Grosvenor’s £500m plans for Bermondsey’s Biscuit Factory site were unanimously rejected by councillors at a crowded planning meeting last night, over the scheme’s lack of affordable housing.
The proposals for the Biscuit Factory on Clements Road and former Lewisham and Southwark College campus site had been for up to 1,217 flats alongside retail spaces and a new secondary school.
Council officers and the developer had clashed over the feasibility of the number of affordable and social homes the scheme could support – with Grosvenor offering only 27.5 per cent of affordable homes, below the council’s 35 per cent policy.
According to a spokesperson from the council’s planning consultants GVA, a “big difference” between feasibility assessments came because Grosvenor’s case put a negative value on the Biscuit Factory land.
The calculation would mean the developer – owned by the Duke of Westminster – would have to pay someone to buy the land off them, the meeting heard.
The scheme also failed to provide any social homes at all against council policy, councillors were told, meaning it would not be suitable for the estimated 25,000 people waiting on the council’s housing list.
A couple would need to be earning £30,000 each to access one of the scheme’s affordable build-to-rent homes.
Residents spoke in opposition to the scheme, with one labelling the proposals as a “brazen money-making scheme.”
No residents within 100m of the site who were in favour of the proposals were present at the meeting.
Ward councillors spoke of their concern over the proposed application, with Cllr Leo Pollak (Lab, South Bermondsey) raising fears that proposed retail units in the application would draw trade away from the Blue market, “segregating rich and poor either side of the railway arches.”
Cllr Hamish McCallum (Lib Dem, North Bermondsey) also spoke in objection, labelling the decision to bundle up plans for a new Compass school building into the application as “scandalous.”
Planning committee members unanimously voted to reject the scheme on the basis of the reasons outlined in an officers’ report, which stated: “Benefits are not outweighed by the failure to provide the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing, the quality of some aspects of the residential accommodation, and the risk of conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians which arise from the service routes within the site.”
Craig McWilliam, CEO of Grosvenor Britain and Ireland, said he was “obviously disappointed” by the committee’s refusal of the application.
“We have talked openly to many in Southwark on the opportunities Build to Rent brings, but also the difficult choices, often between competing benefits, that must be made to deliver these new homes,” he said.
“We have also consistently acknowledged and sought to explain why the economics of our proposals mean they cannot support social housing.”
The developer had pitched its proposal to “the squeezed middle” such as teachers, doctors and nurses who work in the borough.
It had also argued that a ‘review mechanism’ could be put in place, to guarantee more affordable and some social homes would be built, if the assumptions in its proposals were not accurate.