Council puts off Pope’s Road tower decision

The tower would loom over Electric Avenue

Lambeth council last night deferred a decision on an application by the Amsterdam-based company AG Hondo Pope’s Road BV for a 20-storey office block on Pope’s Road in central Brixton.

Planning committee chair Clair Wilcox proposed at 10.45pm last night (25 August) that it be discussed again within four weeks after the applicants had responded to the many and serious concerns expressed by councillors.

Her proposal was supported by five votes to two, with Labour councillors Ben Kind – who had opposed the application – and Jessica Leigh voting against and Green councillor Becca Thackray joining three other Labour councillors and the chair to support

Councillors discussing the application were torn between the apparent economic benefits on offer and the huge impact the project would have on Brixton.

Joanne Simpson, Labour, said the tower was “absolutely monstrous” and would change Brixton irreversibly. “Yes, there are public benefits,” she said, But there were no heritage benefits and a lot of the apparent benefits on offer would not come from the applicants.

Green councillor Becca Thackray said the committee should delay and ask for major adjustments.

Ben Kind, Labour, expressed “real concern” about the design.

Mohammed Seedat, Labour, was satisfied by the development, and said the applicant was showing faith in Brixton and South London. But he had a problem with the “massing” of the entire project and the buildings behind the tower. He was also concerned about the design of the building.

The committee went into minute detail on many issues, including the effect of the 20-storey tower on the light for 18 neighbouring homes.

The powerful call by local MP Helen Hayes, an expert on the subject, for measures to prevent the scheme being switched to luxury flats was met by a proposed lengthy condition to be attached to any decision.

This was discussed in detail as councillors asked how legally watertight such a condition might be.

There was also discussion, much of it critical, of the design of the building and of how its height would affect the rest of Brixton.

But the council’s long-term economic plans for the area and for the borough as a whole were clearly a major influence on the report before the councillors,

Explaining the rationale for the scheme, and for its size, Rob Bristow, Lambeth council’s director for planning, transport and sustainability, said that the size of the scheme was not only required, but was “critical”.

The amount of office space would create an “ecosystem” and was a direct response to the economics of Lambeth council’s local plan.

“That is what has driven this scheme,” he said.

The officers’ report for the committee said research by the property company Savills in the form of a questionnaire sent to 65,000 clients, demonstrated that office developments that are capable of acting as a catalyst for the creation of a new commercial hub require a critical mass of at least 200,000 square feet. This scheme has more.

There were “major opportunities” for the site and also for “the site to the north [now occupied by Pop Brixton] in due course,” said Bristow.

He pointed out that the economy was entering a period of recession and unemployment while the scheme would be a creator of employment.

He added that a smaller scheme would not be able to make the same contribution to the public realm.

Details of the economics benefits claimed for the development were set out in the officers’ report for the committee. Among them were business rates of £2.4m a year.

Anyone with nearly four hours to spare and who is prepared to divulge their details Microsoft can watch/listen to the entire meeting.