Ram Brewery Development – Meeting report (7th November)

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Ram Brewery, Wandsworth High Street SW18After 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.

Details and explanation on the inquiry process can be read in our previous article. You will find schedule detail and dates in our Agenda page.

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! [1]

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. [2]

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.

[1] 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).

[2] 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.

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  1. Ram Brewery Enquiry opened on 3/11/09. I made a few notes and am now putting them updated on Cyril’s website.
    1. We, public, met on 7/11/09 at Salvation Army and were told that Cyril’s website was available for communications. And that we would try and update it with our observations on the enquiry.
    2. We should try to fix a schedule to get coverage of every day of the enquiry. Martin Linton has now circulated it and with Sylvia Harrison doing much of the work we nearly have coverage.
    For what they are worth my comments on Day 1 are as follows:-
    1. Highly establishment oriented what with the 3 set-piece presentations given by QCs, who were no doubt good at presenting a brief but accepted details at face value. I am no details man by any stretch but there has never been a map of the new traffic system at any of the planning applications that I have been involved in. Then this afternoon started with the longest, most self-regarding justification of a man’s credentials, in this case as an architect, that I could imagine. Just what was the inspector doing allowing him to talk for an hour about his professional training? That was clearly designed to bore the attention span of the working public – all right for the QCs on £500 per hour or whatever but really!
    2. There was a similar TfL map, which got a raspberry, in about 2005 and partly because of the implications on the new development at the Trinity Road underpass. I had a quick look at the new map, dated October, 2009, with Shirley Passmore and it is not at all clear how west moving traffic on the South Circular will get to West Hill. There appear to be 2 possibilities. One to turn right (north) at the underpass (clobbering, by the way, development potential on the site which is currently being considered for a hotel) and then down to the Bridge approach and round Swandon Way, through Armoury Way and on to West Hill OR sensationally turning right at the bottom of East Hill, travelling north up Fairfield Street and then through Old York Road to the Bridge round-about and then back along Swandon Way – there did not seem to be a link from Fairfield Street into Armoury Way. The paper commented that there would be some increase in traffic flows in Old York Road! One can imagine the consultation on that!
    3. It would be “criminal” and the “waste of a lifetime’s opportunity” not to grant permission. Orwell had some way of describing this commandeering of language, did he not? They are attempting to establish that the respectable position is to support the application as it is neither criminal or wasting the opportunity of a lifetime. The fact that the application could destroy Wandsworth for a lifetime or it could be criminal to grant the application without a road solution absolutely and incontrovertibly proved does not occur.
    4. At no point in my appearances at the Planning Applications Committee was the road solution so tightly conjoined with approval. Indeed it could not have been as nearly every paper said that there were issues still to be resolved and quite clearly paper 09-756 this September left an awful lot of questions about the road solution and is well worth studying for anyone pushing the roads case.
    5. I had thought that the £38m must have been costed in some way so as to arrive at a S106 figure but Martin caused me to look at that paper more thoroughly and he may well be right and me wrong. It reads as though the S106 money was merely a function of the number of properties and what could be afforded by the developers. The fact that the road improvements might cost only £10m with £18 m going to the Council’s coffers or that it might cost £50 million and therefore be unaffordable to TfL is not covered. I think Martin’s interpretation is rather more likely than I had thought – question for me therefore to ask Council – How much 106 money is already sloshing around in the coffers, not actually yet used. There is certainly some appertaining to Gargoyle Wharf. However, I disagree with Martin in terms of his view about the likely cost of these road plans IF they were ever to happen. I think it will be millions.
    Cheers, Tony

  2. My notes from day 1 say the mayor is so keen on this plan that he’s pledged £13m towards the gyratory reconfiguration.
    The council seems to have agreed to other conconcessions in the S106 besides the gyratory eg reduced ‘affordable’ housing provision. Plus only a very few wheelchair compatible appartments. What appears to be still unknown, beside an actual plan for a new road layout, is the level of financial risk to the council. My notes also say the developers only have to put 10percent down, the rest after completion. Am I correct?
    re Victoria plan. If the tall towers intended there have been much reduced I wonder what else has been cut from whatever the original plan was? Does anyone know? convenient and safe bus access? safe and convenient road crossings and environment for pedestrians? better road system? does anyone know?

  3. I heard yesterday that if anyone wishes to make an early presentation to the Inspector, there is some space on Friday. If so, you would probably need to tell him in advance – preferably personally by the end of today.

  4. Tony – I know there is some money promised for Enterprise Way (plans available but not yet passed)and also some sloshing around to consider two-way traffic in the western arm of Smugglers Way and to introduce a left turn only into Swandon Way. This is from the legal agreement associated with the Materials Recycling Facility site development. They have now started building on the site, so a question regarding this money could be relevant to the proposed work for making Armory Way two-way!

  5. Saturday, 9 May 2009
    Church Row, Wandsworth SW18
    Does everybody know that:
    (quote from Minerva)
    We have recently exchanged contracts to acquire 1-9 Church Row for £8 million. This acquisition comprises 8 town houses with developable land, adjoining our existing buildings. This will be subject to a future separate planning application
    Have I missed something? Sylvia

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