The Government’s chief design adviser has warned against the danger of supermarket led developments in town centres. Mixed-use developments involving the building of housing, schools and parks linked to supermarkets are often badly conceived and may not thrive in the long term, said the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) in its report published this week.
While developers are keen to sign up a key anchor tenant such as Tesco, Sainsbury or Homebase to lease their retail and commercial spaces, this may not be what residents or local communities want or need. A formula that works for an out-of-town mall may instead lead to the loss of local shops, character and iconic landmarks to big name chain-stores.
Closer to home, there is the proposed development of Hammersmith Town Hall. The plans submitted earlier this month have a key anchor supermarket tenant in the development, strategically located by a lovely new ‘piazza’. However in order to make the numbers work for the developer, two tower blocks 15 storeys tall will have to be constructed to maximise the number of units of luxury apartments for sale. No affordable housing has been incorporated into the plans.
Not surprisingly local residents and no less than 20 amenity groups (including the Hammersmith Society, Hammersmith Mall and Brackenbury residents associations) are up in arms about this over-development. More details can be viewed on the website Save Our Skyline, with objections ranging from the size and scale of the development being out of character with the area, to the eviction of blind residents from a local housing trust.
The blight on the skyline does not of course only affect Hammersmith residents, but also anyone within sight of the river. Views from the bridges, towpaths and homes south of the river in neighbouring Barnes and Mortlake will be dominated by the development. Worse, it will set a precedent for high-rise development that would, in the words of the protesters, “overwhelm” this part of the borough and the river frontage. This is not Canary Wharf.
As for the proposed 2,000 square metres supermarket, there are already five mid-sized supermarkets within a 500-metre radius of the site and there is no crying need for another outlet. So we come to the real motivation for the redevelopment of the site – which is to construct brand new council offices to replace the admittedly outmoded 1970s offices. Will the planners be in a position of conflict when considering the application which includes the construction of offices for themselves? Besides, how can the Tory-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham Council justify the need for lavish offices in a time of austere cuts whilst at the same time shedding staff in merger talks with neighbouring Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster to create a ‘Super Council’?
Thankfully we have on the horizon the much anticipated Decentralisation and Localism Bill that will give more powers to local communities on planning issues and thus hold the local authority to account. The publication of the bill has been delayed, but in the meanwhile please sign the petition to “Save our Skyline” by visiting www.saveourskyline.co.uk.
The public meeting to address the plans is being hosted by Save Our Skyline (SOS) on Monday, 6 December, 7.00pm at Rivercourt Methodist Church, King St., just west of the Town Hall. All welcome.
Merlene Emerson was the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith in May 2010