The Future of Chelsea

Thanks to all who joined us at Chelsea Old Town Hall on 2nd November to discuss the future of Chelsea, and to those who contributed to the discussion groups in the preceding weeks..

The following paper was adopted by the Council of the Society on 16th November 2015

 

POLICY GUIDELINES

FOR THE FUTURE OF CHELSEA

By Michael Stephen

Chairman of the Planning Committee

SUMMARY

Chelsea is not just part of inner London indistinguishable from the rest.  This small piece of land between Kensington and the river has by accident or design acquired its own peculiar reputation and charm.  It has become a place of terraced houses and blocks of flats, of some high-fashion brands and some small independent businesses.  It has a rich demographic mix and is home to both rich and poor who meet in the same shops, pubs and churches.  It is this that turns the urban landscape – so often a metaphor for loneliness and alienation – into a rich and invigorating community.

 

Chelsea has changed dramatically in the memories of those who live here.  Most of the old working class have gone, the Thames is cleaner, smogs are only a memory (though air-pollution is still a serious concern), the streets – once empty – are lined by cars, and eccentricity is a rarity. Students have mostly gone too and other residents are, on average, incomparably richer than they were.

 

The effect of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 has been profound. In the 1930s land owners demolished houses and built Chelsea Cloisters, Whitelands House, Swan Court, Cranmer Court, and other large blocks of flats. But for the Act, many more such blocks would have been built after the war. Then, in 1967, the Civic Amenities Act gave planners powers to define Conservation Areas and restrict  changes to the appearance of the buildings within them. These two Acts account for Chelsea’s largely ‘unchanged’ look today.

 

The Chelsea Society has little power to control change, but it has some influence and has always sought to use it. So what should the Society’s goals be? What kind of vision should it pursue and seek to persuade others to pursue? In other words, what kind of Chelsea would we like to see?

 

Our vision is that 10 years from now Chelsea should be substantially the same as it is today with the same style and character, with the same village atmosphere, and with rather less noise, dust and disruption caused by building and demolition works.

 

It is perfectly possible to have an alternative view of Chelsea – a more bustling “high-speed” commercial environment, more generic shop-chains, higher-rise developments, more high-value flats.  This is a vision that would delight developers and perhaps also the Borough Council.

 

So much for the rate and extent of change over the past 60 to 70 years – and more will certainly come. Currently it is foreign buyers, and foreign tenants, of houses and flats who are altering the community of Chelsea by driving up property prices and rents to the point where they are unaffordable for all but the very rich. Building new flats would be unlikely to provide homes for local people as they would in all probability be sold off-plan in the Far East even if quite small.  It is difficult to see how the Society could prevent this or how young people will be able to afford to live in Chelsea in the future except as transients or while living with parents or paid for by their employer.

 

The only people who have any protection from these forces are the residents of Council and Housing Association properties, and the Society will try to maintain that protection so long as we can.

 

 

OUR HERITAGE

Chelsea at the beginning of the 16th century consisted of no more than a few dwellings for fishermen, boatmen, and market-gardeners on the north bank of the Thames with a manor house, and a church which still stands today, having been substantially rebuilt after bomb-damage in the Second World War.  In 1520 or thereabouts Sir Thomas More decided to build a country house on a site close to the junction of the present-day Beaufort Street with the Embankment, and other people of distinction, including King Henry VIII, established residences nearby.

 

Chelsea gradually expanded to the North, East, and West during the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and later periods and has become the Chelsea we know today, with the King’s Road as its central thoroughfare and as the location of many shops and offices. Much is owed to the vision of the Cadogan family and other landowners.  There have been industrial activities in the past – notably the world-famous Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory – and writers and artists of renown including Carlyle, Smollet, Turner, Rossetti, Munnings, Sargent, and Augustus John have made Chelsea their home.

 

Today it is primarily a residential area within easy reach of thousands of commercial and cultural opportunities in central London, but valued for its quiet character and the quality of its streets, garden squares and buildings, most of which are good enough to merit conservation area status.

 

Chelsea is not however a dormitory, nor an outdoor museum. It is a collection of small villages each with a different character.  It is a vibrant and exciting quarter with a unique mix of residential commercial and cultural assets all of which effectively co-exist. There is a rich cultural heritage of museums, hospitals, clubs, theatres, concert halls, cinemas, restaurants, and even a cricket ground.

