Editors’ view: The case for housing over office space seems clear

News Desk (21 July, 2021)

There are currently over 15,000 households on Southwark’s housing register

46346An artist's impression of the proposed building.

Lendlease’s early proposals for what is known as Plot H1 at Elephant Park were for a ‘mixed use’ development – usually planning parlance for housing, retail and commercial space.

The regeneration scheme in Elephant and Castle was granted indicative planning permission, with consent needed for next-step, individual applications as each phase of the redevelopment was reached.

What is striking in the public comments made both in favour and against the plans is the number of people voicing their approval for the new park and who have favourable things to say about some of Lendlease’s work so far. But many of them believe any positives in the scheme could be undone by prioritising an eighteen-floor office complex over housing.

Elephant and Castle’s regeneration schemes have a troubled relationship with housing campaigners, with the demolition of the Heygate Estate, followed by a regeneration with just 25 per cent affordable housing seen as a bitter blow for the wider community.

Lendlease says its proposals are responding to a clear need for office space in the area, as evidenced in various key planning documents outlining the future of the borough and its demographic pressures, such as the New Southwark Plan. All were created before the pandemic and the shift to working from home, which has hastened a long-term trend for flexible working already evidenced in workplaces across London.

In the meantime, an end to the eviction ban, winding down the furlough scheme, ongoing concerns over the ‘pingdemic’ and fears workers will not return to London in their droves are all raising questions over how the local economy will work and how job losses could add to pre-existing housing pressures.

Despite remaining the largest council housing landlord in London, there are currently over 15,000 households on Southwark’s housing register and the local authority has lost over 17,000 through the Conservative’s right-to-buy policy; a scheme over which the council can exercise no control.

The council has previously claimed that of 595 tenanted homes on the Heygate before demolition, 99 per cent had chosen to take up other council or housing associations within the borough, with ‘many’ staying specifically in the Elephant and Castle areas – disputing long-standing claims that a majority were ‘pushed out’.

Despite this, there is an obvious and worsening need for housing in the area which is simply not being met. As we report this week, new housing is being increasingly shoehorned into existing estates while the arguments for more office space seem thin. And yet this site is the perfect place for some new homes.

In 2012 Lendlease was able to secure an agreement to provide only 25 per cent ‘affordable’ housing. In 2021, Tooley Street’s administration has already publicly said its post-pandemic priorities are changing, with housing a particular priority. How it responds to this application will show how seriously we can take this promise.

READ MORE: Lendlease submits plans for 18-storey office block and no housing in next stage of regeneration scheme

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