to the bus stops on Falcon Road and insufficient capacity around the bus stops for people waiting.
  • Traffic: MSF’s claims that the development would generate less traffic by the loss of office space is ‘implausible’ given the number of flats being proposed and significant increase in retail space. Numerous questions raised as to MSF’s assumptions in predicting both car-based movements and the impact on public transport of people visiting the new retail centre and flats.
  • Need for further consultation: Mr Hunter acknowledges the campaign for additional consultation including the provision of scale models at the station and requests MSF to consider whether they would like to be involved in such an exercise!

The Council is calling for a major rethink of the Scheme and for a great deal of additional information to be provided. We are not celebrating yet though. The chances are that the developers will come back with a revised scheme in the near future and there is every chance that skyscrapers will remain a key feature of it.

Whilst attention to many controversial aspects of the scheme (including proposals relating to the station, increased traffic, and design) are to be greatly welcomed, local residents will not rest easily until the Council is forced to reconsider its invitation to developers to propose tall buildings on the site.

Many letters of objection from residents have pointed out that the site of the station could be developed by rafting over the tracks, with no need for tall buildings. Many others have pointed out that the fact that Clapham Junction attracts 22 million passengers a year should be reason enough for Network Rail to redevelop the site as a railway station that we can be proud of.

Tell the Council what you think and let’s continue this debate until we get what we want for the station – not some half-baked oppressive scheme more suited to Canary Wharf than Clapham Junction.

In the meantime, we can but hope that these continued delays will not prevent the other considerable improvements to the area which are already in the pipeline from going ahead. These include SW Trains plan to provide a third step free access to the station from Brighton Yard which should help to alleviate congestion substantially, together with the Council’s own Exemplar Scheme which will improve the pedestrian environment around the Junction, including a one way system around Falcon Lane, improved pedestrian crossings and clutter free footpaths.

On behalf of CJAG, a round of applause to Mr Hunter and the Council’s Planning Department, and half of a hip-hip hooray.

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2 thoughts on “Planning Decision Deferred Again!

  1. Having eventually read through the letter entirely, I am deeply unsatisfied about the begining: The officer saying “there is no in principle objection to taller buildings on this site; indeed it is considered that this site is a location in the borough that could take taller buildings.”

    I remind everyone that taller building = tower blocks = skyscrapers.

    By scanning the level of objection on the Council’s website, it is clear that more than 90% of people criticize the towers. In other words, in the vicinity they chose to live in with residential Victorian houses, they DO NOT WANT their area being ruined by “phallocratic” towers. But the Council is deaf apparently… 😦

    Last but not least, when you read all of the 12 pages of big criticism on missing points, inconsiderate assessment, lack of studies…etc, I can’t stop wondering why on earth was it possible to submit such a proposal at the first place without it being completely scraped from start? Why were they authorised to go along? How much money do they already cost us (in term of studies…)?

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