Planning Committee event: some information

We urge everyone to attend the Planning Committee meeting on 20 May 2009. All details are here but I copy them below:

Date: Wednesday 20 May 2009 – 7.30pm (we advise you to come earlier, possibly 7-7.15pm).
Venue: Wandsworth Borough Council, The Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, London SW18 2PU (more details how to get there on the website).

So it is very important that you make the most efforts to attend the meeting, especially after the blessing of the Planning Officer on the two 42 storey towers.


Author: Cyril Richert

A few days ago I asked two questions regarding the organisation of the planning committee meeting on 20 May. I received the following answer from the Committee Secretary (in blue):

1- Is there any rule regarding presentation/speaker ?

I can confirm that public speaking is not allowed at the Planning Applications Committee. The only speakers are members of the Committee and, with the Committee’s consent, ward members who are not members of the Committee that particularly wish to speak on an issue affecting their ward.

2- Would it be possible to make a video of the meeting (in line with our call for democracy in action, and as per the public debate)?

I have discussed your request for recording the meeting with the Chairman, Councillor McDonnell. The Committee have occasionally received similar requests in the past (although not for a video recording) and the policy has previously been not to agree such requests. After due consideration, the Chairman has asked me to inform you that he intends to proceed with past convention and to not accede to your request to record the meeting. However, I can confirm that because of the possibility that a large number of people will wish to attend next week’s meeting, and the fact that Committee Room 123 can only cater for around 50 members of the public, additional seating is to be provided in Room 122 opposite and a camera positioned in Room 123 will relay sound and vision to a screen in room 122, thereby ensuring that everybody who wishes to attend and hear the discussions and decision on the application will comfortably be able to do so.

I then asked if it was possible to record video in Room 122, and/or to have the official video from the Council made available afterwards.

Bearing in mind the Chairman’s decision on your request to film the meeting I think the answer would also have to be no to filming in Room 122, as the meeting would be being broadcast in this room and allowing you to film there would give you the opportunity to record the proceedings as they are relayed onto the screen in that room.

I am not aware of any intention to make the Council’s transmission from the meeting available after the meeting – the equipment is being used solely to ensure that any members of the public that do attend the Town Hall and are unable to get in to Room 123 due to numbers attending are able to see and hear the debate and decision as it happens.

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MSF proposal for Clapham Junction recommended for refusal… but

Author: Cyril Richert

As pointed out by James Cousins (Councillor – Shaftesbury) and Tony Belton (Councillor -Latchmere) by emails, the agenda for next week’s planning applications committee has just been published on the council’s website.

The report of the Planning Officer is available here (click to view the full document). The recommendation is to be refused (p74) on the grounds that: –

1) The local planning authority is not satisfied that the package provides sufficient benefit to public transport infrastructure in the town centre and is therefore contrary to Core Strategy (Submitted Version) PL 13.

2) The local planning authority is not satisfied, on the basis of the information provided and the late modification to the financial package, that affordable housing should be omitted from the scheme. The proposal is therefore contrary to Core Strategy (Submitted Version) Policy IS 5.

Additional reasons are

  • The application would be premature in the absence of an approved scheme for
    the redevelopment of Clapham Junction Station and its vicinity.
  • The demolition of buildings in the conservation area would be premature in
    the absence of an approved scheme to replace the buildings.

So, the good news is that the officers’ recommendation is against, which will probably be decisive. It is probably also good that the grounds are pretty extensive, namely insufficient benefit to public transport, omission of affordable housing not justified, premature in advance of approved scheme for redevelopment of Station BUT it does not say anything about massing, height, etc.

In other words, the planning officer gives his blessing for the construction of two 42 storey tower block in the area, writing (p42):

In longer views, a tall building could be seen as marking the town centre. […]

The site would be well integrated with the surrounding urban area by the provision of the new areas of public realm and increased access points into and through the site, alleviating the congestion points that exist at present. The quality and character of the new public spaces together with the towers would deliver a legible urban environment. […]

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. […]

In summary, whilst the proposed towers have proved controversial in the responses to consultation and whilst such matters can frequently be a subjective matter of debate, they have a considered design and have been located in the most appropriate position, in terms of urban design principles on this site. They would have some relationship to the existing towers in the immediate locality and could be seen to re-enforce and define the town centre. It is also considered that in design terms, this is an appropriate location for tall buildings considering the surrounding context as well as assessing them against CABE and English Heritage Criteria for tall buildings.

