Council running scared of resident power – the record put straight by James Giles


Kingston Council are running scared of resident power in Malden and Coombe, as they brand resident concerns voiced through MICO as ‘incorrect’ and issue a ‘question and answer’ section on their website regarding the Cocks Crescent SPD. When I first heard about this, I thought, ‘Fantastic! They are going to provide some answers!.’

The ‘answers’ are lacking in substance at best, and plain mistruths at worst… and they’re the one’s accusing us of misinformation! 

Here, I am to set the record straight. In bold you’ll find the question (i.e. our call in reason), in the red box you’ll find RBKs answer and in the green box you’ll find our response.

Contact me on 020 3020 0037 or james@maldenindy.co.uk if you have any queries.

Why is the council proposing to regenerate Cocks Crescent?

Cocks Crescent presents an enormous opportunity to boost the vitality of New Malden district centre whilst providing much needed housing for the borough’s growing population.  Kingston’s population is set to increase by 30 percent by 2036 and Cocks Crescent has been identified as an area which could support this growth while delivering maximum community benefit.

The Council here, in their first answer, admits that Cocks Crescent is an area that they have identified for residential units, ‘supporting’ a growth in population of ‘30% by 2036’. One would also question the claim that the development would provide ‘much needed housing for the borough’s growing population’ – surely the population only grows when you plant the seed (i.e. the housing for the population)?

We have thousands on our council waiting list and many struggling to afford to live in this borough – housing is ‘much needed’ for these people. Market rate homes are not ‘much needed’ in New Malden and residents do not want to see development of homes of such a great scale and density in our town.

 

What is the vision for Cocks Crescent?

Cocks Crescent will be transformed into a new heart for New Malden, consisting of a residential-led mixed use development

with new leisure facilities and community and wellbeing hub. The site is proposed to be redeveloped in a way that responds to the aspirations and needs of the local community and the wider borough.

The vision for the scheme has been developed through a comprehensive process of analysis, assessment and engagement, reflecting the priorities set out in the Maldens and Coombe Neighbourhood Community Plan. It incorporates direct feedback from the public which we received through the consultation process.

This answer is opinion based… ‘Cocks Crescent will be transformed into a new heart for New Malden’. Ask yourself – do you consider a potential 520 extra flats a new heart for our town? Somewhere the community will thrive and gravitate towards?

‘The site is proposed to be redeveloped in a way that responds to the aspirations of the local community’ – this is simply not the case, and can be proven to be untrue using the Council’s very own data. 45% of residents opposed the Cocks Crescent proposed Height and Scale of the homes, 33% of whom strongly opposed. By comparison, only a third indicated any level of support (with 22% not giving an opinion). The level of opposition far outweighs support – the council chose to ignore this response. This is not responding to the aspirations of the local community.

‘[The vision] incorporates direct feedback from the public which we received through the consultation process.’ – Again, the Council’s own data shows the comments made by residents – a number of comments made it into the summaries on page 38 (click), saying ‘

  • Height of the buildings – in particular 10 storeys is perceived as too high and is not in keeping with the height of buildings in the immediate area.’

What part of this is incorporating direct feedback, when the proposed height remains at ten-storeys?

What is a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD)?

Supplementary Planning Documents (SPD) give more detail to the policies outlined in the local plan, in this case Kingston Council’s Core Strategy (2012). SPDs are a primary reference when determining planning applications.

‘SPDs are a primary reference when determining planning applications.’ – exactly. RBK have hit the nail on the head.

If an SPD specifies a ‘guide’ of ten-storeys, then a planning application coming forward with around 10 storeys (plus a few?) could not be turned down – as it was stated in the SPD that the building could be that high. This SPD is a golden opportunity to shape our town, but Kingston Council are throwing away the opportunity for residents to truly create a new ‘heart’ for all residents. New Malden residents only deserve the best from the Council – they pay their wages!

Has the public been involved in shaping the Cocks Crescent SPD?

The SPD has been developed with significant community input and sets out a shared vision for the future redevelopment of the site. In particular, the New Malden Future Group has played a pivotal role in supporting engagement and helping shape the SPD so that it reflects local aspirations.

The overall engagement process carried out for the SPD comprised of three stages of engagement, concluding with formal consultation carried out over summer 2016 for an eight week period from 1 July – 29 August 2016.

  • Stage 1 (summer 2015) – high-level engagement issues and aspirations
  • Stage 2 (autumn-winter 2015) – detailed engagement design options
  • Stage 3 (summer 2016) – formal public consultation

During the stage 3 consultation period, a total of 463 responses, detailing over 6,000 individual comments, were received.

‘The SPD has been developed with significant community input and sets out a shared vision for future redevelopment’ – Over 750 residents evidently do not form part of this ‘shared vision for future redevelopment’, as is evident from our call in. What did residents say in the Council’s own consultation? Here’s what the Council’s analysis showed residents as saying:

  • ‘Plans are vague, not enough detail or a use of too much jargon.’
  • ’10 storeys is perceived as too high and is not in keeping with the height of buildings in the immediate area.’
  • ‘Given the height, and therefore the volume of homes planned for the site there is concern about the impact on local services and infrastructure.’

