EXCLUSIVE: Government calls public inquiry into Vauxhall Island tower blocks application

Housing minister Kit Malthouse has called a public inquiry into the plans for hundreds of flats in the middle of the Vauxhall one-way system, known as Vauxhall Cross.

The hearing will be chaired in the coming months by a government inspector who will report to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with Malthouse making the final decision.

The inquiry will delay by at least six months plans by Transport for London (TfL) to demolish the 13-year-old bus station yards from Vauxhall Bridge and allow Zaha Hadid Architects and owners VCI to build two tower blocks on the site – one 53 floors high and one 42 floors.

The scheme includes a 500-room hotel, 250 flats and shops.

A new Vauxhall bus station would then be constructed on the ground floor and a new public space created between the towers and Vauxhall railway station.

But campaigners claim consultation on the project has not allowed the scheme to be considered as a whole, and that it will cause travel chaos for up to 70,000 commuters a day.

They are also furious TfL will not do an environmental impact assessment done even though residential roads and three primary schools will be affected.

Residents Helen Irwin and Pauline Gaunt in March wrote to the Department of Communities and Local Government on behalf of the Vauxhall Society, residents and the Save Vauxhall Bus Station campaign asking for the plan to be “called in” by the minister. They said: “This is unforgiveable in one of London’s most notorious pollution black spots.

“These schemes are inextricably interdependent, but TfL have manipulated the planning rules to isolate the elements of the plans, so preventing any consideration of their overall effect on transport issues or the wider needs and health of the population.

“Consultation has been flawed. Information has not been made available to those it affects, and fundamental changes, such as the massive land swap deal to hand over half of the bus station to developers, have been completed behind closed doors and without public discussion.

“It is not necessary to waste £50million pounds of precious taxpayers’ money on this project.

“The decision on the bus station has been made without reference to the plans for a huge development on the adjacent island site also within the gyratory and without consideration of its implications for traffic flows across London.

“TfL has rejected, without modelling it, a well-researched scheme by traffic experts and local residents for a lesspolluted and more efficient two way scheme, which would not require demolition.

“This is a prime example of how the process can be manipulated to fail the people it is set up to protect.

“Questionnaires to the public have been carefully phrased to prompt the required answers and access to information has been withheld from the majority of Vauxhall’s users. Only Oyster card holders and those living in the immediate vicinity were contacted.

“Freedom Pass Holders were excluded, plus child bus pass holders and anyone who didn’t travel through Vauxhall on a daily basis – including the hundreds of people who disembark at Vauxhall en route to St Thomas’ Hospital.”

The campaigners are also worried about access to the new buildings.

Their letter said: “A single vehicular access point off the gyratory in Wandsworth Road to the proposed 500-room hotel, 250 flats and commercial premises is insufficient for the high number of service and other vehicles which may be expected each day. It will result in major tailbacks and will unacceptably reduce traffic speeds, and increase pollution.

“The scheme is an attempt to placate the outcry which greeted a plan floated four years ago.

They add: “Lambeth/TfL have come up with the current £50million plans for a much reduced and inferior bus station with reduced weather cover, still situated within a gyratory, but a two-way one, no significant reduction in pollution levels, increased crossing times for pedestrians at the most polluted points, and bus stops being moved from the safety of the current bus station to roadside positions adjacent to the proposed island site development, which do not comply with Government guidelines on antiterrorism measures. “The full impact of this scheme will be felt from Marble Arch to Camberwell, Wandsworth to the Elephant and Castle. Any failure within any of its component parts quickly reverberates out across central London with disastrous consequences.

“The plans will negatively affect traffic flow and the travelling population for decades. TfL should not now be allowed to reduce travel facilities in order to prioritise the wishes of London Borough of Lambeth as defined in the Lambeth Plan, over their primary duty to the wider needs of the transport system and travelling public.”

Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey wrote to Communities Secretary James Brokenshire in January to say: “Planned servicing of the site will be inadequate. Delivery times needed for the huge complex will make traffic congestion inevitable.

“The development is much too big for the site. It will overshadow the area and lead to more wind and glare.

“Lambeth should have considered other buildings including other huge hotels as well as flats and commercial premises and whether another huge development is viable. If not, assumptions about social housing may be unrealistic.

“The development will endanger bus passengers, particularly those with luggage, disabled, those with buggies and those in a hurry. Lambeth has put property before people.

“Air pollution already reaches illegal levels there. Increased congestion will make this worse.”

Seven main roads meet at Vauxhall Cross which is one of South London’s biggest public transport interchanges for buses, Tubes and Overground rail services serving a catchment area across the south-east of England.

TfL estimate that the daily footfall at Vauxhall will shortly increase from 45,000 to 70,000 as families move into the 20,000 flats being built in Nine Elms.

A TFL spokeswoman said in March: “We are working closely with Lambeth council to reintroduce the safer twoway road system in place of the one way system at Vauxhall, which was supported in public consultation. “The current bus station was created for the one-way road system so needs to be completely redesigned to allow buses to operate.

“These changes will enable us to create not only safer roads, but also new public spaces and improved cycle lanes and pedestrian facilities and more efficient bus routes.”

A Lambeth Council spokesman said: “This is a key strategic site in the reshaping of Vauxhall as a safer, cleaner, more enjoyable place for people to live, work in and visit.

“The application, which passed through a rigorous planning process as well as extensive pre-application discussions, is crucial in delivering a new town centre for Vauxhall, including a much safer two-way road layout to replace the existing gyratory, thousands of new jobs and homes and tens of millions of pounds to deliver affordable homes in Lambeth.

“The delay, and potential disruption to this project, will have a hugely detrimental effect on the local economy, and puts at risk essential new affordable housing, not to mention jeopardising the delivery of a healthier, more accessible vision for Vauxhall, which has been a long standing ambition of both local residents and ward councillors.”

The office blocks and hotel on Vauxhall Cross Island – designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, creators of the London Aquatics Centre and the maths centre at the Science Museum – will be connected by a podium which is itself 10 storeys high.

The £600million complex is expected to make £47million for the developers, according to their own viability study, with the work being engineered by Buro Happold.

The scheme includes:
* A new 500+ room hotel
* Up to 260 new homes, with private homes and 19 per cent affordable housing
* About 220,000 sq ft of office accommodation
* About 7,000 sq ft of shopping/dining at street level.
The developers estimate that 1,450 office jobs would be created, up to 500 hotel jobs and 50 jobs from retail and building management.

The project is being managed by Great Marlborough Estates (GME), which said its plans would provide “improved pedestrian environment and experience; helping to create a safer and more legible streetscape, accommodating the increasing pedestrian activity between Vauxhall railway station and Nine Elms.