Compulsory water meters are coming to Clapham Common Northside

You may have noticed a lot of Thames Water vans around in the last few weeks, and people in Thames Water uniforms taking lots of photos of tiny drain covers in the pavement, as well as painting them white. As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post – we’re about to have water meters rolled out to all the houses that don’t already have them, and if a small drain in front of your house has recently been painted white, you’re going to get one too.

Why? It’s all about reducing our use of water. Despite London’s international reputation as a wet & rainy place, South-east England actually has remarkably little rain, and is officially classed as “semi-arid” and more or less permanently water-stressed. The Environment Agency’s classification (below) identified it as an area of serious water stress.

Originally water meters were very much voluntary, but there was nonetheless a strong encouragement for people to volunteer to have one installed – mostly by gradually ramping up ‘unmetered’ tariff rates to make it cheaper for almost all households to have a water meter than not have one. That has changed now, as the region Thames Water covers is officially an “area of serious water stress”, meaning they can install meters on a rather more efficient basis – doing them street by street and covering all the remaining properties at the same time, rather than waiting for individual householders to contact them and ask for one.

The rollout has been underway for the last few weeks in the Wimbledon / Southfields area, and will eventually cover most of London and the surrounding areas – and by and large it’s the houses that have nothing outside but a rusted stop valve like the ones below that will be converted to new meters. You can expect a small hole to appear and then for a slightly larger drain to be fitted with the meter inside it (the white painting & photos are part of the process of getting Council permission to dig up specific parts of the pavement).

This will hopefully go some way to dealing with a predicted water shortage of around 387 million litres of water a day in the London area by 2045, which is expected to get worse with time increasing to 688 million litres of water a day by 2100 (a quarter of the water Thames Water currently supply!). The choice is either to ship a lot of water to London from the north at great expense (think huge pipelines, reservoirs and pumping stations), or to push out meters to get us to use it more efficiently. And it seems we all use less water when we’re billed for it by the cubic metre (Thames Water reckon water use goes down by twelve percent).

That said, there is another thing Thames Water can do: reduce the number of leaks in their ageing water network! In February this year they lost a staggering 732 million litres of water every day to leaks (which is rather more than the total predicted daily water shortfall in 2100). It’s a big and difficult job: in the same month they repaired 4,568 leaks, but realistically a lot of London’s pipework apart from the really major water mains is a creaking mess of lead and ancient cast iron and needs a major upgrade, and Thames Water have consistently missed their leak reduction targets. To be fair they are getting increasingly clever at finding the stealthiest underground leaks, using acoustic sensors that can detect the quiet hissing of an underground leak, and tiny underwater cameras, to pinpoint the exact location of a dodgy pipe and make them as quick to repair as possible.

There’s a twist too: Most of these new water meters will be cutting-edge ‘smart’ water meters, which take a reading every hour or so and can be read remotely. Thames Water is a pioneer in installing these, and a few weeks ago installed the 500,000th smart meter. These ensure accurate bills and avoid the need for meter readings, and can also detect steady leaks inside and outside houses (as they spot gradual steady water use). They’re quite clever in technical terms, as they need to work underground and sometimes underwater or covered in mud (as anyone who’s looked into a pavement meter drain can confirm, it’s often not pretty down there), as well as having their own power supply.

Smart meters can be a sensitive topic, and we know some would very much prefer not to have a water meter at all, let alone a smart one that generates date on their day to day water use. But rejecting a water meter is becoming an expensive choice, as Thames Water can apply a “no access charge” water rate to anyone who denied them access for the purpose of fitting, maintaining, replacing or reading a meter; which currently runs at over £600 a year (more than the assessed charge for a five bedroom house where someone asked for a meter but it wasn’t possible to fit one for technical reasons, and over three times the rate for a typical two bed flat).

