>> Your chance to contribute: tell us what your think on Clapham Junction station redevelopment
Authors: Cyril Richert, David Hargreaves
The Planning Application Committee was meeting on Thursday 24th and decided to grant planning permission to the new proposal for a hotel development on the site of Woburn House, 155 Falcon Road.
The part dedicated to the proposal was a thoroughly dismal affair. Only Cllr Belton spoke against the 8 storeys, favouring 6. He also criticised the way CJAG’s contributions had been subsumed into a general category (following our complaint regarding the treatment given to those comments), saying that CJAG had been the most vocal community group over the last couple of years. Cllr Randall made a comment on the design.
Otherwise there was (or looked like for some observers at the time) an almost total lack of interest from the other Councillors . No discussion whatever of alterations to the top floor. No discussion whatever of parking problems, except when one planning officer present said there was an “assumption” that all guests would arrive by rail. Nobody demurred.
Councillor Vanessa Graham, a good friend of the architect, left the room before presentation and therefore did not take port on the decision, nor vote.
Approval was given overwhelmingly.
We now hope that efforts will be made by the developers to make this proposal a success for Clapham Junction area. We know from discussing with the developers that a hotel operator has still to be found, but we see that as a clear encouragement given to local developers with reasonable projects.
We are disappointed that the Committee did not take the opportunity to debate more on the different issues raised by comments submitted. Points raised by Tony Belton and Billi Randall should have been the occasion of discussions instead of the rest of the Committee only waiting for vote-time. We would have thought that it makes a better explanation of the decision process and shows local democracy at its best… instead of giving the impression that real decision are taken behind closed doors.
As showed by the unanimous vote of the members of the Committee, approving a planning permission does not mean they cannot discuss some aspects of it. On the issue of parking, the Council could have also made a point to address the issue, independently of the developers plan (as we suggested – in a way supported by the developers). Apparently it was decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
The Council has reported on the decision in its press-release today.
 However one of them said that they thought that there was not enough to argue against and it would have made no difference. As I said previously, half of the Committee is new and but hopes to build knowledge on planning issues quickly for good.
 As I said previously, half of the Committee is new and but hopes to build knowledge on planning issues quickly for good.
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In the designer’s opinion your idea about a top floor setback would have harmed the appearance of the proposed building, quite apart from compromising the function of it. The design already includes a clear definition of the termination of the vertical enclosure by means of a “floating” parapet creating a shadow and incorporating signage. Design by committee is seldom a satisfactory way of producing quality architecture.
The size of the building was determined by new council policy which has now been confirmed by way of consent, and the applicant was satisfied as the new design considers reuse of the existing frame, and no basement construction, which together made for a viable project.
The parking issues were fully and satisfactorarily dealt with by the consultant’s survey and report, and comply with national, regional and local adopted policies. Objections reagrding traffic and parking seemed to be based on conjecture and fear of change, rather than the facts.
The CJAG opinions, and the other very few objections, were by no means universal, quite the contrary, and whilst the whole process has taken longer, and cost more than it should have done, the council by a very clear majority voted in favour of the scheme.
The applicants and architects are pleased that consent has at last been granted, and hope to move the project forward in the near future.
It is noted that the council issued a press release on the approval of the scheme, and this is taken to mean that the council agrees with the applicant’s and the architects’s previous suggestion that the site needed redevelopment and that a new hotel, with separate retail unit and six flats, would make a positive contribution to the much needed regeneration of Clapham Junction town centre.
Local residents will be kept informed of the programme and a detailed construction mamnagement plan will be agreed with the council before work commences.
David> First of all, thanks for the long comment. I will try to be short in my response (also because of the very nice weather outside and the Lavender Hill festival today).
Regarding the size of the building, in February 5th, I reported: “During the public hearing on the Core Strategy examination, Thursday 4 February at the Town Hall, the inspector made the point that developers will look at any suggested maximum and see it as the green light from which to start.”
And everyone will see (I know it is embarrassing!) that you commented saying:
“I don’t really see why you suggest that if a height is given as a maximum then developers will start at that point.”
Although it was not my comment, now I was a bit surprised that you write above:
“The size of the building was determined by new council policy” (= emerging policy recommends a maximum of 8 storeys – the building is 8 storeys). At least we should thank you for confirming this time honestly what the inspector was saying 4 months ago.
Regarding the right for people to express opinions and represent individuals, it is called democracy. You cannot deny the right for people to express opinions (except of course if you think that an autocratic regime would be more efficient in Wandsworth).
In your views, architect views are biased as they anyway always dislike others designs; elected representations in committees have no right to comment on design; local groups should keep quite until they assemble xxxx protests (put the right number: 100, 1000, 10000?).
In my view, even one comment, objection or support should be enough to consider.
I think here we just need to agree to disagree.
I don’t think you got my point. The original hotel scheme failed because there was ambiguity and a changing political shift in relation to policy. As a result the scheme had to change. The fact is that it took too long and cost too much and that means, as I have explained, that investors become very cautious about getting involved in an area where such things take place. Just look at Lambeth or Southwark for many years, maybe before you were in London.
I think that you and I agree on better partnerships, but I rather feel that you think that local residents are the only group that should be considered. History has shown that where there is no incentive for inwards investment communities ultimately fail.
The missed opportunity of the station, and I am not blaming any particular group or organisation, rather the system, means that a comprehensive scheme is light years away and the recent discussions about whether or not £13 million ( a relatively miniscule sum) will be available or not, confirms my point.
PS On local design panels, society etc comments- why not allow the project architects to explain the scheme to the groups and answer questions, and argue the design rationale? The feeling is that schemes are usually looked at in a very superficial way, and points made which are just technically wrong, in the way that some comments made on the hotel application were. Surely right of explanation is not unreasonable? Surely, equally, societies should make their comments on time, so that applicants can draw attention to mistakes? Why bother with consultation periods?
David>Not saying that local residents are the only group to be considered but definitely that they must play a major role in the process. At the end, they are the heart of the area they live in, and it shouldn’t be defined in priority by investor bodies focusing only on ROI.
Regarding the timing issue, although I take your point, you must also consider that those comments are mostly made by volunteers who use their own time… and they might be busy with plenty of other issues including their own jobs.
I know a little about working with volunteer groups and in fact have sat on many such bodies. There is no reason why their comments should be so late. Obviously applicants should be given the right to draw attention to inaccuracies in comments. In this case it was only just possible due to constant monitoring and the committee preferred the officer’s report and the applicants comments to the very few objections made.
You are not right to say that investors only concentrate on ROI. ROI in any event very complex in the long term and inconsistencies and problems in a local planning environment will drive away investors, sometimes for ever. History is full of examples where bad reputations cause urban decay.