Following the unanimous rejection by the Planning Application Committee (PAC), of plans to erect buildings ranging from 7 to 15 storeys near the Tonsleys and Wandsworth Town train station, in place of the current Homebase store (p.a. 2016/7356), the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has decided to take-over the planning decision.
It was the second time a plan to redevelop the Homebase site was refused. Wandsworth Council decided to refuse planning permission due to the height, scale and massing of the 15 storeys Station building proposed and its relationship with the surrounding townscape. The application received hundreds of objections, including the Wandsworth Society, The Tonsley Resident Association and the three Fairfield councillors, all united in opposition to the scheme.
The Wandsworth Guardian said:
“In a letter to the council, Mr Khan said he recognised that in the last three years it had “taken a positive approach to approving new homes” and “exceeded the annualised development plan targets for housing and affordable housing”.
However, he said: “I note that the proportion of affordable housing secured relative to overall housing consented during this period is significantly below the Wandsworth Core Strategy 33 per cent target and represents a significant undersupply of affordable housing in the pipeline.”
He wrote the proposed development “has potential to make an important contribution to housing and affordable housing” in the borough.”
The initial report from the GLA criticised only the level of affordable housing
In its report dated 15 February 2017, the Greater London Authority (GLA) already strongly supported (page 5):
- the provision of flexible office accommodation (par.19);
- the proposed amount of retail and commercial floor space (par.20);
- the opportunity to provide a new northern access to Wandsworth Town station (par.22);
- the delivery of a significant number of new homes as part of the development (which “will also contribute towards meeting London’s housing need“) (par.21);
- the development demonstrates a high level of residential quality (par.32);
- the proposed density is therefore supported (par.35).
However the applicant said that delivering 79 intermediate units or 25% of the total number habitable rooms at the mix of income thresholds was unacceptable.
The report said (page 6 – par.29):
“The applicant should review the affordable housing proposal in the context of the draft Affordable Housing and Viability SPG, including an assessment of additional scenarios which include available grant funding for affordable/social rent units to establish whether an affordable offer that appropriately responds to the requirements of the draft SPG, London Plan Policy 3.11 and local policy can be delivered.”
The applicant claimed previously that a fully policy compliant scheme would be unviable (par.28).
The Mayor’s officers are supporting the tower and massing of the scheme
On the other hand, the GLA report dismissed the arguments set out by the Council for refusal, saying that “[it] will provide a consistent building line along Swandon Way that provides separation from fast moving traffic, helping to optimise the quality of amenity spaces within the site” and that “[the station building] was not considered to be of significant harm to the local and wider townscape […]. Therefore, in the context of the strategic support for the previous scheme, the revised scale of the Station Building at fifteen storeys is also supported” (par.37).
It appears the Mayor’s office is strongly supporting the application and only objected that it fails to provide sufficient affordable housing.
Sadiq Khan wrote to the Council in June 26th:
“In my view the proposed development has potential to make an important contribution to housing and affordable housing supply in response to London Plan policies”.
Surely, if the applicant comes up with an adequate amount of affordable housing – which could be easily achieved by twisting the scheme, increasing some buildings and even reducing slightly their margin, then it could be a done deal!
The official page for the Public Hearing for Homebase/Swandon Way is > HERE.
The Council’s attitude to affordable housing in focus
For several years, CJAG and other community groups have criticised the way Wandsworth Council was constantly dismissing the failure of providing sufficient affordable accommodation in all the major schemes they were keen to approve.
In 2015, we published Why is Wandsworth Council unable to meet its own target on affordable housing. Let quote the beginning of this article:
“While we were discussing the level of housing in the borough, a senior officer acknowledged that Wandsworth was unable to meet its target of 40% affordable accommodation in every new developments. The figures are way below, although at the same time the Council is exceeding its target on total housing built.
So, why is the Council unable to promote affordable housing, or why is it building so many unaffordable units?
A simple answer is: for many reasons, including the biased assumption that by promoting luxury developments it will encourage developers to provide more affordable too (the same as the political assumption that by removing constraints on the richest, it will automatically cascade to help the poorest – although we all know from history and so many studies that it is completely wrong), the need to raise more Community Infrastructure Levy (the tax paid by developers to the Council) and Section 106 money as central government is cutting funding and Council’s budgets have been slashed (“the bigger the scheme, the fatter the bounty, leading to a situation not far from legalised bribery – or extortion, depending on which side of the bargain you are on” wrote another article in 2014), and a general consideration that new development should be looked on favourably.”
The second sentence is similar to the argument stated by the Major of London:
“I recognise that Wandsworth Council […] has exceeded the annualised development plan targets for both housing and affordable housing during this period. Notwithstanding this, I note that the proportion of affordable housing secured relative to overall housing consented during this period is significantly below the Wandsworth Core Strategy 33% target and represents a significant undersupply of affordable housing in the pipeline.”
In an amazing anticipation, several groups wanted to discuss about housing provision and affordable housing at the Planning forum last July. Instead time was spent in lecturing about policy changes and eventually Cllr Sweet announced that it would be in the agenda next time… probably in January 2018!
Unfortunately the consequence of Wandsworth Council’s blindness could now trigger a dramatic change in Wandsworth Town and lead to a massive construction of towers in the area against the Council’s will!
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For better or worse, GLA planners believe in high density and towers near transport hubs, so I have no doubt they will approve this proposal. I wonder if they will even get the increase in affordable housing that they say is needed.
That is why the decision rely on Sadiq Khan only and is seen by many as highly political: Will Sadiq go against his old “friends” from Wandsworth Borough (the Labour councillors voted against the scheme) and against the borough residents and approve the scheme in order to claim victory on tackling affordable housing crisis in London?
That could be seen as a betrayal of the borough where he built his political career…