 

Chelsea comprises four of the electoral Wards of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  These are Chelsea Riverside, Brompton & Hans Town, Royal Hospital, and Stanley.  A statistical profile of Chelsea in 2011 is included as an  Annex to this paper.

 

THE CHELSEA SOCIETY

The Society was founded in 1927 by local historian Reginald Blunt, whose father was Rector of Chelsea Old Church.  In 1915 he said:

“Sometimes when one cries out upon the unnecessary vandalisms one is rebuked for trying to bar all continuity between past and present in our old churches and other buildings and to make mere museums of them.  That I think is a mistaken idea.  The new things must come if they are in any way worthy but the old need not be destroyed or disfigured to make way for them.  It is by you and the likes of you that these unhappy things may be made impossible, and to that extent we are all responsible.”

The mandate of the Society, as expressed in its constitution, is “to preserve and improve the amenities of Chelsea, particularly by:-

(a) stimulating interest in the history, character and traditions of Chelsea;
(b) encouraging good architecture, town planning and civic design, the planting and care of trees, and the conservation and proper maintenance of open spaces;
(c) seeking the abatement of nuisances;
(d) making representations to the proper authorities on these subjects.”

We value and promote the study of the history, character, and traditions of Chelsea, not only for their own sake, but as a guide to our approach to architecture, town planning and civic design for the future.

 

GENERAL ISSUES

We do not know what lies in the future – what kind of people will be living in Chelsea 10 years from now nor what they will want, nor what kind of technology will be available to them. We will have to make our judgment here and now, as our predecessors had to do, based on what we know and what we value about Chelsea. There are many factors which we need to consider. For example:

the amount and scale of development;

the balance between residential, commercial and institutional land uses;

providing homes not just for the super-rich but for all income groups;

the future of our three major hospitals;

the preservation of buildings and garden squares; and

transport, water, and sewerage infrastructure.

 

Technology and economics have always driven change in Chelsea and continue to do so, but our purpose is to use our influence to protect and enhance the character, the style, and the charm of Chelsea which we have inherited from our predecessors and which is the principal reason why our members and so many others live here.

 

We will therefore oppose any significant change, unless convinced that there are good positive reasons for the change, that a real need can be shown, and that any such change improves the amenities of Chelsea and is consistent with our objectives. In this connection we need to consider very carefully what effect a Crossrail station in Chelsea could have

 

We are not “the Society that likes to say no,” and the changes made to Duke of York Square, the creation of a concert venue at Cadogan Hall, and the revised plans for redevelopment of the Curzon cinema in the King’s Road are examples of change which we could actively support.

 

All this is against the background that successive governments have permitted, and seem likely to continue to permit, almost anyone who can afford to do so to come to Chelsea from anywhere in the world and buy or rent a house or flat.  This is perhaps the most powerful factor promoting change in Central London today and impacting upon the community of Chelsea. If this trend continues it could soon be impossible to maintain anything like Chelsea as we know it, and everything in this paper must be seen against that background.

 

In the meantime, the Society will do everything it can to ensure that Chelsea continues to be a safe and pleasant place to live and to work, and with a sense of community.  The first detailed objective in the Society’s constitution is to stimulate interest in the history traditions and character of Chelsea, and we should therefore welcome all those who share that aim and want to become part of that tradition, even if they are living here for only two or three years.

 

SHOPPING STREETS

Chelsea is already a vibrant place to live and work and we wish to maintain the present balance between residential, business, and other land uses. The two main shopping streets (King’s Road and Fulham Road) are assets to local people and visitors alike, but they are not the raison d’être of Chelsea.

 

The King’s Road is less popular than it was in the 1960’s but popular fashion does change.  There is no shortage of demand for retail units, and rents are of course driven by the market. Generally, we would prefer the King’s Road to provide the quirkier individual shops which attract customers from outside Chelsea.  Perhaps there are too many phone shops and big-chain coffee and fast-food shops in the King’s Road. The Fulham Road has a more “local” feel, and parts of the Fulham Road have specialist antique shops.

 

If the King’s Road and Fulham Road are not doing as well as they could, there are many factors which could contribute to this.  There is fierce competition with online retailers and with each other, and perhaps some of the shops do not provide what local people want.  What local people want can however be extremely difficult to

 

gauge; they don’t want an ordinary high street but they do want a butcher, greengrocer, ironmonger, etc. and they also want to shop at Waitrose and M&S.

