Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Town Centre Objections

Gavin Chinniah
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Development Management Sycamore House
Town Hall Complex
Forest Road,
E17 4JS


December 2017
Re. Planning application ref. 171355 - The Mall, Selbourne Road, Walthamstow

Dear Mr Chinniah,

I would like make some comments on the Mall planning application and ask that you take
them into consideration when compiling the report on this application.
Reduction in public space:

I am very much against the proposed reduction in area of the Town Square, which provides
the only green space in Walthamstow town centre and which is very well used.
The loss of this amount of the Town Square - and within that, green space with mature trees
- to private development would represent a clear public detriment caused by the scheme,
without a compensating public benefit.

The proposed reduction in the Town Square space is also against the borough’s planning
policy. It does not conform to that envisaged in the Town Centre Area Action Plan (AAP),
being a 30% greater loss of public space than envisaged in the AAP.

The developer’s representatives, Barton Willmore, state: “The scheme is unviable if less
open space is lost.” However, they do not back this claim up with evidence - which could
then be challenged. This is therefore simply an assertion of opinion on their part.
I believe that a re-considered scheme could be viable with no open space lost. A
recommendation for rejection of the scheme would result in Capital & Regional coming back
with improved plans that would bring a greater public benefit for people living in and visiting
the town centre.

As the Design Council/CABE point out, “fundamental issues remain, particularly the quantum
of development proposed, which has not been justified and places increased pressure on
the public space, which at the same time is being reduced in size.”

This is a damning criticism of the scheme that is obvious not only to experts – namely that,
with hundreds of new homes proposed for the town centre, a reduction in public green space
when at the same time there will be more demand for it from new residents goes against
common sense and will be highly detrimental to the town centre.

In addition, national planning policy states that existing open space should be protected. The
National Public Planning Framework (NPPF) states: “Existing open space, sports and
recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless: an
assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land
to be surplus to requirements; the loss resulting from the proposed development would be
replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable

Neither has the Town Square land been assessed to be surplus to requirements, nor would
this loss of public space be made up elsewhere, as the national framework states should
happen. Waltham Forest as a planning authority should work to ensure that this existing
open and recreational space is protected and indeed improved.

CABE criticisms:
The fact that the Design Council/CABE say that, without fresh thinking on the scheme’s
significant negative aspects and lack of public benefit offered, they cannot currently support
the proposal is extremely telling and a real indictment of these plans. Again, all the
developers can say in response to this is that cost levels would not permit a better scheme -
but without offering any evidence to support this assertion.
The developers clearly do not have arguments backed up with evidence to counter CABE’s
major criticisms. I support these criticisms, namely:

 this is overdevelopment, with a level of height and massing which is unjustified:
“fundamental issues remain, particularly the quantum of development proposed, which has
not been justified.”
 the design is not of high quality: “we do not think it is of exemplary design quality.”
 this scheme should be fundamentally re-thought to offer public benefit sufficient to
counterbalance any detrimental aspects: “Given… the opportunity afforded by this prime
location for an exemplary design, we recommend that significant fresh design thinking is
undertaken, particularly to elevate the public space quality to the highest level, to develop
robust justification for the quantum of development and to provide significant extra public
benefits for the people of Walthamstow.”
 as it stands, with the NatWest building remaining, the design for a hugely-reduced
Town Square is half baked and fails to offer public benefit to counter the hugely detrimental
release of public land for private development: “Without fresh thinking addressing the
fundamental challenges of the scheme as proposed and with the NatWest Bank building
remaining, we cannot currently support the proposal.”

That the panel of experts from CABE has these powerful criticisms of the scheme and
cannot support it - criticisms that the applicant cannot offer evidence to counter - should
carry significant weight when you are evaluating whether to recommend approval of this

Scale, massing, environmental detriment and the need for an independent Environmental Impact Assessment:
I believe that the scale and design of the development proposed will cause unacceptable
environmental consequences and that the scheme is of such a size and impact that an
independent Environmental Impact Assessment should be carried out before any
recommendation can be made.

