Clapham Junction twin towers planning application withdrawn

May 18, 2009 at 5:16 pm 29 comments

Author: Cyril Richert

It is now confirmed that the Clapham Junction planning application has been formally withdrawn by the developers (Metro Shopping Fund).

Cllr James Cousins thinks on his blog that “with the developer’s withdrawal the application will not be considered by the committee“. However I hope that there will be discussion about the matter as it has created an unprecedented level of objection for an application apparently encouraged by the Council a few years ago.

Councillor Leslie McDonnell, chairman of the Planning Applications Committee confirmed the news and added that the  item has now been withdrawn from the agenda. In their statement the company (MSF) said:

The Fund has worked hard with your Council and other consultees to put forward a comprehensive scheme which addressed fully the key objectives of your Council.

We are deeply disappointed therefore that the report to the Committee was not able to give the proposal its backing.

Without it the Fund will not be pursuing these applications, as it strives to work in concord with the local authorities in whose boroughs it invests.

Paul Cahalan, from the Wandsworth Guardian quoted MSF saying:

We have invested significant resources to date, however in the absence of the council’s support at the last moment we have been forced to withdraw our application.

We believe a project of this scale would have helped to stimulate the wider London economy while providing lasting benefits for all local stakeholders including job creation and improved infrastructure.

Metro will now review its position and consider what its future options might be.

As I said to the journalist, it is good news the site has been rejected. However I don’t know yet whether we have to celebrate. There are still several questions to be answered, and incertainty:

  • What is stopping developers coming back in six months with another development? They could resubmit later, just tackling the issues on which the officers recommended against…
  • Have Metro decided they stand more of a chance when there is not so much political pressure on conservative councillors to be seen to be doing the popular thing? After next year’s general and council elections perhaps?
  • Is it a trick to avoid a debate on tall building which would have certainly aroused on Wednesday on tall building policy, and avoid the chance of setting a precedent?

All in all, in either the Planning Officer’s report and in MSF’s letter, we learn the same thing. Whilst we appreciate that the Planning Committee is expected to be a neutral arbiter, it is quite clear that the planning department itself has been most encouraging of this type of proposal. This is admitted at page 46 of Mark Hunter’s report where he makes clear that metro initially proposed only to develop the Stop Shop but that the Council asked them to go back and consider a ‘holistic approach’ to include station refurbishment. It is also clear that several different designs for the flats (monolithic block, three towers and then two towers) were consulted on and agreed with planning officers.

On the other hand, while it appears that everyone wants improvements to Clapham Junction station, 1,000-plus local residents have made the effort to tell the Council their objections (by letter or signed petitions) against the scheme including the 42-storey towers.

It would be a shame to let the debate die on this issue when so much interest has been generated. It is now the task of the Council to answer their concern and make sure that we do not face a similar case (with a modicum of affordable housing provided) in 2 months, 6 months, 1 year or more. It is  clear that the planning department have been encouraged by Council policy to seek out such schemes. Is there any way that the Council meeting on Wednesday can be used to move a motion that the Council reconsider its strategy on tall buildings for the site/the borough?

Last but not least, the Council should join Martin Linton in his call upon Network Rail to do something about the overcrowding of the station and platforms and pursue a land acquisition policy to perform the platform straightening works? According to the article, the MP for Battersea said:

I will be writing to the Office of the Rail Regulator to ask him to take another look at the capital programme for improvements to Clapham Junction station now that we know that the Delancey development is not going ahead.

Be certain, we will be looking forward to the response!

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Entry filed under: Twin towers in Clapham Junction.

Open letter to the members of the Planning Committee Thank You

29 Comments

  • 1. Ticka Levonen-Coldwell  |  May 19, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Thank you for all your work Cyril . However, I do believe at in no time at all there will be a revised application from MFS and we’ll start all over again.

  • 2. Barbara Richards  |  May 19, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Congratulations Cyril!! It is very much a testament to your hard work that our opinions reached the right people at the right time. Am happy to have done my little bit in sending a few hard-worded letters here and there – and distributing leaflets. At a time when government ministers are losing the trust of the people who have elected them, I hope that Wandsworth Council looks to get its act together and holds some proper consultations about further plans. It is ridiculous that those responsible for planning should have let something like this get as far as it did – a waste of their resources and of our money! The pressure must be kept on!

  • 3. Julia Matcham  |  May 19, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Cyril, out of curiosity, where does that leave Network Rail? I seem to remember that they have legal obligations to make platforms accessible by lift (or escalator) from the bridge, by the end of the year? If the towers application hadn’t been withdrawn this could have been excused temporarily while building work went on, and delayed …for years even. Now, they have no excuse for not getting on with it…or am I mistaken?

