The comment of a local resident on the hotel proposal

[From Cyril Richert: We publish below the very detailed objection sent by a local resident (I’ve chosen to put in bold some parts).

Michael Snaith also objected on the previous scheme with Clapham Junction Station redevelopment and you can read extracts of his comment on Wandsworth 2018 plans and the case for no towers HERE.

You will find all details to let the Council know your view HERE.]


Author: Michael James Snaith

Dear Paul Landsberg,

One tower block proposal crumbles, another, like the mythical dragons’s teeth, rises to take its place. Oak Trading Company Ltd wants to build a hotel at Clapham Junction. With that, in principle, I have no objection. But a 16-storey building is a different matter. When will planners, Wandsworth Council and every money-hungry developer get the message that basically, WE DO NOT WANT TOWERS IN CLAPHAM JUNCTION – or indeed anywhere else in Battersea

David Rosemont, “architect consultant to Husband and Carpenter Architects Ltd” avers on the developer’s own website: “The design had evolved after a long period of design refinement following scrupulous consultation with the fullest range of local and other bodies, including potential operators.” The last three words I can believe. Rosemont refers to “the presentation to the Clapham Junction Town Centre Partnership that took place in November 2007“. How many ordinary locals knew about that? I and many other local residents – some only a street away from the potential tower – had no idea it was going to happen until a week or two ago. We, the people of Battersea, have NOT been consulted.

Mr Rosemont figured quite prominently but anonymously as “architecturerosemont” on postings following the collapse of the Junction Twin Towers proposal, largely on the side of developers. Now we know why. He has had a long-running dispute with Cyril Richert, who is collating responses to the new hotel proposal, about Mr Richert’s computerised mock-ups of the proposed building, in which as well as featuring the developer’s own image of the hotel, he superimposes a coloured image on top of the existing building to show how much taller the hotel would be. Rosemont complains about the colour chosen, the angle and a few millimetres of inaccuracy in height as giving people a misleading impression of his pet project.

However, the developer’s own website images show the tower at full height only against vague CGI buildings. Shot almost like a fish-eye lens photo from a low viewpoint in which the surrounding buildings loom in at alarming angles to the top of the frame and surrounded by unrealistic acres of space, this makes the buildings look almost as tall as the tower, thus minimising its true height. In the only other image, when placed against the more realistically rendered Fitness First building dome and Debenham’s distant cupola the tower is chopped off halfway through the seventh floor, giving no true impression of how oppressive it would be on its surroundings. Since architects’ computerised mock-ups are often peopled with Photo-shopped images of their own staff in happy poses, they are no strangers to optimistic presentation.

The point is: Rosemont’s image pedantry, as well as being hypocritical, is as pointless as disputing the number of angels who could dance on a pinhead. We are not stupid. We can spot a 16-storey building and whatever colour it is, we don’t want it. Rosemont says: “The average person, when walking through a town centre, will generally be much more aware of what is going on at street level, and the ground and first floor parts of the buildings than the upper parts.” Try walking along St John’s Road and not noticing a 16-storey building at the end of it. Anyway, if we’re so blind, we won’t be put off by M Richert’s pretty colouring. And Rosemont’s architect chums – if you read their own lyrical later description – will have wasted their efforts on the “volumes, rhythms, colours and tones” of the proposed hotel.

Having visited the site, I’m sure the inhabitants of Mossbury Road will be able to spot the tower. Being on the end of a block of their two-storey terraced houses, the footprint of the current building is necessarily quite narrow. The site is perhaps 1.5 times deeper than wide, but the rear is a small courtyard, separating the current building from the houses. Mr Rosemont points out that the tower would be situated at the lowest point of the street. Indeed it would, but while this has the effect of levelling off the current building’s five storeys roughly to line with the two-storey houses up the hill, the change in elevation would do little to mask the disparity between 16 storeys and two. Oak Trading’s website assures us: “The development is restricted to three levels at its abutment with the terrace of houses on the rising frontage of Mossbury Road, reflecting the rhythm of the street.” Since from the size of the site it is obvious that the three-storey section will not be very wide, I do not think the residents of Mossbury Road will be reassured that their rhythm is being reflected when a 16-storey tower is little more than one terrace house space away from their back garden, with all the light-deprivation and invasion of privacy that will bring.

