Open letter to the members of the Planning Committee
Authors: Kate Williams, Cyril Richert
Dear Sirs and Ladies,
We have read with interest the Chief Planning Officer’s report to the Committee on Metro Shopping Fund’s application to develop the site of Clapham Junction Station. Naturally, we welcome its conclusion that the application should be refused on grounds that insufficient Section 106 commitments have been made, first through the lack of any affordable housing, and second through inadequate commitments to develop the station. We have argued in our own Planning Submission to the Committee that, since the proposal involves the demolition of the existing station entrances, it can be no part of Metro’s Section 106 commitments that a new ones should be provided. We are pleased that this argument has found resonance with the Chief Planning Officer.
We would urge you to accede to Mr Hunter’s recommendation that the application should be refused on these grounds.
However, in view of the unprecedented levels of objection raised which are recognised within the report, we consider that it is fundamental to the interests of the community at large that the Committee also rejects this application on the wider grounds that the scale of the proposed development is inappropriate to its location and that the proposed ‘tall buildings’ in particular are unacceptable in terms of their height and design. As Mr Hunter has acknowledged, this is the key issue for the vast majority of protesters.
The report is most carefully worded in this respect, presenting a case for a design rationale having been followed in the proposal of the ‘tall buildings’. Whilst this might explain the reason why the scheme has been pursued to this late stage of design, it does not answer the many concerns people have that it will overwhelm the local community and detract from its current amenity. Contrary to the suggestion that the objectors do not give any specific reason why they do not like the tall buildings and do not consider them suitable for this location, very many people have in fact been most specific in this regard. We summarise many of these points of objection in our Submission to the Planning Committee and do not propose to repeat them here. Suffice to say, the majority of the population are not architects and can give no comment on detailed aspect of the design. They are non-the-less horrified that proposals of this inhuman scale and garish appearance could possibly be given the go ahead no matter what benefits might be realised in terms of the station’s re-development.
At page 74 of the Chief Planning Officer’s report he states:
“Should members consider that, notwithstanding the general policy support for taller buildings here, this scheme, on its merits is inappropriate, such comments could be incorporated into the decision.”
We urge you to act upon this suggestion and to incorporate into your decision the resolution that the scale of the proposed development is inappropriate to its location and that the proposed ‘tall buildings’ in particular are unacceptable in terms of their height and design. Any decision which is not made on these grounds will fail to represent the true outcome of the Council’s consultation and leave the developers with the impression that adding some affordable housing to the design will overcome the Council’s objections. Notwithstanding the role that the Council might have played in encouraging a proposal of this nature on the site, the time has come to recognise that this was a mistake and that any redevelopment of the site should be on a far more sympathetic scale taking account of the location’s natural and unique purpose as a transport interchange and its opportunities for attracting business.
The fact that the current economic climate means that the current application is unlikely to proceed in the near future, gives the Committee an opportunity to rethink its strategy and invite a wider set of proposals from both Network Rail and other developers to develop the site in a manner of which we can all be proud.
Although these are the main reasons for our objection, there are other aspects of the proposal which we believe also merit mention in the Committee’s decision. These include:
Parking: this is probably the second most cited reason for objection amongst protestors. Metro’s proposals are contradictory and rely upon flawed assumptions. Full details are provided in our Submission and are in no way answered by the Chief Planning Officer’s report.
Retail Impact: contrary to the developers’ assertion that the town centre is declining, the opposite is manifestly the case. In spite of the current recession, new outlets are opening and pressure on businesses in Northcote Road may well be eased as rents reduce in line with economic factors. No consideration appears to have been given to commissioning an independent retail analysis in light of the changed economic circumstances.
Lack of Office Space: An assumption appears to have been formed that Clapham Junction is an undesirable location for offices to locate. We consider this to be a flawed assumption based on current office provision in the area. Again, full details of our reasoning appear in our Submission.
Wind Tunnelling: Of the 60 locations measured, only four are on station platforms (all on Platform 16). Two of these locations are considered to suffer from unacceptable wind tunnelling in winter, with one of them being unacceptable all year round. Contrary to the developers’ assertion that these are not locations in which people are expected to stand and wait, the opposite is obviously true. Short of proposing full cover for all platforms (to which Network Rail would undoubtedly object) it is difficult to see what amelioration could be proposed to deal with this.
Disruption and Planning Blight: the scale of the proposed development ensures a minimum of three years’ severe disruption to the community, and if the plans do not go ahead immediately this will only prolong the agony. Proposals such as the Council’s exemplar scheme and the opening of a third station access at Brighton Yard would undoubtedly be delayed by these plans.
For all of the above reasons, we would urge you to reject Metro’s proposal on grounds far wider than those currently proposed by the Chief Planning Officer. The opportunity exists for the Planning Committee to send a clear message based on the views of many hundreds of local residents. Any failure to do so will result in years of continued wrangling over the type of scheme which might be considered acceptable and the ways in which the community’s interests might best be served.
Kate Williams and Cyril Richert
On behalf of the Clapham Junction Action Group
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