Lambeth council’s planning committee last night (3 November) backed the controversial plans for a massive development, including a 20-torey tower, in central Brixton.
Claire Wilcox, chair of the planning committee, whose vote was the deciding one in a 4-3 decision, spoke of the influence of the “employment offer” of the development on her vote and said the decision on planning policy was a ”knife edge”.
She proposed a motion at the council’s planning committee that the plans be accepted.
Contributions from the seven councillors, six Labour, one Green, on the application had split three-three over the harm to Brixton and its environment and the promised economic benefits and the prospect of substantial commercial investment, before Wilcox came down on the side of approval.
The decision came after several powerful addresses to the committee, including one from local MP Helen Hayes who said the building was “not good enough for Brixton”.
An influential statement in support of the application came from Karl Lokko – “Brixton born, raised and resident”, who asked where protesters against the development, which was something Brixton residents had been waiting for for ages, had been in campaigns against gang culture, knife crime, lack of local jobs and for better housing.
He said no-one had worried about the skyline when public housing was built.
Sir David Adjaye, whose architectural practice designed the controversial tower, addressed the online meeting himself in favour of the application by the Amsterdam-based AG Hondo Popes Road BV, which is controlled by the New York based finance giant Angelo Gordon.
He said it would be an “emblem” and an “anchor” for Brixton and spoke of it “weaving” together its multi-cultural society.
He said that the building, contrary to protesters’ accusations, would achieve an “excellence” rating for sustainability.
Doug Black, the council’s delivery lead for conservation and urban design, had begun proceedings by saying that a last-minute addition to the agenda was based on discussions between the council and applicants of a representation submitted the previous day by the Brixton Project.
These discussions had led to improvements in items offered by the applicants, including additional roles for a proposed community development group; 2,400 square metres of “affordable” workspace let at 50% of market rents – an increase of 500m square metres; an increase in promised payments to improve local employment and skills over 25 years from £1.5m to £1.875m; and 280 square metres of community floorspace rather than the 221 square metres first offered.
Black said officers had attached “great weight” to the proposal’s impact on conservation and heritage and they advised members that they had a statutory duty to “balance” all aspects of the application. Economic benefits should be given “substantial” weight and outweighed harm to heritage.
Helen Hayes, whose constituency includes the proposed development, said the applicants had not addressed “fundamental concerns”.
Councillors should not settle for a scheme that compromises the “precious cultural heritage” of Brixton, she said. The building was “not good enough for Brixton”.
Promises that the building could not been converted to residential use were “unlikely to be worth the paper they are written on” because of planned government changes to planning law, she said.
Barrister Joe Thomas, speaking for the NoHondoTower campaign, said the development was not led by the local plan and the factors that should bear heavily on councillors’ decisions had been ignored in the officers’ report before them.
Local councillor Scarlett O’Hara said the applicants had not responded to the depth of local dissatisfaction.
The building was an “industrial hulk” and Brixton did not need a “glitzy mall”.
Another local councillor, Emma Nye, said the tower was “vastly out of place” and that views from places like Brockwell Park would be changed forever.
Sandra Brown of the Brixton Rec User Group said she did not want the Rec to be “overshadowed by a huge domineering tower”.
Brixton resident Richard Harkinson said construction of the tower would rule out building the extra platforms needed to improve public transport in the area.
In a 2014 feasibility study, these were located, like the tower between the two railway viaducts above Brixton.
Oliver Sheppard of the applicants’ planning consultants, DP9 said the building would be a “net zero carbon” one.
Ben Kind: AGAINST
Jessica Leigh: FOR
Mohammed Seedat: FOR
Joanne Simpson: AGAINST
Becca Thackray (Green Party): AGAINST
Claire Wilcox (chair): FOR
Timothy Windle: FOR