CHESSINGTON DISTRICT RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION
Our Response to Kingston’s Housing Strategy Consultation
We are very grateful to Mr Mike England for visiting our working group and spending so much time discussing the Housing Strategy with us.
As a residents association we will respond to the first six questions in terms of “how important locally are these key elements of the Housing Strategy” from the point of view of the impact upon the community.
We will ask our members to submit their answers to the second set of the six questions, which asks for personal responses, directly to the Housing Department. This is because as an organisation we cannot presume to answer for the personal values and ideas of our members.
Question 1 - How important locally is it “to increase the supply of homes whilst protecting the character of the Borough”.
We think that this is not a valid question to ask residents living south of the A3, in Hook and Chessington. Our belief is that uncontrolled development is making the community unsustainable and is currently destroying what little character is left in this part of the Borough. Our meeting explained to Mike England why we believe there should be a moratorium on house building in the South of the Borough (SOTB) until work can be undertaken to ensure that we have again the prospect of a sustainable community.
A Summary of House Building in Hook and Chessington
The basic structure of the Hook and Chessington suburbs was laid out in the 1930’s. It was an urbanisation influenced by the garden suburb concept with housing built in small groups of streets that enabled communities to quickly develop. Two typical examples are, firstly, the Ransom Estate. This comprises Vallis Way, Somerset Avenue and Selwood Road in Hook. The second example is the Compton Crescent Estate which includes Marsden Road, Wilson Road and Church Rise in Chessington. Both were small groups of streets with limited road access but also footpath access. The individual groupings were each of a unified price bracket with an overall range of prices to suit the purchasing power of a finite group of potential residents. Indeed, the Ransom Estate was sometimes called the policeman’s estate. Interspersed between such small groups of streets were some excellent Council housing built by Surbiton Council. This was typical of the way Chessington and Hook were developed before the war. In genesis it had the potential to quickly become a varied and sustainable community.
Since residential building started again after the war the amount of housing in the SOTB has been increased radically decade after decade. However, the primary objective was to build large numbers of homes and the ideals of the 1930’s were lost. The quality of urban planning and design gave way to the quantity of homes built. The rush to build homes was not matched by the development of the local infrastructure.
The 1950’s saw the infilling of the area between Clayton Road and Mansfield Road with mainly social housing. The 1960’s and 1970’s saw more social housing on the Frimley Road Estate, the building of the private Chantry Estate and the social housing in York Way, Garrison Lane and the entrance to Green Lane. The 1980’s saw the private development of the second half of Gilders Road and the Huntingate Estate. The 1990’s saw the RAF Rehabilitation Centre demolished and the mainly private Mansfield Estate built on the site. This estate has successfully integrated a small amount of social housing. The turn of the century saw the Government offices site demolished and the building of the private Winey Estate. This estate has a limited amount of very badly integrated social housing. Throughout the period a considerable number of smaller developments took place on brownfield sites and backland developments. Until the 1990’s the quality of the construction of post war social housing built in the SOTB was generally poor. The total number of houses built in the SOTB in these years is nearly 4,000.
In recent years we have been inundated with planning applications from developers who want to build in back gardens or demolish houses with gardens on which to build small housing estates. For example there is currently an approved application to demolish two semi detached houses in Somerset Avenue and to build seven houses in their place. There are unfortunately many other examples available.
Our association believes that we should be looking for quality, not quantity in future housing. This begs the question, where is the saturation point? Is there one or are we expected to absorb an ever increasing number of new houses? We know the answer if the developers are left in charge.
The Poor Infrastructure
The problems bought about by the building of large numbers of new homes and flats have been exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure development.
Our three railway stations were built in the 1930’s and were models of their kind. They now offer fewer trains than when the line was first opened. The stations have been allowed to decay into a slum like state. The facilities that they previously offered passengers, such as waiting rooms, have long been closed.
The original road structure has not been developed other than by TfL attempting to make the A243 carry ever more vehicles. This creation of a mini motorway through the centre of the community has had grotesque results. £4.5million was spent on building the Hook Centre which is located on a busy corner with bus stops on both sides of the road. No money was forthcoming for a pedestrian crossing for the centre. Inevitably a pensioner was killed crossing the road. Five years later TfL are still prevaricating about building the crossing. The children of St Philips school, a special needs school located near the A243, petitioned for a pedestrian crossing outside their school. This was refused by TfL who claimed it would inhibit the traffic flow.
