Posts filed under ‘New Hotel Falcon Road’

Leaflet – No to tower-block hotel

Author: Cyril Richert

We have published a leaflet that we distributed mainly to residents of Mossbury Road 2 weeks ago (mainly to people I – and my neighbour – were able to speak to actually – no time to do more rounds unfortunately 😦 ).

For information, you can view it here.

… more update to follow soon today!

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June 22, 2009 at 12:14 pm

The Mayor considers that the application does not preserve the area, nor comply with the London Plan

[From Cyril Richert: We publish below the comment sent by the Mayor of London’s office regarding the planning application for a Hotel in Clapham Junction (full letter here). I highlighted in bold some parts.

You will appreciate that, beside criticism on the application and its impact on the area, they request better images, and photo-montages. As a matter of fact, I should invite the Mayor to refer to the photos and montages we published earlier. Whilst some mocked their need and reported them as “pastiches”, they seem to be requested.]

Author: Giles Dolphin, Head of Planning Decisions, Mayor’s office

Dear Mr Landsberg

I refer to the copy of the above planning application, which was received from you on 6 April 2009. On 10 June 2009, the Deputy Mayor Policy and Planning, acting under delegated authority, considered a report on this proposal, reference PDU/2Ö02/0l. A copy of the report is attached, in full. This letter comprises the statement that the Mayor is required to provide under Article 4(2) of the Order.

The Deputy Mayor considers that the application does not comply with the London Plan, for the reasons set out in paragraph 48 [1] of the above-mentioned report; but that the possible remedies set out in paragraph 50 [2] of this report could address these deficiencies.

Additionally, notwithstanding some contents within the report, the Deputy Mayor considered the perspective images provided as inadequate to convince him that the proposal would preserve and enhance the character of the conservation area and preserve the settings of nearby listed buildings, notably the Arding and Hobbs building.photomontages should be provided of the building to better illustrate how it would sit within the townscape context. The Deputy Mayor also requests the submission of further details on the proposed facing materials of the tower element so that he is convinced that they would be of the highest quality. In this regard drawing EL/OS should be amended to show these proposed materials in place. A detailed justification of the chosen materials is also required to demonstrate how they will preserve and enhance the conservation area. Therefore, high quality and detailed Computer Generated Images (CGls) and

If your Council subsequently resolves to make a draft decision on the application, it must consult the Mayor again under Article 5 of the Order and allow him fourteen days to decide whether to allow the draft decision to proceed unchanged, or direct the Council under Article 6 to refuse the application, or issue a direction under Article 7 that he is to act as the local planning authority for the purpose of determining the application and any connected application. You should therefore send me a copy of any representations made in respect of the application, and a copy of any officer’s report, together with a statement of the decision your authority proposes to make, and (if it proposed to grant permission) a statement of any conditions the authority proposes to impose and a draft of any planning obligation it proposes to enter into and details of any proposed planning contribution.

Yoúrs sincerely

Giles Dolphin
Head of Planning Decisions


[1] paragraph 48: “London Plan policies on hotel development, town centres, mixed-use development, urban design, inclusive design, climate change mitigation and adaptation and transport are all relevant to this application. The application complies with some of these policies but not with others, for the following reasons:

  1. Land use principle: The proposed mixed-use development to include retail/restaurant uses at ground floor with hotel above within Clapham Junction Town Centre are acceptable and in accordance with London Plan policies 2A.8, 30.1, 3D.2 and 3D.7
  2. Urban design: The proposal for a tall building on this highly accessible town centre site, which could create a landmark building and act as a catalyst for urban regeneration, is compliant with London Plan policies 4B.1, 4B.2, 4B.8, 4B.9, 4B.1 0 and 4B.13. However, the hotel entrance ground floor elevation requires further design alterations.
  3. Inclusive design: The application fails to include any wheelchair accessible bedrooms contrary to London Plan policies 30.6 and 4B.S.
  4. Climate change mitigation and adaptation: The climate change mitigation proposals do not comply with the climate policies of the London Plan, particularly 4AJ, 4A.4, 4A.S, 4A.6 and 4A.7 for reasons set out paragraphs 25-31 above. No information has been provided on climate change adaptation contrary to policies 4A.10 – 4A.16 and the Mayor’s Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) ‘Sustainable Design and Construction’.
  5. Transport: TfL requires further information before this application could be supported. In particular, the coach parking proposal and travel plan should be revised. Further information about cycle parking is needed, along with swept paths for Mossbury Road and the developer’s commitment to developing servicing management and construction logistics plans. Finally, a contribution of £60,000 is requested towards bus accessibility improvements on Falcon Road and an additional contribution is requested towards the Clapham Junction Town Centre Exemplar Scheme. The application is contrary London Plan policies 3C.2, 3C.22, 3C.23 and 3C.2S.”

