A neighbour reports that they have received a letter from Lambeth advising that a revised application has been made for the notorious Twin Towers project at Loughborough Junction, which we reported on back in 2020: see our summary then, which contains a link to the Herne Hill Society’s magisterial objection.
Fully conscious that their original application blatantly breached Lambeth’s own policy regarding tall buildings, the developers are now, it seems, trying to breathe new life into the proposal by persuading the council to override their own policy.
We have no doubt that the Herne Hill Society’s planners are now gearing up to return to the charge. Hopefully the Brixton Society and the Loughborough Junction Action Group will also spring into action.
Meanwhile, what isn’t remotely clear is why Lambeth have advised (as far as we know) just one household on Fawnbrake Avenue. Surely they’re not trying to keep this cheeky new application secret, are they?
This is a National Grid project, stretching over several years and representing an investment of over £1 billion.
Phase 1 was a seven-year, £1 billion programme, to build 32km of tunnels and two new substations across North London.
Now Phase 2, “London Power Tunnels 2” relates to south London and will see the replacement of existing electricity cables in South London which are coming towards the end of their useful life, the majority of which are buried beneath the road network.
It involves building a new network of cable tunnels, 32.5km in length, between Wimbledon (via Lambeth and Old Kent Road) and Crayford. The local stretch of this long tunnel runs deep under Coldharbour Lane. The Bengeworth Road tunnelling project is designed to connect the substations and other installations on the Bengeworth Road site to this main cross-London tunnel. The operations on the Bengeworth Road site are the responsibility of UK Power Networks, who are infrastructure operators: they own and maintain electricity cables and lines across London, the South East and East of England.
To upgrade the connections between the UK Power Networks installations at Bengeworth and the main National Grid, their contractors need to tunnel down to build a shaft at Bengeworth Road to connect to the main tunnel under Coldharbour Lane. Tunnelling works are due to start in the second half of 2021, and once complete (likely in 2022), a new substation and headhouse (to access the shaft for maintenance purposes) will be installed on the site in 2023 and 2024.
Bengeworth Road is the access route to (and also the name of) a large industrial site occupied by UK Power Networks. It is squeezed between the side of King’s College Hospital , the residential streets east of Cambria Road, and Southwell Street. It borders on the railway line, which separates it from Ruskin Park. See map below.
The residents’ concerns about the impact of this major project include the impact of noise and disruption during the tunnelling and the building of new, taller infrastructures that might permanently dominate their sightlines and deprive them of light. Meetings have been held with residents and attended by our MP Helen Hayes and representatives of Lambeth Council. Consultations are ongoing.
It seems clear that the project cannot be stopped, so the issues are about mitigation.
Planning Permission in the usual way is not required because the project is classified as a Permitted Development – a legal category which seems to have some ambiguous rules and different interpretations. But there may still be ways to challenge certain aspects of the plans, and local planning experts are examining these at the moment. The Loughborough Junction Action Group and the Herne Hill Society are involved in the consultations and the campaign.
All the documents relating to the formal application for Permitted Development can be found on Lambeth’s planning website by keying in reference 20/04417/LDCP or clicking here.
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.
In response to the development proposals for Dorchester Courtsubmitted on behalf of the owners, Heinrich Feldman and family, through their company Manaquel, Lambeth’s planning committee now has to cope with two magisterial objections – on behalf of the residents themselves, and now by the Herne Hill Society on behalf of the whole community.
The Society’s deeply considered and detailed response to the planning application fundamentally dismantles the Manaquel proposal. It can be read on the Society’s website. Here are a few key excerpts:
There needs to be a legally binding agreement between Lambeth Council and Manaquel which sets out in detail the repairs Manaquel agree to carry out for the total restoration of Dorchester Court. Without it, there is no obligation on Manaquel to start, let alone complete the work. Given the historic failures of Manaquel over decades to address the repair of the building the need for this is all the greater. Neither is there any other form of legally binding undertaking that obliges Manaquel to complete the repairs before marketing the new residences.
There is no detailed schedule of repairs. … Given Manaquel’s historic record in terms of maintenance of Dorchester Court, our fear is that work will start, the foundations will be found to be inadequate, the buildings will be structurally compromised and an application will then be made to demolish the buildings as there will not be enough profit from the development to repair them.
