Another co-living scheme refused by the new Council

7 mins read
Elevations for a co-living scheme proposed in Lombard Road - Credit: Hawkins\Brown ©
Elevations for a co-living scheme proposed in Lombard Road - Credit: HawkinsBrown ©

Another proposal for a co-living scheme of 547 units made up with a tower equivalent to 28 storeys has been refused last August. Within 6 months this is the second major co-living scheme turned down in the area.

Is it the start of a new era were hundreds of small units rented at a very profitable rate and stacked up in high rise buildings are no longer welcomed in Wandsworth? At the end of August, the planning committee of the new Labour-run Wandsworth council refused planning permission for 547 units on 57-59 Lombard Road, at the corner of York Road.

The proposal (p.a. 2021/4936) consisted of a massive block with a tower up to 88 meters all dedicated to co-living and associated amenity space, co-working, cycle hub, café and retail floorspace (approximately 2,023 sqm Class E), landscaping and all associated works.

The site is currently occupied by a large 2-storey building housing Halfords and Pets at Home and associated car park.

For those we think that 28 storeys (23 “occupied” storeys according to the developer) is too much, you will be pleased to hear that pre-application meetings suggested 31 storeys (according to developers, therefore probably 35 storeys according to local plan standards), but officers seemed concern that it was too close to the 32 storeys they promote for Winstanley Estates, however leaving the door open for a taller than the already approved tower.

31 storeys proposed in March 2021 vs 23 in October 2021 – Developer’s documentation

The main tower was subsequently reduced to 23-24 storeys . The number of storeys varies depending on the documents: the developers claim it is only 23 “occupied” storeys (omitting the roof compartment for the lift machineries), the planning portal shows 24 or 28 storey if you calculate according to planning rules.

Indeed, Wandsworth local plan defines one storey as being 3 meters high, and therefore a tower of 88m is equal to about 28 storeys.

A revamp of a previously consented scheme

This scheme was actually a revamp of a previous scheme presented in 2018, when a smaller and thinner 20-storey tower was consented.

The planning application (2018/3776) was presented as:

“Erection of a new 9177 sq m 6 storey self-storage facility, including artists’ studios (293 sq m) and flexible office space (413 sq m), and a 4/6/8/13/20 storey development comprising 168 residential units with ground floor retail uses (1007 sq m) and 1st and 2nd floor offices (487 sq m) and formation of basement parking (incl. 64 car parking spaces), cycle parking (344 spaces) and surface level parking, loading, servicing and landscaped areas including formation of new plaza on Lombard Road.”

The scheme was approved in December 2018 by the Council. Adam Greenhalgh, the officer in charge of the case,  cited an ‘enigmatic’ masterplan, and wrote:

The form and design are supported by Council Officers and the Design Review Panel with the layout, building heights, massing and architectural design being considered to be in line with the masterplan for York Road, sympathetic to the regeneration and townscape of the Focal Point of Activity, to enhance pedestrian access in the area and to enhance the public realm.

This application was meant to be delivered in 2 phases, the first one being a new self-storage facility and a second one being the tower. One of the condition when the planning permission was granted, was that the construction should start within 3 years from the 18 April 2019 and therefore this plan could have become caduc before the Committee meeting in August.

However, as the storage facility has been completed, the permission is now valid… in perpetuity, allowing the 20 storey tower and adjoining buildings to be built out at any time in the future.

80% of the borough co-living units proposed in the same area

This area of Wandsworth has been very popular for shared living schemes with two of them already consented in the vicinity: 239 units in Chatfield Road, approximately 0.5 miles from the Site and 159 units in Hazel Court about 1 mile away. A third one for 310 units is being built in Earlsfield (Garratt Mills), approximatively 2.5 miles away.

It seems a lot, not only because this area concentrates 80% of the share-living provisions for the entire borough.

However, for the planning officer in charge of the case, “there are currently a limited number of large-scale purpose built shared living developments within the immediate area. […] there is not considered to be an overconcentration of units“. He said also that the proposal was providing a “complementary offering” to the York Road area and that it would add to the “mixed nature of the locality“.

And as usual, the officer’s report concludes: “officers consider the benefits of
the development (increased residential development and economic uses) outweigh
the [detrimental] impacts described above.

A lot similar to the case in Culvert Road, a fourth one is under consideration less than a mile to the east of the site, the existing permission allows to build 168 residential dwellings, including 36% affordable housing provision (by habitable room). This new proposal was replacing all of that with 547 small units, targeting young professionals temporarily located in the area.

The problem of co-living schemes

Co-living is a nice buzzword for Buy-to-Let products providing compact non self-contained units with shared communal facilities. Those schemes are designed for large (very large) cities and there is probably a market for short term rental, either for young professionals or employees  looking for a temporary accommodation.

