North Kingston and Coombe Hill residents under threat
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You might be forgiven for thinking that large-scale high-rise development across Kingston will not affect you if you live in North Kingston or in Coombe Hill near Norbiton Station. After all, Richmond Park is a Grade I listed park and a Special Area of Conservation because of its rich biodiversity and our communities are all well-established and have obviously distinct, cohesive characters. Many of our neighbourhoods date from Victorian times, and new development is meant to respect the character of existing places and its wider setting. Tudor Ward - at the far end of North Kingston - actually intermingles with a Richmond ward and its residents may believe that they will be immune from any planned "Citi-fication" of Kingston
So what is there to worry about?
The people who live in their Victorian houses in Wolverton Avenue between Queen’s Road and Norbiton Station woke up one morning last year to find that a development proposal had been submitted to demolish the historic 4-storey Victorian Regents Wing of Kingston Hospital that sits quietly present and architecturally-impressive, abutting the back gardens of some of their houses, and to replace it with a massively more dense, imposing and out-of-character 8-storey modern building providing 128 flats with balconies, that will overlook the homes that have stood there for 120 years (https://www.wara.uk/)
Many people already know about plans to build several high-rise buildings including a 25 storey tower in Canbury Place Car Park at the bottom of Acre Road for up to a massive 445 dwellings (https://kts.org.uk/development-canbury-place-carpark-25-storeys/). A height restriction previously imposed on new buildings on this site has apparently quietly been removed. The density of the building is “opportunity" area density, the maximum possible in any part of London because Kingston is designated as a “nascent opportunity area” in the draft London Plan and the council has agreed huge development targets on large sites across our Borough with the Mayor of London
Then there is the Canbury Business Park site which is up for "regeneration", also at massively increased densities. The previous proposal for the whole site was completely out of character with the rest of the area. Any new proposal will be taller and denser in order to comply with "opportunity" area requirements
After much resident campaigning to stop all of these proposals and the many others that come forward, the developments will probably be scaled back a little and a few residents will be invited to influence the façade of the building or some other minor details of the design so the council and developers can say they listened to residents, and councillors will claim victory on our behalf. This has already happened with The Old Post Office Site and Eden Walk in Kingston Town
The key decisions about the scale, mass and height of each development will have been made long before residents hear that a proposal has been put forward
The question is Why?
I believe that this is because the decision-making processes that establish the basis and scale of growth in places like Kingston are not legally-sound and that they completely undermine the ability of residents to influence what happens around them
And let's not forget Tudor Ward
Surely this largely residential area on the very edge of Richmond will be protected from this kind of high-rise, dense development?
Well, the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, has asked the Mayor of London to expand the boundaries of “opportunity” areas to accommodate greater levels of growth; and development surrounding “opportunity” areas ends up reflecting the higher densities seen nearby. This leaves people living in Tudor Ward highly exposed to inappropriate "opportunity area" development in the coming years
I am asking a leading London QC to look at the way growth plans for Kingston have been agreed and tell me if they are legally flawed
If there is a convincing legal case for asserting that the plans are flawed, we can consider challenging them in the courts and - if successful - asking the Mayor of London and Kingston council to re-do the process for agreeing the scale of development that Kingston Borough must bear and for designating vast swathes of the Borough as an "opportunity" area
If a challenge succeeds, people all over London will be justified in asking whether similar growth plans in their Boroughs may be equally flawed?