Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Vauxhall Island Site consultation debrief (the short, ahem, version)

First off, I think it's fair to say that the representatives of Kylun Ltd did a good job on the consultation, held today, about the Vauxhall Island Site.  You'll often hear me moan about lack of consultation or poor consultation, but if other developers were to imitate their method (provide lots of spokespeople, hand out comment forms, ask for suggestions and initiate conversations), there'd be considerably less cause for complaint.  I still feel that more could be done by Lambeth Council in terms of master planning, but don't we all?  The consultation wasn't all perfect and plain sailing of course (it rarely is), but I'll come to that...  Holding the exhibition at Vauxhall City Farm seemed to work well, and when I attended during the afternoon, the room was absolutely packed, demonstrating plenty of local interest in the proposed development.  Also, the people who attended appeared to be from diverse sectors of the community, which indicates good dissemination of information (it might just have been a sunny day, of course). Additionally  (a huge plus point), Kylun ensured that the architect was on site to be questioned, and there were more than enough other staff to answer questions too.

I think that most residents are agreed that Vauxhall would benefit from investment.  Most residents would likely agree that there is space in Vauxhall for new residential/commercial/industrial development.  I want to make it really clear to my detractors that I'm not against development and investment, I just think that development does not always mean very tall towers.  I believe that many local residents offer most resistance on the matters of housing type, style and building height.  I spoke to one resident, present in the area for 40 years, who felt that existing Council tenants were being squeezed out of the area, since much of the new residential provision was "affordable" housing, and not Council housing.  Another attendee just disliked tall buildings, noting that existing residents in and around Vauxhall were being encroached upon (eg. loss of light), or having their space diminished (eg. heavier wear and tear on Vauxhall Park, and no supply of additional green space).

But if we're pragmatic (and I rather think we have little choice), we must acknowledge that there is no Lambeth Council masterplan and we must make the best of a bad job.  Lambeth Council simply assess each building on its merit, without weighing up any other developments in the pipeline.  There is no real town planning, just advisory documents.  Even our MP, Kate Hoey seems powerless to do anything, based on her recent comment, "Whilst I don't like tower blocks there is unfortunately a tendency for these to be supported".   Erm, isn't the MP meant to be able to resist their support, based on correspondence from residents?  If Vauxhall centre isn't to become entirely market-driven and haphazard, we either need pressure put on Boris or pressure put on Cllr Steve Reed to form a plan for Vauxhall.  Surely that's why our MP exists?  Anyhow, since she doesn't appear to have weighed in, it falls to us as residents to argue for as much sensible building (fair room sizes, shorter buildings) and investment (parks, transport, facilities) as possible.  It's in Lambeth Council's interests to keep granting permission, and about the only people that might feasibly be able to insist on a sensible volume of development are TFL.

I've taken photos of all of the display boards (for people who couldn't attend) and for the historical record.  (You'd be surprised how many hits I'm still getting for the 8 Albert Embankment Exhibition page). Kylun have now provided me with the original Vauxhall Island Site pdf, so feel free to download that instead of looking at my bad photos!

1.  Regenerating Vauxhall Cross
Kylun Ltd are backed by oil money which (according to a company spokeswoman) does not mean that they have infinite resources, but presumably does mean that they're free to proceed in the knowledge that the money isn't going to disappear!  It's just as well, since they're setting themselves a bold task of "creating a new heart for Vauxhall".  Kylun's architect argued that this building is in the centre of all of the proposed new development for Vauxhall.  You might think that, as such, it would be the tallest building of them all, but that's where some post-recession, post-Livingstone pragmatism comes in.  (If you're interested, the tallest Vauxhall building (so far) prize goes to the St George Wharf Tower, at 181 metres). The original Vauxhall Island Site proposals (never validated by the council) had the building at 180 metres.  Vauxhall Sky Gardens, which has been permitted by Lambeth, is 120 metres tall.   The GLA's planning policy states that a building of 150 metres on such a site would lead to minimal impact on world heritage (aka the Palace of Westminster).  The Bondway proposal was 150 metres tall, but was refused (likely on other grounds).  In developer terms, that means that there's between 120 metres and 150 metres with which to gamble.  As such, the Vauxhall Island Site proposal is playing it safe with a cool 140 metre proposal.  They have consulted with the Mayor's office.  So much for Boris disliking tall buildings.  I suppose he'd argue that he managed to shave 40 metres off the top, but that's not really something to boast about.  If you want a comparison to know how the finished product would look, the Strata Tower in Elephant and Castle (including wind turbines) weighs in at 147 metres tall.  I like the way that the second tower (which I haven't mentioned as it's a bit smaller) is hidden, in the picture, behind the first.

