Planning chair breaks deadlock to allow trucks through Swiss Cottage

Developers behind new tower block win permission to drive lorries through residential roads

Friday, 23rd November 2018 — By Richard Osley

Heather Johnson

Labour councillor Heather Johnson

HEAVY construction lorries will be driven close to the Swiss Cottage Open Space and residential streets to reach the site of a new tower block, after a green light from the Town Hall.

Opponents say the area has been doomed to three years of disruption after chairwoman Heather Johnson used her casting vote to break a deadlocked planning committee and allow a controversial building plan for the project to be approved.

As a packed public gallery looked on, councillors had been tied 4 to 4, for and against allowing the trucks to reach the site at 100 Avenue Road through the backstreets: Winchester Road and Eton Avenue.

Residents living nearby had come up with an alternative plan to cordon off part of the Avenue Road, including one of the four entrances to Swiss Cottage underground station, with lorries being exclusively guided through one lane of the A41.

But councillors did not get to vote on the suggestion after Transport for London (TfL) refused to endorse the idea. Its officials told Thursday’s decisive planning meeting that it would cause traffic jams on a key route and lead to disruption to bus and tube users.

The final verdict is the latest blow for opponents of Essential Living’s development: the council rejected the entire project in 2014 after receiving hundreds of objections, only to be overruled two years later by Greg Clark, the then secretary of state for local government – a decision which led to claims that local democracy had been undermined.

With building permission now granted, however, the row has switched to how the current complex of offices, the former home of Hampstead and Highgate Express newspaper, will be bulldozed, how spoil will be removed and how the 25-storey tower will be built.

Some lorries will use Avenue Road – a pit lane will be created – but at least seven a day will come through Winchester Road, and double that number during the initial demolition stage.

Banks-men will guide the trucks past the market, the meeting was told.

Janine Sachs, from Save Our Swiss Cottage, had told the committee: “The people of Camden have been denied an honest, transparent and informed consideration of all relevant factors. The people of this area look to you, our elected representatives, to see our legitimate concerns are never swept away by faceless bureaucrats.”

Ward councillor Leo Cassarani told the meeting that the residents’ alternative proposal was the best option available, as it did not threaten the Open Space.

He said: “Unfortunately TfL did not like this plan, they say that closing one of the four lanes of Avenue Road will impact traffic flow. And yet they were prepared to cause far greater disruption had CS11 gone ahead. TfL also say that temporarily closing one out of the four tube station entrances is impossible and yet this was done for Waterloo station for the Shell Centre development.”

Belsize ward councillor Steve Adams, meanwhile, warned of the likely traffic build-up in his ward as lorries arrive on another major project to re-clad the nearby tower blocks in the wake of the Chalcots fire safety crisis. He said the lives of residents would be “blighted”.

The committee had been told that alternative plans would extend the time it would take to build the development, which will see 184 homes created, a facility to upgrade The Winch community centre and new retail units.

Of those on the committee, Labour councillor Danny Beales, who voted for the plans to go ahead, said none of the options on the table were harmless but that there would be “significant harm” if people had to wait longer to move into the affordable housing part of the scheme.

“We are weighing this against seven extra lorries down a road, or 2 per cent extra traffic,” he said.

Around 30 per cent of the “Theatre Square” development – set to change the Swiss Cottage skyline as one of the tallest residential buildings in the borough – will fall into this bracket, with the rest to be sold on London’s lucrative private market.

Party colleague Councillor Georgie Robertson, who voted against, said she did not see why the residents’ alternative plan had been abandoned as unfeasible.

“I don’t personally feel satisfied that harm has been adequately minimised and I don’t feel satisfied with the reasons given as to why the proposal put forward by residents is not feasible,” she told the meeting.

Other councillors had asked why Camden had not lobbied for more use of the A41, but the council’s own officials said they had agreed with TfL’s view – and lawyers warned the Town Hall could be open to a costly legal challenge if it rejected the plans.

How Essential Living’s tower will look

In the aftermath of the meeting, campaigners said they may be the ones bringing legal proceedings, with a crowd-funding drive to try and cover the costs of a judicial review.

Essential Living’s Richard Evans reminded the committee that the plan had been discussed with Camden’s own civil servants and that planning officials had recommended the arrangements for approval.

He said the company had “provided commitments of minimal possible impact and disturbance”, adding that the plan would be “under constant review” and could be updated if unexpected problems became apparent. The new homes were “much needed”, Mr Evans added.

He said that whether the CS11 superhighway – a proposed cycle route which has been halted so far amid a legal case – went ahead or not “bears no impact on successfully implementing the proposals”.

Gavin McLaughlin, TfL’s principal planner, said: “Shutting lanes, bus stops or public transport station entrances and exits is a last resort.”

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