Wednesday, 20 January 2010

KOV meeting fall out re. Boris and the Nine Elms plan

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.


Mark L said...

Just to add - the consultation on the document is open until Jan 29, so there is still time for people to respond with their criticisms. You're quit right though, it's pretty outrageous that it hasn't been widely advertised. Tens of thousands of people could be affected - I don't think it's too much to ask to send a letter to residents advising them of the consultation.

I wasn't at the meeting last night, but I would be interested to know if there were any kind of nuances to the objections raised by the attendees. Whilst a lot of the proposed development is unsitable and unwelcome, there are some areas were (personally), I think development does need to be encouraged - the island of advertising hoardings in the middle of the Vauxhall gyratory for one. Of course, the development has to be sympathetic to the local area though and not cast shadows over existing homes, but it's certainly possible, especially if you don't build as high as is currently being suggested.

The empahsis also needs to be on mixed use development. And sticking to it. St George Wharf was supposed to be 40% mixed use (hotel, offices, shops, restaurants), creating jobs and some kind of shopping / social area for Vauxhall. In the end, however, planning amendment after planning amendment whittled this down to a paltry 9%, leading to another soulless block of flats.

Family housing is a huge problem - and I'm not sure how it can be tackled. It's not as though we have vast swathes of spare land upon which we can build family homes complete with gardens... inevitably to meet housing shortages with the limited spare land in the area you will have to build upwards. But only if decent outdoor space is provided, and new schools are built. In many ways, although far from perfect, it would be better having a family living in a family-sized flat rather than squeezing into a two-bed flat, as is often the case at the moment.

Patrick said...

I agree re resident consultation - there's been nothing. I only found out via an article in the Standard and have received nothing through my letterbox despite losing sunlight due to these new blocks.

It's disgraceful that Wandsworth Council are steamrollering through the US Embassy application.

Is there any mention of local shops in the plans? We have very few local shops in Vauxhall and there should be provision for some to be built. And not useless and expensive chain stores like in the Spitalfields Market redevelopment.

Re comment on not being able to get train at Vauxhall station. This is mainly due to people getting off the mainline trains and happens at all such stations.

They're supposedly going to have more trains running in peak times when the new tubes are introduced in 2013:

Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of everything in the document but, as always, I fear we we throw in hyperbole and politics and throw the baby out with the bath water.

Truth is, we've been consulted on this for ages (back even when Ken was in charge). I well remember the postal consultation and subsequent interim outputs. Generally, the 'oh my this is all new and no one asked us' is slightly disingenuous. And besides, we ARE being asked now.

As for the American Embassy, this has been on the cards for years. Hardly a last minute steam rolling.

That all aside, I think we can still work together to find a good solution and not turn it into a simple 'for' and 'against' fight. The area was a dump. It has become much better, thus the interest in investment. Let's take it, and be prepared to compromise and work together.

Mark L said...

The transport section is quite interesting – to summarise, TfL recognise that there is a huge capacity issue and no funding available, and that essentially if you have more buses or have a tram link in the area (cheapest options), it will only serve to *increase* congestion at Vauxhall stations, because people will just use them as a quicker option to get to their nearest station, rather than to travel all the way into town. It essentially says that the only viable option is the Northern Line extension.

To me what this says is that if the development is to proceed, the NLX must be built. And therefore the funding issue needs to be addressed properly, rather than than the current approach, where funding questions are always brushed off and ignored.

However... if the Nine Elms station is put in Zone 2 (which, by virtue of its location, it should be), then its ability to abstract passengers from Vauxhall station is reduced - why would people pay an extra 28% on their fare (£1.80 vs £2.30) when they could walk for an extra five minutes? I know that sounds like a moot point, but actually it would significantly impact the results of the modelling that has been done.

It's also interesting to read the prophetic warnings of possible peak hour gateline closures at Vauxhall in future years due to overcrowding - ignoring the fact that this already happens if there is the slightest hiccup in the morning services.

Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting: my overall impression was that the majority of people in the room had made up their minds to protest before the poor representatives of the GLA had a chance to explain the project.

I think it ridiculous to say that the residents haven't been informed. I have been aware that a major project was planned for the Vauxhall area for several years now. I remember the Evening Standard running a feature about the proposed tall buildings in the area several years back.

There was also a great deal of "not in my back yard' mentality going on here. If the project was planned for say, Hampstead, Richmond, or Chelsea- I would have some sympathy with the tall buildings issue.

But we live in an inner city brown-field area, and to try and block urban regeneration in such an area, in my opinion, is naive. The redevelopment will also create housing for thousands of people in what is now an industrial wasteland. Bear in mind that the redevelopment of brown-field sites will also help to prevent the surbanisation of the Green Belt.

Let's face it: the Vauxhall area is not exactly pretty and Nine Elms is desolate. I got the impression that the many of the protestors were the sort of people who lived in the gentrified Georgian and Victorian terraces of Kennington and the conservation areas of Stockwell. I doubt very much that the council estates were well represented at the meeting.

There are many good things about the project: links to the river, the linear park, the redevelopment and essential preservation of Battersea Power Station, new housing, restaurants, shops (currently non-existent at Vauxhall Cross), improved links (footbridge) to Pimlico. The development project is, of course, not perfect, but the residents should be glad that finally something is being done about the Nine Elms area.

A Vauxhall Resident

Patrick said...

I live on a council estate in Vauxhall. That is my point: all I knew about the developments were from a single Evening Standard article last year. I'm sure many people on the estates won't have seen the Evening Standard article. Everyone I've spoken to locally was unaware of it.

There has certainly been no information on the plans via my letter box over the past 3 years.

Residents need to be made aware of the scheme so they can comment.

dannyw said...

It's shameful that everyone in the areas affected didn't get something through the letter box on the consultation process and issue invitations to public presentations/meetings.

It was left to an unfunded voluntary organisation, KOV Forum, to organise a meeting and to spread the word to others like Viva Vauxhall who in turn ...

Anonymous said...

It seems that the OLD Vauxhall crowd is already raising its ugly head, ready to oppose anything that might threaten the status quo.
Vauxhall has been a brown site dump for at least 2 generations. It is an inner city site. What do you expect? A garden city? Low density? Maybe it is about time you get real and think of moving to the suburbs?
Naturally consultation is essential but please don't just oppose for the sake of it and don't assume that we all share your views!!

Anonymous said...

I am a local resident and like others have known about plans for Vauxhall for some years - I read the papers that come through my letter box and attend meetings, but completely accept that others have not been informed. If their Tenants and Residents associations are not keeping them informed, or they don't attend meetings, it is possible they don't know. Personally I don't mind having tall buildings at Vauxhall and anything that can improve the area between Wansdworth Road and Nine Elms lane would be wonderful - the facilities there like green space and transport are nil. I am concerned that infrastructure like schools, GPs and community venues would lag behind development, waiting for decisions about how Section 106 money can be used. I agree with others who said some people at the meeting need to move on - Kennington and Stockwell are never again going to be quiet gentrified areas. It was the usual suspects airing their Nimby views - not doing much for the rest of us who live there and don't own whole houses with gardens!!
I love the idea of another bridge across the river - as a cyclist I hate Vauxhall Bridge.
Enough for now

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