One Nine Elms given go-ahead – did Wandsworth Council pull a fast one?

Last Monday the 206m tall One Nine Elms development due to replace Market Towers was given planning permission two days ahead of the originally scheduled date – without any representatives of local community groups or Lambeth Council being present.

One might wonder how this could happen, considering that a number of local community groups, including Viva Vauxhall had shown an active interest in the project from the start, and would definitely have wished to be represented at the Planning Committee meeting?

The facts are that the meeting date had been changed from 20 June to 18 June at short notice.

Apparently the outside world was taken unawares by this; it seems that none of the objectors were informed by letter, and although it was subsequently pointed out by Wandsworth Council that the date change had been advertised on their website, it was done in a spot where no outsider was likely to come across it.

On 21 June local resident Helen Monger took it up with Rosalynn Claxton, Wandsworth Senior Planner of the VNEB OA Team, and the following e-mail exchange ensued:
________________________________________________

Dear Ms Claxton

I am writing to raise a serious matter of maladministration on this project and I am looking into Judicial Review for the following reasons:

Today is the day that Wandsworth’s planning portal indicates that the Planning Committee will meet – I have endeavoured to attach the link here but I am sure you know that it clearly states: Date of Committee 21/06/2012

http://ww3.wandsworth.gov.uk/Northgate/PlanningExplorer/Generic/StdDetails.aspx?PT=Planning Applications On-Line&TYPE=PL/PlanningPK.xml&PARAM0=676759&XSLT=/Northgate/PlanningExplorer/SiteFiles/Skins/Wandsworth/xslt/PL/PLDetails.xslt&FT=Planning Application Details&PUBLIC=Y&XMLSIDE=/Northgate/PlanningExplorer/SiteFiles/Skins/Wandsworth/Menus/PL.xml&DAURI=PLANNING

However, the press release which I also attach shows that a decision has already been reached on this bid.
http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/news/article/11268/market_and_one_nine_elms_schemes_approved

Your full report (also available on the website) to the Planning Committee on Monday (18th June) confirms your recommendation to agree planning permission and that it was supported 6 to 2.

Additionally, you did not write to me (and I believe other objectors – who I am copying into this email) to provide the correct date for the planning meeting where I would have been able to clarify our position following the release of your report, yet you knew because of our earlier correspondence that I was interested in this bid. Your report summarizes innaccurately the position of the Friends of Vauxhall Park. I believe therefore the Committee have been seriously misled as to the level of our objection for the scheme and they may have come to a different opinion had I been given the opportunity to present, along with other objectors. Your report also discloses evidence about overshadowing of the park which was not disclosed to me prior to this date despite my pointing out the deficiency in the applicant’s submission.

Also you indicated in your response to me that you were relying on Lambeth Council to relay information on the amenity groups within its area affected by the site, yet your report makes no mention of any opinion delivered by Lambeth. However you note the comments of other local authorities many much further afield, two – Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster – objected to the Market Tower proposals. I am therefore copying this message to my local Councillors in Lambeth and the Chair of the Lambeth Planning Committee given the lack of evidence of communication between departments.

I am therefore urging you to rescind the decision immediately and to rearrange a planning meeting at a date when all relevant parties are informed so that a proper presentation of the evidence can take place. I trust that you will respond with the haste you have demonstrated you are capable of.

Yours sincerely

Helen Monger
Friends of Vauxhall Park
_____________________________________________
E-mail exchange between Helen Monger to Mark Hunter
Area Planning Group Leader VNEB OA (21 June)

Dear Mr Hunter

I have just received an out of office automatic email providing you as the contact in matters of urgency. See below. I wish to register my complaint in a timely fashion to enable you to rectify the matter before I take any further action.

I would add that the message provided by Ms Claxton is another demonstration of administrative negligence (the basis of my complaint) as it provides only an internal extension number – no email or external telephone number to contact you.

I copy the exact message for your information:

“I shall be out of the office until 25th June 2012. If the matter is urgent please contact Mark Hunter ext. 8418 or Dinny James ext. 5267.

Please visit the Council’s website at: www.wandsworth.gov.uk

I therefore had to look up on the web the central switchboard to follow through.

Yours sincerely

Helen Monger
_______________________________________________
Dear Ms. Monger,
I apologise if Ms. Claxton’s put of office message didn’t meet your expectations and that you had to check details on our website. I shall ask that such messages are more comprehensive in the future.
With regard to the Committee date, I can confirm this was moved some weeks ago, but the correct date of 18th June was been advertised for the requisite period on the London Borough of Wandsworth website on the Committee page here http://ww3.wandsworth.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListMeetings.aspx?CId=304&Year=2012
I will investigate the web page to which you refer and respond to you on that.

I can confirm that the details you have of the Committee meeting taking place on Monday 18th are correct, and Members did resolve to grant planning permission, subject to referrals and a Section 106 agreement. It is not usual at Wandsworth to inform objectors of the date of Committee meetings unless specific inquiries are made in this respect.

I can confirm that Lambeth Council were formally notified of the planning application, but did not make any representations. The Officer’s report did summarise your representations, and the full representations were available to Members on our website and at our office. If you could be more specific about the evidence that you think was not disclosed to you, I may be able to respond to that. Perhaps you could also specify what further representations you were proposing to make, given the information in the Committee report, so that I can investigate this.

I look forward to hearing from you further. I am afraid that I am on holiday next week, but Ms. Claxton will return from leave to answer any queries.

