Mary O'Shaughnessy
Planning Officer                           
Planning Department                       
Anchorage House                           
Clove Crescent       
London E14 1BY

mary.o'shaughnessy@towerhamlets.gov.uk
7 Shepton Houses
Welwyn Street
London E2 0JN
020 8981 7361

29 November 2011

Dear Mary

BOW WHARF PA/11/3371 and 3372/MAS

1. INTRODUCTION

The proposed pitched-roof blocks and the proposed pitched-roof terrace are an improvement on previous schemes. However, like the first appealed scheme it is still a "high-density development", which would "change the character of the … site" and would not be "an appropriate solution for this location" (31 May 2005 para. 35).

Whilst the eight-storey block of the second appeal scheme has been reduced to six storeys (five storeys plus attic storey), proposed block B would be higher and more bulky than the adjacent 1901 warehouse. It would, therefore, still "appear intrusive and significantly out of context" (2 November 2010 para. 9).

The 1901 warehouse is one of only a few surviving historic canalside warehouses on the uniqe six-mile waterway ring in Tower Hamlets. It is also the only one of its particular type which may be termed the 'layby warehouse'. It must, therefore, remain as the dominant and best seen building on Bow Wharf.

For the 1901 warehouse to remain as the dominant and best seen on Bow Wharf, proposed blocks C and A would also have to be reduced in height. The height and bulk of proposed block A would dominate the towpath next to the narrow stop lock passage and would also have a negative impact on the open setting of the listed Stop Lock Bridge. Map and other evidence indicates that this particular site was probably occupied by a two-storey stop-lock-keeper's house. Just as the scale of Royal Victor Place "provides enclosure without dominating the towpath or nearby structures" (2 November 2010 para. 5) so also any replacement of the existing warehouse. In this context, proposed block A and the proposed tall three-storey terrace would:

  • dominate the towpath and the nearby structures of the narrow stop lock passage and the listed Stop Lock Bridge
  • "appear intrusive and significantly out of context"
  • "change the character of the ... site"
  • "not be an appropriate solution for this location".

The decisions made by both Inspectors provide a firm benchmark against which all subsequent schemes must be judged, especially in relation to the need to respect:

  • the special character of the locally listed buildings and historic open spaces at Bow Wharf
  • he special character of the canals at the historic canal junction
  • the setting and structure of the listed Stop Lock Bridge

2. BOW WHARF

The second appeal decision states:

"The Bow Wharf site as a whole, of which the appeal site is part, has been carefully developed to retain (its) character" (2 November 2010 para. 4)

Clearly, any further development at Bow Wharf must also be "carefully developed" to retain the special character of this part of the Regents Canal Conservation Area. London-stock-brick walls and pitched roofs, together with a careful avoidance of 'canalside' pastich are steps in the right direction but, in other respects, the submitted scheme for the western part of Bow Wharf would be an overdevelopment in contrast to the "careful" development of the central and eastern parts of Bow Wharf. It would also fail to maintain the "sense of space which has been maintainedby restricting the height of new additions (to) provide a contrast to the converted warehouses" (31 May 2005 para. 33).

3. CANAL JUNCTION

The need to respect the special open character of the canals at the historic canal junction is enshrined in the first appeal decision, which clearly acknowledged the open setting of the listed Stop Lock Bridge (31 May 2005 paras. 27, 31, 34 and 35). The Local Planning Authority has a statutory duty to protect the open setting of the listed bridge. And, as established in a recent appeal decision relating to Bridge Wharf (26 October 2011 paras. 11, 12 and 21), the Local Planning Authority has a statutory duty to protect open space within the 'historic canalscape' of the Regent's Canal Conservation Area.

The central and western parts of Bow Wharf were previously occupied by Victoria Park Wharf. From c. 1878 to c. 1898, this was an open wharf for the delivery, storage and distribution of paving stones, with a layby on the south bank of the Hertford Union Canal and a narrow row of single-storey buildings on the southern boundary (the remnants of which are insultingly referred to as "units" in the design and access statement). The 1901 warehouse was built alongside the layby and the adjacent open spaces were used in conjunction with the warehouse.

It was only in the mid-C20 when Victoria Park Wharf was briefly occupied by the Victoria Veneer Mills that the open space to the east of the warehouse was occupied by a scotch derrick and piles of logs. And the open space to the west was occupied by single-storey sheds. The eastern open space and historic open setting of the locally listed 1901 warehouse has been "carefully developed" with single-storey timber buildings to maintain the sense of space and contrast with the locally-listed 1901 warehouse to the west and the locally-listed 1912 paint factory to the east. The western open space must also be "carefully developed" to maintain the sense of space and respect the historic open setting of the locally-listed 1901 warehouse, and respect the special open character of the canal junction, and the open setting of the listed Stop Lock Bridge.

