Brixton MP urges councillors to reject ‘overbearing’ Pope’s Road tower

The tower would loom over Electric Avenue

Local MP Helen Hayes has joined English Heritage and the Brixton Society in their continued opposition to plans for a 20-storey tower on Pope’s Road in central Brixton and called on councillors to reject the proposals.

She also raised concerns about misleading campaigning methods by paid employees of supporters of the application.

And she said that, given the direction in which government planning policy is moving, there would be “very little” the council could do to stop the tower being converted for residential use once it was built.

Hayes also pointed to the impact of the pandemic on working practices and the likely demand for office space.

The Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, whose constituency covers central Brixton, told the council she wanted to emphasise that the latest changes to the planning application for the development did not address concerns that she had set out in her objection to the original application.

The MP, who worked as a town planner before her election, said: “It remains my fundamental belief that the design of this proposal is not of an acceptable standard to justify its exceptional height in the heart of a conservation area.

“A building of this scale in the Brixton conservation area should meet the highest possible design standards, including satisfying Historic England that it enhances the character of the conservation area and the setting of nearby listed buildings, and this proposal does not do so.

Brixton Society and English Heritage oppose the plans

“Central Brixton has an incredibly special mix of historic buildings and spaces – this proposal would have a fundamental impact on the character of the area, and the height, scale, massing, use of materials and facade design, all make this an overbearing, unattractive proposal.”

Hayes added that serious concerns over the economic viability of the scheme remain and have deepened in recent weeks as the economic impacts of the pandemic start to be felt.

“There is no established office market in Central Brixton at the levels of rent required to recoup the costs of a new-build tower,” she said.

The pandemic was bringing about a severe recession and a fundamental change in the way that people in formerly office-based jobs with working, with a very significant proportion continuing to work from home, the MP said.

Despite an undertaking by the applicant not to use the building for homes, Hayes said, “it is current government policy to encourage and facilitate the conversation of office buildings to residential use without the need for planning permission”.

She continued: “There is very little that the council can do to resist such a move should it happen in the future.

“This policy environment, combined with concerns about the viability of a new build 20-storey office tower, mean there is considerable risk that this building could be converted to a residential building with no affordable housing.”

Lambeth town hall
Computer generated image of the proposed tower seen from outside Lambeth town hall on Brixton Hill

The MP raised concerns about attempts by supporters of the plans to influence the council’s decision, saying she had been been contacted by constituents “who have been stopped in the street by paid staff seeking support for this proposal, with a model letter to the council”.

Hayes said that a number of these constituents were “very distressed” by this as the full details of the scheme, including the height of the proposal were not fully explained.

“One constituent who signed a letter wrote to me that when they got home they looked up the proposal and were clear that they did not support it, but the information they had been given in the street was not complete.

“I am concerned by these reports, and I urge the council to consider model letters of support that it has received in the context of these reports.

Documentation for the planning sub-committee reports an unprecedented surge of apparent backing for the development, in the form of 667 recent “expressions of support”.

However, this new support falls short of new expressions of opposition – 669, which include more than 400 hand-delivered postcards.

According to council officers, it has, to date, received 3,372 “individual representations” with 1,041 backing and 2,331 objecting to the proposed development.

The MP said that the council’s planning committee had been set to reject the proposal, but gave the applicant an opportunity to respond to and address the concerns that had been raised.

“I do not believe that the concerns raised have been adequately addressed,” she said.

“The objection I have previously submitted still stands and I urge the council to reject this proposal”.