As main roads now often cannot cope with the traffic flow our side roads, all residential, have become rat runs with serious negative environmental problems for residents. Car parking for residents is a problem for many throughout the SOTB.
Does the infrastructure have the capacity to keep up with the continuous demand for new housing. For all future developments we think that the water, gas, electricity, highways, police and public transport authorities; all must be on record of agreeing that they can fulfil their function. Ideally we should be able to say that they should face the consequences if they do not perform their duty. However we live in the real world and spend much of our time attempting to get even the basics done.
Our Association does not think that we should build new homes in the South of the Borough until we have improved the infrastructure and the environment for those already living here. We also think that before any further housing is built in the SOTB there has to be a finite environmental impact assessment for each proposed development. This should not be a separate document adhering to a specific remit, so as not to be caught up the fudged planning hearings that are held at present. We think this should be part of the housing strategy.
Conflicting Policies from Council Departments
A further problem that we face is the lack of co-ordination between Council departments, especially social services, education, planning and housing. Each department often has its own agenda which is thrust onto the SOTB, usually at the expense of the residents and the greater community.
There have been many examples. One of the most damaging has been the primary schools fiasco. The Council decided to close the excellent Moor Lane school. It was one of the best built school buildings in the Borough and had extensive play areas and sports fields. The then Head of Education and the Councillor who was the Executive Member for Education both told a disbelieving public meeting that the school was being closed for demographic reasons, pupil numbers were falling and would not recover. This was contrary to RBK’S housing projections, the Mayors London Plan and the then Deputy Prime Ministers regional plan, as well as the amount of local house building and planning applications that residents were aware of. Yet no one from Housing spoke publically to contradict the false statements. When the school was closed it was handed over to Social Services, presumably to take advantage of grants available at that time from central government. One direct result was that the inevitable increase in pupil numbers has caused the outstanding Ellingham School to be doubled in size and rebuilt as a school on a restricted site. Other local schools have been enlarged in unsatisfactory ways. This is a simplification of a very long and complex series of events all of which have had a detrimental effect upon the community.
We would like to mention one other example which directly relates to housing policy. Kingston has a policy, which we support, in mandatory building of social housing in developments of ten houses or more. Yet when the Tolworth Red Lion pub site redevelopment planning application was published, to build over fifty housing units and some shops, the developer claimed that he could not make a satisfactory profit if he had to build the statutory number of social housing units. The Planning department even helped by publishing his financial analysis in the public planning application papers! The developer asked for a substantial reduction in the number of social housing units that had to be built and the request was supported by the planning officers! The D&C Committee gave planning permission! Our association commented that to allow a reduction in social housing units was wrong. We said that if the developers sums did not add up then the proposal should be abandoned. We would have welcomed publicly expressed support from the Housing Department.
Conclusion to Question 1
At our meeting Mike England heard how strongly the members of our working party expressed their opinions about the current amount of development in the SOTB and the social problems that are caused. The working party members are mature and balanced people who have spent many years working for the community in a variety of roles. They include School Governors to resident members of council committee’s, local charity workers and much more. They are experienced, responsible residents. This is what one of them wrote in the preparation of this consultation response.
“At the moment the strategy on what, when and where to build is dictated by the developers which leads to the situation we have in the Leatherhead Road with social housing and a large retail outlet crammed into a small space, with the prospect of more social housing in the offing. On top of this we have Ellingham school double in size to accommodate the consequential increase in demand. This resulted in loss of amenity space at the school and a doubling of the school generated traffic. Nor did the various developers and the Council have a coordinated transport plan, the result is chaos on the A243. For example the central right turn to the supermarket is opposite a bus stop, there was nowhere else to put it! So if a vehicle pulls up alongside a stationary bus nothing moves until one of the obstructions clears a path, so much for traffic flow. This is a typical result of the total lack of interest by TfL and Kingston’s Development & Control committee ignoring the issue and the overall lack of STRATEGIC planning. These issues must be addressed in the new housing plan”.
Question 2 – By 2016 to bring all council homes up to the Decent Homes Standard.
