The battle for Brixton: ‘Skyline versus people’

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Computer generated image of the proposed square in front of the Pope’s Road tower

Plans for a 20-storey office block on Pope’s Road would be massive change in the heart of Brixton, and campaigners for and against the project are pulling out all the stops ahead of a crucial Lambeth council planning sub-committee meeting on 3 November.

A campaign against the tower, mounted by people who gained international publicity for their campaign against the eviction of Nour Cash & Carry from Brixton’s covered markets, are on one side.

On the other is Hondo Enterprises, the “micro-entity” company headed by Texan Taylor McWilliams which runs the day-to-day operations of Brixton Village and Market Row.

Both are battling for local public opinion to influence the decision of the half dozen or so Lambeth councillors who will approve or reject plans for the tower.

McWilliams is one of the directors of AG Hondo Popes Road BV which is applying for planning permission. The other directors of the Dutch company represent the giant New York based finance company Angelo Gordon. McWilliams is the only director of Hondo Enterprises.

Hondo has stepped up its PR offensive to obtain planning permission for the tower with a website and, more recently, a brochure.

The brochure combines a summary of the claimed economic benefits of the tower with short interviews with leading members of Brixton’s Black community, including Brian Danclair, founder of Fish, Wings & Tings in Brixton Village and Gerald Vanderpuye, director of Impact Brixton, based in the former Photofusion headquarters in Market Row.

Brian Danclair Fish, Wings & Tings
Brian Danclair – opportunity and lifeline

Danclair says: “This development is a great opportunity and a vital lifeline for Brixton’s markets. It has been an incredibly hard year for the hospitality industry. The new building would bring thousands of new, regular customers for the markets and help drive much-needed recovery.”

Vanderpuye says: “Since I took over and rebranded Impact Brixton in 2018, I’ve seen the difference that affordable workspace and building a hub for Brixton’s home-grown businesses can make.

“The space offered by this development will provide hundreds of people, including the next generation of local entrepreneurs, with the opportunity to build their businesses in the local community.”

Typical is the contribution of Karl Lokko, now a renowned orator, poet, campaigner for social justice.

His journey began as a gang member at 16 in Myatt’s Fields and progressed through being a founder director of Blockworkout, which was based at 6 Somerleyton Road, to being an adviser to Prince Harry.

Now 30, he says Brixton’s aura is recognised far and wide. “However,” he says, “nothing is without its blemishes”, adding that he has “also tasted the bitter fruits”.

He declares: “Some rally for the area’s skyline, but I rally for its people. Many of the issues in the area are a by-product of deprivation.

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People or skyline? cgi image of the proposed tower

“More police on the street is a cosmetic work. What is ultimately required is economic stimulation and access to jobs.

“Local people see the benefits of this development because of the thousands of jobs, the millions of pounds for the local area and the community space that will be run by the local people.

“Protesters might tell you otherwise, but all I see really is the pot calling the kettle black and neither of them actually are.”

The opponents of the tower see things differently. Their petition, which now has more than 6,000 supporters, is backed by a statement saying the voices of ordinary Brixtononians must be heard.

They point out that the plans contravene Lambeth council’s own policy on building height; that a light impact study does not complying with Building Research Establishment guidelines; contend that the building will not have a good energy and sustainability rating; and say there is little evidence of demand for luxury office space in the area.

They accuse Hondo Enterprises of selling itself as having a good rapport with the community but not having undertaken any consultation with the Brixton community before the application was submitted.

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