The complex past & intriguing future of the Boots site on Falcon Lane

Falcon Lane doesn’t really feel like the rest of Clapham Junction. Rather than dense Victorian streets, it has more of an “out-of-town retail park” vibe, with car parks and single storey warehouse buildings. The buildings that house Asda, Lidl, and Boots were developed in the late 1980s, and although the occupants have changed (Asda was previously a Gateway and Boots was Pets at Home), the buildings haven’t really seen much change since.

Their low density and surface car parking is quite a contrast to everything around them. And regular readers will know that whenever we talk about low density, it’s almost always because there’s some giant redevelopment proposal about to land! But before we get to the future, it’s worth a detour to the past – because this whole area has a complicated history. The land was originally the grounds of a large country villa called Abingdon Lodge – whose gardens were described as “among the best cultivated and most fruitful’ in the vicinity”. A second smaller one was later added in the garden of the lodge, called The Chestnuts. But as the railways arrived the large villas on Lavender Hill were gradually sold and demolished and replaced with dense terraced housing and industry, and Abingdon Lodge was converted in to one of the very many railway sidings in inner London. And this is where the first of a few surprises: the second villa, The Chestnuts, somehow managed to avoid being knocked down like all the other old villas. Instead got scooped up in the streets layout of the Victorian terraces that were built on its gardens – presumably because the builders thought it would be a shame to demolish it if it could just about be kept running – and it’s still standing today. It’s visible as a house with a different design to its neighbours half way along Mossbury Road (shown below), which is at a slightly strange angle to the rest of the street, and which has a completely different and earlier, less ornate architecture. Even if its one-luxurious gardens have long gone, it’s still possible to get a sense for what it would once have been, proudly standing on the side of the hill with sweeping views north towards the Thames, south towards Clapham Common, and west to the Falcon river.

But back to that railway siding. Clapham Junction has a lot of railways now, but we tend to forget that back in the day there were also railway sidings all over the area, (including much of Nine Elms and Queenstown Road) as they had been built when land was cheap as chips and Battersea was littered with industries who needed them.

The map above shows the layout of the Clapham Coal depot and the now-forgotten Falcon Lane Goods Station – despite Falcon Lane as we now know it not yet existing. There was also a three storey set of administrative offices built in 1909, which are just about visible at the top left hand corner of the aerial photo to the right, taken in 1948.

Demand for coal depots like this one went in to steep decline by the 1960s (not least because the 1956 Clean Air Act paved the way for a lot of households to stop using coal), and the depot was put up as a redeing down in 1968. The initial plans were for it to be quietly developed in to a housing estate (though a complicated lease on part fo the land to a bottling company meant nothing happened quickly).

But these were the crazy days of the late 1960s, and this site – much of which was still owned by British Rail – instead became the planned location for a gigantic motorway interchange, which would have occupied 55 acres of land around the station! The overall motorway plan – for what would be known as Ringway 1 – is shown to the right. One new motorway would have run from White City to Shepherds Bush, before crossing the river on a new bridge next to the Battersea railway bridge, and carrying on down parallel to the railway, ploughing through Fred Wells Gardens and Falcon park before splitting in to one motorway running through the northern edge of the Shaftesbury Estate to Brixton, and another curving round to a spectacular elevated junction perched over Latchmere Road and Falcon Road, with a motorway running west on its way to carve through the Old York Road in Wandsworth (actually running above some of the platforms at Clapham Junction on the way) and another jumping over St John’s Hill and running south across the Wandsworth Common towards Balham.

The image below (which is borrowed from the well-worth-a-look page on this abandoned scheme at roads.org.uk) shows what could have been built on the Falcon Lane site, in all its four-level 20-lane glory.

The Falcon Road bridge, towards the left hand side of the illustration above and shown below as it is now, would have seen a whole series of motorways running above it, to an impressive height given the need for even the lowest levels of the interchange to run above the railway tracks.

Had these plans gone ahead, they would have condemned most Clapham Junction to forever be a bedraggled set of buildings cowering under a giant set of flyovers, with some new buildings along the sides of the roads as a sound barrier – and we’d hazard a guess the place would look very different indeed.

And they very, very nearly did go ahead! Because this wasn’t some long term vision but rather a very real building programme, and the northern half of this motorway was built – which explains the mysterious dead-end ‘motorway‘ that runs south from White City before suddenly stopping in Shepherds Bush – the image below shows the construction at the northern end in the late 1960s, including the northern ‘exit’ from the roundabout that still points directly at a terraced house! Quite a lot of property further south was also bought and demolished in preparation for the works, before the whole scheme mercifully ground to a halt, leaving Shepherds Bush with the joy of a motorway pouring traffic in to a residential area, and a series of rather blighted properties along the whole of the rest of the route.

