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.

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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’.

Gove had to go – he ran the DfE as a fiefdom

I actually met Michael Gove a couple of years back at a party held by a mutual friend. We ended up discussing the fact that my local area, Kingston, desperately needed a new secondary school and that an application for a Free School was with the Department of Education for approval. His parting words were ‘I’ll see what I can do‘.

A few months later, the school was in fact approved. Now, I don’t know if Michael did actually make good on his “promise”, but the fact the Secretary of State for Education has final say over whether a school opens or not, is wrong. How does the person holding that role know if the area really needs a school. S/he is unlikely to be be the MP for that constituency, so they are relying on the application in front of them for the facts rather than personal knowledge. And, facts can be written up to make the case for the company, group or consortium aiming to set up the Free School. This is why the situation is now arising of schools being approved where there’s no need for them, while other parts of the same borough are struggling to find places for their children.

The decision of where to open a new school needs to be put back in Council hands so communities and councillors can work together to get the educational establishments local people need.

However, that doesn’t mean the council needs to ‘run’ the school. As a governor of a school that is now an academy, I do believe that if a school has a good head and a strong Governing Body then being “outside” of council control can be a positive. But, heads can be tyrants at worst or benevolent dictators at best, and can leave. Meanwhile, Governing Bodies are, more often than not, run by people with little experience of education but much enthusiasm. Unless the governors are very dedicated and take up the training on offer, while giving a lot of their spare time to scrutinising the endless documents that are part and parcel of that role, as well as challenging the head, then it’s all too easy for them to pay lip service what’s put in front of them until the results come out and, disaster, the school is failing the children.

Then, who do the parents turn to? The Governing Body? And, if they’re part of the reason for the poor teaching. who’s next? The Department for Education and the Secretary of State for Education. Again, I say, how can the person holding this post be responsible for ensuring all schools in this country are doing the best for every single child? S/he cannot.

Schools need to be part of the local councils’ remit so parents/carers have someone to turn to rather than central government.

Let’s get Cassel Hospital turned into a Primary School

Richmond Council has been consulting residents about a number of sites in the borough that are up for development. One of them is Cassel Hospital on Ham Common.
cassel4
As a Governor of Latchmere School in North Kingston, which is already four-form entry and has to take a further ‘bulge’ class in 2014/5 to cope with the demand for school places in our two boroughs, I believe that North Kingston and Ham needs a whole new primary school. As well as the population growth that our area is having to cope with, there has been an influx of families seeking the excellent schools we have here. Plus, there’s all the new dwellings proposed for
Latchmere House, the flats already being built on the river in North Kingston, the impending developments on the gas storage site at Sury Basin, the conversion of the Regal Bingo building that will all bring more and more families into our neighbourhood. Additionally, Ham Close is up for development, one of the options being to knock down the existing blocks of flats and rebuild them with twice as more dwellings on the site, so increasing the local population.

There is a possibility that a new primary school will be built to accompany the flats on Sury Basin, but these will only ‘mop up’ the children in the immediate vicinity and not the roads from Kings Road up towards the Tudor Estate. And, the new primary school near Sury Basin is not even definite as the developer is pushing for student flats instead.

Without a new two/three-form entry school in North Kingston/Ham we will hear more and more about distressed families whose children have missed out on school places, or have to travel long distances across the borough to go to other schools. The alternative is that Latchmere School becomes five-form entry throughout all years, and other schools have to expand from two/three to three/four-form entry. All of which will put pressure on resources, building space and hard-pressed playgrounds.

The Cassel Hospital building was assessed when St Edwards were considering setting up a Kingston Church School Foundation free school in the area (KET got their bid approved by the DfE to set up Kingston Academy in the North Kingston Centre so St Edwards pulled) and it was deemed a suitable site for a school. It has 20 acres of land around ideal for sports grounds and additional buildings if required. Also, it is easily accessible by foot, bicycle, public transport and car – although too many vehicles would cause problems on this road.

So, if you do one thing today, email ldfconsultation@richmond.gov.uk and ask Richmond Council to set aside Cassel Hospital for community purposes, and more specifically a primary school.

Say no to Berkeley Homes forcing a choice between affordable housing and a new road at the council planning meeting 17th July

In 2011 the Home Office closed Latchmere House Remand Centre – one of the most successful rehabilitation prisons in Europe – to save money. It then sold off the site, in a leafy spot in a suburban neighbourhood that straddles both boroughs of Richmond and Kingston, for a vast sum of money to Berkeley Group to develop into housing.

After various public consultations from which a planning brief was drawn up, Berkeley put in two planning applications to develop the Latchmere House site, one larger than the other by 16 units that supposedly requires the opening up an access point for traffic via Latchmere Lane. Odd given that these dwellings are located close to the only existing access to the site via Church Road, a relatively quiet wide road with a wood down one side, and a handful of houses with deep verges and driveways in front of them on the other. These extra 16 units are the affordable housing option. This means you either vote for the ‘cheaper’ housing, which both Boroughs need and get the new road onto Latchmere Lane, or you vote against it to prevent the new opening onto a road that is mostly single-lane road due to the cars parked either side and traffic calming measures with bollards, speed bumps and a 20-mile-per-hour limit.

