The biannual planning forum, the informal information sharing group organised by the Council for community representatives, was organised on video-call a few days ago (for the third time since July 2020).
London Plan Update
The new plan was adopted on March 2nd. It is worth notice that City Hall made changes following comments from Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, notably on tall buildings (policy D9). Following this change, the height of what constitutes a tall building “should not be less [sic] than six storeys or 18m” (instead of 25/30 meters). The Secretary of States restrains further the way boroughs can treat tall buildings which should only be allowed in appropriate locations and not lead to unacceptable impacts. He wrote:
“There are some areas where tall buildings don’t reflect the local character. I believe boroughs should be empowered to choose where tall buildings are built within their communities. Your draft policy goes some way to dealing with this concern. In my view we should go further and I am issuing a further Direction to strengthen the policy to ensure such developments are only brought forward in appropriate and clearly defined areas, as determined by the boroughs whilst still enabling gentle density across London.”
It was not discussed in details during the Planning Forum meeting, but the updated document says specifically (Policy D9.B-1 page 148):
“Boroughs should determine if there are locations where tall buildings may be an appropriate form of development, subject to meeting the other requirements of the Plan. This process should include engagement with neighbouring boroughs that may be affected by tall building developments in identified locations.“
According to the Architects Journal, “architect Barbara Weiss, co-founder of the Skyline Campaign against the development of unsuitable tall buildings in the capital, likened Jenrick’s intervention to ‘a little plaster on a gaping wound’. She said: ‘Anything that curbs or regulates tall buildings is welcome but it’s too little too late, because the horse has really bolted a few years ago.’”
Nearly 4 months after the deadline for consultation responses (which lasted only 8 weeks!), Jenifer Jackson, Assistant Director for Planning & Transport Strategy in Wandsworth, said that officers were still going through the consultation. She added that the next version should be published towards the end of the year, with again the (minimum statutory) consultation of 6 weeks.
While the Council refused to extend the consultation for community groups, they acknowledge that it requires so much effort that they have “hired urban consultants to advise“. The Wandsworth Society requested some information on the ‘blue corridor for the Thames’ but the AD for Planning did not know the answer… however she made the astonishing comment that in the responses to the consultation, “there is nothing significant that is making change to the policies“. CJAG has published a detailed analysis of the daft local plan, saying:
“A majority of section 2 Strategic Context, Vision and Objectives appears to be a mix of political agenda and wishful thinking. […] We were puzzle by the structure of the plan […] it appears that the lack of link between policies and objectives for the sites is actually because the sites (the most important part of the Local Plan) have not really been thought through”
Other community groups have made similar comments but we will quote here the Battersea Society:
“Our core concern is that the Plan as currently drafted is poorly structured, inconsistent and incoherent, and does not represent a proper basis on which to determine policies and strategies for the next fifteen years. […] It is difficult to see how, if at all, the various strategies, objectives, goals and targets set out in Sections 2.35-2.55 – among others, for example, relating to environment and sustainability, transport, or health and well-being –relate to the overall goals and the environmental, social and economic objectives identified under the “Spatial Vision”. […] There is no attempt to link the policies and objectives for each of the nine area strategies to the fourteen themes and principles. “
Is it really, as the AD for planning said: “nothing significant“? Is it that she did not know the substance of the comments, having delegated the task to private consultants? Or is it that they don’t care? In any case, once again it makes a total joke of the consultation.
Bio-diversity was discussed, following a question from Peter West, in relation to the Local Plan. Nick Calder, Head of Development Management, said that the Council will rely on Enable, in charge of trees and green spaces, to provide advice. He later justified the fact that bio-diversity studies are not public, saying: “Otherwise people will know what to get rid of“.
Later in the meeting, Ms Jackson said that they are finalising the document on the Wandle Delta. Although she cited comments received from some residents and some developers, she did not mention the Wandsworth Society which submitted a very detailed response to the consultation.
She also responded to a question on the attention made to Conservation Areas by saying she will remind officers to always consult the Conservation Asset system on such matterss.
The future of video meetings
Cllr Humphries, Chair, acknowledged that he did not address the Battersea Society letter regarding the future of video meetings (and did not say a word on the same concern raised by CJAG) because… he “did not know what to respond“. He explained that current committee meetings are organised in the Council Chamber because this is the only room with the necessary video equipment (unlike Richmond town hall for instance, where meetings have been broadcasted for years). Meeting are hybrid, with members required to attend physically, others including audience being remote. There is currently a reflexion about setting up some Committee rooms, but “it involves spending“, he added. This is similar to the response that Cllr Sweet gave to a similar question 3 years ago, when he was Chair of the Planning Forum meetings: better save money than democracy.
The Battersea Society noticed that the website is sometime “difficult”: the map can be only focused on Nine Elms, comments are not displayed, decision are published before the end of the consultation… Nick Calder said that matters will be raised to the IT manager, including: options to display applications for a time period, possibility to exclude change of conditions and apply a date order. Once again (but, hey, it has been like that for the last 11 years!) he said that they will be revisiting the IT system within the next 12 months. In 2014, a study about Wandsworth IT system said: “[Wandsworth is] either not aware of the problems or is not interested in improving the service delivered“.
Apparently work is progressing (as it has been for the last 6 year!). TfL wants to secure further funding from the DfT, which should also reduce the Council’s contribution. It was noticed that although Brightside published an article about the plan being “imminent”, the reality is that the planners should refrain the enthusiasm of the Council’s PR team, as a forum member commented.
Other topics were discussed but we won’t comment on them here. The next meeting should probably happen in January 2022.