This potentially catastrophic plan did have one local upside: it alerted the residents of Battersea to the need to defend and reinvigorate the area, which was increasingly struggling as its traditional industries faded or moved out of central London, and looked like a target for redevelopment. This was a key moment for the Battersea Society – which led successful campaigns to protect the history of Battersea, such as preventing the redevelopment of Battersea Square and High street. By the time the motorway plans reached a public inquiry in 1970, the society found itself among were more than 100 pressure groups across London fighting the motorway. Maybe more surprisingly, five councils who weren’t known for their cooperation – Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Southwark and Wandsworth – joined forces to fight the motorway plan, given the huge destruction it would cause. In 1973, following a change of control at the Greater London Council, the increasingly untenable Ringway motorway project was killed off.

Meanwhile the Falcon Lane goods station was in an increasingly sorry state – being completely derelict, and with the motorway plans having delayed any redevelopment for over a decade. Wandsworth Council had been trying to get control of the site, and in 1976, released a grand plan to develop both the station approach itself and the goods yard as one big project – using most of the goods yard land for light industry, with shops and offices on a deck above Clapham Junction station. British Land was expected to build the office & retail part of the scheme, having bought most of the plots around the station.

This plan never really came to fruition, because no one party was ever able to get hold of all the land – and in 1985 British Land sold their parts of the land to a firm called ‘Compact Retail Developments’ which led to the development of what’s now the PCS office building on Falcon Lane and the small ShopStop indoor shopping centre at the station. Another firm called Charterhall Properties developed the old goods station in to what we see now, including Asda, Boots and Lidl buildings, as well as building Falcon Lane as we now know it. There’s still a plaque by the way in to Asda – pictured below, with its seemingly ever-present fan club of pigeons – celebrating the redevelopment.

At least the site was now in productive use, with a working station and space for large modern retail – which was an improvement on what went before. But frankly the whole place hasn’t aged well – despite only opening in the late 1980s, it all looks pretty tired and it’s not surprising that there have been various parties interested in redeveloping parts or all of the site in recent years.

The current layout of Falcon Lane (pictured below) is very much optimised for vehicle access, with wide roads and unusually narrow pavements – and it makes sense for a set of big retail units with car parks. But to make the most of the site for a wider set of uses ideally needs a coordinated approach, that might see a change to the alignment of the road to turn it in to a more traditional urban ‘road’ with buildings on each side.

Unfortunately the three big sites are all in different hands, and each of them has their own vision for what they want to do. Lidl have had some big plans to rebuild their store, which we and Clapham Junction Action Group covered in some detail – but have ended up with a relatively minor extension to keep it going for another decade or so.

Asda have recently invested in a refurbishment of the store to deal with the most immediate problems (which included a very leaky roof and a somewhat shoddy building that was starting to really show its age), but realistically now that they have seen a change of ownership they are likely to go for a bigger development sooner or later.

Boots is maybe the most likely to see action in the near term. It occupies an oddly shaped site pictured to the right – which was put up for sale for offers over £8.7m back in 2018. Boots has a 25-year lease from 1999, which runs up to 6th May 2024 (and at the time of the sale they were paying £370,000 rent per annum subject to five yearly upwards-only rent reviews).

The site was clearly being sold with a view to redevelopment! Before the sale, some plans were sketched out for a development of the site as part of a feasibility study – with one pictured to the right, which would see a curved block of flats, with the car park being to some extent retained. It’s a distinctly odd shaped plot of land, and not the easiest to build something else on. Awkwardly there’s also a right of way running right through the middle of the Boots car park, which gives access to the railway lands behind, so any new development will need to preserve this or something similar.

And there’s another complication! Because while we’ve talked mostly about the big three retailers on this land, there’s another big tenant on the old goods yard site. Lurking at the back of Boots, and one of the reasons the Boots plot is such an odd shape, is a mysterious brown concrete building, with very few windows and no obvious identification. The only thing the casual passer by will notice is that this building is built to be as tough as possible, seemingly to withstand a small scale explosion – and that it’s very heavily protected. Security cameras, razor wire, thick fencing, double security gates, anti-ram-raid bollards, ominous warning signs making it clear that this is not somewhere you want to linger.

This is the Victoria Area Signalling Centre – and it was built at about the same time as the rest of the development in 1980, controlling the railway signals for much of south London. It’s a pretty strategically very important building: without it rail services would immediately grind to a halt – hence the protection.

