We are writing to bring you up to date with what is being proposed for the Sutton Estate, and to urge you to participate in a consultation recently launched by Clarion, the developer, to which the deadline for responding is March 5.
The Sutton Trust was founded in 1900 on the death of the entrepreneur William Sutton, who endowed the vast majority of his fortune to provide "housing for the poor". The Sutton Estate (north west of Chelsea Green) was completed in 1913 to the designs of the distinguished architect, Edward Charles Philip Monson, and was the largest estate built at that date by any of the four main London housing trusts. Despite its neglected condition, it remains one of the finest Edwardian estates in London.
Original Planning Application
Over the last decade the owners of the estate allowed its condition to deteriorate, evicted the tenants from 159 flats and boarded up four of the blocks. In November 2015 the then owner of the estate, Affinity Sutton, submitted a planning application (Cale Street, PP/15/04878) to demolish and rebuild most of the estate, arguing that refurbishment had become uneconomic. They proposed to replace 383 social housing units with 270 social housing units and 96 units for private use. This aroused a storm of opposition and in December 2016 the application was rejected by the Planning Committee on the recommendation of the planning officers owing to (i) the reduction in the amount of new social housing proposed, and (ii) the ugliness of the proposed new buildings. Most regrettably, however, the officers accepted the proposed demolition of the estate - and this was not countermanded by the Planning Committee.
With regard to Conservation Areas, RBK&C's Local Plan states (at 34.3.24): "There have been examples of buildings being allowed to deteriorate, followed by demolition. The Council will take all appropriate measures available to it to ensure that there is no incentive for such action". Unfortunately the estate lies just outside the Chelsea Conservation Area, but it provides vital context to it and we believe that the same principles should apply in any event. The Local Plan acknowledges (at 34.3.20) that development which affects views out of a conservation area "needs to be assessed to ensure that the character and appearance of the area is conserved".
The applicant's proposal contained an artist's impression-cum-photo of the new frontage in Cale Street, in which the ugly new buildings on the left provide a striking contrast to the existing building on the right, which would be allowed to escape demolition (attachment 1).
A letter from the Victorian Society to RBK&C explains why the estate should be preserved (attachment 2).
Appeal to the Planning Inspectorate
In November 2016 Affinity Sutton merged with Circle Housing to form the Clarion Group, which is now England's largest housing association. In June 2017 Clarion appealed to the Planning Inspectorate (PI). On 15 August 2017 we sent the PI a written representation, prepared by Lizzie Neville, our committee member responsible for architecture and design (attachment 3), urging them to refuse the appeal.
Sir Paul Lever, the Brompton and Hans Town ward's representative on the Planning Committee of the Chelsea Society, wrote to the PI as follows:
"This appeal should be rejected. The Sutton Estate is of major social, historical and architectural importance. What Affinity Sutton are proposing is disgraceful. It would involve a massive net loss of social housing, with nearly half the ground space of the estate being converted to private accommodation for the mega rich and /or overseas investors. William Sutton would turn in his grave at the prospect of his philanthropy being cynically negated in this way.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy in the northern part of the borough has highlighted the frustrations felt by local residents when their needs and views are ignored. In the case of the Sutton Estate 80% of respondents to a survey indicated a preference for the refurbishment rather than the demolition of their homes. Affinity Sutton have already deliberately allowed some of the flats on the estate to deteriorate: they are behaving like unscrupulous and rapacious private sector landlords, not as a housing association.
Moreover the architecture of what Affinity Sutton are proposing is mediocre and would do nothing to enhance the surrounding townscape. The existing buildings are distinctive and stylish. They should be retained."
The PI decided that a Public Enquiry should be held to consider the appeal, which is scheduled to start on 9 May 2018.
Revised Proposal from Clarion
In November 2017 Clarion announced that they had worked up a revised proposal, amending the original proposal so as to eliminate 9 new private mews houses and substitute 33 new social housing units. This would bring the total social housing floor space up to the same level as before, but still with a net loss of 70 social housing units. Whilst the revised proposal contains numerous other amendments, the ugly new design would remain unchanged.
At the same time Clarion wrote to the PI to request that the revised scheme be considered as part of the appeal, and that a Pre-Inquiry Meeting be scheduled to decide this. The Council protested strongly that Clarion should submit a new planning application, so as to permit open scrutiny, consultation and comment in the normal way: bypassing this procedure would be undemocratic and on the face of it unlawful and liable to appeal. Noting also that Clarion have now accepted that the original proposal made inadequate provision for social housing, it called on Clarion to withdraw the appeal.
The PI, however, replied (in December) that Clarion's request would be considered at a Pre-Inquiry Meeting on March 19.
The documents relating to the original proposal and the appeal can be read here:
Consultation on the Revised Proposal
On January 18 the Council wrote to the PI saying that Clarion intended to submit "a revised suite of documentation" (it did not say a "new planning application") on February 2, which would permit the Council to launch a consultation on February 12. Strangely, however, no such documentation has appeared on the RBK&C website, so that (at the time of writing) there is nothing on which the Council can consult.
Instead, residents in the MISARA area were surprised to receive, by hand delivery on February 21, an invitation from Clarion to attend "a public consultation event" on February 17 or 19 - a useless invitation. It appears that Clarion has decided to launch its own "consultation" in substitution for the Council's. If you are beginning to smell a large rat, your suspicions will be confirmed by reading its "feedback form" which merely asked respondents whether they do or do not "support the proposals to increase the social rent floorspace" - and who could possibly object? But, quite deliberately, they did not ask people whether they prefer refurbishment to demolition of the estate in accordance with its revised scheme. We are grateful to Gillespie Robertson, chairman of the Dovehouse Street Residents' Association, for allowing us to reproduce his completed feedback form (attachment 4).
We believe that the purpose of Clarion's "consultation" is to be able to tell the Planning Inspectorate at the Pre-Inquiry Meeting that the vast majority of people consulted "support" its revised scheme, and to increase its chances of winning the appeal with the revised scheme substituted for the original.
What you should do now
To prevent the demolition of the estate, we believe the crucial steps will be (i) to persuade the PI to reject the appeal, (ii) to oblige Clarion to submit a planning application for the new scheme, and (iii) for the Planning Committee to refuse it.
It is important that we tell both Clarion and the Planning Inspectorate that (i) providing just one loaded question makes Clarion's consultation valueless, (ii) Clarion should submit a planning application for the revised scheme so as to permit scrutiny, consultation and comment in the normal way, (iii) the ugly design would detract from the existing townscape and the setting of the Chelsea Conservation Area, (iv) the estate should be refurbished as a matter of priority and Clarion should not be using neglect by Affinity Sutton over the years as an excuse to obtain permission to demolish it, (v) the appeal against refusal of the original application should be rejected and (vi) if the Planning Inspector decides to permit consideration of the revised scheme, that should be rejected as well.
One method of doing this is via the "feedback" section on Clarion's website: www.suttonestatechelsea.com. This also gives details of Clarion's proposals. A better method is to send an email to email@example.com, as this can be copied to the two key individuals at the Planning Inspectorate, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, quoting the PI's appeal reference number APP/K5600/W/17/3177810.
Chris Lenon, the chairman of the King's Road Association of Chelsea Residents (KRACR), sent an email to Clarion on February 20 making all the salient points (attachment 5).
To remind, the closing date for the "consultation" is March 5.
Chairman, Milner Street Area Residents' Association