A controversial planning application for a new hotel in the heart of Brixton does not conform to existing policies, Lambeth council planning officers admit in a revised recommendation on the application to be considered later this month.
Despite this, and a strongly critical comment from the pub campaign CAMRA, officers are again recommending acceptance of the application to demolish the current Superdrug premises opposite the Tube station and redevelop it as a six-storey 96-bedroom budget hotel.
The application was withdrawn shortly before it was due to be considered in August because of objections from Transport for London after Brixton Blog reported plans for coaches visiting the hotel to park on bus stops on the Brixton Road red route.
Lambeth council’s own Brixton regeneration team [full title: Investment and Growth (Brixton & Clapham) team] has asked planning officers whether the two upper floors of the current Superdrug building might not be better used as refurbished retail or office space.
The council has warned that lack of office space is a serious threat to local economic development.
The regeneration team’s question draws attention to a council planning policy requirement that officers wish to ignore in the case of the proposed hotel.
This requires any developer wanting to change the use of a building, or part of it, from retail to something else to conduct “active and appropriate” marketing of the retail space for at least one year before they can claim that there is no demand for the retail space.
Miraj Investments, the Colliers Wood based company making the planning application, has not carried out such an exercise.
The Brixton regeneration team says it is “very concerned” about the loss of a large retail unit in the primary shopping area of a major centre, adding: “We are reluctant to see a single unit as large as this being lost without full justification”.
Council planners have responded by saying that another planning policy supports hotel development and that first-floor retail accommodation above the Superdrug store has been vacant for 40 years.
As the Superdrug store will return after demolition and rebuilding, they say, ”officers consider the loss of retail floorspace in this case acceptable”.
The document before the planning committee says: “In the particular circumstances of this case officers have concluded that an exception to the requirement of a marketing exercise is justified.”
The regeneration team also says that bedrooms in the basement of the new hotel “will offer very poor accommodation”.
Council planners say that the proposed rooms “have been designed to a high standard to cater for a particular short stay visitor at the budget end of the hotel market”.
CAMRA – originally founded as the Campaign for Real Ale in the 70s – is now regarded as a key source of expertise and advice on pubs and development and is regularly consulted on planning issues.
Its comment about the disappearance of the SW9 bar is damning. It told Lambeth council: “Most current patrons of the SW9 Bar will not regard a soulless hotel bar and restaurant as an adequate replacement for their much loved, friendly and welcoming pub”.
Under pressure from the developers, Alan Culverhouse, proprietor of the SW9, surrendered his lease for minimal compensation when an original application for the hotel, backed by Lambeth council planners, did not contain an independent bar.
The plans were changed to include an “independent” bar after this.
CAMRA told the Lambeth planners: “This bar [SW9] is a very popular and much loved establishment.
“Although this application allows for a replacement bar on the ground floor it does remove both the first floor (where the current kitchen and toilets are situated), and the ancillary storage in the basement from pub use.
“But perhaps more importantly pubs aren’t really like most other businesses.
“Many people associate very closely with them, and some effectively treat them as their homes. The new bar and restaurant will be nothing like the SW9 Bar.”
In reply to online comments on the application saying there should be proper compensation for Alan Culverhouse, council planners say: “This is not a material planning consideration. Issues of tenancy/lease arrangements and/or compensation payments between the existing tenant of the public house and the property freeholder are a civil matter and are not material to the consideration of the planning application”.
Concern over the likely effects of building work to refurbish Network Rail’s arches in Atlantic and Brixton Station roads has highlighted the issue of noise, dust and disruption in the centre of Brixton.
Yet the planning application for the hotel that the committee will consider does not include a construction and environment management plan – a requirement before major construction work can begin – even though the demolition of a three-story building and its replacement by a six-storey one might be considered to be even more disruptive than work on the arches.
Residents on nearby roads could be seriously affected.
Many of them have complained about poor, or no, consultation on the plans and may not be reassured by the council planners’ bland statement that “both demolition and construction would be undertaken in a sensitive manner”.
The developers will be required to submit a finalised construction and environment management plan before starting work that will also be looked at by Transport for London.
The application is due to be considered by the council’s planning applications committee at the Karibu Education Centre, 7 Gresham Road SW9 7PH, at 7pm on Tuesday 19 September.