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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.