2.  A background to the site.
I think we'd all agree that the site has lain empty and derelict, and that the current advertising hoardings are unsightly.  Quite why anybody would choose to live in the middle of the interchange is beyond me, but perhaps by the time the building is finished, the Vauxhall gyratory will have been removed in line with TFL's new vision for the future (rather embarrassing when Vauxhall's gyratory is barely 5 years old).  Were that to happen, and considering the landscaping that Kylun have in mind (see below) it might potentially be a much more pleasant place to live.  Certainly, I can't see most people objecting to further retail development in the area, since the current shops (on Kennington Lane, Albert Embankment and South Lambeth Road) simply don't create a particularly effective centre.

3.  The proposal
My favourite line on the above board has to be the one in which they effectively say that their 41 storeys is "elegant" compared with the 50 storeys of St George Wharf :-).  It's developer speak for "they were allowed to build even higher, so let's be reasonable because our building is a whole 9 storeys shorter" :-)   I like the idea of a glass canopy, linking the two buildings, as I think that's quite a positive way to protect us from the elements when passing through Vauxhall towards public transport.  More importantly, they are to be "open, public space", something that many developers don't seem to value.  That's good news, at least.  I also highly applaud the "improved pedestrian routes" to other parts of Vauxhall and Nine Elms, but it's difficult to know how this might be achieved, bearing in mind the gyratory (subways or bridges, perhaps).

One criticism here is that at today's consultation, the public were asked to comment on paper about the "affordable" housing section of the scheme.  Unfortunately (you can see from Board 3), it wasn't clear how much of the scheme would actually be affordable housing, thus making it rather difficult to submit comments.  When I pointed to the missing data, I was told that they wanted to hear how important the public felt affordable housing to be.  I asked if they'd re-consult once they'd decided on percentages, but I got the impression that they will not.  It all depends what people have written on the comment forms (it seems).  Although, one fellow Twitterer was given a "30% affordable, but not in writing" response, which I didn't get.  I suppose that's a fair gamble, given economic hard times.  The same perceptive chap has also pointed out that the promised "sky bar" doesn't quite make the sky, on account of being at the 10th floor level.  Nevermind.  Note also the refusal of Lambeth Council parking permits to new residents and the complete absence of parking for any other than disabled drivers (this may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view).

4.  Improvements to the ground level environment
Let's face it, anything that is done on this stretch to amend ground level environment has to be an improvement on what's present at the moment.  It's not exactly a site upon which local people go and have picnics!  There's  another mention of the canopy, but no actual details (other than that) about what sort of ground level improvements would be made.  Kylun have tried to take into account residents concerns re. wind tunnel effects by streamlining the towers, but I've no idea whether that really will prevent wind tunnels.

5.  A vibrant mix of uses
Quite oddly, the poster says that "employment-generating space is a key aspect of Kylun's proposals", and yet retail/office space is certainly nowhere near a dominant part of the scheme.  I think that's a good thing, as office space hardly seems lacking at Vauxhall, but I don't understand why they've said it's "key".  I tend to think that additional shops will lead people to spend longer in Vauxhall area, so expanding retail space ought to benefit existing local restaurants and businesses.