  • 4. Cyril Richert  |  May 19, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    The Government plan Access for All is putting in place lifts on the platforms. In addition they will reopen Brighton Yard with a small ticket office.
    Cost: £8-9 millions
    Date: end of 2009

    Network Rail has budgeted 1,000,000 for miscellaneous work in the station (maybe painting, lights, improving access…etc). In addition they have budgeted 20 millions for all platform lengthening and straightening. Mind that for straightening platform 17 they will need to acquire a piece of land apparently that MSF wanted to give them for free. I don’t think it has been budgeted.
    Total cost: £20-22 millions
    Date: ?

  • 5. Julia Barron  |  May 19, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Many thanks for your hard work and for keeping us all informed. Let us hope that good sense will prevail and that Network Rail, Wandsworth Council, Transport for London and Central Government will work together to create a better station at Clapham Junction without the unwelcome intervention of unelected developers.

  • 6. Zac  |  May 20, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Congratulations, this is fantastic news.

  • 7. Rebecca Walton  |  May 20, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Thank you Cyril for all your hard work.

  • 8. Martin Williams  |  May 20, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Dear Cyril

    Congratulations and thanks for getting this development application withdrawn. As you say, we are not safe yet. This application has revealed that the Council does not have a clear plan as to how Clapham Junction and surroundings should be developed. I hope we can now press the Council to move swiftly to produce an overall development plan and in particular to set out clear plans for the bus / rail interchange that this important transport hub deserves and desperatly needs.

  • 9. Nicky Green  |  May 20, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Dear Cyril, thank you so much for all your hard work, passion and determination in fighting these capitalists. I have no doubt the developers will be back with a revised proposal but we all just have to keep focused on our mission which is to preserve our local neighbourhood and skyline for future generations to come!!

  • 10. Julia Matcham  |  May 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    As a lot of people must know, albeit, probably vaguely…. the Council have a Core Strategy Document (DPD) within which all proposed ‘rules’ and ‘intentions’ are expressed and eventually ratified by the government. Within the current document are numerous references to suitable locations for tall buildings …pretty wlll all town centres are up for it!
    An EXAMINATION of this document is very shortly to take place. The Secretary of State as appointed Linda White of the Planning Inspectorate to conduct the examination which will open on Tuesday 14th July 09.
    Prior to that a Pre-examination meeting will be held on Wednesday 27th of May (East Hill Baptist Church starting at 2am) which once again may be cancelled. You can’t speak unless invited to.
    There is an agenda which is almost incomprehensible to me, but what is clear is this is the moment that the Council gets the Government’s blessing over their proposed ‘strategy’.
    The ‘Programme Officer’ Vijaya. P.Ram has a phone number 0208 359 5627 for more information.
    It is unclear to me in what way ordinary mortals can have an imput!

    Below is the link to page that will take you to the Core Strategy Document.

    http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/Home/EnvironmentandTransport/PlanningService/DevelopmentPlan/ldf.htm

  • 11. Julia Matcham  |  May 20, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Obviously, I hope, I meant ‘starting at 2 PM’

  • 12. James Marsh  |  May 20, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Very good work Mr.Richert. I’m afraid Wandsworth Council would appear to have a policy of, ‘build it as high as you can get away with’, which is I think all about keeping the Council Tax as low as possible; more residents more tax receipts. Although nobody likes paying more tax than necessary, you get what you pay for. We need to guard against those people who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. This will be an ongoing fight to preserve our local neighbourhoods & a civilised environment to live in, against commercial interests & political bureacratic ignorance.

  • 13. Cyril Richert  |  May 20, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Julia> Thanks, I will have to update our Agenda page with all those details.

    James> As I said in another response, you must have noted that it is clear from the Planning Officer report that the developers were encouraged to go high by the Council Officers, applying the Council’s core strategy.

    I questioned the leader of the Council back in January and he replied:
    “Tall buildings […] can, if well designed, create attractive landmarks underlining aspects of the borough’s character and act as a catalyst for regeneration, providing they are located in appropriate locations and acceptable in terms of design and impact on their surroundings. […] In my view, the Planning Applications Committee and the Council has been entirely consistent in its interpretation of the tall buildings policy: a policy which, I consider, is robust and allows the promotion of appropriate development.“
    You can read the exchange here:
    https://towerscj.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/we-need-a-global-policy-for-tall-buildings-in-wandsworth/

    This is why, if we want to preserve our current environment, we need to ask the Council to review their policy. As long as it stays as it is, town planners will always welcome skyscrapers in town centres, following Council’s guidelines.

  • 14. Will  |  May 20, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I’ve also been concerned that the Core Strategy Document with its clear desire to have very tall buildings everywhere fails to take into account wandsworth residents views. Perhaps its something we should be mentioning to our councillors?