However this isn’t set to remain the main signal centre for all that long. The control centre was built in 1980, with some modernisation in 1992 – but it’s been rather overtaken by new technology, an Network Rail are now part-way through a huge £160 million programme of work to completely replace the signal system running out from Victoria Station. This will see signalling control of the area moving from the Victoria Area Signalling Centre to a new state-of-the-art ‘Rail Operating Centre‘ at Three Bridges near Crawley, which will take over control not just of the south London operations, but of most of the railways in south east England. It’s bad news if you’re a signaller working in Clapham Junction, with several hundred jobs set to be relocated to Crawley – but it should be good news if you’re a rail user with a much newer (and, hopefully, more reliable) signal system in place.

The signalling work should be all complete by 2025, which leaves the future of the signalling centre at Clapham Junction looking pretty bleak: with no signalling work to do it’s likely to be up for redevelopment. That 2025 date does sound rather close to the end of Boots’ lease on that site next door, in 2024.

And as we noted earlier – the Boots site was put up for sale, and at the end of 2018 it was bought by none other than Network Rail, for £11.75m. This could mean various things – the most obvious being that when they do finally close the Clapham Junction signal centre, owning the Boots site as well gives them a much bigger and more sensibly shaped piece of land to redevelop for other uses (whether they do this themselves, or sell it to someone else as a development site).

This could also be a way to have access to a site compound / staging area for the longer-term plans we have previously written about to redevelop Clapham Junction station – which has some echoes of the 1976 British Land plan we mentioned previously to build offices and shops above some of the platforms. That is set to be a big job, and it will be a lot easier and cheaper to do with a worksite nearby. It’s probably fair to say that those plans have moved to the right – due to a combination of reduced passenger demand across the board, a more difficult investment environment for Network Rail following the substantial costs it has faced during the pandemic, and maybe above all a current government which is mainly focussed on ‘levelling up’ in marginal constituencies in the North and wary of anything that looks like investment focussed in London. Changes to the way government investment projects are assessed, to focus investment further north and give more control to Ministers and less to economists, will also make the project more difficult to deliver: as far as we are aware the business case that was due to go in early last year for the station upgrade was never submitted, and realistically it’s likely to need to wait until the political landscape shifts to go ahead.

However the underlying case for significant investment at the station remains pretty compelling – partly because there’s plenty of scope for commercial income as part of any redevelopment, but also because the current station layout is increasingly acting as a bottleneck for rail services across the whole of the south east, which means the need for some sort of upgrade is likely to become unavoidable. Network Rail aren’t in any particular hurry to confirm what they plan to do with the Boots site, but it’s fair to say that in 2025 the future of Boots on Falcon Lane – whether a small block of flats, a railways worksite, or the first part of a bigger development – will be giving us a big hint as to the future of Clapham Junction as a whole. It’ll be the latest in an unusually long and varied set of uses & proposals for this piece of land, from luxury Victorian Villa to railway yard, storage depot, motorway junction, undeveloped housing estate, to railway control centre and supermarket centre – and as ever, we’ll keep you posted on the next steps…

Posted in Environment, Housing, Retail, Street by street, Transport | 2 Comments

Work begins on the controversial block of flats on Parma Crescent

We’ve been following the twists and turns of a proposed development on Parma Crescent (on the opposite side of Lavender Hill to Asda) for some time. Developers bought a small house with a large garden, and went through a series of planning applications to replace it with a small block of flats. Initially five flats were planned (details in our article here), in a relatively bulky development running close to the edges of the plot – but with application after application the plans gradually evolved to look more like the neighbouring houses.

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This five-flat building (artists’ impression below) eventually received planning permission, but the developers then went in again to grow it underground bu adding a large basement covering the whole of the site, and increasing the number of flats from five to eight!

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From the developer’s perspective this meant they could make the most of the ‘building shape’ already approved, but potentially sell an extra million pounds’ worth of flats for only an extra £75-100k in development cost. Under the proposals, four of the flats would have their bedrooms & living rooms split between ground floor and a newly excavated basement, with various patios / light wells dug out at basement level to allow the lower level rooms to have windows.

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Basements in densely built residential streets are a thorny subject at the best of times, given the disruption they cause to neighbouring residents and the somewhat mixed quality of accommodation they can create – and there have been major disputes across the river where mansion owners in Kensington and Belgravia have been building three and four storey mega basements. Not to mention the mega controversial five storey basement that was proposed for the Clapham South hotel last year (but rejected by planners). Unsurprisingly the prospect of a major basement excavation caused local concerns, with over 50 objection comments.

