The Christmas Forest is back on Lavender Hill… and are expecting record sales this year

After a gloomy year, expectations are that Christmas tree sales will break all records as we all try to make the most of spending even more time at home rather more than we usually would be. Sales have already got off to a brisk start at the Christmas Forest, which has been trading at its regular December spot outside the Church of the Ascension on Lavender Hill for a few days now.

They sell trees of a few different types, with sizes from three feet to twelve (but mainly focussed on the midrange), as well as an assortment of lights and tree accessories. A few smaller trees grown in pots are also available, as well as a delivery option if you don’t want to carry the tree home!

The annual popup business has grown a fair bit over the years from its start at a site in Richmond, and Lavender Hill is now one of ten sites they run across London. They support Tree Aid with a per-sale donation (whose value is unspecified but some suggest around 80p-£1) which plants a tree in the Sahel (south of the Sahara desert) for each sale.  At the time of writing, mentioning the code ‘Festive 10’ should get you a 10% discount on all trees – Monday to Thursday.

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New pub for Clapham Junction: The London and South Western

J D Wetherspoon are taking over the former Revolution (which was previously Yates’) at the junction of Lavender Hill. We understand the new pub will be called the London and South Western, named after the railway of course – and that it is set to open on the 4th December (this Friday).

At this stage it’s not clear whether their existing local pub, the Asparagus (named after the asparagus fields that occupied a lot of northern Battersea before it was industrialised) will continue to trade. The Asparagus still does good trade, but it’s in an unusually down-at-heel location and building for a modern Wetherspoon pub. And it would be unusual – but not unheard of – to have two Wetherspoons pubs on the same street.

It remains to be seen what the carpet will look like, although somewhere out there a new one will have – as is traditional for the chain – be unique and custom made for this branch…

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The final result of the long-running plans for a block of flats on Parma Crescent

We’ve written a few articles about the plans to demolish the (somewhat unusual) small house with a big garden on Parma Crescent, and replace it with a small block of flats. The first time we wrote about it it proved quite a controversial proposal, attracting 44 objections, and not much in the way of supportive comment. This was the first proposal –

At the beginning of July, revised proposals were put out for consultation, where the side of the building closest to Lavender Hill was chopped back somewhat, and the height of the roof reduced (the blue dotted line in the picture below was the shape of the first proposal, and the building shown was the second).

Those plans were also withdrawn at about the time of our second article, and a third set of proposals introduced that made the building smaller again, and made the roof line look a lot more like what was already present on the rest of the houses on the street. These plans were then changed yet again (but only slightly) to remove a sort of roof balcony and lower the height of the top floor. And what we’ve ended up with is this –

It’s still a building with five flats in it (one one-bed, three two-bed, and a three-bed). The generous garden around the current house will still go – but what will be built in its place smaller and less noticeable, and in many ways also a lot more ‘traditional’ in its design.

And on the 25th November, it was granted planning permission. It wasn’t a guaranteed outcome – as the revised plans saw 44 objections! There were also a handful of supportive comments – some of them from neighbours who reckoned that the plans had evolved and improved over the iterations and that the end outcome was actually reasonably workable for the site, although there is also an interesting comment in the report to the planning committee regarding “Some supporting comments from people living serval streets away and from the same address as one of the property developers“! The Battersea Society, who keep a close eye on all matters planning, didn’t support the proposal on the grounds (among others) that it was incompatible with local planning guidance that prevents major developments in residential gardens.

The planning report is a detailed one. The planning team noted many concerns raised, including that the building would run right up to the pavement line. But by and large the final plans were judged to be reasonably compatible with what was acceptable for new developments. They also noted that the precedents set by the existing building just to the north of the site (facing Lavender Hill) – including prominent loft extensions and running up to the pavement, meant it was hard to go against a similar application on the neighbouring plot.

With five decent sized new flats on the horizon, chances are this will be a profitable development – even if it’s a very different one to what was first planned…

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Could this garage become Lavender Hill’s smallest house?

A brand new house is being proposed, at 155c Lavender Hill – behind Froud’s barber shop. And it might be one of the smallest houses in Battersea! The plans are to convert an existing one-car garage on Sugden Road in to a freestanding one-bedroom house, including a compact kitchenette and bathroom – at just 29.2 square metres (315 square feet).

