Open letter to the members of the Planning Committee

Authors: Kate Williams, Cyril Richert

Below is a letter sent to the Planning Committee members (copy all Councillors), in response to the Planning Officer’s report on the Clapham Junction redevelopment proposal.

Dear Sirs and Ladies,

We have read with interest the Chief Planning Officer’s report to the Committee on Metro Shopping Fund’s application to develop the site of Clapham Junction Station. Naturally, we welcome its conclusion that the application should be refused on grounds that insufficient Section 106 commitments have been made, first through the lack of any affordable housing, and second through inadequate commitments to develop the station. We have argued in our own Planning Submission to the Committee that, since the proposal involves the demolition of the existing station entrances, it can be no part of Metro’s Section 106 commitments that a new ones should be provided. We are pleased that this argument has found resonance with the Chief Planning Officer.

We would urge you to accede to Mr Hunter’s recommendation that the application should be refused on these grounds.

However, in view of the unprecedented levels of objection raised which are recognised within the report, we consider that it is fundamental to the interests of the community at large that the Committee also rejects this application on the wider grounds that the scale of the proposed development is inappropriate to its location and that the proposed ‘tall buildings’ in particular are unacceptable in terms of their height and design. As Mr Hunter has acknowledged, this is the key issue for the vast majority of protesters.

The report is most carefully worded in this respect, presenting a case for a design rationale having been followed in the proposal of the ‘tall buildings’. Whilst this might explain the reason why the scheme has been pursued to this late stage of design, it does not answer the many concerns people have that it will overwhelm the local community and detract from its current amenity. Contrary to the suggestion that the objectors do not give any specific reason why they do not like the tall buildings and do not consider them suitable for this location, very many people have in fact been most specific in this regard. We summarise many of these points of objection in our Submission to the Planning Committee and do not propose to repeat them here. Suffice to say, the majority of the population are not architects and can give no comment on detailed aspect of the design. They are non-the-less horrified that proposals of this inhuman scale and garish appearance could possibly be given the go ahead no matter what benefits might be realised in terms of the station’s re-development.

At page 74 of the Chief Planning Officer’s report he states:

“Should members consider that, notwithstanding the general policy support for taller buildings here, this scheme, on its merits is inappropriate, such comments could be incorporated into the decision.”

We urge you to act upon this suggestion and to incorporate into your decision the resolution that the scale of the proposed development is inappropriate to its location and that the proposed ‘tall buildings’ in particular are unacceptable in terms of their height and design. Any decision which is not made on these grounds will fail to represent the true outcome of the Council’s consultation and leave the developers with the impression that adding some affordable housing to the design will overcome the Council’s objections. Notwithstanding the role that the Council might have played in encouraging a proposal of this nature on the site, the time has come to recognise that this was a mistake and that any redevelopment of the site should be on a far more sympathetic scale taking account of the location’s natural and unique purpose as a transport interchange and its opportunities for attracting business.

The fact that the current economic climate means that the current application is unlikely to proceed in the near future, gives the Committee an opportunity to rethink its strategy and invite a wider set of proposals from both Network Rail and other developers to develop the site in a manner of which we can all be proud.

Although these are the main reasons for our objection, there are other aspects of the proposal which we believe also merit mention in the Committee’s decision. These include:

Parking: this is probably the second most cited reason for objection amongst protestors. Metro’s proposals are contradictory and rely upon flawed assumptions. Full details are provided in our Submission and are in no way answered by the Chief Planning Officer’s report.

Retail Impact: contrary to the developers’ assertion that the town centre is declining, the opposite is manifestly the case. In spite of the current recession, new outlets are opening and pressure on businesses in Northcote Road may well be eased as rents reduce in line with economic factors. No consideration appears to have been given to commissioning an independent retail analysis in light of the changed economic circumstances.

Lack of Office Space: An assumption appears to have been formed that Clapham Junction is an undesirable location for offices to locate. We consider this to be a flawed assumption based on current office provision in the area. Again, full details of our reasoning appear in our Submission.

Wind Tunnelling: Of the 60 locations measured, only four are on station platforms (all on Platform 16). Two of these locations are considered to suffer from unacceptable wind tunnelling in winter, with one of them being unacceptable all year round. Contrary to the developers’ assertion that these are not locations in which people are expected to stand and wait, the opposite is obviously true. Short of proposing full cover for all platforms (to which Network Rail would undoubtedly object) it is difficult to see what amelioration could be proposed to deal with this.