In terms of recreation and local space, Kylun are looking to work with Spring Gardens, soon to be re-named Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens which suggests that they're not doing anything with Vauxhall Park, but then they mention the possibility of contributions to improve Vauxhall Park nearer to the bottom of the poster.  In my view, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens would benefit from investment.  There are also some mystery community benefits on the way, but these are not stated, although there are a few ideas eg. extra funding for Vauxhall City Farm, funding for public art both inside/outside the building, and new links to cycle routes in the area.  Anything that could be done on the Vauxhall interchange to make life easier for cyclists would be close to miraculous!  Maybe a cycle route across the island site, allowing cyclists to bypass the gyratory would be worth focusing on.

6.  Delivering jobs and employment
I'm rather sceptical of the ability of new buildings to "deliver jobs".  New buildings tend to deliver empty office space, but actually, this proposal has only a small amount of commercial space, so that's not really a concern. The major job provider, I imagine, will be the hotel in one of the blocks.  Other than the budget Comfort Inn, there aren't any others, so it makes sense to be the first off the ground.

On this drawing, I want to look more carefully at the building make-up (click the photo to enlarge, and then zoom in).  One of the Kylun members of staff stated as follows:  In the building on the left (the shorter), the area marked in orange will be a children's ball park, and an unknown space (awaiting community input).  The blue marking near the bottom will be offices (over three floors).  The green marking is "some residential mixture" which I initially assumed would be the affordable housing, but the member of staff wouldn't commit.  At the top of the same building, the purple marking represents the top four floors, which will be private residential housing.  The penthouse has been replaced with a kind of open, shared garden space for residents.     

In the tower on the right, the entire upper section of the building (marked in pink) will be private residential housing.  Just under that on the 14th floor is the skybar (open to the public).  Below that (marked in purple) is the hotel.  The larger purple ground floor space represents the hotel bar/entrance, and on the first floor, there is the hotel restaurant.  The larger pink ground floor space represents retail space, and the larger pink first floor space will be an ordinary restaurant.

One particularly impressive point to note is that Kylun are setting up a Community Liaison Forum, once planning permission has been secured, a community news letter and a 24 hour phone number so that contractors can be contacted.  These are great ideas which positively predispose me to recommend this building over others eg. Bondway.  I think that some of the residents awaiting the completion of Strata (aka The Ladyshave, at Elephant and Castle) might have wished for a community news letter or even a website, letting them know how the building was progressing.

7.  Community amenities and a blank canvass
This one was quite fun.  The community were allowed to suggest lots of ideas for the empty space on the third floor.  I tried to suggest that the space (or some other space in the building) be used to house a public residential swimming pool, but my suggestion did not go down too well.  Apparently, there's not room in the development, and the very large underground purple space on the diagram is going to be used for servicing the hotel, and not a pool.  I don't know if you can read the suggestions on the post-its, but they were listed; cinema, public library, performance space, cafe, gym, discussion area for local groups, climbing wall, art exhibition, community centre, job centre, swimming pool (x 3), squash courts, artist studios, performance space.  My personal favourite (other than swimming pool) is job centre.  Can you imagine?  Lots of nice posh flats, and a huge job centre, visited by the great unwashed.  Yeah right!  One member of staff was very keen on a ball pool for children and this is listed as "soft play area" in the helpful suggestions.  Umm, you'll notice that the helpful suggestions don't include swimming pool either.

8.  Vauxhall Island site in context
I'm happy that they've done the modelling of the building(s) by taking South London views into consideration.  Considering that we've an ugly great 140 metre tower coming our way, I think I'd have to say that it's more attractive than some eg. Bondway /and/ St George Wharf Tower.  I know that's not saying much, but it doesn't look any worse than the Elephant's Strata, I don't think.  Their "independent study" modelling indicates that the scheme doesn't raise issues in terms of light on residents or parks, and the overshadowing effect on the parks is "minimal".  Vauxhall Park is unaffected and Spring Gardens is only affected on the south-west corner from September to March.  Fair enough, I suppose, and credit to them for ensuring that the parks aren't badly affected.