Conversely – meters are a fairer way of charging, will make sure that water bills reflect actual usage, and may well lead to lower bills for many. They’re probably preferable to constructing new pipelines water treatment works and reservoirs across the countryside. A minor extra benefit is that the new meters include a small tap that can turn off the water supply in the property (all you need is a screwdriver to open the drain cover and long arms, or maybe a pair of pliers, to reach and turn the small tap) – which can be handy for anyone who has a big leak in the house and finds their mains water tap is jammed, or that it’s been buried somewhere behind the cupboards of a fitted kitchen (both quite common occurrences).

Either way – this is now set to happen – so we can expect to see a lot of pavement excavation in the near future.

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Part of the Queenstown Road cycle route’s set for an upgrade – but the worst bit may not see much change.

Plans are being developed to improve the cycle lane along the northern end of Queenstown Road. As the last chance for cycle commuters from much of south west London to safely cross the river before the nightmare of Vauxhall gyratory, Queenstown has long been a busy cycle route, which is reflected in the ‘cycle superhighway’ built a few years back and the temporary extra cycle infrastructure that has been installed during the pandemic.

It’s unfortunately also the location for frequent accidents, which has led to several recent upgrades: with cycle-friendly traffic lights installed at the northern end of Chelsea bridge, a major update to the roundabout at Queens Circus (funded by various Nine Elms developers), and the work we have previously reported to put modern traffic lights with an ‘early start’ for bicycles at the eastern end of Lavender Hill.

The actual proposals for the forthcoming upgrade haven’t been defined in much detail at this stage! But a couple of images have been released as part of a high level initial level consultation (that has recently closed). The general approach looks like a rationalisation of the current setup to create a road that has three different levels: a pavement on each side, a cycle lane at a slightly lower level than the pavement, and the road for cars (and a dedicated bus lane) at a third even lower level. This is a fairly pragmatic approach, which allows deliveries and pavement access when it’s needed, while using the height differences to still clearly separate the pavement, the cycle lane, and the road.

This seems broadly sensible and there’s easily space for it on the stretch of the road nearest the Thames, given that there is already a cycle lane of sorts in each direction. The main problem with the current setup is that the ends of the cycle lanes are a mess at the junctions (especially on the northbound lane) and they get in to a mess when the cycle lane and the bus stop overlap.

It’s a bit more complicated on the short section between the Queens Circus roundabout and Battersea Park Road (pictured above), as there’s less space and a couple of fairly busy bus stops – shown in the picture below –

The high level plan is still the same, to create a separate cycle lane at a height half way between the level of the pavement and the road. The junction with Battersea Park Road will need some careful work as it’s also a busy cycle route, with lot of pedestrians (and probably more in the near future given the amount of recent development and the forthcoming opening of a Zone 1 tube station) and not currently especially bike-friendly.

At the moment that’s as far as the scheme goes – surprisingly there aren’t any plans for one of the more problematic parts of the road further south, where traffic gets squeezed through a series of railway bridges. The temporary segregation of the southbound cycle lane (shown below) has been helpful in making sure cars are aware of the number of cycles along this stretch and give them a safe amount of space, and there is an existing lane up at pavement level on the northbound side that reduces the rick of cycles being squashed against the wall by lorries and long vehicles making the turn. But generally speaking this is a somewhat dangerous part of the road with poor visibility that could do with a lot of work to make it better for cyclists.

It’s a pretty grim stretch for those on foot too – with a consistent smell of exhaust, mucky surroundings with everything coated in black dust, pigeon droppings all over the pavement, minimal lighting and more often than not suspicious puddles among the various electrical cabinets under the bridge on the west side of the road. Considering the heavy use it gets, and the fact that it is right next to a railway station’s main entrance, this bridge feels overdue for an upgrade of the sort that we have seen on some of the other bridges in the Borough like Thessaly Road and Earlsfield – with a cleanup, a repaint, bird-proofing and far better lighting.