What part of this is exemplification of a ‘shared vision’? These concerns are being ignored, plain and simple.

‘The New Malden Future Group has played a pivotal role in helping shape the SPD’ – while we don’t doubt the Futures Group have attempted to achieve a positive outcome for New Malden, and we respect them for standing up and having their say – with the greatest respect in the world, this Group is not a constituted organisation. By their own admission, ‘We do not claim to be representative of the community of New Malden BUT representatives from the community of New Malden’ – this is not, as I’m sure residents will agree, ‘significant’ community input. What about local Residents Associations in Malden and Coombe and other community groups?

Just finally, it’s all very well and good getting ‘community input’ but, why bother consulting in the first place if comments are going to be ignored and branded ‘inaccurate’? (see below). Only 6% strongly agreed with the height and scale of the Cocks Crescent SPD, compared to 33% strongly opposing the height and scale, yet it remains unchangedThis is NOT genuine community input and is an example of why residents perceive this ‘engagement’ as a sham consultation.

Does the SPD set out details of how Cocks Crescent will be developed?

The Cocks Crescent SPD sets the framework within which development of the area will be guided. Any planning application on the site must comply with the key overarching principles set out in the SPD. These include:

  • A comprehensive redevelopment outcome that supports the Cocks Crescent vision.
  • A new civic focus for New Malden in the form of a new, council-owned community sport and wellbeing hub including a 25 metre swimming pool.
  • A mix of uses that strengthens the role of the New Malden District Centre and enhances its vitality and attractiveness.
  • Development that optimises population and economic growth to meet the needs of a growing population.
  • Development that accounts for existing and planned infrastructure and contributes appropriately to local services and requirements, such as schools and healthcare.
‘Any planning application on the site must comply with the key overarching principles set out in the SPD’ – Yes, absolutely. This is correct and is exemplification of why this is a golden opportunity to shape our town for the better. If a planning application contains something that was in breach of the SPD, it could be refused on those grounds. Why are the Council choosing to throw away this once-in-a-generation opportunity to change our town for the better? The current SPD gives very few guarantees and writes a blank cheque to developers.

How will the SPD control future development?

The SPD sets out a series of strategies and requirements that any future planning application will be assessed against. This includes:

  • A land use strategy.
  • An access and movement strategy.
  • A height and scale strategy.
  • An urban design strategy.
This again exemplifies what a golden opportunity this SPD could be for residents. ‘The SPD sets out a serious of strategies and requirements that any future planning application will be assessed against’ – including a height and scale strategy. If the height guide said ‘6 stories’, and a developer came in with 11 stories, this would be grounds to refuse the application! A height guide that says ’10 storeys’ leaves developers open to extend this by a few stories, and, as the Council’s own data states – 33% of residents strongly opposed the height strategy, compared to only 6% who strongly supported it.

How many homes are planned within the Cocks Crescent area?

Redevelopment will deliver high-quality new and affordable homes that embody exceptional sustainability features and are in keeping with the character of the local area.

The planning system has no power to limit the number of homes being proposed for any area. Each planning application will be dealt with on its own merits with respect to existing planning policy.

An SPD has a limited scope. Legally it cannot set a minimum or maximum on the number of houses. The right to submit a planning application in the area is unaffected by the SPD.

‘Redevelopment will deliver high-quality affordable homes’ – erm… will it? How many affordable homes? How many social rented homes? How many shared ownership homes? The SPD contains no reference to the amount of high-quality affordable homes it will deliver, does not even set a target. See for yourself, here. The comment regarding affordable housing was stated in the ‘vision’ for Cocks Crescent – it did not state a target, or even quantify the definition of affordable. This is simply spin from Kingston Council – there is not even a definition of ‘affordable’ in the SPD.

Does the SPD guarantee protecting the Blagdon Road open space?

Blagdon Road open space is a valued local asset which has potential for significant improvement. Existing London Plan policy strongly discourages the reduction in open space and the council has no plans to do so. As part of the redevelopment of Cocks Crescent, the council aims to deliver a significant upgrade to the open space.

  • The council would give consideration to the reconfiguration of Blagdon Road open space where it can be demonstrated that:
  • There would be no loss of open space with the development as a whole.
  • The reconfigured open space would be a higher quality than the existing open space provision, creating a safer and more user-friendly environment as well as enhancing biodiversity and ecology.
  • The reconfiguration of the open space would enable a better overall development outcome than if it were retained in its current form.
This response does not guarantee the protection of the open space in its current form.

‘The reconfigured open space would be a higher quality than the existing open space provision’ – how does the Council know this? Unless it has a planning application lined up already, surely this would be in the hands of the delivery provider (i.e. developer)?