Due to some well placed trees, the building will hardly be noticeable from Fentiman Road.    Compared with St George Wharf, it rises up quite majestically over Spring Gardens.  I wish we knew what other buildings will appear as it's hard to put it into perspective.  Unfortunately, from Bonnington Square, it looks quite scary.   In fact, if I lived in Bonnington Square, I'd object,but not sure what good it would do.

9.  Vauxhall Island site in context continued...
This board is one that often gets trotted out in various guises.  It's all about how particular buildings will look (often accompanied by strange angles) from north of the river.  As if we should care about north of the river.... Anyway.  I digress.  I shan't be too mean on account of the fact that Kylun have dedicated lots of time to modelling the impact south of the river.  Compared with Millbank Tower, it's barely visible from Parliament Square, which is the view that concerns most people.  I'm not keen on the view from Millbank Road, but then we can't see Vauxhall Sky Gardens or St George Wharf or the proposed Bondway on the modelled photo either, and I suppose those would give the towers some more proportion.

10.  A sustainable, energy-efficient development
Sadly, it doesn't have the turbines (so the service charges should be less), but they are planning on solar photovoltaic electricity generation.

11.  Next steps
Plans will be submitted to Lambeth this summer.  If they like it, (and there aren't any other major oil spills) ;), the first residents could move in around 2015.  Feel free to phone Kylun with questions on: 0845 543 8968 or email vauxhallconsultation@camarguepr.com

I couldn't resist taking a photo of that cheeky chappy, David Boardman, taking photos of the model.  He's the Kennington Association's planning forum chair, and he speaks, quite naturally in terms of hectares per thousand people about green space, density, transport etc. in the way that you and I might discuss buying milk at the local supermarket!

On the model, the two Vauxhall Island towers are in brown.  The white monstrosity at the front is the St George Wharf Tower.  In the background, behind the brown towers, you can just see what I think is the proposed Bondway development.

I know that I'm forever banging on about transport, and I did raise this point at the consultation when I asked what Kylun would have to contribute to the pot to improve transport infrastructure eg. the new Northern line.  It seems, that that little point is up to TFL.  In the meantime, Kylun are in discussuion with TFL (see board 3) about "opening a new entrance to Vauxhall Underground Station".  Is it me, or is Vauxhall underground station going to be a huge warren of "extensions" and "entrances" that act as holding pens for a huge number of frustrated commuters, unable to move, due to the Victoria Line being at capacity?


matt mcConnell said...

Thank you for this detailed summary of the meeting. I found it genuinely useful.

My main issue with all the new development is that there are no plans to improve public transport. As you noted, the Victoria Line is at capacity and I don't see how adding another stop to the Northern Line will free up any seats.

To say "residents of this development won't get resident parking permits" is no solution to managing road congestion. It's a lazy, inadequate cop-out because 1) the residents will occupy more and more non-resident parking; 2) they will find ways to aquire resident permits anyways; 3) in a few of years someone will quite rightly make the point that those residents pay the same council tax as everyone else and ought to have the same rights. And that will be the end of that.

Finally, I don't understand the emphasis placed on council and affordable housing. Does Lambeth fall behind other boroughs in this regard? Does the borough really need schemes to attract people who have difficulty paying rent? It seems as though we're doing fine on that measure.

Mark L said...

Agreed with Matt, thankyou for the summary.

Matt - many people currently bus in to Vauxhall station from the Wandsworth Road corridor and the Battersea corridor, changing at Vauxhall to get on to the Victoria line. The basic principle behind a Nine Elms and Battersea tube station is that people travelling from the Wandsworth Road area / Battersea will have the option to change onto the tube for the Northern line instead - this means that they won't be travelling up to Vauxhall and therefore frees up space on the Victoria line. Well, that's the theory anyway :)

I'm actually not so skeptical about car-free developments. There is a question that needs to be addressed about loading (i.e. where do people park up if they're moving / delivering a washing machine, etc etc) that I don't think is addressed properly. However to my mind the basic principle is sound. If car ownership and having a place to park your car is important to you, then you would consider that when buying / renting a place, and not choose somewhere with no parking! I lead a car-free lifestyle, using Car Club vehicles where necessary, and much to the disbelief of many... it really is possible. I'm not entirely sure how you expect residents to "find ways" to get parking permits - you have to prove your residential address to the council, and the name on the vehicle registration has to match the name on the proof of address. If your address is on a blacklist, there's not many ways around this.

