Blackhorse Lane ‘not suitable’ for planned towers – yet

The future of an immense housing scheme could hang on the council’s embattled draft Local Plan

By Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

A depiction of the planned development in Uplands Business Park (credit: NEAT)

Blackhorse Lane is “not suitable” for the immense towers a developer hopes to build, unless the council can get its embattled Local Plan approved

Housing developer NEAT and the world’s largest investment manager BlackRock hope to build 1,800 new homes in eight towers of up to 38 storeys at Uplands Business Park in the industrial Walthamstow neighbourhood.

However, the Greater London Authority warns the proposals are currently “not compliant” with the Mayor of London’s planning rules because Blackhorse Lane is not identified as “suitable” for tall buildings in the borough’s current Local Plan.

This Local Plan has been out-of-date since 2020 but the next plan, which does identify Blackhorse Lane as “suitable” for tall buildings, is still struggling to win final approval from the government’s planning inspectors.

Last summer, said inspectors refused to approve the council’s latest draft, which set out plans to build 27,000 new homes by 2035, due to “significant concerns” about whether this figure was “justified and deliverable”.

While the council refused to back down over the 27,000 figure, it made changes to the list of sites it deemed suitable for “tall buildings” of ten or more storeys – removing four sites in the north of the borough, one in Wood Street and one in Leytonstone, while adding three sites in Walthamstow and one in Leyton – and will re-consult with residents this spring.

Responding to the outline planning application for Uplands Business Park, the Greater London Authority’s planning team wrote: “The proposed development would be clearly visible in long-range, mid-range and immediate views… and would be a marked change for the site and surrounding areas.

“In short-range views, it is acknowledged that the proposed towers of approximately 37- 38 storeys in height would appear at odds with the surrounding low-rise neighbourhood.

“The positioning of tall buildings of 30+ storeys in the south of the site could have an impact on the neighbouring sites in terms of overshadowing. There is also potential for wind tunnel effect, though this may be mitigated by chamfered edges and landscaping.”

However, the team added that despite the “significant and transformational step-change in scale”, the tall buildings could be acceptable if they have an “exceptional design quality”.

Other concerns raised by the GLA included the planned mix of affordable housing in the proposals. Affordable homes will make up 35% of the overall development but the vast majority will be “intermediate” rather than “low-cost” homes.

Furthermore, the team called for the designs to take an “industry first approach” by increasing the industrial floorspace to at least 33,000sqm.

This may pose a challenge for architects as the current floorspace is only 28,000sqm and 33,000sqm is the maximum area deemed possible in the current proposals.

Space has only been created for new residential buildings by “co-locating” them next to industrial buildings and downgrading the land from strategic industrial land to locally significant industrial land.

Details of the application on the council’s website here.