Speaking about the level of presentation, the figures compiled in the dossier only confirmed our numerous comments on the level of support. Reporting on the consultation (i.e. the comments received by the Council) it says (p18):

626 objections (including 219 with no full address): with 3 pages explaining why towers are an eyesore…etc.
vs
67 support letters (including 6 with no full address) + postcards + pre-formated emails

And counting the comments received after the developers’ resubmission (reconsultation):

51 further objections (2 with no full address) raising the same issues as previously outlined.
vs
1 support

There is no doubt that it confirms plainly what we said all allong: RESIDENTS DO NOT WANT TOWERS! [In addition Tony Belton presented today a petition with 550 names and Philip Beddows 200 names – collected with the online petition of the CJAG – of people against the twin towers].

I am a bit stunned by the comment 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“.

On the contrary, hundred of letters have shown with long full arguments why this what not appropriate for the location. As an example of many others, you can read the letter of Michael Snaith, or with more details and plenty of reference, our report to the Planning Committee, or the letters of Councillor Peter Dawson and Jane Ellison amongst others.

In addition the subject was raised at the Parliament by Martin Linton (watch/read here) saying: “here are many areas—Clapham junction being a good example—which have a Victorian town centre that is not historic, but nevertheless has a coherence and is loved by people who live in it.Is the town planner saying that someone writing that he chose to live in Battersea rather than Croydon because he does not want a certain type of architecture is not relevant? Next time, criticising a yellow skyscrapers with green spots will not be considered because it is not a specific reason?

My first assumption is that the Planning Officer was concentrating on technical details and following rules dictated by Wandsworth Borough Council policy regarding the appropriate location for tall buildings.

Therefore, if the developers were to overcome the stated objections and come back with another application with similar scale towers they would then say, and Planning law and precedent would support them, “But you did not object to the previous application on the grounds of scale and massing so you can’t object now”.

It depends now on the members of the Planning Committee (list here) to represent the view of their constituents and definitely put an end to what some called “phallocratic” designs during the last electoral campaign.

Regarding the case for office space, the Planning Officer wipes away any interest and writes (p42):

The applicant has also stated that there is only limited space to accommodate the new station building and associated facilities, therefore the introduction of offices would require a reduction in space for other uses and the enhanced retail facilities would attract a wider range of retailers than currently within the town centre. In their view, Clapham Junction and Battersea are not established office locations; do not have the critical mass to attract occupiers to locate; there are no identified office requirements in Clapham Junction or the surrounding area of Battersea, therefore offices would be built on wholly speculative basis.

This is exactly the opposite of what a lot of people think , as we developed arguments on the risk of  missed opportunity for developing office space and previously here.

If you think, as we do,  that the scale and massing is important, then you still need to try and get the Committee to support an amendment to the paper so as to include those amongst the grounds for objection. Let the Councillors who will be taking the decision know your opinion and urge them to consider appropriatly the major concern of the residents!

In the press

Author: Cyril Richert

Yesterday in the Wandsworth Guardian:

Wandsworth twin tower development decision due

7:20am Tuesday 12th May 2009

A decision on whether to allow a 42-storey twin tower development in Clapham Junction is due next week.

As well as the skyscapers containing 556 flats the controversial plans, by Metro Shopping Fund (MSF), involve a two-floor shopping plaza and a facelift for Clapham Junction station.

Campaigners argued the towers are too tall, criticised the lack of affordable housing and said station redevelopment should be paid for by rail authorities.

While weighing up the £400million development on Wednesday, May 20, Wandsworth Council’s planning applications committee will judge whether concessions on height and affordable housing are worth trading for station development.

MSF said without the scheme Clapham Junction would “get worse over the next decade”.

Glenn Burton, MSF development director, said: “Without new retail space high street chains, which are a vital part of the mix for a vibrant town centre, will either continue to compete for space with independent retailers which inevitably forces up rents, or they will leave the town centre.

“Our scheme addresses these issues and will help stop the town centre’s decline.”