[2] paragraph 50: The following changes might, however, remedy the above-mentioned deficiencies, and could possibly lead to the application becoming compliant with the London Plan:

  1. Urban design: Further cross sections and elevations should be provided of the hotel entrance ground floor elevation to demonstrate how hotel patrons/employees, refuse servicing, and cyclists would comfortably enter and exit the building, taking into account the gradient 0n Mossbury Road. The design of the ground floor elevation should be revisited to relate better to the first and second floor elevations above.
  2. Inclusive design: The application should include at least seven (5%) fully wheelchair accessible bedrooms which should be clearly shown on the floor plans and referenced to in the access statement. A typical floor plan layout of an accessible room should also be provided.
  3. Climate change mitigation and adaptation: The applicant is requested to submit an amended energy statement with reference to the detailed information required, and a sustainability statement should also be submitted referencing the Mayor’s essential and preferred standards as set out in the ‘Sustainable Design and Construction’ sPG.
  4. Transport: The coach parking proposal and travel plan should be revised. Further information about cycle parking is needed, along with swept paths for Mossbury Road and the developer’s commitment to developing servicing management and construction logistics plans. Finally, a contribution of £60,000 is requested towards bus accessibility improvements on Falcon Road and an additional contribution is requested towards the Clapham Junction Town Centre Exemplar Scheme.”

Criticisms in paragraph 48 are developed along the report in different parts:

paragraph 21: “It is not clear whether the ground floor elevation will achieve a practical and legible street level entrance to the hotel. The elevation appears unwelcoming and unresolved. Further cross sections and elevations should be provided for this part of the building to demonstrate how hotel patrons/employees, refuse servicing, and cyclists would comfortably enter and exit the building, taking into account the gradient on MossburyRoad“.

paragraph 29: “The submitted energy statement preferred option of installing electric panel heaters for supplying the heating requirements of the hotel. This option is unacceptable as it prohibits the entire hotel heating requirements from being supplied by an external heat network.”

paragraph 31: “The lack of a cooling strategy is contrary to strategic policy 4A.6.”

paragraph 32: “the applicant proposes to include either ground source heat
pumps or biomass boilers […] The renewable energy proposals are contrary to
strategic policy 4A.7.”

paragraph 37: “A strategy for coach parking should be developed as part of this application. TfL suggests that the proposed loading bay on Mossbury Road could be a shared loading and coach bay, although swept paths would be required to show that this is feasible.

paragraph 39: “concerns about the proposed delivery and servicing of the development, in that the proposed loading facilities appear unfeasible due to the narrow width of Mossbury Road and could result in damage to parked cars or require servicing vehicles to reverse onto Falcon Road.”

paragraph 42: “The submitted travel plan is not considered acceptable and should be tailored to the site and the London context.”

paragraph 43&44: “TfL therefore requests the developer to make a contribution of £60,000 towards the bus accessibility improvements. […] contribution towards Wandsworth Council’s proposed Clapham Junction Town Centre Exemplar Scheme is also requested.” (the famous section 106)

June 11, 2009 at 2:13 pm 3 comments

Meeting Report – Hotel Developer Tim Glass from Redwood Property & Trading Company Ltd

Authors: Kate Williams, Cyril Richert

Last Monday we met with Tim Glass, Director of Redwood Property and Trading Company Ltd, the company applying for the Hotel planning at 155 Falcon Road. It was a very pleasant and constructive conversation for more than 2 hours and we will try to report below the essence of the discussion.

The property in 155 Falcon Road was acquired in 2000 by Redwood Property. It was originally purchased as a long term investment with a 15 year lease to the government. Unfortunately the government expressed its intention to move the Job Centre and an agreement was reached for them to leave before 2010 (when they were entitled to break the lease anyway). Since then the office space has been rented out to a solicitor and to a Cancer charity (which was offered the space for free according to Tim Glass).

Redwood Property then looked at a way of improving the low rent that they get from letting the property. Options included:

  • Placing the property on the market as a development opportunity in which event a planning permission for a large redevelopment would certainly increase its value; or
  • Developing the property and leasing to a business user, whether a hotel operator, or as offices.

An alternative planning

Tim mentioned that the Council had granted consent to the previous owner for a redevelopment within a similar size building for a restaurant, office space and 3 floors of residential apartments, with the addition of 2 properties with a similar size to the existing Victorian houses at the place of the current car park.

