A Tale of Two Cities.

03 May 23

I make this comment as a Wandsworth resident first, and a planning consultant second. And I should say that although several of the developers involved in the projects are Iceni clients, we didn’t work on either scheme.


I live just around the corner from Springfield Hospital (Springfield), an NHS Estates site that historically housed a number of mental health facilities in varying stages of architectural quality and age, including some impressive Victorian buildings. The site is at an advanced state of renewal, with developers including Barratt, London Square, City and Country, and Bellway participating. It will deliver a new park, local facilities and services, together with top-notch new medical facilities for Wandsworth, Kingston and Sutton, and is already a favourite place for me and Sparky (the Anderson family dog) to visit.

It happens to have something of a planning history. In fact, quite a feisty one. The Mayor objected to it (whilst serving as Wandsworth and Tooting’s MP), various local councillors queued up to criticise it, locals moaned about it (traffic, too much development, not enough infrastructure etc), and it took NHS Estates years to bring it to its current form. And one of the biggest reasons for this was that the site was allocated as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) in the local plan, notwithstanding that it contained a multitude of buildings and uses. So, it was a bit like the challenge of redeveloping a Green Belt site, albeit in an urban area.

There is another, much more celebrated redevelopment up the road from me, dominated by Battersea Power Station (BPS). The Wandsworth element of Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB) has changed the London skyline, created a vibrant place with a new underground station. Apart from the north London bias of the Northern Line extension (south Londoners know what I’m talking about), I like it a lot.

It also has a complex planning history, albeit dominated by viability issues rather than the principle of redevelopment. It was a site that was almost universally supported for redevelopment.

So, what’s my point? Both of these schemes focus on the major redevelopment of brownfield sites, deliver significant housing-led elements, the repurposing of listed buildings, and have the potential to be places of local interest as well as destinations to visit for a wider populous. A major shopping centre and employment landmark at BPS, state-of-the-art new medical facilities and a new park next to an existing state secondary school (that my daughter attends) at Springfield.

But only one of these is a place a Wandsworth resident has a chance to call home. There are some very expensive flats in some of the converted listed properties, but there are also some excellent new build flats, and crucially, houses – yes, actual houses with gardens! – being built at Springfield that gives the local area a chance to accommodate young families to redress the dwindling intake of the local primary schools (including one where I was a governor for nine years, and witnessed first-hand classes being emptied out as parents fled for more affordable housing outside of London). By any other city, these homes to buy are still eye wateringly pricey, but people do at least have a chance. And there’s a decent provision of affordable accommodation to help create a balanced community.

By contrast, I simply don’t see how anyone can afford to live at BPS or much of the wider VNEB area. Studio flats in BPS cost a cool £1m, and come with a service charge that is as much as many people would pay in rent. There are cheaper places beyond the landmark building, but not hugely so. And it’s all flats. I make no apology for saying that by and large, people with families in this country, including Zone 2 and 3 London, want to live in a house with a garden. They don’t instead live in a flat. They move out.

Springfield might not have happened. There were a lot of politicians and community groups who felt that the site’s MOL status precluded any level of development. I am delighted the objectors didn’t win out. The reality is that you cannot build houses (rare exceptions excluded) on brownfield sites in and around London, as the rabid chase for numbers sacrifices quality for the sake of quantity, despite all of the optics showing that it is houses that we need if we are to maintain sustainable, balanced communities.

I make this comment as a Wandsworth resident first, and a planning consultant second. And I should say that although several of the developers involved in the projects are Iceni clients, we didn’t work on either scheme.

Ian Anderson Chief Executive,Planning