Further south again no plans, but there are fewer problems here. This stretch of the road has had a significant pavement and parking upgrade a few years back which made clearer parking bays – and in doing so tidied up the bus lanes. By removing the obstacle of haphazardly parked cars on the road, this has had some benefits in terms of a lower accident rate.

Overall – it makes sense to review and upgrade the cycle lanes here and it’s good that this is being considered, even if there’s not much detail at this stage. It is a little disappointing that the works aren’t carrying on a bit further to the south to include the part of Queenstown Road that snakes under the various railway bridges. We’ll keep you posted if we hear about more detailed plans.

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The long-planned second entrance to Queenstown Road station may still be on track

It’s been a while, but there’s finally a little bit of progress on the planned new entrance to Queenstown Road station. The Battersea Exchange development that’s funding it is complete, but in February last year we noted that things had gone rather quiet on the station works. They essentially mean a new entrance will be created at the back of the station building (which is the one outlined yellow in this photo) –

Creating a second entrance at the back of the station has been part of the project from the start. It was designed to improve transport access to the new flat, so residents can get to the station without having to walk along busy and traficky section of Queenstown Road. It will mean commuters can get between Queenstown Road & Battersea Park stations along a straight-line and pedestrian-friendly route.

The plans will allow passage through the station (during opening hours) for non-ticketholders, which means people heading from (say) the Shaftesbury estate can ‘cut the corner’ by going through the foyer of Queenstown Road (shown in yellow below) and get through to Battersea Park station, the school & the new small branch of Sainsbury’s at the base of the white tower. 

This photo shows the currently-rather-messy back yard of the station as it is now, as seen from the new road Patcham Terrace (i.e. the right hand side of the yellow square in the map above). The new entrance will be at the back left, which means opening up a new door in the building. There’s a bit of a height change as well (about ten steps). The original plans were to fit stairs, as well as a small lift, next to each other in behind the low wall (which would be removed to create the entrance).

Sadly the headline that there’s ‘progress’ doesn’t mean that work has started! But updated plans have been submitted to take a slightly different approach to the design – dropping the lift altogether and simplifying things by just having a wider staircase. The lift is being removed from the plans because it meant the staircase alongside it was too narrow to meet Network Rail’s minimum standards for safe access to the station. We presume not having a lift will also make the whole thing cheaper to build and operate, with relatively little impact on overall accessibility given that the rest of the station in any case has loads of stairs and no lifts.

A few other minor changes are being made, including not bothering to have a door at the bottom of the stairs (which seems fairly sensible – bearing in mind that the station is pretty much open air anyway and there’ll be a security gate at the top of the steps). A small glass shelter will be included at the bottom of the steps to keep rain out of the station building. The floorplan diagram below shows the new access route in yellow (with Queenstown Road entrance at the bottom of the photo), and the new Patcham Terrace entrance at the top.

This photo shows the current ticket hall – the new way through will emerge where the left hand white door is now, just to the left of the ticket machines.

Precise timings for the works are still uncertain – but the fact that updated plans have gone in after well over a year of radio silence is a good sign that the project is not completely forgotten, and still on track to happen at some point. As a relatively cheap project with obvious benefits for Taylor Wimpey’s development (making it have rather better access, especially for the new office and retail units), and some benefits for Network Rail in terms of general station access, it seems likely that this will go ahead in the not too distant future. Strictly speaking the planning application is way past its decision date (even though no actual decision seems to have been taken) – if you want to see the details or comment search for application 2020/4812 at the Wandsworth planning website.

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Lavender Hill’s back in business

As of today Lavender Hill’s shops, hairdressers & salons, and businesses are back open, as well as an ongoing expansion in outdoor seating at several cafes & restaurants. Good to see a decent lunchtime crowd at The Crown‘s outdoor terrace today after a long absence, as early morning snow gave way to full sunshine. It’s been a tough few months, a tough year, and it’s still important to keep taking care on social distancing – but if you can, now more than ever is the time to support our local traders!

