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Tesco store, Bromley-by-Bow

Tower Hamlets

A new district centre including a replacement Tesco store, other retail or community uses, a hotel, primary school, 293 new homes, and a new public park and riverside footpath. Designed by Collado Collins.

3 February 2010

Planning reference: PA/09/02574

Tagged with: Primary education | Retail | Design review | Design review panel | Housing | London

We also reviewed this scheme on 7 May 2010.

Summary

In our view, any large and complex superstore-led regeneration project should be genuinely plan-led. We acknowledge the planning and design guidance underpinning this scheme (Land Use and Design Brief). However, the starting point for the project it sets out is driven primarily by the Tesco-led investment opportunity and we are not convinced that this has resulted in a well-considered masterplan for the whole site. We are concerned that making a superstore the anchor of a new district centre cut off from the town centre by a major highway may work against integrating the site with the existing community and regenerating the area.

Notwithstanding this fundamental concern, we applaud the brief for the project, including large- and small-scale retail, residential and hotel, community uses and public space, that proposes the right mixture of uses for successful regeneration project. We also welcome the aspiration to create an exemplar store design. Accepting that the supermarket is driving the redevelopment of the area, we think it is essential that it is based on a convincing masterplan. Regrettably, this scheme lacks a clear masterplan idea informing the location and character of the different elements which, as currently proposed, do not work together to create a convincing new district centre and residential community. The site layout is incoherent and piece-meal, particularly at its edges, and does not successfully resolve the conflict between traffic and the character of the residential streets and public spaces. We support the aspiration to create east-west connections through the site, but further work is needed to integrate the development into the existing town centre and the proposed Three Mills Park. The architectural approach is disjointed and divides the scheme into distinct quarters that conflict with one another. A convincing case has not been made for the tall building, in terms of its location, use or the quality of the architecture. We are therefore unable to support the current hybrid planning application. It is disappointing that CABE was not consulted at an earlier stage when we could have contributed more constructively to the design development process.

Edges

The strongly defined boundary conditions of a major road, railway and river provide the opportunity to create a coherent masterplan, but the proposal for the development at the edges is ill-considered and fragmented. The form and treatment along the edge facing the hostile environment of the A12 is incoherent and weak, comprising a low wall, hotel podium and single storey petrol station. In our view, the new district centre should have a strong visible urban character and presence on this major highway

We are concerned that the footprint of the retail shed has been allowed to infringe on the river frontage blocking the potential for a north south linkage along the river. A smaller store would allow a more positive relationship to its context, not least by releasing valuable park space on the river walk. The frontage to the railway seems to have been forgotten altogether.

Streets and spaces

We are concerned by the impact of the site layout on both the character of the streets and the quality of the living environment. A large proportion of the homes, including the tower, are located directly overlooking heavily trafficked roads or the expansive roofs of the store or retained petrol station; a different location or ways of integrating the petrol station into residential development should be investigated further.

The nature of the new streets was not clear from the material presented, Lea Avenue in particular. It will need to be demonstrated that its intended London street character will not be undermined by its lack of context or the amount of traffic by the supermarket carpark and servicing entrance that terminates it. Based on the orientation of the residential buildings and the arrangement of flats along corridors indicated in the plans presented, we are concerned that quality of some of the homes will be inadequate in terms of access to daylight and views.

The intensity of vehicle movements through the site and the points where this conflicts with pedestrians at different times of day needs to be clearly understood and addressed in the proposals. We are particularly concerned by the conflict between school children and cars and delivery vehicles at the intersection of Lea Avenue and Imperial Street. Although we support the use of the site section to create level access to the carpark, the design of this junction will need to be carefully handled to ensure that Lea Avenue functions primarily as a pleasant pedestrian route to school, rather than as a carpark entrance.

The character of Imperial Street will be defined by the presence of the large footprint store and the degree of permeability and activity along the street frontage. The introduction of small-scale independent retail and community uses fronting the new street and square has the potential to create a high street character. The nature of this street needs to be explored in both day and night time conditions.

Connections

Making safe and attractive pedestrian connections back to the existing town centre will be essential to ensure that it functions as a viable district centre. We would expect more significant improvements to the critical underpass connection than currently proposed, to create a more generous route activated by retail concessions. The all-movements junction will also be essential to integrate this new community with the town centre, and the routes to and from the new grade crossing need further thought.

We question the decision to structure the new district centre around a major boulevard on an axis with Three Mills. The strong axial route it sets up is a rather heavy-handed response to the charming historic asset and ends in an anti-climax without being able to cross over the river from the park. Making connections through the site to Three Mills and the Lea Valley Park beyond will be critical in generating the animation needed to make the park work and should form the brief for its detailed design; the current outline proposals for the park cut across the natural direction of movement from the street. The involvement of a skilled landscape architect will be essential to ensure the park meets its potential to become a valued riverside green space at detailed design stage.

Tall building

We are not convinced by the justification for the tall building that a ‘marker’ is required to locate the new development; based on the masterplan diagram, the key junction within the scheme is at the intersection of Lea and Imperial Avenue. The residential tower is sited where noise, air quality and outlook will be at its worst next to the A12 and we are concerned about the impact of overshadowing on the homes and public space to the northeast. The location of residential entrances will also need careful consideration to ensure that they are overlooked. Based on the current proposition, we think the development would feel more in tune with its river context and the listed buildings without a tall building.

In terms of its architecture, this proposal does not meet the standards of excellent design quality set out in the joint CABE and English Heritage Guidance on tall buildings. The massive black tower is awkward and does not read successfully with the basic and ungainly hotel podium, or relate to the architecture of the mansion blocks.

Built form

In terms of the store design, there is some strength in the idea of a wave-form roof in relation to the open space of the river; it would be valuable for a store of this size to explore the opportunity for a green roof to act as an urban heat sink as well as visually enhancing the building. A section would have been useful to understand exactly how the store shed is integrated into the site.

As an exemplar store for Tesco, there is an opportunity to exceed current regulations and to commit to a high performance passive building. To protect their brand, Tesco will need to retain control of the build and spatial standards when developers take forward the hotel and residential elements. Embedding the standards required in the current hybrid planning application is an opportunity for both client and planning authority to ensure quality is achieved in subsequent phases.

We would expect to see the proposals for the elements currently in outline significantly developed at reserved matters stage and hope that there is scope within the outline consent to allow for higher aspirations for the residential buildings, primary school and park. For example, although we think the proposal to build the school against the end elevation of the store could work in principle, we hope there is scope to respond to the strong roof form of the supermarket when the detail design is developed. How the frontage of the school addresses the street and activates park, particularly out of school hours, will also need to be carefully considered.