New Malden residents raised £7k in just two days to oppose the proposals for a new tower block on the high street.
The funds have been raised to pay a town planning consultant who will represent opponents of the proposed development at an inquiry to be held by the Planning Inspectorate.
The developer, Rocco Homes, put the proposal for a nine-storey tower block, to be built at 53-59 High Street, to Kingston Council in March.
However, the developer claims that the council failed to reach a decision by the determination date of 7 July and so they decided to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol on the grounds of non-determination in order to avoid further delay.
James Giles, 21, is the chairman of the Malden Independent Community Organisation and is also a member of the borough’s independent political party Kingston Independent Residents Group.
He said: “We’ve got elections in Kingston in six months so it’s far easier for the current Liberal Democrat councillors to say it was not us who approved this proposal.
“It’s utterly ludicrous because they are the ones who could have turned it down.
“It’s a complete and utter mess really. It’s a direct result of the council’s actions that we are where we are.”
However, a spokesperson for Kingston Council said that they had informed Rocco Homes that their application was to be refused, but they required permission from the Greater London Authority before it could be formally rejected.
Instead of waiting two weeks for the GLA’s decision, the developer decided to opt for an appeal.
The spokesperson added: “This site offers real potential, and we express regret that the applicant was not willing to work with us in exploring that opportunity.”
Beverley Ward’s Liberal Democrat Councillor Mark Durrant, 48, said that he too always opposed the original proposal.
He said: “The nine-storey building was totally disproportionate to the high street.”
He added that he was in favour of Rocco Homes’ second proposal, put forward in late-September, for a five-storey block which will retain the original structure of the building and add two additional floors.
Rocco Homes said that the option to explore the five-storey Permitted Development scheme was only available due to recent changes in planning policy.
The second proposal does not replace the original one however, but rather both applications will be reviewed by the Inspectorate.
The proposed tower-block would be built on the site of the old Tudor Williams department store which operated in New Malden for over a century but was forced to close in 2019.
The site has been vacant since its closure in 2019, and a spokesperson from Rocco Homes said that they hope to secure the future of this key town centre site as quickly as possible.
Christopher Stephens, 76, of New Malden, said that the Rocco Homes development was just one of numerous examples of over-development in Kingston, but added: “Tudor Williams was a local store so it hits home a little harder.”
Stephens criticised the Mayor of London’s designation of Kingston as an area of growth.
He said: “If all these extra blocks go up left, right and centre it’s going to completely change the nature of the place.
“We don’t want Kingston to turn into a second Croydon.”
A spokesperson from Rocco Homes said that they have always tried to be receptive to residents’ views and have made changes to the plans, such as reducing the proposed height from 13 to nine storeys.
The proposed tower block also received criticisms for the lack of affordable housing it provides.
However, the Rocco Homes spokesperson said that the scheme will provide five affordable new homes on site, which is the maximum that is viable.
Peter Findlater, who organised the fundraising campaign, said: “We believe, that if this appeal is won by Rocco Homes, and they go ahead and build the nine-storey building on the High Street, that this would set a precedent for other developers and landlords to follow suit, completely destroying the High Street.”
Giles also expressed frustration at the council embarking on a growth agenda that he claims residents don’t want.
He added: “Time and time again, we find ourselves in the position where councils abandon what the residents want.”
Giles has therefore decided that he will soon launch a petition in Kingston to call for a directly-elected mayor, after Croydon voted in favour of implementing this system on 7 October.
Giles is optimistic that his petition will get the 5,000 signatures needed for a referendum on how Kingston Council is run.
He said: “Every resident of the borough should be able to elect who runs their council.”
Featured image credit: Colin Smith