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However as we noted back in April, while these developments are particularly disruptive, planning law means that it’s actually not as easy as one might think for a planning department to say ‘no’ to them out of hand, unless they create massive overdevelopment or particularly poor quality accommodation. And while this is undoubtedly a large development, the internal layout and general standard of the proposed flats seemed to be fairly reasonable in planning terms.

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A tweak to the design subsequently changed the internal layout to make the flats on the upper floors larger and cut the number from eight to seven (changing three one-bed flats on the first floor to two two-bed flats). And the extended basement project did later receive planning permission.

And works have now begun – with the complete demolition of the old house and garden. The whole site has been surrounded by a hoarding (above), and as our photo below shows there’s nothing left except an outline on the house next door, and the garden is gone.

It’s a sad loss of one of one of the few ‘green’ spots on the street – however some small consolation is that the final building is less dominant than what was initially proposed. This was always going to be a difficult case to influence, as developers have quite a strong hand in small developments like this one – but credit is due to the residents of Parma Crescent and the streets around for really engaging with the (many) planning proposals on this site. Without that effort we could have seen something much worse here.

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A new start for the old Royal British Legion on Lavender Hill

The Royal British Legion at 173 Lavender Hill was a long established club, one of an extensive network of social clubs – the Legion Clubs – throughout the country. In its day, it was a popular one, known for Christmas tree sales to benefit the Legion on the forecourt.

But towards the end, so many members passed away not enough money was being taken to pay the bills to keep the club running, and it closed just before Christmas 2017. The premises belonged to the Royal British legion and were rented to the local club, and they eventually repossessed the property.

It’s fair to say that the last few years had been quite hard for the club, and despite heroic efforts to keep it afloat, maintenance of the building rather understandably fell down the list and by the end it was in a pretty poor state. The Royal British legion, having reclaimed the club after the rent stopped being paid, found themselves with a three storey-plus-basement building in a very run down condition, needing a comprehensive refurbishment. The photos above and below (drawn from the design and access statement for the redevelopment) show the condition of the interior of the building before works started.

Buildings are always more valuable with planning permission than without it, so the Legion wisely applied for planning permission to convert the building in to three flats (one one-bed, and two two-bed – including a roof extension and an extension at the back of the building) and a ‘community venue’ on the ground floor; which they were granted in June 2019.

The images above and to the right are from the design & access statement in the planning application – showing he building with an extra storey and a new shopfront more in keeping with its neighbours (because the mostly-brick facade of the Legion Club never really fitted in!).

The Royal British Legion then put it up for auction with a guide price of £800,000 – £825,000. There was considerable interest – and the whole building ended up being sold for £1,155,000!

And the new owner then started the building works earlier this year. The stonework has been repaired and repainted, the extensions have been built, the windows have been replaced, and the interior has had the comprehensive refit that was long overdue. In the end three two-bed flats were built on the upper levels (one of which has a relatively generous terrace), all of which were fitted out to a decent standard, and offered on a partly-furnished basis at a whisker under £2000 pcm. The developers clearly pitched this about right, as two of the flats (only listed a week ago and not available until November) have already been let!

There’s no doubt that this is a pretty significant improvement overall – even if it’s a bit disappointing that the ground floor is quite different to the original planning proposals, and doesn’t have the elegance that could have been delivered with a more traditionally-styled shopfront. It’s not clear if the basement has ended up as part of the shop unit as was originally envisaged, or as a separate flat.

So while it’s a shame that the Legion Club, the building now has a more secure future and the investment it had been needing for a while. And it’s not all over for the Legion Clubs either, as although this definitely marks the end for the Battersea & South Wandsworth club – whose sign remains in place until the ground floor finds a tenant – the Clapham branch is still running on Victoria Rise, at the other end of Lavender Hill.

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In pictures: Lavender Hill Fish & Chips is opening a sister business next door

Lavender Hill Fish & Chips has had a good run. After taking over a shop that had swung around different takeaway options for years, and never quite managed to stick at any of them, they arrived, gave the unit a comprehensive upgrade, and immediately pulled in the crowds. They opened at the beginning of the pandemic (we wrote about their opening at the time), never the easiest time to start a new business.

Being the only fish & chips shop actually on Lavender Hill, the odds were nonetheless fairly good – but it’s clear that providing a fresh and high quality fish & chips, with good service, is what made the difference. It’s not unusual to see people who’ve come from as far afield as Clapham North and South in the queue.

They always had a slightly chaotic neighbour, in the form of Tennessee Fried Chicken. A chicken shop from the old school, one of South London’s many not-quite-KFCs! When their neighbour did in the end close, the owner decided to take on the lease next door – and open another Lavender Hill business. Not fish and chips this time, but fried chicken and German doner kebabs; it’ll be called Coop.

