New community master plan presented to meeting
come to meeting 7-9pmThursday 12 September
Work is now underway on the new housing scheme at Bell Green, consisting of 156 flats, two retail units with 164 bike spaces and 111 car parking spaces.
In the next few months, planning will start on a £1m scheme to improve the Bell Green Gyratory system with improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and traffic. The five sets of traffic lights around the gyratory will be improved and linked through SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique) – a system that responds automatically to fluctuations in traffic flow through the use of on-street detectors embedded in the road. It is expected that work on the new road scheme will be carried out in the financial year 2012-13.
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.
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.
On 19 October 2006, Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, granted permission to Castlemore Ltd, the development arm of British Gas, to develop the long derelict Bell Green Gasworks site as a huge retail and business park. It will consist of a Homebase and garden centre, 4 additional retail sheds, business/industrial units, a “family” restaurant, together with 156 residential units on the site in front of Sainsbury’s.
Members of the Sydenham Society’s Bell Green Team are disappointed at the outcome, naturally. We are glad that we were full participants at the recent inquiry as there have been many concerns expressed by local residents (not just Sydenham Society members) about the consequences of a Retail Park at Bell Green. Of particular concern is the anticipated resultant increase in traffic with a hypermarket-sized Homebase and garden centre as its anchor store.
Also of concern was the effect on our local high street traders of the expected loss of trade to a retail park with 1,800 free car parking spaces.
By taking part in the inquiry we made sure that these concerns were taken into consideration and examined fully by the independent Planning Inspector. We were able to challenge various statements and statistics provided by the developers and the council when arguing in favour of the development.
The Sydenham Society must hope that its fears about this development are wrong – that it will not result in increased traffic which our roads cannot cope with, and that Sydenham retailers are robust enough to overcome the inevitable strong competition from the retail giants which will join Homebase in the other sheds at Bell Green.
ne welcome benefit of this decision should be the construction of an overdue pedestrian tunnel through the railway embankment at Southend Lane rail bridge – a long agreed safety measure which should not have been contingent on the outcome of a planning decision.
TheSydenham Society has always acknowledged that Bell Green is an area urgently in need of regeneration and has for many years argued with Lewisham Council that this could be achieved by other means. However, the die is now cast and we in Sydenham, residents and traders, are going to have to live with this development, whatever its consequences.
We would like to thank everyone who gave their support to this campaign, whether through a donation or by giving their time or support. Although the outcome is not what we wanted, we have represented local views on this subject at the highest level, which after all is the primary role of the Sydenham Society.
Call In Public Inquiry relating to planning applications for redevelopment of phases II & III of the former Bell Green Gas Works site, Bell Green, London SE26
The Sydenham Society (“the Society”) objects to the grant of planning permission to National Grid Property Holdings Ltd. and Castlemore Securities Ltd. (“the Applicants”) for the implementation of its proposals (“the proposals”) to redevelop the former Bell Green Gas Works Site, London SE26 (“the Site”).
- Preliminary matters: designation of phase II land
- Retail: quantitative and qualitative need
- Retail: sequential test
- Retail: impact on vitality and viability of town centres
- Alternative use for phase II land
- Traffic and the Environment
Preliminary matters: designation of phase II land
The First Secretary of State is invited to distinguish the proposal designation of the Site as ‘development site 17’ under Schedule 1 to the Lewisham UDP 2004 (“the UDP”) from a site allocation for retail use, in light of the observations historically made by the Inspector to the UDP inquiry that draft UDP policy STC 2A should be deleted from those to be incorporated within the UDP and to be adopted by the London Borough of Lewisham (“Lewisham”). The inquiry Inspector concluded that there was an insufficient relationship between any identified need for retail floor space and the allocation of Bell Green for non-food bulky goods floor space.
We also submit that it is highly significant for present purposes that the site 17 designation fails to quantify any amount of retail floorspace and includes no assessment of any need for non-food bulky goods retail at Bell Green. Furthermore, irrespective of the extant planning permissions for retail use that remain unimplemented in relation to phase I and phase II land, we submit that the Site does not present an established retail use within the context of the relatively larger retail element of the proposals. Rather, the size of gross retail floorspace corresponding to the proposals is materially distinguishable from the unimplemented floorspace provision.
