On 16th of November 2022 Kingston Society hosted a presentation and discussion about the progress of the emerging new Local Plan. Officers from the planning department: Tava Walton – Head of Place Making, Emma Crowe – Communication and Engagement Lead, and Hannah Harris- Local Plan Lead – explained that a two pronged consultation will commence on 28th November:

It has been 10 years since the last statutory plan was produced for the Borough as a whole and as long as 14 years since the last statutory plan was produced for Kingston Town Centre. That’s a long time and not having a recent statutory plan in place leaves the Council in a weak position when developers come forward with proposals which it may want to resist but is relying on out of date planning policies to do so.

The first consultation in relation to this new plan took place just over a year ago when the Council published its Shaping the Future paper together with a site assessments document. Once published this borough wide Local Plan will replace the 2012 Core Strategy and and a new Kingston Town Centre Action Plan which will replace the 2008 version.

The Local Plan is now in final draft phase and will be ready in time for the public consultation on 28th November which as well as on-line participation will be available at trial Urban Room in the Market House (The Urban Room – a space for conversation is a joint venture between Kingston Society, the North Kingston Forum and Chessington District Residents’ Association, Kingston University students and RBK. Pilot scheme will run early next year and we hope the results of the pilot will help develop the future Urban Room for Kingston )

The presentation was, in the officer’s words, a ‘Sneak peak’ aiming to present the visioning and broad objectives of the Plan and an outline of the timings of the consultation rather than a detailed explanation. (The draft plan is here)

The first phase of early engagement took place from 1 May to 31 July 2019 to seek the views of Kingston’s varied communities and stakeholders about the future of the borough and what the local plan should contain and over 1,500 responses were received. And a further phase of engagement took place from 29 June to 30 September 2021 . Three Citizens’ Panels comprising 40 ‘demographically representative’ members met earlier in the year to:

  • help create new plan or vision for the future development of the Kingston town centre area
  • respond to feedback from communities received as part of the Local Plan engagement last summer

The Town Centre Action Plan vision is seeking: A prospectus which set future direction, identifies scale of transformation and development pipeline AND brings together the multiple strands of engagement into one clear narrative’

The Kingston Society raised five key areas of concern:

1. In its Shaping the Future paper the Council stated that it intended to promote what it and the Mayor of London calls ‘good growth’. But the Mayor of London’s Plan identifies an undefined Opportunity Area in Kingston where new development is to be focused. Previous documents produced by the Council have suggested that this Opportunity Area would be focused around the Crossrail 2 route and stations within the borough but, as we know, Crossrail 2 is unfunded and unprogrammed and effectively kicked into the long grass. What is the Local Plan therefore going to say about the Opportunity Area and associated housing targets?

2. A comprehensive analysis of heritage and design matters must be an integral part of the Local Plan. In particular the lack of an up to date tall buildings policy or strategy has been pointed out to the Council on a number of occasions as has also, the lack of attention to keeping conservation area studies and the local list of buildings of historic interest up to date. What is the Local Plan going to say about these matters?

3. What is the Local Plan going to say about a strategy for the Council’s green and open spaces? How can the quality of our Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land be improved? How can areas like Seething Wells Filter Beds be restored to their fulfill their status as MOL or Green Belt? How will the Local Plan ensure that the Arcadian River Thames in our borough is protected from inappropriate development?

4. The Creative industries received very little mention in the Shaping the Future document. How are they going to be safeguarded and promoted by the Local Plan?

5. Finally there was a feeling arising from the documents consulted on last year by the Council, particularly the Site Assessments Document, that the Council as local planning authority was a sort of passive conduit for individual landowners and developers with their own individual schemes, including the Council itself as landowner and developer, rather than a confident public authority actively shaping a modern vision for the future of the borough. Hopefully the draft Local Plan will dispel this feeling.

There were plenty of questions from the floor including:

  • How will the Council be taking forward the new National Model Design Codes (Link here) and how they will fit with the Local Plan?
  • How does the Council propose to protect the quality of the River Thames environment from suitable development?
  • How will the Council ensure that appropriate infrastructure such as schools, public transport is provided with any new development?
  • Can Local Plan protect the Seething Wells from further erosion?
  • Why isn’t Tolworth earmarked for regeneration?
  • Why is Chessington not mentioned as a Town Centre?
  • When is the Council going to put the necessary resources behind updating conservation area improvement studies for all its conservation areas and updating its local list of buildings of architectural and historical importance and will the Local Plan give enough emphasis to conservation areas and historic buildings?

Inevitably there were more questions than answers, much more to ask than time allowed and more concerns than were pacified. And early alarms – (this from Alison Fure’s blog) ‘…the only ‘green topped’ policy (above) stated it would preserve the openness of green belt and open land. When I made the point that we were already losing both to Chessington World of Adventures, Kingsmeadow and now Moor Lane playing fields, the retort was ‘this is allowed for schools’. So shouldn’t the policy read that ‘we will preserve the openness of open land until someone wants to build on it?’

The Kingston Society has yet to read the Draft fully. We do however welcome the inclusion of a Tall Buildings Policy, the lack of which has done, and will continue to do so much irreparable harm to Kingston town as the already assented schemes are built . The kind of Supplementary Planning Document such as the Eden Quarter SPD which sign-posted the locations for tall buildings (with no meaningful definition of ‘tall’) but in the end had no power to control tall buildings at all must never be allowed again. The (probable) failure of Cross Rail 2 and the likely impact on the projected population growth (20K in the next 10 years) and the consequent requirement to build 9640 new homes in the same period must be challenged. The bizarre and deeply immoral free market conditions that enable a developer to advertise properties to overseas ‘buy to leave’ landlords must be challenged and prevented. The dark tall buildings at night time in Vauxhall are clear evidence of a failed housing market.

We optimistically welcome the inclusion of the National Model Design Codes into the Local Plan but doubt they will ever be forthcoming, especially unlikely in the current financial state. Again the draft makes great claims for ‘good design’ but like the National Planning Policy Framework fails to define it, except perhaps with sustainability ambitions. We note that unlike the NPPF which mentions beauty as a requirement of good place making our own Plan does not use this word, a great pity, despite the challenge of defining beauty. The implementation of a such a powerful aspiration might lead to a human scale and humane approach to our buildings and the setting of a moral compass that doesn’t only point to the bottom line.

The test for any consultation is whether changes result from consultation. That is to be determined. What is true for now is that this is a very important time for our Borough and we implore you all to ensure you engage with the consultation process for the sake of our future generations.

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Last Updated on December 2, 2022 by Kingston Society