Designed by Rolfe Judd
Planning reference: 11/02326/OUT
28 July 2011
In principle, we would support development of the scale and mix of uses proposed for this site. The site diagram has a clear logic, making sensible use of the land available to create a potentially inviting and integrated piece of the city. The design team makes a convincing case for three residential towers of up to 36 stories above a new supermarket, to contribute to an emerging tall buildings cluster at Vauxhall although we think they would benefit from a calmer approach to their massing and expression. We welcome the links suggested to the new development sites to the north and east, although we note that the land required for these links is not wholly in Sainsbury’s ownership. Therefore, we urge the applicant to continue to engage with adjacent landowners to realise these to ensure the scheme lives up to the promise suggested in the plans presented. In the interests of securing a development that is sustainable in the long term it should also be demonstrated that the ground floor car park could be converted to other uses. In our view, the supermarket frontage could more clearly express the activity within, including the community uses proposed at first floor level, and provide more generously sized entrances to the store to ensure that it is as welcoming as possible. Notwithstanding the commendable efforts to secure an attractive living environment for all residents, we think there is scope to improve the planning of the lower blocks to ensure more parity in the quality of homes across the scheme. Lastly, the proposals for shared amenity at podium level are creditable but we would question the functionality of some aspects of this space.
We acknowledge the complex set of urban moves proposed for this site, which must be undertaken while maintaining continuous trading for the supermarket. We think there is a sound logic behind the plan presented for this mixed-use development, which is based on a convincing analysis of both existing and future local conditions. It also makes efficient use of this constrained but under-utilised urban site. The placement of the tall buildings, signalling the entrances to the site, appears well considered. The centrally placed supermarket, wrapped with commercial units, defines a frontage onto Wandsworth Road. However, the vehicular traffic associated with the customer parking entrance on Wandsworth Road will impact considerably on the quality of the pedestrian experience beside one of the store’s main entrances.
We welcome the suggestion for how the future tube station could be accommodated within the scheme although the local authority should consider whether the space provided at its entrance on Wandsworth Road is generous enough given the potential volume of users. We also appreciate the suggestion for how key connections could be made to New Covent Garden to the west and the Nine Elms Opportunity Area to the north. However, we also note that the application red-line boundary excludes the land required to secure them. The success of this crucial aspect of the scheme relies on the goodwill and cooperation of adjacent landowners to deliver them, and in a timely manner. This includes the requirement that the tube station is delivered promptly to release the adjacent land to complete the link to New Covent Garden’s proposed open air public market known as the ‘Garden Heart’. Likewise, if the route labelled as ‘The Arches’ cannot be delivered early on, the tight site boundary on this edge raises a question over how access arrangements for residents of Building K can be secured in the interim.
We support the idea of ‘Elm Place’ as a threshold space into the site from Wandsworth Road. However, we note that only half of it can be delivered by Sainsbury’s, relying on the adjoining landowner to complete it and provide the key link proposed under the viaduct, as well as open up of the arches for commercial uses. The applicants should, therefore, be able to satisfy the local authority that these constraints can be addressed, perhaps through intermediate solutions, before any planning permission is granted.
We support the intensification of the supermarket use proposed, along with supporting retail units on its edges. This would seem to align well with New Covent Garden Market’s plans for a public market on the adjacent site. The presentation could have articulated a clearer narrative for the development that celebrated this relationship and used it more explicitly to promote the potential benefits in terms of quality of life of residents, as has been shown in similar developments in cities like Barcelona and Madrid. We understand that the decision to locate the supermarket at first floor level above the car park reflects current customer shopping habits which, for the foreseeable future, are characterised by the weekly shop by car. However, given the high residential population in walking distance to the site, which is set to increase dramatically with the redevelopment of neighbouring sites in the Nine Elms Opportunity Area over the coming decades, we think it important that the store can adapt to respond to a reduced reliance on the car in the long-term. The design team should be able to demonstrate to the local planning authority that the car park at ground floor level could be converted to more active uses to respond to such a scenario in the future. If this were to be achieved, we think the potential links between the supermarket and any future market at New Covent Garden could be strengthened in the process.
In order to ensure that the activity of the supermarket lobby and the store is appreciated from the street, it will be critical that the glazed frontage does not in time become obstructed by advertisements and remains as the active frontage it is promoted to be. This should be a condition as part of any planning permission. We also think there would be benefit in providing more generous entrances to the supermarket on Wandsworth Road and would ask the design team to consider how these could be expressed more clearly on this frontage. Equally, we welcome the inclusion of an Explore Learning Centre within the scheme but think its presence could be more clearly articulated from the outside to ensure this facility is as legible as possible from Wandsworth Road.
Built form, massing and expression
We acknowledge the challenge of bringing together the various uses and building typologies proposed to create a convincing urban form that enhances the surrounding townscape. The rationale for the positioning and heights of the tall buildings is well argued and acknowledges their role in enabling the transition in height from the modest scale of the residential blocks on Wandsworth Road to the more monumental scale of the emerging tall buildings cluster at Vauxhall. However, while we note that this strategy has driven the approach to the individual towers, which step in plan and massing in an effort to address this change in scale, the views studies presented suggest that these deconstructed forms could appear to lack coherence when seen up close and from afar. Therefore, we would ask the local planning authority to assure itself that buildings of this complexity will achieve elegance in form and expression to ensure they make a positive contribution to the skyline. Notwithstanding, the drive to give the towers an identity that is distinct from the lower blocks through the choice of materials and by ensuring they achieve a visible connection with the ground is supported. We welcome the decision to pursue a mainly solid, metallic expression for the buildings in favour of glass but the cladding type and finish will need to be closely conditioned to avoid it appearing skin deep.
We welcome the design team’s careful consideration of the residential environment of this scheme. There are strong ideas, both in terms of the planning of the buildings themselves and the shared amenity at podium level. We note the generosity in the planning of the tall buildings, which includes a number of triple aspect units. We think there is scope to revisit the planning of the lower blocks to increase the number of dual aspect units provided. This would be particularly beneficial for Building K, which includes a disappointing number of single aspect north-facing units. Similarly, we think those units at the corners in the shadows of the tall buildings could suffer from a reduced access to sunlight. The local authority should also assure itself that those units with balconies in close proximity to the lift/stair cores are not compromised by overlooking.
We welcome the variety of spaces proposed for residents at podium level. The treatment of this element of the scheme will, in large part, determine the quality of life for residents. The efforts to provide a space that feels enclosed yet allows views out to the neighbourhood are supported, although the designs should anticipate that developments on neighbouring sites may block views to the River. Similarly, the local authority should carefully consider how shadow/sun paths and potential downdraughts produced by the scheme’s taller buildings will affect the quality and use of some of the spaces proposed. For example, while we would support the idea of kitchen gardens, the area designated for them may be better used in different ways. The notion of a hidden forest at the centre of the space is intriguing but we would question how useful this would be to residents who may favour a more open, informal shared space. Similarly, we would question the logic of a part-covered theatre space, which would seem to be a very public use in a very private place. Its use could also be compromised by the noise from passing trains.
CABE/EH Guidance on Tall Buildings advises that tall buildings ‘should set exemplary standards in design because of their high profile and local impact’. We would ask the local authority to consider this in judging the targets set by the planning submission. We also think the applicants should be aspiring to achieve higher BREEAM rating than ‘very good’ for the retail component of the scheme.