Station Approach, Hoe Street, Walthamstow
A mixed use development including two buildings of 10-13 storeys and 5-9 storeys for 85 apartments, a hotel, retail space, and public realm works. Designed by Rolfe Judd.
4 October 2010
Planning reference: 2010/1047
CABE is pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the planning application for redevelopment of a Network Rail owned site next to Walthamstow Station. We wish to support Waltham Forest Council in demanding a high quality development on this prominent site. We regret to say, we do not think this will be achieved by the current application scheme. Whilst we welcome the mix of development proposed, and think a case could be made for a tall building in this location, we have serious concerns about the overall massing of the scheme, and its low architectural quality. The design team have stated that they see this as a town centre, rather than a suburban site. However, whilst we agree that there is an opportunity for increased development, this should also respond appropriately to the existing context. We understand that construction of this scheme is intended to be complete in time for 2012. This demonstrates the impetus for investment that the London Olympic Games offers Walthamstow. This should give Waltham Forest Council the confidence to demand a higher quality scheme, of more modest proportions, that will set the standard for future developments in the town centre.
Scale and massing
We understand that an Interim Planning Policy Framework exists for this site, which recommends development of between 5 and 7 stories. We support this policy, as a well judged guide to the scale of development appropriate for this site. The location where a hotel is proposed, on Hoe Street, is the one area where we think a taller building could be considered. Elsewhere we think the height of the development should be significantly reduced, to achieve a scale more sympathetic to its context. The stepping form of the slab blocks currently proposed will have a damaging visual impact on Walthamstow town centre. The slab blocks either side of the attractive station building are overbearingly dominant. We also think it is unacceptable for ten floors of balconies to overlook private gardens to the south on Priory Avenue.
The architecture of this scheme attempts to interpret the terraced building forms traditional to Walthamstow, stretched vertically to fit the massive height of the proposed development. We think this is not successful, resulting in an incoherent, inelegant and badly proportioned design. As well as recommending that Waltham Forest demands a reduced scale of development, we also urge the design team to adopt a calmer and simpler architectural approach. We think the brash architecture proposed will cause blight, rather than promoting regeneration. The joint CABE / EH Guidance on Tall Buildings sets out criteria for evaluating tall building proposals. This states that “to be acceptable, any new tall building should …be of first-class design quality in its own right and should enhance the qualities of its immediate location”. We do not think the current planning application meets this test.
In our view, high quality design for this site will only be achieved with a rethink of the client’s brief to reduce the overall amount of development. In particular, we think the number of residential units should be significantly reduced. Waltham Forest should also consider the amount of affordable housing required, in balance with the need to achieve an appropriate scale of development. We also understand that a second phase of development is envisaged at a later date, to the west of the site, currently occupied by car parking. Many of the comments made on the current proposals will be equally relevant to the brief for this later phase.
Improving the public space outside the station is an important aspiration of this development. We support the building uses proposed at the ground floor of the development, which provide an appropriate level of activity, as well as necessary facilities such as cycle storage. However, we think a more ambitious approach could be taken to the design of the new civic space. We would also welcome more information on the public art installation proposed.
Environmental and social sustainability
Given our fundamental concerns about the scale, massing and architectural quality of this scheme, we feel it is not appropriate to comment in detail on its environmental and social sustainability. However, the CABE/EH Guidance on Tall Buildings states that “any tall building proposal must be sustainable in the broadest sense, taking into account its physical, social, economic and environmental impact based on whole life costs and benefits”.
CABE recommends that this planning application is refused, and that a revised scheme is brought forward with a reduced amount of development of higher architectural quality.