… Nine Elms
I feel like a bit of a loser.
I’ve just been to a public exhibition about the Nine Elms regeneration project, a huge chunk of London between Battersea and Vauxhall that will have ‘an anticipated 16000 new homes and 25000 new jobs’, including the redeveloped Battersea Power Station.
So me turning up to ask developers who are between them essentially building a new town if they’ve thought much about the public toilets feels a bit like asking where the postboxes are going to be. Although that also sounds quite interesting…
So why did I go?
It would have been easier not to go. I’m not even working today. I think “a mix of professional and personal interests’ might be my official response, but really my motivation came down to two things: guilt and nosiness.
(Actually that can be applied to almost every event I go to..)
Nosiness because I’m interested to see what’s planned for an area of London not very far from me, especially as it features the power station, and I have an interest in urban design and, in particular, creating lively urban environments that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, and that are self-sustainable, i.e. that avoid the pitfalls of degeneration that befall many a city district.
Guilt because, after commenting on the planning proposal for Battersea Power Station (from a public toilet perspective) I somehow ended up on the mailing list for the Battersea Power Station Community Forum, something I always found quite embarrassing as, frankly, I live nowhere near, and so never went to a meeting. Also, I suspected that the meetings, along with all the other public exhibitions about individual proposals for the rest of Nine Elms, were rather poorly attended, and ultimately pointless.
Now I don’t enjoy such sceptical views (though still reckon I’m bang on the money) so the opportunity to see all the proposals at once seemed like a good way to relieve all my guilt in one trip, and a more likely place to address our public toilet issue, since it is more a matter of ‘public realm infrastructure’ then of any one proposal.
I still don’t know when the right time is to ask about public toilets in a regeneration project, but I do know what it’s like to walk round a new area wishing that they’d done something differently but knowing that it’s too late. There’s no sense complaining after the event.
I also know that people always always forget the toilets.
So what did I learn?
Firstly some good news. The other bit of the regeneration project that interests me is the ‘Linear Park’. This used to be a big stripe of green etched straight through the middle of an area dominated by glass residential blocks, so that residents could skip to the tube through meadows of flowers and forget about/avoid the big nasty roads on either side.
Frankly I found the concept worrying as I saw the potential for the park to feel quite sinister the second the sun goes down and fewer people are hanging out there. I live near Clapham Common and even with streetlights along the footpaths you wouldn’t get me crossing it after dark for love or money.
I needn’t have worried. The park is now more of a balance between public space, trees and bits of green, and a nice man from Natural England said that cafes and restaurants were planned for the ground floor of some of the buildings, which is what I was hoping. This gives people a reason to go there in the evening (and the daytime) as a destination in itself, rather than just a short-cut from A to B. Could be quite nice.
Back to toilets. He also said that Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development covers community infrastructure and that this would be something that could be interpreted by councils to ensure schools, playgrounds, parks and in theory, public toilets, were included in a developer’s proposal.
Afterall, at least 2 or 3 of the proposals (there are more than half a dozen in the whole site) were selling themselves as providing ‘public squares‘ or ‘town centres‘, with lots of mentions for ‘community facilities‘: ‘playparks’, ‘seating areas’, and quite a few ‘winter gardens’. No loos.
Indeed, the Battersea Power Station development refers to itself a ‘new town centre’, with a High Street and everything.
So I talked to the man from Treasury Holdings who are developing that site. I said that I’d looked at their planning proposals (about a year ago when they submitted them), and had seen that toilets were planned for the power station but didn’t thing that there were enough for a shopping centre (the intended use) let alone a town centre (really I think that the gender balance is all wrong, but I wasn’t going to get into that).
He said that he hoped that that wasn’t the case. He said that the first stage in their development would be the riverside park, and that “there will be cafes and restaurants with, in effect, publicly-accessible toilets” [impressed face]. He said that “toilets are necessary else people would only stay half an hour.”
So that’s nice.
Then I went home.
But what now?
Here’s my plan:
– keep occasionally, if slightly randomly, mentioning public toilets to people, in the hope that, one day, when they’re doing their urban planning drawings or assigning use to different commercial premises, they think ‘ooh, a public toilet might be useful here’.
– write to Wandsworth and Lambeth councils to politely remind them that, at some point, one or two of the planning proposals could/should include public toilets as part of the social infrastructure.
– reference the London Plan, an incredibly weighty tome by the Mayor of London that is the ‘overall strategic plan for London‘, and which mentions public toilets four times. Woo!
– Erm, can’t think of anything else. Try not to feel like a loser, I guess.