It’s a thoughtful and properly designed plan – there has clearly been an architect involved. The garage door will be replaced with a window, the front wall will be brought slightly closer to the pavement, and a second storey will be built on top to create a bedroom. It’ll even have a small balcony tucked away at the back. When it’s finished it’ll look more like this –

Small houses can have a bit of a tricky time getting planning permission (as they tend to fall below the 37 square metres guideline minimum size for new houses in London), which may explain why different parts of the planning documents take slightly different approaches on whether this is a ‘new house’ (which could presumably be sublet to lodgers, or sold) or a gym / study room / home office / teenagers’ escape area / etc for the flat above Froud’s who will be developing it.

That said, we doubt this proposed development will be controversial – partly as the change is likely to be discreet (it’s still a lot smaller than what was recently built next door), partly as it will slightly improve the street frontage (and remove an awkward indent where the garage door is) – but mostly because the plans have been developed by the owners of the property next door that will be most affected by it.

The biggest arguments with new builds tend to be about parking! By its nature this plan will be a loss of a parking space (in the garage) as well as the addition of one more ‘property’ which – depending how it’s used – may add an extra car to the street. However provided any planning permission also includes provision being made for the dropped pavement in front of the new house to be removed, and a parking space restored where there is currently a space (to allow access to the garage) this is unlikely to add significantly to parking pressure in the area.

This isn’t the first plan for a teeny tiny house on Lavender Hill. There’s a small shop on the corner of Latchmere Road and Lavender Hill, pictured below, which went in for planning a couple of years ago to be converted to a house (with a basement level added rather than a second storey). In the end the planning application to convert it to a house was withdrawn but that property did nonetheless get a proper makeover including having the basement dug out as planned, and it ended up becoming the smartly-fitted-out Mavrichi Hair Boutique.

If you’re interested in the details (or do want to comment on the application), visit wandsworth.gov.uk/planning and search for planning application reference 2020/3797. And as ever, we’ll continue to keep an eye out for any new developments in the Lavender Hill area that look especially interesting.

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The Queens Arms in Battersea is back! A rare reopening of a long-closed neighbourhood pub.

It’s been closed since March 2017, and at some points we wondered if it would ever return – having seen major building works to add flats on the roof, a distinctly architectural new house built in the yard, and a rather messy planning battle about whether it could become a shop or a flat… but the Queens Arms is clearly a survivor – as it’s returned as a pub!

We’ve written a few previous posts on the Queens Arms – see this one back when it was very uncertain whether it would reopen as a pub at all. Back in June things looked more promising – with a new licensing application (as well as a new house appearing in the old yard) – although while there were rumours of a letting, we didn’t really know what was going on either.

The good news is it’s open again – starting with a quiet soft launch to get things up and running smoothly at the beginning of October, which awkwardly was just a few weeks before a new lockdown…

The pub has spent most of the last few years looking more like a builders’ store room than a pub, but has been given a proper cleanup, with the bar back in more or less the same spot as before, new furniture and fittings throughout – now including table football. At the time of writing, there’s a happy hour 6-7, and quiz nights on Mondays with a bottle of wine for the team that’s placed second from last… A few photos from their facebook show the extent of the works needed to get it back in business!

Beers on tap included (at the time of launch) Camden Hells Lager and Pale Ale, Rosie’s Pig Cloudy Cider, Sharp’s Coaster and DoomBar, accompanied by a light menu of hot foods. Despite all the works to the building, the Queens Arms still has a kitchen (albeit not a huge one) so has a hot food on the menu.

The new team have a solid track record – having previously taken over The Woodman between Earlsfield & Wimbledon (below), and given it a very major makeover, and now running a well-rated neighbourhood pub with a strong food offer.

Readers may notice that we don’t have interior photos of our own with the pub actually open for customers, because the launch was so soft that we didn’t spot it before lockdown! But it’s nonetheless great to see the Queens Arms back, and let’s all make sure we give the new landlord and team a warm welcome and lots of support as soon as we get out of the current restrictions.

The Queens Arms, 139 St Philip Street, Battersea SW8 3SS. Their instagram’s here, facebook’s here, the website’s here, and the number’s 020 7525 9050.

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Good news on Asda’s scandalous planning application…

A few weeks ago we reported on proposals by Asda to remove all the trees and plants around their Clapham Junction store, and pave over the green areas with tarmac and a glued gravel finish, seemingly to cut maintenance costs. This horrified many of us – as the last thing the site needs right now, when we’re trying to make our town centres healthier and greener, and coming so soon after work by Wandsworth to create a new planted area on the other side of their car park.

