Comments on application to demolish local artists’ studio complex – Vittoria Wharf

CGI of proposed development of Vittoria Wharf, showing Stour Space to the left.

CGI of proposed development of Vittoria Wharf, showing Stour Space to the left.

The Hackney Wick and Fish Island Planning and Development group have the following comments on the application to demolish one of the area’s renowned artist studio complexes. We urge all locals to take a look at the proposals at http://planningforms.newham.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=MOL98CSZ01L00 Be sure to send any comments through to  planningenquiries@londonlegacy.co.uk

See our Comments Below

·DATE: 30/10/2013

·REF: 13/00280/FUM – Vittoria Wharf, Stour Road / Beachy Road, London

Dear Rachel

After a meeting with Mr Tm Gaskell of CMA planning, representing Britzel/Palm Lane Estates in regards to the case study above on the Friday 25th October, the HWFI  planning and development cultural interest group have the following comments on the application.

The HWFI P&D group object to the application on the following basis:

1. Asset of Community Value (ACV) and demolition of existing uses.

Vittoria Wharf has been designated as a community asset of value under the community right to bid part of the Localism act 2011. The designation was accredited in 2013, on the basis that the factory complex contains a critical mass of creative studio space supporting a thriving creative community which makes it a notable site of cultural value to the Fish Island area. Therefore the proposed demolition of units 1, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 21, is in direct conflict with the legislation protecting the community within this building. The application shows no engagement or attempt to address the implications of the will of the existing community to buy the land in order to sustain its creative economy. Whilst it is noted that the asset listing is not explicitly a material consideration to planning Paragraph 2.20 of the DCLG’s non-statutory guidance on ACV’s states that it is open to the local planning authority to decide whether the listing is a material consideration…”. We would also highlight the recent decision by Brent council to refuse permission to demolish Kensal Rise Library (a listed ACV) as it failed to provide mitigation for the loss of the ACV.

2. Provision of commercial / creative space

The proposal includes the removal of approximately 1,800 sqm of studio space, and the construction of 1063 sqm of studio space which signifies a loss in employment space of around 700 sqm. This loss of employment space is counter to AAP policy FI-4.3. The proposal does not appear to be providing any affordable housing, and is neither providing any additional commercial space. The threshold for developers in Tower Hamlets is 9 units, then there is a need for provision of affordable housing.

As mentioned in the above paragraph, there is a shortfall in studio space in the proposals, as well as no proposition on how this commercial creative space will be made to be affordable.

-There is no specification on how the studio space will be managed and by what agency, and there is no  specification as to the set price per sqft of the space, as well as no definition as to what is considered affordable and to whom. We suggest that the applicant address this within the section106 agreement by entering a partnership with a local charitable affordable studio provider.

-The existing collective workspace at Vittoria Wharf is defined as distinctive in many of the references shown in the application, notably, ‘made in hwfi’ the live work collectives by Richard Brown. This a prominent local typology of collectively managed space featuring a range of self built studio space at varying ceiling heights with double and triple height internal spaces catering to the needs of local creative practitioners.

-However, the proposed work space does not appear to relate to this vernacular local typology, by proposing instead, block C, an un-partitioned workspace, at a floor to floor height of 3015mm, leaving most likely a floor to ceiling height of 2850mm, which is notably the same floor to ceiling height shown in the adjacent proposed residential blocks.

-The internal fit out of the workspace is not specified, and gives no indication as to what particular kinds of creative use are envisaged. If the applicant is providing workspace in lieu of affordable housing, should there not be adequate subsidy or design detail to equal that of affordable housing? where lifetime homes, mayors guidelines as well as other guidance is obligatory, should there not be equivalent subsidy and partnerships with other charitable bodies or affordable studio providers? Again, we suggest that some further engagement and rigour could be applied to this aspect of the scheme, either through engagement with the local creative community or within the section 106 agreement.

-The design of the commercial block, (block C) does not in its urban form differentiate from the residential blocks, this is a missed opportunity, as the same homogeneous architectural language used for the residential blocks is wrapped around the commercial block, rendering the whole development as ‘another new build residential scheme’. We suggest that block C which abuts Stour and Beachy Road, be a well considered workspace block which does not register as part of the residential complex, with its Juliet Balconies and its glazing to the floor (which we can only imagine will fill with debris which will be seen from street level.)

-This block is a great opportunity to create subsidised workspace, which is designed specifically as workspace, not simply an empty shell with a faux industrial facade wrapped around it.

The cultural interest group suggest that the applicant should engage with local artists and designers to propose a studio block which really meets the demands of the influx of creative practitioners in the area. This would help to create an urban form which has a real sense of personality and distinction as well internal layouts which are attractive to creative practitioners and are likely to continue the the area’s cultural value.

