It’s rare to see a street in Battersea without a construction site somewhere along it. Scaffolding, a slightly muddy pavement, maybe a front garden full of rubble and old timber awaiting collection. More ambitious projects might see the front garden surrounded by wooden construction hoardings. These hoardings are unexciting things, typically sticking around for a few months during the messiest part of a building project, and no-one pays much attention to them.
But Sisters Avenue, a street half way along Lavender Hill, has always been a bit different. From the outset it’s been home to rather smarter houses than its neighbours: detached three- and four-storey villas, originally designed for the wealthiest people in Battersea and making the most of the location right opposite the old Town Hall. So maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that Sisters Avenue is now also home to a construction site hoarding doing its best to break all the records – as it’s now well on the way to its tenth birthday, and we’ve not seen any evidence of any actual construction having taken place!
If you live nearby you’ll probably have seen it – because it’s been in place since the first half of 2015! In its first year it was an ‘ordinary’ hoarding – Street View’s first capture of it in May 2015 is below. Not the prettiest thing, especially given the prominence of the site on one of the more architecturally distinguished rows of houses in the area. But exactly what you’d expect, and perfectly understandable given that the house was set to see a large basement excavated, a development which obviously needed the public to be protected. It’s far from the only basement to have been dug out round here, and all the neighbours knew it’d only be there for a few months – maybe a year if the building project hit some snags. Right?
Or maybe not… Because a year later, things hadn’t exactly got moving on the building site. There was, however, plenty of progress on the building of the hoarding itself: it had sprouted a large roof! This stretched beyond the original hoarding to also include the pathway to the front of the building. This created a very substantial structure, now visible from most of Sisters Avenue as well as from Lavender Hill.
But none of the neighbours thought the big blue shed would still be standing eight years later! The planned project had been to excavate the whole of the basement, extending the current small basement that contains a single bedroom to create three bedrooms, a reception room and a further study, and large lightwells at the front and the side of the property. A decent project, but none of this really seemed to get going. Looking at the many captures Google’s street view has of the structure over the years, ladders peeking out from behind the hoarding occasionally move slightly. A bit of the roof falls off in May 2018, and after more than a year dangling off the side of the structure it’s eventually repaired. The once-vibrant blue paint gradually fades with years of summer sunshine.
The exact contents of the shed are a bit of a mystery, but the structure seems to have become some sort of general storage space, essentially a large garden shed at the front of the property. Wandsworth’s planners eventually decided that enough was enough – maybe also conscious that the property owners might try to claim that the structure had been there long enough that they could argue it had, in doing so, acquired some rights to remain there in perpetuity. On the 29th October 2021, they issued an enforcement notice requiring the removal of the structure at Flat A, 11 Sisters Avenue, following what was described as “the unauthorised erection of a front garden timber enclosure comprising of timber hoarding to the front and sides and a timber framed shelter above at the property”. The enforcement notice required that the property owners remove both the structure at the front of the building and the one going round the side), that they restore the property to its previous lawful condition; and that they remove all debris from the site. They were given two months to comply. That should have meant that the structure would finally be gone by the end of 2021 – and we can imagine the other residents of the street breathing a sigh of relief – the end of the eyesore was finally in sight.
Or maybe it wasn’t – because over a year later, it’s still standing. It seems the owners weren’t about to let their structure be torn down without a fight – and they duly appealed against Wandsworth’s planning enforcement notice, escalating the case to the Government Planning Inspectorate. They essentially argued that the structure was a ‘permitted development’ on the grounds that it was a “building or moveable structure required temporarily in connection with and for the duration of operations being or to be carried out on that land or adjoining land”. They pointed to planning permission for the basement excavation that had been granted in July 2016 (when the hoarding was just a year old) and said that the structure was necessary for those works.
