We keep an eye on new planning applications in the Lavender Hill area – and from time to time we see one that we think has to be some kind of joke! This time it’s at Avery Walk, where an entirely new street was built a few years ago on the site of an old Victorian bakery, that had been a metalworking business for many years.
A previous article reported about this completely new street, where the nine houses were put on the market for a total price well north of £10 million. It was quite a big development, which had been described as pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable for a relatively small plot given that it created houses that had underground living areas and that had no gardens – but the inclusion of relatively generous landscaping plans in the alleyway went some way to helping the development get through planning.
As a condition of being allowed to build, the developer was required to submit specific details of the landscaping for approval (which became planning case 2015/5603). The Council then agreed the proposals – which would include climbing plants on the boarded section facing Avery Walk shown below (four different types of creeper, which would be in the current y gravelled area at the base of the fence) – as well as five Wisterias spaced out along the main building wall on the right to climb on the brickwork to make the terrace as a whole (where the buildings have no front gardens) look less stark.
The main car parking area shown below was supposed to have a pergola above it to give the cars some protection, again with climbing plants growing on it, and the wall visible behind (which currently has loose black plastic and a few wooden battens – plus a helpful contribution from the neighbours’ own plants flowing over the top) was to have a green screen of climbing plants three metres high in front of it – all of which would give the flats something much nicer to look at, and improve the overall look and feel of the development and the new road.
There would also be plants screening the messy bin shed and utilities area shown below – giving some visual coherence to what is currently a complete mess. Unfortunately the developer – who had already made a whole series of design changes during the course of the works to simplify the builds – never bothered to do any of the promised landscaping works – leaving these supposedly luxury million-pound-plus houses facing a distinctly half finished mess of concrete, planks and flapping plastic. It’s also rather unfortunate as these houses – despite being large family homes (with basement areas that run under the street) – don’t have rear gardens, being limited to having small balconies and roof terraces. The relatively poor nature of the street makes it look uncared for, which is a shame for a development that started out with high hopes, and where the houses themselves are (we understand) built to a generally good standard.
Why the developer didn’t finish the job is a bit of a mystery. The sort of light landscaping work they had planned is precisely the type of finishing detail that turns a bleak back alleyway full of cars and bins in to a desirable mews development, and which makes properties sell. Plus the plants, trellises and pergolas they intended to install are not exactly pricey (we’re probably talking a few hundred pounds, on a development they were selling for around £15 million) – at least on a development of this scale. And there was a formal commitment made to the landscaping that was part of the planning approval, which means the current development is in breach of its planning permission. We understand that only a small number of the original houses actually got sold – maybe because the street had not been properly finished and didn’t really look particularly attractive – with the remainder currently being rented instead.
Unfortunately a new landscaping proposal has now been submitted to Wandsworth Council by a firm called Parallel Property Management Limited. We usually share extracts of new planning proposals to help our readers understand and be able to comment… but there’s frankly no point doing that here as what is proposed is pretty much to do nothing – to just dump the landscaping promises altogether. Three green scribbles near some of the windows saying ‘floor planters with local planting’, which sounds to us like a code for ‘yeh, the residents may chuck a few plant pots here and there…’ – that’s it!
They bring in a cost argument: ”The increasing cost of living has already put an unnecessary strain on the residents and this has reflected in service charge budgets increasing annually. There is a concerted effort with us and the residents to reduce the maintenance and overall cost borne on the residents of this development and the existing proposals would only serve to increase that burden.“. However this just doesn’t stack up: these properties were built by the developer, and sold at top prices on the expectation that the development would be completed and compliant with what was allowed by the planning permission. Residents could reasonably expect the developers to finish the job based on what was approved (which hasn’t happened). Installing the pergola and plants is not part of the ongoing maintenance costs, it is part of the original development costs – so this is on the developer’s tab, and should have any effect on any service charge beyond maybe some very minor pruning that will take about 30 minutes every six or seven years. This feels more like a veiled threat to residents that if the developers are held to their commitments, they’ll try to find a way to dump the cost on someone else! Plus, in any event the cost of some trellises and trailing greenery is trivial: developers taking that sort of income from sales and rental rates can’t honestly rely on the “we can’t afford it” line of arguments.
Another surprising thing is that the applicants say in the cover letter to Wandsworth’s planning officials that they’re acting as property managers of the development and on behalf of the residents. They say “the development was completed over 4 years ago and there has been no desire to change the landscaping by any of the residents, who are content with the look and feel of the development as it is. We urge the planning department to reconsider in light of the new proposals, which we think are appropriate.“ But a fair few of the residents don’t agree!
At the time of writing there are five objections to these new plans, four from the residents of Avery Walk properties and another one from a resident whose property is on the other side of Avery Walk – who clearly aren’t happy with these proposals to abandon the landscaping, and aren’t happy with it being done ‘on their behalf’ either. Several of the residents note that leaving the landscaping work unfinished will be of detriment to Avery Walk. It’s one of those interesting things that the better a street looks, the more people tend to respect it – with more litter and minor antisocial behaviour on tatty streets than smart ones; and the residents consider that finishing the work will go some way to addressing a recent increase in minor anti-social behaviour incidences. Residents also question the truth of the statement in the application that Avery Walk residents were consulted on the proposal – saying that they didn’t hear about it until over a month after the stated date.
One comment notes that the owner and the managing agent argue that the cost of maintaining this scheme is too expensive for the owners of the houses – but points out that this is disingenuous, on the grounds that the builders are, in fact, the owners of most of these properties. The houses’ tenants change regularly, so they do not incur the costs as suggested because service charges are the responsibility of the owners, not the tenants.
One comment on the proposals notes that it is hardly surprising that the developers struggled to sell several of the houses despite a hot property market, given that they had given them a view of a back fence and various different wall surfaces that had been roughly patched up rather than the promised smart landscaping – “no family, it seems, would wish to live in a property with basement living rooms, no garden and little or no outlook“. They infer that it’s in the developers’ own interest do the right thing and finish this to the right standard – as doing it properly will make the houses more desirable. It’s also noted that the lighting in the development doesn’t match the original plans and seems somewhat inadequate, and also that there was supposed to be bollard access to avoid the general public driving through the narrow alleyway that is not intended for general traffic (it’s a privately owned road with a public right of access along it – but to walk, not to drive).
One respondent to the planning application sums the situation up rather well: “[they] should be forced to implement the consent granted immediately and without further delay. It has taken far too long for the current owners to address this issue […] The current owners have obtained the planning they wanted to build these houses; this was granted along with several conditions; now, they wish to ‘duck out’ of these conditions as to do so would incur further costs, which they would have to bear. […] it should not be possible for the owners to build what suits them and now seek to overturn the bits they do not wish to carry out.“
Fortunately Wandsworth’s planning officers have a solid track record in rejecting attempts like this to to ignore commitments developers previously agreed to (and to talk the talk on environmental improvement without then following through).
See a similar development at Gowrie Road which tells the story of another developer who thought they could get away with it, and didn’t. Fingers crossed the developer will withdraw these dubious plans, and finish the job properly – making Avery Walk the nice new mews development that it should have been right from the start, giving the residents a decent view rather than something that looks like the back of a chip shop, making the place feel properly cared for, and – if it really comes down to the pounds and pence – enhancing the value of several properties they still own on the street.
If you would like to view or make a comment on the new proposals they are at the Wandsworth planning website, search for application number 2023/4230. Bear in mind that the fact that the developer of the street hasn’t built what they were supposed to is not the fault of the current residents, who are clearly as keen as everyone else to sort this mess out.
- This article was originally published on Lavender-Hill.uk.