Conservation and planning issues

Over its hundred year life, the outward appearance of the Toastrack has changed considerably - the disappearance of all the wooden fencing and the old street lights for example. More recent is the wave of off-street parking bays. And now houses are being extended up, down and out at a great rate. Each change is not much in itself (bar a few obvious carbuncles), but taken together and over say 25 years the impact has been huge. Who takes an overview of all this and looks after the heritage of the Toastrack? No one. Who is thinking how the Toastrack will look in another 25 years? No one. Maybe it is time someone did.

Where possible, the Committee has tried to keep away from individual planning applications and conservation matters on several grounds:

  • architectural taste is a subjective matter;
  • the Committee represents all Toastrack residents and should not take sides in planning applications;
  • individuals can express their own views via the Council's planning system;
  • we want people to stay long-term and invest in their houses, which means development and improvements;
  • we all benefit as the area is renewed and spruced up.

But the mood amongst residents seems to be changing and the Association now gets a steady stream of inquiries from residents who believe that not enough is being done to protect the Toastrack's unique Edwardian appearance. The general theme is that we all bought houses here because we like the Toastrack as it is; we should try to keep it the way it is. The difficulty arises when the Association is asked to object to the plans of one of its members

Conservation area

Conservation areas were introduced by the Civic Amenities Act of 1967 to safeguard areas of "special architectural and historic interest". The Wandsworth Common Conservation Area (which includes the Toastrack) was created 1986. The law stipulates that any development should "preserve and enhance" the character of the area. To the layman that is clear enough: buildings should have a close connection with the existing Edwardian architecture and the Act should be enough to protect it from excessively enthusiastic development. But the Council Planning Department put a different interpretation on "preserve and enhance" to the extent that modern and contrasting designs are preferred. Any plan for old-style (ie replica Edwardian) features which blend into the neighbourhood will not be countenanced. No survey of residents has been undertaken but as far as the Committee can establish, virtually no residents want modern, bold and contrasting designs in the area.

During discussions in the Committee, the question arose: how would you view a (theoretical) replacement for the three blocks of flats in Henderson and Baskerville Rds? Would you accept a modern, bold and contrasting design of glass and concrete, or would you want the houses put back to their pre-Luftwaffe (ie pre-16 September 1940) style even though they would (at least at the front) be a fake Edwardian. The Committee was certain that most residents would vote for replica Edwardian houses.

An immediate issue: The old school on Patten Rd

An immediate issue is the planning application to develop the old schoolhouse in the garden of 256 Trinity Rd, essentially in Patten Rd. The Council Planning Department would like to see something bold and exciting built on the site. The residents of Patten Rd (and others in the immediate area) think otherwise. Indeed their first instinct is to return the site to its original state - a garden. Failing that, they want a design that matches all the other houses in the street. The Chairman of the Association wrote to the Council Planning Department on 3 September 2008 objecting to the original ultra-modern plan saying that it made "no concession to the character and features of this uniform street". Apart from looking horrible, the Committee feared that such a modern design would set a precedent for all further developments (eg the blocks of flats should they ever be changed). We sought the help of our Councillors and in the end that modern design was refused by the Council.

The Committee subsequently held meetings with the Patten Rd developers who had no objection either to a new design blending into the neighbouring houses or even to a mirror-replica of the double-fronted house on the opposite side of the street (No 2 Patten Rd) - ie a fake Edwardian house. The developers did warn however that the Planning Department would take a dim view of this and would almost certainly refuse such an application.

Collision course with the Planning Department?

It is clear that an overwhelming majority of residents will support a replica Edwardian house in Patten Rd and the Residents Association will support this if it is a possibility. But it leads to a situation where the residents plus developers want something that the Planning Department will not accept, an unusual line-up. What happens when such a collision happens is for the full Council to decide. We shall see.

But one thing is for sure: the question of conservation will not go away and the Residents Association, if it is to reflect the views of the Toastrack, will have to take a more active role in the future. Sometimes we shall have to object formally, sometimes mild cajoling will do, or maybe just a bit of huffing and puffing. But if everyone knows that everyone else is watching, perhaps all will have greater sympathy for the unique face of our area.