Author: Cyril Richert
The demolition of an existing one storey building at the back of the St Johns Hill’s Therapy Centre and the erection of a part 2 and 6 storey building comprising 159 co-living rooms has been refused by the Wandsworth Planning committee for the second time, despite officer’s recommendation on both applications. The developer is now appealing the decision.
A very similar proposal was presented before the committee in 2017 and was refused on the ground of massing and scale. The developer has come back with an even larger proposal this time (6 storeys instead of 5, 159 studio flats in co-living/equivalent of 88 dwellings, instead of 57 residential units).
Objections dismissed by the planning officer… as usual
The proposal 2020/2560 received 39 objections and … no support. Le long list of reasons for objections shows massive flaws in the proposal (overlooking, loss on sunlight, overdevelopment, twice the size of the nearest buildings, not be Covid-19 compliant, end up being used as a hostel, like Haydon House…).
Both Wandsworth Society and Battersea Society objected. The former noted that this new proposal was larger than the refused scheme ref 2017/2041, nearby dwellings will be overlooked and overshadowed and the proposed units do not accord with the minimum internal space standards (amongst other objections). The Battersea Society made similar comments (see here), noting that the massing of the new development would be 40% greater than the refused development. They also noted that the co-living development is one of several proposed for Battersea and the Council has still not address the matter in its policy (which the the draft 2019 London Plan does have – H16). Both societies criticized the lack of affordable housing.
As usual the officer’s report is full of caveats. The officer tries to justify the need of shared housing within the borough with figures dating from 7 years ago, a long time even without taking into account the current pandemic that shows the huge issue created by co-living schemes (or we should accept bubbles of 150 peoples!).
It is noticeable that the officer presents the lack of affordable small units to rent in the borough not something to be addressed in term of affordability, but only by reducing the size of the units and sharing some common utilities of the living space. The officer writes:
“At the median household income of those households living in the PRS only 44% could afford a I bed PRS property. It is therefore argued that there is demand for co living developments in the borough.”
It goes in saying that the developer has offered a lump sum payment £900,000 instead of providing affordable housing. Therefore, saying that this scheme aims at providing more affordable accommodation by paying to avoid affordability, is in itself preposterous!
Following our long experience of planning application (CJAG was set up 12 years ago), the rest of the report could have been generated by our Automatic Planning Report Generator. For example:
- “Views […] would be significantly changed by the proposed development. However, as the proposed building would be L-shaped and step away in its entirety from the north-east corner of the site, it would not appear to be overly bulky.”
- “The townscape impacts when viewed from the corner of St Johns Hill to the south-east would also be significant. However, the extent to which the proposed building would dominate and be materially harmful to the local townscape from this location would not be unacceptable“
- “It can be concluded that the bulk and scale of the proposed building would not unduly harm the immediate and wider townscape.”
- “The outlook from neighbouring properties would undoubtably significantly change as a consequence of the proposed development when compared to the existing arrangement. […] Notwithstanding this, the degree of harm to the outlook from those properties would not be significant“
- “Notwithstanding the lack of policy compliance, the Council’s consultant accepts the reasons why the scheme fails to achieve outstanding” in respect to Environmental Assessment Method.
- “Although it is larger than the surrounding buildings, its layout and it comprising a range of heights would ensure that it does not unduly dominate the locality.”
- “where there is policy conflict this has been identified and an assessment made on the weight to be afforded to the benefits and the negative effects.”
And the officer concluded that “the material planning considerations [breach of policy] identified are not considered to be of sufficient weight to justify refusal“. Fortunately, the Councillors agreed otherwise.
Committee inconsistent in being consistent
For once, it seems that planning committee members were in accordance about their views on the scheme as they decided unanimously to refuse the application, mainly on the grounds that the scale, site, massing and layout of the proposal would be an inappropriate and the proposed development would result in undue harm to the amenity of neighbouring occupiers.
According to the minutes (25 Nov. 2020), Councillor McCausland suggested that proposed development would dwarf existing nearly buildings including Hayden House, John Morris House and the old St John’s Hospital building. Councillor Loveland noted that, while the scheme tried to mitigate the initial overbearing impact, this was done in such a way that the mass of the development was pushed against another area of the site. Councillor Critchard suggested that the development would be very dominant. Councillor Ellis suggested that the current scheme appeared to be worse than the original.
More interesting, several Councillors noted that they refused the previous application (2017/2041) on the basis of scale and massing and it had been only five storeys in height (while here it is up to 6 storeys) and therefore, that it would be inconsistent to accept this one. It was noted by Councillor Crivelli and seconded by Councillor Belton and Councillor Field.
However, the lack of consistency was exactly our criticism on the B&Q approval. The Councillors refused unanimously, and twice (26 April 2017 and 27 July 2016), the proposal for the Homebase site in Swandon Way, near the Wandsworth roundabout (it was later approved by the Mayor of London). Reasons were height, scale and massing of the 17 storeys Station building proposed and its relationship with the surrounding townscape. In order to be consistent, they should have refused the proposal to redevelop the B&Q site, also located at Wandsworth roundabout, and which presented even more massing with 13 tall residential blocks and 3 podiums. But this time, they decided to approve it! What consistency is there?
Therefore the only thing that can be concluded from those two examples, is that the Committee is happy to be inconsistent in… being consistent!
PS: We note that the refusal won’t have any consequence for the finances of the Council as this development was not subject to borough planning tax (CIL) in any case. Maybe a reason for some Councillors to feel less constrained in their judgement.
UPDATE 15/11/2021: Appeal Granted: Green light for developers
The developers will be able to erect their building up to 6 storeys (the massing of the new development would be 40% greater than the refused development in 2017), with 159 co-living rooms following de decision of a judge in the appeal procedure in September 2021. The judge acknowledges that the building will have a significant impact on the surrounding but concluded:
“Considering all the evidence on this issue, including the views that have been drawn to my attention by all parties, the proposal would change the character and appearance of the area significantly. Such a change would be inevitable in a location where a single storey building occupies a prominent site of this size and a larger building is proposed. However, the evidence successfully demonstrates that the height, scale, mass, and layout of the proposed building would be such that it would not appear overly dominant when seen in key views and would be in keeping with the surroundings. “
You live in a urban area, you don’t deserve view and light!
At the end of the day, the judge based his decision on the fact that this is a Urban area, and as such, you should expect buildings:
“This townscape gap is uncharacteristic of an area where buildings are more tightly knit at a higher density that is consistent with its urban nature.”
Which is translated in plain English as: “You live in an urban area, you must expect this type of intensification!”. It echoes a previous appeal decision in Whitechapel estate some years ago reported at a GLA meeting where the inspector took the view that because you are in an inner London borough (and you are choosing to live in an inner London area) the loss of sunlight/daylight is not something that should be considered. And developers are quick to embrace similar justifications and re-use it for new proposal. In a storey tower proposal in Battersea Park Road, the applicant justified the acknowledged loss of daylight and sunlight to neighbouring properties by saying that the “very good levels of daylight” they receive is “uncommon in an urban environment” (p.a. 2016/4188). In other words, residents have been luckier than they deserve so shouldn’t complain that this new building will reduce daylight to their flats!