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.