Four Meridian Water tower blocks approved

Fresh concerns raised over use of single staircases in tall buildings, reports James Cracknell

A computer-generated image of the proposals for part of the second phase of Meridian Water (credit Vistry Partnerships/Patel Taylor Architects/HTA Design)
A computer-generated image of the proposals for part of the second phase of Meridian Water (credit Vistry Partnerships/Patel Taylor Architects/HTA Design)

Detailed plans for 274 homes on a former gasholder site within the £6billion Meridian Water redevelopment zone have been granted planning permission.

Enfield Council’s planning committee voted to approve permission for four tower blocks up to 16 storeys tall adjacent to Pymmes Brook and Orbital Business Park – despite some councillors raising concerns that they would each have only a single staircase.

Outline planning permission had previously been granted in March 2020 for the wider second phase of development at Meridian Water, which is set to include some 2,300 homes in total. The application debated by councillors this week was the first detailed application to come forward from the second phase. The first phase, known as Meridian One, is currently under construction.

The four tower blocks are planned on a small site comprising only 6% of the total second phase area. The planned 274 homes would provide 131 homes for London Affordable Rent, 48 for shared ownership, and 95 for London Living Rent. There would be 67 one-bedroom units, 123 with two bedrooms and 84 three-bedroom homes – meaning 30% of the homes are family-sized. There would also be 3,018 square metres of commercial floor space provided.

While the affordable housing was welcomed by councillors on the committee, some aspects of the towers came in for criticism. Matt Burn, from campaign group Better Homes Enfield, had begun the debate with a deputation hitting out at the use of single staircases in each tower block – following similar criticism he had levelled at plans for Meridian One only last month.

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Matt highlighted that many other countries had banned single staircases for tall buildings and that the British government was being pressured to do the same, even writing recently to local councils about the issue.

Matt said: “It will be difficult to fully evacuate the buildings in the event of a fire. ‘Stay put’ policies don’t always work, especially since the Grenfell Tower fire [in which scores of people died after following orders to stay in their homes].

“The London mayor and the National Fire Chiefs Council have requested a review of single staircases.”

Matt also criticised other aspects of the scheme, including the location of refuse and cycle parking areas, which he argued were too far away from the front doors of the flats in the building. He concluded: “I want homes to be built at Meridian Water but I also want them to be safe and I want the people who live in them to feel safe. So my request is to defer the application.”

Sarah Parkinson, from developer Vistry Partnerships, told the committee the scheme “represents the exciting next phase of the delivery of the council’s Meridian Water vision” and added: “We have undertaken an extensive design review for a year-and-a-half, as a result we have achieved an exceptional design quality.

“No issues have been raised by officers on waste storage or cycle parking and I would point out the use of planning conditions is a valid approach.

“Fire safety considerations have been front and centre of our approach to design […] Vistry has gone over and above fire safety regulations.”

During the debate among councillors, the issue of using single staircases was highlighted several times, prompting a response from the council’s building control manager Andrew Marsden, who said: “We are left with a position where the law can allow us to consider single staircase buildings – that might be changing, but we can only consider building regulations as they sit today.”

Conservative committee member Lee Chamberlain was unhappy with the response and compared it with the inadequate number of lifeboats on the Titanic. He said: “The Titanic was compliant with regulations at the time but it didn’t make much difference to the passengers.”

Seven Labour councillors on the committee subsequently voted to approve planning permission, with the four Conservatives on the committee voting against.

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