Arding & Hobbs redevelopment proposal approved

5 mins read

Proposal (p.a. 2020/3421) made by W.RE (W. Real Estate limited), to redevelop Arding & Hobbs building at Clapham Junction, has been approved by Wandsworth Council.

As usual, concerns of main objectors are blatantly ignored!

We reported previously about the proposal in several articles (here and there). We’ve been critical of the project, mainly due to two considerations:

  1. We strongly believe the first floor facing Lavender Hill and the junction should remain in retail use – so that the building can keep the first two floors with their distinctive large display windows in line with their intended use.
  2. The roof extension is a bold proposal and a more visible development than expected to be acceptable on this listed landmark. It needs to be sensitive to the appearance of the building, and will also need to be of the very highest quality of design and materials.

Sadly, as we are used now, our objections have been blatantly ignored, despite the number of research and hours (including a long time spent with the developer commenting on the proposal). None of our comments have been considered: ZERO! And the officer does not even acknowledge our letter of objection, nor the first letter of comment during the “pre-discussion stage”!

However, it was not only our comments that were dismissed.

The Battersea Society objected on the exact same lines, notably:

  1. First floor retail space: We regret the loss of retail space on the first floor, with the consequent loss of access for the general public.
  2. The design and height of the extension means that it will sit uncomfortably with the restored original, and it will fundamentally alter the street scene of the retail heart of Clapham Junction, and of the Conservation Area. A single-storey extension, and/or a larger set-back from the current façade, might mitigate the damage to the street scene.

Their objections were dismissed.

The Victorian Society objected too:

  1. This extension should therefore be restricted to one storey so as to limit the harm and maintain the distinctive roofscape to a greater degree. […]In addition to concerns of height, we have concerns relating to the design of the extension
  2. The proposed works would cause harm through the installation of a such a large extension on the highly visible roof, which appears unrelated. Under paragraph 196, this harm “should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal”. It is our view that at present, the design would cause harm greater than any public benefit, and we therefore object.

And… of course it was also ignored.

Browsing on the Society website, we found interesting that actually, with funding available, they managed to get the High Court to quash a planning permission after their advice was ignored. If ever we had the money, that could be an option  to pursue against Wandsworth Council!

People get probably tired of those so called “consultations” where comments and objections are constantly dismissed, but the proposal for this iconic building attracted only 23 objections and 30 supports (usually 1 or 2 sentences). The 6 comments include actually 4 objections, such as “We have concerns around the use of the roof top extension” or “The new extension looks too big in comparison with the rest of the building“.

As usual, the officer’s report follow the standard “on balance”

The officer dismissed all criticisms in her report:

  • In par 2.9 it says: “Given the scale of the existing four-storey building and the surrounding terraced setting, the proposal would not be readily visible form the directly adjoining streetscape on Lavender Hill and St. John’s Road.>> notably avoiding to notice that it would be highly noticeable from Flacon Road where the building is mostly visible!
  • It acknowledged a noticeable viewpoint change in par 2.13, however, the officer makes a subjective comment saying: “However, it is considered that given the design and set back of the extension, the proposal would not result in a substantially dominating or overbearing effect.” >> Note the use of not substantially dominant or overbearing, which suggest that it is actually  dominant and overbearing.
  • “the proposed two-storey extension would have a modest cumulative impact on the skyline” >> Wandsworth Council has got a record of approving skyscrapers in low rise residential area, so indeed, it is ironically very modest in comparison to what could have been approved (image in the right, maybe?)!
  • As expected, it acknowledges the scale of the extension but dismisses its harm in par 2.24: “The proposed two-storey roof extension would be a noticeable visual addition to the host building […] The proposed roof extension is also considered to be appropriately scaled and positioned in order not to overly dominate or overshadow the prominent appearance
    of the existing cupola” >> We notice the contradiction between par2.9 saying that it “would not be readily visible” to par 2.24 saying it “would be a noticeable visual addition”.
  • And the final nail on the coffin is given on par 2.29, with the usual “benefits balanced against harm”, which couldn’t be more of an example: “this harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal including, where appropriate, securing its optimum viable use.>> this is so predictable and used so much on officer’s reports that this is either taught at “planning school” or an obligatory statement in Wandsworth planning. 
  • The officer must have noticed the problem as she quickly justify in the next paragraph that the NPPF “states that “benefits do not always have to be visible or accessible to the public in order to be genuine public benefits”“.>> In term of public benefits, it could be actually a disaster for the drain caused to the footfall taken away for the shopping parade of Clapham Junction.

In other word, public benefits might not even be noticeable. As long as we can invent them it is possible to justify any approval!

Just for the pleasure of it, we quote the conclusion that could have been generated by our automated planning report tool:

“Overall, the public benefit of the scheme is considered to out weight the restricted and localised harm caused. On balance, proposal is considered to comply with the relevant policies”

We wonder if actually the planning department has not reached the next level of cynicism, as the conclusion statement is headed “Conclusion/Planning Balance“.

Once again, we wonder what is the point of wasting so much time on an application that can be rubber stamped for political gain.

The Committee members

Councillor Humphries who chairs the Committee must have an eluded notion of the meaning of “conservation”, as he commented: “The designs represented a significant improvement when compared to the current situation“. Which current situation? The empty boarded up building, or the 130 years old department stores that Debenhams wanted to keep?

However, it seems that the members of the Committee were largely in favour of the roof design. Not a word was said in the minutes regarding the critical loss of retail space and the possible consequences on Clapham Junction shopping parade.

Latchmere Councillor Tony Belton later commented in his newsletter:

“I rather liked the design solution proposed by the architects; it retains the early twentieth century features of the original and adds a slightly Arabic, but restrained roof extension. The contentious element, however, is that the developer obviously does not think that the future of retail in the modern, online world is bright enough to utilise a building the size of the old department store. Instead, he has gone for small, quality office units, arguing essentially that in the post-Covid world, more offices will be located in significant hubs around the city centre – and what hub could be better situated for Gatwick and Heathrow and the UK’s rail system than Clapham Junction? Note that there is no longer a link with Debenham’s or a vulnerability to its bankruptcy.”

As we said in our previous articles, we support the redevelopment of the Grade II listed building and have been a long time advocate of Clapham Junction as a business hub ideally located with great transport connection.

However, we raised strong objections that could have been mitigated with the developers, was the Council willing to really pay attention to the area. CJAG was not the only group to raise the same concerns, as we were joined by other prominent organisations such as the Victorian Society and the Battersea Society. Alas, as usual our contributions have been a waste of our time.

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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.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for all you do Cyril. The row-of-washing roof is hideously out of character with the building which is my ‘value judgement’ .

    But beauty ‘in the eye of the beholder’ gets preference as usual. Pity they have little visual education.

    Thanks for trying anyway. Hope you and your family are staying safe. I have just had my first jab!

    Cheers, Julia

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