Pope’s Road tower ‘a white elephant of excessive size’

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Image of the development showing its height compared to surrounding buildings

The Brixton Society’s objections to the second revision of plans for the proposed 20-storey office tower on Pope’s Road in central Brixton are detailed and critical.

They include:

Height and Massing: “The height is unchanged and the link between the two towers is proposed to be one storey higher, so clearly no mitigation has been offered by the applicants.”

The society says that the height of the proposed building alone breaches council planning policy on tall buildings and adversely affects the Brixton Town Centre Conservation Area.

Materials and Finishes: “Apart from a slight lightening of the brick colour, the façade treatment and heavy detailing of the upper floors continue to reinforce the impression of excessive height and bulk,” the society says.

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Computer generated image of the second and third versions of the tower

Amount of Office Floorspace: “The massive amount of office floorspace proposed looks increasingly like a white elephant, which is very unlikely to be fully taken up,” the society says.

“Our concern is that it would eventually be converted into sub-standard residential accommodation,” given the government’s plans for radical to change in the planning system.

The society says that the applicants “have failed to demonstrate that there is demand for 19 floors of new office space in Brixton.”

It points out that the only evidence supplied for such a demand is a letter from Savills dated 9 January this year, and so predating the shift to much more home-based working, accelerated by the pandemic.

The society cites a BBC survey of 50 of the UK’s largest employers (26 August) and a CBI/ Price Waterhouse survey of financial services employers (8 October).

The society says that planning officers argued for a large office area in order to attract an “anchor” business tenant, around whom smaller businesses would cluster in “some kind of commercial eco-system”.

However, says the society, “it is clear that this concept was not shared with the architect. It might work for an office building with staff amenities in a shared foyer, but here office staff would instead arrive and depart via an extension to the Brixton Village arcade. 

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Office staff would arrive and depart via and extension to Brixton Village – cgi image of the proposed Pope’s Road entrance

The letter from Savills itself says that the planned ground floor entrances to both buildings in the development are “interesting” in a way which is not corporate and would be seen as being “of Brixton”. However, Savills says, “they are relatively small, given the size of the upper parts”.

Its letter goes on to that it is “therefore expected that the lower office floor, or at least a major part thereof will need to be given over to the amenity and wellness facilities essential to all modern office occupiers”. 

It says occupiers will want an enlarged reception and a club lounge on the lowest office level, adding that incorporating a café/breakout space and communal meeting rooms in the reception allows tenants to be flexible within the building, with collaborative breakout space, away from their office floor.

Savills’ letter stresses: “We are relying on this type of amenity to secure these tenants.”

Microclimate: The Brixton Society says the applicants’ updated report on wind effects still fails to illustrate results for elevated locations including overground platforms and the entrance to the Brixton Recreation Centre.

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Diagram showing assumed pedestrian wind comfort conditions at ground level including ‘wind mitigation measures’ for the proposed development in the windiest season

“Even at ground level, there will still be increased wind speeds below and beyond the Popes Road/ Station Road Railway Bridge, in front of the proposed tower, and along the rear approach from Valentia Place. “Brixton Station Road and Pope’s Road should remain important parts of the street market, and we are anxious that they do not become unattractive to shoppers and a more difficult working environment for stall-holders,” the society says.

Planning Benefits: The society says concessions made by the applicants “remain modest in comparison with the adverse and lasting impact of the development” and that several are “the inevitable obligations for any development of this scale”.

It says the “supposed uplift in local employment” is mainly from the office floorspace, “which now looks likely to fall well short of the figures quoted”.

Plans to relocate the entrance to the railway station will have limited impact without reinstatement of the Catford branch service at Brixton Station, the Society says.

“Instead, the council should be seeking a contribution to the reinstatement of East Brixton Station, to provide local access to the London Overground rail service. In itself, this would make the site more attractive to future office occupiers,” the Society says.

Read the full objection [PDF download]