Xmas present: size up 20% for the B&Q site, commercial space down 85% and less affordable-rent than required in the local plan

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Quod | B&Q Smugglers Way, Wandsworth | Environmental Statement Addendum | August 2021

Despite the pandemic (or maybe because of it?) father Xmas seems incredibly busy this year. While we are waiting for the new application for Peabody St John’s Hill (promised for next week apparently), developers for B&Q site have submitted their new proposal this week (p.a. 2021/5004).

The end-of-year season is usually a cherished season for developers to submit amendments to their proposals, as less people will be available to look at them in detail.

Play the developer’s game

The changes are “required in order to improve deliverability and buildability” according to the developer’s own statement. As usual, when developers encounter financial difficulties (read = when they believe their profit could shrink!) the solution is to increase density, build more… “Build, build, build” is the new slogan, the Tory version of the old “education, education, education” Labour motto, quite a change of priority. It’s only a matter of Excel spreadsheet, maths and 3D mock up, the real impact for the location and the residents is the least of their concerns.

They know that a complacent Council will turn a blind side to their breach of rules, and the “follow-up” application is becoming the rule nowadays in Wandsworth borough in order to get massive schemes approved. The discussion with officers often follows the usual patterns:

  1. Developer would like, say 30 storeys.
  2. Officers object it could be too massive or too tall.
  3. Planning application submitted for 20.
  4. Approval
  5. Nothing built
  6. Amended application for 20+x storeys (choose number for x, bigger than previously approved)
  7. Approval
  8. You build OR you can play again and return to #5

You can find documented examples of this developer’s game with the Peabody scheme on St John’s Hill, the 18 storey proposal for Battersea Park Road, the recent proposal for a 24 storey tower on York Road, or even the less prominent scheme on Parma Crescent. They all played the same game for more and more massing.

So, what is that new version of the proposal?

First of all, it is important to note that only plot A (4 towers) and plot C (3 towers) are included in the application, which leaves the door fully open for a subsequent application for plot B (see above the developer’s game and start again from #5).

proposals scope
Proposal includes Plot A and C (red circle), NOT Plot B on the right

In this Christmas proposal, the developer will add an additional 78 units to the development which will bring the total from 335 to 413 flats on two third of the scheme. The increase will come from 10 additional storeys over 5 towers and 4 additional storeys over 2 towers. The total will comprises 13 blocks ranging from 15 to 24 storeys (13 to 19 + lift shafts and double ground floors adding 2 or more storeys on each building!). Total unit numbers will be 632 across the entire former B&Q Retail Warehouse site.

Comparison approved scheme vs “follow-up” proposals 

This is already the second “follow-up” proposal. The initial planning consent (2017/0580) granted to pension fund company L&G was amended in 2019 (2019/4583) and already increased the size to 554 units (mainly by shrinking the commercial space). As a summary: 20% more residential, buildings size up several floors on most towers and drastic disappearance of all business and retail space.

  January 2018 December 2021
Number of blocks 13 13
Size Officially 8 to 15, in reality 10 to 18 Officially 13 to 19, in reality 15 to 24
Commercial floorspace 8129m² with 5160m² of business space and 2969m² flexible commercial floorspace 1,205m² flexible commercial floorspace
Number of flats 517 residential units 632 residential units
Total affordable* 184 units = 35.6% of affordable housing  223 units = 35,3% of affordable housing
Intermediate 132 units (70% intermediate) 155 units (70% intermediate)
Social/Low rent 52 units (30% affordable rent) 68 units (30% affordable rent)

*Note that the new London plan adopted in March 2021 (Policy H5) sets a strategic target of 50% for all new homes delivered in former industrial sites (which is the case for B&Q, acknowledged by the developers which said multiple times that the land is too contaminated for digging) to be affordable (with 30% social rent minimum – Policy H6).

This is reinforced in the emerging Draft Local Plan (2020): Policy LP25 states the Council will seek to secure the Mayor’s strategic target of 50 per cent of all new homes to be affordable, and the policy also states that the Council will require a tenure split of 50% low-cost rent (Social Rent or London Affordable Rent) and 50% intermediate products.

But who cares? Of course, L&G explain that their plan is not viable but nevertheless they aim at delivering this amount of affordable (here again read = not viable means less profit)!
The financial appraisal demonstrates that on current day costs and values the viability of the proposed scheme is challenging. Notwithstanding this, L&G does not seek to reduce the percentage of affordable housing and therefore the proposal substantially exceeds the level of affordable homes which could be secured by viability alone.” [Quod | B&Q Swandon Way | Affordable Housing & Viability | August 2021]

Developers hand in glove with Wandsworth officers

To learn more how developers mislead the public when publishing the number of storeys, you will find a full explanation HERE.

You will read also how officers are lying (yes!) to councillors in their response (see bottom of the article). In reality it is very easy to calculate.

As defined in Wandsworth local plan, 1 storey is considered 3 meters. Therefore we just divide the size of the building by 3, a calculation that a primary school child can do but happens to be tricky for officers. 

Last but not least, I cannot resist a (sad) laugh quoting the Site Specific Document 2016 giving guidelines to what is appropriate or not for developers, p115 about the B&Q site:

In accordance with Core Strategy Policy IS3d, tall buildings in this location are likely to be inappropriate. In accordance with DMPD Policy DMS4, the height at which a development in this location will be considered to be tall is 9 storeys.

ssad_2016

Previous objections from the Wandsworth Society

The Wandsworth Society submitted a detailed objection on the initial application in 2018 (you can read the entire objection HERE).

All the buildings in this development are tall buildings as defined in the SSAD for the site. The tallest buildings are twice the height at which buildings in this location are ‘likely to be inappropriate’.

  • The development is at the high end of the London Plan density matrix. This site is not a central location with the best transport connections. Development at this density is inappropriate for this area.
  • Despite the fact that trees on the site now benefit from Tree Preservation Orders, the developers are still proposing to chop down about 50 of them. The majority of the 174 new trees that are to be planted will be at the podium level, not in the public realm, and are no substitute for the loss of the existing trees.

The Wandsworth Society added that many of the criticisms made of the Homebase  scheme (2016/7356), particularly relating to the overbearing height and density, apply here. The Tonsleys lie almost immediately to the south and the 13 towers proposed in this scheme will have an even more damaging impact on these low-rise residential streets.


Are intermediate dwellings affordable?

For information, paragraph 4.6.8 of the London Plan confirms that currently all intermediate rented homes such as London Living Rent and Discounted Market Rent should be affordable on incomes of up to £60,000.

Intermediate ownership products such as London Shared Ownership and Discounted Market Sale (where they meet the definition of affordable housing) should be affordable to incomes of up to £90,000. Further information on the income caps is set out in the Mayors Annual Monitoring Report. 

The median gross salary in Wandsworth is £41,000 (part time and full time – Source: ONS, 2020. Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings; VOA, 2021. Private Rental Market Statistics). The Affordable Housing Commission states that their target for net income to be spent on rent is 33% (and never more than 40%). Therefore, it is easy to conclude that intermediate products are NOT affordable.

 

 

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