Cue quite a lot of building works to upgrade the entire unit (which hadn’t seen any real investment for years)). This included creating a full height window on to the street to match what is next door, resurfacing the exterior to remove the tatty old white tiles, improving the power supply, opening it up to create an indoor seating area, and of course installing a brand new grill kitchen and extraction system. It’s not quite finished but when we visited it was all very close to completion.

As official opening day approaches, we have to say it’s looking good – and it’s a major change to what went before. It’s also a real vote of confidence in this end of Lavender Hill. And if their obvious success at making a quality fish & chip restaurant is anything to go by, we suspect they’ll do a quality effort here too, and will draw the crowds.

Coop, at 21 Lavender Hill, SW11 5RW. Opening soon.

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No Boring Beer is now open on Lavender Hill

A few weeks ago we reported that a new beer and wine shop, and tap room, was opening in the former Children of the Mekong charity shop at the eastern end of Lavender Hill. This was a welcome return to having an independent beer shop, following the loss of We Brought Beer on St Johns Hill (which was reportedly due to lease difficulties). And after a short delay (due to a delivery issue with the fridges) they are now fully open, and gradually building up a large stock of unusual beers and wines, with a strong emphasis on smaller and local breweries.

No Boring Beer are a small business created by beer enthusiasts Nikita and Roman; they already run two shops in south London – one in an arch in the square next to Deptford station, and one on Tower Bridge Road. Their beer tastes are clearly adventurous – with over 200 beers from local breweries and a large seasonal beer assortment. They’re not just selling bottled & canned beer either, with rotating draught lines in all three shops.

The whole shop has had a refit, with steel framed shelving throughout and a whole new electrical system to power all the fridges. One side is dedicated to ambient ales and wines, and the other to a large assortment of canned ales, lagers and ciders. A selection of beers on tap is on offer to refill growlers (reusable beer bottles). On the shelves opposite there’s a small selection of wine, but this is just to get things going with a lot more on the way, as well as detailed descriptions of the wines.

The basement level – accessed via a spiral staircase at the back if the shop – is currently not in use, but will later be developed as a tasting room (which is why No Boring Beer is a fully licensed premises, rather than just an off licence).

Beers on tap are sold using Keykegs, a rather clever approach to the traditional beer barrel that we’d not seen before, where an inner flexible liner made of an aluminium foil laminate within a solid PET keg keeps the beer separated from the gases used to push it out, and extends shelf life.

The fridges themselves are starting to fill with a pretty eclectic mix of ales, lagers and ciders. When we visited they was already a pretty wide mix on offer, but we understand that this is just the beginning, and there is a great deal more stock on the way to add to the range.

It’s worth noting that we have an ever expanding number of small local breweries, including established players Mondo and Sambrooks, and joined by the Distortion Brewing Company near Wandsworth Road station, Belleville Brewing Co at Wandsworth Common, and the very smart Battersea Brewery in the power station complex. And that’s far from the only Battersea alcoholic beverage business, with the likes of the Blackbook winery and the Doghouse Distillery both hidden away among the railways near Queenstown Road. We may run a future article on these!

So it’s a warm welcome to No Boring Beer, at 22 Lavender Hill Sw11, and who (at the time of writing) are open in the afternoon from Tuesday to Saturday.

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Works update: Arding & Hobbs at Clapham Junction

It’s been a quiet year for Arding & Hobbs. We have reported on the plans to redevelop our local landmark to modern offices, with a new two storey extension on the roof level; and the work now has full planning permission. But since then things have been distinctly quiet on the site with only minor surveying and exploratory work. The most recent development is the appearance of a small amount of scaffolding on the upper level of the building and the cupola –

There’s going to be an awful lot more scaffolding soon! Plans have been submitted showing how this will be installed, with an example of the scaffolding layout shown below.

We have also been keeping an eye on the planning status, and the developers are gradually ploughing through the pre-construction requirements. One is doing a detailed survey of the current exterior of the building: what needs to be repaired and replaced, and where the restoration works can re-use existing material. The image above is taken from a survey that has been done for every window in the building, to see how they can be restored.

Plans have also gone in explaining how repairs will be made to the stonework, including repairing cracks and replacing bits that have become worn or damaged. It turns out that the landmark cupola, made mostly of Bath stone, also has some rather bodged repairs that were at some point done with modern cement, which will be replaced with stone.

The aim is to reuse and repair the original window frames wherever possible, some of which are clearly important to the character of the building. The survey of the current windows has identified what needs to be done to them to get them all back in business.

