Monday, 28 August 2017

Densely Does It

Why do we keep saying that the RCS proposals are too dense? Surely we are in a housing crisis and  the more social housing units on the site the better?

Slum housing in Islington,  1909

Let's start by looking at some context. Golden Lane Estate was designed at the height of the post-war housing crisis when it was estimated that 750,000 new homes were required in England and Wales to provide all families with accommodation. Against this desperate need an ambitious target of 200 Residents per Acre was set and the architects worked hard to achieve this number. The original design had low blocks arranged around open courts, but the architects felt that in the original competition scheme, the buildings were too large for the courts. By raising the height of Great Arthur House they were able to provide better amenity space around the blocks.

The competition scheme was given more open space by introducing the tower

These days we measure density in terms of residential units per hectare (u/ha), and in these terms with 558 units arranged over 2.8 hectares Golden Lane Estate achieved a density of 200u/ha.

That was then. How does that density relate to our modern standards? In the planning policy maze, guidance on strategic matters such as density is the responsibility of the Mayor of London and the GLA. The Mayor publishes his standards in a document called The London Plan, which gives a matrix of density, thought to be sustainable throughout London.

For a central London site with very good access to Public Transport, the target range is 140-405 u/ha. In fact, with 66 units on a site area of 0.06 hectares the density of the RCS tower will be 1100u/ha. This is nearly three times the maximum limit in the London Plan and five times the density of the rest of the Estate. So if you have been looking at the plans wondering how the scale relates to Golden Lane; maybe that is why - it just doesn't.

Wiggle, wiggle

The London Plan gives some wiggle room. It says that the policy ought not be applied "mechanistically", and this sends the developers of the RCS tower into a frenzy of wiggling. "The density ranges should be considered as a starting point rather than an absolute rule when determining the optimum housing potential of a particular site".  They go on to argue that, if they don't meet the standard; there should be some flexibility if the housing meets very high standards in other ways.

We are pretty sure the "wiggle room" was meant to be a factor of 10 or 20% above the maximum, rather than the full on, blow-it-out-of-the-water 270% of the maximum, but lets look at the factors which might allow some departure from the standards in the first place.

Local context, design and transport capacity are particularly important, as well as social infrastructure, open space and play.

The access to public transport is good, but that is already accounted for in the table. What about local amenities and services? There is no evidence in the application that the developers have even tried to assess local facilities. With multiple recent closures of GP practices in Islington and patients being bounced from one practice to the next, the MP for Islington South and  Finsbury, Emily Thornberry, has called the situation a “mess”. The excellent report into the Whitecross Street Estate by Peabody Tenants' Association found that there were few local amenities for young people and "the park gets so overcrowded in summer there’s literally no space to move, and the bins overflow." 

 What do you mean you want to sit down? Fortune Street Park.

Pay to Play?

Islington earmarked the RCS site for Public Open Space in the Finsbury Plan, (See our previous blog), but none is to be provided in this proposal. What about play provision? Well the proposal has literally no external amenity space for the residents other than the balconies of the flats. They are supposed to provide 430sqm of play space for children on site and will be providing zero. Rather desperately they suggest that the children living in the Tower could use the School Hall to play in, but presumably they will have to pay the rental fees to do so. It seems unlikely that this will happen. And what is the reason for this lack of provision? "The Site is heavily constrained in terms of the available area for children play space that can be provided on site. " Well quite.

They go on to claim that the standard of the flats is so high that this counterbalances the incredible density. They are much larger, for example than usual.

In fact, most of the the flats exceed the bare minimum space standards by just 1 square metre and the combination of old fashioned deck access, lack of amenity space, lack of disabled parking, compromises on fire safety and substandard cycle provision make the claim of "outstanding quality" hard to understand.

Or maybe we are just being dense?

Thursday, 24 August 2017

CoLPAI: A Completely Invalid Application?

On Scale and Parasites.

When a planning application is made for a site, the drawings and other documents are initially checked for errors and inconsistencies by the planning authority that receives the application in a process that is known as "Validation". Only after that process is complete, is the application uploaded to the planning website and sent out for statutory consultation. On the Bernard Morgan site, for example, the drawings were received by the City of London on 3rd June 2016 and not validated until 5th July; some 4 weeks later.

