Rubber stamped?

Southwark Council officers have recommended wholesale approval of their chosen development partner’s (Lend Lease) outline planning application for redevelopment of the Heygate Estate. No surprise there perhaps?

Actually, yes. In this case, the scale of the betrayal of the local communities affected is so great as to almost inspire awe in the chutzpah of the officers involved.

For example, officers have recommended approval for this outline planning application despite:

  • The developer proposing only 500 or so “affordable” (below market rent) units, about a quarter of the total. Much of it very unaffordable if you can only pay council rents. To be clear on this, Lend Lease are currently offering 1 bed flats in “One the Elephant” at £320,000. This is after a proposed doubling of the density of buildings on the site. Local policy, adopted by the council last year, stipulates 35% affordable housing.
  • The developer replacing 1,000 social rented units with what looks like 71 in the new development – surprisingly, for such a crucial aspect of the redevelopment proposals, it’s hard to tell what the actual number is; details are tucked away in a table deep in the report. We still await confirmation.
  • Officers refusing to make public details of the value of the land they are giving to Lend Lease, or the reasons for approving plans contrary to local policy, saying that anything more generous would not be “viable”. In fact in almost all key areas the officers hide their refusal to explain “viability” on reasons of “commercial confidentiality”. This means they are hiding all financial details of their transaction with Lend Lease, transferring public land to a private company. We, the community, should apparently take their word for it.
  • The developer refusing to give any real guarantee about the retention of the 400+ mature trees on the site, with the council instead claiming their ecology officer thinks the redeveloped area (perhaps in 50 years? They don’t say) will provide “enhanced biodiversity.” They have, however, guaranteed they will remove 283 mature trees. This includes all trees on the south side of the key Heygate St tree avenue. Removal of these trees, officers say, is to “facilitate road narrowing and the creation of residential front gardens” even though elsewhere they state one of the objectives of their tree strategy is to retain existing trees in all of the civic spaces and small gardens!
  • The developer providing 616 car parking spaces plus “a large number of motorcycle parking spaces” plus an unknown number of car club spaces. This will equate to an area at least the size of two Wembley Stadium-sized football pitches devoted to residential parking and access. This is in spite of the site having the highest public transport accessibility scores possible. And, most importantly, despite the council’s policy (adopted last year) being that any housing developed in this area should be “car-free”. Even the recently approved St Marys Residential tower (also from Lend Lease) has a far lower 16% car parking.
  • The developer explicitly ignoring impacts on longer distance cyclists passing through the area, even though the development is the nexus of many longer distance routes from Walworth, Bermondsey, Peckham and Camberwell and beyond.
  • The developer saying that they will resolve road congestion caused by the development by widening the Northern Roundabout to “a full five lanes” despite the terrible history of death and injury caused by conflicts between cars, buses, cyclists and pedestrians at this location.
  • That the currently public roads and paths in the development, and the proposed “public park”, will in fact be policed and managed privately, in the way MORE London is. This means management policies will be able to be invented by the developer on a whim with no democratic control. Officers say in their report they don’t see any difference between this and council management. If this is so, why not stick with council management, as the community has requested?

The hearing is next Tuesday 15th January (see post below) where you can come and express your concerns and show the planning committee that we all care about what happens in our neighbourhood. It will be a chance to watch officers attempt to defend the indefensible, but hopefully also to see our councillors do the right thing.

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