Disruption and Planning Blight: the scale of the proposed development ensures a minimum of three years’ severe disruption to the community, and if the plans do not go ahead immediately this will only prolong the agony. Proposals such as the Council’s exemplar scheme and the opening of a third station access at Brighton Yard would undoubtedly be delayed by these plans.

For all of the above reasons, we would urge you to reject Metro’s proposal on grounds far wider than those currently proposed by the Chief Planning Officer. The opportunity exists for the Planning Committee to send a clear message based on the views of many hundreds of local residents. Any failure to do so will result in years of continued wrangling over the type of scheme which might be considered acceptable and the ways in which the community’s interests might best be served.

Yours faithfully

Kate Williams and Cyril Richert

On behalf of the Clapham Junction Action Group

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15 thoughts on “Open letter to the members of the Planning Committee

  1. This is an excellent letter, and puts across the point to the planning committee very well.

    I welcome the fact that the report recommended rejection, and I noted that it mentions that although theoretically there might be more jobs numerically, there is a major impact on the variety of jobs in the area should the proposal go ahead.

    I think that the councillors ought to emphasise the importance of having a range of different sorts of jobs in the area, including retail jobs but also office and managerial jobs , and far from approving of a proposal which proposes to destroy at least 400 such jobs in the area, instead considers a strategy for attracting more offices and organisations into the area. It ought to be a matter of pride to have the headquarters of two major organisations choosing to locate in Clapham Junction.

  2. great news about the planning officer’s recommendation. well done Kate and Cyril. You should both be in politics.

  3. Actually, I believe Cyril is a former Liberal Democrat council candidate – did you not stand in my ward a few years back?

  4. This is an excellent letter from Kate Williams and Cyril Richert. I would also, on the morning after the withdrawal of the Metro developers’ proposals, like to express the gratitude that many hundreds of us local residents in Clapham Junction feel for the way Cyril and Kate have spearheaded what has proved a wonderfully effective campaign in which so many of us have joined. The professionalism of this website, and of the submissions to the Council, and the relentless energy and attention to detail of the campaign have made it a model of what concerned citizens can achieve when we put our minds to it.

    The big issue remains: do we want this kind of ultra-high rise development in our Borough. This morning, I have left the following comment on the Council’s website:

    This withdrawal by Metro of its plans for Clapham Junction is a great victory for us citizens living in Wandsworth. But we will remain vigilant against the Scheme being resurrected. Also, the Council needs now to consult Wandsworth residents generally, discuss formally, and then agree a policy against ultra-high rise developments in the Borough that are out of keeping with the locality; undermine local shops; and increase traffic congestion.

  5. Whatever has happened, or not happened, this week a series of basic problems still exists and the means to dealing with them remains to be found.
    After long deliberation and before the recent withdrawn planning application it was agreed by all parties and then adopted by the council that Clapham Junction Town Centre needed regeneration which means investment.
    Many have written objections to the application, which is of course their right, but at the same time they have insisted on wholesale improvements to the station and infrastructure. There has to be a balance between investment and reward, and the public is entitled to seek the best possible result from such debate.
    I well remember the bomb site that was Clapham Junction thoughout the sixties and seventies when years of indecision crippled the local economy. The development that then occurred is by consent of poor quality and much less than the town centre deserves.
    The question is are investors likely to have enough remaining confidence to persue a project that offers sufficient return and can the planning application maze deliver the goods? In the meantime the status quo endures; is that really such a wonderful example of a town centre?

  6. Thanks Robert, Gwen and Imogen for your kind comments. It has certainly been exhausting but well worth the result.

    To Rosemont Architects, I would simply say that whilst Clapham Junction may not be beautiful, it is certainly a successful and popular town centre with facilities which are improving all the time. I am certainly no Luddite and will welcome any proposal which has the capability to improve the area still further. This calls for sensitive and incremental development, not a wholescale flattening and rebuilding. First and foremost, it calls for Network Rail to be brought to account for the unacceptable conditions at the station. It should be no part of a private developer’s brief to be doing Network Rail’s job for them.

    We will now be calling on the council to reconsider its policy towards Network Rail and for ‘tall buildings’ in the town centre. By their objections, hundreds of people have shown that they are opposed not only to Metro’s proposals, but to any proposal which substantially changes the character of the area from that of predominently low-rise.

