A south London council has raised the alarm about the deadly health risks inherent from high-density tower blocks offering “co-living” accommodation, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing.
The concerns aired in Wandsworth over a 263-room development in Battersea come just weeks after Croydon Council’s planners blithely waved through plans for a co-living tower four times the size, to be built on a site next to Croydon College.
Indeed, the co-living arrangements which have been granted approval in Croydon are reminiscent of student accommodation, or a hostel. Residents – or inmates – will have some private living space but share other amenities with their neighbours – the kind of arrangement which would make social distancing virtually impossible and which scientists have been warning against to avoid the spread of covid-19.
In Croydon, Tide Construction was granted planning permission in February for the world’s tallest modular building, in two towers of 34 and 49 storeys. The site at East Croydon is adjacent to another tall modular block, also built by Tide, at 101 George Street, whose 38- and 44-storey black towers are approaching completion.
These two Tide developments will add 1,483 housing units across the road from the already busy East Croydon Station. Last night, Croydon Council gave approval for another 421 new flats squeezed in between Fairfield Halls and the railway line, bringing the total of new homes into this tight area to nearly 2,000.
Tide’s College Tower will include 120 conventional flats plus 817 co-living rooms, equipped with kitchenettes and en suite bathrooms, but which will share other kitchen facilities, lounge space and gym facilities.
Each co-living room offers dedicated living space of less than 29sqm, some as little as 20sqm.
When Labour politician Tom Copley, recently appointed as Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing in London, delivered a report on permitted development, office-to-residential conversions last year, he described the micro-flats offered there as “the slums of the future”.
Others have been more succinct, calling tiny permitted development flats “fuck hutches”.
On paper, the co-living apartments which have been approved by Croydon’s Labour-run council appear little better. The legal minimum space requirement for a one-person, one-bedroom flat, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects, is supposed to be 36sqm. The Greater London Authority has indicated that co-living rooms should be at least 20sqm.
Just a few miles up the River Wandle, though, and planning officials in Wandsworth have said that a 263-room co-living development on Chatfield Road, SW11, “falls short” of accommodation standards. In this Battersea scheme, some rooms will be as small as 16sqm.
The proposal was due to be considered at a Wandsworth planning meeting last night. The council planning staff’s report said: “It is considered that the standard of accommodation within this scheme falls short given the recognised contribution that a good standard of accommodation to live in gives to the health and wellbeing of individuals.
“This is more acute at the current time given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic globally and the forced requirement for many to work and live in the same space, all day and every day.”
It said this was a “relevant material planning consideration” weighing against the proposal.
Oddly, this completely bypassed Croydon’s planning “team” ahead of this borough’s planning committee waving through the College Tower project unanimously.
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