Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mayor passes application – with conditions

At City Hall on Monday 31st March, the Mayor of London passed the outline planning application for Convoys Wharf after what he called "a marathon session but very, very interesting and educational". It had been hoped he might give more time over the next few days to deliberate the decision, allowing Lewisham Council the opportunity to negotiate better terms, but he returned after half an hour to deliver his judgement in favour of the applicant. He did, however, add two conditions that he thought would assist the two community heritage projects, which he said "have a great deal of merit and are both intrinsically attractive".

Although the developer had only last Friday evening offered the Lenox Project £20k for a feasibility study into the uses of the Olympia building and the Protected Wharf with the proviso that both might be ruled out, one of the Mayor of London's conditions is for a feasibility study with the proviso "that there should be an agreement on the part of the developer to contribute to whichever of these options is the most feasible".

The other condition was for the GLA, Lewisham Council and the developers "to look at the space in the existing park (the council-owned Sayes Court Garden in Grove St) and the wider development, to ensure that there is a viable and deliverable project". So neither project is yet home and dry, but both appear to have the support of the Mayor of London.

Further amendments sought by Lewisham were not forthcoming.

A GLA webcast of the hearing can be viewed here (Mac users may have to download and install an extra bit of software here first). Objector's representations can be found roughly a third of the way through, followed by questions from Boris about halfway through. There is then an intermission followed by Boris's decision at the end. 


Below is a report on the hearing.

THE OBJECTORS:

Lewisham Council
Sir Steve Bullock said, "if we get it wrong now, we won't have the opportunity again in our lifetime." He argued that the heights around the Olympia building "should be reduced, their siting changed to give it a generous and respectful setting" and noted with regard to Sayes Court Garden and the Lenox Project that "the current proposals do not...provide either the space needed to deliver them or a commitment to ensure that they create an enduring legacy". He said "the risk remains that these community projects will be shut out and the energy and enthusiasm they have generated will be lost". He reiterated the council's concern that TfL's current assessment lacked any detailed traffic modelling, and welcomed the addition of a 'financial review mechanism' (negotiated by Lewisham) that will allow the securing of additional affordable housing as the scheme's 'viability' (profit for the developer) improves. He urged Boris "to take just a little more time to ensure that these issues can be addressed and resolved satisfactorily".

Pepys Community Forum
Malcolm Cadman began by noting that Convoys had historically been a big local employment site but would not now offer any real employment opportunities. The scheme was aimed at foreign investors and there was little affordable housing. The proposed towers were too tall and atypical of the area. He drew attention to the petition published the previous day in The Observer (London skyline statement: 200 towers threaten to destroy city's character) and suggested that the density of the development would make Deptford "super dense".

Pepys Tenants Action Group
Dave Fleming noted the poor consultation with the community on this scheme and how the developer's had failed to engage. He pleaded for less density, especially in light of the additional developments going up in the area.

People Before Profit
Ray Woolford asked that the affordable housing provision be protected so that it doesn't in future end up in the hands of buy-to-let landlords. He requested that the GLA begin Air Quality Monitoring of the area immediately, to be continued throughout the 13 year construction period, and said "London's health must be put before off-shore profit". He wanted all local residents, many of whom are in fuel poverty, to also benefit from the cheaper SELCHP waste transfer energy that the development will use. He wants the applicant to address Lewisham's 55% youth employment and make sure jobs go to real local residents rather than cheap foreign labour getting moved onto the site to live in sheds under the guise of living locally, as happened with the Olympia Park construction.

Local resident on Transport
Echoing Lewisham Council's concerns, Helena Russell said the applicant's research had been "woefully inadequate". Their transport assessment used "outdated information", lacked "robustness", and risked creating a "perfect storm" for our local transport network. Car parking provision is well above that which is acceptable for other developments, the Public Transport Accessibility Levels (PTAL) were poor, hard to improve and inadequately addressed. New residents will resort to driving, creating extra traffic that will undermine bus services – immediate and robust analysis of the local highways should be given the highest priority. Additional factors include no firm commitment to using the river for construction materials, future changes to the Greenwich line train service, and the Mayor's proposed Super Cycle Highway on Evelyn Street.

The Lenox Project CIC
Julian Kingston drew attention to the Great Basin in front of the Olympia building, one of the many buried heritage assets, which he described as "potentially the one remaining dynamic element in front of a static landscape". The architects place the Olympia building at the heart of the development, but the "future uses proposed would not offer a meaningful link to the river, nor engage and educate the local community, nor attract tourism and offer a legacy". The Lenox Project would provide a legacy for the heritage assets, of craftsmanship and training, and for historic shipbuilding. As "living history" the project would draw in visitors to use the retail and restaurants the applicant proposes to build. To encourage shipbuilding, John Evelyn entrusted his land to the Admiralty on condition that a keel should always lie in a slip. The Lenox should be that keel.

Sayes Court Garden CIC
Nic Durston (National Trust) described how the National Trust had formed from their founders attempts to save Sayes Court Garden. The NT fully supports their proposals and requests for flexibility to allow their ambitious plans to be realised. As one of the directors of the community interest project, Bob Bagley reported how their work with the NT, the Eden Project and Harvard University had demonstrated the need for a Centre of Horticulture here "to help us prepare and adapt to the new challenges our city faces in the 21st century". Research conducted by the NT showed that one hectare was required, but the applicant had only been able to offer half of this. The project had put forward a solution which would not impact on the parameters of the masterplan which they hoped the applicant could be flexible enough to adopt.

