If you have lived in Herne Hill for a few years, you’ll be wearily familiar with the sequence of changes that have befallen the row of shops at the start of Railton Road, on what is now called Station Square but which was originally not a pedestrianised area but just a normal road – indeed, a bus route. A much-needed redevelopment turned into a slow-moving eyesore. Even now, many of the handsomely refurbished shop units haven’t been let.
Going back in time …
It was back in 2015 that Network Rail, the then owner of these properties, started to consider an investment scheme in Railton Road. Planning consent was obtained, but then the start of the construction works for the comprehensive upgrade of the units and accompanying arch accommodation was delayed for almost a year while vacant possession of the final unit was secured.
Works finally started in January 2017 but revealed a succession of structural weaknesses that called for major remedies before work could proceed further.
Oops, we forgot about that
During the project, it was realised that the electricity power supply delivered to these units and the flats above them would not be adequate for modern use and that a new electricity substation would need to be installed nearby. The long and painful search for a suitable location triggered yet more delay: some neighbours will remember the uproar when it was proposed to demolish The Flower Lady’s shop (a former coal store) to be the new site.
Cutting a long and highly technical story short, The Arch Company, new owners of the thousands of arches and other trackside real estate formerly owned by Network Rail, investigated numerous alternatives but have finally opted to install the substation inside one of the new retail units!
The planning application allowing them to pursue this rather silly solution was contested by the Herne Hill Society, by our ward councillor Becca Thackray, local traders and other bodies. But in the end Lambeth planners have recently granted permission, though no doubt with some reluctance. Enthusiasts for the minutiae of planning applications can find the proposal and the objections still up on Lambeth’s planning website under the reference 19/03371/FUL.
Southeastern say no
Several objectors, including the Herne Hill Society, argued that a much better site was available on the station premises, in the scruffy patch which currently accommodates waste bins and parking for staff cars. Herne Hill station is owned and operated by Southeastern, the train operating company owned by Govia. But as the planning application states, ‘The proposals would have compromised the Train Operating Company’s use of the station and they were unwilling to consider releasing this site from the station lease.’ A great pity; many think that some flexibility here would have led to a good solution, rather than one which disfigures one of the nicely-refurbished new shop units. But Southeastern would not relent.
So there we are. The shop in question, to the immediate left of Lark’s new premises, will now house a massive piece of equipment, and the frontage will, of necessity, be an industrial-looking louvred shutter – see the architect’s elevation drawing extracted from the planning application.
Meanwhile there seems to be no news of tenants for the other vacant shops, and the Covid-19 pandemic, with its painful impact on retail commerce, won’t have helped at all.