Sunday, 12 September 2010

Kennington Park to lose play area to new housing (see plans) - is this the best deal for local children?

Further to Friday's post re. the development on St Agnes Place, Kennington Park, I had a chance to attend the planning consultation.  There's no positive way of putting the playground news.  The consolidation of Kennington Park Adventure Playground and the One O'Clock club would reduce the size of the One O'Clock club site quite substantially.  There are good arguments on the side of consolidating them and other good arguments in favour of retaining the land. I had some long conversations today which I'll summarise below.  In the meantime, here are the boards:

I assumed that the proposed development was London and Quadrant only.  Actually, there are two separate proposed developments (London & Quadrant and Family Mosaic), which happen to share an architect.  The 58 proposed new units which I mentioned yesterday (and which are shown above on the boards headed in green) are those that would be developed by London & Quadrant.  As you can see from the Masterplan, there are a number of positive features eg. the proposed cycle route (it's not clear from the diagram whether this runs from Bolton Crescent/Camberwell New Road) or whether it starts abruptly on St Agnes Place, but it's a good idea if extended to Camberwell New Road.  Also, the new development would form part of an attempt to join the northern section of Kennington Park with the southern section (without forcing people to walk all the way around the edge).  That's something that has been advocated for a long while.

50% social housing is the Lambeth Council target, so one can't complain (although that includes both socially rented and part-ownership).  I like the fact that the building seems sensibly proportioned (not too high) and would fit into the park well (there seem to be no nasty quirks that might grate in 50 years time).

The exact layout, flat size and has been made known at the time of consultation (something some of the other developers might adhere to).  One might point out that the four bedroom houses are considerably larger than the three bedroom homes, and are only available on the private market.  But that would be quibbling, right?  I mean, as the architect pointed out, it's just not possible to build social housing these days without having it paid for by private money.

I haven't got any immediate ideas how the Section 106 money from this development should be spent.  Since much of the housing will be aimed at families, there's a sense in which it might be useful to put it towards strengthening local schools.  I can't think of how it would be invested in transport in any useful way (since the proposed cycle route is already built in to the plans), but would be interested in comments, as usual.

The boards above (bordered in purple) now outline the Family Mosaic scheme, which is much smaller (18 proposed units) and would occupy the space that formerly belonged to the Rastafarian Temple.  I was told by the developer that Family Mosaic have a block further north in the park, and so they'd be performing a land swap with Lambeth Council to move the new housing closer together.  

As you can see from the board entitled "Housing", 100% of the development will be shared ownership.  There's not a lot more to say about the Family Mosaic development as far as I can see.

The next boards all relate to the playground itself (of which I have more to say below).  

From the board (above top), it's immediately clear that transposing the red area (on the left) on to the red area on the right that an immense amount of green play space is lost.  Clarification from the architect confirmed that 50% of the One O'Clock land would be lost (it looked like more to me).  However, this figure is the result of a clever little work around.  Apparently, during the One O'Clock club opening time, a special fold up chain link fence can be unrolled and so the club can be "extended into the green link" so that parts of the green link are taken over for the benefit  of the One O'Clock club.  If the special folding extension is /not/ included, the core One O'Clock club land on the /new/ site would measure 350 metres squared.  The old site offers the existing One O'Clock club 1600 metres squared.  You do the maths.  Is it worth losing the land?  

I really like the designs for the new playground (particularly the building that you can climb into via a ladder, and then climb through, and exit using a slide), but it perhaps doesn't make up for the loss of actual land.  The architect was particularly excited about these points, and they'd also considered the security of the building very carefully (appropriate use of steel shutters).

The defence offered (by the architect) in favour of consolidating the site was that the One O'Clock club only opens for 3 hours per day for 4 days per week.  The One O'Clock club is apparently "not well used" (at peak times, the architect suggested that 20 children use it), but that's somewhat convenient, considering that the council controls both the club and the land!  It's in the Council's interest to ensure that the One O'Clock club doesn't get enough funding/publicity so that it can then be claimed to be underused so that nobody objects to the new development.  Another more intriguing argument offered runs along these lines...  Theoretically, even less space is lost because "for most of the year, the two playgrounds are not even open at the same time".  The conflict occurs because in the holidays, the One O'Clock club opens in the middle of the Adventure playground day.