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An update on the interesting Wixs Lane development

Way back, we reported on a residential development being proposed on Wixs Lane, which would replace the car park of Dacres House (a block of flats on Cedars Road) with two semi-detached modern houses (one three-bed and one four-bed).

Several other plans were previously developed for this site, including blocks of flats – all of which were withdrawn or rejected, before new architects (Add Architects) developed this proposal which now has full planning approval.  The development is being taken forward on behalf of the owners of Dacres House (the block of flats next door).

It’s a decent example of a proportionate use of a site – not cramming things in to every possible space, and putting all the parking and servicing in to the ‘underground’ areas to allow as much light and space as possible on the main living floors.  Both the houses have outdoor space, and they’ve been fairly thoughtfully designed for the location, with brick echoing the Victorian houses to the left but a design that echoes the Cedars Road Estate buildings on the right.  The living room of one house faces south, and the other north, allowing both a good degree of privacy despite the compact urban site.  

wixs 2Planned view from Wixs Lane (© Add Architects)

Work is now well underway, with the building having pretty much reached roof level. So far, what has been built seems to match the plans too (which isn’t always the case!).

The artists’ impression below shows what the end result should look like. The existing long access ramp that leads from Wixs Lane to the car park will remain in use, as the entrance to the garages and lower floors of the new development – it’s visible in the bottom right hand corner of the artists’ impression below.

wixs lanePlanned aerial view (© Add Architects)

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Wasabi is opening a new branch in Clapham Junction

It’s a tale of modern times. As the Coronavirus has emptied out the city centre, some of the chains who made much of their income from lunch time visits by office workers have had to adapt their approach fast! Pret a Manger, arguably the flagship trader in this market, took quite a direct hit – but were in a small way they were lucky: they knew they had pretty much saturated coverage in the town centre so had already started opening up in more unusual places, and found the business worked there too.

An early example of a ‘suburban’ Pret was Wandsworth High Street. They also opened their surprisingly profitable Clapham Junction branch on St Johns Road not too long before the pandemic. While the town centre branches have really struggled and in many cases shut for good, their inner suburban branches have kept going quite happily and done a pretty brisk trade, through bored work-at-home residents looking for coffee, croissants and sandwiches – so much so that they have recently opened another large branch over on Clapham high street.

Wasabi, seller of takeaway sushi and bento, fall in to the same category of business. However they were maybe a little later to try out trade in the inner suburbs: their current London locations have a distinct City of London focus, with a slightly less dense coverage around the West End – and are not what you really want at a time when the town centre has lost trade to the suburbs!

Which is why it’s maybe not surprising that they’re now planning to open a branch on St Johns Hill, taking over half of what is currently Moss Bros when their lease expires. It’s good to see Wasabi’s vote of confidence in Clapham Junction, and we suspect they will do well here.

Though it’s also a sad day for Moss Bros, whose headquarters is actually in the offices above the station. They have had a really, really hard time over the last year, including a CVA (essentially an alternative to going in to administration, where they ask their landlords for rent reductions and seek to shake off some of their debt). Their current owner was particularly unlucky in buying them just two weeks before lockdown – which pretty much removed all their business overnight. We’re not sure if their Clapham Junction presence is coming to an end, or whether they’re shrinking to just occupy the other half of what was a double unit (though the store is no longer listed by Moss Bros on their website, which suggests the former).

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Another twist in the development project at Parma Crescent

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is parmalavender-4.jpg

Over the last year we’ve been following the twists and turns of a proposed development on Parma Crescent (on the opposite side of Lavender Hill to Asda). The picture above is the house that is currently on the site: a smaller-than average house with a larger-than average garden. That’s a dangerous thing to be ion inner London – because it of course became a prime development opportunity!

The first proposal to redevelop it suggested demolishing everything, and building a block of five flats, with numerous balconies, and steep mansard roofs on the top level to essentially build a three storey block of flats. This was controversial, attracting 44 objections, and not much in the way of supportive comment.