The fact of the matter is that, as demonstrated above, the Council are considering chopping up the open space into ‘pockets’ of open space, providing there was no ‘loss of open space as a whole’. This is not good enough and not the best for New Malden residents. Our residents only deserve the best.

How high will future buildings in the area be?

The SPD sets out opportunities for building heights within the site taking into consideration the surrounding context. The height guide is based on the aim to create a varied and interesting townscape and to support relevant land uses and spaces. Planning applications will be assessed on their own merits in accordance with the principles set out in the SPD.

The council is bound by National and London planning policy regarding land use. Ten storeys, at a point where there is little impact on the amenity of existing properties, is acceptable in this context.

‘Ten storeys is acceptable’ – need we say more? 33% of residents strongly opposed the height, but the Council ignored them and are pushing ahead with a development of a ludicrous proportion. By comparison, only 6% of residents strongly supported the height proposed here.

Will New Malden House (former Spillers Building) be extended?

The New Malden House (the former Spillers Building) is currently 10 storeys and has been unanimously consented by Development Control Committee for a two storey extension. This would bring the total height to a maximum of 12 storeys. Converting vacant, derelict buildings into high-quality homes is encouraged in order to address the alarming shortfall in homes across London.
The Council’s own consultation result stated that residents said ‘Tower blocks… are referred to as being a poor precedent that the new development should avoid repeating.’ – why is this continued to be ignored? Why bother consulting? We agree that converting vacant and derelict buildings into homes is not a bad step, as it provides homes without building new tower blocks and impacting further on the skyline.

However, two wrongs do not make a right. Just because we have one tower block that was built several years ago does not mean that we should go ahead and build yet another eyesore – residents told RBK that the tower blocks were a ‘poor precedent’. We urge RBK to listen to those residents.

What about housing density?

An SPD cannot dictate density or place a limit on the number of houses. This is set out in the London Plan as referenced in the Cocks Crescent SPD.
Proof that Kingston Council are writing a blank cheque to developers.

Kingston Council COULD, indirectly, dictate density and place a limit on the number of houses. It would do this by stating where building is permitted in the SPD (as already done in the height and scale strategy, albeit to a great extent) and lowering the maximum height guides. This would, in turn, limit the number of units logistically able to be built on site.

Refusal to do so is refusal to listen to the residents of New Malden.

What about parking and congestion?

Existing policy determines the effect of any planning application on access and movement. Existing policies in the London Plan dictate car parking requirements and any planning application must abide by them.
The current London Plan dictates car parking requirements – correct. However, RBKs response conveniently fails to mention the requirement – ‘significantly less than 1 space per unit’, as quoted directly from the London Plan. This would mean that homes with vehicles would be parking on surrounding roads causing parking and traffic chaos.

What about access to properties during years of building works and beyond?

A construction method statement must be submitted as part of any planning application. Existing users have a legal right to continued access.
‘Existing users have a legal right to continued access’ – absolutely, and we do not dispute this. However, access will be impeded by the severely increased level of vehicles using the surrounding roads during building work and beyond, which has not been taken into account in the SPD.

What about the impact of an increased population on schools, doctors and other vital services?

The council is statutorily required to provide these services and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Achieving for Children have no objections to the SPD.
Councillor Paul Bedforth, a Conservative, admitted on social media this was ‘an issue’ that needed looking into. We can reveal, for residents who are not already aware, that Achieving for Children (i.e. the Council) is currently seeking to expand Burlington Schools to five-form entry, which could lead to an extra 360 children attending the schools, on top of the already (space provided for) 1120 pupils attending the schools – leading to a potential of 1480 pupils at the schools. This is not sustainable development, has led to lower educational standards in the past (i.e. lower OFSTED at BurlingtonJ) and should be avoided at all costs.

Pollution and air quality

Monitoring of any impact of development on air quality is outside of the scope of this SPD. Pollution and air quality in the borough is addressed by the Air Quality Action Plan.
Rather peculiar… Conservative Councillor Paul Bedforth seemed to be expecting an Air Quality Impact Assessment. I asked Councillor Bedforth, given he said our claim that there was no consideration to air quality was false, whether he had ‘an assessment of the pollution and air quality that you can share with us?’ – he replied ‘No , I have seen no assessment as yet.’ – alluding to the fact that there should have been an assessment?

What is clear here is that even local ward councillors don’t fully understand the SPD and its impact. The issue of Pollution and Air Quality is being overlooked, and is a major issue. Extra vehicles and congestion leads to poorer air quality – bad news given New Malden High Street already exceeds the NO2 limits (from testing undertaken by NMRA).

Please click here to write to your local councillors, to show them that residents are united against the Cocks Crescent proposal in its current form, and that we will not tolerate being disregarded as ‘inaccuracies’.

See also:

Council officers accuse MICO of spreading ‘inaccuracies’ and ‘incorrect information’

With Best Wishes

James Giles, Chairman of MICO

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