Planning application for Pope's Road

I have been contacted by many constituents who are concerned about Hondo's planning application for Pope's Road. I share these concerns and have written to Lambeth Council to oppose the application. You can read my full objection below. 

Dear Mr Bristow

I am writing to make representations on behalf of my constituents in central Brixton in relation to planning application 20/01347/FUL for Pope’s Road.  I have been contacted by many constituents in relation to this application, which is in a prominent and sensitive location in the heart of Brixton town centre.  I wish to make the following points to represent the views of my constituents:

1. Introduction

This application is being considered in a context of very great sensitivity for our town centres.  Retailers are facing the most challenging trading environment for many years, and independent retailers in particular are facing the multiple pressures of increasing rents, increasing business rates, competition from online and a collapse in business due to coronavirus.  As a consequence, there is growing concern in the local community that the distinctive, independent character of central Brixton and the shops and services which serve the local community are at risk.  Although it is not predominantly a retail site, it is vitally important that any development on Pope’s Road, helps to preserve and enhance the character of central Brixton and serves the local community.

2. Height and design quality

This planning application, at 21 storeys would be by far the tallest building in east Brixton.  It would dominate the skyline, and would be seen prominently from Railton Road/Atlantic Road, Brixton Road, Brixton Station Road and a variety of other view points around the town centre.  Such a tall building will cast long shadows, and there are concerns about the impact it will have on access to light for surrounding residents and businesses. 

The design of the building is not distinctive, it is indistinguishable from many other tall buildings across London.  As such, it does not add to or enhance the character of the historic environment in central Brixton, or provide any expression of the uniqueness and diversity of the local community.  If approved it will erode the distinctiveness of an area of London which is currently characterised by a unique mix of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, occupied by a diverse range of predominantly BAME-owned independent businesses.  Any new building of such size and scale, in this extremely sensitive location, should be the subject of both the extensive, early engagement of the local community to inform the design process, and a full design review to ensure that it will enhance the special character of central Brixton.

I urge the Council to ensure that this proposal is the subject of a full design-review process and to require a much more extensive process of community engagement than has taken place to date before a decision is made on the application.

3. Risk in relation to Permitted Development Rights

A building as tall as this proposal is extremely expensive to construct, requiring deep piles and heavy engineering, and containing large areas of unlettable space accommodating services and circulation space.  As a consequence, tall buildings typically require high levels of rent in order to meet the costs of construction and maintenance.  Office space in Brixton town centre is characterised by buildings which have been re-used, and which are attractive to a range of creative businesses which typically cannot afford high levels of rent.  It is not clear that there is any established market in Brixton for the kind of corporate commercial tenants which can afford to pay the rental levels required to meet the costs of such an expensive new tall building.  In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact both on the economy, provoking a severe recession, and on work patterns, with many more people working flexibly from home and a step-change in the use of technology to substitute virtual meetings and working practices for many activities which had usually taken place in a physical workspace.  There is no evidence to suggest that there will be demand for 21 storeys of workspace in central Brixton, at the level of rent required to support a new tall building, in the foreseeable future.

These issues would be solely a matter of risk for the applicant, were it not for the current government’s policy relating to the expansion of permitted development rights.  I raise this issue, as I worked extensively on it during the last Parliament as a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee.  Under current planning policy, a building owner can convert an office or industrial building into a residential building without the need for a planning application.  Such buildings are exempt from requirements for affordable housing or section 106 contributions to community infrastructure such as school places, parks and green spaces or medical facilities.  Given the level of homelessness and housing need in Lambeth – an issue I see the impact of every single week in my surgeries and my inbox – it would be unconscionable for this building to become a luxury residential tower block by a back-door permitted development rights route.   The cost of flats in such a building, without any requirement to provide affordable housing would be completely beyond the reach of local residents and would make no contribution to meeting local housing need in my constituency and across the borough.

I urge the Council to refuse this application, unless it can guarantee that permitted development rights will not be used to convert it to residential use in the future, for example, through the use of an Article 4 direction, section 106 agreement or covenant to protect the site for employment use and ensure that if there were plans to develop housing on the site in the future the Council would be able to ensure that this contributed to meeting the urgent need for genuinely affordable homes and community infrastructure through the planning process.  

I would be grateful if you could please confirm safe receipt of my objection to this planning application.

With best wishes,

Helen Hayes MP
Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood