MINUTES OF THE ZOOM MEETING BETWEEN THE RIVERSIDE RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION AND THE GROVE WARD COUNCILLORS 1/2/21
Robin Catlin (Vice Chair), Tony Lancaster, Loveday Newton, Lee Hyde, Stuart Lee, Peter Wright, Tony Sharples
Rebekah Moll, John Tolley, Fiona Boult
APOLOGIES: Mary Webb (RRA Chair)
Mary made a short film, to apologise for her absence, give an introduction and to thank the Councillors for attending.
The point of the meeting was to discuss the major developments that are happening in Kingston and to open a discussion with the Councillors to obtain their views and updates on these, using a list of questions which were asked methodically.
RBK FUTURE VISION AND GUILDHALL
The Councillors stated that the current offices are no longer fit for purpose. Guildhall 1 was half empty before Covid, and the access isn’t good for Guildhall 2. The current buildings cost a lot of money. Councillor Tolley stated options were being looked at to see how the site could be put to the best use. If a lot of money was invested in the main Guildhall it could be considered being kept. At the moment they don’t know what all the possibilities are, they are at an early stage of the investigation process.
The Council will move into the community with people working in hubs across the Borough. People will also be working part time from home. This will save money because the Council buildings are expensive to maintain.
The publication of this report, which is the new vision for the town centre, has been delayed because of Covid.
ACTION: Councillor Moll will find out from John Sweeney when it can be published.
When asked if residents are concerned by the tall buildings proposed, it varies. Councillor Moll said it depended on the area and situation. Grove residents are more aware, and homeowners and adults are more concerned. When she has spoken with young people, they are concerned less about the height, and more about how it will keep Kingston as they like it, the nightlife, schools, and services.
Councillor Tolley said he was relaxed about them, more concerned about what they are, family homes, affordable.
Councillor Boult said we are in “Tilted Balance”. They were told that what has happened would happen, that developers would come and would be able to do anything, it is frustrating. Councillor Moll said Officers are acting on behalf of residents. Everything that can be done within policy has been done. It is heavily worked through. Councillor Tolley said there was a good chance if the council said no to 16 storey plans for Surrey House, someone else could overturn it and make it 20. If Kingston approved it and there was no affordable housing they could take control. He said at times it seems all you can do is tinker around the edges. Everyone would have an idea of how to do it better, but you don’t own the land.
The London Plan was published on Friday. The Minister Robert Jerrick approved and said about tall buildings, but we have to look at it from a policy level. When Robin Catlin “put Councillor Moll on the spot “ by referring to her election statement of 2015 (which alluded to preventing the development of tall buildings), and asking if much had changed, Councillor Moll said yes and no. Ideology v Reality…..What you’re trying to do is achieve the best. All councillors agreed that the view outside the role is very different from inside it.
WHY IS POLICY SEEMINGLY NOT REFLECTED IN REALITY?
Councillor Moll said each borough seems to be able to do things differently, her view is that they are very technical. The reason for upholding the decision with Surrey House was the impact of the view from a specific location.
Under the London Plan the Mayor can call in any decision made. To paraphrase his comment on Eden Campus he’s not concerned about height, but about affordable housing.
Hoping to produce a Local Plan soon. It won’t solve everything, but could help control more. There would be less of a piecemeal process.
Councillor Tolley said that in the past Kingston has sought development. KIngston needs the money from this happening because of the tilted balance and economics. Councillor Boult agreed that because of the lack of affordable housing, blocks could go higher. Viability studies show they can’t afford the affordable element, but there should be scope to show they can, without going higher.
BUILDING BETTER, BUILDING BEAUTIFUL
The Local Plan seems to be key for this, and it was felt that more people need to be involved to bring this forward. They would like to change the Design Review Panel and the way Design Reviews are done.
Councillor Boult agreed that if they could put Kingston forward for funding, this would be a perfect opportunity for Kingston as they are in the process of the Local Plan.
ACTION: The link has been forwarded to Councillor Moll, who has forwarded it to the relevant department.