The brickwork will all be renovated – which in this case means taking out the crumbling mortar by hand and replacing it with new lime mortar, as well as removing patches of hard cement that were added in a slightly misguided previous renovation attempt. This will be based on a survey that was done of the external walls last year, as well as a more detailed look at the state of the brickwork once the necessary scaffolding is in place.

We presume at least part of the pavement canopy that runs round the building will be removed before the main scaffolding goes up, as it is an awkward thing to scaffold round and (noting that the canopy is not original and was installed in the 1960s) it will in any case be removed as part of the renovation works.

All in all – not a major update, but it’s good to see that work is slowly progressing. Developers W.Real Estate, who spend just under £50m buying the freehold of the building back when it was still trading as a Debenhams store, secured £55m in loan funding at the end of August from property fund manager BentallGreenOak to progress the redevelopment.

Our previous article includes many artists’ impressions from the planning process – but as a quick reminder we can expect to see a two-storey modern addition tot he roof, pictured below.

The interior will have shops on the ground floor and basement (with T K Maxx, who have a long lease, retaining their first floor section), and the rest converted to a large and modern office space. No news yet on occupiers, but from what we have seen in other nearby developments demand for higher-end office space is proving pretty robust (with the power station having let pretty much everything available, and several smaller new projects in Nine Elms and the inner suburbs also doing well) – and being opposite one of the best connected railway stations in the UK always helps – so the signs are good for fairly swift progress. More will be known once contracts for the works are let, though current reports suggest a target completion in late 2022.

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Exhibition and play on John Archer, the first Black Mayor in London – this Friday at Battersea Arts Centre

We’ve previously written in some detail about the impressive life story of John Archer – Mayor of Battersea back in 1013, Britain’s first Black mayor, and someone with an interesting and unusual life story. And this Friday sees the opening of Black History Month at the Battersea Arts Centre, where he was Mayor – which will be marked with an exhibition, a short play and Q&A on The Story of John Archer. Tickets, at £6, are available here.

If you can’t make it, Sean Creighton‘s well-worth-watching illustrated talk on John (which is from last year’s Black History Month) is still available on Youtube below, or at this link.

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A new tower on Battersea Park Road – with 213 flats!

Plans are being developed for a new 18-storey tower at the end of Culvert Road (the road running from the Shaftesbury Estate through the dodgy tunnel towards Battersea Park). This isn’t entirely surprising, as plans were approved a few years ago for a tower on much the same site. But there’s a big difference: the previous development, called The View, had 39 flats, with 16,000 square feet of offices on the first three floors. The new proposal has a few extra storeys (going from 14 to 18) – but the number of flats has absolutely exploded, from 39 to over 200!

The reason they can do this is that this is yet another ‘co-living’ development – adding to a good few that are being planned in the York Road & Nine Elms area. They essentially build absolutely tiny flats that are little more than small ensuite bedrooms, but provide relatively generous shared facilities like gyms, workspaces, cafes and the like elsewhere in the building. These co-living developments are a recent trend and while they can be quite controversial, we feel they’re not necessarily a bad thing – there’s definitely a market out there for students and people new to London who are happy to live in a more communal way in what is essentially a long-stay hotel room, and who aren’t looking for a large traditional flat. It fills a bit of a gap in the market between student residences and shared houses, and allows those staying in London briefly or just starting out to avoid the nightmare that is the cheaper end of our private rental sector. In a similar way to hotel developments, the residents of these developments do tend to be out and about far more than average (as you might be if you had a tiny flat!) which does bring some helpful life and activity to local businesses and high streets.

That said – these plans don’t really look like particularly good news, mainly because what’s being planned (illustrated with the artists’ impression above – detailed plans are not yet available) looks like a much cheaper and lower-quality build than what had previously been proposed (the old plans are shown below).

Whereas the previous plans – approved back in 2017 – gave every flat plenty of generous windows and a decent sized balcony, the only outside space in the new development is a set of roof terraces. The building (already tall for the area) is likely to be a fair bit taller than the previously agreed plans, with an extra four storeys – bringing its height close to that of the 22-storey Castlemaine tower next door. It’s not an especially well connected area in transport terms, and the building doesn’t seem to include any provision for car parking, not even for disabled spaces (the previous development included 17 parking spaces in the basement – which now looks to be used for other purposes).

And generally speaking the overall appearance of the building has taken a bit of a nosedive – from relatively smart building that, while not exactly typical of its neighbours, at least was likely to be good to live in (another photo of the previous plans above), to a rather cheap looking tower with small windows and a load of blank panelling.

