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Bell Green – Prescott calls a public inquiry

Strategically important site

In July 2005 Lewisham Council approved plans for the development of the Phase 2 and 3 sites at the former Bell Green gasworks. Because of the strategic importance of the site Lewisham had to refer their decision to the Mayor of London who decided not to direct Lewisham to refuse permission. Lewisham then referred the application to the Government Office for London (GOL) for John Prescott’s final approval. Deeply concerned by the superficial consideration given to the developer’s plans by Lewisham’s councillors, and by the GLA, the Sydenham Society made strong representations to John Prescott’s office.

Prescott’s action rare

John Prescott rarely calls in planning applications approved at a local level but in the case of Bell Green he has decided to do so. This means that there will be a local inquiry into the developer’s plans and that John Prescott will take the final decision rather than Lewisham Council.

Proper scrutiny

The Sydenham Society has long argued that the developer’s plan for a giant retail park at Bell Green was contrary to national and regional policies in respect of the effect on traffic levels in the area and the effect on the viability of local town centres such as Sydenham. The call-in decision vindicates the stance that we have taken and, vitally, will ensure that the issues involved are properly scrutinised.

Lack of support from councillors

The support that the Sydenham Society has received from our local councillors, that is the councillors for the Sydenham, Perry Vale, and Forest Hill wards, has been non-existent. Their conduct on this issue provides a shameful contrast with the evident care taken by the GOL in examining the developer’s proposals.

Extensive local concern

Local concern about the proposed development has been extensive. Those concerns were expressed at a large meeting in June at St George’s Church, and the response to the Lewisham consultation exercise was overwhelmingly against the development. Yet not one of our local councillors has spoken up in defence of their constituents’ concerns.

Sydenham residents are entitled to know that certain local councillors openly supported the planning application. Councillor Whiting (Forest Hill ward) voted for it, and Councillors Hastie and Best (of Perry Vale and Sydenham wards respectively) spoke in favour. Councillor Best is chair of the Sydenham Community Forum and it is difficult to reconcile her position with support for a planning application which, as the developers have acknowledged, can only damage Sydenham.

Last chance to stop the retail park

The inquiry will give local residents one last chance to try to stop a giant retail park going onto the Bell Green site. The Sydenham Society will have formal status at the inquiry and will have legal representation. That will be expensive and we will need to raise funds in order to help with the Society’s legal costs.

On detailed scrutiny John Prescott may decide that the development should proceed or should be modified rather than refused. Your Bell Green team will be arguing for refusal and for an alterative and less damaging form of development on the site. The important point though is that, at long last, the matter will have been properly examined.


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