The Strategic Planning Committee meeting on 16 June to decide the future of the Bell Green Gasworks ended in confusion after councillors voted to “not approve” the plans for the Phase 2 part of the site. The Phase 3 housing development was granted permission.
After 3 hours of presentation, representation and discussion, councillors rejected by four votes to two the plans for an out of town Retail Park anchored by a Homebase and garden centre. Council planning officers scrambled to get the plans back on the table claiming that adequate planning reasons for refusal had not been given. The Chairman of the committee, Councillor Terry Scott announced that the Phase 2 application had “fallen”, at which point a motion to defer was taken and passed.
Local residents, members of the Sydenham Society and press representatives looked on in disbelief as the confused drama unfolded. It was agreed by many present that the voting process was an absolute shambles
Developers claims challenged
During the proceedings Jimmy Dickens for the Sydenham Society, with extensive experience in employment matters, challenged the developer’s claims that the plans would create 500 new jobs, stating that the loss of £3m annually from local high streets would result in a loss of existing jobs, which the council and the developer had chosen not to take into account. His comment that the one-off payment of £ 100,000 to be shared by Forest Hill and Sydenham towards the regeneration of their high streets was derisory, “there’s no point in putting up pretty hanging baskets outside boarded up shops”.
The council had received a large number of written comments from residents about the development. 90% of these were against the proposals. Jimmy said: “The opinion of residents is overwhelmingly against these plans. There’s not much point consulting people and then ignoring their response.”
Local Ward Councillors then asked to be allowed to speak. Cllr Colin Hastie, Perry Vale, (apparently still living in the 1950’s) commented that Sydenham needed to wake up, cease its half day trading habits and its lunchtime closing!
Cllr Chris Best, Sydenham, and Chair of Sydenham Road Regeneration Partnership, said she was working for free car parking in Sydenham’s 150 space car park in order to help the local traders, and thought that Sydenham was vibrant enough to cope with a major Retail Park.
Finally, Cllr Dave Whiting, Forest Hill, set off on a verbal meander around Forest Hill; he couldn’t see a problem with the proposed development. What problem would there be with competition to nail parlours, hairdressers and restaurants/cafes? In fact he eulogised so much about the new 21st century type of shopping that he thought everyone should now be embracing, that the Chair of the committee asked him whether he was proposing the motion to approve? After a bit of fluster, Dave Whiting said yes he would propose such a motion.
Four Councillors voted against approval
As it was, the only councillor prepared to second Dave Whiting’s motion to approve was the Chair of the Committee and these were only two councillors to vote in favour of the proposals. All four other councillors voted against approval. It was a breath of fresh air to hear one of the dissenting councillors, Mark Morris, say prior to the decision being taken, that he couldn’t possibly agree to the approval of such a 1980’s type of development.
The deferred Strategic Planning Meeting took place on 14 July. The result can be seen .