The Applicants suggest that the extant retail permission will be implemented in the event that planning permission is not granted in relation to the proposals. The credibility of the implementation of the fall-back consent is doubted by the Society in light of the observation accepted by Lewisham accepted that the implementation of the phase II extant permission would give rise the commercial under-use of that land. Although the Society acknowledges that the retail floor space corresponding to the unimplemented consent would not be insignificant, it would enable only a small store. Furthermore, the extant permission would restrict the retail use to non-food goods only. In light of the fact that the extant permissions arising from 1993 have not been implemented thus far, we submit that there is no evidence to support the obvious suggestion of the Applicant that the fall-back position would be implemented.
Retail: quantitative and qualitative need
In relation to the assessment of quantitative need for retail floorspace in accordance with Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres (“PPS 6”), the defined need catchment area is of instrumental importance to calculating market share. Mr. Jones, on behalf of the Applicants, confirmed at inquiry that the process of defining the catchment is essentially a judgment exercise. The catchment area defined by the Applicants is a 10 minutes (off-peak) drive-time isochrone. We submit that this is unrealistically small in light of the amount of gross retail floorspace under the phase II proposal and that the catchment has been so defined by the Applicants so as to support their contention that the Bell Green catchment would not overlay with other catchments corresponding to those competing, proximately sited non-food bulky goods retail stores (set out below).
In absence of any specific guidance as to the defining of catchment areas, PPS 6 advises (para 3.10) that the catchment area to be used in assessing future need should be “realistic and well related to the size and function of the proposed development and take account of competing sites”. It is therefore plain that the catchment must be adequately reasoned in order to be justified as realistic and a well-related area in PPS 6 terms. We submit that the Applicants have failed to properly reason the catchment area defined where account is taken of the substantial size of gross retail floorspace to which it relates.
On the basis that the catchment area should be relatively larger than that defined by the Applicants, we submit that viable alternative non-food retail sites would adequately accommodate any identified need around Bell Green for non-food bulky goods retail floorspace. These include in-Borough out-of-centre sites (i.e. Catford Bridge (Wicks and Halfords), Ravensborne Retail Park, Penge (Homebase) and Beckenham Hill Road (Homebase)). As to garden centre uses, we submit that various in-Borough out-of-centre garden centres that are sited at Penerley Road (Phoebes), Stanstead Road (Shannons) and Winn Road (Phoebes) would adequately satisfy any identified need deriving from the area defining the Bell Green catchment.
Furthermore we submit that the Applicants have inadequately assessed the potential for alternative in-Borough out-of-centre non-food bulky goods retail sites to be redeveloped and to incorporate additional floorspace that could impact on any identified need for the provision of retail floorspace at Bell Green. The inadequacy of that assessment is significant given that a surplus of large format capacity floorspace would exist in 2011 (equivalent to – Â£0.27 overall large format capacity expenditure: LBC 1: fig. 5.19, table 3) should the proposals be implemented and on assumption that retail development at Lewisham Gateway is not completed by 2011.
We further submit that the Applicants have failed to present robust evidence to support their contention that there is an identified qualitative need. PPS 6 (para 2.37) confirms that benefits of area regeneration and employment do not constitute indicators for the qualitative need of additional floorspace. That those factors are nevertheless material considerations to be taken into account in the assessment of qualitative need, an overriding consideration in determining need is that the key objective of promoting the vitality and viability of town centres is upheld. We submit that the satisfaction of this key objective would mean that qualitative need could not be upheld in relation to the proposals. The view of the Sydenham Society on retail impact is set out below.
In so far as numerous assumptions have been made in order for the Applicants to assert that a sufficient quantitative and qualitative need exists in terms of the retail element of the proposals, we consider that the analysis may not be robust wherever the margins of the assumption are inaccurate and where growth on the assumption is factored. For the reasons set out above, we submit that there is insufficient evidence of the quantitative and qualitative need for the proposals.
Should the Secretary of State consider that sufficient need is disclosed, the evidence shows that there are alternative sequentially preferable sites to Bell Green that may accommodate elements of that need. Our view that sequentially preferential sites exist is strengthened by the failure of the Applicants to incorporate any sufficient flexibility within their business model and in relation to the size and format of the retail element for phase II land. The Applicants have undertaken no assessment of the scope for disaggregating the retail units that comprise the phase II retail proposal, as presupposed by PPS 6.
