Our April feature on the proposed development of Church Walk Shopping Centre in Caterham Valley provoked a strong response from our readers.
We covered concerns arising from the revised planning application that developer Ropemaker submitted earlier this year. These included parking issues, flooding worries, unease over changes to the overall look of the area and apprehension for the survival of some smaller businesses if in competition with new, larger companies.
Nick Keable, a spokesperson for Ropemaker, responded to the points raised, and we also included comments from The Caterham Business Improvement District and Tandridge Council’s Interim Chief Planning Officer, Charlotte Parker.
Following publication of the article, the paper was inundated with replies from people living in the Caterham area, who don’t believe that Ropemaker’s reply fully justifies the proposed developments.
Local resident Andrew McEniry has reservations regarding the introduction of expanded shop units. He told the paper: “We have already lost the Co-op because they could not make a profit, and because they thought Lidl’s were moving in across the road. Subway, the India Restaurant, Tax for Today Accountants, and the Computer Shop have all closed in the last 18 months. Following on from Covid-19 it is safe to assume that additional businesses within the town may also struggle. Before this virus businesses were not coming to Caterham to open new shops in the existing units. Who in their right mind believes larger businesses will be enticed by the availability of bigger spaces?”
He also queries Ropemaker’s statement that adequate parking has been factored into their proposal.
“Based on their figures, there will only be an additional 44 spaces for the residential properties. Ropemaker say that these tenants will be young professionals who commute by public transport and won’t have cars, but how can they know this? Are they actively going to discourage anyone else from renting? And what about people visiting them, or coming to the cinema?
In the current business climate, Caterham and Tandridge Councils should try to regenerate the town by focusing on filling the current empty shop units and providing additional parking within the town, not borrowing money to build something we don’t need.”
Local resident Peter Monnery echoed Mr. McEniry’s thoughts. “The 174 flats are strictly rental only and are of the minimum size allowed by law. There are no amenities on site like a gym or laundry, and completely inadequate parking. These are the last places to attract “Young Professionals.” The tiny prefabricated flats stacked together in a concrete jungle with no green space is a serious social problem in the making. Parking is currently difficult, but there will be up to an extra 470 people vying for an additional 133 parking spaces. It is completely disingenuous for Nick Keable to suggest this is anything but a parking travesty for Caterham Valley with the development bringing in many more company cars and work’s vans to clog our crowded streets.”
“Talking of misdirection, the angle of the drawings of the Station Avenue façade cleverly disguises the additional story that clearly looms over the street in other perspectives. Don’t be fooled, this is a massive five story monolithic block with a cheap unattractive frontage that will ruin an architecturally important main street. It is clearly completely unsympathetic to the existing two- and three-story structures in height, density and in its bottom draw architecture. This would never be built in Oxted, but sadly that’s where the planning decision will be made”
“Ropemaker’s Nick Keable states that “Opinion is divided” on the project. Would that be 50:50 Nick?” The reality is that that out of approximately 300 letters commenting on the initial application, 250 came from local residents. Out of these, 236 have determined that the development falls drastically short of the expectations of this community, the other 14 are critical, but offer opportunities for improvement. Ropemaker has cynically ignored all community feedback and has pushed ahead with a project which offers no tangible gains to this community but has the clear potential to inflict grievous and lasting harm on the residents of Caterham Valley.”
Caterham Valley Parish Council (CVPC) also sent us their response to the developer’s second application, stating that “In 2018, Ropemaker exhibited its proposed plans for the Church Walk shopping centre and has claimed that over 800 people attended. Responses to the exhibition raised a number of major concerns regarding the overdevelopment of the town, the lack of parking facilities and the lack of infrastructure.
While CVPC supports the regeneration for the town, we reiterate that we are very disappointed and very disturbed to note that Ropemaker has completely ignored the concerns of the residents and of the Parish Council in its current application and in relation to the amended plans. Again, no effort has been made to address these concerns in the amended plans. In fact, the amendments will exacerbate problems already raised.”
They note that St John the Evangelist Church has commented that “The proposed development would appear to have a significant impact on the skyline of the town, as well as its character…When we met initially with the developer there was an intent to make Station Approach maintain some sense of the diversity of our architecture, yet the new plans appear to have lost this approach.”
And this is the reaction from The Caterham, Chaldon and Whyteleafe Neighbourhood Plan (CCWNP):
“…the Steering Group is disappointed to note that the revised plans for this proposed development have continued to ignore the comments of this Group and the views of residents.’
The CCWNP goes on to say that it feels the development has an ‘insufficient mix of housing’ and ‘was of poor design quality and is incompatible with the immediate environment and local character of the area.’ It cites the relevant passages of the neighbourhood plan that focus on ‘significant views’ in the area and states that the development will ‘create a bulk which will have a hugely detrimental effect on locally significant views and will also disrupt those from other parts of the town.’
Both groups are alarmed that the provision of health services is not fully explored in Ropemaker’s application, noting that the Caterham Valley Medical Practice (CVMP) has also objected to the proposal:
“The rise in the number of patients from this development will put a further strain on the surgery as it is the only one within walking distance of the town centre.’
Both CVPC and the CCWNP have many other areas of concern following the new proposals, which include, but are not limited to, the safety of pedestrian access to the shopping centre, the impact of additional traffic to the area, lack of provision for children’s facilities and inadequate answers to potential flooding issues.
Many people mentioned the Bronzeoak House planning application: a 5-storey sheltered housing and family accommodation redevelopment in Stafford Road, which was approved in December 2019, saying if that got the go-ahead, then why not Church Walk?
District & Parish Councillor for Valley Ward, Alun Jones, says that the two projects are not comparable. He says:
“The difference with Bronzeoak is it’s being built with local residents’ input. It doesn’t destroy any character buildings that previously existed, it’s got the right amount of parking, and it’s all affordable housing, so it will take people off the housing waiting list.”
He believes that Ropemaker have not taken the historical context of the area, and the buildings that surround the site, into account:
“I’m not against a redevelopment of Church Walk, and I’m not against some additional residential properties, although it doesn’t include any social housing. The problem I have is the extent to which the proposed building will dominate the town centre, and vastly exceed anything else in the Valley.”
Alun also raises the same concerns around flooding.
“The developer’s plan features an underground tank, but this only addresses surface water, not ground water. The tank discharges into the aquifer, which flows down the Valley into the gardens of residents in Whyteleafe, somewhere that has significant flooding issues already.”
On 22 May, drilling began on a borehole in the Valley, to test ground water levels. Both those for and against the Church Walk project will be hoping the results, which at the time of writing were still outstanding, go in their favour.