Conservation matters are not worth it for Wandsworth Council

Author: Cyril Richert

A planning application for a huge extension of a cottage house located in the heart of a conservation area has been approved in St John’s Hill Grove, near Clapham Junction, despite the protest of many groups and residents of the area, including the Battersea Society, the Wandsworth Society, the Clapham Junction Action Group (see full objection HERE and THERE), and Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee (WCAAC). While 10 notices have been distributed into the close neighbourhood (ref 2012/3013), 7 people objected (while 3 support were received, but one was also with some objections!).

The Planning Committee approved the application in October, with the blessing of Cllr Vanessa Graham, who is also chairing the WCAAC which objected against the scheme. This councillor is not at her first ambiguous position as one will remember her same attitude during the vote for Peabody’s application last Summer.

In order to explain the reason why this application is in breach of Wandsworth conservation rules and should have been refused, we laid down the following arguments (p.a. ref 2012/3013 and 2012/3390):

Conservation areas are “areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character and appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance” as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

In respect of the conservation area, it appears that

  1. The proposed extension is an overdevelopment of a cottage house in a conservation area: the proposed extension represents more than 25% of the existing property.
  2. The proposed rear extension will put the back of the property beyond the building line of existing properties (33, 37, 39, 41 etc) its size and material (brick/stones) will affect substantially the view of the neighbours.
  3. The proposed extension will alter the front of the property as the current cottage frontage will be changed to become a “sort of” terrace house, therefore losing the historical aspect of the property. Although we understand that they will retain a narrow access from the front to the rear garden, this will be detrimental to the characteristic of the building as it forms a pair with No 33.
  4. The proposed rear extension will have detrimental impact on adjoining properties, along with impact of properties in Harbut Road (loss of view and daylight appears to be understated in the report submitted by the applicant).

The proposed extension should be considered in view of the guidelines provided in the Conservation Area Appraisal Strategies document, which states:

3.13 The spaces between the semi-detached pairs of villas in St John’s Hill Grove allow visual penetration through to the trees in rear gardens, thereby reinforcing the sense of greenness.

4.11 Several of the villas have been unsympathetically altered, with some infilling of the spaces between them, as well as the loss of some original architectural features. The infilling of spaces creates an uncharacteristic terraced effect in a street whose special character is derived from distinctive pairs of houses.

Nos 33-35 are one of pairs of villas in the street and the characteristic of the building must be preserved. Therefore any extension on one side to create a “terrace” effect should be prevented. In its conclusion the Wandsworth Conservation &Design report states:

These houses rely on the spaces between each pair as part of their setting and future extensions should be designed to retain this important spaciousness.”

The current application proposes to fill most of the space on the semi-detached part, keeping only a very narrow pathway on the side of the property. This is contrary to the Conservation Area guidelines and should be refused.

In addition, the current application is in breach of Council’s policies as stated in the Development Management Policies Document – Adopted Version (page 49-50):

3.20 Open spaces between buildings are an integral part of the character and appearance of much of the borough, and this is especially important in conservation areas. The contribution that open areas and residential gardens make to the character and appearance of the area is addressed through conservation area appraisals. Development on back gardens can also have a negative impact on other policy objectives including biodiversity and managing flood risk. The development of back gardens is therefore generally regarded as an inappropriate form of development in the borough.

3.22 Rear extensions can also encroach onto useable amenity space, and may be detrimental to the character of an area, or impact on daylight or outlook of neighbouring properties.

[…]

Policy DMH5: extensions and alterations to existing residential properties will be permitted where:

ii. an extension, dormer window or other alteration to a roof is confined to the rear of the building but where it is visible from the street or any other public place, it is sympathetic to the style of the building, not visually intrusive and does not harm either the street scene or the building’s appearance;

iii. side extensions do not cause a terrace effect by in-filling the spaces between detached or semi-detached buildings;

If approved, this will set a precedent in the street and of course any further plans for such property alterations will have to be granted (and in case of refusal, will certainly be granted in appeal). Therefore the whole principal of a conservation area (to “conserve” the area, meaning “which it is desirable to preserve or enhance”) will lose all purpose and will have a detrimental impact on the street and the historical heritage of the area.

In its conclusion the officer’s report says: “it is now considered […] [that it] would not have an acceptable impact on the amenities of neighbours”. Although we suspect that the officer wanted to say the opposite, we cannot agree more with the sentence as such.

Of course owners have the right to improve and with certain conditions, extend their properties. But it should be done in respect with the neighbourhood and not have a detrimental impact on the surrounding properties, especially as it is a conservation area. Therefore we urge you to recommend refusal of the application and suggest the applicant to submit a plan that is more sympathetic to the area.

As I said above, all those arguments have been ignored, along with the strong objection of the Conservation Areas Advisory Committee and Conservative members of the Committee approved the plan #2012/3013 in October.

Since then, the Committee has also followed the recommendation of approval submitted by the planning officer for the second application. In December it approved also the plan 2012/3390.

drawing comparison 3013-3390

Although this second proposal does no longer encroached the rear building line (although at its maximum!) – but the planning officer and the committee did not find that being unacceptable even in a Conservation area! – we consider that this is now misleading to keep the same description for the rear-extension, as a part single/ part two-storey rear extension (as displayed in the 2012/3390 application).

Planning officer Laura Nieves returned my call earlier and explained that both applications were only considered similar regarding the front of the property, and that the rear extension, although much more “compact”, was still considered as partly 1-partly 2 storey extension as the first lever was not covering 100% of the ground floor extension on 2012/3390.

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