Dear Mr Mayor, please stop this 14-storey tower block on Battersea Park Road

culvert-roadOn December 14, 2016, Wandsworth council approved the building of a 14-storey tower block on Battersea Park Road. I attended the Planning Applications Committee and spoke against the scheme (you can read what I said here).

Now my Latchmere ward colleague councillor Tony Belton has written to the Mayor of London to ask him to over-rule Wandsworth and reject this unsuitable building.

Dear Mr. Mayor,
 
I am writing to you to ask that you call in, and reject, Wandsworth Planning Application, 2016/4188, relating to 3 Culvert Road, SW11 4ND.
 
I am a councillor for the relevant Latchmere ward and also a member of the Borough’s Planning Applications Committee, which considered this proposal on 14th December. Unfortunately I was not able to be there as I was in hospital recovering from an operation.

However, I would ask you to take note of the points already made by my constituent Mr. Paul Forster, which I will not repeat but fully support, and the following comments of mine. This letter is, by the way, endorsed by my fellow ward councillors, Simon Hogg and Wendy Speck.
 
First of all I fully acknowledge the pressures on you, as Mayor, and each and every one of the London Boroughs to provide more and more housing units across the capital. I know from working with you, as fellow Wandsworth councillors, that this a very important objective of yours, indeed it is an almost over-whelming priority for both you and for London.

However, this is such a small site (0.132 hectares or about 15% of a football pitch) that even at the height and density proposed the total number of units is only 39. Given that the Council’s target over the 2015-30 timescale is to add 25,860 units and that 33,538 new homes are already in the pipeline, it would seem a pity to break planning guidelines and offend local residents for such a minor addition.
 
As recently as March 2016 Wandsworth produced its Site Specific Allocations Document listing many potential housing sites in the Borough. This site was not included and was not considered to be a contributor to the housing targets, because it was then part of the Battersea Technology College school site. The site is indeed so far from critical to reaching the Council’s housing targets that it has never even been included in the plans.

 
The change factor has been the change in the school status from being a state school to being part of the Harris Academy chain, at which point motivations changed  and squeezing as much capital value as possible out of the site became the prime motivator. Hence a site, which had perhaps only a limited value as a schoolkeeper’s house became worth a great deal more as the site for the development of high quality residential units.
 
Immediate neighbours who had been living next to a small, under-used, over-grown site might have expected a future development on the scale of, say, Merryfield Court (as referenced in Mr. Forster’s letter). But instead they have found themselves faced with the prospect of a dominating 14 storey block.

Unsurprisingly of 217 comments from neighbours and interested parties 205 have objected and several petitions have been collected against the proposal. The Mayor will know, as indeed will planners, just how significant it is to get that many objections from an area dominated by social and private tenants as opposed to owner occupiers. The proposal is massively unpopular in the immediate neighbourhood.
 
Secondly, the proportion of affordable housing is possibly even more important to you than the raw number of housing units. At barely 20%, with only 8 of 39 units, being affordable, this hardly scratches the surface of acceptability. Worse they are all intermediate units and not rental units, so that the expected income of aspirants to even a one-bed flat is £46,000 p.a. with the remaining units affordable to applicants with gross incomes up to the GLA limit of £90,000 p.a. This surely exposes the myth of these units being affordable for the average Londoner or Wandsworth resident.
 
Thirdly, the “benefits justification” for granting this permission is totally inadequate. The largest element of the justification appears to be the provision of sports facilities to Harris Academy. This, of course, is good news for the pupils of the Academy (and goes someway to explaining the very small number of residents supporting the proposal) but in terms of capital value the development benefits a private school, even one which educates state funded pupils. The benefit does not accrue in any way to the public as a capital asset.
 
So Wandsworth’s own Conservation Advisory Committee said on 14th November 2016, when considering the impact of the planned development on the Latchmere Estate and Battersea Park Conservation Areas, “there is insufficient justification for a building of this height, which will cause harm to the setting (of these two conservation areas)”.

The Committee went on to say that “public benefit has been identified BUT if the building proposed is the wrong fit for the site then these public benefits should be seen as irrelevant in terms of justification”.
 
Fourth, the 22 storey Castlemaine block appears to be adopted by Wandsworth planners as the benchmark for the area and hence justifying the 14 storeys proposed for 3 Culvert Road. As a local councillor, I know that the popular view in the area would very much be that Castlemaine was an aberration of the 1960’s tower block craze. It has blighted, rather than enhanced, the area and definitely should not be used as a benchmark of anything other than what modern developments should try and avoid.
 
Finally, I would briefly re-iterate Mr. Forster’s primary points:-

  • Wandsworth Council policy setting the site in an area where tall buildings of five stories or higher are inappropriate
  • The impact on the residents of 2-32 Culvert Road, of Merryfield Court and of Battersea Park Road
  • Density levels between two and three times greater than the London plan, i.e. 765 hrph as opposed to 200-450.
I hope that you give my letter and Mr. Forster’s objections due consideration.
 
Yours sincerely,
Tony Belton, Wandsworth Labour councillor and Planning speaker

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