    On another note I dont think we should reject revised applications out of hand – there cant be any doubt that the station and its surroundings can be vastly improved – its just that we want a proposal that meets the needs and desires of the local residents…

  • 15. architecturerosemont  |  May 21, 2009 at 7:59 am

    The commentators on this website consistently miss the point that the core strategy document was adopted by elected members of the council after extensive public consultation with members of the public, including local groups.

    Incidentally the document does not have “a clear desire to have tall buildings everywhere”. Each application is considered on its merits and against a raft of constraints, one of which is a tall buildings policy.

    It’s become progessively more expensive and difficult to obtain planning consent anywhere and there is very high risk for developers. Large profits so often railed about by objectors are very unusual. In the past many local council areas have missed out on regeneration or investment because they rightly developed a reputation for being difficult to deal with, in terms of poor administration or unrealistic political ambition.

    If there is an agreed policy to regenerate an area it’s important to have partners who have sufficient resources and confidence in an area to propose projects, as these often take even decades to complete.

    There is already an established Clapham Junction Town Centre Partnership which was designed to provide a forum for the propagation of regeneration as well as general management.

    Will has it right. Revised applications (if forthcoming and one should not assume that in today’s economic climate) should not be rejected out of hand but subjected to open debate and review.

    It would be a shame if say twenty years from now Clapham Junction is not a better place than it is now. You do not achieve improvements other than by working together.
    At the end of the day there will be no scheme to improve Clapham Junction Station unless the right mix of enterprise and environment are found.

  • 16. Cyril Richert  |  May 21, 2009 at 10:22 am

    architecturerosemont> +1000 people objecting to the scheme… they all missed the point too. However should that be ignored? (or maybe the consultation extends only to the Clapham Junction Town Centre Partnership).
    However I agree fully with your conclusion… that is working TOGETHER, with the environment, which will provide solutions.

  • 17. Julia Matcham  |  May 21, 2009 at 11:52 am

    ‘after extensive public consultation with members of the public, including local groups’.

    I have recently been invited to the only Planning Forum there has been for over a year, ‘Taller’ buildings were discussed. I was invited because I ‘run’ our local Residents Association…I suppose there were about 25/30 people present. No-one wanted tower-blocks…lets call them by the right name! When asked, WHEN asked, people say they don’t want them and those living in them say they hate it. There has been nothing that can be described as ‘after extensive public consultation’.

    However, apart from the obvious lack of public consultation, which could have prevented the developers investing so much confidence iin their plans, obviously they…or others will be back. TIt is true that the whole of that area could be better designed and no doubt in doing that, it would represent a profit for developers, which I have nothing against.
    What I would like to see is TRUE consultation with those interested. We should be able to discuss what we would like to see at Clapham Junction. The developers should be able to confer with us, maybe showing outlines of different designs.
    Even designs by DIFFERENT architects.

    Theoretically, that is what the Council should be doing…but the Council has its own objectives (housing targets…low Council Tax) shadowing and prejudicing the outcome and refers to the rules it has made up for itself, to fulfill these objectives.

    These dodgy rules unfortunately are likely to be endorsed very soon by the Government because they too are concerned to pass on the bill to the developers who will do all sorts of extra local work under Section106 ….except they want tower blocks in order to pay for it.

    Ordinary people are just a nuisance when we insist that we don’t want to live with it! BUT we could tell them what we DO want. If they will let us.

  • 18. Kate Williams  |  May 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    To borrow from “Princess Bride” – these words ‘extensive public consultation’ – I do not think they mean what you think they mean!

    I have lived no more thasn 200 m from Clapham Jucntion Station for 10 years and have never:

    – been consulted on the Council’s Core Strategy,
    -Received a copy fo the Core Startefgy,

    Julia, thanks so much for the information about next Wednesday’s meeting. It will be tricky, but I will try my best to take an afternoon off to be there.

  • 19. architecturerosemont  |  May 21, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    The policy that the Council adopted, after extensive public consultation, included the possibilty of taller buildings, subject always to many other considerations too. Those consultations included public meetings which happen on a regular basis and are advertised. The process was and is entirely open. The possibility of tall buildings remains an option.

    Objectors often like to suggest that different schemes are considered, and that perhaps different architects are as well. While I have no remit or connection at all with the Clapham Junction scheme or its architects I expect that the architects responded to a brief based on discussions held with the client, consultees and the local authority.

    There is nothing to stop local residents appointing architects to prepare an alternative scheme. It’s a difficult project, bearing in mind all the various potentially conflicting requirements and a properly thought out scheme would require a great deal of time and expense.

    To say as Julia Matcham does that the council makes up the rules for itself is very far short of reality. National, Regional and London strategies all come in to play, as well as the Borough’s. The amount of public consultation at each level is huge.

    As is known the recommendation given to the committee was to refuse the application. Surely that is evidence of the democratic process.

    We shall see if the applicants have enough faith to continue; if they don’t the apparently awaited regeneration of the town centre will have to wait longer.