No details are given as to how in future Dorchester Court will be managed in a way to avoid the problems of maintenance that have plagued it for several decades and seen it placed on the Heritage at Risk Register.
The applications conflict with several Policies spelt out in the Lambeth Plan. Permitting these applications will not secure the long term future of Dorchester Court and will not secure benefits that outweigh the negative effect of breaching established planning policies. … Failure to classify this application as an enabling development and disregard of the Historic England policy and guidance could expose the local authority to legal challenge in its decision-making process.
Lambeth officers are now presumably trying to digest all this before briefing the members of the planning committee. As far as we know, no date has been set yet for the planning committee to meet.
Fawnbrake residents will be familiar with Dorchester Court, the imposing 1930s apartment blocks sitting between Herne Hill itself and Dorchester Drive.
It is now threatened with wholly unsuitable development, as set out in a planning application submitted by the notorious and neglectful landlords. (Helen Hayes MP apparently described them as “one of the worst landlords I have ever come across”.) The landlords’ deliberate and cynical neglect over the years has made some parts of the estate almost uninhabitable, and indeed dangerous.
Yet Dorchester Court is a Grade 2 listed building, and is one of only two 20th Century listed buildings in Lambeth
it was designed by renowned architects Kemp and Tasker. Built in the 1930s in the British Moderne style, it is the only example of a residential block by the designers, who are known for their Art Deco cinemas.
The landlords are in fact the ultra-rich Heinrich Feldman and family, sheltering behind Manaquel Ltd, one of their many holding companies. Manaquel Ltd acts as the landlord for Dorchester Court
The long-suffering Residents Association are fighting back and have created an information-rich website which is well worth looking at.
Plans for the twin tower development proposed for Loughborough Junction, featured in our last post, have been comprehensively rubbished in a formal objection now tabled on behalf of the Herne Hill Society.
The main thrust of the Society’s objection is that a decision to allow the proposed development would go against the Lambeth Plan for new developments, as well as the London Plan and indeed the 2019 National Planning Policy Framework.
This sounds academic, but demonstrating how the proposal is fundamentally inconsistent with the Council’s own planning guidelines makes it very difficult for the Lambeth planners to give it the green light – though of course there’s no guarantee that they won’t find a way to wriggle out of this.
The draft new Lambeth Plan lays down many requirements that new developments must respect, including the principle that the design of a new development must be a response to the good aspects of the local context and historic character in many detailed ways.
The proposal flouts Lambeth’s own standards
As the Society’s magisterial demolition of the proposal states, the architects have signally failed to meet these policy criteria. “Two towers rising to 29 and 20 stories are not a positive or contextual response to the character of the area. On the contrary, they are wilfully antagonistic to the character, creating densely congested structures with an overbearing presence out of any reasonable scale with neighbouring buildings.”
They go on to say: “The rationale of the designs stems solely from the maximisation of housing capacity on a small site, not from any response to local context.”
Rules for tall buildings
There is more. They note that the London Plan and the Lambeth Plan emphasise that tall buildings require excellent design and should be of “exemplary standard”. But as the Society points out, “the towers stand out for their gross incongruity in the local context not for any outstanding design quality or distinct architectural expression.”
They also flag up the proposed towers’ harmful effect on heritage assets, particularly views from Ruskin Park and Brockwell Park where what is proposed is a “markedly intrusive, permanent alteration to views from the park, one that makes no positive contribution to the park and its local context.”
The proposal’s airily dismissed references to potential bottlenecks in public transport (mentioned in our last post) are also painfully exposed and politely savaged in the Society’s response.
There is more: it’s well worth a read, and shows the importance of having a strong local Society, supported by experts who know their stuff. The upshot is that their demolition of the tower development proposal, while elegantly written, is comprehensive and enough to make its architects blush. (Don’t count on it.)
Read it all
The full text of the Objection can be read in a PDF found via a new page on the Herne Hill Society’s website, through this link.
Many neighbours (including Fawnbrake Avenue residents plugged into the Fawnbrake Street Party WhatsApp group) have already heard about the plans to erect a massive building sprouting two tower blocks of 20 and 29 storeys at Loughborough Junction, where Herne Hill Road approaches Coldharbour Lane. Yes it’s in Loughborough Junction, but this eyesore would dominate much of Herne Hill too, particularly on the Lambeth side.
