The Planning Application Committee meeting on Tuesday 26th of April 2022 was as many other meetings in appearance. However, seen a few weeks later, it was very special in several aspects. First of all, the councillors had to decide the second amendment of the Peabody redevelopment in St Johns Hill. All Tory Councillors voted in favour, and all Labour Councillors (but one!) voted against. But it was also for most of them a farewell to the Council decisions in their role of councillors.
For the last Planning Application Committee (PAC) meeting before the local election, the most important item of the agenda was the decision on the planning application submitted by Peabody for phase 3 of their redevelopment project in St John’s Hill.
We discussed the proposed application last autumn, in an article titled: More luxury flats and reduction of social units: the vision of Peabody for more bulk and density at Clapham Junction. The “new” phase 3 plan proposes to add 70 new units to the existing proposal. The density is mainly achieved by offering smaller units within the existing building layout, with a shift towards a larger number of flats with fewer bedrooms. However two blocks will gain extra height – most notably “Plot 03” which will gain four storeys and now matches the tallest one on site with 12 storeys.
To our delight, a very detailed response to our objections from the officer
First, we need to comment on the response received to our objection to the scheme. We submitted a letter highlighting our concerns on April 17h. For the first time within 14 years, our objections were specifically addressed by the officer.
We may not agree with the responses, especially when they are erroneous, however this is definitely a step in the right direction where Community groups which make the effort to respond to applications are properly considered.
The officer compared the scheme with the Homebase development, which was refused twice by the Council by approved by the Mayor of London, and used it to justify a similar density for the Peabody proposal. While we said that the development was labelled overbearing and over dominant by Local Councillors and the community, the officer ignored the word “local” and responded that in 2012 it was considered acceptable. This is obviously a lie. To complete his erroneous statement, he also wrote that the “proposed alterations are modest in size in comparison to the consented scheme“. Modest? A 11% increase?
The application has slightly evolved in comparison to the original presentation in October 2021. Instead of 243 social units, 80 intermediate (shared ownership) and 346 private, the plans are now still 243 socials, but 86 intermediate and 329 private. It means that in term of number of units, Peabody is now providing exactly 50% affordable units and 50% private units. It sticks to policy but it is shameful for a charity specialised in social and affordable housing.
Last but not least, the officer did not respond to our specific comment about the developers using a dark brick layout for the block dedicated to social housing, while initial drawing were showing light colour (“materials not matching the initial specification and new blocks are creating a dark area in the centre of the estate“). It only points to the report section saying that “design policies should avoid unnecessary prescription or detail” (par. 3.1). That is very disappointing.
After 2012 and 2017, again a strong objection from local councillors… again ignored
Northcote Councillor Peter Dawson attended the meeting to present a short 5 minutes objection on behalf of his ward’s residents. He first reminded the committee that Northcote Councillors have previously strongly objected to the scheme for its original presentation back in 2012 and his noticeable amendment in 2017. In 2012, although they supported the principal of redevelopment, local Councillors said:
“We are of the view that the application as submitted is seriously flawed. Therefore we believe the current application should be withdrawn so that the issues we detail below can be addressed. If the application proceeds we believe that these issues are of sufficient importance that planning permission should be refused.”
He said that the new application actually exacerbated the problem and that it avoided an overall consideration of the impact. He reminded that the massing of the scheme was a 86% increase from the original estate, on the same footprint.
“It seems a convenient ruse for avoiding consideration […] Peabody, like many private developers, seems to just pocket an increase and then a few years later they keep coming back and try to add more […] Because the consequences of these continuous increases is that yet more flaws are added to various blocks.”, he said.
As we wrote on other articles, this is indeed a very recognisable developer’s tactic, with the help of officers, that the Council has been very complacent to.
Cllr Dawson ended his speech saying:
“If can end with a quote from the 2017 objection we made: ‘As in 2012, we believe the current application should be withdrawn to allow for more fundamental review of the design because of the bulk and the massing issues [… ] It was hugely disappointing then, it is hugely disappointing now that these issues have not bee addressed.”
Admirable and fantastic development for Conservatives councillors, but completely against the housing mix and policies for Labour
Labour Cllr Tony Belton commented that in 2012 he was pretty reluctant to approved the scheme, that “it was acceptable but pretty marginal” with concerns on transport and vehicle access. He seems to forget that actually at that time, he took the lead an proposed a motion to refuse the scheme, saying:
“The Council is not satisfied by the development proposed and failure of the tests from Policy DMS3 by virtue of inappropriate height, bulk and massing on the brow of the hill, over-bearing impact on Comyn Road and Eckstein Road, inappropriate visual impact on St Johns Hill and Brighton Yard and insufficient quality on the architectural merit of an unprecedented height proposed in Clapham Junction.”
