The bonfire of buildings that is proposed in the Wood Green Area Action Plan would make a fun children’s game. You can pull down the current bus garage and build another, with a podium on top providing some urban realm – part of a green chain that links Wood Green Common with Trinity Gardens (see p. 111; you have to be an aficionado to understand the language). Then add some dwell places, where your smart Wood Greeners – the numbers swelled by visitors arriving at the new Crossrail 2 station – will sit around drinking coffee and watching the moving statues, resting between bouts of intensive shopping in the large retail outlets that dominate the new Metropolitan Town Centre. The current Library is not quite in the right place – it would be better placed with the new block of civic and commercial buildings in the Civic Boulevard, so let’s demolish it and build a new one round the corner. This would in addition open up the view from the High Road all the way to Alexandra Palace. Or at least it would do, but there’s a couple of rows of Victorian houses in the way – Caxton road and part of Mayes road – better demolish them too. Somebody must have had such fun with this!
Except this is not a children’s game but some serious plans for the future of Wood Green. The thinking behind some of these proposals makes good sense – Wood Green is too much centered on the north-south axis of the High Road, and dominated by four-wheeled traffic. Some pedestrianised and really cycle-friendly areas would certainly improve it. But these do not require major changes in infrastructure, so why the wholesale demolition (‘no buildings need to be retained’ is the chilling phrase used in section after section of the proposals)? The existing library is an attractive, light and airy building, purpose-built, and it does not crowd onto the High Road. Opening up access to a pedestrianised area behind it – made so much larger by the proposed removal of Morrison’s and the Mall/Shopping City – might be achieved by taking down the Arcade next to it, perhaps. And the little shops currently in the Arcade could then be moved into the empty parking lot in Caxton Road (I enjoy this game too!).
What is it about Wood Green that prompts planners to only think of knocking it down and starting again? The Mall/Shopping City are not attractive buildings by any stretch of the imagination, but a little tweaking could make a huge difference (as was agreed by the little group of people standing round a Council adviser at the last AAP exhibition in Wood Green Library on Saturday). Apart from anything else, the Market Hall could be kept. Its little shop units provide so much useful everyday stuff that the big retail units which the Council want to attract would not be interested in stocking. I go to Neil Electrics for hoover bags and other electrical accessories, the Tropical Mini Market for coconut powder (haven’t found this anywhere else) and a huge range of spices, Big Value kitchen store when we break wine glasses on the kitchen floor, and above all the haberdashery at the Cloth Shop (as well of course as dress materials and knitting wool) – which is so hard to find anywhere else these days. If I lived nearer, I might get fish from the exotic fishmonger. The AAP consultation document frequently mentions the proposed daily markets under (what looks like) pretty gazebos (see image below), where you will no doubt be able to browse for street food and artisan bread. But these do not replace the useful little shop units (some catering particularly for Wood Green’s multi-ethnic community) which cannot be packed away at the end of each day.
Wood Green has distinctive buildings from different historical periods – including the Library, the Mall, the attractive Victorian terrace that is Caxton Road (there is a petition to save this), and the Civic Centre. Why demolish all these (with the possible exception of the Civic Centre), together with many others, to replace them with a characterless homogenised town centre which is just like all the other ones built in recent years around the country? I have noticed one continuity, however – the current Library has a roof terrace with plants along the edge just like those in the sketch below. The difference being that the current plants are a tangled mass of unsightly weeds.
p.90. Fig.7.14: 3D Model of view over the market to Ally Pally
The desirability of opening up views of Alexandra Palace is repeatedly mentioned in the consultation document (see e.g. the caption on the left). Diverting attention away, perhaps, from memories of the 2011 riots in the High Road, this view out to the west would lift our eyes to the hills and the Palace’s newly refurbished Theatre and inner courts. The Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust will have achieved this transformation, however, with Lottery funding, not by handing over their prize asset to developers, as the Council are proposing to do with many of these buildings.
But that is incorrect - the Council emphasise they are not handing their assets over. They are keeping a 50% stake in the ‘development vehicle’ shared with the Australian developers Lendlease. Croydon and Tunbridge Wells councils had similar arrangements with their developers a few years ago, but both these ventures failed. Tunbridge Wells, at least, are now thought to owe hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation to their developer. What makes Haringey so sure that their megalomaniac, super-risky, £2bn project is likely to be any more successful?
The Council say they have no option. But they do, if not one that you would expect a local authority to make. Both Croydon and Tunbridge Wells are now setting up their own companies – as are several other councils, including Enfield – to keep more control over their projects and profits. The emphasis is on tweaking existing buildings rather than razing them to the ground – the option that developers would of course much prefer.
Having their own companies also ensures that these councils get some ‘affordable’ and social housing included in the development. This has been much harder to achieve for councils dealing with developers in recent years following changes in planning regulations – according to the archtectural critic of the Guardian. Haringey certainly failed to get any ‘affordable’ properties at all (with a target of 40%) in plans for hundreds of flats being built near the new Spurs stadium in Tottenham (expected buyers are no doubt City people who will commute to Liverpool Street station). Also rejected was the request that the expected huge energy consumption by the stadium be served by a sustainable district energy network powered by the incineration of waste (a similar system is proposed in the AAP – will the Council have any more luck with this?). And not a single solar panel will be installed on the vast stadium roof. Haringey and other councils are like putty in the hands of the developers and their legal teams.
It seems that the owners of the Mall were persuaded by the Council to demolish it (in return maybe for offers of more storeys in the replacement buildings?). The social housing tenants in the apartments above the Mall will then no doubt join the mass exodus from the borough of similar tenants from demolished Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and other estates – mostly in Tottenham – for whom the Council does not have alternative accommodation available, nor the funds to pay for private landlords to accommodate them (petition and Haringey Defend Council Housing). Those who have bought ex-council flats are also unlikely to be able to afford to stay here.
This massive development programme is predicated on one thing – the building of a Crossrail 2 station at Wood Green. Large numbers of new shoppers, workers, residents would be required to utilise all the new facilities – what is going to bring them here but Crossrail 2? Not the overloaded Piccadilly line. Let us pretend that shops in the High Road have not been closing down one by one in recent years – Crossrail 2 will wave its magic wand and bring prosperity to the area. What happens if the station is built at Turnpike Lane instead? Or even not built at all (as has been rumoured)?
The Council are hoping for a decision on Crossrail 2 in the summer. Then when they make their decision about the AAP in September, it is possible that they will have to scrap many of these plans and think again – as the adviser in the Library admitted.
Wood Green Area Action Plan Preferred Option Consultation Draft Feb. 2017 is rather vague, and often difficult to interpret (it is a pdf which can be downloaded). There is info. about which buildings are not going to be tall, but less about which are, and how high they are likely to be. More specific proposals for different areas of WG begin on p.102, starting with a contents page for the different areas which follow.
The consultation *has now been extended to 28th April*, and comments can be made until then at https://woodgreen.commonplace.is/
The easiest way to see other people's comments (which you can 'like'/'agree with') is to click on Wood Green Map, then on Comments at the top of the page. There are some other comments which you cannot see this way, but this gives you the longest list.