An impressive 98 of you wrote to Wandsworth Council to register objections to the proposals (for which, many thanks!).

The good news is that Asda have clearly realised that they’re not going to get these proposals through – and have submitted updated proposals that keep most of the greenery.

They now plan to keep all the trees in place, as well as the bushes along the Falcon Road part of the site. They still want to remove the bushes and grass in the section facing Lavender Hill, and replace them with chipped bark base and what they describe as “low maintenance ground cover complete with bark mulch” – which is hopefully a code for un-fussy plants.

This is a much better approach – and makes us wonder why Asda ever made such a ridiculous proposal to chop everything down in the first place, it was hardly going to make the store more attractive to shoppers. This just shows that it’s worth objecting to planning applications when they propose to do scandalous things. So we’ll keep these trees, as well as the greenery further along Falcon Lane. At this stage it’s time to say – well done everyone!

We notice that other parts of the proposals (such as painting the white parts of the building dark grey, which don’t actually need planning permission) have already been done.

It’s a shame that Asda have barely engaged (indeed, our partners at Clapham Junction Action Group have been less than impressed by the way Asda have simply not cared about local opinion, with no-one willing to speak about the plans). But these changes show that even if they weren’t interested in speaking to the locals, someone in Asda realised that they needed to change their plans! Maybe Asda were distracted by changes in the business. Asda was, last week, sold to new owners for a shade under £7 billion. It’s no longer controlled by American retail giant WalMart – it’s instead part of EG Group, maybe better known as the entrepreneurial Issa brothers – a duo from Blackburn who turned a humble chain of petrol stations in to a vast business employing 44,000 people, and who were honoured last week with CBEs in the Queen’s birthday honours list. For the sake of the many of our readers who work and shop there, we’re optimistic that the enthusiastic new owners will create a better culture at the organisation.

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Cycle lanes, 20mph, school streets, bollards and planters… what’s going on with Lavender Hill’s traffic?

It’s been a dramatic year in traffic terms! After a deathly calm early on in the lockdown, there’s no doubt that the traffic on Lavender Hill and some of the residential streets has been pretty busy! We’ve also seen a flurry of experiments as we adapt the ways we move to the new reality of a highly contagious global pandemic – and many of our readers are finding it (at best) confusing, or (at worst) a nightmare.

The good news is that a fair bit of what we’re seeing is nothing to do with the coronavirus, or the various traffic changes that have happened as a result – but rather, it’s because Vauxhall bridge is completely closed for works until November, other than to pedestrians & one rather winding and narrow lane for buses. It’s the biggest road through London, and all the diverted traffic is heading across the other bridges – with a strong preference for the Queenstown Road and Chelsea Bridge (as Lambeth bridge is inside the congestion charging zone!), and causing the sort of chaos on our streets that we’re more used to seeing when there are traffic accidents on the Vauxhall gyratory. This will (assuming all goes well with the repair works) end in November, but it’s no fun for residents or traders.

But it’s not just Vauxhall bridge that’s having an impact. Our quick recap of the situation locally –

The speed limit is becoming 20mph across the board. Most of Wandsworth’s roads went to 20 mph some time back, including almost all the side streets to Lavender Hill (hence the profusion of signs on the junctions). Lavender Hill stayed at 30 – despite Wandsworth Road moving down to 20mph. There have subsequently been concerns that the limit would be better if it was consistent, and some felt that 30 was still rather fast for busy shopping and residential street. This week, signs have gone up cutting the speed to 20.

We all know that this won’t suddenly mean that motorcycles drive below the speed limit… but it is expected to slow things down generally. We understand that the effect of this will be monitored, and that once people have had time to get used to the new limits, roads with mean speeds of above 25mph after the signed only limits are introduced are likely to see further traffic calming measures.

Streets in front of our schools are closing at peak times. There’s been an explosion in parents driving their children to schools (notably the older ones, who often go to much more distant schools) – which has not helped the general traffic situation, but which has also caused particular problems outside schools where the combination of socially distanced queuing (designed to let children in to schools in year groups), all mixed up with enormous people carriers struggling to weave down the narrow and child-filled streets, has been causing increasingly dangerous situations.

So these streets are being closed, during school opening and closing times, on an experimental basis. Wandsworth reckon this will cut school-gate congestion and help air quality, as well as gently discouraging parents from driving children short distances. It may also create a calmer environment for schoolchildren and parents. But the major benefit is likely to be to safety – whether by allowing more space for everyone, or reducing the risk of traffic accidents. Here is the scene this morning outside the newly created ‘School street’ zone at the Wix school (with our photo of it in action on the first day above); similar schemes are in place at most schools.

