This scheme is a missed opportunity

Architect Jonathan Crossley shares his critique of a 300-home development now granted planning permission

It is natural for developers – whose central objective is to maximise profits – to want to maximise development.

This also has to be balanced against a political will of government to increase housing supply. Targets are set with local authorities that put them under considerable pressure to look for places where additional housing can be built.

The site at 97 Lea Bridge Road, granted planning permission by Waltham Forest Council last month, sits at a principal location on the edge of the Lea Valley. It is currently home to some industrial units and shops.

Sites like these undoubtedly play an important part of London’s future growth, and it is not change and redevelopment that is questioned here, but the manner in which it is done; how existing communities have a say in their changing environment, and the general quality and rigour of new interventions.

Three hundred new homes, a tidy part of the local authority’s annual target of new housing, are to be built there. With five-storey buildings in Lea Bridge Road and Burwell Road, and three towers facing the Lea Valley of 14, 16 and 18 storeys, this is a considerable project – the kind that sets an important precedent and moulds aspiration for others.

Council planning officers presented a report to the planning committee recommending approval of the proposals, after they had been the subject of numerous meetings with the planning department over the previous year-anda-half. You could probably build a small house with the money spent on professional fees producing the numerous consultants’ reports required for such an application.

The issues presented to the committee by the public fell into several categories; lack of real consultation and affordable housing, size and scale of the development, and its basis in policy. Its support in policy is very important, and this assessment is the primary role of the planning department.

The proposals for 97 Lea Bridge Road are considerably more than double the guideline density for such a location, and there are many unresolved issues in the design as a result; its out-of-keeping scale, a single refuse collection point, staircases and corridors not naturally lit, and almost a quarter of the flats being single-aspect – many overshadowed by the development itself. There are also windows of habitable rooms six metres apart, or facing on to brick walls. It is not clear if the developer’s brief of 300 homes was ever questioned.

All the more concerning were apparent errors in the report. In this most significant aspect of the argument, the density guidelines were incorrect; a higher range applicable to central London was quoted. Not only this, but the area action plan cited to justify the development is not adopted policy, and the proposals have little relationship to the immediate surroundings – something which is required by core strategy policy and the council’s design charter.

The planning committee listened to comments from concerned local residents, and a ward councillor, about how no real dialogue had been opened up within the consultation process; their principal concerns about scale of the development went ignored.

The summing up of the meeting; an opinion that any development at all would be welcome and would be positive, reveals the inability – or perhaps unwillingness – to make the most of these opportunities.

In an environment where developers are queuing up to build, we should be striving for brilliant buildings and urban spaces that set the standard; that build on what is here already, and not simply obliterate and replace with the banal and generic.