The right result for Kingston

St George’s plans for TOPO were unanimously rejected by councillors at Thursday’s Development Control committee meeting. Here is the report from Diane Watling who attended the meeting on behalf of BRAG

“The development of the The Old Post Office was overwhelmingly rejected this evening at a packed Guildhall. Councillors unanimously voted against the development amid cheers from the packed public gallery. 3 reasons were sited:

  1. Relating to the 12-storey unit between the 2 listed buildings in terms of height and design context.
  2. Lack of 3 bedroom accommodation.
  3. In respect to the tallest building, this does not relate to the character of surrounding buildings.

The councillors are taking Viv Evans (RBK head of planning) advice regarding suitable grounds for refusal. They are determined to state ‘scale and bulk’ as grounds for refusal, but Viv is adamant that is not a sustainable argument. However, expect the developer St George to be back. It may not be over yet! More information here.”

While this is definitely the right result, as Diane and many other residents who have been fighting the proposal say, St George will not give up. They will either go to appeal via ‘Bristol’ or resubmit their designs, tweaking them slightly. Worryingly, councilors did not cite the lack of affordable housing as one of the reasons for refusing planning permission, which given the housing crisis we have in Kingston and across London, I feel this is a wasted opportunity to send a strong signal to developers over the need to supply cheaper homes.

I have written to the councillors on this committee to ask them to bring St George and Kingston Residents Alliance together with themselves to work on a plan for this important site that all sides can be happy with. Plans that respect our town’s heritage, its surrounding countryside, and most importantly, offer decent housing at a cost that’s accessible to real people.

To find out more about the residents’ campaign for TOPO and maybe help in future, check out the Kingston Residents Alliance website and their Facebook page.


Join the North Kingston Forum and stop the developers riding roughshod over our neighbourhood

Remember, if you want to get more involved in our local community, Diane Watling is continuing with the formation of the North Kingston Forum (covering Canbury & Tudor wards) which will allow residents to have a say over how our area is developed. The next meeting is at 7.30pm, Tue 17th Nov, The Queen’s Head, Richmond Rd. For more info or to say you’ll be coming, email Diane on diane.watling@gmail.com.

Well done for everyone’s input into stopping this inappropriate development. Over 3,600 comments were made on this application, around 150 people went to last night’s committee meeting and a further 400 or so watched in via Coombe Monthly’s live streaming. This is true democracy.

Open letter to Kingston Councillors about St George and TOPO

Dear Councillors

Tonight you will make one of the most important decisions you will ever have to make regarding the future of Kingston and how our townscape will look for the next few decades. Do you want to be the councillors responsible for opening the floodgates to overly dense, poorly designed, unaffordable tower blocks that add nothing in terms of architectural merit or beauty to our historic town? I trust not.

The main reason for saying no to St George’s plans for Eden Quarter should be concern for the people of Kingston who can ill afford to buy these homes if built. There are over 8,000 people on the housing list in Kingston, there are nearly 500 homeless people in Kingston, and the food bank in the town centre gave food parcels to 5,847 people, of whom 2,034 were children, in 2014/15. Will these homes help any of these people? No.

It’s not just the poorest and most vulnerable in our town that these home will be too expensive for. It’s everyone. And St George know this. In their own analysis of affordable housing in the town it found: “Affordability constraints in the borough ensure that accessing the housing ‘ladder’ is difficult. According to the Land Registry the average house price in the borough is £429,296. Whilst the Annual Survey of Hours and Earning (ASHE) 2013 reports that the borough has one of the highest gross median incomes, approximately £36,600 per annum, the average house price is almost 12 times higher.

Earlier this month I met with representatives from different faith groups in Kingston, including Christ Church New Malden, Surrey Islamic Centre, Chapel Street, Kingston Liberal Synagogue and St John’s Kingston Vale, among others. The key issue affecting their communities is the issue of the cost of housing, whether it’s young people feeling hopeless about their chances of moving out of home, middle aged parents worrying about where their children will live and the break up of their wider family, or older people concerned about where they could retire to.