 

Perhaps also the cost of doing business in these roads is too high, and rent and rates are important factors. Some of the big landowners do however give preferential treatment to small businesses. The Government has proposed that Councils in England will be able to keep the proceeds from business rates raised in their area.  They will also be able to cut the rate and some will be able to raise it.

 

POPULATION

Chelsea already has an optimum daytime and night-time population, and we would not wish to see any significant increase or diminution.  Any significant increase would place further pressures on housing, education, transport, car-parking, air-quality, office space, open spaces, and on the public utilities. Diminution would affect the viability of small businesses and would weaken the sense of community in Chelsea if more dwellings remain empty for most of the year in addition to the ones already unoccupied at weekends by people who have a second home outside London.

 

CROSSRAIL

A major factor to be urgently considered is whether to support or oppose a Crossrail 2 line running under the buildings of Chelsea, with a station in Chelsea.

 

The Council of the Society considered this issue in July 2014 for the purpose of making a response to Transport for London’s then Consultation. At that meeting, the Council made a majority decision, on the basis of the information then available, to support, in principle but with strict conditions, a line from Clapham Junction to Victoria with a station in Chelsea, with a preferred location for that station on the site of the fire station near Dovehouse Green.

 

Since that time, further and more detailed information has become available on the proposal for Crossrail 2 to pass through Chelsea, and Transport for London issued a further Consultation document on 27th October 2015. In order to be in a position to make a response to this Consultation and in light of the further and more detailed information, the Council has decided to review whether the decision that it took in July 2014 would remain the correct decision.

 

The Council has therefore invited presentations by relevant interests, including Transport for London, RBK&C, “No to Crossrail in Chelsea”, and the Cremorne Residents Association.  It has in addition arranged a number of discussion groups. The intention is that this will allow the Council to have the best possible information and to be able to consider all relevant factors, including of course the views of the Society’s Members.

 

The Society has published on its website http://chelseasociety.org.uk/crossrail-2-station-chelsea-2/    a series of detailed questions which we will all need to ask ourselves

 

[At the Society’s AGM on 23rd November 2015 a motion was proposed that “The Chelsea Society opposes the plans to build a Crossrail station and route in Chelsea.”   The Motion was put to the vote and was carried by an overwhelming majority.]

OTHER ISSUES

 

The Society will:

 

  • oppose change of use to residential from any other use-class, and from community use to offices, without very good reason.

 

  • be vigilant to ensure that the Borough Council does not exercise its powers to allow other changes of land-use in a manner inconsistent with our purposes set out in this paper.

 

  • oppose any attempt by central government to allow any further changes of use without controls, especially in Conservation areas. Recent examples have been proposals to allow change of use from offices to residential, to allow the construction of additional storeys on buildings, and to allow very short-term lettings.

 

  • Oppose any increase in noise, dust, and any other form of pollution. Constructing or demolishing a building is inevitably a significant cause of such pollution no matter how responsible the contractors may be. Whilst temporary, these works can continue for long periods, and added to existing pollution in central London, can cause respiratory disorders, allergies, and other conditions which can and do have a long-term effect on health.  This is an important factor to be taken into account as well as architectural and land-use issues.

 

  • oppose the construction of any building of a height or size that would be incompatible with the character of the surrounding area.

 

  • seek to maintain housing in Chelsea for all income-groups, not just the very rich and the poor, and to enhance the quality of the housing stock. In this connection the Society is concerned by government proposals to entitle Housing Association tenants to buy their dwellings against the wishes of the Association, and has written to the Member of Parliament.

 

  • support the Borough Council’s policy on basement development, and will expect the Council to have the will and the resources necessary for enforcement of planning conditions, construction management plans, and other regulations for the protection of local residents.

 

  • oppose basement developments on small sites, but would encourage the creation of underground space on suitable sites eg at hospitals, and possibly at housing estates to provide parking for residents and local people.

 

  • bear in mind that while public transport is useful and desirable it is not ideal for people who are aged or disabled or who are carrying heavy luggage or travelling with pets or children, or late at night. The Society would encourage the reduction of air-pollution caused by cars and other vehicles but the technology is not yet widely available.  In the meantime the Society recognizes that many residents of Chelsea find it convenient to keep a car near their home and seeks views on whether additional off-street parking should be provided in the limited places where it might be possible, or whether to try to reduce the use of cars by restricting parking places.