The western open space was until recently in use as a car park, and has a row of well established trees on its northern boundary with the Hertford Union Canal. This historic open canalside space with its trees is also an essential part of the open setting of the listed Stop Lock Bridge. The setting also includes the extensive turning basin in the Regent's Canal to the west of the bridge and the two historic open canalside spaces on the west bank of the Regent's Canal. The northern of these contains a right-angular layby or small dock with adjacent open spaces, which constituted "an open working area associated with the dock" (26 October 2011 para. 4). The dock and associated open spaces at Bridge Wharf was the subject of a recent appeal decision (26 October 2011), which identified the land and water open space with its overhanging willow trees as "significant conservation interests that are protected by both the policy context … and the statutory duty" (para. 21). The appeal decision also states that:

"The character of the Regent's Canal (Conservation Area) is clearly that of a waterway. Part of its historic interest and present attractiveness is its close relationship to spaces and buildings along the bank" (26 October 2011 para. 11).

Clearly, the Local Planning Authority has relevant policies and a statutory duty to preserve or enhance the historic open canalside space with its row of well-establishe trees at Bow Wharf, in the Regent's Canal Conservation Area.

This open space at Bow Wharf and the two open spaces on the west bank of the Regent's Canal were referred to in the first appeal decision (31 May 2005)


"… the open expanse of Victoria Park Wharf was the predominant feature at the junction echoed by wharves on the west bank of the Grand Union Canal (Regent's Canal)." (para. 33)

Commenting on the open spaces and the long views obtained down the canals from Stop Lock Bridge in para. 34, the appeal decision goes on to state that the views "… contribute to the attractiveness of the surroundings (and) increase the open character of the canalside rather than creating a sense of enclosure and they feature natural vegetation which helps to soften the built form". (para. 34)

The positive contribution of the two wharves on the west bank of the Regent's Canal to the character and appearance of the Regent's Canal CA and their contribution to the green corridor between Mile End Park and Victoria Park is fully described in the character appraisal and management guidelines for the Regent's Canal CA (adopted by Cabinet 4 November 2009):

"Large sections of the canal are bordered by Victoria Park and Mile End Park and in these areas the spaces widen out and the canal is bordered by broad green swathes the character here is different, the parkland adjoing the canal giving it the feeling of a green corridor. This is maintained between the two parks by the two small wooded open spaces at former wharves on the west bank of the Regent's Canal more or less opposite the listed Stop Lock Bridge over the entrance to the Hertford Union Canal" (page 10 of 23).

The historic open canalside space in the western part of Bow Wharf (with its row of well-established trees) is clearly part of the same green corridor between Mile End Park and Victoria Park. This vital green link would be broken at Bow Wharf as proposed block C would block the view of the green corridor from Mile End Park. And the row of trees (alongside the Hertford Union Canal) is shown partly as a hedge and partly as a shortened row of much smaller trees in bird's eye views from the NW, in the design and access statement. This would have a seriously negative impact on the Regent's Canal Conservation Area, and would contravene OBJECTIVE SO12 in the Council's Core Strategy: "This objective seeks to create a high quality sustainable and well connected natural environment of green and blue spaces that are rich in biodiversity".

4. THE SETTING OF THE LISTED STOP LOCK BRIDGE

Reference to the second appeal decision has demonstrated that proposed block A would dominate the towpath next to the narrow stop lock passage and would also have a seriously negative impact on the open setting of the listed bridge. Reference to both the first and second appeal decisions, the recent appeal decision relating to Bridge Wharf, and the character appraisal for the Regent's Canal Conservation Area has demonstrated that proposed blocks B and C would also have a seriously negative impact on the open setting of the listed bridge. Having stated that "… the open expanse of Victoria Park Wharf was the predominant feature at the junction", the second appeal decision states:


"
The listed bridge, the turning basin, the towpath ramps and the narrow stop lock (passage) on the canal are historic features which combine to create a pivotal point in this part of the conservation area and serve as a reminder of the importance of the site in London's canal network" (31 May 2005 para. 35).

Furthermore, the listing description for the listed bridge refers to its open setting. Clearly, the Local Planning Authority has relevant policies and a statutory duty to protect the open setting of the listed Stop Lock Bridge at this pivotal point in what is now part of the Regent's Canal Conservation Area.

5. THE STRUCTURE OF THE LISTED STOP LOCK BRIDGE

The bridge was built about 1830 to take the existing Regent's Canal towpath over the western entrance to the newly-built Hertford Union Canal; and an access road from Old Ford Road to the south side of the Hertford Union Canal. The towpath ramps are faced with stone and rise up to form the western parts of the stone abutments. Whilst the superstructure of the bridge consists of seven segmental cast-iron arches with intervening cast-iron deck plates. It is London's only example of a combined towing and access bridge.