Bernard Morgan Application

RCS/CoLPAI Tower Application. Double espresso coming up...

Fantastic improvements to productivity have taken place in the City of London planning department over the last year however. When the RCS/CoLPAI site was submitted on 25th July 2017 it was validated the very same day! Imagine that. Over 2000 pages of documents, drawings and technical reports carefully checked in just one day. Now that is service. Its almost as though the City are in a frantic hurry to get their application through before anyone comes back from holiday.

Unfortunately the City's rigorous checking and validation procedure of its own project seems to have overlooked some basic errors in the documentation. The North arrow for example actually points towards the NorthWest. If you are planning a trip to the North pole, or just trying to figure out whether the new tower block will block your view of the sun, then probably best not to rely on these plans.

Then there's the matter of the scale bar. There are no dimensions on the drawings. So the architects have helpfully provided a scale bar in the top right hand corner. Unfortunately it's wrong. The notes say that the builder has to carefully check all the dimensions on site first and just as well, because if they use these drawings, the doors are going to be 40cm wide.

So to help you squeeze through those doors here is a list of diet plans. We like the sound of the tapeworm diet, so here's a picture of a tapeworm for inspiration. Please note we have helpfully provided a scale rule.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Just because it's legal, doesn't mean it's a good idea...

Fire Safety and the Proposed RCS/CoLPAI Tower

April Cachia had been a firefighter for just five days when she was despatched from Shoreditch fire station to Grenfell Tower on 14th June. In a Daily Telegraph article she described arriving at the scene “There were lots of people screaming in the streets that their family are inside, that they can’t find them, that people are missing, they want help,”

Miss Cachia’s crew were told that the stairwell was too narrow for more fire fighters to come in wearing the full breathing apparatus suits, so they were given the option of helping survivors outside the building, or going inside with just with eye gear to help residents flee to safety.

Grenfell Tower was provided with just one staircase; each flight was 1.1m wide. Here is a video of that staircase now:

Seriously, A Single Staircase?

Residents in Grenfell Tower warned repeatedly of the danger that a single staircase was their only means of escaping the building, but extraordinary as it may seem, under current Building Regulations this arrangement is legal. Great Arthur House, built in 1955, has two staircases; giving additional space to evacuate the building and alternative means of escape if one staircase is blocked. In order to accommodate the maximum number of units the new proposed CoLPAI tower in Golden Lane has just one staircase.

Here are the plans of Grenfell House and of the proposed new tower on the RCS site. The single staircase proposed for all 66 flats in the Golden Lane tower is just 1.2m wide. Riser cupboards, carrying all the electrical, mechanical services rise through the landings just as at Grenfell. One of the criticisms of that design is that, over time and with maintenance and alterations, the fire safety of the riser cupboards becomes compromised. One of the concerns of Grenfell residents was that new pipes had been installed, and then left unboxed. Good design would anticipate these future maintenance problems and keep services and people separated.

24 Hours to Move It

You may be shocked that this single staircase design is being brought forward at a time when the risks of single staircase buildings are being hotly debated. But this isn't the only Fire Safety compromise in the new design. Due to the over development of the site, there is insufficient room for bicycle storage in the ground floor bike store. So residents of the new block are expected to store bicycles on the common access corridors. Unfortunately where there is one bicycle, there tend to be two or more and buggy parking. At the other end of the borough Islington is so concerned about this that it has given all its residents 24 hours to remove them:

At the end of the line

The plans of the new tower show external corridors to access the flats. "Deck Access". Many of us have lived in these kind of flats - although at the original Golden Lane flats, the clever design means that you don't actually pass by other people's bedrooms on the way to your front door. We asked the designers what the implications were for safety - what if you live at the end of one of the external corridors and there was a fire in the flat adjacent to the stairwell. How would you pass by it to get to the safety of the staircase?

The answer, you may be surprised to hear, is that you have to crawl under the windows of the burning flat on your hands and knees to avoid smoke and flames. What if the flat below you is on fire? What if you are disabled? Perhaps better not ask.

It's no better inside the flats. Internally there is no door to the kitchen, so if a fire starts there in the night, smoke will fill the corridor leading from the bedroom to the front door.

Just as at other high rise towers, the developers have sought a "fire engineered" solution to mitigate the risks from all these compromises and no doubt they will contend that their design satisfies building regulations. But as it says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient", or in other words, Just because it's legal, doesn't mean its a good idea.

