A new ‘Apart Hotel’ on Lavender Hill?

BBC updated proposalPlans have been developed for an 11-room ‘apart hotel’, on part of the Battersea Business Centre.  An apart-hotel, also known as serviced apartments, is something that sits part way between a hotel room and a short term flat rental contract, and is designed for ‘hassle free’ medium-length stays.  The rooms will be set in four groups with their own shared living room areas – all accessed through the back of the IdeaSpace shared workspace on Lavender Hill; the artists’ impression of the development (drawn from the planning application) is shown above.

At the beginning of last year, we reported on a similar proposal, which was later withdrawn – in this case because the developers had a steer from a helpful Council planning officer that the plans were likely to be recommended for refusal – but that if they reworked the proposals to address some of the issues, they would have a better chance.  The new proposal is smaller and lower (a whole storey has been removed from the roof area), it has more windows facing the business centre car park, and has generally been redesigned to look less dominant.

Our diagram below indicates the rough area covered by this proposal, which continues the trend of using the land behind the main buildings on Lavender Hill to build mews-style developments:1st stop.jpgThis will entail some minor changes to the IdeaSpace, as well as the replacement of an old and tired warehouse building that’s currently within Battersea Business Centre (pictured below – it’s unlikely that anyone will really mourn its loss).side view.jpgThese units are designed for short-to-medium term stay, and would be run as part of the existing serviced office facility, sharing a reception / concierge service, and with a priority working area within IdeaSpace for those resident in the apartments.

Usage areas BBC new plansTo show how the new apart hotel will work with the existing IdeaSpace facility, the diagram to the right shows the split of general office space (yellow), area where the apartment residents will have priority (green) and apartment space (blue).

The new building will include a basement, accessed from within the Business Centre, that’s designed to recreate the existing storage warehouse that is being lost in the development.

As we said on the initial proposal last year, this seems a generally sensible development provided the units do remain in use for short-to-medium term let and don’t just get converted to four houses (as the accommodation is built to a high density and isn’t really suitable for long term use).  It will probably also add to the activity in the IdeaSpace shared office, which does drive some trade to the rest of the street; and by including a new basement it doesn’t irrevocably remove business uses from the site. Importantly, it preserves an active and smart frontage to the IdeaSpace Lavender Hill unit, and ti also preserves the current amount of space in the Battersea Business Centre (a protected employment area).

At the time of writing this hasn’t yet gone out to public consultation, though chances it will in the coming days or weeks.  To see the full planning application, visit Wandsworth’s planning website where this proposal is application number 2019/5566.

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Changes to the Lavender Hill / Queenstown Road junction to make it safer

Queenstown Road Lavender Hill junction proposalsFollowing 17 accidents at the junction in three years (nine cycles, five pedestrians and two motorbikes collided with cars!), Lambeth are spending £88,000 on some minor changes to make it safer.

For cycles, this will include realigning the vehicle lanes to make them have a consistent width (to avoid pinch points), creating cycle lanes leading out of the junction as well as in to it, and adding small traffic lights specifically for cyclists along the Cedars Road and Queenstown Road (as surveys have shown this is becoming a busy cycle route, used by over 100 cycles a day during the morning peak). 

For pedestrians, the existing pedestrian crossings (with their notoriously unreliable push buttons) will see an upgrade to have a countdown timer.  The most noticeable change is that the small traffic island on the Queenstown Road side will be removed, to make more space for cycles and cars queuing at the traffic lights (and reduce the tendency for it to be hit by turning vehicles). The pavement outside Sainsbury’s will also be slightly widened – which is helpful to pedestrians, but also to cycles as it removes the obvious danger of a traffic lane that gradually becomes narrower.

IMG_6236 (2)And for drivers, the Queenstown Road approach will be reorganised to have two clear traffic lanes (one just for turning right) as well as a separate cycle lane – rather than the current rather awkward one-and-three-quarters-lanes arrangement.  Notices currently attached to lamp posts near the junction explain that Lambeth are making a legal Order to formally ban cars from parking or waiting in the new cycle areas.  The whole junction will also be resurfaced. 

As part of the works the cycle stop areas will also be reorganised at two other slightly less dangerous junctions further along Wandsworth Road (where it meets Silverthorne Road, and Union Road).  Overall – this is a small but generally sensible improvement.  It would have been good to see something more ambitious (including ‘X’ diagonal pedestrian crossings, and longer cycle lanes between the junctions) – however this is still a step in the right direction.

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A new type of postbox, for parcels, arrives on Lavender Hill

Lavender Hill now has a special postbox for parcels – it’s on Tipthorpe Road about half way along, next to The Crown pub, and right beside an existing letterbox (Google map of the precise location here).  It’s ideal for anyone selling small volumes of goods on ebay or amazon, as well as for the likes of ASOS returns.

