Council officers back Pope’s Road tower

CGI of street scene in Brixton
Computer generated image of the tower seen from the junction of Atlantic Road and Vining Street

Lambeth council officers are recommending that plans for a 20-storey office block on Pope’s Road in central Brixton be approved.

Construction of the office and restaurant complex would be the biggest change to the area since the demolition in 2009 of the multi-storey car park on the site of what is now Pop Brixton.

The recommendation comes despite the fact that existing local planning documents do not recognise the site as suitable for a tall building and strong objections from a local councillor, the local MP and the Brixton Society.

The Amsterdam-based company making the application, AG Hondo Pope’s Road BV, does not own the site and has refused to answer question from Brixton Blog about its ownership, saying this is a “private matter”.

A 117-page document, adding to the 1,000-plus pages already published on the council’s planning website, lists the objections to the plans, but also the many hundreds of thousands of pounds the council will be seeking from developers, including a total of £1.5m for public realm improvements, according to the applicants, and more than half a million for support for Lambeth people seeking work.

Proposed southern elevation of the new complex, facing Brixton Village and Carney Place. Residents of Carney Place and Milles Square say “the sheer bulk of the southern facade is considered relentless and inelegant”

One of the strongest warnings about the proposed development by the owners of Brixton Village and Market Row is local MP Helen Hayes.

She says that there is no evidence to suggest that there will be demand for 21 storeys of workspace in central Brixton, at the high levels of rent required to support an expensive new tall building, in the foreseeable future.

“These issues would be solely a matter of risk for the applicant,” she says, “were it not for the current government’s policy relating to the expansion of permitted development rights” – allowing offices to be converted to residential space.

Helen Hayes worked extensively on this issue 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,” she warns.

“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.”

The tower would loom over Electric Avenue

Local councillor Emma Nye echoes other objections about the impact of the building on the area, saying: “Brixton has a proud history of being forward-thinking and creative. But there are real concerns about this development.

“While investment into Brixton is welcomed, any new build should add to, not detract from, the existing character of the area.”

The council officers’ report says that the building would generate an estimated 1,600 jobs and take more than three years to complete.

The online council planning committee will consider the application at 7pm on Tuesday 25 August. Agenda and documents on the council website.