The only advantage of the plans is that they may finally see the saga of Harris Academy’s new sports hall reach a conclusion. The previous development was part of a complicated “Section 106” planning deal that saw the Harris Academy exchange the land (which used to be the school caretaker’s house and garden) for the development of a new sports hall on the other side of the school. The signed Section 106 legal agreement that enabled works to start on the foundations obliges any developer of the tower to construct the sports hall, and only when the sports hall is complete is a land transfer arrangement that allows the developers to sell the new flats for occupation. Construction work started several years ago but the works then ground to a halt on both sites when the developer of The View went in to administration, with just the foundations finished – and the site was put up for sale by estate agents Knight Frank as a development opportunity. This left a very unsatisfactory situation, with a giant construction hoarding gradually mouldering away while blocking the pavement at the end of Culvert Road (shown in our photo above, and the street view of the barely-started sports hall below), and the school having lost a large part of its land in exchange for little more than two shabby sets of increasingly overgrown foundation works. The new developers says they will complete the sports hall within six months of any planning consent.

A short online pre-consultation was run on behalf of the developers here, though as ever with these online consultation exercises it didn’t include much detail on the new plans. Thanks also to Councillor Simon Hogg, whose ward includes the proposed tower, for spotting these proposals.

Ultimately the principle of a tower on the site has already been agreed in the previous proposals, so there almost certainly will be a tower of some sort built here. Precisely what sort of tower gets built will come down to whether the new tower with its cheaper design, increased height and huge number of tiny flats is acceptable for the location. We suspect the design of the building is likely to need a fair bit more work if what we have seen so far is anything to go by. A new Section 106 agreement will also be needed, as the new development brings far more flats to the site, and also no longer includes the eight affordable flats that were planned to be built in the 2017 development. This is bound to be a controversial development! Being north of the railway it’s a bit out of our usual area of coverage but given he sheer size of the development it may still be of interest, so we’ll keep you posted.

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Changes at the Holy Trinity Church on the Common

It’s not every day you see building works on a church, especially one as prominent as the Holy Trinity, which sits in Clapham Common. But works are indeed afoot, with a view to modernising the facilities and dealing with some of the issues caused by the current design.

It’s quite a complicated building from a planning perspective: it’s located on Metropolitan Open Land, which is treated a bit like Green Belt for land within London and means they can’t freely build all over it. The Church argues that this development won’t damage the openness of the land, and this is probably a reasonable argument given the extensions are pretty small. It’s also Grade II* listed, which brings its own set of planning complexity – although active churches also have some rather handy exemptions from the planning process, that mean they don’t need to get listed building consent for the proposed works.

The most prominent part of the project from the exterior will see the portico at the front entrance enclosed. This is partly to create a bit more usable space, but mostly to deal with long running issues caused by encampments in the portico, which reportedly started out relatively harmlessly but quickly escalated to sustained antisocial behaviour with threatening behaviour towards the Church staff and visitors. The planning application includes a lengthy and detailed report of the large number of incidents over the last year or so –

“A group of professional beggars took occupation of the portico nearly every night for a period lasting over a year… during which time staff had to, every morning, deal with aggressive behaviour, fouling, littering and graffiti. This appears to have only stopped because of the gates now being locked…. One incident involved a drug dealer chasing and verbally threatening a staff member when they were in the car leaving the church after work, and another involved a council employee threatened with a knife.”

The portico entrance to Holy Trinity Clapham

The planning application also notes that “during the Covid pandemic, we had times when many people on the Common used the church (including the portico), as their urinal, and worse. On one day there were more than 20 people all using the church as a urinal at the same time”. They supplied the photo below, to illustrate the scale of the peeing issue at the more secluded eastern side of the church!

Numerous men peeing on the side of the church

The plans for the portico have proved the most controversial part of the project, as initially the plans would have seen the portico demolished, rebuilt, and extended forwards, which changes the overall proportion and appearance of the church quite significantly. The plans, initially submitted in February, were revised in May and July to keep the portico much the same size as it is, but still to close off the entrances with glass. There’s clearly still some risk that glazing this all in will make it look more like a conservatory and remove the depth of the building that the portico gives. The plans say this will be done with a low-reflective glass, and such materials do exist (being occasionally used for high end showrooms) – but unless the glazing is done to an exceptionally high standard (and high cost) it’s inevitable that the shape and look of the building may end up a bit worse off.

The rest fo the works are essentially a package of small extensions and alterations to make the church a more flexible building and open it up to wider set of uses. The major ‘new build’ element here is an extension to the north vestry; as well as extending the former south chapel with the walls of the new extension are shown in a reddish brown on the proposed floorplan below. These are essentially the two parts of the church that stick out at the sides, which will now stick out a bit further! The works will adapt these to be more useful to a modern church and provide slightly better facilities; the extensions are already a bit more modern than the rest of the church and the extensions are to be in a pretty similar style to what is already there.

