Swains Lane

Dartmouth Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee



Swains Lane Consultation Response

It beggars belief that, having produced a consultation proposal which offered a realistic starting point to a real and potentially purposeful dialogue about the development, the developers have not only reneged on the key elements of the consultation proposal and related promises but have produced an application which is patently unacceptable and inappropriate.

The tone of the application is unconstructively combative, contentious and argumentative often to the point of being infantile.  The pages and pages about the height and appearance of buildings in the three Conservation Areas entirely miss the point.  The site is at the base of a wooded slope where the Fleet once flowed.  The lower slope is the setting for important low rise heritage assets which, with the exception of the listed church spire, nestle within the hillside.  The general context is the relatively late development of what was once the Holly Lodge estate and model farm of Baroness Burdett-Coutts, including the post WW1 ‘homes for heroes garden city’ Brookfield Estate.  The particular context for the development of the immediate area was the conditional release of church land towards the base of the slope.  Protecting the views from the Heath and Highgate Road is absolutely key to the preservation and enhancement of the character of the Conservation Areas affected.  The single story shops, even though sadly neglected and the victims of planning blight, currently play an important role in preserving both the key views and the village like atmosphere.  They sit very comfortably in the leafy semi-rural character of the area.

Our position is, as it always has been, that development on this site should be restricted to two floors but that, if, and only if, a partial third floor is the only way to bring to an end more than a decade of planning blight and to secure the neighbourhood centre’s regeneration, it must be as low as possible, restricted to the eastern end of the development and ought to be a single floor within an actual roof (possibly a setback mansard style roof) in appropriate materials in order to reduce the impact of development.  The dormers/roof windows need to be aligned with those of the rest of the shopping centre.  The design, particularly that of the roof and particularly in relation to the gap between the buildings, should offer as much protection as is practicable both to the views of the slope and to the amenities of the buildings behind.

Although rough sketches with obviously unresolved design issues, still excessively high and not carried through at the eastern end, the importance of the final pre-application consultation proposal was that it included a single story mansard style roof.  We are, though, by no means wedded to the particular design detail offered.

We share the overwhelming popular sentiment in favour of a warm earthy brick finish.  Whatever the finish, it needs to blend into its hillside context and, crucially, one must avoid the sort of eye stopping highly intrusive white(ish) relatively undifferentiated mass of the application proposal.  What is proposed is deeply destructive of the fundamentally important views up the hillside and inimical to the preservation and enhancement of the character of this part of the Conservation Area.  Certainly in the context of this part of our Conservation Area, high quality design requires sensitivity to context, we doubt what is proposed would be acceptable in Belgravia but it certainly isn’t acceptable in Swains Lane.

The basis of our engagement in the pre-application dialogue with the developer about a development in excess of two floors was the claimed shared commitment to the regeneration of this important neighbourhood centre after more than a decade of blight.  There was much talk of affordable shop rents, targeting and attracting the most appropriate tenants, community involvement and even the establishment of a promotional/development trust.  In the event, the application is almost entirely silent on the matter and fails to deliver on this key community benefit claimed for allowing the development.

Although its importance locally is as a community hub, Swains Lane benefits from (and should be able to benefit more from) the increased footfall which results from its role in servicing visitors to the Heath and Highgate Cemetery.  Sadly, it has been diminished by the loss of its public house.  There is an overreaction to debate over the anyway illusory Waitrose and the result has been to introduce an unwelcome inflexibility with regard to the sizes of the proposed shops.

In the absence of (a) any pre-application consultation on the actual application proposals, (b) the required Construction Management Plan and (c) the BIA report with respect to the proposed basement, this application ought not to have emerged from the validation stage.  Certainly, it was premature to commence the formal consultation.  Contrary to what is claimed by the developer, the location and sometimes difficult history of the site, not least the potential pollution risk of the underground tanks, raises some difficult issues and public anxiety about them must addressed before people are asked to take a view on a more serious proposal.  The current application is absurdly dismissive in tone and approach.  It is typical of the application that the flagship promise to re-accommodate the existing tenants of the shops isn’t accompanied by a construction plan which demonstrates that the promise is meaningful and can be delivered without an impossibly long gap in the provision.  The danger posed to the survival of the neighbourhood centre from a prolonged development process is at least as great as that posed by the current planning blight.  There is a real danger that a poorly planned and implemented development will kill off the centre rather than herald a new era for it.

The same thoughtlessness as regards the role of site within a neighbourhood centre is everywhere evident in the application.  To take but one example, it is simplistically argued that because the remaining shops in the blighted area can, it is claimed, be serviced from the highway without excessive disruption, no off-street provision is needed in the future for what it is hoped will be a vibrant heart of this neighbourhood centre and hub.  The reality here is that the developer unreasonably seeks to retain off-street parking in a scheme which ought to be car free apart from parking for disabled residents.

In sum, this is an application for an inappropriate luxury housing development which reluctantly acknowledges a necessity to include shops to gain planning permission rather than an application to redevelop a large part of this key neighbourhood centre which includes a necessary element of housing to ensure viability etc.  There is a world of difference.  In the absence of a promise of a vibrant regenerated shopping/neighbourhood centre, there is absolutely no reason to accept the massive detriment which would inevitably flow from what is proposed.

Finally, confirmation of this is to be found in the failure to include any on site affordable/social housing in the scheme.  A key element of the character of our Conservation Area is its social and tenure mix.  If the case made by the developer for the failure is accepted, no new social/affordable housing would ever again be provided in this area and that is obviously unacceptable.  It is, in any event, absurd to suggest that that it is beyond the wit and capability of this developer to find someone to manage two social lettings or, if needs be, to create a vehicle to do so.  As we repeatedly said during the pre-application dialogue, the only arguable basis for not making onsite provision would be a need to generate money to invest in the neighbourhood centre.

The Advisory Committee strongly objects to this application.  Assuming it isn’t substantially reworked we will submit a fuller illustrated objection once the missing documentation is provided.

Patrick Lefevre


Detail of relationship between application proposal and existing shops

Application proposal v pre-application consultation proposal (our mock-up)

Application proposal looking west past existing shops

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