The residents might also be disturbed, in more ways than one, by the fact that, says Oak: “The hotel entrance and servicing will be off Mossbury Road and the ground floor contains reception, restaurant and kitchen areas, with plant and service facilities below.” Oak makes much of the fact that the proposed hotel would be “ideally suited to provide future users with an exceptional range of public transport options” (actually only two. The nearest Tube is half an hour’s walk away). It would not have a car park. “The green travel credentials for a hotel are without equal in the area.” Well, people paying the kind of prices (£100 per night) suggested for this hotel which has “conference facilities” and anyone coming from the “potential new diplomatic quarter at North Battersea” which Oak optimistically mentions, might just want a cab – or a courtesy car from the airport – to the door. In nice, quiet, Mossbury Road.

Then again, the existing small building has been offices – and, I believe, a cancer support centre – which Oak sneeringly dismisses as making “no significant contribution… to the local economy“. As such, its supply needs are relatively small. But a 132-bedroom hotel with restaurant has much greater supply needs: food, laundry, toiletries etc, on a regular basis. So where are the delivery vehicles going to park? Mossbury Road, where the kitchen and service areas are. And is the hotel going to turn away those luxury coaches which disgorge troops of foreign tourists and their luggage outside other hotels? Guess where the hotel entrance is? Off Mossbury Road. Those green credential are getting paler by the minute and the disturbance and parking problems for local residents are growing at the same rate.

And let’s not forget the “glazed retail unit” on the ground floor of Falcon Road, “turning the corners to Falcon Lane and Mossbury Road adding economic activity and vibrancy to the public domain“. One ponders just exactly what kind of retail unit will add vibrancy on a small island of pavement off the shopping main drag with a mall of convenience stores across the road at Clapham Junction station and Asda, Lidl and Boots round the corner. Nevertheless, it will need deliveries of goods to sell. Service vehicles tend to deliver early in the morning or late evening, to avoid parking restrictions. Take a walk down St John’s Road around 10PM and you’ll see it blocked by trucks from TK Maxx and Waitrose clattering off their produce. Would YOU want to live next to that?

The planning officer’s report on the failed Twin Towers complained, erroneously, that “many of the objections to the design do not give any specific reason as to why they do not like the tall buildings; just that they do not like the tall buildings and this is not a suitable location for them“. I would have thought that was a succinct but perfectly comprehensible summing up of objections to tall buildings in a low-rise area. However I trust, after the above, that any planner will at least accept I have attempted to analyse in some detail the total unsuitability of this specific proposal.

There are, however, wider considerations affecting the area as a whole. The developer’s website quotes Tim Glass, director of Oak, as promising: “The project will replace an indifferent and depressing 70s office block with a stylish new building.” The website wraps the proposal in the kind of architectonic rhetoric that comes when designers have given in to PR men: “The design is a contemporary response to the requirements of the brief and to the need to consider the constraints of the Conservation Area in which the site is located. The building envelope uses a range of materials, volumes, rhythms, colours and tones referenced to existing nearby buildings, including the Debenham’s department store (formerly Arding and Hobbs), the Falcon public house and the Grand Theatre.So does that mean it’s going to have an attractive cupola, like Debenham’s, be built with an intriguing brick facade like the Grand, or have a flamboyantly moulded Victorian front like the Falcon? Answers on a postcard. And is it going to retain a maximum roof height of five floors, like the Grand and Debenham’s?

Interestingly, when asked: “Can you provide more detailed information as to the materials you plan to use?” on a web posting by local Dan Fryer, Mr Rosemont descended into vagueness worth of an expenses-claiming MP: “Materials have been selected to be appropriate for the purpose of the building, its intended lifespan and in order to relate to the predominant materials and colours in the Conservation Area. Detailed choice of final materials will be done later.