These are officially an experiment, and there are ongoing consultation (links for Wix / Shaftesbury Park) to receive feedback. Chances are this might get pretty fiery (any road closure usually does, even if it’s only for 45-minute periods) – but given the closures still allow drop offs (there’s a loop at either end of this one) we suspect that once people get used to them, these will settle in and be here to stay.

Bus lanes are changing, and cycle lanes are growing. Most bus lanes are now operating full time – with several of the parking spaces that used to be in those bus lanes having been simply eliminated, to speed up buses outside peak hours, and especially to make the bus lanes safer for cyclists. This was really quite controversial at first – although we appreciate that we do now have a pressing need to make it easier and safer to cycle around the Borough and beyond. With social distancing here to stay maybe for a year or two, we need a lot more people to be able to be on bikes, scooters and the like – if London is to survive as a centre of employment. 

The Elspeth Road junction has had a particularly complex time – with the lanes being reorganised, and a segregated cycle lane being built heading westbound. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is the spot where we saw the tragic death of a young cyclist who was seemingly caught by merging traffic, so we can see the merits in ensuring that there is only one clearly defined lane of traffic leaving the junction rather than one and a half. Various other changes include adding new cycle lanes along several stretches, and removing some of the remaining bits of pavement railing that cause crowding at pedestrian crossings at the eastern end of Lavender Hill.

All in all – there’s really quite a lot going on, and that’s before we even discuss the Low Traffic Neighbourhood experiments that have attracted so much attention elsewhere in the Borough, and which seem to have become a pitched battle between pro-and anti-traffic campaigners, with added political tension and accusations on all sides!

Things over this side of the Borough are, fortunately, a bit calmer. Ultimately a lot of this change is inevitable given we’ve seen a marked drop in the capacity of the Northern Line, Clapham Junction’s trains and our bus routes to allow social distancing. Even with a lot of people working from home, or not working at all, many buses are running close to their (new, far lower) maximum capacities – so one way or another we have to find alternative ways for people to get around – whether it be cycling, walking or scooters.

And the first priority has to be safety. We know a lot of us are venturing on to bicycles, scooters and the like, as well as walking and running, for the first time as an alternative to what used to be packed public transport when getting to work, to town centres, or to school. We have to make space for pedestrians, we have to get rid of dangerous pinch points, and we have to prepare for people of all ages and levels of confidence to be trying out new ways to get around.

That’s not to say everything has worked, or indeed will work. We appreciate this is a new situation where things are being done quickly, and the sort of bitter blame games that seem to be erupting in some other parts of London where things haven’t immediately worked perfectly don’t help anyone. It’s maybe not surprising that some of the detail on our streets will need to be improved and refined with time – some of the traffic calming measures have had unintended consequences, and the changes weren’t particularly well publicised before they were introduced, leading to a lot of confusion at first. Things are starting to settle down through and we’ve noticed a lot of traffic counters (picture, right) and we know our local Councillors as well as the Borough’s traffic engineers are keeping a pretty close eye on how this all works. The real test will be when Vauxhall bridge reopens – and we get a chance to compare where we are now, with what it used to be like. But in the meantime keep us posted on your many helpful thoughts & observations, and if you have time, do respond to the consultations on some of these changes – as thoughtful comments and suggestions are always worth sharing.

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Two ‘architectural’ new houses are being built on Wix’s Lane

Last summer we reported on an interesting development being planned for Wixs Lane. It would replace the car park behind Dacres House (a block of flats that faces Cedars Road) with two semi-detached modern houses (one three-bed and one four-bed), and was being taken forward on behalf of the owners of Dacres House.

It struck us as a decent example of a proportionate use of a site – not cramming things in to every possible space, and putting all the parking and servicing in to the ‘underground’ areas to allow as much light and space as possible on the main living floors.  It would create two houses, both with outdoor space, and thoughtfully designed for the location, with brick echoing the Victorian houses to the left but a design that echoes the Cedars Road Estate buildings on the right.  The living room of one house faces south, and the other north, allowing both a good degree of privacy despite the compact urban site.  