But Battersea MP Martin Linton, who has called for a parliamentary debate on tall buildings and has presented a petition signed by 552 residents against the proposal to the council, disagreed.

“The development earmarks some £49 million for station improvements and the bulk of this would be spent on building escalators and lifts to the overbridge.

“This is certainly a benefit to Network Rail and Transport for London because it reduces the problem of overcrowding in the tunnel and spreads passengers more evenly along the platform.

“Benefits to local people will be modest. Many will find they have to walk further to the trains,” he said.

“The great majority of people in Battersea face the problem that their sons and daughters cannot afford to rent or buy in the area and are forced to move far away, breaking up families and depriving elderly residents of the care and contact they would normally expect from their children and grandchildren.”

Kate Williams, part of the Clapham Junction Action Group (CJAG), a campaign group set up by residents, said the overwhelming majority of local people were against the scheme.

She said: “Clapham Junction is an area improving all the time and we feel this will be put backwards by the development.”

CJAG was threatened with legal action earlier this year when it attempted to expose allegedly misleading photographs of the twin tower development.

For your information, the Parliamentary debate called by Martin Linton can be watched here (text and video), and you an read about the threat to CJAG there.

Misleading image

Author: Cyril Richert

The developers are advertising their redevelopment proposal at Clapham Junction station and ask for our support:

MSF proposal showing only the station redevelopment.

Despite their communication tricks efforts, residents aware of the plan know that the station redevelopment represents less than 20% of the total amount they are proposing to invest in the scheme. The main part of it being two 42 storey towers:

Twin towers from severus road Scale model of the twin towers at Clapham Junction

Towers from Debenhams and TK-Maxx Tower aboveFalcon

So, who is displaying misleading images?

Debate or just bait?

Author: Cyril Richert

One of the local resident sent us this email below, received on Friday, from the Developers’ Public Relations company (their representative, Brendan Keown commented also several posts on this website). It makes interesting reading (especially the few words I put in bold), as you need to keep in mind that they reiterated several time their refusal for any further consultation:

  • Before the Public Meeting, where they were invited, they refused to participate, replying: “We are happy to talk to answer any further query that were raised but public meeting forums are not the best way to discuss elements of the scheme“.
  • In their more recent letter, responding to the Planning Officer’s request for further consultation, MSF suggested that prior to submission, they already had lengthy discussions with the Council, the GLA and other consultees, along with local societies (it does not look like the Battersea Society was very happy with that) and 4 days public exhibition and they refuse to hold any further consultation now that the application has been submitted.
  • It is also noticeable that they put down the offer made by the South London Press to organise a meeting between the Clapham Junction Action Group and themselves.

Since attending the exhibition on Metro Shopping Fund’s plans to rejuvenate Clapham Junction, you may have seen and heard much debate on the topic. To date, hundreds of people from Wandsworth and across London have already filled in ‘support postcards’, e-mailed Wandsworth planning officers and written letters to Wandsworth Council, urging councillors to back this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

With the planning application due to be considered by Wandsworth Council Planning Committee later this month on Wednesday, 20th May, there is not long to go. The debate still continues, and we are asking you to take a little time to demonstrate your support to the Planning Officer Mark Hunter at planningapplications@wandsworth.gov.uk or via Wandsworth’s planning portal website http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/apply/showCaseFile.do?appNumber=2008/4488.

It is also important show councillors how strongly local people feel, by attending the planning meeting itself at Wandsworth Town Hall (on Wandsworth High Street, London, SW18 2PU) 7.30p.m., Wednesday 20th May.

If you have any questions about the scheme or how to get to Wandsworth Town hall, please get in touch by email or call me on 020 7566 7964.

Thank you and I hope to see you there on the night.

Yours sincerely,

Brendan Keown
Senior Account Executive

QUATRO
Public Relations
20-24 Old Street
London
EC1V 9AB

So, is the debate they are welcoming spelled D.E.B.A.T.E or is it D-BAIT.

Jane Ellison's objection

[From Cyril Richert: We publish below, with the consent of its author, the presentation sent by Jane Ellison, the Conservative Parliamentary Spokesperson for Battersea, to Mark Hunter, the Planning Officer. Link with original PDF document is here.]