A further defence (again, from the architect) was offered such that the loss of land would be counteracted by using the new (smaller) site more efficiently.  The new building would occupy a corner spot (to be shared by both clubs) so that land use is maximised and so that there'd by more space for young people to play.  For modern needs, apparently, the One O'Clock club site is "just excessive".  But for future needs, who knows?  

Additionally... (again, from the architect), "the idea of bringing these two functions into one building is reducing maintenance and running costs and securing the long term future of the site."  "It's also cheaper to build a bigger building than two smaller ones so that more money is left to put into external space provision".  Such candour from an architect is quite extraordinary!  I must have looked a little surprised, so the architect suggested that the dispute wasn't so much their issue, but a matter for the council and the developer.  A conversation with the developer was in order.

How was it that two developments proposed in partnership with Lambeth Council resulted in less playground space for local people?  The developer noted that the entire St Agnes Place site is brownfield and designated for housing purposes in Lambeth's UDP.  But Lambeth didn't like the idea of just sticking a new housing development in the middle of the park, so they suggested performing a land swap which would swap the Adventure playground land with the land for new housing.  I pointed out that it wasn't exactly a swap, which the developer conceded and admitted that initially some land would have been lost from the Adventure playground.  However, the initial plan didn't go ahead because feedback from the planners suggested that the Adventure playground should not be separated  from the One O'Clock Club, and that ideally the two youth facilities should share a building.  Welcome to the future everybody.

The developer felt that the wooden play equipment on the sites was rotting and that there's not the money to reinvest (highly likely).  The local children have been consulted and they're quite in favour of the new proposals.  The developer admitted quite openly that there would be a loss of play space, but not a loss of open park.  That's possibly the best argument in favour of consolidating the land, but I'd be interested to hear what other locals think.  Is it less important to lose a youth facility that is located in a park?

What concerns me is not the fact that the One O'Clock club is currently under utilised as space, but that once a housing development is embarked upon, the land can never be returned to the public domain for the use of young people.  I /like/ the housing plans.  I /like/ the newly designed playground and building.  But I don't like the fact that the new play space is significantly smaller than it ever was and that land won't be regainable for young people in years to come.  Residents will need to decide if it's a sacrifice that they're prepared to make.

The architect and the developer agreed that the space to be utilised by the new playground was still a question open for debate.  It was agreed that hearing residents views was indeed the reason for consultation, so pressure put on the council or providing feedback into the consultation might still lead to revised plans.  The question is whether it's worth the fight.  Increasing the amount of playground space could potentially reduce the amount of social housing.  If the same number of units were to be built, and the playground space increased, the units would end up being smaller.  When one comes to ask how the common good might best be served, there's a sense of being presented with a question that has a "lose/lose" answer, and the upcoming cuts will only serve to sharpen this problem.


Slicktony3000 said...

My regular run goes through this area and it has struck me for some time that this space is under-utilised. The building designs seem reasonably well-thought through and I struggle to see what better options are on the table.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your blog. But why is it you always have to find a problem with everything? This seems like a sensible plan which, taking everything into account, makes the best use of the space for achieving all the various objectives for it.

SE11 Lurker said...

Oh, what, me? I'm currently based at Whinge Central. Take no notice, I'm sure I'll disappear soon :)

James said...

Hi, I like your blog and the detail you have gone into with looking into the proposals, I actually live on St Agnes Place so am trying to find out whether there's been any more developments? The plans are ok, but not exactly breadth-taking, I also think the road is a useful back route which isn't that busy, but of obvious use to local residents


Anonymous said...

I am pleased to see this plan. I had doubts that Lambeth promises to reinstate social housing on this site would be met. The buildings are attractive.

sbo said...

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Angelina Jullie said...

Wonderful, just what a blog it is! This blog has provided the helpful data to us continue the good

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