Note, incidentally, that reference to “Conservation Area”. It occurs again in: “The architects have …paid particular attention to the setting of the building within the Conservation Area and its relationship with existing buildings including nearby but unadjacent listed buildings.” So they’ll have noticed that at 12 storeys taller than any other edifice it will dominate the landscape and destroy the scale of all those nearby listed buildings. The point about a Conservation Area (read my lips) is that it conserves the area. People despise Spanish resorts like Marbella because, they say, they used to be characterful “real” places but are now just a concrete forest of hotels that could be anywhere. All those tower-hugging planners and architects are going to be heading off for their hols to unspoilt Cantabria, or some little Greek village where the local mayor keeps the developers at bay. They’ll hymn the praises of Erno Goldfinger’s Lawn Road house, or Le Corbusier’s villas. But they’ll happily come into our humble, comfy but characterful area, to which, one might point out, the rising middle-class have flocked in recent years to raise their families – this is Nappy Valley – and propose towers galore. In a year we’ve had plans in Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea Power Station and now two proposals for Clapham Junction. Do you get the feeling there’s a pattern here?

This week I flew over South London. One is struck by how low rise the whole of London is, but particularly south of the river. The towers we have stand out like invading aliens. Occasionally towers work: the Gherkin has an interesting shape and diamond patterning that disguise its true height. Liebeskind’s “Shard of Glass” might be exciting. The Chrysler Building, with its extrovert art deco crown truly is iconic. But these are exceptions. Most tall buildings are just TALL. If able to be viewed from a distance along the river, with plenty of space around them, some can provide an interesting vista, such as the peaked tower at Chelsea Harbour. But the proposed hotel tower, in spite of Mr Glass’s assurance that it is a “stylish new building” that will make an “architectural contribution” seems just another bog-standard tower. After all, the building he hopes to replace – and describes as “an indifferent and depressing 70s office block” – was probably described as “a stylish new building” by its developers back in the Seventies. And at least it doesn’t disrupt and dominate the low-rise, Victorian/Edwardian environment of human scale next to it.

As I said at the outset, I am not against a hotel in principle, though I fear Mr Rosemont’s suggestion that visiting parents of local residents would pay quite hefty sums to stay there is not based on close research. Hasn’t he noticed the area is full of terraced houses with lofts tacked on and cellars dug out – plenty of room for Ma and Pa, or as likely, Maman et Papa. The area round Southwark Street has recently sprouted several hotels, all low rise, at least two created from former office buildings. So you don’t need towers. Marooned on its tiny corner of land the hotel is unlikely to be a hub of vibrancy and regeneration. It’s 30 staff and transient guests aren’t really going to do an enormous amount for the economy or bring fresh shoots of growth and social improvement north of the railway bridge. We do need an area plan – but one with proper widespread and well-advertised consultation, not the so-called Strategy plan the Council has done little truly to publicise or involve us in. A start would be more pedestrianised piazzas round the Junction – people are already colonising the pavements on Northcote and Battersea Rise and even tiny areas like the blocked-off bottom of Eckstein Road off St John’s Road. It’s making the area more friendly: people sit on seats and chat, have breakfast coffee with a paper outside Costas, interact, shop, feel safer. We do need improvements at the station. But this should be Network Rail’s responsibility, without murky private deals with developers who take billions while spending, on their own sums, a mere £40 million (that’s about the price of 50 terraced houses round here).

But what planners, with their obsession that tall buildings “define” a town centre, and Rosemont, in his talk of regenerating the area, seem not to notice, is how “defined”, vibrant, characterful and liveable-in this area already is. The Council’s Conservation Appraisal & Management Strategy for Clapham Junction (Para 5.1 Draft 2008) says it is “generally a high quality commercial centre containing a high proportion of valuable Victorian and Edwardian buildings. All these buildings make a positive contribution to the historic and architectural character of the conservation area“. But the energy flows out from there. BAC’s brilliant theatre atop Lavender Hill is joined to the boutiques and galleries of St John’s Hill, Battersea Rise’s sweep of buzzing bars and restaurants links the Commons and three striking churches. Families relax with kids and friends at a street cafe amid the bustling stalls of Northcote Road. That is the true vibrancy of Battersea. People like it here, as it is, with its villagey, human scale. As a 30-year resident, I’ve seen the area change and revive, and it’s places like Northcote Road that have regenerated it – in spite of Northcote’s rack-rent landlords. Not tall buildings. They take people away from the streets, from each other. Battersea mingles them, all races, colours, ages and classes.