  • 20. Cyril Richert  |  May 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    architecturerosemont> As one says: “There’s none so blind as those who will not see.”

  • 21. Julia Matcham  |  May 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Yes, I do realise that the Core Strategy Document is partially hidebound by the London Plan and some other considerations, I exaggerated to make a point. But the Council don’t HAVE TO endorse tall buildings.As far as I know. I think it is something they are happy with for reasons already stated.

    When I had to fight an ugly development opposite my house, it wasn’t until the developers went to Appeal and we were sitting at the table with them and the Sec State Rep, that I saw the ‘opposition’ were quoting from something. I had been in constant contact with the Council and NO-ONE bothered to tell me that a book of rules (Core Doc) existed. Amunition I might have used. Naieve of me no doubt …I was shocked, and felt pretty stupid. Fortunately the sec of state weeks later decided in our favour. And I must say, I was very impressed with the way he conducted the debate. There was no way you could tell whose side he was on and he visited the area and viewed it very carefully from all angles. But I am rambling. Sorry.
    But just making it clear that the general public cannot know something exists unless they are told about it. Section 106 too has been a jaw-dropping revelation to me. I wouldn’t have thought it even legal for developers to barter tower blocks for road works etc. No wonder the Council pass so many ugly oversized buildings.

  • 22. architecturerosemont  |  May 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Qui s’excuse s’accuse

  • 24. Julia Matcham  |  May 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Of what exactly?
    Are you saying the Council’s Core Document is not in any way determined by the Council? That they don’t make ANY of the rules? Like allowing tower-blocks in prescribed areas?
    Why otherwise would there be an EXAMINATION (even a pre Examination meeting) to look into the provisions of the Doc?
    Although I daresay it is a waste of time as it seems to me that the Government and the Council want the same things…not to have to pay!

  • 25. architecturerosemont  |  May 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I think you have made fair points Julia but as you say the system worked for you.

    You also have to accept that applicants and their professional teams have to start somewhere and that is why an awful lot of people are paid an awful lot of money to come up with policy documents. The mere submission of a planning application is a hugely expensive process and is of course a cost to the development. Developers and particularly architects can’t afford to and don’t want to waste money and time.

    I am sorry that you claim not to have been aware of the consultative process. In my experience of Wandsworth, which goes back to the late 1960s, I have found them to be one of the better councils and that is reflected in polls. You are obviously a great internet user; it’s easy to get yourself onto automatic updates. Before that we had to read the local paper (which you can still do) and get out talking to people. Unfortunately modern city life does not encourage daily neighbour to neighbour contact.

    After discussion and review many policy documents are deliberately unprescriptive and the democratic process in the UK has decided it prefers that rather than a totally formulaic system which you see in other countries and results very often in a rather unpleasant homogeneous environment. The particular attractiveness of English cities and towns has often been achieved by variety and vitality, on a rather anarchic basis, and is unrelated to planning control which came in later.

    You could argue for instance that you want the French system where a highly centralist govenment dictates planning policies and local councils and wishes count for less and less.

    Clapham Junction itself happened without hugely restrictive planning laws, and following huge investment in railways, and it was German bombs that did more destruction than any developers. I fully concede that what then happened in the area of Falcon Road and the station in the 70s and 80s was not as good as can be achieved and I think that is what people are trying to do remedy now. It has for example that Clapham Junction needs a town centre fit for the 21st century.

    Society has decided that development will be taxed and that’s by way of Section 106 agreements. They have been in many cases manipulated for political ends and for funding the political aspirations of councils. Many projects are currently in crisis as they are financially unviable due to Section 106 agreements entered into when the economy was brighter which is resulting in the abandonment of projects (meaning uncompleted affordable and other housing) and bankruptcies.

    Personally I believe that the whole process has become too cumbersome and at a large cost which is difficult to sustain. That is why, when regeneration is needed (by common consent) and there are willing investors they need to be offered reasonable encouragement.

  • 26. architecturerosemont  |  May 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    One final word today Julia and that is yes Government and Councils have decided that developers will always pay. The only other alternative is taxation of the general population and that is something that practically every politician in the UK will run a mile from.

  • 27. Julia Matcham  |  May 23, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Just been informed that…
    Re- the Core Strategy Doc ‘ pre Examination’ meeting…the 27th May one has been cancelled.
    Recent info. is that an ‘Exploratory Meeting’ will take place on Tuesday 16 th June at 10am in room 123 at the Town Hall.
    You can attend but not participate.

  • 28. Cyril Richert  |  May 24, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Julia> Thanks, I have now updated the Agenda:
    https://towerscj.wordpress.com/agenda/

  • 29. James Marsh  |  July 27, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Congratulations & thank you for all the hard work. We ALL need to now follow through.


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