Griffon Studios: Why I fought the development, but welcome the residents

I was recently given a tour of Griffon Studios, the new student accommodation on the corner of Grant Road and Winstanley Road. It looks great, but I wish it had never been built.

I was accompanied by my fellow Latchmere councillors, Tony Belton and Wendy Speck. We were guided with great charm by Matthew Biddle, Managing Director of developers Berkeley First and Jane Neary, Director of Commercial Services at Imperial College London.

450 Imperial College post-graduate students have already started moving in to this controversial, 11-storey development, with most paying £235 a week for 19 metre square studio flats. The complex has a 24-hour concierge service, on-site gym, vast cycle-storage basement and a communal lounge. A second stage to the development is underway on a neighbouring site down Winstanley Road.

Cllr Wendy Speck inspects the gym at Griffon Studios

I campaigned against this development when it was first proposed, collecting signatures  which were presented at the Planning Applications Committee from residents in Jackson and Kiloh Houses. I felt the site could be better used to provide accommodation for more than 100 families, with dozens of three-bedroom flats offered for local people to rent affordably. Unfortunately the credit crunch made residential use of the site less attractive.

My second objection was the sheer size of the thing: 11 storeys is much too high, as many people have commented since the building ‘topped out’.

On page 71 of the Kinghan Report into August’s Clapham Junction riots, the independent investigator says the Winstanley Estate is in the most 1pc of deprived areas in the country on the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index. He notes the estate’s high density and on page 38 cites ‘estate design’ as a factor in the disturbances. It’s time for a new approach to the Winstanley; in my time on the council Wandsworth has simply cut services and increased density on the estate.

There were issues during the Griffon Studio’s very swift construction. A local resident pointed out that 15m-long trucks were parking outside the site, that a tree had been knocked down and pavements damaged, that the site gates opened outwards across the pavement and that the construction generated a lot of noise. To their credit, Berkeley First agreed to meet me and the resident and subsequently set right their errors.

As a result of this meeting, a regular newsletter was sent to residents to inform them of progress on the scheme and to advertise jobs. I was particularly concerned with how many local jobs would be created – we were told that, as well as plenty during construction, three people from the estate now have jobs in Griffon Studios.

So this is not the development of our dreams. But we should say it has been professionally put together and Imperial College appear have a genuine commitment to engage with the local community. We hope the engagement will be two-way.

The students will be intelligent, motivated young people who may, for instance, volunteer to help make a success of the re-launched York Gardens Library.

As we wrote in a letter last month to neighbouring blocks on the estate: “We were strongly against this vast development and have worked to minimise the impact of construction work. However, now that students will soon be arriving it would be nice to welcome them to the neighbourhood.”

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