 

  • campaign, and seek to enlist the support of RBKC and the local MP and GLA member, and the Mayoral Candidates, for the provision of step-free access at Sloane Square and South Kensington stations. It would have been preferable for the money spent on cosmetic works at the station to be applied for this purpose.

 

  • campaign for a Post Office at or near the eastern end of the King’s Road.

 

  • seek to redress the balance between those who make financial gain from development above or below ground, and those whose quality of life is damaged by it, often for extended periods. We will expect the Council to take promptly all legal action necessary to protect local residents and businesses. It should not be left to local people to enforce their own legal rights in relation to neighbouring developments, because the costs and risks involved are unsustainable for most people. In this connection the Society welcomes the adoption by RBKC of Construction Management Plans, Construction Traffic Management Plans, and a Code of Practice to minimise the negative effects of construction noise, vibration and dust on residents and businesses.

 

  • encourage the listing of more buildings of special architectural or historic interest, even if already in a Conservation Area.

 

  • resist any loss of open spaces.

 

  • encourage the Royal Brompton and the Royal Marsden hospitals and their charities to work together to jointly redevelop their land for the benefit of both institutions, and to continue to deliver world-class medical services in Chelsea.

 

  • support the maintenance and improvement of the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital.

 

  • support the provision of accommodation for education in the public and private sectors. Schools are a vital part of the fabric of society and we need to encourage as far as possible the provision of good schools at all levels within Chelsea so that those who live here can send their children to a school of their choice within a reasonable distance; we should resist the loss of educational facilities.

 

  • encourage living artists to continue the great artistic traditions of Chelsea. We will cooperate with the Chelsea Arts Society, and will award prizes and hold exhibitions where resources permit. We have most recently held an exhibition of drawings and paintings of Chelsea by the living artist Hugh Krall.

 

  • encourage the study of the history of Chelsea by arranging lectures and walks on particular themes such as literature, art, and industry.

 

  • support the Royal Hospital Chelsea in conserving their historic buildings and their setting.

 

  • carefully scrutinise any proposal to widen the activities permitted at Burton Court or Duke of York Square and its playing fields or in the garden squares of Chelsea.

 

  • oppose attempts to run down and close public houses or restaurants with a view to converting them to flats.

 

  • expect the Council and the police to take measures to keep traffic flowing on the King’s Road and Fulham Road, without installing railings or controlled crossings.

 

  • expect the Council to require sustainable drainage and sewerage systems for any new development.

 

  • seek to minimize the inevitable disruption caused by the essential work to renew the Victorian gas mains

 

  • seek to establish and maintain a good working relationship with Councillors and officers of the Borough Council, and with the Member of Parliament, but will not be afraid to make constructive criticism where necessary.

 

  • encourage the Council to deliver good value for taxpayers’ money but not at the expense of an inferior quality of service. We would not expect the Council when making planning decisions to have regard to financial gain or loss to the Council itself.

 

  • expect the Council to consult the Society, and residents associations in the immediate vicinity, at an early stage in the planning process, and not to wait until key points have already been accepted or rejected.

 

  • encourage greater cooperation between RBKC and neighbouring boroughs in relation to eg the Chelsea football stadium, Battersea Power Station, the old Chelsea Barracks, and other issues of mutual concern or benefit.

 

  • ourselves cooperate more effectively with amenity societies in neighbouring boroughs, and will make representations to the Mayor of London and to national government where necessary. We will consult with Chelsea residents’ associations and the representatives of local business, and in appropriate cases we will support them.

 

ANNEXE

STATISTICAL PROFILE OF CHELSEA’S FOUR WARDS BASED ON 2011 CENSUS DATA (Compiled by Martyn Baker)

 

  1. The Office of National Statistics projection is that the population of London will grow by 22% in the twenty years between 2014 and 2034, a rise of 1.9 million people. They will need not only housing but space to work and for education, health care and recreation.

 

  1. Between Jan. 2010 and July 2014 the number of people employed in London increased by 10.7%. This strong employment growth is expected to continue into the 2020s ; between 2014 and 2034 employment in London is projected to rise by almost 800,000, from 4.1 to 4.9 million. Existing employment space needs to be protected to help accommodate such growth, and more space found.