As such, it is the most important of all the bridges over the canals in the Borough's unique six-mile waterway ring. It is, therefore, regrettable that the applicants have chosen not to mention the fact that the listed bridge is subject to a 3 tonne GVW weight restriction. Whilst efforts have been made by the applicants to reduce vehicular use of the bridge, it is seriously misleading on drawings to label it as a "footbridge", when it is clearly intended to be used by a disabled person's vehicle and a transit van. From the vehicle data given in the transport statement, it would seem that the disabled person's vehicle would not exceed the weight limit. But clearly, a 3.5t transit van would.

There is also the strong probability that other vehicles belonging to residents and/or large delivery vehicles would use the bridge. At present, the 1901 warehouse is unoccupied but previous observations indicate that when it is occupied large delivery vehicles in excess of 3 tonnes will use the listed bridge, unless prevented. Furthermore, it is disingenuous to suggest that residents and others making deliveries to their homes are going to park in an already well used car park at the Grove Road end of the wharf, and carry goods to the other end of the wharf - especially when there is direct vehicular access from Old Ford Road to the proposed residential development.

The application is unclear as to whether or not this would be a car-free residential development. Assuming that this would not be the case, then residents' vehicles would almost certianly be parked in the so-called piazza - especially as the Grove Road car park is already well used and would be even more used when the 1901 warehouse is occupied.

In either case, the Grove Road car park would be filled to capacity, and improperly parked vehicles would make it impossible for a fire engine to use the difficult right-angular and narrow 'route' to the fire gates in the corner, which are diagonally opposite the splay entrance on the corner of Grove Road and Wennington Road. The fire gates are now clearly signed and unlocked. But from thereon in to the proposed piazza between proposed blocks C and B, the narrow 'route' includes two right-angled corners (both partly obstructed by fixed tables and chairs) and a covered 'roadway' between a popular restaurant and the currently unoccupied 1901 warehouse, both accessed from the covered 'roadway'.

In 2010, a fire engine from Bethnal Green fire station attended an incident at Bow Wharf and, failing to access the fire gates had to drive round to the Old Ford Road entrance and proceed over the weight-restricted Stop Lock Bridge. In cases of extreme urgency this route will almost certainly be used by fire engines and ambulances needing to access the proposed piazza and the western part of Bow Wharf.

Although dry risers are to be installed in proposed blocks A, B and C, there can be no guarantee that a "7.7m LWB fire tender vehicle" will attend Bow Wharf in an emergency. Larger and heavier fire engines may attend and may even be required. Given the difficulties of access along the 'route' from the Grove Road car park, they would almost certainly have to use the Old Ford Road route over the listed Stop Lock Bridge. The swept path plot for a 7.7m LWB fire tender vehicle shows it manoeuvring in the proposed piazza. Should the fire be at proposed block A or the proposed adjacent terrace houses, the overweight fire tender vehicle would have to cross the listed Stop Lock Bridge.

Given the above concerns, there is clearly a need for further information about the proposed gates at the Old Ford Road entrance, especially as the granite stoneway between the entrance and the bridge is labelled on some drawings as a vehicle and pedestrian link.

Unless ways of avoiding all these potentially adverse impacts on the listed bridge are agreed before this or any other application is determined, the Local Planning Authority would have failed to meet its statutory duty to protect the bridge from damage by overweight vehicles. Should the bridge be damaged in this way, it would have to be strengthened, and, in this regard, the first appeal decision concluded that the risks of damaging the cast-iron components during strengthening works were such "that there is no need to risk damaging the bridge when less intrusive repairs might be possible if the bridge were not required to carry the additional weight".

Given this conclusion by the planning inspector, it would seem that vehicular access must be strictly limited to as few underweight vehicles as possible. And that an alternative fire, ambulance and heavy delivery vehicle route to the western part of Bow Wharf must be secured before this or any other application is determined. Furthermore, such a route must be in place before permitted development works commence. To ensure that plant and materials can access the application site without passing over the listed Stop Lock Bridge.

6. CONCLUSIONS

For all the reasons set out in this letter, the application site (with the exception of the vacant warehouse on the north bank of the Hertford Union Canal) makes a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Regent's Canal Conservation Area.

All the current proposals for residential development at Bow Wharf would overwhelm the locally listed buildings and detract from the character and appearance of the Regent's Canal Conservation Area and the setting of the listed Stop Lock Bridge.

As such, they would fail to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Regent's Canal Conservation area and fail to protect the listed Stop Lock Bridge.

The proposals would, therefore, contravene LBTH policies which seek to ensure that development takes into account and is sensitive to the character of the surrounding area in terms of bulk and scale. And would contravene LBTH policies which seek to ensure the amount of development proposed on a site is acceptable. And would also contravene the purposes of national policy as set out in PPS5. The applications should not be granted planning permission.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Ridge

For and on behalf of EAST END WATERWAY GROUP


Cc: Mark Hutton,
Vicki Lambert,
Andrew Hargreaves, English Heritage