Tim explained that this plan was not favoured for several reasons but primarily because in his view the demand for office space in Clapham Junction was not high enough to justify a speculative development. However, if approached by potential business tenants, he would be prepared to consider such a proposal (that he called Plan B), although the pressure to build high would still be strong given the achievable rental values in the area.

The Council’s encouragement to build tall

The decision to proceed with the hotel scheme was specifically driven by the Council’s recommendation in its Core Strategy document that Clapham Junction was a suitable location for regeneration through the construction of tall buildings (part. 4.132 of the document). A hotel would not be viable in a six storey building so the Council’s Plan made the concept of a hotel possible. Two years had been spent developing the plans during which Redwood had met with the Council planners 3 or 4 times. Although they expressed some concerns, none of these had related to the scale or height of the building, although the Council had remarked that the site was not considered a ‘landmark’ site. The Council has not, to date, made any proposals for a Section 106 agreement.

The GLA, on the other hand, did express concerns about bulk and massing but an agreement was reached by scaling back the development on the car park site and placing a tower on the Falcon Road end, thus creating a separation between the tall building and the adjoining Victorian terrace. The revised proposal is therefore substantially different to that initially envisaged (as well as being less extravagant in its design). New requirements have also related to sustainability which, again, has caused pressure on costs.

Redwood also met twice with English Heritage (as is the practice for tall buildings). English Heritage have recently recommended that the plans should be refused for reasons associated with the height of the tower, and its design – particularly the Eastern façade which faces Mossbury Road.

Before proceeding with the original plan (for a lower building with greater massing), Redwood presented its plans to Clapham Junction Town Centre Partnership. Tim mentioned that their presentation followed directly after that of Metro who were unveiling their plans for the complete redevelopment of the Clapham Junction station site including proposals for two 42 storey towers. Although few comments were made (we wonder whether the members were feeling somewhat bowled over at this stage) those who did comment welcomed the idea of a hotel, he said.

Suggestions on alternative designs and functions

We discussed the Wessex House development where the owners have recently agreed to limit reconstruction to six storeys in keeping with the surrounding buildings. Tim again commented that the difference here was that Wessex House is not being proposed as a hotel, and that although there was scope for cutting down the tower by a couple of stories or so, any more would make a hotel proposal non-viable.

We also considered other ways in which the tower could be scaled back including through greater massing at the rear, perhaps through a stepped down design, or by omitting the conference centre and retail/restaurant development on the ground floor. Both of these solutions were broadly acceptable, however both were being driven by Wandsworth Council who favoured some continuity of use.

Besides the height of the building where we disagree, other interesting points were made in relation to the likely impact of the building on the surrounding roads:

  • Redwood have assessed that no more than 13 deliveries should take place per week and could be provided by middle size vans;
  • Although no proposal had been made for coach parking, it had been recommended by the GLA that a bay should be provided in Mossbury Road;
  • In Redwood’s view, the additional parking and taxi usage should not be bigger than with an office usage given the location’s proximity to the station;
  • Proposals were considered to locate the entrance on Falcon Lane instead of Mossbury Road. However, Redwood do not own the piece of land between the site and Falcon Lane, and the current owner has not expressed a will to sell.

As we expressed, we remain convinced that an alternative proposal could be worked out which would reduce the pressure to build as high as is currently being proposed. In the end, the developers for the Wessex House building found a viable way to develop a 5-6 storey building in a similar compact space. Clearly we recognise that our aims conflict in that Redwood are entitled to pursue a proposal which offers the greatest possible return on their investment, whilst we, the community, are entitled not to have inflicted upon us buildings which impact on the quality of our environment and local amenity.

The Council needs to clarify its policy on tall buildings

In conclusion, the meeting was definitely worth it and we very much welcome this sort of discussion where all parties can express their views. We only regret that it happened so late in the planning process and we have definitely expressed our good will to work together to try to achieve common ground.

First and foremost, however, we will continue to work for the Council’s policy on tall buildings to be clarified so that developers don’t keep spending great amounts of time and money on proposals which prove so unpopular as soon as local people get to hear about them. As Tim Glass said: Redwood wouldn’t have looked at a tower block building if the Council was not encouraging them by providing a policy that supports it. Therefore we urgently need to proceed with our call to review the Core Strategy document to take into account the concerns expressed by the local residents for the future they want to give and the legacy they want to leave in Clapham Junction.