    To followers of our website, please stay with us over the next few days whilst we work out how best to start a campaign which will generate real improvements, whilst preventing this proposal (or anything like it) from bouncing back.

    Kate

  7. As far as I know there have been no proposals for “flattening and rebuilding” any part of the town centre other than rather unsatisfactory and uninspirational buildings built since about 1970, save in the case of one unlisted mock tudor public house. The station site calls for a broad brush but there is a variety of ways with which one can approach the redevlopment of that site. Quite clearly no development will take place unless the funding is in place and such funding will only be there if investors have confidence in the process and the future, as there is competition for investment funds, especially in the current economic climate. It will be interesting to see if the developers step aside, as they could, or come back with revised proposals,
    There has to be a clear connection between the transport improvements sought by so many, and for so long, and the need to improve the town centre, which is a clear adopted council policy.
    Incidentally whilst I am personally an architect please note that there is no such organisation as Rosemont Architects (ARB rules require me to clarify this). I was also involved in urban regeneration in the borough on an elected basis for several years, and I have experienced many times the stress lines that exist between public aspirations and actual deliverability of urban regeneration.

  8. architecturerosemont:”There has to be a balance between investment and reward”>It sounds like saying: you cannot have a nice vicinity and the facilities for it. I.e. if you want some regeneration, you’ll have to pay a price. Is it too much saying that many think that it is not worth it then?

  9. Cities, civilisations and cultures are organic, living things. They change in different ways by the minute, hour, week, year. Of course change costs money, and unfortunately the latter does not grow on trees.
    Governments, national and local, organisations and private enterprise have to fund change, and dividends of any type earned are reinvested in society.
    If one has no faith in the future, whilst retaining the best of the past, the outlook is indeed bleak.

  10. Congratulations from Putney on a magnificent campaign. The same arguments “against” apply to all the threatened high-rise developments over here.

    Well done.

  11. I would have to agree with architecture rosemont, that cities need change, evolution and developemtn – who wants to live in a theme park? And I think we all agree that development needs to be well-designed with thought for the future not just the present; this is even more imperitive with bold plans such as what Metro just withdrew.

    The disagreemenmt comes in that I belive the MSF’s plans were well-designed and sensitive to the townscape. For too long, public opinion has been scarred by the 60s/70s until we reach a stage where there is a reaction aginst anything that attempts to rise taller than its neighbours.

    This is regardl;ess of the fact that much of the problems with mid-20th century high-rise were down to poorly-executed town planning by designers who little understood Le Corbusier’s bold principles of concrete and clean lines. You had a situation where town hall bureaucrats were approving anything along vaguely modernist lines, without understanding how the materials aged in this climate; without understanding that high-rise living needs more than walk-ways and stacked ‘hutches’ to be a community.

    I think that we have come an enormous way since those days, in understanding how to craft genuinely desirable and beautiful high-rise communities. Of which the Clapham Junction proposals looked to be a prime example, and which would have brought space and air into the heart of the town centre.

  12. Dante> I can think of a very very recent example where the updated application look for the vast majority as an acceptable improvement:
    http://towerscj.wordpress.com/category/nine-elms-battersea-power-station/

    In addition, there are currently innovative developments in CJ itself with investments which respect the environment:
    http://towerscj.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/another-redevelopment-in-clapham-junction/

    Is it foolish to consider that people who came to live in Battersea because they appreciate the Edwardian and Vicorian houses are reluctant to see their vicinity transformed into Canary Wharf or Croydon by town planners and developers?

  13. It’s not just about high rise. It’s about design and quality in general. Many of the world’s most emblematic buildings are high rise, but not just because they are tall. Equally many low rise buildings are of poor quality, and generally they have always got through the system more easily. One famous example, in fact derided by the Prince of Wales at the time it was built, remains in Putney.

    Look at the redevelopment of the former Wimbledon Football Club, in Merton. There are no particularly tall buildings, but it’s very high density of poorly designed and detailed buildings making overall a rather nasty scheme. High density low and medium rise are not always best. It’s generally, but not universally, recognised that town centres, and city centres, can take taller buildings and they generally attract greater investment too, in build quality as well as land cost.

    One looks at a number of factors in the design of buildings, including planning policy. In Putney there was no adopted policy regarding tall buildings, so the considerations are different from Clapham Junction where there is such an adopted policy.

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