The arguments of our two contributors on the proposed development on Pope’s Road in central Brixton concentrate on the economics.
When the council’s own planning department accepts that the development would harm Brixton’s conservation status, but that the economic benefits make it worth ignoring the harm, this is inevitable.
However, it is worth considering just who Lambeth council is dealing with on behalf of Brixton.
Hondo Enterprises and its sole director, Texan Taylor McWilliams, despite efforts to present things differently, is not applying for planning permission for the development.
The applicant is AG Hondo Pope’s Road BV, a company registered in Amsterdam and controlled by a finance company with its headquarters in New York.
It is one of 177 companies registered at the same Amsterdam address with a name beginning with the initials AG – for Angelo Gordon.
As well as AG Hondo Pope’s Road BV, they include AG UK Brixton Village Coöperatieve UA; AG Hondo Brixton Village BV; AG Brixton Lender BV; AG Hondo Market Row BV; and AG UK Market Row Coöperatieve UA.
Unlike Hondo Enterprises, which has one director and is officially recognised as a “micro-entity” by the UK government’s company registration authority, Angelo Gordon has nearly 450 employees spread across a dozen offices all over the world.
Angelo Gordon’s total assets are 38 billion US dollars; those of Hondo Enterprises total £42,369.
Taylor McWilliams is just one of the directors of AG Hondo Popes Road BV. The others are from Angelo Gordon.
What is more, AG Hondo Popes Road BV does not own the site for which it is applying for planning permission. It still belongs to Sports Direct.
Hondo’s media representatives say AG Hondo Popes Road BV has an “agreement to purchase” the site, but refuse to say more about this or to answer questions, saying it is a “private” matter.
It is not a private matter. Brixton people have a right to know exactly who is planning to make the biggest changes to their neighbourhood in decades and how they plan to pay for it.
Secrecy has surrounded current ownership of the market from the word go.
Bruce Gillingham Pollard (BGP), which describes itself as a “niche” agency in the retail, restaurant and leisure market, was instrumental in the £37m purchase of Brixton Village and Market row from London & Associated Properties in 2018. It boasted at the time that it was able “to engineer a purchase structure that was blind to the open market”.
BGP says it has acted for Hondo and Angelo Gordon ever since on all leasing and lease consultancy matters.
And, while the owners of Brixton’s covered market now spread largesse to local community organisations with promises of more to come, it is worth remembering that it was not always this way.
The new owners began their occupation of the market by evicting a popular food stall and forcing the owner of a local restaurant and takeaway to spend tens of thousands of pounds in a court case to get his lease renewed.
Realists would argue that the issues outlined above are just how today’s property business operates, and they would probably be right.
Neither is there a queue of rival bidders with plans to build new office space in Brixton with which the current proposal can be compared.
Nor would hoping for better things in the future be a sensible approach.
The Conservative government is hell-bent on introducing changes to planning regulations that would drastically reduce the ability of local authorities to control individual applications.
Indeed, Brixton MP Helen Hayes has warned the council’s planning committee that the changes would make it possible for the development to be converted into flats with no planning permission needed.
Members of the council’s planning sub-committee face a quandary made worse by uncertainty about the long-term effects of the pandemic and enormous changes to the planning system.
Should they reject the application and please thousands of vocal objectors?
Or should they approve it in the hope of bringing major and desperately needed positive changes to the economy of Brixton and Lambeth, but against a backdrop of uncertainty and risk.
If they decide to approve, they must hope that promises made on behalf of a massive foreign-based owner, for whom Brixton is just one of hundreds of projects, will be realised and be unaffected by the effects of the pandemic or new legislation.
It is not a choice that anyone can envy them having to make.