The twin towers: a missed opportunity for developing office space

[From Cyril Richert: Following the resubmitted application by Metro Shopping Fund and the invitation to submit comments, we publish below, with the consent of its author, two letters sent to the Planning Officer developing the case for businesses and the miss-opportunity for Clapham Junction.]


Author: Simon Ho

Dear Mark

resubmitted application 2008/4488 for Development at Clapham Junction Station

Many thanks for getting into contact re the resubmission of the aforementioned planning application. It is clear that the resubmission still fails to answer my greatest concern over the proposal, which is:

The scheme completely fails to take an unmissable opportunity to take full advantage of the site location, and in doing so will fail to allow the town centre to reach its full potential, and indeed does not maximise the rental value of the proposed retail. In otherwords, I object on the grounds that this scheme will fail to maximise the regeneration potential of the town, and in doing so represent an irreversible blight on that opportunity.

Thanks to new and current transport infrastructure, by 2015 the site will have:

A new tube service to Clapham High Street in Lambeth and Denmark Hill and Peckham in Southwark, due to the East London Line Phase 2, which is now a TfL commitment.
6 minutes direct rail connection to London Victoria.
8 minute direct rail connection to Waterloo.
25 minutes direct rail connection to Gatwick.
35 minutes direct rail connection to Heathrow T5, due to the new proposed Airtrack scheme, due to open 2015.
11 minutes direct rail connection to Shepherds Bush and Europes largest urban shopping mall (Westfield London).

It is already ranked 37th in CACI’s Prime Location Rankings (Paddington being 32nd, Borough 38th), which is based upon a model that relates prime rent potential to accessibility of a location (contact Dan Parr at dparr@caci.co.uk for further information).

The fundamental problem with the scheme is that it has been developed under a system of appraisal that has only looked at the values of office space as is currently available at Clapham Junction. With the availability of only sub-prime office stock, and inadequate levels of floorspace availability, the current market for office is severely under-shopped and under-valued. If the development were to seek to establish prime office units at this location, then the evaluation of these units, based upon the accessibility of the location, would be quite different. It would then work to set a new benchmark to enable further inward investment and development of office and workspace uses in the area, including land at LIDL and Boots.

With such great accessibility to Central London, both airports, and the highly skilled and qualified workforce of South West London and Surrey, this location could easily attract a major international company as an occupier, lifting up the business profile of Wandsworth as a whole.

Furthermore, the accessibility to Central London and the 2 main London airports, would make the location ideal for a hotel operator.

Both hotel and office space is missing from the scheme; and therefore I object to the scheme on its potential to represent a severe missed opportunity to regenerate the area. More residential will do nothing to improve the area and provide little in the way of a much needed daytime economy for caterers, service providers, retailers and convenience stores in the area.

Furthermore, without developing a stronger daytime population at this location the viability, of the whole retail scheme is at risk; considering the fact that the Westfield London is only 11 minutes away, and will only become more accessible as the London Overground service improves over time.

Simon Ho

[Below is the original objection sent by Simon Ho, detailing the case for businesses and employment]

FAO Mark Hunter

Dear Mark,

Following our telephone conversation this morning, please find below my initial response to the application for 2 new station buildings, a new shopping centre and 2 residential towers.

This response is represents my own views. However, I am also about to become a committee member of a new Wayford Estate residents association. Our very first first official comittee meeting is currently set to 20th November 2008. There has been some delay in setting up our association, which is complicated by the fact that Paul Isaacs (man responsible for setting up resident associations) is leaving this week. Bearing in mind the importance of this application to our estate, and the usefulness of an official response from our new association, I would be very grateful if
you were able to look into the issue of how we can ensure Paul’s replacement can secure the official status of our association prior to the 17th of November, and to schedule in an appropriate comittee meeting prior to that date, with if possible planning officers in attendance to talk us through the application, and receive our formal feedback.

I should also identify myself as a regeneration and planning professional, with experience in both retail and housing market assessments. However, I do not have any vested interests for this site, other than from the perspective of being a resident in the area.

