The last Kennington Oval and Vauxhall forum meeting I was present for was attended by about 20 people. Last night's meeting was closer to 200, and the entire agenda was derailed. Why? A small (heh) 174 page document from the Mayor, dated "November 2009" with the catchy title "Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area Planning Framework" (or OAPF) was presented by some people from the Mayor's office.
The OAPF is a major document from the Mayor about the future of a huge span of the river, detailing opportunities for the "intensification" of the area from Lambeth Palace to Battersea Power Station, and thus encompassing both the London Borough of Lambeth and the London Borough of Wandsworth. I am going to try and summarise that document over the next few days, and the Kennington Oval Vauxhall forum (KOV) have agreed to put on another meeting for local residents, in order to give people a chance to read the document. If you want to read the document without navigating the Mayor's site, click here.
Suffice to say, rather large numbers of people at last night's meeting were very cross. People felt that there had been little publicity about the documents or the consultation. The Mayor's office had not brought copies of the document with them to show people. The Mayor's office could not show views of the proposed buildings, as they would look from Stockwell or Vauxhall itself. The Mayor, it seems is in favour of tall buildings of up to 150m in Vauxhall itself. How tall is that exactly? Well, Strata (the big razor shaped on in Elephant and Castle) comes in at 147m, so that should give you an idea. Various questions were raised about family housing. How exactly are children meant to play, when they live on the 39th floor, you might wonder? The helpful man from the Mayor's office thinks this could be sorted by providing large gardens at the bottom of the flats, designing a new park, and possibly through the use of roof terraces! One lady was concerned about the increased traffic congestion. This is not a problem, the Mayor's office stated last night, because very little car parking is expected, so traffic shouldn't increase too much (contrary to what the document itself seems to say). This lead to questions about transport (the document is rather scathing about the fact that there is no currently viable finance scheme for public transport), so the audience were concerned to note that buildings should not be erected prior to public transport being in place. (And who funds the public transport...? That would be the private developers.) So, somebody asked, how will the transport infrastructure be in place before planning permission is granted for the new buildings? Sadly, being the Mayor's office, and not Lambeth/Wandsworth Council, they couldn't really answer because (as somebody else noted), buildings such as 81 Black Prince Road have been granted planning permission already, on the basis that there is plenty of accessible public transport. The Lady from the Mayor's office did state that public finance initiatives (rather than just the developers) would be investigated re. funding public transport. One lady was concerned that she couldn't get on the trains at Vauxhall underground station at the moment, so how was it really going to be possible to do so when the 20,000 - 25,000 proposed jobs had been added to the area? A local vicar wanted to know whether there any thought had been given for small shops in the Opportunity Area? Another man wanted to know how the "green link" would work, and which bridge the Cycle Superhighway would cross. The best explosion came from a lady from one of the Vauxhall Tenants Associations who demanded to know why nobody had been informed with letters through their door and other information etc. about the project. Well, quite. A very good question. One gentleman was very upset about the American Embassy getting to dictate the terms of their presence in the area, and generally turning the road into a "no through zone". And finally, a young man who somebody thought might be a candidate at the next election was very cross on behalf of everybody in the room, that nobody had been consulted, and that everybody was rather angry. Lots of people clapped. Somehow, I doubt that this will lead to a series of Lambeth Tory victories, but one never knows...
Many of the questions asked are actually answered in the document, but they are couched in strange planning jargon. "Intensification" means, for example, "how to cram more people into a small place". But as I mentioned above, I will try and do a summary of the document so that you know what the Mayor is proposing.
There was lots of shouting, and protests, and objections at the meeting until eventually I felt rather sorry for the Mayor's representatives. Somebody seemed to remember that Boris did once oppose tall buildings, but nobody was quite sure that they had remembered correctly. The main problem is that the Mayor's office just sent people to do the presentation (the kind of people who get excited about anaerobic digestion opportunities at the new market), and everybody at the meeting wanted to know how to pause the plan in its tracks in order to consult everybody. It's quite clear the area will be redeveloped in some ways, but since it's Lambeth/Wandsworth that grants the planning permission, and the developers that have the money, everything generally continues at their pace, and not the pace of the residents.
I am very excited that the proposals might lead to a united group of Londoners getting together to talk sensibly about common good and transport infrastructure and town planning. But I am afraid that it will probably just result in the kind of frustration and disquiet that has taken place in Elephant and Castle.
Leave some comments if you were present at last night's meeting.
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