[From Cyril Richert: We received today (11/06/2009) the following response from Tim Glass]

Author: Tim Glass

Dear Kate and Cyril,

I was pleased to meet you both on Monday and was glad of the opportunity to discuss our proposals with you. Although I know that the principle of a tall building remains fundamentally contentious, I do feel that the meeting was constructive and I hope that some positive common ground has been established.

There are just a few points that I should clarify and if I am responsible for any confusion or misunderstanding, I apologise.

1. Your readers might be confused about the applicant, being Oak Trading Company Ltd., and Redwood Property & Trading Company Ltd.- referred to in your report. Perhaps I should explain that Oak Trading Co. Ltd. (i.e. the applicant) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Redwood Property & Trading Co. Ltd.

2. We did, indeed, offer the entire building, rent free, to the cancer charity prior to renting it to a firm of solicitors. The cancer charity has, more recently, decided to rent some of the space directly from the solicitor tenant.

3. You have, quite correctly, reported that we don’t feel that speculative office development is viable and, whilst we could be interested in office redevelopment, if we were approached by a suitable business tenant, this does seem most unlikely and so I think I would be a bit optimistic calling it ‘Plan B’, which perhaps creates the impression that it is a realistic prospect. Furthermore, Clapham Junction would still be without the hotel that we believe it needs.

4. I should correct some confusion between the reported reaction of the GLA and the Council. Whilst the GLA have always been generally supportive of our proposals, it is the Council which has expressed concerns about bulk and massing, as well as height. The point that I was trying to convey is that at the meetings with the Council, over all, these were expressed as ‘concerns’ and we have modified and reduced our scheme several times, from an initially, more ambitious, ‘landmark’ building, to the current, more modest, proposals in a genuine attempt to address these, whilst preserving the viability of our project. We were also made aware, by the Council, of the need to satisfy the other appropriate practical, ‘nuts and bolts,’ issues such as daylight, sunlight, overlooking, noise etc. and, indeed, we feel that we have successfully done so.

5. For the record, I think the desirability of a significant degree of separation between the existing residential houses, in Mossbury Road, and the tower element of our building was expressed by both the GLA and the Council but; in any event, we have adhered to this advice.

6. We consulted English Heritage twice, and met them once. After this meeting we fundamentally revised our proposals and submitted the redrafted scheme with a Conservation Area Appraisal, which is one of the application documents that can be inspected on the Council’s website. English Heritage’s comments have also been posted on the website and, indeed, I believe you have already referred to them.

7. I think you will recall, that I emphasised that the number of rooms is really the critical factor as far as viability is concerned and, although I stand by my comment that there may be the scope to reduce the height by a couple of storeys or so, it is important to recognise that one would have to also add to the depth to compensate – which may be possible and perhaps this is an area which could merit further consideration.

8. In relation to one of your bullet points, it is actually the conclusion of the appointed traffic consultants, that no significant traffic impact is anticipated relating to the proposed development (i.e. not just our opinion). This is obviously due to the high level of public transport services that are available – i.e. trains and buses, as well as the anticipated future tube connection. Transport for London have recently confirmed the traffic impact and that car free development is acceptable and in line with the relevant policy.

9. Similarly, it is the consultants who have assessed that no more that 13 deliveries should take place per week using medium goods vehicles (and, in fact, this includes refuse collection).

For your further information, the GLA have also, very recently, suggested some minor modifications to the Mossbury Road elevation at low level and we have sent them some ideas this week. The Council have been copied in on this work and I assume that the drawings will be available on their website for inspection soon.

You are absolutely right in reporting that we wouldn’t be proposing a tall hotel building if we did not feel that the Council’s stated policy supported this.

Many thanks

Tim Glass

June 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm 10 comments

In the press

South London Press, 5 June 2009:

South London Press, 5 June 2009

Wandsworth Guardian, 4 June 2009:

Wandsworth Guardian, 4 June 2009

June 8, 2009 at 2:46 pm 6 comments

English Heritage: “We urge the Council to recommend refusal”

[From Cyril Richert: This is the recommendation for refusal from English Heritage received by the Council on May the 29th (I’ve chosen to put in bold some parts). You can download the original letter here.]


Animated size comparison between existing building size and proposed constructionSummary

The site is currently occupied by a five storey office building, of mid-20th century origin. The buildings is of little historic or architectural merit, and English Heritage has no objection to the principle of it redevelopment. The site is within the Clapham Junction Conservation Area, and viewable in the context of the Grade II listed Falcon Public House, and the Grade II Listed Arding & Hobbs (now Debenhams) department store. It is proposed to demolish the existing 5 storey building and erect a 16 storey replacement.