Here are my views on the application:

Retail

I think the retail proposals are a very positive feature of the application. A revitalised shopping area by the station will secure a much better focus of activity for Clapham Junction and substantially improve the quality of life for residents living in the area. My main concerns are:

1. The walking link along Falcon Road, underneath the railway bridge

Despite some efforts to clean the walls, remains an unnattractive environment for pedestrians. Considering the importance of the walk-in catchment to the new retail centre, I would like to be assured that improvements to this link are made; through, for example, pavement widening and the installation of ‘wall covers’ to hide the ugly and dirty sides of the walls below the railway bridge – similar to efforts made in places such as Waterloo.

2. Retail Planning and Town Centre Management

The applicant has provided a retail assessment, as required by PPS6, that demonstrates that the impacts of the retail development will be sustainable. I am also aware that the council have been preparing their own retail needs assessments for the borough, which probably confirm the need identified. However, PPS6 also identifies the important, complementary role of town centre strategies.

My concern is that an important development such as this needs to be brought forward in the context of an overall town centre strategy; that ensures the performance and vitality of the town centre is maximised as a whole. My particular concern is the need for a strong leasing, management and public realm improvement strategy for St Johns Road. I would like to highlight a recent case in Derby, where the local authority failed to adequately plan for improving the rest of the town centre, in the context of the major extension to the Westfield Derby centre, leaving them to have to retrofit a strategy after the fact, with no related S106 funding support to do so from the applicant. On the other hand, I would like to direct you to the strategy work performed for Northampton Town Centre, which provides the council an overall ‘vision’ of how the town centre will improve, and what role the Grosvenor Extension will play.

Details of the Northampton Retail Strategy, can be found below:
http://www.northampton.gov.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?categoryID=59&documentID=624

It sounds like you may have already put together the strands of a retail strategy for the town centre. In which case I would be keen to review it, and urge that effort is made to communicate this strategy to ensure that St Johns Road is able to develop, since without a strong St Johns Road, the overall performance of the centre, including the applicants ‘ interests, will be diminished. I was aware of a consultation process in regards to improvements to the main Clapham Junction road junction – it would be nice to see how these proposals fit in with an overall strategy to improve the retail environment in this area.

My view would be securing S106 funds to help formulate and implement a stronger town centre strategy, which could include the need to create strategic town centre management roles, and establishment of a BID for St Johns Street would be highly beneficial.

Housing

My immediate concern with the application is that I cannot locate a Housing Market and Impact Assessment in the application section of the website.

Considering the applicants case for not providing any affordable housing on the scheme, and the intention to spend the increase
level of profit on the station buildings (rather than contributing to provide affordable housing in another location), I do have a
concern that the applicant has neglected the need to consider the role and impact this development of 556 homes will have on the
Clapham Junction community, with no indication of what positive benefits the scheme will provide, or even evidence that the
proposed mix is what the current market is looking for.

In particular I have a concern that:

a. Insufficient S106, or allocation of land-use within the application will be allocated to improve upon the current provision of community facilities at Clapham Junction. I have a particular concern that this development will not only avoid the provision of additional affordable housing, but provide little to improve the quality of life of social housing tenants living in the Battersea Estates. These people will benefit least from the station building improvements, and suffer most from living in an area where property values are forever increasing, and developments that provide little in terms of providing them affordable leisure and community activities. For example, a residents association currently only receives £300 per year to cover the costs of their activities. It seems to me that the applicant could actually afford to do a lot for this area, with contributions to the surrounding estates, that would amount to a fraction of what they are spending on Station Buildings, which should receive more funding from Transport for London for such capital investment. Insufficiently affordable space in Clapham Junction also presents an issue for supporting more arts and creative industries in the area; essential for incubating independent trade and providing the context to create more cultural activity in the area. This would be important for creating a town centre with a point of difference to the new mall opening in White City.

b. Insufficient consideration appears to have been made on the intended buyers of the new residential units. Will they be to buy-to-let investors or owner occupiers? From looking at the types of apartments for sale in Clapham Junction, and my own experience of researching into the market housing needs of those famous ‘Prosperous Professionals’, I am very concerned about the bias towards 1 bedroom flats and a lack of 3 bedroom units in the application. This is crucial, since the housing mix will determine the outcome of the type of resident that will live in the development, which will have a follow on impact on the type of community created. To put it plainly, if built with the buy-to-let market in mind, you will have a transient community of private renters, who play a weaker civic role in communities, whilst if it is owner-occupiers, you will have created a sustainable community with a stronger civic spirit. This is crucial to the governments agenda of place making.