Dame Joan Ruddock, MP for Deptford
Dame Joan spoke in support of the two community projects and said that years of expertise had gone into designing them, and their presentations today set out what they need to make them a reality. Without them, the Mayor would be asked to approve a development that would  obscure most of the heritage of this site forever. They were not offering "dusty static museums, but living enterprises that honour the past whilst embracing the future".



SUPPORTERS:

A representative from the developer's team then spoke on behalf of the applicant Hutchison Whampoa. No one else spoke in support.

MAYOR'S QUESTIONS:

Housing

Boris also acknowledged Londoners' fears that such schemes, which cause such huge disruption to locals whilst being built, should be to the advantage of Londoners. Who would the homes be aimed at and marketed to? The applicant replied they'd be marketed in the normal way – to Londoners, (and tellingly), "the same as elsewhere". They are working with London & Quadrant to deliver the affordable housing, but "they aren't 100% signed up yet". There is an agreement to use the council's affordability criteria. Sir Steve Bullock explained that if the rental is at 80% the applicant would offer more units, "but that wouldn't help us in terms of the housing need in the borough. With a smaller number, we will have genuinely affordable rents. That doesn't mean that we're happy with the total number. That's why we've asked for a review mechanism." Boris agreed that it would be "absolutely crazy not to come back and have another bite of this".

Johnson noted that there were quite a lot of objections to the "design and massing and height" but the council had not specifically objected on those grounds. Steve Bullock said they were more concerned at this time about reducing heights around the Olympia building. (Lewisham had already negotiated lowering heights on the outskirts of the development).

Later in his summing up, Johnson said, "It's obviously a scheme that's been a very long time in gestation, 13 years nothing much has been happening on that site, you've got a huge housing shortage in London, there's a real crying need to get development done, this has the prospect of three and a half thousand homes and 1500 jobs and I listened very carefully to the representations that were made to me about the height impact, about the architecture, and I listened, obviously, with particular attention to the views of the council and Sir Steve who I very much respect, and clearly I didn't hear passionate objections against the height…certainly not against the principle of development – that is supported, and indeed the quotient of affordable housing was thought by the council to be broadly acceptable in view of the other constraints that the site faces".

Jobs

Boris noted the objection that the jobs created "wouldn't be the right sort of jobs" which wouldn't go to local people. The applicant replied that it wasn't going to be a major office location, but there would be creative industries, reduced rents for start-ups, plus service industry jobs in the shops, restaurants and hotel. Boris suggested that the Lenox Project would "bring in lots of people". He possibly meant in the form of skilled jobs, but the applicant took this to mean 'visitors' and replied, "That's absolutely right...and we have a strategy for the Olympia Building which is to use the building much more diversely than for the Lenox". There were heckles of "Shops!" from the gallery. The applicant went on, "it's built on the Spitalfields/Covent Garden type model where we can have lots of ad hoc events, destination activites, some cultural facilities...rather than a single use that the Lenox is". There were heckles of "No, it's not!" from the gallery. And "shops!"

Social Cohesion

Boris asked Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock what he had meant by 'social cohesion'. Sir Steve pointed out that prior to the current ownership, a larger amount of Section 106 monies had been suggested and Lewisham would like to return to that figure. The risk was that the development would be an 'enclave' and more money would enable the council to support a wider range of programmes that would alleviate this. A proper pro-rata amount would be £2m towards a 'community trust' that could be endowed to local projects, but the offer from the applicant was for only £0.25m.

They also wanted a greater contribution towards ensuring jobs went to local people, and the developer was disputing additional payments towards secondary school education. Lewisham's Head Planner John Miller said, "a certain sum is promised but the rest is dependent on 'viability'. Our view is that we currently have a primary school crisis and that will turn into a secondary school crisis, so that money should be assured".

Boris responded, "So you're down on the cohesion fund? Is this where negotiations have faltered? Have you squeezed this lemon dry?" John Miller that they were grateful that the GLA officers had speeded things up, but "we just think there's a little bit more to go". Boris replied, "Right, what about now?". Miller said, "that's fine if you'd like to agree those payments that would be excellent". Boris then replied "Oh I don't think I'm allowed to do that actually. I've been told I can't, regrettably".

Transport

Boris had noted: "loss of PTAL, disruption during building – moving vehicles, how much by river? car parking? Too many cars?". He deferred to one of his planners, who agreed "The offer's not that great." But he said there were three ways they could improve on it – with a new route for the existing bus service, a pedestian route to train services and a new pier for river services. He thought it was sufficient. £4m was allocated to local highway improvements. "We're not there now on the modelling but we've got an agreement to work on that". Parking levels are in accordance with the London Plan.

Boris asked again about moving things by river and whether that was 'conditioned in' to which the answer was, "We'll be pressing the applicant to maximise use of the river." Boris brought up Air Quality Monitoring, and the GLA planner agreed this was also factored into the Section 106.


(to be continued...)














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