Thursday, 12 July 2012

LTGDC Hears Objections But Still Approves Hancock Road Development

Planning Application PA/11/02423LBTHHancock Road, Three Mills Lane, Bromley-by-Bow was approved this evening at the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) Planning Committee Meeting, by a majority vote. The Application is for a mixed use development comprising 741 residential units, office space, a car dealership, and a bar/restaurant. 

As an indication of how poorly promoted/advertised the development has been, only approximately 25 people turned up for the Committee hearing - many of these represented the developers. There was only 1 objector to Planning Application PA/11/02423LBTH.

Objectors and Applicants/developers are allowed a maximum of 5 minutes to present their case. Objectors were invited to speak first followed by the developer, who as one would expect were therefore able to counter the issues raised by the objector knowing the objector has no recourse. 

The decision is a disappointment, and the evaluation process leading to it, has to be examined. That the Ward already has a critical overcrowding crisis in its schools was just one of many issues discarded by the Committee. But what we should all find most disturbing was the absence of any constructive consultation with the community throughout the whole proposed development program. This issue however proved equally irrelevant to the Committee.

A copy of the site plan is shown in the last page of this Addendum Note. You will see that what has been approved is a mixed residential development of a type to be found anywhere in Europe, ie it doesn't reflect the history and environs of the River Lea or Bromley-by-Bow. The 4 main residential enclaves look like prison blocks surrounding exercise yards. Was it too much to have, perhaps, terraced apartments facing onto the river with shops, restaurants and community facilities at their base creating an open promenade environment? Couldn't - shouldn't we, the residents of the Ward, have been presented with various design options and collaboratively developed a design more appropriate to our neighbourhood?

Earlier this month, ResPublica a non-partisan UK think tank focusing on developing practical solutions to enduring socio-economic and cultural problems, produced a Green Paper entitled, 'Re-thinking Neighbourhood Planning - From Consultation to Collaboration'. The report was funded by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) no less. The reason I mention this Paper is that ResPublica is closely tied to the Government's Big Society strategy and has played a major role in developing the Localism Act,  and it was within the context of the Act's Community Empowerment and Planning provisions that the Green Paper was produced. Suffice to say, the Committee showed no interest in either the Green Paper or the recommendation that all local planning needs to embrace community collaboration. The Committee was equally unfazed by the stark reality that there had been extremely limited consultation. One Committee member asked the developer what public consultation had taken place - the answer was none, only a exhibition that approximately 30 people attended and most of those where from Newham concerning the Sugar House development on the other side of the River Lea. The same Committee member incidently voted in favour of the development.

Here's a summary of the other socio-economic issued raised (it's worth noting that the majority of the questions posed to the developer by the Committee focused on architectural issues):
  • The local community of Bromley-by-Bow had not been consulted, and certainly no collaboration had been sought. Few of the 8,500 electorate new of the development - perhaps fewer than 1%. There is already a shortage of schools, parks, and open spaces and this had not been addressed in the design  (no response from the Committee)
  • The development states that it is dependent on an adjacent development, known as the Tesco/District Centre plan for schooling facilities. However, the developer confirmed that this adjacent development had stalled and its progress was 'unclear' following a decision by the Secretary of State to refuse a compulsory purchase of land required by the developer. (no response from the Committee)
  • Tower Hamlets Borough Council (THBC) in their submission to LTGDC approving the development, had recommended it embrace community facilities including sports, employment, social enterprise, open spaces, and an Ideas Store among other features. None, or to a very limited extent some, of these recommendations are included. (no response from the Committee)
  • The development includes a 6,300m Car Dealership, yet only 470m is allocated to a single restaurant or cafe or bar. A Car Dealership? what about a grocer, haberdashery, general store, Early Learning Centre, butcher, baker candle stick maker - you name it - the developers won't, but a huge Car Dealership!? (this issue was raised with the developer at a prior meeting)
  • Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, in their letter of 26 June 2012, rejects the developers revisions. (no response from the Committee)
  • Greater London Authority in their response dated 5 July 2012, describe the development as 'piecemeal' with a 'scale fairly significant' (for the location). (no response from the Committee)
  • Design for London stated in July, 'the height and density/scale continues to raise concerns together with its physical isolation', and 'it is dependent of the adjoining Tesco site'. There are wider issues including Underground station access and whether there will be sufficient natural light within the residential block design. (no response from the Committee)
  • Local schooling needs had been totally omitted. The developers, in consultation with THBC suggest that 741 residential units will represent 1,647 new residents. (this is Excel spreadsheet statistics). Occupation will be 65% private ownership and 35% Social Housing. The Eg35% affordable is to be split 71:29 between social rented and intermediate housing. The developers predict a requirement for 110 secondary school places and 52 Primary places. Remember no account is made for where these places will be accommodated. Looking more closely at this predictions one has to wonder at their honestly, eg 35% of 741 is 259 units. If an average social housing family has 2.5 children - a statistic norm, that computes to significantly more children requiring schooling than the developer is staing - and this is just for 259 out of the 741 units? Remember again, the developer takes no account for Early Learning, Stay and Play, or Nursery needs. (no response from the Committee)
So, what lessons have been learnt? First and foremost is the realisation that, until the planning application process changes to embrace community collaboration, the community must petition developers, council and where relevant authorities such as the LTGDC with signed declarations legitimising their views. In a way, we are responsible for allowing the existing flawed process to prevail. If 100, or 1,000 members of the community had demonstrated their opposition in this way, the outcome would have been different. This emphasises the need for us to disseminate (proposed planning) information throughout the community and encourage participation. Unless we seek active involvement in our Ward, rulings by a mediocracy with little or no local roots will continue to 'reconstruct' Bromley-by-Bow to a alien agenda.

We are left only with visions of what might have been. And, the prospect of another huge Car Dealership (a Porsche Dealership is less than a kilometre away) in an area desperately in need of local enterprise. What an appalling legacy of thoughtless, uninspiring development we are leaving. Gone are the opportunities for creative regeneration, servicing local needs, eg our own Bow Bridge Market for instance, copying the success of the canal side Camden Market providing stalls for crafts, clothing, bric-a-brac, and fast food. Camden Market incidentally is the fourth-most popular visitor attraction in London, attracting approximately 100,000 people each weekend. Couldn't Bromley-by-Bow have followed suit with our canal redevelopment resources and prime position on the axis of East London's two major arterial roads?

The opportunity, and our say in the redevelopment of one of the most historic, accessible and tourist focused canal sites in London has been lost. Let's not let it happen again.

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