The developers presumably sensed that this proposal was destined for rejection, because a few months later they changed the plans, chopping back the side of the building closest to Lavender Hill, slightly lowering the roof, and making it have the same angle as neighbouring houses (the blue dotted line in the picture below was the shape of the first proposal). However there must have been some steers from the planning department that this was likely to hit trouble as well, as the plan shown below was also withdrawn by the developers.

A third set of proposals introduced that made the building smaller again, and made the roof line look a lot more like what was already present on the rest of the houses on the street (i.e. without roof level balconies facing the street itself). These plans were then changed yet again (but only slightly) to remove a sort of roof balcony and lower the height of the top floor.

This proposal saw 44 objections (plus a handful of support comments), but got through the planning process and is now fully consented. When we last wrote about this in November last year we noted that this had been quite a long process, but on the fact of it the building below could have been the end of the story.

What was approved was still a building with five flats in it (one one-bed, three two-bed, and a three-bed). The generous garden around the current house was doomed (which the Battersea Society noted was incompatible with local planning guidance that prevents major developments in residential gardens) – but we did recognise that what would be built in its place was rather more in keeping with the rest of the street than the initial proposals, removing most of the balconies that would directly face neighbours, and reducing (though not removing) the overshadowing that would have been created to properties to the north.

But all the best planning stories include a twist, and this is no exception. Because having got approval to build the above building, at the end of January this year the developers submitted another proposal. The above-ground part of the build is largely the same as the approved plan, with a few windows moving around. But the new plans add a large basement covering the whole of the site, and increase the number of flats from five to eight! We understand the appeal of this approach to the developer: 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. The proposed development (seen from the south) is illustrated below.

The developers’ planning advisors suggest in their covering letter that while they originally did not propose to build a basement because the costs were too high, they had now got estimates in that suggested it would be feasible after all. 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.

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!).

But 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 and development, the internal layout and general standard of the proposed flats seems to be fairly reasonable in planning terms. A minor tweak has 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).

Unsurprisingly the prospect of a major basement excavation has caused local concerns, and at the time of writing the proposals have seen 53 objection comments and one support comment (from a resident of Goulden House). The opportunity to comment has (technically speaking) closed but the detailed plans can be seen at the Wandsworth Planning website (search for application 2021/0408). If you do wish to make a support, objection or general comment our past experience suggests the Council will usually try to consider ‘late’ comments if they can.

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Megan’s innovative new outdoor restaurant on the Common opens this Friday

We’ve taken a quick look behind the scenes. Small-but-growing local business Megan’s took a new lease on the long-closed and dilapidated Recovery Cafe next to the skate park & basketball courts, and for the last month they have since been hard at work turning it in to a completely new restaurant. It will offer a slight variation on their broadly Mediterranean themed menu, with the unusual (for London) feature that all of the seating is outside.

We previously reported on their plans, and what has been built lives up to expectations – with a completely new look for the premises. The building used to have an indoor seating area and a small Cafe kitchen at one end – whereas it is now only acting as the kitchen, with all the seating outside. This allows for a much larger and better kitchen, and hence a proper range of food – but it has meant a big investment in the external areas to create a decent seating space. A lot of work has gone in to upgrading the whole fabric of the building, which had not really seen any investment for years – there’s new drainage, new extraction, a new terrace, a new kitchen, and of course a major makeover to the general look and feel of the site.

The Terrace by Megan’s will run as a restaurant & takeaway deli, serving all day brunch, lunch, dinner & takeaway picnics. The menu will be slightly different to their other restaurants, and will include sourdough pide pizzas. At the time of our visit the finishing touches were going in right across the site – but the kitchen was clearly getting ready to open. Blinds and awnings mean there should be some shelter in bad weather.