Retail: sequential test
By paragraph 3.18, PPS 6 establishes that the responsibility of the applicant to satisfy the sequential approach is discharged where the scope for disaggregation has adequately been considered. It further presupposes that an applicant may only claim that the commercial reality of the development will impede the flexible division of the proposed development into separate sites where disaggregation has already been considered in the first instance. The Applicants suggest that it is not commercially viable to disaggregate the proposed development but, unsatisfactorily, have provided no evidence of this or of their consideration given to flexibly construing the business model. PPS 6 also advises that where sequentially preferable sites are inappropriate for the proposed development by reason of availability, suitability or viability, “clear evidence” should be provided to demonstrate the impracticability.
The Applicants have suggested that the Thurston Road site, as an edge-of-centre location, would be unavailable in PPS 6 terms given a “bespoke design” for the building that would accommodate the requirements of B&Q. We submit that in PPS 6 terms, the fact that a full application has been submitted would be irrelevant in terms of assessing availability, suitability or viability for the very reason that the application is yet to be determined and implemented. It is submitted that the naming of a potential occupier for the site is similarly irrelevant. To the extent that it may at all relate to determining site availability, the provisional naming of B&Q would not prevent any subsequent marketing of the site for an alternative operator in the event that it was subsequently decided not to lease the site to B&Q.
It is plain that should the site be characterised as being available within PPS 6 terms under the sequential test, as we submit, that it would be sequentially preferable and could accommodate various retail units forming part of the proposal. The assessment made by Mr. Goldsmith that no small ground floor units proposed at Thurston Road could accommodate the smallest units proposed for phase II land predicates that the larger floor units proposed at Thurston Road are unavailable in PPS 6 terms. This interpretation of site availability is not accepted and we submit that analysis of disaggregation in relation to this site has been inadequate.
In relation to the Lewisham Gateway site, the Applicants consider the site to be unavailable on assessment that its potential availability within 3-4 years would not render it available within a reasonable period of time. That the time elapse contemplated by PPS 6 is not clearly defined, we submit that account should be taken of the period that corresponds with an assessment of the quantitative need for retail floorspace under PPS 6, namely a period of up to 5 years (para 3.10). Where this analysis is adopted, we submit that the Lewisham Gateway site would be available in PPS 6 terms. Mr. Smith has suggested that Lewisham intends to pursue a marketing strategy in relation to the site to the exclusion of non-food retail bulky goods. It is however apparent that the strategy has so far not been implemented and may not be fully drafted.
At paragraphs 3.6 to 3.8 of LBC 1, it has been stated that no allowance has been made for the Lewisham Gateway site. A further reason for not assessing the Lewisham Gateway site as being accessible is the supposed aim of the developer to provide for a higher provider use. PPS 6 however does not incorporate the same distinction for the purposes of assessing need. We submit therefore that the observation of Mr. Goldsmith as to higher provider use is irrelevant to determining the sequential approach. Furthermore, that the Lewisham Gateway site is sequentially preferable and may be defined as available for the proposals in PPS 6 terms.
In relation to the Lewisham Centre, it is acknowledged that the site may accommodate 6,000 sq. m. gross of additional non-food floorspace within the medium term (up to 2011). It is however contended on behalf of the Applicants that the site would not be available within a reasonable period of time in PPS 6 terms. The Society does not accept that sufficient efforts have been taken pursuant to inquiring of the landowner as to whether development of the site would be dependent on the likely outcome of the Gateway scheme. In any event, where it is considered that the proposals for the Gateway scheme may be forthcoming within a reasonable period of time, we submit that the Lewisham centre site is sequentially preferable and is available in PPS 6 terms.
In relation to the Old Market Site at Catford the Society submits that it may be available in PPS 6 terms should the redevelopment of the site be completed by 2011. The Society also refutes any suggestion that the unlikelihood of the site being developed on its own would impede its availability, as a minimum, to accommodate a disaggregated small retail unit of 929 sq. m. that forms part of the proposals.
In relation to the Forest Hill/Perry Vale, various sites that surround the Forest Hill train station demonstrate a clear regenerative need that is equal to that of Bell Green. The need for regeneration of the Forest Hill/Perry Vale area is clear from the on-going consultation involving the Interim Executive Director for Regeneration at Lewisham, Head of Highways at Lewisham, the Mayor of Lewisham and numerous rail companies from which it has been commended that a promotion strategy to make Forest Hill marketable should immediately be undertaken (SS 9). To the extent that the consultation is not concluded the intention that regeneration should in substantial part comprise retail development mirrors the regeneration scheme set out under the Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG adopted March 2003) that concerns the Forest Hill Urban Design Framework and Development Strategy (SS 10).