St George’s latest design includes a measly 15% of affordable homes rather than the 50% that RBK states it is committed to in its SPD. For St George to cite viability and factoring in the cost of renovating a listed building are just weasel words, when we know very well that companies like St George look to make a minimum 20% profit on its developments and that in November 2014 the following was introduced by the Government: “a financial credit, equivalent to the existing gross floorspace of any vacant buildings brought back into any lawful use or demolished for re-development, should be deducted from the calculation of any affordable housing contributions sought from relevant development schemes.”

Furthermore, let’s be clear about the extremely healthy state of Berkeley Group (of which St George is a part), as given in their annual report 2015“In terms of performance, Berkeley built and sold 3,355 new homes this year at an average selling price of £575,000. This led to an increase in adjusted pre-tax profits of £454.6 million, an increase of 19.6% compared to last year, and a profit of £85.1 million from the sale of a portfolio of ground rent assets, giving total pre-tax earnings of £539.7 million.”

Do the right thing, put the needs of your community first and set a planning precedence you can be proud of:

  • Demand cheaper homes from the developers;
  • Insist on lower building height to fit our townscape;
  • Expect much better design from the architects. 

I wish I could be at tonight’s meeting, but I have long-standing engagement that I cannot break. However, I know that many Kingston residents will be there tonight, so I am sending this letter both for myself and on behalf of those residents who also cannot make it.

I will leave you with one last thought: I have worked in Canary Wharf and I can tell you that scuttling through dark weather-beaten streets caused by wind tunnels and shade from the towers that inhabit every corner is not an experience our community wants. The towers at Eden Quarter will create just this kind of street scene in Kingston – and if this one is approved – councillors will NEVER be able to say no to another one.

Kingston’s lack of affordable homes

My letter to Richmond Park MP and Mayoral hopeful, Zac Goldsmith:

Dear Zac

Yesterday I was at a meeting of representatives from different faith groups in Kingston, including Christ Church New Malden, Surrey Islamic Centre, Chapel Street, Kingston Liberal Synagogue and St John’s Kingston Vale, among others. The key issue affecting their communities that came out of the meeting was the issue of the cost of housing, whether its young people feeling hopeless about their chances of moving out of home, middle aged parents worrying about where their children will live and the break up of their wider family, or older people concerned about where they could retire to.

As your speech at conference clearly showed – and from our conversations on the subject – you know that housing is the one topic that unites Londoners. Yet, while you have been outspoken about other parts of London you have been reticent to speak out about the developments in Kingston and the utter lack of ‘affordable homes’ (which despite their flaws are all that developers have to offer) included in the many plans for the area and in particular TOPO (The Old Post Office)/Eden Quarter. 

St George’s latest design includes a measly 15% rather than the 50% that RBK states it is committed to in its SPD. For St George to cite viability and factoring in the cost of renovating a listed building are just weasel words, when we know very well that companies like St George look to make a minimum 20% profit on its developments and that in November 2014 the following was introduced by the Government: “a financial credit, equivalent to the existing gross floorspace of any vacant buildings brought back into any lawful use or demolished for re-development, should be deducted from the calculation of any affordable housing contributions sought from relevant development schemes.”

Furthermore, let’s be clear about the extremely healthy state of Berkeley Group’s (of which St George is a part), as given in their annual report 2015:In terms of performance, Berkeley built and sold 3,355 new homes this year at an average selling price of £575,000. This led to an increase in adjusted pre-tax profits of £454.6 million, an increase of 19.6% compared to last year, and a profit of £85.1 million from the sale of a portfolio of ground rent assets, giving total pre-tax earnings of £539.7 million.”

TOPO goes before the Development Control Committee next week for consideration. I implore you to use what pressure and influence you can bring on to both Kingston council and St George to dramatically improve its affordable housing provision. If you truly want to ensure that London has homes that ALL its residents can afford, you should make sure it happens in your own ‘back yard’.