In the planning officer’s report on the Twin Towers application, there was one particularly chilling phrase: “They [the towers] would have some relationship to the existing towers in the immediate locality and could be seen to re-enforce and define the town centre.” The existing towers are the crumbling grey concrete monuments to another era’s discredited passion for tall building, the Winstanley Estate. Ironically, their namesake was a Civil War Leveller, and many people feel that should be their fate. If anywhere needs regeneration, this is the area. And there’s plenty of space to build something green and low-rise. Go and look at the Brunswick terraced flats, shops and piazza near Russell Square Tube station (almost ruined by their cheapskate developer but recently refurbed superbly by their original architect) to see how it can be done.

The point is that by using this synergic argument, the planning officer exposes a dangerous precedent: If we let in one tower, then the next developer can say:”Oh well, our tower would have some relationship with the tower hotel, so we want planning permission.” This is not far-fetched alarmism. The Oak Trading website says: “The new building responds to adopted planning policies accepting the principle of taller buildings in town centres, especially where economic and regeneration arguments add further weight.” Of course Mr Rosemont is loudly trumpeting those “arguments” to push his case. The developer’s website actually states that the hotel would set “the scene for possible future developments on the north side of Falcon Lane“. Mr Rosemont himself has raised the spectre of future development of the Asda/Lidl/Boots site. Aside from the problem of where we’d be able to do our supermarket shopping, that gives a large space for the Rosemonts of this world to whack up a forest of towers which would “have some relationship with the existing towers“. Goodbye Clapham Junction. Hello Croydon.

Just one further thing. When did we, the people who actually inhabit the towns of Britain, vote to adopt “planning policies accepting the principle of taller buildings in town centres“? Presumably in the same referendum where we voted to let MPs rob us blind on their expenses.

Yours faithfully

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3 thoughts on “The comment of a local resident on the hotel proposal

  1. Brilliant. Says it all.
    Let us hope those with some influence (outside of the complacent magic circle to which David Rosemont belongs) read it!

  2. I can understand that local residents may not want a tall tower here, but I hope some compromise can be made because a hotel would definitely invigorate that particular part of Clapham Junction. Personally I don’t have extremely strong views either way at the moment because I live in Clapham North and visit Clapham Junction perhaps once or twice a week, I don’t live there. But knowing that particular street and corner, it would be nice to have something to add life to it.

    I’m just wondering, I know people object to the tower – but is there anything you would find acceptable?

  3. Jack Wallington> Just for the record, I am meeting with Tim Glass, Oak Trading Co Ltd (the developer) on Monday. We should at least have an open discussion. I will certainly report the meeting on this website.

    As stated by +1000 local resident in the previous consultation and by already 70 letters of objection, the main problem is the size. Beside, there are other questions on disturbance.

    The area is very compact. The size of the building will definitely create an eye-sore in the vicinity of low rise Victorian and Edwardian buildings, within the conservation area (and what is the point of a conservation area, if not to conserve it?). Several points should be consider:
    – why is the entrance not located in Falcon Lane where you have more space?
    – why is there nothing planned for loading and services (according to drawings, it has still to be defined)?
    – what is the benefits of the shop (maybe only located there because the council did not want the entrance on Falcon Road)?
    – what is the benefits of the conference room (whilst the Wessex House, originally a conference room, did not retain the facility)?

    I personally think that an office would be appropriate. When you ask businesses around they all say that a hotel will not bring much to them (if any), whilst an office building will bring customer doing their shopping at lunch time, going to the gym, going to bars around after their hours.

    Once offices are developing, then hotels might be an opportunity for the area. Not before.

    That’s why we are calling for a global overview of the planning policy in the area, as I understand that currently guidelines given by the Council are anything but clear.

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