Kingston & Surbiton Constituency Labour Party: comments on the Eden Quarter Development Brief

Kingston Council commissioned a consultative Eden Quarter Development Brief. This document, when finalised, provides developers with the outline of what Kingston is looking for. The draft is looking to extend the town centre into areas that are isolated from the centre and to create more accommodation in the town centre. These are the comments submitted by Kingston & Surbiton Constituency Labour Party.

We recognise that the Eden Quarter Development Brief, Consultation Draft Report, is a guide to developers on what is to be done and what is acceptable and expected from any proposals.

The Kingston and Surbiton Constituency Labour Party welcomes the Development Brief as a much needed proposal to grow and integrate Kingston town centre. There are a number of points that we would emphasise.

1. The historic nature, development and views of Kingston town centre.

 Kingston has developed over the decades and centuries, and different eras of development have left their architectural imprint on the town centre which marks Kingston out as a visually interesting environment. It is vitally important all the new developments, not just those “in more sensitive locations” respect the existing historic assets and character, but also add an exciting architectural statement to the town centre. The last thing that Kingston needs, if one of its objectives is to continue to be a top retail centre, is the bland developments that have come to characterise so many city and town centres.

2.  Affordable housing

We note that the brief calls for 50 per cent of the flats and dwellings to be affordable housing. This is vitally important to Kingston, which has a shortage of affordable housing, and to the development of retail in Kingston. Shops need workers though they do not necessarily pay well. Workers need somewhere within affordable commuting distance in which to live or they will be forced to take their labour elsewhere.

In many developments there has been a segregation of affordable dwellings and prestige high profit dwellings, sometimes subtle such as different entrances in the same block. The brief should stress that not only is the 50 per cent affordable dwellings benchmark a foundation stone in the developments, but segregation of any kind is also unacceptable.

3.  Amenities

Kingston is a town centre for all ages. The University and the buoyant birth rate have meant that Kingston, unlike many towns and cities, must cater for all age groups. This has a number of important consequences for the development:

(i)            there needs to be adequate toilet facilities for older people, mothers with children, and for those enjoying the late night pub and cub activity:

(ii)          there needs to be facilities where parents can allow children to play safely both in wet and cold weather as well as on more sunny days

(iii)         there needs to be seating where those who are not so young can take a few minutes break: and

(iv)         there needs to be restaurants and cafes that are affordable and attractive (and for older people this also involves premises with muted ambient sound)  to those who are less affluent

4.   The Fairfield

­­We recognise that the area of the old cattle market that now houses the Monday market is isolated from the town centre and is in decline. We understand the reasoning behind a proposal to pave the area in front of the library extending into the Fairfield, enabling this area to be used by the Monday market and providing better access to the Fairfield by more people and in all weathers. At the moment the Monday market is isolated and tucked away and consequently fails to match the vibrancy of many “day” markets. There may be a case for bringing the Monday market into London Road and this option should be explored.

However we would urge caution in paving over any part of the Fairfield. The area designated for this seems to vary in different  diagrams, and the artists impression does suggest it could be a fairly substantial area. There is a difference between weather-proofing a new entrance and paving a substantial area. The Fairfield is well used by local football and cricket groups which could be displaced. At present it is a quiet and relaxing green area but integration into the retail circuit could change that.

Paving over a part, albeit relatively limited, could be the start of using the Fairfield in a very different way, for example as a venue for Kingston Carnival. We would urge the Council, especially in the light of the policing and security considerations that impacted on the 2014 Kingston Carnival, to consider very carefully whether the Fairfield, when integrated into the central retail area of the town centre, will be the site of events such as this. Any such decision will have an impact on the surrounding residential area and should be a consideration in the Development Brief.

We would urge that the Council consider and consult on, as a matter of urgency, the future development of the Fairfield.

5.  Height of buildings

Kingston is a town centre characterised by its human scale. It is not dominated by high buildings which fill the sky-line, create areas of permanent shadow, engender a feeling of individual powerlessness and isolation, and loom almost menacingly above existing and lower level houses and flats. The domination of sky-scrapers is an unwelcome feature of too many town centres and would be an undesirable feature in the development of Kingston.

We therefore urge the council to consider carefully the height of all buildings in the new development. While we would be unwilling, at this stage, to specify a maximum height, we would look for a sensible balance so that no building commanded dominance in the skyline and over-shadowed the surrounding environment.

6.  Traffic flow and public transport

Eden Street is indeed clogged with buses. Access and egress from car parks adds to the problem. The junction between Eden Street and Wheatfield Way exacerbates the problem as does the justifiable need for pedestrian crossing. However it is important that a congestion problem in Eden Street is not transposed to Wheatfield Way. We would therefore urge that careful modelling is undertaken to ensure that traffic flows freely. This might necessitate pedestrian / cycling bridges at strategic points on Wheatfield Way.

The modelling should also consider how far people who are most dependent on buses and public transport have to walk to reach the bus stop they need. If elderly people, parents and carers with children, and those with a disability have to make their way over long or difficult distances to access public transport the scheme will be discriminatory and a failure.

We are enthusiastic about the development of Kingston town centre and these comments are made to ensure that the development is an enhancement and improvement rather than an emulation of the worst in town centre development.