Yesterday morning I attended an exhibition of plans for the redevelopment of the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth, south-west London. I was impresssed – both by the plans themselves and by the amount of people the developers had there to discuss the project with local residents.
It's a long overdue scheme. Wandsworth is a great place to live: a lovely residential area with good links to central London and the lowest council tax in the country. But it's a town without a centre. The high street is run-down and full of speeding cars; on one side is a misguided sixties development, on the other the disused Ram Brewery. Minerva Plc's plans would renovate the brewery's historic buildings, and replace the rest with housing, retail space and a new public square – as well as opening the River Wandle up to pedestrians. More controversially, they are going to put up two 'skyscrapers' (29 and 39 storeys respectively) at the northern end of the development.
I love skyscrapers – they look fantastic and I can't understand why London doesn't have more of them, especially given its lack of space. Yet many local residents don't share my enthusiasm. Indeed, some would apparently prefer the town centre remained a dead space full of empty industrial buildings. This a peculiar (but common) sentiment I've never been able to get my head around – I once took part in a TV discussion about residents who wanted to preserve a disused, ugly and inaccessible coal-mine rather than have anything new built. Such resistance to change is perverse.
There is one legitimate worry about the new development: transport. The trains from Wandsworth Town station are already nightmarishly overcrowded at peak times (will Network Rail ever lengthen the platform?) and the roads are not much better. Yet it strikes me that the developers are doing their best on this front – after all, the people who are going to buy from them want decent infrastructure. Minerva have set aside room around the development for widening roads and junctions, and made substantial funding available to Transport for London.
So the private sector is doing its bit. The public sector is dragging its feet.