It was felt that with regard to the Mayor’s comment on the impact of tall buildings on heritage assets, that it is about substantial harm and should be given greater weight. It could be measured against the Secretary of State’s Commission.
This is going to be made public in a couple of weeks, going to do further consultations. They hope lots of people will respond. Realistically it will be a couple of years before it is in place. They do need to provide homes, they are given the numbers, they don’t have a choice on them. Sustainability of development and affordable design is a priority . Councillor Boult mentioned the balancing act of the Local Plan. Different areas have different concerns e.g Chessington, building on the Green belt is a concern for them.
Tony Sharples (RRA) stated there is a critical mass of applications, and the Local Plan is needed now. These applications will go through piecemeal with no overall strategy, or of where Councillors wish to take Kingston.
What is the strategy for the next 20/30 years, Covid and Grenfell have changed things. For these applications the Plan is too late. The purpose of this call is to get it done urgently. Councillor Boult says there is a set timetable and they are in that process. Other information from National government, and policy is required, that can’t be skipped.
The residents thought it would be useful to have the numbers of representations for applications available to view on the website, other Local Planning Authorities do. Councillors said what they looked for was something they hadn’t thought of themselves. Where a lot of people mentioned the same point e.g height, this would be noted as one.
ACTION: The Councillors said this would be looked into, but to bear in mind it could have a negative impact if the numbers looked low.
It was deemed that Unilever coming to Kingston would be a huge benefit with business rates and the impact of the people in the town centre, particularly between the hours of 6-10pm, which is a time they would wish to bring money in.
ACTION: Councillor Tolley said he could provide something quite quickly, to show the benefit to KIngston.
The Councillors stated that they were confident that people on the DCC will be giving a policy decision and not told the way to vote. People will be looking at what is in front of them. A potential problem will be the lack of affordable housing (Councillor Kerr’s action to reduce the height from 22 – 16 was considered a mistake, and probably wouldn’t be done again.)
Although this is not an area specified for a tall building an application is allowed to be made, but the determining factor will be whether Local policy allows it, and whether London policy applies. Developments are always considered against the benefits and harm. There are different levels of harm, material or substantial, and they are given different weights, by which all developments are then measured. Planning law also means you have to consider the heritage element. Each scheme has to be considered on its individual merits, but precedents will be taken into account.
ACTION: If residents feel that the Heritage impact is not being considered they should email the Development Control Committee.
The Mayor requires 50% on every development. On this particular development because car parking is deemed essential by the developer, it is deemed, with a viability assessment, there is no room for affordable housing. Councillor Moll commented that she doesn’t support the viability study because there is no control over what a developer can pay for land. There are some applications where Council doesn’t agree with the viability study and they haven’t come to Council yet. Transparency is required but they don’t have a plan, so can’t be transparent.
BITTOMS CAR PARK
Robin Catlin brought in “Blue Sky” thinking to suggest could Unilever consider using the Bittoms car park that Surrey County Council propose to demolish and replace with a 17 storey tower. This would save demolishing effectively 2 car parks to build another one. Councillor Tolley felt this might not be an option because they want to move soon, and want the offices how they have planned. Would be great if they could link up but they want it now, they want everything on site.
Councillors didn’t consider it would be viable to use County Hall for themselves because they felt the building had similar issues to their current site; outdated and expensive to run. (Councillor Tolley had to leave) Councillor Boult said she would like to see a civic use for the building…the University would be an obvious choice. Concern was raised about the potential stripping of historical assets from County Hall. The Councillors were unaware of the letters received by RRA residents at the weekend (but said Council may be aware). The “weakness” of the listing was discussed.
Tony Sharples (RRA) said County Hall and its contents should be looked on as assets.
ACTION: Councillor Moll said she would find out if the listing could be strengthened, she understood the internal chamber must be retained.
Councillor Boult said she would follow up about the letter.
Robin Catlin (RRA) suggested having future communications (not as long as this one!) with other residents groups as well, particularly as elections are looming! Councillors thought it would be good to keep the lines of communication open.