The applicant’s own overshadowing studies confirm that huge overshadowing would take
place, over a large number of properties in the town centre during the darker months of the
year, and yet the drawings do not show the full extent of the properties affected. This alone
is of great significance and needs to be fully explored.

The interests of those living in residential streets to the north, west and east of the High
Street - as well as those in the High Street itself - who would all lose a lot of direct sunlight
for significant parts of the day during the darker months of the year - should be considered.
In addition, the applicant’s own data shows that the re-modelled public space would be
largely in shadow throughout the afternoon for around six months of the year. This will affect
the amenity value of the reduced space considerably, and in recommending the scheme
while knowing of this, you would be going against the borough’s AAP policy - which states:
“Issues of overshadowing of the Town Square and Gardens will need to be addressed to
ensure that the amenity value of the space is not compromised, demonstrable evidence that
any extension has no negative environmental impact on neighbouring properties or public
space will be sought.”

Here, in the overshadowing studies, we have demonstrable evidence that the extension
would have a negative environmental impact on neighbouring properties and on the public

Of equal concern is the effect that buildings of the height proposed would have on the
amenity of the public space around the development due to wind channelling. The
applicant’s own report on this predicts that there is: “potential for wind conditions to rate as
unsuitable, in terms of pedestrian safety at these locations: southeast corner of the
Development; general vicinity within the central corridor; and around the tower corners located closest to Selborne Road” and that “these represent a major adverse effect.”

This just cannot be ignored - winds that are potentially dangerous should not be part of any
scheme, much less so for one in such a key, busy location.
In addition, the report details multiple situations where channelled wind would make
prolonged periods of sitting inappropriate - another example of the scheme having a
demonstrable negative environmental impact on the public space - which the AAP seeks to
prevent from happening.

An overshadowed, blustery and sometimes dangerous public space is hardly something that
the council should be seeking, yet here is a strong indication that the scheme would achieve
just that.

The applicant attempts to make the case that tall buildings are an inevitable consequence of
local policy. In their response to the LBWF consultation, the developer’s representative
states, “Policy WTCOS9 anticipates the application site as having the potential to deliver up
to 600 homes in tall buildings.”

This is not so - there is nothing in the Town Centre AAP in association with this site that
states that any housing has to be or will necessarily be high-rise. It can be seen that highrise
buildings will cause precisely the negative environmental impact on neighbouring
properties and public space that the AAP seeks to prevent.

Additionally, I would like you to note that the scheme would cause air quality to be worse in
the re-modelled public space than it is at present - the applicant’s own figures show that the
users of a reduced, closed-in public space – including the children in a proposed new
playground closer to the bus station than at present and with significantly fewer mature trees
than currently - would be subject to increased NO2 levels.

In their response to the public consultation, the applicant makes no attempt to deny this. The
local authority should not be complicit in anything that worsens air quality for its inhabitants
and visitors to the borough. Again, this is a demonstrable negative environmental impact on
the public space.

In the absence of an independent Environmental Impact Assessment and in following the
borough’s AAP provisions, the planning authority should recommend refusal of the scheme
on environmental impact grounds.

Impact on biodiversity and wellbeing:
The National Planning Policy Framework states that one of the three key dimensions to
sustainable development is the environmental dimension, which means the planning system
needs to perform “an environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our
natural… environment; and, as part of this, helping to improve biodiversity, use natural
resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate

Waltham Forest’s own Biodiversity Action Plan 2010-2020 states that although the land
between the Lea Valley and Epping Forest is largely developed, various areas of green
space remain including “gardens (public and private)” and that “These are all green oases,
providing refuges in an otherwise built environment.”

What we have in the Town Square is such an oasis, a refuge from the heavily built town
centre environment - poorly maintained and undervalued by the local authority, true, but a
somewhat green area where visitors and residents alike can and do feel the calming
presence of nature and sit in the sun under an open sky or under the shade of large trees.
The planned cutting down of 31 of the 51 mature lime trees in the lime avenue and seven
mature plane trees from the Town Square would cause significant detriment to biodiversity in
the heart of the town centre, as well as contributing to the worsening of air quality.

