Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
A controversial developer hoping to reopen an iconic Walthamstow music venue has been given permission to build hundreds of studio flats on the site – despite concerns from councillors.
The Collective, which builds ‘co-living’ developments, plans to open a new music venue on the site of The Standard in Blackhorse Lane, which ran for 25 years and hosted bands such as Kula Shaker and comedians including Harry Enfield and Jack Dee, before closing in 2011.
Previous owners Turkish Food Centre were given permission in 2017 to redevelop the site along with a bar, supermarket and 50 new flats, but this scheme never materialised. Most of the surrounding area has now been redeveloped with hi-rise residential buildings.
Co-living developments, similar to co-working spaces, offer smaller individual flats for single people, with an emphasis on shared space, and were compared at last week’s planning committee meeting to student accommodation.
Councillors heard local business owners praising the nine-storey proposal but questioned whether its 300 flats would be “acceptable as homes”. Labour councillor Marie Pye said: “I’m concerned about the size of these units, there’s potential for this to become a 300-plus house of multiple occupancy (HMO).”
Cllr Pye noted some of the flats would be just 16 square metres in total area, including a kitchenette and bathroom, although the developer said that around 70% would be 18sqm or larger. London Plan policies state single occupancy self-contained dwellings should be at least 37sqm in size, but this rule was deemed by planning officers “not to be applicable in this instance” because shared amenity space would be provided instead.
Regarding the kitchenettes, Cllr Pye added: “There are only 17 kitchens for 300 people, if they are not adequate to cook a meal in, this is substandard accommodation.”
Conservative councillor John Moss agreed, adding: “I don’t think it will be a 300-plus HMO, I think it will be a hostel used by visitors or people who live elsewhere and commute to work.
“I would ask what’s the benefit to our borough? We are getting less than a tenth of the affordable housing that we would have been getting from the previous scheme. I agree with the restoration of the iconic venue that used to be here but that does come with it’s own problems as well.
“I think the venue management plan will be incredibly important. At the moment I’m of the opinion this application is insufficiently detailed for this committee to make a decision.”
Labour councillor Sally Littlejohn also supported the opening of the venue, as well as a cafe, restaurant and bar, but was concerned by the proposed lack of outside space for residents, which would be limited to a roof terrace.
While noting the site is near Walthamstow Wetlands, she said: “This part of the borough is filling up rapidly with new residents. How many people can the wetlands accommodate?”
Councillors were told The Collective “accepted that internal living space of each room is limited but was mostly focusing on the quality of the communal space”. The kitchenettes in each room would have hobs, combi-oven, microwave, cupboard and sink and, overall, there would be “more than two hobs per resident”.
The Collective already has two developments of more than 500 homes elsewhere in London and three more under construction. In response to concerns around the transience of the building’s likely occupants, applicant James Penfold agreed to increase the minimum lease for residents from three months to six months and market the flats to local residents only for six months. He added: “Our residents enjoy coming together and cooking together, it’s a key way of socialising.
“We have delivered a number of these buildings and really believe this is going to be this showcase in terms of design standards.”
Committee chairperson Jenny Gray spoke in support of the development, noting she had seen applications to reopen The Standard “for many years now”. She said: “When we finally gave permission [to the previous owners] years ago, local people were really excited about it.
“You can’t have an iconic music venue without anything to pay for it, it’s obviously not sustainable on it’s own or someone would have reopened it. I know [co-living] is an unusual model but it has worked in other local authorities and it’s probably a similar standard to student accommodation.”
Cllr Gray noted that the development was supported by all three local ward councillors and had not received any objections.
Having won planning permission, construction is expected to start in summer next year, with the building due to open in 2023. The new music venue will have a capacity for up to 350 people and Amy Lamé, London’s ‘Night Czar’, has welcomed its approval. She said: “It’s great news. This major new development celebrates Waltham Forest’s musical heritage by putting culture and music at its heart.
“It will also be a beacon for nurturing the next generation of local creative talent.”