Author: Jane Ellison, Conservative Parliamentary Spokesperson for Battersea

Dear Mr Hunter

Whilst there is near-universal support for the strategic objective of improving a station as important and busy as Clapham Junction the overwhelming number of people who have contacted me also feel that the negative aspects of the current application, sadly, outweigh the benefits for the local area.

Living just off the Falcon Road, I am also a local resident and regular station-user so can comment from personal experience too. I have considered the original applications and the subsequent submissions this year from Metro Shopping Fund and Network Rail and cannot support the current proposals.

I therefore urge the Council’s Planning Committee to refuse the applications.

Some of my reasons for urging refusal can be summarised as follows:

1. The parlous state to which the nation’s finances have been reduced by the current Government has given added impetus to the argument that this is ‘a once in a lifetime’ to improve the station. It is argued by Network Rail that they cannot afford strategic investment in Britain’s busiest station and the only way they can fund improvements to the station is by working with a developer who needs a mix of retail and residential capacity on the site to achieve their return on investment.

It is precisely this ‘once in a lifetime’ argument that convinces me these proposals are unacceptable. Given the disruption and timescales likely to be involved in this development will we emerge at the end with a modern station fit to serve the travelling public of this area for decades to come? Much hangs on this critical question and I believe that the answer to it is No, with too many fundamental issues of station access, capacity and interchange still inadequately addressed.

2. The corollary of the ‘once in a lifetime’ argument is the argument that the proposed residential development at the site – the 42 storey tower blocks on which most local objections have centred – is a ‘price worth paying’ for station improvements. I cannot agree with this argument.

I think tall buildings of appropriate and attractive design, in a location that provides the right context, have a significant part to play in the economy and the evolving skyline of both our city and our area.

However the scale, height and density of the proposed towers are overwhelming and inappropriate for this location. Even accepting that issues of design are necessarily subjective it is interesting to note that unlike other developments these towers have found few friends to argue that they will enhance the local scene. Those who do not object to them have generally cited the ‘price worth paying’ argument above.

The Clapham Junction town centre is predominantly Victorian and Edwardian in character with low to mid rise buildings and some taller blocks to the north on the Winstanley estate. The proposed towers would I feel be overbearing and incongruous in this context. I regret that in design and conception the proposed towers do not look to enhance a townscape with its economic and social roots in the great age of the railways. As the Council’s Conservation Appraisal & Management Strategy for Clapham Junction (Paragraph 5.1 Draft 2008) says of the area “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.”

Would our successors look back and say the same of the proposed landmark towers above the station in a hundred years time? I doubt it.

3. The final point I would make is about a potential missed opportunity should this proposal go through. The area needs more high quality office space not less and in the Clapham Junction station site there is a golden opportunity to create an attractive and sustainable business environment to contribute to our local economy. With rail connections second to none and a vibrant local town centre only minutes from Central London and (with the coming of the East London line in 2011/12) in due course Docklands, it would be ideal. The proposed additional retail space offers nothing like the same opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

Jane Ellison

Conservative Parliamentary Spokesman

Councillor David Walden's objection

[From Cyril Richert: We publish below, with the consent of its author, the presentation sent by David Walden, Councillor for Queenstown ward, to Mark Hunter, the Planning Officer. Link with original PDF document is here.]


Author: David Walden, Councillor for Queenstown ward

Dear Mr Hunter,

I draw attention to the fact that I am a ward councillor for the Queenstown Ward. Although Queenstown Ward is at some distance from the site, my membership of the Council’s Passenger Transport Liaison Group over the last 3 years (thereby allowing me to participate in detailed discussions with the local bus and train operators), plus my experience as a regular user of the station for over 25 years, and as a resident in the St. John’s Hill area for a similar period, enables me to offer some comments on this proposal from a transport context.

INADEQUATE PROVISION FOR TRANSPORT USERS

The proposals in relation to the station itself and the interchange arrangements with other local transport are unsatisfactory, in that they in no way offer a complete solution to the acknowledged problems with which Clapham Junction Station must contend as a transport hub. No bus stops would be removed from the congested local roads, and indeed road traffic in the area would increase significantly because of the number of residential car parking spaces that are proposed. The last thing the Clapham Junction area needs is more road traffic.