English Heritage Advice

The applicant’s Conservation Area and historic building planning appraisal states that the existing building fails to make a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area. While English Heritage does not disagree with this statement, by virtue of its scale and massing, we consider the existing structure relatively ‘neutral’ in its impact on the Conservation Area’s character and appearance. However, the proposed replacement building has a considerably larger scale and massing than the existing structure.

We have strong concerns about a building of this size within the context of Clapham Junction Conservation Area. There is no precedent fo a tall building within the area, which is characterised by Victorian and Edwardian architecture no greater than seven storey of height.

The crossroads of St John’s Road/St John’s Hill/Falcon Road/ LavenderHill forms a focal point to the Conservation Area, with the Falcon Public House, the Arding & Hobbes store and 276 Lavender Hill all benefiting from curved facades which reinforce the spatial qualities of the junction. Additional prominence is given to the junction though the use ornamentation at the upper levels of these buildings; a cupola to the department store, a dome to 276 Lavender Hill and a decorative parapet and dormers to the Falcon. The proposed building will be unduly prominent in the context of this junction and diminish its significance and status to the detriment of the Conservation Area’s character and appearance. The proposals will also adversely affect the setting of both the Grade II Listed Falcon Public House and former Arding & Hobbs department store.

Notwithstanding the harm a tall building at this location would cause to Clapham Junction Conservation Area, we also have significant concerns about the design quality of the proposed building. The design and access statement supplied with the application notes that the proposed building has a principal elevation addressing Falcon Road. A suitably detailed elevation to Falcon Road is vital to the quality of the development, but we feel that less consideration has been given to upper levels of the building at its Mossbury Road (Souther elevation). The upper levels of the building will be extremely prominent from the aforementioned crossroads at the heart of this junction and reinforces its status as the focal point of the Conservation Area.

The proposed Eastern elevation of the building also gives cause for concern. While we recognise that the limited amount of fenestration on this elevation is a direct response to the implication of overlooking residential properties on Mossbury Road, this has resulted in a blank façade with little interaction or acknowledgement of its surroundings. While not within the Conservation Area, the Victorian Terraced properties of Mossbury Road contribute to the Conservation Area’s wider setting. The proposed development will introduce a significant visual interjection between the Conservation Area and Mossbury Road, and this should be partially mitigated through a carefully-considered Eastern elevation.

Recommendation

English Heritage considers that the proposals fail to respond to the Conservation Area context, and detract from the character and appearance of the Conservation Area by virtue of inappropriate scale and height. We also consider the proposals to adversely affect the setting of Grade II Listed Falcon Public House and former Arding and Hobbs department store.

We wish to register an objection to this application, and urge the Council to recommend refusal of planning permission.

Simon Hickman
Historic Buildings and Areas Adviser

ENGLISH HERITAGE
London Region

June 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm 1 comment

The comment of a local resident on the hotel proposal

[From Cyril Richert: We publish below the very detailed objection sent by a local resident (I’ve chosen to put in bold some parts).

Michael Snaith also objected on the previous scheme with Clapham Junction Station redevelopment and you can read extracts of his comment on Wandsworth 2018 plans and the case for no towers HERE.

You will find all details to let the Council know your view HERE.]


Author: Michael James Snaith

Dear Paul Landsberg,

One tower block proposal crumbles, another, like the mythical dragons’s teeth, rises to take its place. Oak Trading Company Ltd wants to build a hotel at Clapham Junction. With that, in principle, I have no objection. But a 16-storey building is a different matter. When will planners, Wandsworth Council and every money-hungry developer get the message that basically, WE DO NOT WANT TOWERS IN CLAPHAM JUNCTION – or indeed anywhere else in Battersea

David Rosemont, “architect consultant to Husband and Carpenter Architects Ltd” avers on the developer’s own website: “The design had evolved after a long period of design refinement following scrupulous consultation with the fullest range of local and other bodies, including potential operators.” The last three words I can believe. Rosemont refers to “the presentation to the Clapham Junction Town Centre Partnership that took place in November 2007“. How many ordinary locals knew about that? I and many other local residents – some only a street away from the potential tower – had no idea it was going to happen until a week or two ago. We, the people of Battersea, have NOT been consulted.

Mr Rosemont figured quite prominently but anonymously as “architecturerosemont” on postings following the collapse of the Junction Twin Towers proposal, largely on the side of developers. Now we know why. He has had a long-running dispute with Cyril Richert, who is collating responses to the new hotel proposal, about Mr Richert’s computerised mock-ups of the proposed building, in which as well as featuring the developer’s own image of the hotel, he superimposes a coloured image on top of the existing building to show how much taller the hotel would be. Rosemont complains about the colour chosen, the angle and a few millimetres of inaccuracy in height as giving people a misleading impression of his pet project.

