Is the Ram Brewery already approved by Council before even the consultation?

Author: Cyril Richert

Ram Brewery Tower: View of the Wandle from the High StreetMinerva Limited is proposing to redevelop the historic site in the centre of Wandsworth with 669 new homes and including a single skyscraper of 35 storey (166 homes built within this residential tower).

Two new public exhibitions were organised at the Ram Brewery site on Thursday, November 29 and on Saturday, December 1 to give residents a chance to view the plans and talk to the development team.

The proposal is described on the developer’s website:

  • 669 residential apartments, in a range of sizes from studios to 4 bed apartments.
  • The residential tower will be 113m tall, 35 storeys.
  • There will be a total of 250 residential car parking spaces.
  • 500 permanent jobs will be created along with 350 jobs during construction.
  • The Stable Block will contain a restaurant with an outdoor seating area
  • A Micro-Brewery operating in the old brewery buildings along with a museum displaying the historic coppers and the beam engine.

In a nutshell for the public view: there is no much change from the last exhibition held during summer 2011.

The previous scheme was refused by the government, against the unanimous approval of the Tory council

Ram Brewery, Wandsworth High Street SW18

A the end of 2008 Wandsworth Council approved the original schemes including 2 skyscrapers up to 42 storeys.

In June 2010, the government refused the previous scheme including 2 residential towers of 32 and 42 storeys, following a 2 month inquiry and a report from the government inspector advising to refuse the application.

You can read our analysis of the reasons for refusal HERE. One of the main issues was the height of the towers. At the same time there was the issue of gas-holder that they would stand near to, and in the event of an emergency could take the direct force of a blast from, the last thing you possibly want a tall building to experience.

Why do we still have a skyscraper?

From two residential towers of 32 and 42 storeys, the developer is now only displaying one of 35 storeys. The question that many are still asking is obvious:

Why do they want absolutely to have a tower in this currently low rise building area? All arguments that we heard so far are:

  1. It will make an iconic building for Wandsworth town centre; that argument is so often used by developers (all their buildings are iconic of course) that it lost any meaning. Residents of Wandsworth will remember the “iconic” Sudbury House building (23 storeys – described on Wikipedia as “modern concrete construction in a brutalist style“).
  2. There are existing tall buildings in the area; this is not true as there is no tall building on the Ram Brewery site currently. The site consists mainly of the Capital Studios buildings (3 to 4-storeys) and residential units consisting of 4-storeys (with basements), stepping down to 3-storey buildings currently used as offices, a 2-storey residential house and finally the Crane Public House is located on the corner. The closest tall building are the towers built near Southside shopping centre in the 70’s, and the new developments such as the controversial Osier Road.
  3. It is necessary to make the site viable; again there is no need to demonstrate that the viability of the site is not linked with mandatory skyscrapers. If the site is not viable for tall buildings as Wandsworth should have specified for many years, owners would not be trying to speculate to maximise their profit based on the high rise building potential.

However the 2009 government inspector’s report already demonstrated that there was an issue with tall buildings on the site. Explaining why he recommended to refuse the proposal he wrote:

There has been little consideration given to the impact of the development on these small-scale buildings, and there would be clear harm to the character and heritage of the area […] Not only would the characteristic skyline be lost but the new buildings, and particularly the towers, would utterly dominate the scene.

Don’t bother, the scheme is already approved by the Council!

For anyone coming to Wandsworth and not aware that we are currently talking of “proposals” (so much of idealistic thoughts as the previous scheme was cancelled!) they may think that the development has already been approved.

Brightside-Nov2012If you have noticed the November edition of Brightside (click on the photo to see bigger), the Council is already listing Minerva’s proposal within the major town centre redevelopment schemes, with a large photo of the site taken from the developer’s website (funny enough there is no photo of the 35-storey skyscraper in the magazine – probably to avoid to scare readers?).

During the exhibition held at the beginning of December, the architects gave comments that Wandsworth officers are happy with the current proposal (even enthusiastic!). Therefore the officer’s report will only be a formality recommending approval for the Planning Application Committee.

At the end of 2008, following the recommendation to approve the scheme made by the officer Toby Feltham (the same who wrote the report to approve the Peabody proposal at Clapham Junction), all the Tory members of the planning application committee approved the scheme (whilst the 2 Labour opposed). In our report of the decision, we wrote:

“Councillors McCausland, Ms. Church, Mrs. V. Graham, Mr Hallmark, Ms. John-Richards, Martin D. Johnson, Penfold, Ms. Torrington and Mrs. Usher, whilst taking account of the reservations expressed, were of the opinion that the high quality of the scheme, both in design terms and in the significant and far-reaching opportunity for regeneration and transport improvements to Wandsworth Town Centre that would be provided, merited the fullest support of the Council.” [in bold they are still members of the committee in 2012]

The Council was wrong and the scheme had to be stopped by the government with  the Communities Secretary calling for an inquiry. It was the biggest public enquiry for many years in London regarding a planning application and it is mostly thanks to former Battersea MP Martin Linton and the Wandsworth Society that we avoided to have Wandsworth town centre defaced by Minerva’s scheme in 2008.

The current outcome is so expected that Home & Property magazine has published an article  presenting the scheme as a done-deal:

“Long-delayed redevelopment of historic Ram Brewery, a six-acre site fronting the River Wandle, is a key project. Enclosed by high walls, the brewery has been inaccessible to the public for generations but is set to become an animated waterfront “quarter”, with 669 homes, bars, restaurants, shops and loft-style offices.

Who has any confidence that a scheme that is already presented as approved in Wandsworth Council’s magazine, openly presented as being fully supported by Wandsworth planning officers and previously approved by the Tory Council has any chance to take into account the view of Wandsworth residents? Unfortunately we already know the answer: NONE!

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