At the time, Cllr Guy Humpries (now chair) was a member of the PAC and voted in favour of the scheme.
Cllr Belton added that the application has gone completely against the housing mix requirement in the London and borough plan by moving against family residences. One bedroom units are “not our major housing needs” he said.
Similar concerns were raised by Labour Cllr Peter Carpenter, who said:
“I’m a bit surprise that officers are recommending this because it clearly isn’t compliant with our housing needs assessment, I am even more surprised that Peabody, which was once a very respected housing charity for families is putting this forward because they look more and more like ordinary grubbing property developers”.
However, Tory Councillors came to the rescue of the developer. Piers McCausland said that next to Clapham Junction station the transport access is very good and Peabody will have the ability to market these flats, thus saving the entire development. In a very cynic way, he added:
“We should remember that all the residents of the original social housing model, which went back to the 1920s, all those social housing tenants were given the opportunity of staying in the new development; clearly lots of them thought that they probably had enough of Clapham Junction” .
He even questioned the viability of the concept of social housing, saying:
“How can you keep investing in this model, it’s a good question. We are in a sort of world where tough decisions have to be made.”
McCausland was seconded by Councillor Guy Humphries who commented:
“We have to be realistic and pragmatic in how the world operates and the way we are going to get quantum of larger size units is exactly in a scheme like this and it might not fit exactly within the parameter of policy but we do get a lot more 3 and 4 bed units out the scheme than we would have otherwise if we insisted on going on the strict policy route. We have to acknowledge that if we want things to actually happen rather than have semantic debates about what might not be ideal in an unrealistic world, this is a direction of travel which achieves something for everyone and that’s something we should celebrates”
This is just an example of the trickle down theory applied to property development, where some people justify breaching rules and offering better conditions to the already privileged in the hope that it will drop some crumbs for the poorer. It is proven that it does not work, however many are still believing it may. But Cllr Humphries has already shown that he has an alternative perception of reality!
Conservatives Cllr Lucy Mowatt added that “on balance” this is a “good news that we have 243 homes for social rent next to the station” (just 15 minutes before, Cllr Dawson said that it was 353 units originally be apparently she already forgot!)
At the end, all 6 Conservatives councillors and 1 Labour Councillor (Cllr Loveland ?) voted in favour or the development. The remaining 3 Labour councillors voted against. As Labour won control of the Council at the May’s election, the fate of the scheme could have been very different of the application was not rushed through at the last PAC meeting before the election!
You can watch the full debate in the video below:
For many Councillors, it was their last contribution to the Council’s affairs
A second aspect that added to the particular importance of this meeting, is that for most of them it was their last one. More than half of the Councillors taking part in April have now disappeared from the Council affairs, either because they have decided to “retire” (i.e. not seek another term, in Councillors’ jargon!) or because they simply lost the elections on May 5th.
Amongst the 10 members of this committee, Conservatives Councillors Sarah Mc Dermott (representing Nightingale which disappeared under the electoral reform), Hugh Byrne (representing Shaftesbury which disappeared too, split into Lavender and Queenstown) and Lucy Mowatt decided not to be candidates. In addition, Piers McCausland (representing Fairfield, now merged with Wandsworth Town ward) lost election.
On the Labour side, Peter Carpenter was deselected from West Hill ward (following a very inappropriate message posted on Twitter) and Graham Loveland lost his seat (by more than 400 votes!) in West Putney.
Only Conservatives Guy Humphries (Southfields ward), George Crivelli (East Putney) were re-elected and Labour Tony Belton (previously Latchmere, now in the new Battersea Park ward) and Sheila Boswell (who won the by election in Earlsfield only by 1 vote a few months ago but was now in the safe seat of Tooting) were re-elected.
In addition, long time councillor Peter Dawson (who strongly criticised CJAG for naming councillors who voted in favour of the original Peabody planning application in 2012, and since then never had contact with us) was making his last appearance, representing his ward residents objecting against Peabody’s application. In the previous PAC meeting in March (which he thought was his last), he also came before the committee to object to another application and made this comment:
“Oh well, never mind. Another farewell for me to planning committee. […] Maybe one time, if I come again in April, you will actually agree with me.”
We know the answer from above… his Conservatives colleagues did not agree with him, once more.
In the past, other Councillors have resigned from their party when the Council acted contrary to their views on important issues. We can cite Michael Grimston, who resigned to protest against the plan to close Southfields library. Another Tory Councillor, James Cousins, resigned from the party in 2015 and sat as independent when the Council decided to use Battersea Park to run Formula E races. Obviously, Peter Dawson never considered to do so.