Will B&Q site suffer the same fate as Homebase?

Author: Cyril Richert

Plans from B&Q developers to transform Wandsworth into a new Shoreditch (or a “new Croydon” for the oldest of us) is moving a step ahead tonight as their plan to build 13 residential blocks (with 3 podiums) ranging from 8/10 to 15/18 storeys high. The scheme should provide 517 residential units.

The original plan was withdrawn last year as the Homebase (Swandon Way) scheme across the road was refused twice by Wandsworth Council. However as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, decided to over-rule Wandsworth’s decision and grant permission, it was obvious that the B&Q scheme looked in a much better position.

Since the original application, developers submitted some amendments (p.a. 2017/0580), including mainly:

  • One building has been removed (Building A5) on the western part of the site.
  • Building C1 has been redesigned with a new layout and elevation (as A5 was removed) and re-positioned.

Changes such as: building in red (scheme 1) removed and building in green (scheme 2) moved.

On the positive aspect of the scheme, beside the removal of one of the tower, we can note that towers are quite thin, which means that all flats are located at the corners, therefore with the benefit of a double exposition. In addition we must acknowledge that the scheme offers 35% of affordable housing (in the form of 14 x 1 bed, 30 x 2 bed, 8 x 3 bed affordable rent and 43 x 1 bed, 89 x 2 bed intermediate), which is nevertheless just at the limit of the requested amount of affordable accommodation in the London Plan.

However there are major concerns, very well highlighted by the Wandsworth Society (you can read the entire objection HERE).

All the buildings in this development are tall buildings as defined in the SSAD for the site. The tallest buildings are twice the height at which buildings in this location are ‘likely to be inappropriate’.

  • The development is at the high end of the London Plan density matrix. This site is not a central location with the best transport connections. Development at this density is inappropriate for this area.
  • Despite the fact that trees on the site now benefit from Tree Preservation Orders, the developers are still proposing to chop down about 50 of them. The majority of the 174 new trees that are to be planted will be at the podium level, not in the public realm, and are no substitute for the loss of the existing trees. [*]

Developers are misrepresenting the real-size of their scheme

In addition it is particularly noticeable that the developer have chosen to “hide” the real size of the building by counting only 1 storey high for their podium, while they are in reality more than 2 storeys (in Wandsworth local plan 1 storey is considered 3 meters).

For example, the tallest buildings on the site buildings A1 and C3 are 54.65m and 54.72m. Both buildings are described as 15 storeys, but taking the 3.0m storey height from DMPD 2.43 they are, in Local Plan tall building terms, effectively 18 storeys. Building B3 the smallest building, described as 8 storeys, is 32.37m high, effectively 10 storeys!

Elevation along Smuggler Way

The Wandsworth Society added that many of the criticisms made of the Homebase  scheme (2016/7356), particularly relating to the overbearing height and density, apply here. The Tonsleys lie almost immediately to the south and the 13 towers proposed in this scheme will have an even more damaging impact on these low-rise residential streets.

The officer report is clearly to approve (which is obviously consistent with their opinion on the Homebase scheme, as they also recommended approval – twice – there). As usual, the size of the scheme is justified by the apparent “benefits” (par. 21.3 in the Report: “tall buildings in this location can be justified given that the scheme delivers on several public benefits which include the provision of housing including affordable housing“). And even the loss of trees protected by the Council (with TPO) is justified as “an appropriate landscaping scheme for the site as well as adequate tree planting will be secured by conditions“.

Forecast: What should happen now?

In order to be consistent, we expected the officers to publish a report recommending approval (even if it means passing over their own Tree Protection Order implemented a few months ago).

In order to be consistent, Wandsworth Planning Application Committee should refuse the scheme (as they strongly refused Homebase as over-development).

And finally in order to be consistent, Sadiq Khan should call-in and approve the scheme as fitting with what seems to be his only worry: showing Londoners that he can meet his promises on delivering affordable accommodation and secure the next election with that argument!

We’ll soon know if we are progressing as such…

[*] The revised scheme by largely maintaining its very dense layout of tower blocks which require the removal of the majority of TPO protected trees can be seen to openly defy the wishes of the Council whose officers had made TPO’s in March ’17 which were later to be approved by the Planning Committee in August, 8 and 3 months respectively before the revised application was submitted.


UPDATE:

26/01/2018 @9am: Approved by 9 votes to 1 (Annamarie Critchard, Tooting, Labour).

05/03/2018 @5pm: After reading the minutes from the PAC (download HERE), we could notice a number of misleading statements from officers:

  • Misleading comment from officer:Councillor McCausland drew attention to page 13 of the agenda pack and noted that there were some discrepancies between the schedule and the drawing in terms of the number of storeys proposed. The Planning Officer noted that there had been an amendment to the original proposal and that the numbers in the schedule were correct.” > Unfortunately the officer response is not supported by any evidence. Worse this is wrong and misleading in the officers’ report, it says for example (page 7) that the smallest tower B3 is 8 storeys but it fact it is 9 as the developers confirmed to us (during a meeting with the Wandsworth Society in autumn 2017) that they counted the podiums as 1 single floor instead of 2. According to Wandsworth own rules, 40.55m is equivalent to 40.55/3.5m = 11.6 floors! This simple fact cannot be ignored by officers as this was clearly stated by the Wandsworth Society in their objections and therefore was deliberate.
  • False statement for the Head of development: “The Head of Development Management explained that the proposal required a platform to be constructed over the whole site as a starting point.” > This is false as the scheme consist of 3 independent podiums (as confirmed by developers). Page 7 one can see Plot A, B, C. There is no podium under the entire site (due to contamination, car parks will be at ground level). Again, this cannot be ignored by officers and was at least misleading. A phase approach could have been discussed differently.

Approved by 9 votes to 1. Unlike the previous report, it seems that the vote against came from Tony Belton as later he said in his newsletter: “However, in my view it is just too big, with too many high blocks at too high a density. Secondly, a large 82-unit block rising to 14 storeys was approved on York Road, on the Chopper/@Battersea pub site. Again, I voted against on much the same grounds.

08/03/2018 @5pm: Tony Belton confirmed that he intended to vote against along with his colleague Cllr Critchard, but his vote has not been recorded in the minutes that he has not checked.

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