Planned view from Wixs Lane (© Add Architects)

And the build now well underway – with a large steel structure being pretty clearly visible from Wixs Lane –

The existing long access ramp that leads from Wixs Lane to the car park will remain in use, as the entrance to the garages and lower floors of the new development – it’s visible in the bottom right hand corner of the artists’ impression below.

Planned aerial view (© Add Architects)

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The Battersea Studios office complex may be growing again

We keep an eye on local office and business space developments (see our previous article on the subject here) – because being able to access reasonably local jobs and employment matter more than ever now, and because the office space we do have is under constant pressure from conversion to housing! Which is why it’s good to see that the owners of the Battersea Studios are exploring whether they can add build a new building, to add space to the existing development.

A bit of context – the Battersea Studios premises have a long and complicated history. It was originally built in the 1970’s as a warehouse for BT – but then turned into the ‘Middle East Broadcasting Centre‘, a film studio that transmitted a free-to-air satellite service to a huge audience across the Middle East and further afield. A company called Helical Bar bought it in 2005 for £8 million (in the face of stiff competition from broadcaster Al Jazeera who also wanted a ready-made London studio), and converted the studios to 56,000 square feet of small workspaces (though kept several small TV studios). The property was a success and they had no trouble at all in attracting tenants – so they built a second building with another 50,000 square feet of office space, before selling the whole property in 2005 for £35 million to the Schroder UK Property Fund.

At the time they sold it, the whole complex generated £1.47 million of rent a year. At an average of £21.50 a square foot this is good quality office space at affordable rates. To put this number in context – more high-profile locations like Victoria can run at £75 for high end space and £60 for more rudimentary offices, and even far-flung spots like Stratford run at £30-45 – so it’s not surprising it is popular! It’s especially targeted at more creative businesses (who don’t mind being next to the railway and one of London’s largest concrete batching plants).

The new proposals are at a very early stage – essentially the owners have approached Wandsworth planners for an early steer (a ‘scoping opinion’) on whether they can reasonably hope to build a new ten storey building – with light industrial uses on the ground floor, and offices above. Broadly adding more of the same, given they have not had any real difficulty letting the space they have.

Despite being a tall building proposal, the nature of what is being built and more importantly where it is being built mean this doesn’t seem an especially controversial idea – it won’t overshadow anyone, and it is buried quite deep in the industrial estate, fairly far from any roads or houses. It would go on a back yard corner that houses a small raised platform with satellite dishes on it (serving the studios in the building). The site is already a designated industrial area in both the Borough strategy and local plan & the London planning frameworks – housing a major concrete batching plant (our photo below).

With office space near where people live still in high demand (despite the near term impacts of the Coronavirus) and the spaces we do have locally always under threat of conversion to flats, going upwards is one of the only ways Wandsworth can provide the space needed to house jobs and employment – and we suspect that if this does proceed to a planning application, despite being twice the height of its immediate neighbours, it will see some support.

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Baguette Deli: A new French cafe on Lavender Hill

London is full of little nationality clusters, and the eastern end of Lavender Hill is very much a French one! It’s been helped by the Wix French and bilingual school (a pioneering initiative that’s been running for over a decade), a pair of French / bilingual nurseries, a bilingual English/French stream at the Shaftesbury Park school, and of course ready access to the Lycee in South Kensington…

What was of course missing was a French cafe – which is why we’re pleased to see newly opened French cafe, the Baguette Deli on Lavender Hill. They specialise in fresh baguette sandwiches made to order in the kitchen at the back, and as you would expect they also offer Croques of all descriptions (Monsieur, madame, nordique, mushroom rarebit, quatre fromages), as well as fresh pressed juices and the usual range of coffees.

There are a few tables inside and out (helped by the pavement here being very wide), all well spaced out – and a small assortment of French treats for sale. All well presented and the owner (who has lived in the neighbourhood for many years) are cheerful and clearly very enthusiastic about this new venture. A welcome new arrival to Lavender Hill and the Baguette Deli looks set to do well.

This is the latest in a string of cafe openings on this part of Lavender Hill – and follows the launch of now-very-successful cafe & bakery SweetSmile, who are now also running a hot food menu and are licensed; 2Love who opened their popular second local branch on the end of the street nearer Clapham Junction, Il Molino, who continue to do a brisk trade in coffees, cakes and salads and deli food, and Sendero, one of the first cafes we ever wrote about who have done so well they have also opened a second local branch – in addition to a well established branch of Caffe Nero and of course Maiolica Cafe on Wandsworth Road who despite now focussing primarily on food, still make a good coffee!

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