3. Design

In HW&FI, we have  now seen about 4 or 5 schemes which all use similar stated influences with very similarly dull results.  There is a worry that a whole dull typology of new build around the area is arising using vaguely referenced typologies to produce the same uninspired designs. What does not seem to be understood is that the spirit, or atmosphere, of the area is not engendered by slavish adherence to replicating some spurious brickwork or similar, but surely lays in the invention and energy that these neglected spaces have been reinvented by. It would be very refreshing and something of a relief, to see a scheme that was exuberant, perhaps less than polite, but had a dash of panache and perhaps even risk about it.

The design approach seems  slightly lazy, which has lead to a somewhat second rate dull development, the like of which we do  not encourage. A distinctively creative area, deserves more creative solutions, not simply the tried and tested.

However the detail of this application, or perhaps lack thereof, leaves a rather dull urban form lacking in the architectural sophistication and complexity of the existing buildings on site at present, which are varied forms indicating particular use.

The materiality of the timber cladding is seen in other residential developments in the area and is in all cases wearing very badly, in some case rotting. In this application there seems to be far too much of it and the treatment for it is unspecified, so there is a concern that this building may deteriorate quickly.

4. Massing

We feel that the massing of the scheme is reasonably considered – the canalside elevation notably more lively than the street frontage disappointingly. As stated above the lack of differentiation between the residential and studio accommodation is minimal. Distinction between the two uses in massing either through floor to floor heights or building heights themselves would be beneficial to the scheme. The articulation of use through massing might be best achieved by breaking up the block either through elevational treatment or perhaps even physically. Were this latter strategy taken it could potentially also allow for a degree of vista or even direct permeability to the canal as is desirable under AAP policy FI-6.2

5. Phasing, community mitigation

This is a consideration of policy AAP-FI4.3 in the Tower Hamlets Area Action Plan. Whilst we accept that the site is not huge and perhaps doesn’t lend itself to a phased construction in order to retain ongoing inhabitation of the site we feel that the scheme makes no effort in this regard and alternatives could have been considered. For Example:

  • ·Stour Space is retained as part of the application – the scheme could engage with Stour Space to attempt to relocate work space lost.
  • ·The canal is wide in this location and is regularly used by Canal & River Trust amongst others to store barges – suitable vessels could be used to retain work space throughout the construction period.
  • ·It is understood that the client owns a number of other sites in the immediate area – a valid strategy could involve relocation of affected tenants to one of these nearby sites.

The above points are simply a list of what might be possible, we would expect some consideration of this in the application documentation and presently there is none.

Over all it is a key issue, how the existing community is dealt with and mitigated.

6. The Canal

AAP policy 6.6 seeks provision of active frontages, new canalside access point and facilities. The policy also seeks to improve the transport of freight by water. Whilst the proposal includes residential balconies at ground floor fronting the water it is not proven that this constitutes an active frontage to the same degree as the lively café pontoons fronting Stour Space. Commercial use here is a missed opportunity as the same amenity of view that the residential balconies provide could be provided for at first floor level and above with a much livelier canalscape at ground floor level.

The AAP policy also seeks to improve freight transport by water, we would seek that in the demolition and construction use of the canal is maximised to reduce disruptive construction traffic on what amounts to the cul-de-sac of Fish Island.

7. Stour Space

Whilst the planning group met with CMA planning and discussed the role of Stour Space as part of the overall scheme it is not believed that at any point Stour Space has been directly consulted with. This appears to be a fundamental flaw in the application. Stour Space is a highly regarded local socially minded business and rightly has been mentioned as important in the application documentation. However without including any support from Stour Space or evidence of their involvement the assurances of a beneficial long term affordable lease are moot.

It is also a missed opportunity in the overall arrangement of the proposal to separate the studio provision of the scheme from Stour Space rather than seeking to integrate the studio provision alongside Stour Space. Vittoria Wharf and Stour Space comprise a critical mass of creative space and activity, this scheme dilutes this mass significantly. Whilst the loss of creative space is disappointing, siting the studios in the proposal on the south side of the site is doubly so. Had the studios in the proposal been sited next to Stour Space or even integrated the critical mass could have been maintained to begin to mitigate for the loss of space.

We sincerely hope that the above points are given consideration in the appraisal of this application, and we welcome further engagement from the applicant.

Best Regards

For and on behalf of

The Hackney Wick and Fish Island Planning and Development group

The HWFI Planning and development group is made up of local professionals in the field of art, design and planning and is part of the Hackney Wick CIG.

Richard Brown – info@affordablewick.com

Lee Wilshire – lee@leewilshire.com

HWFI Cultural Interest Group Contcact

William Chamberlain -  info@hackneywick.org

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