Ram Brewery Inquiry is over: what next?

December 5, 2009 at 2:02 pm 3 comments

Author: Shirley Passmore

The Public Inquiry is over. To be honest, much of the time was taken up by anything but the public’s views on the proposed re-development of the sites.

The Wandsworth Society was given a fair hearing of its case against, but the rest of the local public was relegated to one day out of the 20 days of actual inquiry time.

All individuals spoke, and listed, very good reasons for asking the Inspectors to recommend refusal to the Secretary of State. Some, I think, said things that the SofS will have to consider seriously, included amongst these was Cyril Richert’s paper for the Clapham Junction Action Group.

Lined up against the public’s amateurs were three QC’s. The most formidable was Russell Harris for Minerva, who has won numerous similar Inquiries. The Wandsworth Society did not go on the final day to hear his summing up. To listen to his, no doubt competent, attempt to destroy the public’s case would have been too depressing.

There were six main issues to be resolved:

1. Did it comply with Governmental, Regional, and Local Planning Policies for the area?

2. Was it acceptable not to provide an adequate number of affordable homes or a mixed community (by having a majority of one-bedroom flats, no family homes, and the affordable homes on one site only)? Did the development conform to good design and standards for housing ?

3. Could the transport system cope?

4. Did the proposals contravene all the Planning Policies that seek to protect the historic environment and, in this case, the many listed buildings on the site and surrounding it? Would it have an adverse effect on the setting and character of the Wandsworth Town Conservation Area?

5. Was it unsafe to put a glass tower of people next to a gasholder of potentially explosive methane gas?

6. Was it acceptable to approve a possibly unacceptable (in planning terms) development because it might provide enough funds to remove Wandsworth’s gyratory road system?

When will we hear the decision and what will it be?

Neither question is answerable but we can at least hazard a guess. The first is the simpler. It is unlikely that it will take less than three months, probably considerably longer because of the complexities of some of the issues.

The second…..who knows?

All the Planning Policies relating to Issues 1, and 4, are open to interpretation. The Wandsworth Society and individuals put forward telling evidence of the environmental damage that will be done but it’s largely a matter of opinion…. The inspectors, the public’s, Minerva’s.

Issue 3 was won by the public. As things stand it is obvious that the public transport system cannot take yet more development in the area. But, of course that depends on the outcome of Issue 6.

Issue 6 will probably decide the result of Issue 2 also. Ironically, Issue 6 is not part of the planning application but an add-on to make it acceptable. The most telling admissions from witnesses for both WBC and the GLA was that without the road proposals they would not have recommended approval.

The most complicated and time-consuming issue of the whole Inquiry was Issue 5, the case against put by the Health & Safety Executive. It is accepted that the likelihood of the gasholder exploding in a fireball is not great, but the trouble with anything that might happen once in a thousand years is that you never can tell when the ‘once’ will happen. Debate revolved around how serious the results of an explosion would be.

If the HSE have won their case the proposals will be refused planning permission . If the Inspectors feel strongly that the development is unacceptable for other reasons, they have enough Planning Policy ammunition to shoot the proposals down. On the other hand, the benefit of any doubt has to go to the developer because the local planning authority (WBC) and the GLA / Mayor of London have (to their shame) already approved these proposals. Proposals that will alter the character of Wandsworth, both the town and the borough, for ever.

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Entry filed under: Ram Brewery.

Ram Brewery inquiry: report on week 5 Proposal for the replacement of Peabody Estate at the Junction

3 Comments

  • 1. David Rosemont  |  December 7, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Whilst the public have had their opportunity to have their say one has to put this application into the context of the history of planning and regeneration in Wandsworth Town Centre for the last 20 years or so. As usual it’s that dedicated small band of objectors who speak, and unfortunately the less politically motivated remain silent, too concerned with their precarious daily lives.

    One accepts that there are always shades of opinion but the general direction of planning policy has always envisaged major changes to the transport system in the area and a major redevelopment of Youngs.

    When the planning application came up the scheme was fully consulted and all local and other organisations and individuals had their opportunity to make comment. Those comments were considered by the planning sub committee who made their decision. That was a local democratic decision.

    The matter was then referred to the Secretary of State by the request of a local MP sitting on a wafer thin majority. At the inquiry many of those opposing the scheme who spoke did so from a platform of clear and well documented political bias seeking to exercise influence in what is likely to be the final days of the current national administration.

    During the last few years it’s interesting to note that many of those commenting only spoke when it suited their political views or position, and that their involvement or indeed attendance in the previous discussions or local groups was at best very thin, if any.

    Whatever the basis of people’s views of schemes it’s a great shame that projects of major local, even national, importance get delayed or even abandoned after many people put decades of effort in trying to get schemes off the ground. The cost is not just to those arch villains “The Developers” (our pension funds?), but to local taxpayers and the many disadvantaged who could benefit from employement, new accommodatioon, better transport, safer streets, etc, etc.

    We’ll have to wait to see what the inspector says. Even if refused my guess is that there will be very clear guidelines on what would be acceptable, and that is likely to revolve around the height of the tallest buildings.