The SPG establishes (page 29) four privately-owed areas (including the ‘Finch site’) which may presently accommodate, as part of a disaggregated assessment of the retail element of the proposals, some of the non-food bulky goods retail floorspace proposed for Bell Green. To the extent that the SPG does not identify the relative footprint of each site, the development principles clearly outline that their development should include multi-story retail use as part of mixed retail/residential use development. At development principle 3 (SS 10: fig. 5.1.2 of page 29) it is stated that “new development flanking and fronting onto the central public space should be of three or four storeys with retail/cafÃ© ground floor uses and residential/offices uses above”. Furthermore, at development principle 6 (SS 10: fig. 5.1.2 of page 29) it is stated “redeveloping the underused Perry Vale parcels comprehensively with commercial (offices and shops) on the ground floor and two or three storeys of residential accommodation above”.
Two further sites that are Lewisham holdings and are not identified in the SS10 are located within the immediate vicinity of the four undeveloped privately owned sites set out in SS10. Irrespective of their present temporary uses, the two sites (the Portakabin site and a car-park) would form, when assimilated with the four privately owned sites identified in SS10, a cluster of development areas that should, we submit, have been fully assessed as part of the sequential test. These sites may be properly characterised as in-centre or as a minimum, edge-of-centre, and are sequentially preferable to Bell Green in accordance with PPS 6. We submit that a flexible assessment by Lewisham of the business model could and should have involved an assessment of the commercial attractiveness of the cluster of all 6 undeveloped private and Lewisham owned sites. We consider that the sites would offer an available location that could accommodate much disaggregated retail floor space relating to the proposals.
That the cluster of privately owned sites identified in SS10 may have previously been noted by Lewisham as part of assessing retail capacity need, we submit that the assessment has been unsatisfactory in PPS 6 terms and has ignored the potential for disaggregating the various retail units under the proposals in relation to all privately owned sites. Consideration of the scope for disaggregating the retail element of the proposals is not an optional requirement under PPS 6 but rather, must be complied with. No evidence has been given by the Applicant or by Lewisham that would enable the Secretary of State to identify that sufficient assessment has been made of the scope for disaggregation regarding the SPG sites.Â The PPS 6 test is not satisfied.
Retail: impact on vitality and viability of town centres
PPS 6 (para 3.22) advises that when assessing the impact of new retail development on town centre sites, attention should be given to the likely impact on trade/turnover in addition to the vitality and viability of existing centres. In terms of those town centres most likely to be affected by retail on phase II land, namely Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill, it is submitted that the loss of trade and turnover will be relatively substantial and is likely to prompt the closure of comparison good stores and cause an increase in the vacancy rate of retail units located within these centres. The Applicants are guided by the assumption that implementation of the retail proposals may attract a market share increase of 22-30 % to support the overall contention of a sufficient need for non-food bulky goods floorspace at Bell Green. This amount of market share is substantial and would clearly indicate the potential for trade diversion from in-borough town centres (e.g. Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill) in addition to in-borough out-of-centre retail sites and garden centres.
PPS 6 (para 3.22) further advises that when assessing the impact on vitality and viability, account should be taken of any change to the range of services offered by subsisting in-centre retail units likely to be attributable to new retail development. It has been acknowledged on behalf of the Applicants that, as a consequence of the implementation the proposals, some independent retail units located within affected town centres would need to ‘adapt’. To the extent that this would require affected independent retailers to completely modify the range of goods sold so as not to overlay with those sold at the Site, the range of goods sold within the boundaries of the town centre would diminish. PPS 6 (para 3.22) does not advise that the range of services should be defined to include those offered outside of town centre sites. The consideration of Bell Green is therefore irrelevant.
The Society submits that the ‘adaptation’ of independent retailers may also reasonably be construed to incorporate the closure of comparison goods stores. Where closures may occur, PPS 6 requires that account should be taken of the impact of the retail proposal on the vacancy rates within primary shopping areas and the potential changes to the quality, attractiveness and character of the centre and its role in the economic and social life of the community. It is plain that in terms of the engaged impact assessment criteria of PPS 6 (para 3.22) the retail proposal would have a significant adverse impact on neighbouring town centres.