However, the developer’s own website images show the tower at full height only against vague CGI buildings. Shot almost like a fish-eye lens photo from a low viewpoint in which the surrounding buildings loom in at alarming angles to the top of the frame and surrounded by unrealistic acres of space, this makes the buildings look almost as tall as the tower, thus minimising its true height. In the only other image, when placed against the more realistically rendered Fitness First building dome and Debenham’s distant cupola the tower is chopped off halfway through the seventh floor, giving no true impression of how oppressive it would be on its surroundings. Since architects’ computerised mock-ups are often peopled with Photo-shopped images of their own staff in happy poses, they are no strangers to optimistic presentation.

The point is: Rosemont’s image pedantry, as well as being hypocritical, is as pointless as disputing the number of angels who could dance on a pinhead. We are not stupid. We can spot a 16-storey building and whatever colour it is, we don’t want it. Rosemont says: “The average person, when walking through a town centre, will generally be much more aware of what is going on at street level, and the ground and first floor parts of the buildings than the upper parts.” Try walking along St John’s Road and not noticing a 16-storey building at the end of it. Anyway, if we’re so blind, we won’t be put off by M Richert’s pretty colouring. And Rosemont’s architect chums – if you read their own lyrical later description – will have wasted their efforts on the “volumes, rhythms, colours and tones” of the proposed hotel.

Having visited the site, I’m sure the inhabitants of Mossbury Road will be able to spot the tower. Being on the end of a block of their two-storey terraced houses, the footprint of the current building is necessarily quite narrow. The site is perhaps 1.5 times deeper than wide, but the rear is a small courtyard, separating the current building from the houses. Mr Rosemont points out that the tower would be situated at the lowest point of the street. Indeed it would, but while this has the effect of levelling off the current building’s five storeys roughly to line with the two-storey houses up the hill, the change in elevation would do little to mask the disparity between 16 storeys and two. Oak Trading’s website assures us: “The development is restricted to three levels at its abutment with the terrace of houses on the rising frontage of Mossbury Road, reflecting the rhythm of the street.” Since from the size of the site it is obvious that the three-storey section will not be very wide, I do not think the residents of Mossbury Road will be reassured that their rhythm is being reflected when a 16-storey tower is little more than one terrace house space away from their back garden, with all the light-deprivation and invasion of privacy that will bring.

The residents might also be disturbed, in more ways than one, by the fact that, says Oak: “The hotel entrance and servicing will be off Mossbury Road and the ground floor contains reception, restaurant and kitchen areas, with plant and service facilities below.” Oak makes much of the fact that the proposed hotel would be “ideally suited to provide future users with an exceptional range of public transport options” (actually only two. The nearest Tube is half an hour’s walk away). It would not have a car park. “The green travel credentials for a hotel are without equal in the area.” Well, people paying the kind of prices (£100 per night) suggested for this hotel which has “conference facilities” and anyone coming from the “potential new diplomatic quarter at North Battersea” which Oak optimistically mentions, might just want a cab – or a courtesy car from the airport – to the door. In nice, quiet, Mossbury Road.

Then again, the existing small building has been offices – and, I believe, a cancer support centre – which Oak sneeringly dismisses as making “no significant contribution… to the local economy“. As such, its supply needs are relatively small. But a 132-bedroom hotel with restaurant has much greater supply needs: food, laundry, toiletries etc, on a regular basis. So where are the delivery vehicles going to park? Mossbury Road, where the kitchen and service areas are. And is the hotel going to turn away those luxury coaches which disgorge troops of foreign tourists and their luggage outside other hotels? Guess where the hotel entrance is? Off Mossbury Road. Those green credential are getting paler by the minute and the disturbance and parking problems for local residents are growing at the same rate.

And let’s not forget the “glazed retail unit” on the ground floor of Falcon Road, “turning the corners to Falcon Lane and Mossbury Road adding economic activity and vibrancy to the public domain“. One ponders just exactly what kind of retail unit will add vibrancy on a small island of pavement off the shopping main drag with a mall of convenience stores across the road at Clapham Junction station and Asda, Lidl and Boots round the corner. Nevertheless, it will need deliveries of goods to sell. Service vehicles tend to deliver early in the morning or late evening, to avoid parking restrictions. Take a walk down St John’s Road around 10PM and you’ll see it blocked by trucks from TK Maxx and Waitrose clattering off their produce. Would YOU want to live next to that?