The site is bounded by Hinton Road (the short extension of Milkwood Road), Wanless Street (right up against the back gardens of the houses), Herne Hill Road, and one of Loughborough Junction’s many railway viaducts, this one carrying trains to and from Denmark Hill Station.
The proposed new building (it is nominally one “podium building” with two towers superimposed) would offer some employment and retail floorspace, and 170 flats.
Time to send in our comments
Few of us would argue that these two sites are perfect as they are. Redevelopment is overdue, with the emphasis on more housing accommodation, but with some space for businesses too.
But why the looming towers? The crass unsuitability of such an intrusive development has provoked an unprecedented torrent of predominantly hostile comments on Lambeth Council’s planning site. There is still time for others to lodge their objections. It’s easily done and now is the time, before the website closes for comments. The site can be reached by clicking here.
A host of objections suggest themselves, including the grotesque disturbance of the traditional, mainly low-rise landscape and views around this part of south-east London including from Ruskin Park.
Herne Hill Society on the case
The Herne Hill Society’s highly expert planning group have already posted a report, available by clicking here. They are currently preparing a major, detailed objection to this plan. We will post a link to this when it becomes available.
Meanwhile, this post focuses mainly on the transport issues.
But first … another 16-storey tower looms
What makes things worse is that the proposed development would sit alongside another earlier one, in the pipeline already, featuring a 16-storey tower, on the neighbouring so-called Higgs Estate. This lies just the other side of the same railway viaduct and abuts on to Coldharbour Lane. Lambeth granted planning permission for this development in December 2019. Local societies including the Herne Hill Society and the Brixton Society strongly objected to this application too, but were overruled by Lambeth.
So if the current application were to be granted, Loughborough Junction would “benefit”, as the estate agents say, from three highly intrusive tower blocks – see the picture.
In our view, one’s enough.
Rail transport links? Wishful thinking
What is particularly nonsensical is the claim that the development is well served by public transport.
It is literally true, as the application blandly states, that “The application site is well served by public transport and Loughborough Junction Station, which is within a two-minute walk of the site, offers mainline train services to central London and elsewhere.”
But of course, this ignores, either deliberately and cynically, or unprofessionally, the fact that at critical times of the day (and particularly at morning rush hour between 7:30 and 9:00), the Thameslink trains stopping at Loughborough Junction are already full to bursting – so much so that passengers wanting to board at Herne Hill station, just 2 minutes up the line, often have to wait for several trains to go through before they can squeeze on. No way would the hundreds of additional commuters emerging from the proposed tower blocks be able to struggle on board at Loughborough Junction.
Lies, Damned Lies and Cynicism
A Transport Plan, one of the many supporting documents accompanying the application, concedes that a Lambeth Council study in 2014 already identified, even back then, that “Loughborough Junction … suffers from sharp peaks that contribute to relatively uncomfortable conditions for passengers both within the ticket hall and on the platform.”
Things have undoubtedly got worse in the last six years, and will get even worse when the residents of the 16 stories on the Higgs Estate start trying to get to work. But the authors of the Transport Plan, inevitably delivering what the developers want to hear and have paid for, suggest that people could quite easily walk to Denmark Hill station (already highly congested) via Ruskin Park or to Brixton Underground. We have seen no evidence that the developers or their transport planners have bothered to open a dialogue with the train operators to address these issues. Perhaps because there is no solution?
Raising the very same objections last March to the earlier Higgs Estate proposal, the Brixton Society pulled no punches:
“The present Public Transport Accessibility score is … deceptive, and new residents will experience difficulty if they wish to travel to work in Central London at normal hours. Yet that access to Central London will be the main appeal of this location for purchasers of the sale or shared ownership dwellings within this development. Claims by the applicant that only a few will wish to do so are entirely specious.”
It still went ahead.
Maybe our new neighbours in Loughborough Junction will all resort to cycling? In which case, the cycle shop on Coldharbour Lane might do quite nicely out of it. The rest of us won’t.
News about Fawnbrake Avenue & neighbouring streets in Herne Hill, London