The postbox is rather larger than the usual design, and its secure slot can fit parcels up to 44cm x 35cm x 16cm. Standard postage services can take a maximum weight of up to 20Kg, though unless you run a lead weight shipment business you’ll struggle to make a parcel that size weigh that much.

If you’re posting something with a returns label (which will usually have a barcode on it), you can just post it directly – but if you’re creating a new parcel you’ll need to be able to weigh the parcel (which means digging the kitchen scales out, or making an informed guess if you’re brave and / or send a lot of parcels), and then buy a postage label online and print it at home.  Obviously this only works for standard parcels – if you want tracked delivery or other services, you’ll need to be visiting the post office.

The box itself was actually there before, but for business use only (for those with a franking machine who are typically sending out a lot of letters) – we suspect its location was deliberately close to Battersea Business Centre!  The post box still also accepts franked mail, but it’s had a repaint and a general makeover to become a parcel postbox.

It’s good to see Royal Mail trying out something new (there’s another one near Battersea Square) – and with ever more being sent by parcel delivery, we suspect this will be a useful local facility.

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Update: Work to start on new access to Asda

 

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Works are about to start in Lavender Gardens to create a new access path to Asda from the Dorothy Road – straightening the pathway and removing the steps.  We first reported on this small but helpful project back in January last year.

The main benefit is accessibility – although thee is a longer route round the front of the Asda complex, it’s still quite a familiar sight to see prams struggling down these steps, and anyone who struggles with steps has to go the long way round.  Asda certainly won’t be too sad to see the back of the steps, which were initially clad with distinctly slippery terracotta tiles and which have seen about five different attempts to create a properly non-slip surface, with very varying degrees of success, over the years.

This is also helpful for safety, as (coupled with the new street light installed a year or so ago, in what was previously a very badly lit spot) it’ll improve sight lines and visibility.  As part of the works, the benches currently facing Dorothy Road will be relocated inside the park. The two pictures below are the artists’ impression of what the passageway will look like (looking away from Asda, and towards Asda) once works are complete.

 

This small project is being paid for by the Wandsworth Local Fund – money the Council secures from the developers of new flats in the Borough as part of their planning permission, which is used to make improvements to the neighbourhood.

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A tax cut for (some of) Lavender Hill’s shops and restaurants

General_view_of_Lavender_Hill,_BatterseaOne of the bills (planned new laws) announced in the Queen’s Speech today was a plan to give a 50% discount on business rates for all independent shops, pubs restaurants and cafes in England with a ‘rateable value‘ below £51,000. Business rates are essentially Council Tax for local companies; and there have been calls for this to happen for years – as there’s an obvious unfairness in the amount of tax paid by high street shops, compared to online businesses.

Not everyone will benefit – and to understand why, we need to understand “Rateable value“.  This is an estimate of the annual rental value of a commercial property on the open market, and the higher the rateable value, the higher the business rates you have to pay.  The concept is similar to the way houses and flats are put in to bands for council tax (from A, the cheapest, to H, the most expensive), except that the huge range of commercial premises – from tiny kiosks all the way to million-square-foot offices and distribution centres – means that each premises has its own specific valuation rather than being  grouped in to eight rough bands. Some premises may not change hands for years meaning it’s not always clear what the rent would actually be – so these rates are determined once every five years by an independent valuation officer from a government agency, the Valuation Office Agency.

The £51,000 threshold covers roughly 90% of the total properties in England and Wales – and we reckon it will cover many, but not all of the businesses on Lavender Hill.  We have obtained a few rateable values for businesses scattered along Lavender Hill: by and large, the eastern end and the smaller units will benefit, but the premises at th emore expensive end of the street nearer the station, and the larger shops, will not:

  • Newspot food & Wine, a typical smaller premises at 8 Lavender Hill, has a rateable value of £17,000 – so will definitely benefit
  • Khan’s curry house, about half way along the road at 159 Lavender Hill, has a similar value of £19,750
  • The Crown pub, at 102 Lavender Hill, has a rather higher rateable value of £39,000, but will still benefit (and may also see an additional £1000 discount being propsoed for independent pubs)
  • Sugar Cane bar at 247 Lavender Hill – a double width unit in a more excpensive part of Lavender Hill – is valued at £55,000, so will not benefit
  • Jack’s cafe at 252 Lavender Hill is £39,000 so will squeeze through – interestingly its rateable value is the same as the Crown, suggesting the smaller premises size is balanced by being closer to the station
  • The Party store at 268 Lavender Hill, a well placed triple unit, is £140,000 – way above the threshold
  • And Asda, with its vast premises at 204 Lavender Hill, comes in well over £2½ million so is unsurprisingly miles out of scope

IMG_20180319_202547This proposal is not an entirely new thing.  For the last two years, those with a rateable value under £51,000 have been offered a one-third discount on their rates by Wandsworth, thanks to funding from central government.  What the new law proposes is to make this ‘temporary’ discount both bigger and potentially permanent.  This won’t be a miracle answer but there’s no doubt that it should help our local businesses stay in business.