The planning officer’s report on the failed Twin Towers complained, erroneously, 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“. I would have thought that was a succinct but perfectly comprehensible summing up of objections to tall buildings in a low-rise area. However I trust, after the above, that any planner will at least accept I have attempted to analyse in some detail the total unsuitability of this specific proposal.

There are, however, wider considerations affecting the area as a whole. The developer’s website quotes Tim Glass, director of Oak, as promising: “The project will replace an indifferent and depressing 70s office block with a stylish new building.” The website wraps the proposal in the kind of architectonic rhetoric that comes when designers have given in to PR men: “The design is a contemporary response to the requirements of the brief and to the need to consider the constraints of the Conservation Area in which the site is located. The building envelope uses a range of materials, volumes, rhythms, colours and tones referenced to existing nearby buildings, including the Debenham’s department store (formerly Arding and Hobbs), the Falcon public house and the Grand Theatre.So does that mean it’s going to have an attractive cupola, like Debenham’s, be built with an intriguing brick facade like the Grand, or have a flamboyantly moulded Victorian front like the Falcon? Answers on a postcard. And is it going to retain a maximum roof height of five floors, like the Grand and Debenham’s?

Interestingly, when asked: “Can you provide more detailed information as to the materials you plan to use?” on a web posting by local Dan Fryer, Mr Rosemont descended into vagueness worth of an expenses-claiming MP: “Materials have been selected to be appropriate for the purpose of the building, its intended lifespan and in order to relate to the predominant materials and colours in the Conservation Area. Detailed choice of final materials will be done later.

Note, incidentally, that reference to “Conservation Area”. It occurs again in: “The architects have …paid particular attention to the setting of the building within the Conservation Area and its relationship with existing buildings including nearby but unadjacent listed buildings.” So they’ll have noticed that at 12 storeys taller than any other edifice it will dominate the landscape and destroy the scale of all those nearby listed buildings. The point about a Conservation Area (read my lips) is that it conserves the area. People despise Spanish resorts like Marbella because, they say, they used to be characterful “real” places but are now just a concrete forest of hotels that could be anywhere. All those tower-hugging planners and architects are going to be heading off for their hols to unspoilt Cantabria, or some little Greek village where the local mayor keeps the developers at bay. They’ll hymn the praises of Erno Goldfinger’s Lawn Road house, or Le Corbusier’s villas. But they’ll happily come into our humble, comfy but characterful area, to which, one might point out, the rising middle-class have flocked in recent years to raise their families – this is Nappy Valley – and propose towers galore. In a year we’ve had plans in Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea Power Station and now two proposals for Clapham Junction. Do you get the feeling there’s a pattern here?

This week I flew over South London. One is struck by how low rise the whole of London is, but particularly south of the river. The towers we have stand out like invading aliens. Occasionally towers work: the Gherkin has an interesting shape and diamond patterning that disguise its true height. Liebeskind’s “Shard of Glass” might be exciting. The Chrysler Building, with its extrovert art deco crown truly is iconic. But these are exceptions. Most tall buildings are just TALL. If able to be viewed from a distance along the river, with plenty of space around them, some can provide an interesting vista, such as the peaked tower at Chelsea Harbour. But the proposed hotel tower, in spite of Mr Glass’s assurance that it is a “stylish new building” that will make an “architectural contribution” seems just another bog-standard tower. After all, the building he hopes to replace – and describes as “an indifferent and depressing 70s office block” – was probably described as “a stylish new building” by its developers back in the Seventies. And at least it doesn’t disrupt and dominate the low-rise, Victorian/Edwardian environment of human scale next to it.

As I said at the outset, I am not against a hotel in principle, though I fear Mr Rosemont’s suggestion that visiting parents of local residents would pay quite hefty sums to stay there is not based on close research. Hasn’t he noticed the area is full of terraced houses with lofts tacked on and cellars dug out – plenty of room for Ma and Pa, or as likely, Maman et Papa. The area round Southwark Street has recently sprouted several hotels, all low rise, at least two created from former office buildings. So you don’t need towers. Marooned on its tiny corner of land the hotel is unlikely to be a hub of vibrancy and regeneration. It’s 30 staff and transient guests aren’t really going to do an enormous amount for the economy or bring fresh shoots of growth and social improvement north of the railway bridge. We do need an area plan – but one with proper widespread and well-advertised consultation, not the so-called Strategy plan the Council has done little truly to publicise or involve us in. A start would be more pedestrianised piazzas round the Junction – people are already colonising the pavements on Northcote and Battersea Rise and even tiny areas like the blocked-off bottom of Eckstein Road off St John’s Road. It’s making the area more friendly: people sit on seats and chat, have breakfast coffee with a paper outside Costas, interact, shop, feel safer. We do need improvements at the station. But this should be Network Rail’s responsibility, without murky private deals with developers who take billions while spending, on their own sums, a mere £40 million (that’s about the price of 50 terraced houses round here).

