Saturday, 21 September 2013

Lea Bridge Old School House: objection to planning application



Below are the grounds for objection included in a response to Hackney Planning to the application (Ref: 2013/2118) submitted for the School House, 146a Lea Bridge Road, E5). Since this was submitted, we've heard that the Clapton Arts Trust was unsuccessful in its heritage funding application. Our view remains that time should be allowed to secure a community-based use of the building. You can find further grounds for objecting on the school house Facebook page. 




1. Insufficient detail in drawings and plans
The listed building application includes insufficient detail to fully understand the current building condition or to assess the potential impact of the proposals.
The drawings and plans are sketchy and do not accurately describe the building. For example, and perhaps most startling, the front elevation shows a rounded, not a pointed Gothic/ Tudor arch. There is a clear need for a full measured survey to be prepared to a proper listed building application standard.
The application should be refused, withdrawn or found invalid in order to correct deficiencies in the drawings and plans.
2. Application boundary
The ‘red line’ application boundary excludes the eastern half of the site and therefore covers only half the listed building curtilage. This also omits the mature plane trees from the application, which have therefore not been taken account of.

Granting consent will result in an inappropriate subdivision of the planning unit into two, which will no longer accord with the listed building’s curtilage, unnecessarily complicating planning and listed building control.

The application should be refused, withdrawn or found invalid in order to correct these deficiencies in the application.

3. Balance of loss of fabric vs. conservation or reinstatement
Proposed plans are a broad-brush set of intentions backed up by general statements of intent. There are no firm details of the extent of sacrifice vs. restoration and preservation of the renaming fabric, or detailed method statements on repairs and restoration. This is probably because parts of the building are now unsafe to access or boarded up (see below).

This creates a ‘suck it and see’ approach; where planning and listed building consent may be granted, but only afterwards (and only if and when the scheme proceeds) will the extent of reinstatement of lost or decayed fabric be determined.

A significant part of the decay is a result of neglect over many years by the current building owners. It is not reasonable for the current state of the building to become the baseline for what can be saved or restored and how much degraded fabric sacrificed. This is contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework, which states that no owner should be permitted to gain such advantage.

Judging the appropriate balance should normally be considered in light of a viability statement. No such statement is submitted; so that it is not at all clear if even this harmful scheme, and this unwelcome proposed use, will be implemented.
The application should be refused, withdrawn or found invalid in order to correct these deficiencies in the application.

4. Change of use
Permission for change of use to residential should be refused for the following reasons:
  • Loss of the proposed social and community use. This change of use is contrary to policy. Such space is precious and rare, in high demand (where it is affordable), and unlikely to be re-provided elsewhere in the area. Lea Bridge is an area deficient in social and community space and many local groups and schools are actively seeking additional space.
  •  Failure to re-provide affordable workspace. The Paradise Park permission was amended to reduce the amount of B1 affordable workspace in order to permit the museum use. The use of the building should automatically revert B1 affordable space, should the Trusts’ proposals fall by the wayside. Policy seeks to protect employment uses and the Paradise Park development re-provided relatively little space in the first place.
  • Harm to the character of the building. The original use is most often the best use and this is most closely reflected in the Trust’s proposals. Squeezing two residential units into this small volume results in a diminution in the character of the property – particularly the horizontal subdivision of the main schoolroom.
This application for change of use should be judged against policy, either on the basis of loss of social and community use and/ or loss of affordable workspace. In either case, policy seeks to resist such loss, and the application should therefore be refused.
5. Museum proposals and the Trust
The Trust and their proposed museum plan has been allowed insufficient time to assemble their proposals and pursue Heritage Lottery Funding. Whilst the 12-month period offered by the developer has expired, in hindsight this was clearly too short and therefore unreasonable.
A further minimum period of at least 12 months should be offered to the Trust, in effect re-setting the clock.

The developer clearly believes the current situation is a ‘tabula rasa’, and an opportunity to bring forward fresh new proposals, unencumbered by previous permissions and undertakings to the Trust and to the Planning Authority.

If the developer chooses to follow this assertive route (and they in turn may be frustrated at lack of progress on the part of others), they should be asked to revert to the previous permission to provide affordable workspace as part and parcel of the consented Paradise Park Scheme.

It should be remembered that the consented scheme (in a protected employment area and a conservation area and the site of a historic dock) contained many compromises in terms of heritage and land use issues that were only accepted on balance and in the light of the other attributes of the scheme, including proposals for either affordable workspace or a museum.