I believe that in reducing so significantly this key green space in the town centre and largely
paving it over, any recommendation for approval would go against four relevant objectives in
the borough’s Biodiversity Action Plan, which are:
 To protect and enhance the wildlife and habitats in Waltham Forest
 To ensure that developers, major landowners and organisations, including the
Council, schools and colleges, the private sector and statutory undertakers, are aware of the
importance of conserving biodiversity and are positively involved in the implementation of the
 To ensure the proper consideration of biodiversity conservation in the management of
all open space and amenity land in Waltham Forest.
 To develop the long-term interest and involvement of people living and working in the
borough, including access to nature.

Increasing numbers of research studies show the importance of nature and biodiversity for
mental and physical wellbeing.

With the planned loss of over 60% of the grassed area, the mature trees, afternoon sunlight
for around half the year and with the unpredictable, unpleasant and in places unsafe wind
channelling that the applicant’s own survey forecasts, the overall effect of the scheme going
ahead would be that the Town Square Garden would be lost as a green space in which to
spend time and enjoy nature. This would have a significant impact on people’s mental and
physical wellbeing, a detriment that would be widely felt and would certainly not be
compensated for by having a wider range of shops and restaurants to visit.
For the applicant to promote this loss of green space as acceptable by arguing that other
‘benefits’ will outweigh this loss is simply to fail to understand the significant public detriment
that the loss of this green space would cause.

In other words, they just don’t get it - and any parts of the council promoting the scheme as
currently proposed do not get it either.

It is therefore for the LBWF planning department to consider the significant public detriment
of this scheme outlined above when producing its report and recommendations.

Impact on children:
It is scientifically established that young children suffer disproportionately from air pollution -
they breathe in more pollutants per unit of body mass than adults.

The proposed development would not only result in children breathing more polluted air but
would also reduce the play space where under 7s can run free from 450 sq. m currently to
300 sq. m - a reduction of one third.

The current play area hardly seems excessively large. It is a safe place where parents can
relax, knowing that their children can play in a safe and relatively controlled environment.
Any remodelled Town Square where the requirements of the Town Centre AAP are upheld
should have a dedicated play space at least equally large. As the Town Centre AAP states,
“Proposals for expansion of the Mall would be expected to demonstrate how...the remaining
Town Square and Gardens will be re-modelled and re-configured to make best use of the
space and add value from the proposed development – especially reproviding, enhancing
and enlarging the children’s play area.”

Whatever incidental play features are scattered elsewhere in the current proposals, it cannot
be said that the children’s play area would be enlarged. This is yet another example of the
scheme failing to live up to the AAP’s provisions and another reason why it should be
recommended for refusal.

Lack of housing benefits to the local community:
Recent research by the LSE for the Greater London Assembly on the London housing
market states: "Pre-sales, and particularly off-plan, sales have become an increasingly
important part of the market especially since the global financial crisis.”
This is doubly true for high-rise blocks, where it is widely known that the business model for
this form of housing development involves selling as much as possible as early in the
process as possible, long before the building is even nearing completion.
As the GLA Homes for Londoners Board states, “Since mortgage finance is generally
available only six months prior to homes being completed, many off-plan sales are to cash
buyers and investors. These may be based in the UK or overseas.”

In other words, it is typically property investors from inside and outside the UK who buy flats
in a high-rise building. The Homes for Londoners Board reports that something approaching
30% of overseas investors in 2014-16 did not intend to rent out their purchase.
Those investors who do choose to rent out their flat would aim to maximise the rent
achieved, meaning this type of building would do very little to provide homes for people
struggling to find affordable housing in the borough.