Lower business rates will of course cause headaches elsewhere.  Like Council tax, these rates do pay for local services (albeit those who pay them have long complained that, unlike householders paying Council tax, they don’t even get a rubbish collection thrown in) and this tax cut will create a bit of a hole in Wandsworth’s own accounts (and those of all other local authorities).  Whether that hole is filled by more central government funding, or whether Wandsworth has to find another way to raise money, remains to be seen!

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Clapham Junction’s new Christmas lights – brought to you by our local traders

IMG_20191130_092932198 (2)Clapham Junction’s got its first Christmas tree in a while, thanks to the The Junction BID (that’s Business Improvement District) – an organisation supported and funded entirely by local traders, aiming to improve the overall success of the town centre.  The BID is also behind the update to the Lavender Hill traders’ Christmas lights, one of which is in our photo, as part of a refresh of all the lights in the area (which has freed up some of the older ones to cover the far eastern end of Lavender Hill).  And of course, the new colour-changing LED lighting on the parapet round Debenhams which have been the standout feature (albeit not in our daytime photo above).

The Junction BID is quite new – having only really got going this summer – and its creation took a lot of time and effort (as reported on in detail over the years by the Clapham Junction Action Group).  To get the official go ahead, it had to pass quite tough votes among the people who would, down the line, have to fund its activities. Local traders have to agree that by pooling their individual efforts, there will be an overall benefit to them and the town centre as a whole.  Now that it has launched it represents the combined efforts of well over 400 businesses in St John’s Road, Northcote Rd, St John’s Hill and of course Lavender Hill.

The BID will be able to do things (like the lighting) that local businesses can’t do individually, and that the local government is no loner really funded to provide.  Several of our neighbouring town centres also have BIDs, including Clapham, Putney  Tooting, Wandsworth and (one of the biggest and earliest) Victoria.  This new lighting scheme really builds on the previous Lavender Hill traders’ Christmas lights (which date back quite some years), and are a good sign of what the new BID can deliver.

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New entrance building proposed for Battersea Business centre

BBC new frontThe new four storey building would fill the gap between buildings on Lavender Hill that currently accommodates the entrance and security hut – creating a proper security office, as well as three floors of open plan offices above (242 square metres of space in total).  There’s also a desire to give the centre a smarter and more welcoming entrance and reception more in keeping with a modern workspace, and indeed helping people realise that the Battersea Business Centre actually exists – as it’s hard to argue that the existing entrance leaves quite a lot to be desired.

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The proposed new building (pictured above) adopts an unambiguously modern style, with plenty of windows on the upper two floors – but its height and overall dimensions have been tailored to fit in with the (already rather mismatched) terraces on either side.  There’s a two-storey entrance passageway (big enough to accommodate fire engines and large deliveries), and a new security gate in the passageway.

Floorplan for an upper floor, (c) Granit architects

Floorplan for an upper floor, (c) Granit architects

Overall, improving the entrance seems a sensible plan, and reflects the gradual upgrading of the wider site in recent years.  Battersea Business Centre has a long history – with the buildings previously been an envelope factory and a bus garage, among other things – and currently houses well over 100 small local companies in flexible and realistically priced office & workshop space, including some artist-friendly units where it doesn’t matter if you make a bit of a mess!  It’s an important local employer (and creates some spillover trade for Lavender Hill’s shops and restaurants), and has launched a few firms that have outgrown the premises and struck out on their own.

This proposal will probably be uncontroversial in principle – although the process of actually building it may need careful management.  There are already concerns from some tenants on the site that the process of creating a new building spanning the main site entrance may be quite hard to manage, and that the works could cause disruption.  The design seems to be deliberately lightweight (so not needing much in the way of foundations) but no building process is ever pain-free…  While not strictly a planning issue, we’re also hoping that in creating a smart new reception, they will also address the ongoing headache of cars parked right in front of the current entrance.  The yellow hatched ‘don’t park here’ area is routinely ignored (including in the Google street view photo of the current entrance above), and cars parked across the pavement area force pedestrians in to the main road, and are a particular hazard for anyone in a mobility scooter or with a pram.

If you want to support, object,or make a general comment on these proposals, comments are open until at least the 2nd January 2020 – just enter reference number 2019/5117 in the Wandsworth planning application search portal.

Update, 7th January: This didn’t generate many comments, but thanks to those who did get in touch.  We’ve fed in a planning comment (2 page PDF document), generally welcoming the proposals while stressing the need to (1) ensure that safe access is maintained during the works, which could be done by requiring a careful construction management plan, and (2) when reinstating the adjacent pavement after the works, get rid of the problematic unofficial ‘parking space’ in front of the proposed reception, which is causing ongoing accessibility and pedestrian safety issues on Lavender Hill.

Posted in Business, Planning