As for council housing... Lambeth has a waiting list of 11,000 households, of which 300 got a home last year. I'll leave you to decide how well Lambeth are doing in this regard :) (Incredibly, this is better than in previous years)


Charlie Holland said...

Thanks for such a detailed account - I couldn't make the presentation and appreciate your feedback and comments.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, very thorough.

Two battles loom: tall buildings and affordable/council housing (smaller is about architecture).

Tall buildings, well it is what you like (or don't). We can't provide more housing and more green space in a discreet area, so we either go up, or sacrific one for the other.

Affordable housing/council housing. Lambeth already, in my opinion, pulls more than its weight in Council housing. Sorry. Affordable, well a bit more is good. With no hard evidence, my hunch is our ratio of private to affordable to council shows we have far more council, so it would be good to have more private and affordable. Waiting lists are a poor indicator - lots of people would LIKE a council house but don't need one. Lambeth needs to get out of the primary business of being a maternal landlord.

matt mcConnell said...

From information on OnePlace, out of 33 London boroughs, Lambeth has the fifth lowest percentage of privately-owned housing at 63%. So we're definitely outpacing other boroughs in terms of social housing provisin. I didn't find numbers on affordable housing, which I'd guess is a very small percentatge as yet.

Of course, we're looking forward, at what development plans the council has for the future, and it's really a question of values and preferences. Personally, I don't think we should increase the proportion of social housing in Lambeth, which is what plans call for. And personally, I just don't get affordable housing. If we need to attract nurses and policemen to an area where housing is expensive, can't we just pay them more and let them decide where they'd like to live instead of offering purpose-built barracks?

I should think the most straightforward way for someone in a non-parking-permitted tower block to get a resident permit is to pretend he or she is house-sharing with a friend down the road and have bill sent there. It wouldn't take much effort at all, while it would be difficult for the council to prove it's not true.

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Mark L said...

I've been meaning to reply to some of the points here for a while...

1) Afforable Housing ≠ Council Housing. Affordable housing is typically housing managed by a private / non-profit Registered Social Landlord. So if you are of the ideological viewpoint that Lambeth council should not be a paternal landlord, then affordable housing should be an acceptable option to you.

2) "Lambeth already has a higher proportion of social housing than other boroughs" - you are wrongly assuming that the need for social & affordable housing is equal in all boroughs. The needs in Lambeth are very different from the needs in Richmond, for example. Should Lambeth council refuse to ask developers to include affordable housing in their developments, because of fallacious comparisons? In my opinion, no.

Ambrose A said...

Thanks for the detailed info! I actually like the design, better than St Georges Wharf and forget Bondway! Vauxhall centre needs some identity if you can work out the gyratory and it really is going to have public space and amenities than it has to be a positive!

On the Council housing comments above; I believe that planning policy states that in any 'affordable housing provision' 70% has to be socially rented (or council)and 30% for affordable/key worker etc. The developers don't have a choice here apparently.

I guess we'll all watch this space but I am for it. It's got to be better than what's there and a catalyst for the future?!!

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary. I thought that model showed how necessary it is to have tall buildings on the site, given the monstrosity of the St G's Wharf Tower- it wil give it scale and context.

Some notes: Affordable housing provision is a last-minute, down to the wire detail- the sort of thing councils drive a hard bargain on, like waiting til the last minute before demanding higher amounts. It's also a technical term- "Affordable" can mean socially rented, part ownership or lower cost for keyworkers.

Parking: The resident permit thing works very well across the capital and has for the past 10 years. Where the hell else would the car park go anyway? The Vic Line tunnel? The younger generation coming up, particularly in the middle of town, don't want cars. It's cheaper, easier and more socially responsible to get a taxi to get the shopping, or rent a car for specific weekend missions. They don't see cars as a badge of maturity like the older generation, thank God.

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