 

  1. With output of nearly £10 billion per annum RBKC is just in the top eight inner London boroughs which together generate much of London’s economic output. By contrast most outer London boroughs do not provide enough work space to allow each borough to accommodate a workforce equivalent to the number of economically active people living in that borough. Hence too much lengthy commuting.

 

 

  1. In large part the size of the output generated by the eight central boroughs, including RBKC, reflects the historic concentration of employment in inner London; the daytime population of these boroughs, including our own, is increased by the influx of workers commuting in from less central boroughs as well as from further afield; for example Westminster’s population changes on work days from 139,700 employed residents to 695,100 people that work in that City.

 

  1. As a small borough RBKC’s residence-based employment level is almost in balance with (if a little higher than) the workplace-based employment level. This is unusual for an inner London borough.

 

  1. Projections of employment growth between 2014 and 2034  vary considerably borough by borough. While Hammersmith and Fulham‘s growth is forecast to be the fastest at nearly 47% and Wandsworth’s  over this twenty year period is projected to be a little over 35%, RBKC’s growth is forecast at a more modest 25%.

 

7.When you examine the situation today in Chelsea there are some revealing contrasts across the four wards. ONS has recently generated Workday Zones for 2014 using workplace data from the 2011 Census. Because the population of an area changes as people move in and out to work each day ONS have arrived at the Workday Population by redistributing the usual resident population to their places of work, while those not in work are recorded  as still at their usual residence : –

 

WARD USUAL RESIDENTS POPULATION WORKPLACE POPULATION WORKSPACE    DENSITY
Brompton & Hans Town 10,218 24,999 257.3 people per hectare

 

Chelsea Riverside 8,671 8,505 159.2 people per hectare

 

Royal Hospital 9,583 13,762 150.7 people per hectare

 

Stanley 10,105 18,043 248.9 people per hectare

 

Totals 38,577 65,309

 

 

 

  1. the latest RBKC Ward-profiles also raise doubts about how far it is any longer realistic to describe Chelsea in terms of being a largely stable, residential village. According to page 3 of these profiles for the above wards (under the heading : Length of Residence In UK and Age of Arrival in the UK ) the number and percentage of residents who have arrived only in the last ten years are as follows : –

 

Brompton                                       3,950  =  38.6%

Chelsea Riverside                          1,541  =  17.8%

Royal Hospital                                2,544  =  26.6%

Stanley                                            2,632  =  26.1%

 

Total                                                10,667

 

 

Riverside Brompton-Hans Royal Hospital Stanley
Area (hectares) 47.9801 55.2498 77.3719 66.2534
People per hectare 162.3 105.2 105 139.4
Households 4,248 5,458 4,925 5,025
Full-time residents 8,671 10,218 9,583 10,105
Second home 15.4% 29.9% 27.2% 20.4%

 

Accommodation Type

Flats 83.7% (3,588) 80.35% (4,378) 78.25% (3,854) 76.7% (3,857)
Houses 15.4% (660) 19.6% (1,071) 21.7% (1,071) 23.2% (1,168)

 

 

Tenure of Households %

Owner-occupied 36 38.6 45.5 39.6
Private rented 22.7 53.8 40.5 34.6
Social rented 41.3 7.6 13.9 25.8

 

Qualifications (Adults) %

Level 4 or above 42.6 57.2 57.4 51.6
No qualifications 14.4 6.3 8.6 10.3

 

Economically-active % (aged 16-74) Employed full-time, part-time, self-employed, seeking work

 

66.2 69 71.3 70.2

 

Age Structure %

Under 24 24.9 24 19.9 23.9
24-64 59.8 62.9 61.5 60.7
65 and over 15.3 13.1 18.6 15.4

 

Economic Activities %

Prof/Scientific/Tech 14.8 17.4 16.6 16.2
Finance & Insurance 14.1 28.5 29.2 22.9
Wholesale & retail 13 8.9 8.2 9
Health & Social Work 8.1 5 6 10.7
Education 6.7 4 5 5
Information/Communication 6.4 5 5 6

 

Households with Access to a car/van %

43.7 44.3 51.2 49

 

Households with two or more vehicles %

9.7 11.2 13.1 11.5

 

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