Updated: May 13, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the problems of high density living in tall apartment blocks. During the lockdown many have had to supervise home schooling for their children and have felt the need for more space where children can play safely. A permanent change in working patterns means a lot more people will be working from home. In this environment, it is more appropriate for residents to live in houses on streets, with access to plenty of green space. rather than in cramped tower blocks where there are greater chances a virus will spread more easily. We should remember that the Chief Medical Officer has said that the virus is not going to go away – we must learn to live with it in the future.
In October 2020, the Mayor of London approved the application to redevelop the Homebase site at Manor Road, North Sheen. This application had been refused by Richmond Council on the grounds that this mass of tall buildings, up to 11 storeys, was outside the area zoned by the Council for tall buildings and was totally inappropriate for the surrounding low-rise suburban environment.
In a letter to the Mayor in December 2020, the Secretary of State stated 'I believe boroughs should be empowered to choose where tall buildings are built within their communities', and the new London Plan states 'Tall buildings should only be developed in locations that are identified as suitable in Development Plans'.
Many consider the Homebase development as being overly dense and lacking in adequate green and public space for the number of people and families. It is sited in an area already over the legal limit for air pollution, which the new development and the traffic it generated would only add to. The London Plan emphasises the importance of healthy streets and amenity areas for children and adults. The Mayor's main reason for approving this application was that as negotiated directly by the Mayor's team with the developer it provided the optimum number of residential units. But this is at the expense of a post-Covid environment conducive to people's wellbeing.
We asked our local GLA candidates to outline how they would ensure that people's wellbeing in a post-Covid environment, and the priorities set directly by local boroughs, are not sacrificed in future planning decisions by the London Mayor.
Nicholas Rogers told us we have long known that tower blocks are harmful to physical and mental health and that there should be a moratorium on high-rise tower blocks in outer London, supporting the Conservative mayoral manifesto. Also, that residents' priorities should be listened to at the very beginning of the planning process.
LibDem candidate and Richmond Council leader Gareth Roberts stated that there is a growing population in the capital and people do require housing, and “If you can't build outwards you need to go up to a certain extent”, adding that developments must bring the community with them.
Green candidate Andree Frieze believes the way the Assembly is set up means challenging these decisions is an uphill struggle. She said if the Greens had more power they would set up a People's Land Commission to talk to communities about what land is available and what can be done with it.
Candice Atterton, Labour, says she hopes wellbeing will be key to government and GLA policies post pandemic. She agrees it is difficult for councils and the GLA to challenge unpopular developments as planning law is set nationally, adding that if City Hall were itself a developer it could be a lot more responsive to community needs.