The Public Inquiry is over. To be honest, much of the time was taken up by anything but the public’s views on the proposed re-development of the sites.
The Wandsworth Society was given a fair hearing of its case against, but the rest of the local public was relegated to one day out of the 20 days of actual inquiry time.
All individuals spoke, and listed, very good reasons for asking the Inspectors to recommend refusal to the Secretary of State. Some, I think, said things that the SofS will have to consider seriously, included amongst these was Cyril Richert’s paper for the Clapham Junction Action Group.
Lined up against the public’s amateurs were three QC’s. The most formidable was Russell Harris for Minerva, who has won numerous similar Inquiries. The Wandsworth Society did not go on the final day to hear his summing up. To listen to his, no doubt competent, attempt to destroy the public’s case would have been too depressing.
There were six main issues to be resolved:
- Did it comply with Governmental, Regional, and Local Planning Policies for the area?
- Was it acceptable not to provide an adequate number of affordable homes or a mixed community (by having a majority of one-bedroom flats, no family homes, and the affordable homes on one site only)? Did the development conform to good design and standards for housing ?
- Could the transport system cope?
- Did the proposals contravene all the Planning Policies that seek to protect the historic environment and, in this case, the many listed buildings on the site and surrounding it? Would it have an adverse effect on the setting and character of the Wandsworth Town Conservation Area?
- Was it unsafe to put a glass tower of people next to a gasholder of potentially explosive methane gas?
- Was it acceptable to approve a possibly unacceptable (in planning terms) development because it might provide enough funds to remove Wandsworth’s gyratory road system?
When will we hear the decision and what will it be?
Neither question is answerable but we can at least hazard a guess. The first is the simpler. It is unlikely that it will take less than three months, probably considerably longer because of the complexities of some of the issues.
The second…..who knows?
All the Planning Policies relating to Issues 1, and 4, are open to interpretation. The Wandsworth Society and individuals put forward telling evidence of the environmental damage that will be done but it’s largely a matter of opinion…. The inspectors, the public’s, Minerva’s.
Issue 3 was won by the public. As things stand it is obvious that the public transport system cannot take yet more development in the area. But, of course that depends on the outcome of Issue 6.
Issue 6 will probably decide the result of Issue 2 also. Ironically, Issue 6 is not part of the planning application but an add-on to make it acceptable. The most telling admissions from witnesses for both WBC and the GLA was that without the road proposals they would not have recommended approval.
The most complicated and time-consuming issue of the whole Inquiry was Issue 5, the case against put by the Health & Safety Executive. It is accepted that the likelihood of the gasholder exploding in a fireball is not great, but the trouble with anything that might happen once in a thousand years is that you never can tell when the ‘once’ will happen. Debate revolved around how serious the results of an explosion would be.
If the HSE have won their case the proposals will be refused planning permission . If the Inspectors feel strongly that the development is unacceptable for other reasons, they have enough Planning Policy ammunition to shoot the proposals down. On the other hand, the benefit of any doubt has to go to the developer because the local planning authority (WBC) and the GLA / Mayor of London have (to their shame) already approved these proposals. Proposals that will alter the character of Wandsworth, both the town and the borough, for ever.