Another dense development with a 30-storey tower proposed in Wandsworth town

5 mins read
Proposal for the Gas works site - Image from the Design and Access statement

A planning application (2022/3954has been submitted to Wandsworth Council for the redevelopment of the last major site in Wandsworth Town. It includes a contentious tower of more than 30 storeys and additional buildings in place of the gas tank, located close to the southern side of Wandsworth roundabout.

A description of the application, which is currently described as “hybrid”, which means that some part are still not completely defined, comprises:

  • Building A1: part 10-part 30 storeys high plus additional floors for equipment at roof level which should accommodate 184 units and 756sqm of retail.
  • Building B: actually made of 3 x 16 storey buildings plus basement and roof level plant equipment sitting on a 3 storey podium to accommodate 224 apartments with communal floorspace, restaurants, cinema, workspace and retail units.
  • A series of smaller blocks (A2 and A3) of up to 12 storeys, including up to 238 residential units and commercial floorspace.
Developer’s proposed site plan – MAX architects

What is now proposed at 30 storeys beggars belief, say the Wandsworth Society

Despite engaging with the development team on three occasions over the past two years, the Wandsworth Society believes that their concerns were ignored. They submitted a strong and detailed objection to the application.

The Society’s objections are based on the Wandle Delta Masterplan , which was adopted by the Council on 28th September 2021. According to the Masterplan, “tall buildings must respect the small scale of the River Wandle,” and therefore the proposed massing of the tower is in breach with this recommendation.

They consider that the proposed massing of the main tower, with a height of 30 storeys, “is quite ‘out of context’ next to the River Wandle. The site of the tower cannot be considered to be a “town centre” site  nor is it close to a ‘cluster’ of buildings of a similar nature. The application cannot be considered to “make a positive contribution to local character and context“.

According to Wandsworth Masterplan “tall buildings must respect the small scale of the River Wandle” and therefore that part of the site adjoining the river should have buildings not exceeding four storeys tiering back (eastward) away from the river to a maximum of eight storeys. This is obviously not the case with the 12 or 30 storey blocks proposed in the application, says the Society.

They note that the tower will dominate the Wandsworth Town Conservation Area and be completely dominant when viewed from Putney Bridge.

They also consider that the proposed mix of homes does not promote the delivery of a balanced and diverse mix of uses and criticise the absence of any additional provision made for crossing Armoury Way (no new bridge or routes) nor public transport improvement.

The current proposal aims to provide 35% of the accommodations (in terms of habitable rooms) classified as affordable, which is the minimum required in the local plan. However, only 12% of the accommodations will be truly affordable because the remaining 23% will be shared ownership. If and when the owners buy back all the shares, the shared ownership accommodations will become market rent.

Gas Works proposal – Image from the Design Access statement document

Undoubtedly, the applicant was disappointed. Steve Sanham, director of the property development company Common Project said that he had hoped that they had developed the scheme into something the Wandsworth Society would receive positively.

He told us that they had numerous meeting and consulting stakeholders over the last 2 years, stating that:

“Significant changes and additions were made to the proposals in response to this engagement – including revisions to access arrangements, the distribution of height across the site, the inclusion of new flexible community space, and further flexible space for the long established Wandsworth music scene to grow and thrive.”

Mr Sanham disagrees with the Wandsworth Society’s comments about the inadequacy of the scale of the scheme with the River Wandle. He considers that the proposal does not contradict the local Masterplan, as the guidelines allow for flexibility in the benefits of development. He said:

“There is significant, and deliberate, flexibility built in to the recommendations of that masterplan to ensure proposals that come forward (particularly on the Gasworks site) are viable and capable of delivery.”

It appears that Mr Sanham hopes that Council officers will include the standard comment in their report to push forward controversial schemes, by stating that the “benefits outweigh harms“.

Under Tory control, the Council transformed a low rise area into a zone of over development without enough consideration for the infrastructure

The former location of the Gas tank was a very contentious element that was discussed more than a decade ago during the inquiry to decide the fate of the initial Ram Brewery application, which was eventually refused.

The proposal for a massive redevelopment of the Ram Brewery site (also known as Capital Studio) started in 2008 and comprised two skyscrapers of 42 and 32 storeys.

It was unanimously approved by the Tory councillors in December 2008. Although not a member of the Planning Application Committee in charge of the decision, Edward Lister, the Council leader at that time, attended the meeting to raise the pressure on his troops and make sure the plan was approved!

It was not as smooth as the Council leader hopped and the approval was eventually overturned following a unprecedented inquiry and the inspectors appointed by the government recommended refusing permission.

Ram Brewery – Public Inquiry

A new proposal emerged in 2011 and it was again approved by Tory councillors in 2013. Although the Ram Brewery development is still not completely achieved a decade later a large part of the site has now be filled with massive blocks of residential units.

In 2015, the Council approved several blocks of up to 26 storeys, for the redevelopment of a site off Garatt Lane (behind South Thames College).

In 2017, a plan to erect buildings ranging from 7 to 17 storeys near the Tonsleys and Wandsworth Town train station, in place of the Homebase site in Swandon Lane, was granted permission.

In January 2018, the site previously occupied by B&Q was approved by Wandsworth Council for development of 13 residential blocks (with 3 podiums) ranging from 10 to 18 storeys high.

In 2020 the Homebase site submitted a change to increase density on the site and in December 2021 they asked for a 20% size increase on the B&Q plot (playing the usual blackmail: “otherwise we cannot build anything!“).

Architect’s view of the Homebase and B&Q developments

The cumulative impact of these developments could be disastrous

The cumulative impact of these developments could be disastrous. The area, which previously consisted of small buildings rarely exceeding 2 storeys and vast industrial and commercial warehouses, has been sold to property developers who are cramming a huge density of residential units with high-rise buildings on each site, without much consideration for the infrastructure and transport capacity.

In the past 10 years, Wandsworth Council has approved about 2000 new residential units within only 4 schemes adjacent to each others: the Ram Brewery (661 units in 2013), the Garatt Lane/South Thames College development (202, 2015), Homebase/Swandon Lane site (385 units in 2017 increased to 462 in 2020), B&Q site (517 units in 2018 increased to 632 in 2021).

The new application for the Gas works site is now proposing to fill the gap with 648 new residential units.

Cumulative impact of the Gas Works site proposal and adjoining developments

In the meantime, we are still waiting to see any decision on the change of the gyratory system, despite all the promises from the Tory councillors. The small Wandsworth Town rail station only received a makeover for a much-needed new entrance and platform extension to welcome longer trains, while the pressure caused only by the 600+ new units proposed for the Ram Brewery proposal was still under discussion.

When taking into account the cumulative impact, current developments are planning to host more than 7000 additional residents within a few years. If the Gas works site proposal is approved, the total could reach close to 10 000 new residents.

Will the new Labour Council be able to substantially and rapidly increase all public services, including a massive transport improvement? Or will it oversee a collapse due to the forthcoming pressure? The future decisions on granting planning applications in the area might soon bring a response.

UPDATE 10/03/2023: Figures on the level of the split tenure for the provision of  accommodations

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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.