After the approval of the Ram Brewery redevelopment project, including 2 skyscrapers, by Wandsworth Borough Council last year, the planning was stopped by the government as the Communities Secretary called for an inquiry.
Martin Linton MP organised a meeting for everyone who is giving evidence against, or supporting the objections to, the Ram Brewery inquiry on Saturday (7th) at 1.30 pm at the Salvation Army in Ram Street.
Cllr Tony Belton– who is going to be giving evidence against the scheme – wants to organise a rota of people so that we have a schedule where as far as possible “we” get coverage of every day’s discussion of the enquiry and can compare notes and share perceptions and ideas. If you can help, please contact him.
Martin Linton MP arranged and chaired this small meeting, the purpose of which was to discuss the ‘evidence’ (informed comments) that representatives of various groups intend to give to the enquiry that is currently taking place. Those present included Cllr Tony Belton, and representatives of the Wandsworth Society, The Tonsleys (TRA), Clapham Junction Action Group (CJAG), Riverside West, as well as other concerned individuals.
As you know, the secretary of State called-in the current plans which the Council had passed. The ensuing enquiry started on Tues Nov 3rd and will continue until Fri Dec 4th.
Two Inspectors representing the Secretary of State are hearing evidence from the many interested parties. Various people, mostly representing affected groups, have asked to be allowed to speak formally and will be called upon to do so … presumably on a given date. It is unclear if further written comments can be added at this point. For those who wish to try, the Planning Officer is Toby Feltham. Members of the public can attend, and I understand, are allowed to make comments. Certainly the idea is that individuals may be cross questioned by the Inspectors. The sessions run from Tuesday- Friday and anyone can go! 
At the enquiry there are three QC’s in attendance representing the interests of :-
(a) The Applicants/developers Minerva. (QC Russell Harris)
(b) The Council. (QC Neal Cameron)
(c) The Mayor of London. (QC John Hobson)
Opposing on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive is MS Corinne Patry Hoskins. Representatives of the Health and Safety Executive, and The Wandsworth Society, are also in attendance throughout the proceedings.
Obviously, with three heavyweight QC’s, the composition of the opposition is seriously weighted against those who would like the current plan refused.
To be clear, this isn’t simply a case of can the developers look again at the plan? It is YES or NO to what the Council have already passed. Some minor alterations are just possible but there will be no changes that will truly soften the blow… unless it is a refusal!
On the optimistic side, both Tony Belton and Martin Linton pointed out that the three QC’s hardly know what they talking about as they don’t live here and have no experience of the area. Tony Belton and Martin Linton both felt that ordinary residents talking to the Inspectors could also have a lot of influence. They also commented that, while the QC’s may get bored hearing repetitive comments from the residents, for the examiners, repetitive comments would do more good than harm.
Everyone [at the meeting] is against the height of the two tower blocks (42 and 32 stories) and the other extravagant heights (mostly 10 stories) and the precedent this would be setting for Wandsworth borough. Also James Smith representing the Tonsleys (TRA) pointed out that they live in 2 storey Victorian houses and that the towers will not only be oppressive and obscure their views, but they are so high they will inevitably block the sun during the afternoon. They said that insufficient attention had been paid to the adverse consequences of such high buildings and others felt similarly about the wind corridors that would be created.
The subject of pressure that the new residents would inevitably put on Wandsworth Town Station (notoriously dangerously overcrowded at rush hour times) was also raised. The developers suggestion that people will take a bus to Clapham Junction was greeted with laughter given that the buses are also overcrowded and the traffic flow so slow.
Tony Belton was particularly concerned about the one-way gyratory system about which there had been, and still is, insufficient information. The deal between the Council and Minerva depends on the solution of this part of the plan. Under section 106 theoretically the Council get their clogged road system problem resolved in exchange for giving Planning Permission for this boring, unimaginative and over dense development. Transport for London say they will not give any money for this purpose and improvements to the road system must rely entirely on the 106 agreement between the Council and the Developers. All reminiscent of the 2 x 42 storey Clapham Junction Towers without which NO progress in other respects could possibly be made. 
The developers (and sad to say the Council too) threaten people with this all-or-nothing strategy but it frequently turns out they could, in the event, manage something different, as they have with the proposed and now deceased tower within the Power Station development.
Theoretically, these matters should not be political, but in practice, the Planning Committee is totally dominated by Conservatives and they tend to vote as a block.
The iniquitous (in my opinion) 106 agreements which allow all Councils (of whatever colour) to trade Planning Permissions for tower blocks etc in exchange for a very large contribution from the developer in respect of other matters (e.g. road systems and station repairs!), frequently not even connected with the proposed development, is likely to provide an incentive for all developers and Councils to litter every town in England with ‘iconic’ buildings! What price any rational thinking from those responsible for designing our landscape when the developers are heavily subsidising Councils’ expenses and keeping their Council Tax low? We all want low taxes but surely that shouldn’t be at the expense of having our cities ruined by greedy developers!
But ordinary residents can make a difference if they are active enough about getting their message across. We have for the moment stopped the building of skyscrapers at Clapham Junction and we have obliged the Council to think again about their tall buildings policy. Hopefully we may similarly oblige the Council to think again about the towers at the Ram Brewery site.
 The venue for the Inquiry is at Wandsworth Town Hall, London.
The Inquiry opens at 10 a.m. on Tuesday 3 November 2009. On subsequent days, normal sitting times will be 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. with short breaks during the morning and afternoon sessions. Friday afternoon adjournments may be a little earlier, with the possibility of 9.30 a.m. starts to make up any lost time.
The Inquiry is currently programmed to last for 20 days, sitting from: Tuesday 3 November to Friday 6 November; Tuesday 10 November to Friday 13 November; Tuesday 17 November to Friday 20 November; Tuesday 24 November to Friday 27 November; and Tuesday 1 December to Friday 4 December 2009.
Representations by any interested persons is allowed after hearing from the main parties (the applicant, the Mayor of London, WB Council, the Health and Safety Executive, the Primary Care Trust).
 As you will have heard, the Council still hasn’t come up with any details and it’s still a complete mystery how it can cost £38 million to turn Armoury Way back into a two-way street. According to council minutes it cost £21,500 to introduce the one-way system in 1969 and even allowing for inflation it’s difficult to see how prices can have gone up by 2,000 per cent.