    Maybe, just maybe, central Wandsworth will eventually have a better town centre in around 10 or 20 years. Many of those who have expounded acres of print on the subject will no longer be around to enjoy a new Wandle Walk. No wonder life in the inner cities seems to be deteriorating,

  • 2. Dale Ingram  |  December 9, 2009 at 11:13 am

    John Stuart Mill, in his inaugural address to the students of St Andrews University on March 1st 1867 said:

    “bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing”.

    I’m not suggesting for a moment that the protagonists in this 5 week planning circus are ‘bad men’ in themselves, only that the scheme is poorly devised and inconsiderate.

    In my contribution, I made the point that I thought that the team behind the scheme truly believed that they had come up with an appropriate scheme. I believe that the Council considers the scheme to be in the greater and wider interests of the Borough, even though it will undoubtedly damage heritage assets including the stables building and the settings of the other listed buildings and the conservation area as a whole.

    But the Public Inquiry IS the right place for a rational and proportionate debate about the relative merits of various aspects of the proposals to be thrashed out- that’s what it’s for.

    Early in the proceedings the point was made that this PI was to consider only this scheme, and was not formed to make judgements about the merits or otherwise of unrelated developments. The historic environment cannot be considered in bite sized pieces. It has a wider connection with the whole of our heritage, in this case the national and international renown of Britain’s brewing history.

    What happens here will set a precedent for similar developments of many kinds, whether it involves heritage assets or not. Tall buildings? For sure. Developments near gasholders: yes. High density development in town centres with less-than-ideal transport links? Certainly. I don;t think I have envied anyone the job they have to do than the two inspectors who are required to pick the bones out of 20 days of evidence and thousands of pages of technical reports.

    My contribution identified two significant brewery building complexes which have also been subject to Planning Inquiries- McMullen’s at Hertford and Mitchell’s in Lancaster- and where the results are not yet known. I predict another at Horndean in Hampshire where the redundant Gales Brewery, which closed at the same time as the Ram Brewery, has been sold subject to planning consent for a major redevelopment proposal. It too comprises buildings making a positive contribution to a Conservation Area and is surrounded by historic and significant urban development.

    My province is the niche occupied by the site’s heritage values. I hear and understand the economic arguments. No-one can argue effectively against an opposing philosophical or other opinion without understanding the proposers’ positions. But there must be proper consideration given to our historic environment. There are provisions for this in the planning system, and in fact in practically every piece of guidance and legislation that was dragged into the PI made some reference to it. But the scheme as it stands does not respect the buildings and makes a mockery of the setting of the stables.

    No-one, least of all me, expects that the damage to some of the Borough’s finest buildings and their settings will be the principal consideration when the dust settles and the Inspectors sit down with their acres of paper and hundreds of pages of notes. But it is an important element, and taken together with the many other issues, I hope that it will be given proper weight to help to tip the scales in our favour.

    Finally, the Wandsworth Society deserve a rousing cheer, never mind a round of applause, for the work they put in and their dedication under fire.

    Dale Ingram

    PS Mr Rosemont: I too believe in learning from the successes of the past: there are several brewery and other industrial and institutional rejuvenation schemes worthy of EPR’s perusal which, i used as appropriate models, would not inflict the kind of damage this one could. These might well provide ‘the very best for the future’ of this site.
    Finally, I don’t know how much of the Inquiry you attended, but I know several members of the public sitting around me were discouraged from contributing after watching counsel for the applicant make mincemeat of several witnesses and feared he might do the same to them. You have to be really sure of your ground, ready to defend your corner and believe that what you have to say is worth saying before approaching the witness table. Not everyone has that conviction.

  • 3. David Rosemont  |  December 9, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    One of the points that I was trying to make is that several of the objectors, including the local Labour MP and the leader of the Labour Group had the opportunity going back very nearly twenty years to involve themselves in the process of regeneration (including planning policy and applications) in the area but chose not to make regular or meaningful contributions. In some cases even their attendance at committees of which they were supposedly members was negligible. Had they or some of the other recent objectors (some very recent on the coat tails of the Clapham Junction scheme) had taken part in the processes then their views could have had more impact much earlier on. Much wasted time and effort could have been avoided and the money spent on other things. If the appeal is won the financial viability of the project is basically reduced by the cost of the additional work and interest and possible Section 106 Agreement payments reduced prorata too. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

    What happened is that the actual planning application on Youngs although large raised relatively little comment at the time, and was approved by the democratically elected planning committee. It was then called in following the intervention of the others to whom I have already referred.

    Really, really local residents (ie residents of Wandsworth town centre) have always been rather reluctant to get involved, and it has usually been the probably more prosperous and articulate members of amenity groups and politicians who have axes to grind. Maybe we should ask the question- are the protracted machinations, for and against, really in the best interests of those less well off or fortunate in society?

    I did not attend the Inquiry as I don’t live in London anymore, although I lived and worked there for about 40 years, and, as many people know, I was involved in quite a few local organisations. I’m still involve professionally in the Borough and have interests and family and friends there.

    I’m not surprised that objectors at the inquiry were given a hard time. Planning has become a very adversarial process. Applicants and their agents also have to deal with oranised objectors and on occasions character assasination, verbal insults and abuse which they are expected to take without the ability to respond. At an Inquiry an appellant who has spent millions of pounds on making the planning application, buying the site etc, is obviously going to use his best endeavours to get final consent.


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