Published On: 2nd February 2024Categories: General

Elephant Park H1 Planning Inquiry: Planning Inspector allows Office Block to proceed.  What did participation achieve, and are there any lessons to be learned?

On  30 November 2023, the Planning Inspector allowed Lendlease to proceed with plans to build an office block on the final site of the former Heygate Estate in Southwark, London.

PILC, along with Southwark Planning Voice and Charles Bishop of Landmark Chambers, represented a group of residents and campaigners called the Community Objectors of H1 (‘COH1’).  They won the right to be a Rule 6 Party to this Planning Inquiry in which Lendlease were appealing a decision by Southwark Council to refuse them planning permission to build the office block.

COH1, as well as supporting Southwark Council’s position on the character and light impacts of the proposed office block, put forward the position for housing.  COH1 argued that Lendlease have not followed Policy H8D of the London Plan 2021, as they favoured an office block over building affordable (and we say particularly social rented) housing.

A full review of the Planning Inquiry, and arguments made by Lendlease (Appellant), Southwark Council (Defendant) and COH1 (Rule 6 Party) can be found in a previous blogpost

Unfortunately, although the Inspector acknowledged COH1’s case as ‘perfectly legitimate’ (as opposed to Lendlease, who called it ‘inadmissible’), they decided that the question had been settled in 2013, when Southwark determined that off-site replacement housing (the so called Early Housing Sites) was sufficient for rehousing ex-Heygate households.  You can read more detail about the decision, and local analysis, in this blog by the 35% Campaign, who were a crucial part of COH1.

Although this outcome is ultimately disappointing, COH1’s formal presence in this Inquiry achieved a number of things:

  • COH1 forced the question of housing, and particularly social housing, at the Inquiry. It also gave a new insight into how Lendlease deal with estate regenerations.

Tough questions were asked of Lendlease which resulted in clarity on how they have dealt with the redevelopment of the Heygate estate including the numbers of homes built in place of the units on the Heygate estate and where these were built (see aforementioned blogs).  Further, the interesting revelation that Lendlease hired Acme architects to design an office block some four years previous to a local policy change, which allowed greater office space on this site.  At its best this is “remarkable foresight” (as the 35% Campaign puts it) and at worst, contributes to community distrust of the close relationships between local authorities and developers.

  • COH1 gave the community a voice in the Inquiry.

Through written statements, and a community witness in the stand, COH1 ensured that both Lendlease and Southwark Council were forced to engage and respond to community concerns.

  • Further to COH1’s efforts in arranging a visit to council properties opposite the proposed block, the Inspector resolved against Lendlease’s expert analysis of the value of light to Temporary Accommodation tenants:

“The living conditions of residents of studio flats, bedsits, or temporary accommodation are just as worthy of protection as those of residents of more permanent and/or substantial forms of accommodation.”

This may seem an obvious sentiment, however the Inspector was responding to arguments put forward by Lendlease which sought to diminish the value those living in Temporary Accommodation place on light.  These expert statements included the shocking: “During my site visit it was also clear to see how the windows had accumulated a meaningful amount of dirt. This leads me to conclude that the occupants do not place a high value on the available daylight as Plot H1 currently stand.”

Hopefully this arguably classist position will not be raised by Lendlease in the future.

If there is any major lesson that campaigners can learn from this inquiry it is this: Ultimately, the Inspector found that there were policy reasons supporting the use  of office space, this was in the local Southwark Plan. In the end, Lendlease were able to say that the plan requires  60,000 square metres of office space, and this was the only area left for it. Before they entered the plan, Lendlease had hired Acme architects to design the office block. Thus, the takeaway is that campaigners should organise at the outset of Local Authorities designing their local plans, and fight for these plans to benefit the community.