• Tolworth high rises put planners under pressure

Members of Kingston’s development control committee have overturned officer recommendations and turned down a 705 home application for a site alongside the A3 at Tolworth.
The move at the committee’s March meeting came despite a pre-decision presentation at the February meeting. And it follows the approval in January of a residential development that will densify the adjacent Tolworth Tower site, creating 308 new homes.
The vote of 7 against, none in favour and one abstention came despite members being told that the scheme for the Toby Jug site was in accordance with local and London plan requirements. Criticism of the scheme, which included residential blocks of up to 18 storeys, included a suggestion that it was an urban solution for a suburban site.
The site was previously fronted by a pub, the Toby Jug, and substantially occupied by government offices, and has spent several years seeking a new use. In 1998, plans for an out of town entertainment and restaurant development were submitted, but never went to committee. Retailer Tesco put forward a supermarket development with 662 apartments in 2006, but this was also withdrawn. A modified retail and housing scheme was also proposed in 2009, while a 2014 application included a hotel, retail, and 269 homes.
The site has been identified as a Housing Opportunity Area, and is also earmarked as a Key Area of Change.
Last autumn, the site was sold by Tesco as part of a package of 14 sites held by its development arm Spenhill, as the supermarket group refocused on its retailing business, and abandoned plans to expand on anything like the scale it previously envisaged. European real estate investment company Meyer Bergman bought the sites in a £250 million package deal. Other sites in the London area include one in Fulham High Street, Hounslow bus garage, a site next to Tesco in Lewisham, the Master Brewer site in Hillingdon and land next to the Tesco Extra in Woolwich.
At Tolworth, the Meyer Bergman strategy has been to continue with the project already being advanced by Tesco. And when the site was sold, councillor David Cunningham, Kingston’s lead member with responsiblity for growth said: “There has been a great deal of speculation in recent weeks about who was purchasing the land and what their intentions are. Meyer Bergman have now made it clear that they intend to pursue the existing planning application for 700 homes. We now look forward to engaging with the new owners to see how appropriate development on this important site can be progressed.”
Not everyone was so positive. Councillor Richard Hudson commented: “To be quite honest the scheme that was being put forward previously was unacceptable. So why with a change of ownership should it suddenly be acceptable? It isn’t.”
At the development committee meeting, a positive report from officers concluded: “The site is located in a sustainable location adjacent to Tolworth District Centre and Tolworth Railway Station and is proposed to be developed at a density in accordance with the London Plan. The indicative plans for layout and heights have been tested against the council’s adopted development plan to ensure that development of this quantum can be developed on the site without having an adverse impact on the character of the area, the amenity of surrounding residents and the highway network and all other material considerations detailed in the report. It is therefore considered that the development proposed complies with the terms of the development plan.”
Despite this, several objectors spoke at the meeting and helped to sway the opinion of committee members against the scheme.
The decision is a contrast to the positive reception given to a nearby scheme, just weeks before In January, developer CNM Estates won permission for a makeover of the Seifert-designed Tolworth Tower in a scheme that includes the construction of four new buildings on the site, ranging in scale from five to 19 storeys. The existing tower will be partly converted to residential use, to create 108 homes and serviced apartments. The new blocks will deliver a further 200 apartments, while the Travelodge hotel and Marks & Spencer food store will remain.
A heated debate over the scheme saw councillor Richard Hudson step down from chairing the January meeting of the development control committee, after starting a campaign against the plans titled “Tolworth deserves better”.
Though the developers argued their scheme viability did not allow them to provide affordable housing on site, a £3 million contribution towards off-site was offered. An overage agreement has also been added, to capture an uplift in values. Kingston’s formal policy on affordable housing is to seek a 50% provision of affordable homes, on site wherever possible.

LPA Perspective: Despite Kingston’s need for homes, and the fact that the Toby Jug site, fallow for a decade, has been zoned for housing, it seems the noise of objectors won the day. However, the new owners of the site, Meyer Bergman, will be looking closely at the recommendation for approval, and at the reasons now given for refusing their application, before deciding whether to amend the design, or go straight to appeal. They bought the land as a development site, and will not be content with sitting a decade on their asset, without it earning them any return.
Kingston needs more housing, and after a decade of moaning, the locals need to understand that times change – and the housing need is more acute than ever. It is no longer the hated Tesco that they are fighting, it is the ability of the borough to meet housing need.

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