You can make your comments on the CoLPAI Tower proposals to Islington here and the City of London here. Comments must be in soon.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Press support for our Save Golden Lane campaign

Our campaign to save Golden Lane has had a boost from Building Design, the magazine widely read by the building design/architecture industry. Read the full article here (You will need to sign up for a free membership).

Meanwhile City Matters came to the Public meeting last week and carried the following article in today's issue:

The Denizen. Are they serious?

Taylor Wimpey Central London's website announces a new development 'coming soon' in the City of London, called The Denizen.

This must be the name they have chosen for their Bernard Morgan development. This is the link

Bernard Morgan House's new name

Definition of Denizen from the Merriam Webster Dictionary

1. Inhabitant: denizens of the forest

2. Government: person admitted to residence in a foreign country; especially an alien admitted to rights of citizenship

3. One that frequents a place - nightclub denizens 

And from the Cambridge Dictionary

Could it be a reference to the practice of wealthy foreign investors buying property to acquire UK citizenship?

Professor Peter Rees, the former Head of Planning in the City of London, recently commented that "we are building the wrong kind of housing in London". He called them "safe deposit boxes" designed specifically for investors. "What we should be building are homes for people" he said.

It's certainly an odd choice of name, unless their website has been hacked?

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

So does Islington's Planning Policy actually apply to Islington?

The RCS Site and Islington's Planning Policy: 

The Finsbury Local Plan is the Area Action Plan that Islington prepared in 2013 based on studies of the area. As it says boldly on the cover, it forms part of Islington's Local Plan. This plan proactively seeks to identify areas that could be developed in Islington and helpfully for developers, sets out the planning constraints and policy for each site.

The Richard Cloudesley School Site is specifically identified in the plan (Site BC34), so you can check what Islington planning policy is for this site and judge for yourself how carefully the policy is being followed in the CoLPAI development.  Here is an extract from the plan that deals specifically with the site:

The plan notes that there are residential buildings neighbouring the site and that proposals must be "sensitively designed". Those of us who are losing 48% of the daylight in our kitchens wonder how sensitive the design is.

It notes the locally listed Board School building to the North and the Golden Lane Estate to the South as well as St Luke's Conservation Area. Do the CoLPAI proposals "conserve and enhance" these assets? Or simply tower over them?

Finally it points out, quite correctly that the site falls into "an area of deficiency in access to nature" and that Public open space should be provided in any proposal. Not only does the scheme have absolutely no public open space; it doesn't even contain open space for the new residents and to add insult to injury it makes a land grab for existing public open space from the existing perimeter of the Golden Lane Estate.

How high?

The Finsbury Local Plan also looks at appropriate height for development. Here is a map showing the Finsbury Area. The yellow splodges show areas where tall buildings might be appropriate:

The RCS site is actually shaded in green "Area with a platform building height of around 6 storeys". Why is this important? The Plan recognises that this is "an area where the predominant building height rarely exceeds six storeys, and which is an important part of its "open townscape" character.

A few years ago a proposal was made to add two floors to the top of 108-114 Golden Lane (opposite the RCS site). Because of this policy only one floor was permitted; and that had to be set back from the fa├žade.

"Buildings of 30 metres in height or more may be appropriate within the areas indicated on Figure 17...Elsewhere, building heights must respond to the local context". 
The Plan is perfectly clear and local people who may have felt that it offered protection against over-development will be astonished that it is a scheme that is so strongly backed by Islington Council that is the first to flout the policy.

Download the Finsbury Local Plan here.

Comment on the proposed development here and here.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The CoLPAI Development

The deadline for written objections to the CoLPA planning application is 24 August. 

Since this is cross border, we encourage everyone to object to both boroughs. You can use the same text and just copy and paste - these are the two links to use: Islington Planning Website and the City of London Planning website here.

GLERA commissioned Alec Forshaw (MRTPI, IHBC) to write an appraisal of the proposal. You can read this here

The proposed building 

There was a public meeting on Thursday 10 August to discuss the CoLPLAI planning application for the redevelopment of the old Richard Cloudesley School site.

The Richard Cloudesley School

The meeting was well attended by about 60 local residents from the Golden Lane Estate and Islington. 

