Southwark Council is set to roll over to Lendlease yet again in its final bid to squeeze maximum profit out of the Heygate redevelopment. The developer's latest and last Elephant Park application will increase the density of the scheme via the back door, using the sweetener of a new health facility that is was required to provide anyway.
One of the first tasks of Southwark's new planning committee will be to consider developer Lendlease's controversial planning application for a new office block on the final plot of Elephant Park, H1. Plot H1 stands on what was protected metropolitan open land, on the site of the demolished Heygate estate:
The former Elephant Park open space on the corner of Walworth Road and Elephant Road
The H1 application, which includes a proposal for a health hub, is a dramatic change of direction by Lendlease. Up to now, Elephant Park has been built as a housing development, with some retail, and other uses; Lendlease's original plan was for H1 to be much the same, with three residential blocks, one of 30-storeys, two of ten-storeys, comprising about 300 homes, across 36,100sqm of floorspace:
The original plans for plot H1 included a 30-storey residential block
This proposal was part of Lendlease's successful 2013 planning permission application. Now, in 2022, it turns out that Lendlease has shoehorned the housing planned for H1 into all the other plots already built or currently under construction, leaving it with a surplus plot. Instead of building additional housing on H1, which would require a fresh planning application and might open up a can of worms about affordable housing delivery, Lendlease says it wants to build an office block on the site, which would improve 'employment capacity'. A health hub, covering a tenth of the total floorspace, is also being offered, to sweeten the proposal - but only in place of providing affordable workspace.
Lendlease's plans for this now surplus plot comprise a large office block
Lendlease benefits from rule change 1
Southwark Council has reacted favourably to Lendlease's proposal to provide offices on the surplus plot, with local councillors saying that they are 'generally in support' of the application, at a pre-election hustings.
More practically Southwark Council also changed the planning rules to give the application a fair wind. We reported last September how Southwark Council has smoothed Lendlease's path by changing the local planning rules in the Southwark Plan, to allow a ten-fold increase in 'employment floorspace' on Elephant Park.
Lendlease's 2013 planning permission allowed only a maximum of 5,000sqm of business space across the whole Elephant Park site of thirteen plots. Lendlease's new application proposes ten times that amount, 49,565sqm on a single plot. This would have had no hope of being approved without a change in the planning rules. Southwark Council duly obliged and approved an 'uplifted' amount of 60,000sqm, when the new Southwark Plan was adopted in February 2022.
More homes in a smaller space....
Lendlease has also been careful to build all the homes it promised under its 2013 permission. Lendlease say it has built almost to the maximum floorspace allowed by the permission, delivering 2,689 homes including 25.7% affordable housing.
But these 2,689 homes must obviously have been shoehorned into fewer plots, at a greater density than originally proposed, if Lendlease now finds itself with a spare plot that can be used for an office development. Should this application succeed it will also be the second time that the density of the development has been increased. In 2019 Lendlease took advantage of a poorly drafted s106 legal agreement, to increase the original maximum homes from 2,469 to 2,689 homes.
Extract from Lendlease's original planning consent ref: 12/AP/1092
There is also a discrepancy between what Southwark has been told about the number of homes built and the figures Lendlease have given in their 2022 half-yearly report to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Lendlease's hy22 Lendlease Major Urban Projects report says that 3,208 homes will be delivered on Elephant Park (including Trafalgar Place's 235 units), 284 more units than are in the planning documents and 739 more homes than originally consented:
Extract from Lendlease's half yearly report to the Stock Exchange
.......fewer social rent
Lendlease remains silent on the shortfall of affordable housing, against the longstanding 35% affordable housing requirement, half of which should be social rented. Roughly calculated by unit this is a loss of about 270 affordable homes, half of which would be social rent.
The sweetener - the health hub
Lendlease appear to have won local councillors around to supporting their office block proposal by promising a health hub. Discussions about this have already taken place between Southwark Council, the NHS SE London Clinical Commissioning Group and Lendlease, and have also including GP services provider Nexus.
A health hub or facility would be very welcome and for that reason it has been a requirement for Lendlease to build it since 2013, under the current planning permission. Rather than get on and build it though, Lendlease has waited until the final plot and the final planning application to extract further gains, in the shape of an office block, several times the size of the health hub. It has had to make £1.08m health contributions along the way, but evidently considers this an acceptable cost.
Extract from the section106 agreement governing the current planning consent
Given that Lendlease were happy to build the health hub as part of a residential development before, there is no reason why it must be part of an office development now, other than it suits Lendlease. It is also not clear why councillors and Southwark think they are getting a good deal by supporting a health hub with offices, when there is already an agreement to build a health hub with homes.
Lendlease benefits from rule change 2
A further gain for Lendlease in building a health hub is that it would relieve it of the obligation of providing around 5,000sqm of affordable workspace. This has been enabled by another favourable change to the planning rules in the new Southwark Plan, to add to the change that allowed more office space. Up to August 2020 developers could provide affordable retail and affordable cultural uses instead of affordable workspace. Lendlease submitted its application in May 2021 and by the time of the final version of the Southwark Plan in February 2022 'public health services' was added to the list of alternatives to affordable workspace.
So, with this addition, an obligation was turned into a choice between providing a health hub, at what we can assume will be a commercial rent, or affordable workspace at discounted rents.
Princess Street and Manor Place surgeries to go?
Southwark Council has joined with Lendlease and the NHS SE London Clinical Commissioning Group (SEL CCG) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, supporting the provision of a health hub and an indicative plan of the hub has been drafted.
One point that leaps out of the Memorandum is that the hub is intended to replace the Princess St and Manor Place GP surgeries. It says that the hub would be a 'health centre for GP....services....to serve the population at Elephant & Castle and the existing people served by the Princess St and Manor Place GP Surgeries.'
New state-of-the-art GP facilities would be a boon to everyone at the Elephant and in Walworth. But if these facilities entail the closure of two longstanding GP surgeries then that is something that should be made plain in the planning application and the public consultation about that application. This has not happened; the only consultation has been around the planning aspects of the application, which the Memorandum calls a 'separate and independent process'.
A consultation is promised by the SEL CCG, but it looks as if this will not be until after the planning application is decided. This is too late; the fate of the surgeries will be effectively decided too, if the application is approved. Southwark Council and the NHS are the proper authorities to deal with our health care provision, Lendlease are not, but at the moment it is Lendlease who seem to be in the driving seat, with no reference to the people who depend on Princess St and Manor Place surgeries. This planning application should only be determined after the formal consultation promised by the SEL CCG.
What has been delivered on Elephant Park?
Southwark must also clarify and confirm just exactly what housing has been delivered on Elephant Park. The development we have now looks a lot different to that approved, back in 2013 - bigger, denser, with fewer homes for sale (many were converted to Build to Rent), and with an office block in the middle, if the H1 planning application succeeds. This is not what the 2013 planning committee agreed to.
A new Overview & Scrutiny committee has just begun drawing up its scrutiny arrangements and annual work programme; the committe should put an examination of the whole Heygate regeneration and what has been delivered on Elephant Park at the top of its agenda.