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.
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Cyril, who are the members of the ‘Clapham Junction Town Centre Partnership’ ?
What is becoming more and more transparent is the opaque way in which the Council and developers work together without paying more than lip service (not even that) to consulting their constituents.
I have just received my copy of the one free magazine every household receives…Brightside. As usual, no mention of the proposed 16 storey tower block. The Council has a perfect opportunity to make people aware of large developments that will affect their lives, and it has a moral duty to do so. No excuses about ‘prejudicing the outcome’ will do when you consider that the issues are already prejudiced by the amount of liason between the commercially interested parties.
…And (I didn’t mean it to SEND!) thanks for the info. re the meeting. It is always interesting to know the background, and it seems to me that there must be other commercial possibilities for a new building with dimensions that relate to other nearby buildings.
As you say, it is the Council’s policies that need examining, and going further back, those of the Government, too. I fear this is all rooted in deals under Section 106 where the Council, and ultimately the Government save money by getting the developers to do additional work for them as part of a planning consent deal. It is a corrupt practice and one that makes it almost impossible for the Council to consider planning with true objectivity.
Unless this can be stopped, London will end up littered with towerblock deals where-ever Councils can get away with it. And it is not just our Council.
Lorinda Freint is Wandsworth Council’s manager for the whole Clapham Junction area including Northcote Road and animates the CJTCP.
Cllr Guy Senior
Cllr Martin Johnson
Chris Jago (Wandsworth Chamber of Commerce and Chair)
Sara Strickland (Northcote Traders Association)
Insp. Roger Baker (Lavender Hill Police)
Pamela Price (Wessex House)
Keith Mills (Public and Commercial Union)
Martin McNelis (Peabody residents association)
Scott Thwaytes (Shop-Stop shopping centre Clapham Junction)
Mary Smith (Boots)
Peter Deakins (Battersea Society)
Phil Kissey (Job Centre Plus)
Gerry McDonagh (Southside Chamber of Commerce)
Regarding Brightside, you must remember my call before Council’s members to make a section for Planning proposals with high impact (a 16 storey building must be referred to the Mayor of London due to its size)… maybe the Council wishes to stay with the current opaque system?
There is no section 106 currently on the hotel proposal and Tim Glass made clear that if there is, it would question the whole viability of the project.
‘There is no section 106 currently on the hotel proposal ‘
well then, maybe we have a better chance of getting it turned down!
With regard to Julia’s question about the Clapham Junction Town Centre Partnership it’s not accurate to call it opaque. There’s lots of information about it on the Council’s website, including a Business Plan, agendas, minutes etc.
There are meetings about 5 times a year and the next one is on 30 July. They are open to the public.
Along with other town centre partnerships it has a close relationship with the Local Strategic Partnership. In terms of the council the business is dealt with under the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee (see their minutes of 30 October 2008).
You need to check with Lorinda Freint who runs the administration of the Partnership as to the current membership, but I don’t think Cyril’s list is fully accurate.
I do know that at least one local residents’ group and the Battersea Society are represented. Business groups are also repesented, including the Chamber of Commerce, Northcote Business Network, Lavender Hill Business Association and St John’s Hill Business Association. I thought that the current chair is Tessa Stickland of the Northcote Business Network but I may be incorrect. Peter Deakins a local architect also attends. I believe that elected councillors on the committee include two majority members and one opposition member but I note from the minutes the latter did not attend the last meeting, neither did the Battersea Society representative Tony Tuck. Battersea Arts Centre are included too, as well as some other local businesses even including the Battersea Power Station people.
I also know that when we did our presentation to the Partnership in November 2007, when the scheme for the hotel was taller and broader than it is now, it was well received. In fact no adverse comments were made at the time, and one member of the Partnership said it was exactly what the town centre needed. At the same meeting some members made adverse comments on some aspects of the station project, which was presented the same evening, so the opportunity fo make adverse comment was there but none was made.
A group of council officers from Planning, Highways and Street Trading also attend all the meetings.
Through the active participation of the Partnership the Council has adopted several policies and the Partnership is there to involve itself in forming and progressing the policies.
Readers need to be aware that it’s not just the Planning Department or regional or national government that draw up policies. The idea is that at each step locals, be they residents, businesses (maybe both), voluntary and other groups and organisations are fully consulted and informed. The process is designed to be inclusive.
The economic agenda is an extremely important one, especially so at the present time, and likely to remain so for a long time.
Economic uncertainity and difficulties of long term financing of projects has been highlighted by recent announcements such as the NHS. This will apply equally to town centres.
Major investment in the community can only proceed on the basis of viabilty. It’s not realistic to make unreasonable Section 106 Agreement demands on developers, and there are clear rules about the application of funds generated by such means being only applicable where strictly related to the impact of the project, and proportional to the size of the project. Some councils are now asking for Section 106 agreements on householder bedroom extensions but that is not as far as I know on the agenda in Wandsworth; it would I believe be seen as an unpopular tax on development.
I have been active in such partnerships and personally I believe it’s terribly important that local people involve themselves in such groups from inception and that they continue to remain involved and make contributions. It’s hard work and unpaid; it’s also disappointing to read on this website and in letters to the Council that people seem to be totally unaware of what’s going on and it’s no good just expecting to be milk fed. You have to get out there and do it yourself. Maybe everybody is too busy with the struggle of daily life and even just getting to their place of work these days.
Maybe a good example of the opacity is that actually it is very difficult to get a straight list of either the members or the activity it involves.
I have this morning been sent a list of the statutory make up of the Partnership:
Chamber of Commerce 1
Business representatives 5
Community or residents 3
Council elected representatives 3
Public sector agencies 2
Other according to need 1
Chair usually selected from the private sector
The partnership agreed a plan in 2006; this has since been incorporated in the consideration of other local policies for planning, regeneration etc
architecturerosemont> Source? Website?
Thank you for that information. Your last sentence is truish.
‘it’s no good just expecting to be milk fed. You have to get out there and do it yourself. Maybe everybody is too busy with the struggle of daily life and even just getting to their place of work these days.’
On the face of it would appear that everyone has a fair chance to participate.
If one was presenting the situation as a graphic, one might depict an upside down bottle with a narrow neck facing downwards. All the consultation is taking place within the bottle of obscure glass with most participants being paid for their time, either in money or in networking.
Yes, the bottle neck of information can be penetrated by others, if they have the time to do so, but if they do get in there, they will find most of the items will not be of concern to them. So obviously they prefer to live their lives and bath the baby.
Every now and again a drip of information slips from the bottle neck into the public arena because it is simply too big to stay put. At this point, you will have noticed, ordinary people take time and effort to protest their concerns.
Those in the bottle know perfectly well which issues will concern the public and some, if they could legally do so, would put the cork in, but instead we get important developments presenting themselves to the public (if at all) just a few weeks before Planning Meetings, and we certainly do not get informed about the Councils Policy on tall buildings.
Is there no other way of informing the public about what is important to them, other than them climbing into the bottle? Of course there is. Brightside goes to every household. Does it try to be interactive about these matters? No. It self-advertises about minor matters. The Council is elected to represent its constituents and they have a moral duty to keep us informed and not to foist large planning consents on us by default. A leaflet could be delivered with Brightside. Posters could be put up in plenty of time.
As for what you say about Section 106 and other Councils; I am of course appalled. I have said before that it is a corrupt system of legalized extortion and bribery, a menace to the integrity of the planning system. Like the MPs and their expenses, it seems to me that regarding 106 both developers and the Council confuse legality with morality.