Additionally, the applicant is already managing expectations downwards over the number of
designated ‘affordable’ homes that would be part of the scheme.
Overall, it is clear that the benefit to the borough in terms of affordable housing would be
very small indeed. Having investors as the main purchasers of new flats is not what Waltham
Forest residents want or need from a new development in this key location.
This is another way in which a high-rise scheme of this type would fail to provide a public
benefit to offset to any degree the public detriment caused by releasing borough land for
private development and by having a public green space significantly reduced in size and

Flawed and one-sided consultations:
I am concerned that the two ‘public consultations’ run by the developers in 2016 & 2017
were not representative of the true impacts of the scheme.
As is to be expected when developers run their own consultation, the drawings & views that
were used to show the proposed scheme did not make clear the extent of the loss of public
space or detrimental environmental impacts that the scheme would have on the Town
Square Gardens and surrounding area.

As people were not given the full facts, the feedback they gave cannot be regarded as fairly
gained. I would urge you to keep this in mind when weighing up any of the applicant’s
assertions of public support.

Additionally, the negative public feedback that was given as a result of the first event was not
incorporated, with the current plans very little changed from the initial plans.
LBWF partiality in presenting the plans:
Council officers have been deeply involved in discussions with the developer and in bringing
forward the plans. As Waltham Forest residents, we have a right to expect that
communication from the council should be impartial in tone. I feel communication has not
been impartial, with the council leaflet of summer 2017 appearing only to accentuate what
the authors saw as positive aspects of the scheme - as well as using the developer's own
(one-sided) artist’s impressions to represent the plans.

What residents demand is the total impartiality of planning officers in assessing the
application. I urge you to be impartial, despite the political pressure to recommend approval
of this application.

Doubt that ‘benefits’ of scheme will materialise:
In the applicant’s Supporting Planning and Regeneration Statement (13/4/17), talking about
the commercial viability of the scheme (particularly the tall building element), at section 8.4
their representative says:

“Whilst the required CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) payments will be met, it is clear
that full policy compliance on affordable housing cannot be met with the demands on the
scheme. Choices will need to be made and priorities given between competing options for
what to focus expenditure on, such as between on-site affordable housing (including mix and
tenure); the public realm improvements; transport infrastructure; the quality of materials used
throughout the scheme and so on.”

I would draw your attention to this paragraph as, in plain English, it means that if the
developers are pressed too hard on one aspect - such as a more-than-minimal affordable
housing element to the scheme - other areas will be compromised and less money spent on
them, for example the remodelling of the public realm or the quality of materials used in the

It follows from this that every time we see in documentation the applicant putting forward the
public realm ‘improvements’, transport infrastructure or the quality of materials used
throughout the scheme as potential benefits (in attempts to outweigh the detrimental aspects
of the scheme) we should know that these benefits are in no way guaranteed and may well
be removed after planning permission has been granted.

Please take into account that the ‘benefits’ used to sell the scheme may not in fact
materialise. They therefore should carry even less weight in mitigating the various forms of
public detriment detailed above.

In terms of the public consultations, these compromises were of course never mentioned,
while the quality of materials and of the public realm remodelling was very much given
prominence - another reason why the applicant’s evidence of ‘consultation’ results should be

This doubt over the quality of materials in the scheme and in the public realm around it
demonstrates that the scheme as it stands, with tall buildings whose foundations would be
over the Victoria Line tunnels, is badly conceived financially, possibly technically as well as
in the many other ways I have detailed above, and will not bring benefits to balance the huge
public detriment it would represent.

A development must offer real benefit:
A re-imagining of the Town Square and Mall has the potential to provide great benefit to the
town centre, its visitors, the people of Walthamstow and to Waltham Forest as a whole. The
current proposal simply does not realise that potential - it is a scheme that is deeply flawed
in many fundamental ways.

I urge you therefore to recommend that the application be refused.
If the application is refused, the applicant will be forced to come back with the “fresh
thinking” that CABE say is necessary - a better scheme, one which is not technically and
financially borderline, and which provides the net benefits that Walthamstow town centre and
the people using it need and deserve.
Yours sincerely,

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