Garratt Lane: the desperate need for affordable housing is worth some compromises says Labour

6 mins read
Proposal on Garrett Lane - Credit: Design Access Statement

A revised application proposing a 36% increase has been granted permission on Garratt Lane. Although harm to the surrounding area was acknowledged, it was outweighed by the offer of 100% social homes on the site. However, the argument that Wandsworth needed to build more to achieve its housing target is much more controversial.

A proposal to build a total of 113 social rented residential units in buildings ranging in height from 3 to 7 storeys, together with a new health centre and pharmacy, and two commercial units as phase 2 of the Garratt Lane redevelopment has been approved last month by 5 votes in favour and 3 against (all three Conservative councillors with the exception of councillor Mark Justin who was absent).

This development (p.a. 2023/4840) forms part of the wider Garratt Lane/Atheldene regeneration area, the whole of which was granted planning permission in July 2020 (under application ref. 2017/4141) for 193 residential units (private and affordable houses). Phase 1 (which provided 110 residential units, including 72 affordable homes) has already been built out.

The site includes the Brocklebank Health Centre and a temporary pharmacy building. Previous structures, including retail units and residential accommodation, have been demolished to make room for a new three-storey health centre, currently under construction.

Existing site on Garratt Lane – Credit: Google Street View
Proposed new buildings – Credit: Design Access Statement

The flats will be located within 2 residential buildings, one 7-storey building with 58 flats on Garratt Lane and one 6-storey block with 55 flats fronting Oakshaw Road. They will be notably higher than the surrounding houses, which is a a mixture of two and three-storey terraced properties and three-four-five storey flatted blocks.

New massing of the buildings – Developer’s drawings
Massing approved in 2017 – Design Access Statement

The officer’s report confirmed:

“The proposed development would therefore be taller than the previously existing buildings on the application site, taller than the residential blocks approved within the currently consented scheme, as well as being taller than the height of prevailing neighbouring properties. […] The proposals would clearly result in a far more dominant form of development along this part of this key main route compared to the current situation.”

An massive increase of the previous approved scheme

The change also includes a significant increase in building height from 5 stories to 7 stories in parts of the proposal, as well as a 36% increase in the size of the scheme, with 113 units proposed instead of 83.

Plan approved in 2017 – Design Access Statement

The new Wandsworth Local Plan and Policies Map was adopted on 19 July 2023 after three years of consultation. The application is evidently in conflict with the Policy (Tall Building Policy LP4, p294, par. A), which states:

“Proposals for tall buildings [7 storeys or over, or 21 metres or more, which is the case here] will only be appropriate in tall building zones identified on tall building maps […], where the development would not result in any adverse visual, functional, environmental and cumulative impacts. […] The Council will seek to restrict proposals for tall buildings outside the identified tall building zones.”

In addition it says (section 7):

“The massing of any proposed tall buildings should be proportionate to the local environment […] and should be designed so as not to create an overbearing impact having regard to its context.”

The application is not located within a tall building zone. However, as the planning officer noted in her report, the wording of the policy was amended to allow “a degree of flexibility“. As we mentioned in a previous article, the original version in the Local Plan was labelled: “Proposals for tall buildings will not be permitted outside the identified tall building zones“.

Wandsworth Design Review Panel commented:

“This represents a departure from the height parameters in the adopted local plan and should be adequately justified. “

It appears that the justification provided by the applicant was to change the tenure of all the new homes to social rent instead of a mix of private and affordable housing.

Their decision clearly aimed at gaining approval for the amended proposal, and it was recognised as such in the officer’s report:

“This weighs heavily in favour of the proposed development which would make a significant contribution towards addressing identified housing needs in the borough.”

The new scheme seems to meet all the criteria for ideal social housing: it represents a substantial contribution to the goal of the new Labour administration to deliver over 1,000 new Council homes across several sites. Additionally, the applicant collaborated with the Council to implement best practices in design and accessibility, including provisions for wheelchair users, in the layout.

At the time of the presentation before the Wandsworth Planning Application Committee on April 24, 2024, the Council received 83 objections and no support for the revised scheme. Most of the objections criticized the massing and bulk of the project within an area of low-rise and Victorian properties. Local residents pointed out that the incorporation of social housing must not serve as justification for a development that disrupts the existing local environment. David Murphy, from Mauritius Building on Garrett Lane, said:

“The current consent already surpasses the height of surrounding buildings, and further elevation would only exacerbate this discrepancy. Residents legitimately expressed concerns that the initial proposed height was not in harmony with the local area, which typically features lower-rise and lower-density housing. Increasing the height further exacerbates this discrepancy and threatens community cohesion.”

He also added:

“Amending a scheme mid-construction is an underhand tactic to push through amendments and evade residents’ objections. […] A public planning process that can be later manipulated by a developer with many resources and deep pockets is not fair.”

In term of housing provision, Wandsworth is not desperate to achieve its targets

The task was not particularly easy for the officers who had to recommend the scheme. They needed to consider National and London policies that aim to maximize housing delivery on all suitable and available brownfield sites to meet housing targets, and the proposal clearly fell within this category. Additionally, they had to take into account the strong commitment from the Labour administration to increase the provision of affordable housing. Therefore, it is not surprising that the conclusion of their report stated:

“These identified public benefits [the delivery of a high percentage of affordable housing] are considered to outweigh the ‘less than substantial harm’ identified.”

This is summarised in Labour councillor Paul White’s statement during the Planning Committee meeting:

“The position that this Council is in after 44 years of selling off and disposing of over 24,000 Council homes, […] and given these are 100% Council rent homes, this development does look to achieve this.”

The contribution towards the housing provision target set by the London Plan is also mentioned by the Chair of the Committee, Labour councillor Tony Belton, as a reason to approve more housing:

Wandsworth would need 19,500 extra units. That would mean if that was applied equally we’d be passing applications for 200 extra units every single planning application committee to get anywhere near there, which at the moment we are not so there’s a really major reason for approving this application in that it is such a vital contribution to the London plan achievement.

The contribution towards the London Plan sets a target for Wandsworth of 19,500 additional homes to be provided over a ten-year period (2019/20 to 2028/29).  However, there is no desperation to seek a “vital contribution” as Cllr Belton claimed, because the borough has outperformed this target since the start of the period, as per its own records. This success is partly attributed to upscale developments in Nine Elms, and York Road/Clapham Junction Wider area and future projections suggest meeting the target should not be an issue.

The Authority Monitoring Report issued in 2023 indicates that Wandsworth has exceeded its targets for new housing construction since the beginning of the period and is expected to continue doing so. 

The Authority Monitoring Report (2023) shows the delivery of housing, performance against the borough housing target, the housing trajectory and five year supply of deliverable sites.

Projections from the Housing Policy Performance Report 2023 even suggest that total housing completions will surpass 23,000 by 2029 with 3,500 more than required.

Housing delivery above target – AMR 2023

That gave an obvious opportunity for the Conservative councillors to point out that the delivery of affordable housing seemed to brush out concerns for local residents. Conservative councillor Guy Humphries commented:

“The position of this Administration [is] very clear. The quantum of affordable houses trumps any concerns of existing and residents future residents that are going to partake in this monstrous building or anything else that the plan for London suggests that Wandsworth would need.

When stopping construction and returning to the Council for more becomes standard practice

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of this proposal was that, once again (which seems to become the norm for nearly all major developments, as we already noted in our previous article on Springfield), developers submitted an amended application with a massive increase from their previously granted plan in the middle of their construction phase.

In the following video, we compiled key points of the debate.

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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.

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