Employment

Considering the application at the Falcon Grove Job Centre for a hotel, I am surprised that the applicant for this scheme hasn’t also considered a hotel. Hotels would generate local jobs and could provide useful meeting and conference room facilities for the local economy.

Without any accompanying Office Market Assessment, it is difficult to assess whether a serious opportunity has been missed to
increase opportunities for local employment in the area, and to take advantage of Clapham Junction’s location, with unrivalled
accessibility to the South East workforce. My immediate reaction to this application is that it is out of date; now that the housing bubble has burst, and that it is highly unlikely that government and the banks will permit the same lending conditions in the foreseeable future that supported the buy-to-let market, that this planning application seems to be hinged upon.

My concern is that the application is the most major opportunity that Clapham Junction will ever receive to determine and define its identity. I for one think that this application seeks to just mirror the current identity as a place where people live to work elsewhere. This identity has negative impacts not only on the transport network (which will be exhasperated by this application), but on the sense of place of Clapham Junction, and a negative impact on the daytime economy of the centre.

Considering the applicants desire for 42 storey towers, there does seem to be a woeful lost opportunity for real inward investment into the economy of Wandswortth. These could, if an office occupier was considered, become truly distinctive landmarks – a beacon for further gains in employment use in the area, rather than what the residential towers will signify.

I would need to see the applicants or the councils reasoning for not bringing forward employment use. An analysis of current office vacancies is not enough, since a major new office development would enable the area to satisfy a demand from a major employer, who would not consider the office supply currently available in Clapham Junction. The amazing accessibility of the location (better than Victoria and Waterloo combined) and the availability of a ‘Prosperous Professional’ walk and bus-in catchment would clearly present a major opportunity for an employer, seeking to attract access to good employees.

With the opening of White City in a few weeks time, Clapham Junction could really benefit from a development that not only helps to retain spend by improving the retail, but provides a greater number of town centre uses, to support the town centre economy. The lack of employment space at Clapham Junction, combined with a resident catchment who predominantly work in the city, means that the daytime economy of Clapham Junction suffers, and is much more vulnerable to the impacts of competing centres.

I suspect that if the applicant were to re-appraise the market for the buy-to-let market, they might find that other uses, such as office and hotel, might well be more profitable for them. Considering the current collapse of house values going on in CJ at this very moment, I do see it being a wise move for the council to approve the application for the proposed residential units. An application for offices and employment use would be more favourable, as these would add to the values of existing residential properties, rather than detract from them.

Nature of ‘Medical Centre’

I think it will very important to develop this ‘Medical Centre’ to be much more than a proposal to blandly satisfy a planning requirement. It should be developed in a positive way that would form a civic hub for this new centre. My colleague James Lennon is presenting a talk on the role of ‘Polyclinics’ as kernels to regeneration activity at our Regeneration seminar in a couple of weeks time. It would be great if yourself and your colleagues could attend.

Details are available on the web link below:

http://www.caci.co.uk/254.aspx

All the best

Simon Ho

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One thought on “The twin towers: a missed opportunity for developing office space

  1. As someone who works in Clapham Junction I agree that it is a great place for office space. I think it is a shocking waste to propose to knock down offices housing 400 staff, including the national headquarters of a major trade union and a major retail company, taking away a good mix of jobs from the area, and harming local business by taking away many of its regular customers.

    Let’s hope the council see sense and listens to everyone who lives in the area and everyone who works here who say reject this proposal.

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