Turning to the station itself, although two new station entrances are proposed, these provide access to an ageing footbridge which it is not proposed to upgrade or improve in any way. Many of the steps down to the platforms from this bridge are steep and narrow (those to Platforms 11 and 12 being particularly bad). Facilities at platform level are also unacceptably poor (the platform awnings on platforms 9, 10, 11 and 12 are wholly inadequate, and no improvement to these appears currently to be planned). Additionally, the complete closure of the subway as a means of access to the station is unnecessary and unhelpful for station users, given the shortcomings of the staircases down to the platforms from the footbridge to which I have already referred.

All intending passengers starting their journeys at Clapham Junction would in future be forced to use the staircases descending from the footbridge to reach the platforms. In my opinion, all that is needed is a reduction in use of the subway, and this can be achieved by the (already in progress) Brighton Yard reopening, together with some form of access directly from St John’s Hill to the footbridge. This would allow those entering the station to use the subway if they preferred. Step free access to the platforms is already being provided, of course.

Some supporters of the scheme have argued that this is a “once in a lifetime  opportunity” to improve station facilities for the 21st century. In my opinion, this proposal should be seen more as a huge missed opportunity to improve the station facilities. It should be recalled at this point that Clapham Junction is the 5th busiest railway station in the country (if interchange passengers are included-only 4 of the central London termini are busier). A more fundamental approach to solving Clapham Junction Station’s shortcomings is needed, and in my opinion, the present proposal does not begin to address those shortcomings. It should therefore not be seen as the solution to the problems that Clapham Junction Station faces as it attempts to serve as a major public transport node.

RAIL IMPROVEMENTS DO NOT APPEAR TO DEPEND ON THIS PROPOSAL

Network Rail is currently planning for the delivery of a project to allow 10 coach trains to operate on the suburban lines into Victoria Station. These trains serve platforms 14 and 15 at Clapham Junction Station, which will require lengthening to allow these longer trains to operate. This platform lengthening is project 15.05 of Network Rail’s CP4 Delivery Plan (published on 31 March 2009). Additional land to the south of the station is required to allow this platform extension to be carried out (since a realignment of the tracks will be necessary to allow the platforms to be of the required length-which incidentally addresses a long standing issue with the gap between the platform and the trains here).

I show below the key assumptions Network Rail are making with regard to the project (copied directly from the Network Rail document).

Key assumptions

  • That SDO will not be an acceptable alternative to platform extensions at this location;
  • that developer contributions may be available within the timescales required;
  • that no significant issues will be encountered with the purchase of land;
  • it is expected that the land will be acquired as part of the commercial property development. If this does not proceed then it will be necessary to purchase the land either directly or via a Transport and Works Act Order;

NB (my addition); SDO is an abbreviation for Selective Door Opening, whereby some doors remain closed where not all coaches forming a train calling at a station can be alongside a platform edge.

This shows that the proposed development, while welcome as potentially offering a contribution to Network Rail’s costs of delivering the lengthening of the trains on the South London suburban network, is not an essential requirement for that project to take place (since Network Rail indicates that it would use its compulsory powers to acquire the necessary land in any case).

Other supporters of the proposals have said that this proposed development, with its very tall buildings and other attempts to maximise capital values from the site, is the only way to secure the necessary improvements to the rail corridors using the station. The fact that Network Rail itself says that a Transport and Works Act acquisition would be used to obtain the land needed for the lengthening of platforms 14 and 15 surely gives the lie to that contention.

A further project aims to deliver 10 coach trains on the suburban lines towards Waterloo Station. The platforms that these trains would use (3-6 and 10 and 11) are either already of sufficient length to accommodate the longer trains, or can easily be extended without the need to acquire additional land.

CONCLUSION

To summarise, while I agree that there is a pressing need for improvements to Clapham
Junction station, it is my opinion that this proposal only partially addresses the need for those improvements, whereas the impact of the overall scale and type of the proposed development on the surrounding residential and local shopping areas is unacceptable (and I associate myself with Councillor Dawson’s comments on this aspect).

I therefore urge rejection of this proposal.

Yours sincerely

Councillor David Walden

Queenstown Ward