But what planners, with their obsession that tall buildings “define” a town centre, and Rosemont, in his talk of regenerating the area, seem not to notice, is how “defined”, vibrant, characterful and liveable-in this area already is. The Council’s Conservation Appraisal & Management Strategy for Clapham Junction (Para 5.1 Draft 2008) says it is “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“. But the energy flows out from there. BAC’s brilliant theatre atop Lavender Hill is joined to the boutiques and galleries of St John’s Hill, Battersea Rise’s sweep of buzzing bars and restaurants links the Commons and three striking churches. Families relax with kids and friends at a street cafe amid the bustling stalls of Northcote Road. That is the true vibrancy of Battersea. People like it here, as it is, with its villagey, human scale. As a 30-year resident, I’ve seen the area change and revive, and it’s places like Northcote Road that have regenerated it – in spite of Northcote’s rack-rent landlords. Not tall buildings. They take people away from the streets, from each other. Battersea mingles them, all races, colours, ages and classes.

In the planning officer’s report on the Twin Towers application, there was one particularly chilling phrase: “They [the towers] would have some relationship to the existing towers in the immediate locality and could be seen to re-enforce and define the town centre.” The existing towers are the crumbling grey concrete monuments to another era’s discredited passion for tall building, the Winstanley Estate. Ironically, their namesake was a Civil War Leveller, and many people feel that should be their fate. If anywhere needs regeneration, this is the area. And there’s plenty of space to build something green and low-rise. Go and look at the Brunswick terraced flats, shops and piazza near Russell Square Tube station (almost ruined by their cheapskate developer but recently refurbed superbly by their original architect) to see how it can be done.

The point is that by using this synergic argument, the planning officer exposes a dangerous precedent: If we let in one tower, then the next developer can say:”Oh well, our tower would have some relationship with the tower hotel, so we want planning permission.” This is not far-fetched alarmism. The Oak Trading website says: “The new building responds to adopted planning policies accepting the principle of taller buildings in town centres, especially where economic and regeneration arguments add further weight.” Of course Mr Rosemont is loudly trumpeting those “arguments” to push his case. The developer’s website actually states that the hotel would set “the scene for possible future developments on the north side of Falcon Lane“. Mr Rosemont himself has raised the spectre of future development of the Asda/Lidl/Boots site. Aside from the problem of where we’d be able to do our supermarket shopping, that gives a large space for the Rosemonts of this world to whack up a forest of towers which would “have some relationship with the existing towers“. Goodbye Clapham Junction. Hello Croydon.

Just one further thing. When did we, the people who actually inhabit the towns of Britain, vote to adopt “planning policies accepting the principle of taller buildings in town centres“? Presumably in the same referendum where we voted to let MPs rob us blind on their expenses.

Yours faithfully

June 3, 2009 at 11:21 am 3 comments

New Hotel in CJ – Martin Linton’s objection

[From Cyril Richert: We publish below, with the consent of its author, the presentation sent by Martin Linton, MP for Battersea, to the Planning Committee. Link with original PDF document is here.]


Author: Martin Linton MP

Dear Councillor McDonnell and members of the Committee,

RE: 16-storey hotel at 155 Falcon Road (Application 2009/1291)

I am writing to object to this building on the grounds it is too tall and out of scale with its surroundings.

Although it is shorter than the two 42-storey towers proposed by Metronet, it is still three times the height of Debenham’s and would sominate the entire town centre.

hotel0Tall buildings can work when they are next to other tall buildings, as in Canary Wharf, or even Vauxhall, but not in the shopping centre that was built in the late Victorian era and is mainly 4-7 storeys.

I know Wandsworth’s planning policies have long identified the town centres as possible locations for taller buildings, but that does not override the need to make sure buildings fit in with their surroundings.

Both CABE and English Heritage have in the past suggested the the Council needs to elaborate its tall buildings strategy. Given that the great majority of residents are clearly against tall buildings dominating the town centre, I should have thought Wandsworth would want to work out a strategy more in tune with local opinion.

Yours truly,

Martin Linton

June 2, 2009 at 5:10 pm 1 comment

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