Traffic issues
Latchmere Lane struggles to cope traffic at peak times already as the road is used as a rat-run to avoid the congestion on nearby Richmond Road, and more so when Richmond Park closes early in the winter months. This often results in tension and arguments between drivers and the whole road grinding to a halt. Delivery vans, commercial vehicles and refuse vehicles have a very difficult time passing down this road without damaging parked vehicles and causing traffic jams. It is also dangerous for cyclists who can’t pass safely against the oncoming traffic, much of which ignore the speed limit, as well as for pedestrians trying to cross. Additionally, the number of vehicles parked on Latchmere Lane has increased in the last few months, since Richmond Council has demolished garages that used to serve homes on both Cowper Road and Beard Road (off roads from Latchmere Lane) to building more housing.

Landscaping/Nature conservation
The creation of a second road to the site is also a terrible prospect for local residents. An access at Latchmere Lane will involve the loss of some very attractive green space and greatly degrade the view of the House itself. Latchmere Lane is the worst possible choice for a second access and local residents objected to this strongly the last time it arose as a possibility, with over 130 residents signing a petition against it. This is a beautiful area with lots of wildlife, plants and trees. The development needs to be sensitive to this and therefore should only have one access road.

Road access
There is no need for a second access into the site. Statistics provided in the Traffic Assessment that was carried out for this development confirm that traffic from the new houses will result in no more vehicles to the site than under its former prison use. Church Road easily coped with the prison traffic for many years and is wide enough for cars to pass each other comfortably while Latchmere Lane is only single width unless parking restrictions are introduced, which would have serious consequences for the residents, whereas on roadside parking is not required in Church Road due to them already having off-street parking. Many of the houses on Latchmere Lane do not have useable driveways and to create additional parking would require paving over front gardens that would have a detrimental effect on the environment. Additionally, if you look at the housing on the old BAe site on Richmond Road, where there are two separate ‘estates’ with only one access point each – one on Richmond Road and the other on Dukes Avenue – these each cater to over 100 houses. Therefore, Church Road can easily cope with the planned 89 residences on the Latchmere House site.

Personally, I am happy to support the larger number of units on the site if some of it will be affordable housing, but whether the development contains 89 or 73 residences, there is absolutely no need to open up a road to the houses from Latchmere Lane.

If you do one thing today: email the Kington councillors (find their addresses here) before the planning meeting on 17th July 2014 and ask them to tell Berkeley Group to go back to the drawing board and offer a development that doesn’t require a choice between affordable housing and a new road or neither. They are holding us to ransom.

If you do two things today: go to the planning meeting at 7.30pm on 17th July 2014 and ask them to tell Berkeley Group that no new road is required. You will need to apply to speak by 15th July, email development.management@rbk.kingston.gov.uk.

If you do three things today: tweet the following – “#BerkeleyHomes force residents to choose between #AffordableHousing and an unnecessary road #LatchmereHouse #ShameOnThem” or “#BerkeleyHomes has no social media? So communities have no public forum to air their views? #NoRoadThroughHere #LatchmereHouse”

If you do one thing today: email your MP about a safer school run

I was saddened to read the following statistic from Sustrans this week: ‘In 2012, the number of children killed while walking or cycling on our roads was equivalent to over one primary school class, and the equivalent of over seven whole primary schools were seriously injured. Road danger is the biggest cause of preventable death and injury among children.’

No wonder, then, that despite most children living within walking or cycling distance of their school, less than half walk and far fewer cycle. This is having an impact on their health, as this lack of activity, could mean that this is the first generation of children who live shorter lives than their parents through inactivity.

Sustrans wants to change this by getting our children active and healthy – starting with the school run – with their Campaign for Safer Streets. They are putting pressure on MPs and local councils to get:
• Dedicated funding – provides the resources needed to transform routes and invest in walking and cycling at the local level.
• 20mph default speed limit across built up areas – makes everyone’s route safer;
• Stronger duties and incentives on Local Authorities to develop routes and promote walking and cycling.

In my local area of Ham, Richmond and North Kingston we are incredibly poorly served by bicycle lanes, safe or otherwise, roads are pot-holed and congestion creates poor air quality for cyclists and pedestrians alike. As a cyclist myself with two children, cycling around here is only made bearable by Richmond Park and the tow path along the Thames. However, the latter is in a shocking state and needs improving to provide a safer, more comfortable and appealing ride.

And, just imagine if cyclists were forced to cycle on Richmond Road in Petersham. How many accidents do you think there would be? The lack of public transport to Ham itself means this area is crying out for better cycling provision, and yet, where is it? Practically non-existent. A cycle lane along Ham Common and up to Ham Street towards Grey Court would be a start. Or even better, put cycle paths around the edges of Ham Common, so cyclists are kept apart from traffic altogether. These could then link with Ham Avenue so it’s easy to get to the tow path. A cycle lane from Kingston that doesn’t end at the crossroads of Tudor Drive and Richmond Road is essential, too. As is a cycle lane up Tudor Drive itself. Given the widths of the pavement along this road, couldn’t it be shared with pedestrians, like the one that is part way along Richmond Road just near the Hawker Centre.

For more information about the campaign go here: http://www.sustrans.org.uk/safetoschool, where it helps you to email your MP about their support. For information on local pressure groups go to Richmond Cycling Campaign and Kingston Cycling Campaign.