The plan is for Megan’s to open for takeaway only this Friday – with the seating areas opening about a week later (currently advertised as the 12th April). Hours are currently expected to be 8am to 10pm Monday-Thursday, opening a bit later to 11pm on Friday & Saturday, and 9am-9pm on Sundays. Though bear in in mind that as with any new business opening hours tend to get adjusted as they see how demand varies during the week so check their site before heading there especially early or late.

It’s good to see that the capital investment that has gone in to this site. Previous owners struggled to make this site work, because there simply wasn’t enough space in the building for the kitchen and seating needed to make it viable, and the site got gradually more run down as a result – to the point where it really needed a lot of work. Megan’s have certainly turned around the appearance of the site (hats off to the builders who have done a fine job here – and thanks to them also for letting us have a look around). Megan’s are also trying a completely different approach, and we suspect it will be pretty successful.

This is not the only change underway on the Common, as the cafe next to the bandstand is also starting to undergo a big transformation. After many years as popular and notably child-and-dog-friendly cafe La Baita, the lease has been sold on to the operators of the Pear Tree Cafe, and works have recently started on a big renovation of the building.

It will be the Pear Tree Cafe owners’ second venture, building on their current cafe in Battersea Park. At their first site they turned around the fortunes of what had been a distinctly underwhelming Cafe with dubious menu, a tatty and undersized building, and service than really never came with a smile; to a really thriving business that (if anything) has been a bit of a victim of its own success with sometimes substantial queues and difficulty handling the demand. This new site has lots of potential (and was in less trouble to start with) so it will be very interesting to see how they develop it.

And as we reported a month ago – the run-down old toilets building at the edge of the woods is also up for letting, with potential to be developed as another cafe. No news yet on that one, it’s more of a challenge given the dubious current state of the building but it does have enormous potential (we’ll keep you posted if we hear anything – and if you have any news on these sites do let us know).

Posted in Business, Environment, Food & drink, Useful to know | 1 Comment

At last, the lights on Clapham Common are being repaired properly

Good news on Clapham Common: the street lights running from the Bandstand to the abandoned toilets by the South Circular road are finally having a major overhaul. This particular row of a dozen or so lights has been very problematic over the last year or so, with the entire route plunged in to darkness for months at a time (and none of the repairs seeming to last more than a few weeks).

Maybe tragic recent events were the key to these works getting underway, or maybe complaints beforehand finally led to a result. Lambeth (who manage the whole of the Common) have recognised that something is fundamentally wrong with the way these were originally installed, that the underground cable has a problem that cannot be solved, and that they need to start over again – so the supply cable powering the lights is being completely replaced. A new cable supply trench has been dug and these lights are to be connected to a new power supply. Temporary solar lights are in place during the works.

There’s been a wider debate about whether more lights are needed on the Common. And there are valid arguments on both sides: on the one hand, better lighting does improve safety, and in a dense urban area with a lot of people having to cross the Common or take long detours, the case for minimising danger is a strong one. But on the other – the Common (and especially the wooded area) is a wildlife haven and lighting it up is damaging to bats, and it makes sense to focus lighting on the maim commuting routes through the middle of the Common that are already lit at night rather than lighting everything and giving a false sense security on other little-used paths with poor visibility.

But the case for repairing these is clear: it’s the final stretch of an otherwise well-lit and well-used path to cross over the Common, and having this one section not lit is clearly not safe! Hopefully these major repairs will finally put an end to the problems.

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Vaacinations at Battersea Arts Centre

A positive sign: The queue at the Battersea Arts centre vaccination site. It’s one of London’s NHS-run vaccination centres, available for those booking vaccinations directly with the NHS (the link to do this, if you’re in the relevant age and / or health categories, is here). If you book via your GP chances are you’ll be sent to the Junction health centre behind the station (where several local practices are managing a shared vaccination site). Good to see BAC’s support in getting out of this! The sooner we can get to grips with the Coronavirus, the sooner Lavender Hill can go back to being a thriving and sociable street again.

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