Objectors are fuming after being refused entry to Tuesday's public hearing for the Heygate masterplan planning application.
Over 40 local residents including members of the Wansey Street TRA, representatives from the Elephant & Castle's Latin American traders and local priest Grahame Shaw were refused entry to proceedings at the council's Tooley St. headquarters.
A total of 102 seats had been allocated for the hearing, but objectors arrived to find that around half of these had already been taken up by representatives from the developer and the council's regeneration & property divisions.
With Southwark's largest ever planning application and 300 objectors, a room with maximum capacity for just 100 people had been allocated to the hearing. Southwark's Head of Corporate Programmes told waiting objectors that the meeting is full, and that if people put their names on a list then they would be admitted on a one-in, one-out basis. He apologised to objectors and explained that "We weren't expecting to completely sell out".
Councillor Bukola subsequently emerged from the meeting to tell excluded objectors that 'there are a sufficient number of objectors already in the room'....
Fellow objector and MP Simon Hughes later arrived to find objectors barred from the meeting, and immediately tweeted Peter John to complain about the situation.
After much debate with officials, the planning committee's legal officer finally intervened and the meeting was forced into recess. The 30 or so objectors who had stayed in the lobby, were then finally admitted at around 9pm - 3 hours into the hearing.
Those objectors who had been fortunate enough to gain entry at the beginning of the meeting, made the most of the ridiculous 5 minutes allocated between them in which to make their representations.
Among these were Jerry Flynn speaking on behalf of the Elephant Amenity Network and Adrian Glasspool representing the Heygate residents.
In answer to questions, Flynn made a number of points including: concerns surrounding the large number of car-parking spaces proposed; privatisation of public realm; lack of clarity in the developer's promise to retain some of the trees; lack of any renewable energy. His major two concerns though, were the masterplan proposal for just 79 social rented homes, and whether the scheme was actually financially viable - the report on the scheme described it as representing a 'very big risk' for the developer.
Glasspool objected that Heygate residents had originally been promised new homes in the development, but that the 79 social rented units proposed wouldn't be sufficient to honour this pledge: "An entire community has been ousted on the back of false promises that there would be a right to return."
Frustrated that such little time had been allocated for objectors to speak, some residents had prepared placards outlining their concerns. Planning Committee chair Cllr Nick Dolezal immediately halted proceedings and ordered those holding placards to leave the room.
The meeting reconvened after Dave Walker from Southwark Mediation Service was able to persuade objectors to lower their placards. Those privy to the proceedings witnessed the expected approval after the committee accepted Lendlease’s assurances that they could indeed deliver the scheme despite the risk. The application went on to be approved with councillors predictably voting along party lines, with the exception of Cllr Crookshank-Hilton who abstained.
Jerry Flynn's reaction to the decision was emphatic: "This is very bad news for anyone desperate for a home in Southwark. The so-called ‘affordable rent’ homes will be half market rent, at least £50 a week more expensive than council rents – how could anyone who used to live on the Heygate afford that?. There are more planning applications for the Heygate in the pipeline – they must be rejected unless they have cheaper social rented homes."
Simon Hughes summed up the decision in an interview with London SE1 "Sadly, many people will go short of affordable housing in and around the Elephant because the council weren't tougher with the developers. It is not surprising that there was - peaceful - civil disobedience when so many people feel so strongly that this does not deliver the housing and the balanced scheme, which they have fought for for so long."
Chris Mead, Chair of the Wansey Street Tenants and Residents Association issued the following comment: "As Chair of the Wansey Street TRA, I am furious that a number of Wansey Street residents (myself included) were barred from the Heygate master-plan committee meeting on Tuesday evening. Wansey Street directly borders the Heygate development area, and residents have genuine and reasonable concerns about aspects of the planning application; those concerns continue to be ignored and remain without receiving a satisfactory answer. Despite receiving over 200 objections from the wider community, less than 50 seats were provisioned for the public at the largest planning application review meeting in Southwark Council's history. At the least, this was incompetent by Council Officers and the meeting's Chairman, or at worst, a contrivance to exclude the public from what is supposed to be a transparent and democratic process."
SE17 resident Marie Cane was one of the objectors holding up placards - she explained: "the committee gave us just 5 minutes for 300 objectors to state their case. This is particularly shameful as this is the largest planning application ever submitted to the council. We have been silenced by the council, so we decided to stage a silent protest. We simply wanted committee members to remember the Council's own policy requirements. We are not against change; all we want are guarantees built into this masterplan - guarantees that the council would have required on any other development in the borough."
Objectors had proposed a number of planning conditions upon this application, i.e. that the park should be managed by a trust, that a detailed RPA survey should be undertaken for the trees, etc.
It was not made clear at the end of the meeting which of these, if any, were adopted.
We were expecting a sell out, but - in the words of Southwark's Head of Corporate Programmes: we weren't expecting a complete sell out..