The planning inspector, Felicity Thompson, visited the site in September last year. She noted that at least some building works seemed to have taken place on site in 2017. However she noted that these works ceased “a number of years ago” following the death of the parents of the current owners (who it seems had owned the property, and were taking works forward before their death). She noted that an ongoing court case linked to the property had limited scope for further building works since then, and also notes a reference to probate processes on the property potentially concluding in 2022 – so it’s easy to see that things could have got in to a bit of a legal grey area.
However Felicity also notes that there was no evidence of substantive building works since 2017, other than the usual basic maintenance of the building. This led to her judgement that while the ‘permitted development’ exception does indeed allow structures to be built, it limits their presence to the duration of the building works. And as there’s no real evidence of any such ongoing building works at the site, the structure is not allowed. Her decision, in October 2022, says: “As a matter of fact, the [building] operations ceased and were not being carried out. The timber enclosure would not therefore constitute permitted development…”. This is a pretty clear cut conclusion – backing up the Council’s enforcement notice.
She does, however, clearly have some sympathy with the position of the owners, with suggestions in the decision document that they may have faced some sort of legal wrangles with the property. In her appeal decision she does also consider some other arguments that could be made in favour of the structure remaining: that requiring its complete removal is disproportionate, or that the two-month timescale Wandsworth allowed for its removal is too short. But to no avail, as on both grounds she comes down firmly in favour of the local authority: the structure is not allowed – and nothing short of full removal will remedy the planning breach. And a two-month timescale is completely sufficient to restore the front yard and dismantle a relatively simple wooden shed structure.
We’re already more than two months after the appeal’s enforcement deadline – and the structure’s still there. This is getting in to a dangerous space for the owners: ignoring an enforcement notice that has been upheld at appeal is not a good move. The Council has powers to take this in to their own hands now and remedy matters, and a charge can be made against the property including confiscation of income. Ignoring an enforcement notice that has been upheld at appeal is a criminal offence, and brings the prospect of trials at the Crown Court and unlimited fines.
There’s undoubtedly a sad story behind this neverending construction project, including the death that led to the original project being suddenly stopped, and whatever seems to have led to years of legal matters. There are two sides of every story, and anyone who has been involved in probate knows it’s not an enjoyable experience (and if you are the owners – please get in touch, as we’re keen to understand your side of this story better). But we’re left wondering why the hoarding wasn’t simply removed years ago – it’s hardly a major task, the wood could even be stored in the side passageway for reuse if works restart. What is so special about this ugly shed that means the owners have fought for so long, and presumably at some cost, for its continued existence? The fact of the matter is, no matter what is going on behind the scenes, there’s little excuse for leaving a supposedly temporary eyesore up for most of a decade. It’s time for this to be taken down, and maybe – if substantive building works ever start again that need a similarly giant shed – a new one could be put up. We feel for the many neighbours we know have had to put up with this thing for years, and who just want to see the back of this eyesore on an otherwise well-cared-for street.
Will the owners now do the right thing, or will this saga roll on? Ominously in late 2022 they applied for a new planning permission, for “Retention of temporary hoarding and canopy over to front and side until basement work is complete” – but then withdrew it on the 26th January. The ball’s in their court now, and we’re quite curious to see what happens next in this surprisingly long-drawn-out tale of an overgrown construction hoarding. Will the blue shed survive in to its second decade? Will Wandsworth move in to demolish it at the property owners’ expense? Might this all end in a criminal trial at the Crown Court? We’ll keep you posted.
Update (10th February): No sooner had we written about the big blue shed – than it was gone! Just like that. Nothing left but a heap of materials wrapped in a tarpaulin (a blue one, of course, for old times’ sake). Looks like the owners weren’t too keen on a brush with the Courts! And it looks like the answer to the question of what was behind it for all those years is, well, nothing really – no big holes in the ground, no site equipment, no sign of building works at all. One might wonder what all the fuss was about and why the shed wasn’t taken down years ago. Rest in Peace, big blue shed. 2015-2023. We hardly knew ye.
Many thanks yet again for a very informative article.
I have wondered for many years how this very unattractive structure has been allowed to remain and now I know why..
Keep up the good work
They have rebuilt it.