Planning in Wandsworth: is the Council out of control?

4 mins read

A few days ago appeared a new proposal of a 30 storey tower at 100 York road (p.a. 2015/2309). If it looks like a “deja vu” it’s because developers have been proposing a 17 storeys for the site next door (98 York Road), and another 20 storey tower for 198 York Road.

For all those sites, Wandsworth Council planning documents say that buildings of 9 storeys or more “are likely to be inappropriate“. Maybe there is a typo and the Council wanted to write 29? Or do you think that developers cannot read?

Maybe it is just that they ignore the policy documents as they know that the planning officers will approve any major plan, with the same usual arguments: “on balance the positive aspects are considered to outweigh other aspects of the scheme” , and “benefits outweigh harms/detrimental impact” (choose your preferred option – all real quotes from recent officer’s reports).

It was recently confirmed by a developer who said: “‘are likely’ […] does not go as far as advising that the site would not be suitable for tall buildings. Furthermore, as there is a number of emerging tall buildings proposed within the York Road/Lombard Road area, the Council […] acknowledges [that] tall buildings would not be out of place.

Therefore we can only wonder : is the Council out of control? As hundreds of local residents are complaining, they are ignored as practice continue.

“On balance” the Council says it’s ok to ignore planning policy

GarattLane_Tower26 storey tower has been proposed in Garatt Lane (Wandsworth Town). However this is in contradiction with planning documents. The Site Specific Allocations Document (Feb. 2012) states (page 80):

Tall buildings: The site is sensitive to tall buildings […] Para 2.8 of the S2UDS refers to both the offices in Garratt Lane and Welbeck House [5/6 storeys] as “less successful” and some reduction of existing storey heights will be sought, in part, on both sites.

No surprise, as this is the Council’s own application, they approved it. In order to justify it, the officer’s report says:

26.4 Block B is fully acknowledged to be a tall addition to the Town Centre but the harm that it would cause is considered to be less than substantial in terms of the tests set by the NPPF and outweighed by public benefits.

26.6 There are a number of listed buildings located near the site; […] where harm may be caused, the benefits to the public are considered to outweigh those harms.

26.7 The site is located within a conservation area. […] on balance the positive aspects of the development are considered to outweigh other aspects of the scheme and overall the proposed is viewed favourably. 

>> Read the full story: Benefits outweigh harms to justify 26 storey tower

28 storey tower proposed for Lombard Road, SW11A 28 storey tower has been recommended for approval in Lombard Road (beside the Grade II listed Battersea railway bridge). Again, this is in contradiction with planning documents. The Site Specific Allocations Document (Feb. 2012) states (page 174):

Tall buildings: Tall buildings [9 storeys and more] in this location are likely to be inappropriate […] in accordance with DMPD Policy DMS4.

As usual, because this is inappropriate the planning department recommends to … approve the scheme! In order to justify it, the officer’s report says:

15.2 The proposed building at 28 storeys is far in excess of the 8 storey maximum height that the SSAD suggests is appropriate for this site. […] There are considered to be material considerations that allow this proposed height to be considered favourably.

>> Read the full story: 28 storey tower recommended for approval, in total breach of planning documents

Proposed 3D view of the site.
Proposed 3D view of the site.

20 storey tower has been recommended for approval in 198 York Road (currently Homebase, which is leaving at the end of the year). Once more, this is in contradiction with planning documents. The Site Specific Allocations Document (Feb. 2012) states (page 234):

Tall buildings: Tall buildings [9 storeys and more] in this location are likely to be inappropriate […] in accordance with DMPD Policy DMS4.

No recommendation to approve yet. And this time, even the usually very cautious “design” panel set up by the Council raised several concerns: “No convincing reason was offered as to why the Council’s stated policy should be ignored“, “too ambitious“, “exuberant  design“.

>> Read the full story: Bye Bye Homebase, welcome 20 storey buildings

A 14 storey tower was approved a few months ago at 56 – 66 Gwynne Road SW11 3UW, near Lombard Road, following a positive recommendation from planning officers.

Another proposal for (only) 9 storeys was refused in 2008 in the same street, for the following reason:

“The proposed development would result in an unneighbourly and substantial overdevelopment of the site, with its scale, form and massing resulting in a visually dominant and overbearing development“

But 2008 was a long time ago and it looks now as there is no longer any limit to acceptable development.

Also keep in mind that the Councils planning documents for the site next door (Lombard Road) specified than more than 8 storeys is inappropriate.

>> Read the full story: 14 storey towers approved near Lombard Road, contrary to planning documents

view York Park17 storey tower had been recommended for approval in 98 York Road (currently a car dealer). Of course, this is in contradiction with planning documents which says that buildings of more than 8 storeys are likely to be inappropriate for the site.

And as usual again, the planning department recommended to approve the scheme saying:

At up to 17-storeys the height poses a challenge to the tall buildings policy,however, there are considered to be material considerations that justify the proposed heights […]

It is clear that there would be a notable impact on neighbouring properties as a result of the development. This would relate to loss of privacy, outlook and overbearance and daylight and sunlight. Whilst borderline, in each of the assessments, it was considered that on balance acceptable.

This time however the Council’s committee decided to go against the recommendation and refused the scheme. 

Was it because Wandsworth Council eventually decided that they could not carry on ignoring their own planning documents (hmm the officers thought they could…)?

Was it because the opposition of the local Conservatives Councillors?

Or was it because the developers were arrogant enough to pin-point the un-effectiveness of the current planning policies and to say that by approving so many developments in breach of their planning rules, the Council was actually changing them?

The latest example of a 30 storey tower proposed for a site stated as inappropriate for buildings more than 8 storeys confirms that developers consider Wandsworth as a free zone with rules loose enough to by ignored.

And with their pre-application discussions with officers and usual Council’s catchwords “on balance…” and “where harm may be caused, the benefits to the public are considered to outweigh those harmseverything is now acceptable in Wandsworth hand-in-glove with developers!

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CJI editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.