We fully support this initiative. However, we are very concerned about the quality of some social housing being built by organisations that the Housing Department calls ‘partners’ in the Housing Strategy document. The Housing Strategy is concerned about bringing homes up to the Decent Homes Standard. In our opinion it should also be concerned about building new social housing to a decent standard ,that is homes of adequate size and sustainability.
The most notorious example is 44 – 62 Leatherhead Road where eleven properties were demolished to build twenty one, four and five bedroom houses. The houses are too small to give an adequate standard of living to large families. The houses are less than 13 ft wide internally and that living space has to include the stairways. The individual homes have ‘garden spaces’ less than 3 metre square. There are no external play areas for children other than the roadway. Children have been seen playing unsupervised by the A243, including one so young it was wearing nappies. The houses are so narrow that the wheelie bins could not be located in front of the terraced houses. There is one parking space per house, in our opinion in the real world that is inadequate for large families, and we already see overflow parking in adjacent streets. The problems caused by very cramped housing are mentioned in the Housing Strategy document.
Everyone in this community was against the planning application, which the Councillors refused to vote for. One of our local Police Officers said that it was “the social problem of tomorrow”. One of the main problems of this development is that it is designed as an enclosed group of two terraces of houses. There are no links, not even footpaths, to the adjoining residential areas. It is uncomfortable to use the word but this development is a ‘ghetto’ of social housing. We have already said that we would like to have a specific ‘environmental impact assessment’ made of all new planning applications for housing. We believe that it is imperative to make every effort to integrate social housing into the community. We would also like to see a ‘social impact assessment’ made for every planning application for social housing. Only by doing this can the future interests of the residents of social housing be ensured.
This particular ‘partner’ of the Housing Department has subsequently lodged one other planning application to build flats at the end of North Parade. This caused one senior Councillor, a man who spoke carefully and without sensation, to say “we are used to receiving applications to build rabbit hutches from this developer but, in this case, they want to build guinea pig hutches”. Again, there was no public input from the Housing Department into the planning process for either planning application. The specific developer owns other property on the Leatherhead Road and we expect further planning applications to be lodged in the near future. We hope that they will be scrutinised very carefully by everyone concerned.
Question 3 – To provide private home owners with advice and assistance to make the homes energy efficient.
Is this really the job of the Council? Surely this should be left to central government and to private enterprise. As energy prices are becoming ever more astronomical there is every opportunity and every reason for both of those parties to provide this information.
Question 4 - To provide a thriving private rental sector in Kingston.
Is this really the job of the Council? Surely this is a macro economic issue that should be left to central government. It seems to us that the Council already has an important subsidiary role, by which it can influence local low end rental charges, as it is a major renter of such properties in Kingston.
Question 5 – To provide advice to people with housing requirements and to prevent and minimise homelessness.
We think that providing advice may be a job for RBK but the Borough cannot be a universal provider of housing. We acknowledge the excellent work already done by RBK’s Housing Department in this area but think that it is fundamentally a central government responsibility. We also acknowledge that the government shirks this responsibility. The current proposals to alter rent support grants are a central government initiative and should not be allowed to impact upon Kingston.
Question 6 – Through better housing to improve other aspects of the quality of life e.g. health and educational attainment.
We have already commented on this issue in our answers to questions 1 & 2.
Chairman – Colin Punch
Vice Chairman – Jim Taylor
Secretary – Francis Brannan
Treasurer – Colin Hossack
Executive Committee Members:-
Please send all correspondence to the Secretary at 38, Angus Close, Chessington, KT9 2BP – Email –firstname.lastname@example.org
SUPPLEMENTRY INFORMATION AND COMMENTS RECEIVED AFTER THE PUBLICATION OF THE RESPONSE TO THE HOUSING STRATEGY
We have received a number of comments and suggestions for further research. We would also welcome responses from residents which we will post on our website.
Ø In our response we said that approximately 4,000 homes have been built in the South of the Borough since the second world war. This figure is almost certainly an understatement. We are working to calculate a more accurate figure.
Ø Retired Councillor and Vice President for our association Peter Alexander has spoken about the quality of the public housing built by Surbiton Council. A comprehensive note on this topic is being prepared.