The plans will see a small section of the current under-floor space excavated and developed as a usable basement. The church currently has an unusual basement, essentially a series of narrow arched vaults and passageways, with a couple of larger crawl spaces at the south east corner of the building (shown below), and it’s these that are to be dug out and made accessible for the first time as two meeting rooms.

Changes are also planned for the interior – in particular moving the pulpit, and removing the pews. This has proved controversial, and it’s a frequent debate in the church world: on the one hand, pews are part of the core fabric of a church, and removing them fundamentally changes the original interior. On the other hand, they do very much limit the use of the building to activities involving linear rows of seating, which arguably limits what a church can do at times other than a classic Church service. Following concerns, including from the Clapham Society, the plans were changed to keep the pews within the northern upper gallery.

There are also plans for an upgrade to the landscaping around the church, in particular to the eastern side which is currently just a rather muddy area of grass, as shown below.

By and large these plans seem a sensible way of updating the building to work as a modern and flexible church space, without damaging its heritage and general landmark status. The plans have not yet received planning approval from Lambeth Council (this is application number 21/00447/FUL in the Lambeth planning database for those with an interest in seeing the full details), though the various changes made to the portico plans in particular suggest that some of the concerns raised in the planning process are being discussed and addressed behind the scenes, which is usually a sign that the plans are on the way to being agreed.

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Lavender Hill retail roundup – September 2021

A cluster of new businesses are on the way at the eastern end of Lavender Hill, which currently houses the street’s only cluster of empty shops. First up is the old Union Street Yoga, who were doing well until the pandemic and who are still in business on an online-only basis – but have, with some regret, had to hand the keys back after they weren’t able to agree a new lease on the premises. It’s currently being refurbished, and we understand that it is set to be a gym called Iron Bodyfit. That’s about all we know at the moment, though there are dozens of Iron Bodyfit gyms in France which may be related.

A few doors down the old BPM kitchen & bathroom showroom has reopened as Lavender Heating & Plumbing Supplies. Who, of course, know the area well – as this is a relocation from just around the corner on Queenstown Road. LHP are long-established local traders, having been here well over a decade (indeed, at one stage they ran two shops on Queenstown Road), with the plumbing in many of the houses round here having started its life there. This move will see them gain a larger and more practical shop, compared to their previous shop, which was picturesque but also a bit awkward to use as a plumbing store, being an unusual shape and split over two levels. The new location is also an easier location for vans to pull in next to the shop for larger purchases, and it’s conveniently close to Decor Express who sell a pretty complementary range of building and decorating materials. The showroom part of the new shop is still being finalised, but the distinctive copper light as well as the cast iron floor tiles have made it over from the old shop to the new. Meanwhile the old shop is up for lease.

There’s then a slight mystery at the former William Hill betting shop. Lots of work going on internally which looks to be to a good standard – but we don’t know who it is for (or if it;s being done speculatively by the landlord). If you do know let us know and we’ll update this!

The old Tennessee Fried Chicken is nearing the end of its refit to become a kebab shop that will operate as an extension of the adjacent Lavender Hill Fish and Chips. The fish and chip shop has been very successful, drawing customers from as far afield as Clapham North, and it’s good to see this vote of confidence in growing the business; if it’s run to the same standards it should do well.

As we wrote a few weeks ago, the Children of the Mekong shop is being converted to become No Boring Beer, whose sign is now up as they approach the grand opening.

There’s no news on the premises at 5 Lavender Hill (formerly the Cedars) or the barber shop at 7 Lavender Hill next door, though in both cases major renovation works on the buildings are essentially complete so we wouldn’t be surprised to see these ‘To Let’ in the near future.

As we reported back in February, Clapham Cycle were opening on Lavender Hill near the main post office, and are now fully up and running and doing a good trade in bike repairs & servicing, as well as selling accessories. There was a bit of comment at the time about them being another business confusing Clapham & Battersea – but in this case the names makes sense as they are run by a long established local cycle club called Clapham Cycle.

And finally, as we also reported in June, poor Donna Margherita had a kitchen fire that damaged the premises. They’re still closed at the moment, but with works well underway we’re looking forward to them being back in business again. As the country gets back to normal, we’re cautiously optimistic that the difficult past year and a half will fade, and that these new businesses (as well as the many shops & restaurants who bravely opened mid-pandemic) will see the benefit of it.

Posted in Business, Retail | 2 Comments