30 January 2013

Consulting on the Planning Brief for Latchmere House

Once upon a time Latchmere House was the centre piece of a low-risk prison and then a couple of years ago the Ministry of Justice realised that it was poor use of land and they could get sheds load of money by selling it to a property developer. That is now going to happen and a planning brief is being prepared to guide them as to what is acceptable development.

This is complicated a little by having the borough boundary run through the site with the top half being in the Borough of Richmond and the lower in the (Royal) Borough of Kingston. The two councils have collaborated to produce the planning brief but it is still not clear how the final decision will be made. But that is a question for a later day and at the moment we are still in the consultation stage and that was the purpose of the meeting that I went to.

I am interested in the site because I am interested in the local area (hence my Ham Photos blog), I am interested in buildings generally and I am on the Committee of the Kingston upon Thames Society.

I was also interested in the meeting itself as I wanted to know how many people were there and what their views were.

There was a full panel to explain the plan to us comprising officers and councillors from Kingston and Richmond, the external consultants used and local MP, Zac Goldsmith, who chaired the meeting.

The Concept Plan included in the planning brief summarised what the councils were trying to achieve:

  • New homes to be sensitive in scale, character and proximity to the site’s neighbours and Conservation Area, in line with identified housing need;
  • The setting of Latchmere House is to be enhanced and protected;
  • There is an improved network of pedestrian routes across the site;
  • The existing vehicular access of Church Road is maintained and improved;
  • Potential for new vehicular accesses via Latchmere Lane, and by extending Garth Road is shown;
  • There is no direct vehicular access through the site;
  • The new homes enjoy easy access to the Tudor Drive Local Centre and bus stops.

The diagram below shows the layout of the site, the proposed access routes and the proposed green spaces, most of which are already there.



The Concept Plan seemed pretty reasonable apart from insistence that the new homes are "sensitive in scale, character and proximity to the site’s neighbours". This looks like a missed opportunity to me.

This used to be a prison so almost anything would be a significant improvement on what was there before.

The houses nearby are, generally, at the lower-end of family housing. This includes ex-prison officers homes and ex-social housing. Again, what we build in the centre is almost certainly going to be better than what is around it.

Generally Kingston has taken a very conservative approach to new housing and almost everything is in the mixed vernacular style with pointed roofs and Tudoresque timbers. I would like to see something imaginative and iconic built. Something like the nearby Span development at Parkleys.

Instead we are likely to get something extremely dull like this.

The reason for this approach appeared to be traffic, i.e. the councils did not want a larger number of units because of the extra car journeys they will bring.

And traffic was certainly the main concern of the audience, about a third of whom came from the Garth Road / Garth Close area and were opposed to their cul de sac being extended and pedestrians being allowed to walk past their homes.

This is nonsense in so many ways. I live near to the only entrance to a much larger development and I hardly ever see a car go past. Traffic is most definitely not a problem for me and it will not be for the Latchmere site either.

There were some nice comments made apart from the continual moans about traffic. I loved it when one of the consultants said that they wanted the area to be "permeable", a word I tend to overuse, and there was a neat suggestion from Ham United Group (HUG) that part of the planning gain could be to make one of the typical local houses eco-friendly to help local residents do the same to their houses.

I sincerely hope that the fear of traffic and of the new does not stop this opportunity to build something innovative that Kingston/Richmond can be proud of for decades.

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