View of the Conservation Area

There is a strong heritage case: Golden Lane Estate is a Grade II and Grade II* listed estate and this proposal would cause substantial harm to its setting. This is incredibly important and carries a lot of weight. 

Basterfield House, The Golden Lane Estate

The proposal is to build a 14 storey tower right up against the boundary of a grade II/grade 2* listed building; if this was a Georgian or Victorian Square this would not be being considered. In addition the site borders a conservation area.

St Luke's Conservation Area

We also need to test the ‘public benefit argument’ by questioning and challenging the quality of the design of the tower and the school. 

View looking down Golden Lane

The Proposed block and school

Is there a need for another primary school in the area? Morelands Primary School is only half a mile up the road and is undersubscribed.

Moorland's School has a half empty brand new building, only half a mile away.

Morelands has a brand new two form entry building but is only being used as a one form entry school. 

Moreland Primary School has only 230 pupils but has the capacity for twice as many.

Objections are strongest if they refer to policies in Local Plans. Here are links to all the relevant planning policies. 

National Planning Policy Framework March 2012

The London Plan 2016

London Borough of Islington Local Plan 2013

1. The Boundaries seem to be inaccurate.

 The Design and Access Statement page 18

2. Density, Scale and Massing. Density too high without open space to serve it; scale wrong for Golden Lane; massing intrusive on to views within and around Golden Lane Estate.

View from Whitecross Street

3. Impact on residential blocks in the vicinity: Basterfield and Hatfield on Golden Lane Estate, but also on residential on Banner Street.

4. Limited capacity of play space for school and no green space for residents of tower.  

5. Unwarranted loss of existing trees.

6. Fire report and access – no fire vehicular access for school/single entry and staircase for tower.

7. Substantial harm to views across the Estate including from Banner Street. 

View of Basterfield House from the centre of the Golden Lane Estate

8. Loss of resident parking spaces and especially disabled spaces adjacent to Basterfield flats.

9. Location of school hall and access - uncomfortable and intrusive.

View from Banner Street

10. Location of school entrance now positioned in Golden Lane. Because a school is not needed in the area people will be travelling by car from North Islington, where there is need for more school places. This will cause traffic congestion. 

The school hall is separate from the main building
and will be hired out and used for nighttime activities. 

Proposed Golden Lane School entrance

11. Noise disturbance from the school and the school hall in the evenings. 

12. Loss of light to Basterfield and the Edible Golden Lane Allotments

The Edible Golden Lane Allotments will lose light


13. Service access to School Hall and kitchens will disturb Hatfield House residents.

14. Land grab next to Hatfield House will mean bin store can’t be accessed.

15. Kitchen Extractor Fans onto Basterfield and Allotments.

16. The public consultations and community response was mis-represented in the Planning application.

17. It is not clear whether the new tower is considered an extension of the Golden Lane Estate.

18. The Golden Lane Estate already has extremely limited play spaces for children so it can not provide play areas for another 66 families.

19. The development should be aesthetically engaged with GLE and has the potential to be designed as such. Fred Scott posted this on Golden Lane website.

An overwhelming majority agreed that the proposals constitute and over-development of the site.

The proposed plans

Good design as dictated in government policy, says that residents of tower blocks should have access to green space. The proposed tower has no gardens or space around it at all. Access to outside space is important to support tower developments. 

All the towers in the area are surrounded by gardens

A majority of people preferred low-rise accommodation and felt open space and access to outside space was important. In a densely populated urban area people's homes are small and shared outside space is crucial for physical and mental well-being and leads to community cohesion.

The Golden Lane fishpond

As many written objections as possible are needed from both City and Islington residents.

Islington residents need to contact their local councillors. There are monthly surgeries with local councillors and Emily Thornberry MP at St Luke’s Community Hall.

The Planning Application documents are available in the Golden Lane Estate Office and the Barbican Library.

You can see the application on the City of London Planning website here or on the Islington Planning website here 

The Islington reference for the application is ref:P2017/2961/Ful

We have uploaded the documents from the Islington website and these can be downloaded from this WeTransfer linkThis is much easier than searching on the planning websites. 

More information is on the GLERA FaceBook page here

Keep visiting our blog for updates.

The next public meeting is in the community centre on GLE at 6.30 pm Deadline for individual responses 24 August.