Regards

Mark Hunter
Area Planning Group Leader
Vauxhall/Nine Elms/Battersea Opportunity Area
020 8871 8418.
_______________________________________________
Dear Mr Hunter

The planning portal sadly does not notify me of when new documents are added – since there was no change on the front page I did not go to look at any subsidiary pages. As I explained previously – it is unreasonable to expect lay people to go hunting for information on the off-chance that it is there and good administration dictates that it is incumbent on the Local Authority to take responsibility for clear and effective communication of significant alterations in the interests of good governance and democracy.

I look forward to hearing from you further.

Yours sincerely

Helen Monger
______________________________________________
Ms. Monger,
Thank you for your prompt response, to my, I hope you will agree, prompt response. I omitted to point out in my initial response that, as you were looking at the planning application page, (rather than the Council Committee page) then the copy of the Committee report posted on that page, contains the Committee date – 18th June on each page. The report was posted for the full week prior to that date.

I will respond on your other points once I have investigated the matter further.

Regards

Mark Hunter
_______________________________________________
Dear Mr Hunter

The link you give me requires me to watch every agenda put forward to the Planning Committee – as a lay member of the public this is not a reasonable expectation. It is more likely that interested parties will focus on the information on the planning portal relating to a specific planning application that they have an interest in. The date was mis-advertised on that portal. Additionally, given that I had taken the time to respond, it would have been easy to notify me (and other objectors) specifically of when the meeting was to take place as the most effective way of ensuring appropriate communication. Could you tell me when you decided to change the date?

I made the point that the EIA did not show the shadowing beyond the railway tracks in my original comments. However, I now glean from Ms Claxton’s report that Vauxhall Park will have transient shadow of about 2 hours around 21 June in the evenings – which is a detrimental effect – even more so given this is in a place considered to have open space deficiency. I would have made further comment on this new fact. I would have also emphasized other points not sufficiently brought out in my original evidence, albeit available for members. Do you have any details of which planning members specifically asked to review my evidence in full?

I await further details on what you intend to do given the incorrect information on your website.

Yours sincerely

Helen Monger
_____________________________________________

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4 Responses to One Nine Elms given go-ahead – did Wandsworth Council pull a fast one?

  1. SB says:

    No offence to Ms Monger but she just comes across as a disgruntled nimby clutching at straws to get a point across ( I mean getting high and mighty over an out of office email).

    The info was on the website, its not for the planning department to inform each and every commentator of an application when new information is uploaded etc.

    If she was that bothered surely she would have been checking it and also considering the date of the committee meeting checking that. Planning departments upload committee reports etc some days before the meeting so even if the date was brought forward by a couple of days surely Monger should have checked and read it before then. Similarly if your going to speak at a planning committee your required to let them know some days in advance that your wish to speak. Again it looks like Monger didn’t bother to do this.

    Seriously if the best Monger could come up with is 2 hours of shadow in a park the middle of June as reason for refusal then seriously the Nimby brigade really needs to do better. I’m also not sure what 2 hours of shadow does to stop people using a park on a summer evening. Maybe there should be a campaign to cut down all those pesky trees in the park as the shadows cast by them all year round must surely have a detrimental effect on the open space deficiency here.

    • Helen Monger says:

      In response to SB – the following points should be noted:
      1) the date was incorrectly given on the website by the planning authority
      2) I am a volunteer for our local park and do not have any resources behind me to track down every detail of a planning application
      3) shade from a building and dappled sunlight under trees are quite different experiences
      4) we live in an area of open space deficiency with significant deprivation – this development will make the area even more crowded so all the more reason to respect what little green space we have by reducing the height of the building and the plot ratio.
      5) I wrote a very detailed response to the application of which casting a shadow over the park was only one aspect which you have taken out of context. The additional pressure on our green space which this development will inevitably create with insufficient provision given the lack of open space within its footprint to compensate is just as important.
      6) English Heritage, Westminster Council and Kensington and Chelsea Council also objected to this proposal being out of proportion and their own planning officer’s report acknowledged that this development breached planning guidance for the area on height, density and affordable housing ratios.

      Helen Monger

  2. vivavauxhall says:

    It appears that the author of the previous comment is linked with a Chinese property developer and United Emirates owned London architects (at least that’s what their e-mail addresses suggests).

  3. jane michelson says:

    This proposed development should now be suspended pending a proper democratic planning meeting to which locally involved organisations and concerned individuals are given clear advance notification and invited to register their opinions. That this decision was taken in the absence of such open discussion, effectively silencing any objections, does not suggest that local concerns are addressed with any seriousness by the planning committee.
    While we understand the meeting change of date was tucked away unobtrusively on the relevant website, (rather than in a darkened basement broom cupboard, as in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe), this was not exactly an open invitation. Can it be that the planners, with a vast money-making enterprise at stake, simply decided they could no longer even maintain a pretence of local democracy incase it swayed the meeting against their rather ugly proposal. While I understand Councils are eager to seize on any “free” finance to prop up their ailing finances, and indeed I sympathise, creating unaffordable housing that overshadows our few remaining open spaces, adds to our overcrowding and overdemand on sparse resources, (unless the Council accepts that most of these developments will remain empty much of the year as investment opportunities rather than being real homes, or as hospitality suites for the occasional international corporation ) is not in the interests of the local community. This space should be retained in the public domain as a green space to improve the lamentable air quality-as you know, this area is short on open space provision-with facilities to benefit the locality- workshops and genuine employment opportunities, facilities for the elderly, which are practically non-existent in this part of London, sports facilities, – well, the list could be endless. This area is not short of luxury housing, office space or student accommodation. What it is short of is the true basic essentials of life such as sunlight, decent air, safe places for young and old to relax, and housing that nurses, teachers, police officers, mid-wives, bus drivers rather than bankers,accountants and politicians can afford.
    JM

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