6. Repairs notice
The submitted structural survey is limited by the fact that access to parts of the building is now unsafe. This is clear evidence that the state of the building has deteriorated significantly and that this process may be accelerating. It is clear also that a repairs notice should now be urgently considered, in order to arrest the decay and allow safe access for an accurate assessment of the building’s condition to be carried out.  This should be a pre-requisite for consideration of the current listed building consent application; so that the repairs notice can be considered a positive step towards determining the best scheme for the site, whichever scheme that proves to be.
7. Local Planning Authority handling of the application
It is deeply puzzling that the Local planning Authority (LPA) has allowed this building to pass into this critical state of decay, and chosen to avoid the repairs notice route, until this late stage. This raises questions either of appropriate prioritization, capacity or competence on the part of the LPA. The previous listed building consent was allowed to expire on 25thAugust 2012. The date of the principal deed of the legal agreement was signed 15thMarch 2007; and amended on, or about, March 2010; and the terms in that agreement have been allowed to expire without further action by Hackney.

Correspondence on the Planning Register, dated 23 June 2009, from Giles Underhill of Landgate to LBH Planning states: ‘We also suggest an amendment to clause 4.3.2.1 as we have given our assurance to Councillor Rathbone that we will give him 12 months to secure the necessary funding for the proposed ‘Museum on the River’.
Is well meant, but misguided political interference staying the Authority’s hand? English Heritage should take a very careful look at this case. If the situation does not appear to be in order they should consider recovering and determining the application themselves.

Whatever the reasons for the current situation, and in order to correct the position, a repairs notice should be prepared and issued in draft form to all parties concerned, without waiting for this application to be determined. As noted above, basic repairs and bracing is needed urgently, if only to allow safe access for a proper survey to be undertaken and accurate drawings and plan prepared.

8. Harm to the listed building
The proposed mezzanine will result in harm to the listed building and should not be permitted.

Introduction of a mezzanine floor across most of the school hall represents a substantial, unjustified, and permanent loss of a principal characteristic of the building that points most directly to its former use as a school house/ mission room.

The mezzanine interferes with and blocks views of the characteristic roof trusses.
The mezzanine triggers the need for roof lights on prominent roof slopes visible in street and riverside views. Disruption of the external appearance is unjustified in the same way conservation area policies often oppose roof lights on front roof slopes

A more modest mezzanine would still interfere with main window to the north and the chimney breast to the south and disrupt views of the roof trusses.  It should be opposed in principle.

The detailing of the front window/ door is clumsy and even fails to reflect the characteristic Gothic/ Tudor arched opening mentioned in the listing details.

9. Heritage Appraisal
The applicant’s heritage appraisal is insufficiently rigorous and fails to appreciate the architectural and historic significance of the school/mission hall, which is attributed to the eminent Architect Arthur Ashpitel, Architect of St Barnabus, Homerton (Listed Grade II), whose father constructed Paradise Dock (Arthur Ashpital’s obituary is attached and clearly refers to his involvement with the Schoolhouse at Lea Bridge).

The Schoolhouse itself, detached from a church, is extremely rare. Such schoolhouses have an important place in Hackney’s social and economic history.

10 Deficiencies in the option appraisal in the Design and Access Statement
The applicant’s Design and Access Statement (DAS) fails to examine alternatives, including the proposed museum. Given that the scheme proposes harm to the building, and as a minimum, the DAS should consider alternatives to decking over the hall and which is the most appropriate use for the hall. It does not.

If this is the best possible scheme that is practical, viable and deliverable (and in the end it may prove the best chance of saving the building), then the applicant should demonstrate this by evaluating the other options.

The application should be refused, withdrawn or found invalid because the alternatives have not been properly appraised.

Refusal will allow a proper assessment of the potential futures for the building to be carried out and give all parties the time to devise alternative proposals that can be judged on their merits.

At least four alternatives should be examined:
1. The Trusts proposals for a community museum use, possibly with a riverside extension.
2. A hybrid with a community museum use in the main hall (vested in the Trust), and a cross funding development of the school masters house to the rear for one or more residential units.
3. Reversion to affordable workspace fitted out to shell and core standard for the entire building (arguably the established, lawful use because the museum use did not properly commence).
4. The proposed two residential unit scheme.
In my view, the order in which the options are set out above is also the order of priority the LPA should attach to the options.
11. Matters of detail not addressed by the application
There are a number or related, detailed matters that should be borne in mind:-

Reinstatement of the boundary wall and railings and the Yorkstone paving to the front should be secured (The Yorkstone was funded by Vision Homes through S.106 monies but recently stolen, then temporarily replaced with a macadam surface).

Immediate efforts should be made to secure fallen or perilously loose stonework (octagonal chimney’s etc.). This should be stored safely inside the building.
The building has been repeatedly left open and unsecured (both boundary gates and doors into the building). Flammable materials have been deposited both outside the doors and inside the building. Proper management and safeguarding should be insisted upon – a further reason to follow the repairs notice route.

A hoarding has lined the site for many years, bearing advertising and flags for the development, to the advantage of the developer, and maintained long after works on the main scheme have been completed. The hoarding should be replaced or made good ( or possibly replaced with a fence to make the building visible, the site secure, and to increase surveillance), including for those parts of the site mysteriously excluded from the application boundary.

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