But there are already plenty on offer for those individuals as a simple search on Google for “flatshare london” or “flatmate” will quickly show, along with companies specialising in self-contained studios and apart-hotels.

The real beneficiaries of those schemes are actually local authorities, in term of meeting their housing targets, and private developers because they can break free of standard planning rules in term of minimum sizes, private amenity space and affordable provision (London Plan Policy H18 A5a-g discharge them of complying with the normal planning rules for self-contained units).

That’s the reason why those schemes have become very popular recently and surge of applications have been submitted across London.

A shared-living scheme previously refused in the same area

The Lombard Road scheme (actually the whole block facing York Road) was just half a mile away from the another co-living proposal, which was refused by Councillors on 22 February 2022. Commenting about the decision in April 2022, we wrote:

“The reason [for refusing the 248 York Road proposal] is interesting as in theory it should be applied similarly to the scheme proposed in Lombard Road, just a few yards from the Access Self Storage site.”

Planning application 2020/4285 was for blocks ranging from 8 to 13 storeys and 193 shared-living rooms along with 131 residential units

The 2 proposals are just a few yards away

During the debate in the committee in February 2022, Conservatives Councillor Hugh Byrne (who was not candidate to his re-election in May 2022) appeared to regret the policies that his party have encouraged for two decades in Wandsworth. He said that they have left “the genie out of the bottle”.

A changed of mood in the Committee

First of all, it is rather unusual to have a major application coming before the Planning Committee and it was noted at the start of the debate by the former leader of the Council, Conservatives Councillor Ravi Govindia.

During the debate, we heard Councillor Humphries make reference to the statutory planning documents, something that he previously often quietly dismissed. The former chair of the Planning Application Committee in the previous Conservatives administration, and big supporter of tall building, insisted several times on the fact that that the 24 (sic!) storeys was “significantly” over limits set out a maximum of 7 to 20 storeys in the the emerging local plan. He added that 7-20 storeys was appropriate for the zone, apparently forgetting that under his chair they approved several schemes fully above that limit, especially the 31 storey tower that is still planned for the Winstanley redevelopment scheme.

In fact, the officers seem much less comfortable than under the previous administration. Senior planners and officer Nigel Granger, area team manager had difficulties to justify their recommandations in numerous occasions. At one point he admitted that the figures quoted were the work of the applicant’s team, and he could not corroborate the figure.

Councillors noted the similarity to the application previously refused in the nearby site of 248 York Road. While Cllr Belton, Chair of the committee, reminded the members that “each application had to be considered on its own merits“, we need to note that there is no such precaution when a tall tower can be easily justified with the precedent of a similar scheme in the vicinity.

But according to the Chair, the “big” topic was the question of the “affordability” of the scheme. Labour Councillors Colclough and Boswell questioned the demographic target, noting that the required salary was in the range of 40-49 years old, out of reach for young professionals.

In a surprise U-turn from all the previous Conservatives votes on affordable housing in Wandsworth, Councillor Govindia also added that “the scheme did not provide affordable housing on-site, and questioned whether it addressed the housing need of the area“.

The application was refused (motion proposed by Conservatives Councillor Govindia and seconded by Conservatives Councillor Humphries) due to a failure to meet an identified local need and the lack of on-site affordable accommodation.

It’s worth noting that, from the 9 members attending the committee meeting, all Labour and Conservatives members voted against the scheme, with one exception of Conservatives Councillor Norman Marshall who voted in favour. During the debate, he was the only one making a positive comment (video 1:00:18), saying that £1250 per month was “a reasonable starting point” and similar to a £1300 for a 1-bedroom flat in the borough. and that “a single person, no car, no responsibility can easily push back to 50% of their income” on accommodation.

Read our article on co-living to understand why this is actually a very expensive accommodation.

Cllr Belton, who said repeatedly in the past that he was not in favour of massive towers, made a surprising final comment saying that he was encline to abstain as he saw merits in the scheme. However, he added that perhaps the Committee “ought to be a bit stronger on height” when the policy indicates some limits.

The entire video of the debate is available on our Youtube Channel:

For the previous co-living scheme that was refused, Conservatives Councillor Hugh Byrne prognosticated (wrongly!) that, if the proposal was being refused, it would come back and the Council would loose in appeal. We will see what happens with this one, but one thing is certain: there was no appeal on the previous co-living refusal (the 12 weeks time limit have passed).

Could it be the end of the eldorado in Wandsworth  for property developers?

UPDATE 07/10/2022: Videos of the PAC meeting added with modifications on the debate description to accurately quote the different comments.

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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.