Even where the closure of comparison goods stores is not inevitable, neither the Applicants nor Lewisham have surveyed an independent retailer most likely to be affected by the retail proposal in order to research the commercial viability of modification, or its specific financial implications. The Applicants’ observation that ‘adaptation’ may be possible is wholly speculative.
The Applicants have not adequately researched the breadth of comparison goods floor space that may be provided by the various likely non-food bulky retail occupants of the units proposed for phase II and phase III land. The retail units, and particularly Homebase, would be able to diversify the range of goods sold to the extent permitted under the relevant planning condition governing retail diversification. Even if the condition is observed, the Society anticipates that any permitted diversification by Homebase would far exceed conventional hardware goods. The present scheme of diversification contemplated by Homebase (e.g. sale of vehicle accessories and homeware goods) should be taken into account when assessing the breadth of comparison goods floor space in terms of relative impact on established non-food bulky goods retail sites and independent retailers located within proximate town centres.
It is plain that the current operational style of Homebase could not reasonably be circumscribed by use of a planning condition. That the range of goods that may be presently sold includes such items as household cleaning products, children’s toys and games, kitchen accessories and seasonal items, we submit that even without further diversification, the comparison goods retail floorspace would significantly overlay with goods that are presently sold by independent retailers located within town centres that include Catford, Forest Hill and Sydenham.
By reason of the popularity for combined shopping trips, the trade draw from the town centres of Catford, Sydenham, and Forest Hill is highly likely to encompass not only comparison non-food bulky goods but, we submit, will substantially affect convenience goods stores that offer comparison goods to those of the Sainsbury’s store on phase I land, Bell Green. Appendix 6 of the appendices to LBC 1 contains the health centre checks disclosing the relative retail representation within Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill. These confirm that each town centre has a higher proportion of convenience units than the national average.
To the extent that a visitor to any one of the retail units proposed for phase II or phase III land may seek to make a combined shopping trip to Sainsbury’s as a convenience shop, it is plain that implementation of the proposal will cause a general loss of footfall within each town centre so that proportionately less people would convenience shop within town centres. The impact in terms of loss of footfall properly accounts for those people who would presently not visit the Sainsbury’s to convenience shop but would elect to use that store upon the development of a cluster of retail stores in relation to which a combined shopping trip could be made. The potential cumulative impact on existing town centres from combined shopping trips is substantial when the retail floorspace of the Sainsbury’s store and of the proposed retail element is combined, and the diversification of gross retail floorspace between the separate retail units is considered.
For the reasons set out above, we submit that there will be a material impact on the vitality and viability of nearby town centres.
The Applicants contend that the business, industrial, warehousing, restaurant and retail elements of the proposals would stimulate circa 450-470 employment opportunities. No robust evidence has been presented to support this employment projection and any methodology that may have been used in calculating an approximate employment density, remains undisclosed.
The Applicants rely in part on a forecast of sustainable consumer demand for non-food bulky goods retail (especially DIY goods) to support its projection of retail employment at the Site. The commercial reality of marginal or stagnant growth in consumer demand for this type of retail is not in accordance with the optimistic forecast. The relative downturn in consumer demand is however supported within the informative to the employment use policies contained within the UDP and the London Plan which omit all reference to non-food retail employment as being a viable source of future employment gain.
The Applicants apparently suggest that there is sufficient tenant demand for the Site. Mr. Jones accepted at inquiry that there is no evidence of an employment tenant demand for the Site in excess of that which would satisfy the defendant’s employment proposals. We however submit that it is incredible for it to be suggested that there is sufficient employment tenant demand for the Site where no breakdown of employment opportunities to be generated by each employing tenant has been provided.
The only publication that has been used to assist the estimation of the density has been The English Partnerships document. That document, although prepared by consultants on behalf of Lewisham, does not enable an approximate employment density to be defined in any given case given that it is neither site-specific and provides skeletal guidance only. In the absence of any human resource plan that could and should have been produced on behalf of the Applicants to substantiate their projection, basic information outlining employment densities and the projection of 470 opportunities is outstanding. The projection as has been presented is wholly unsustainable.
Furthermore, there are no breakdown estimates for full-time/part-time or short-term/long-term staffing, or as to the proportion of staffing requirements that would be satisfied through the transfer of persons already employed within outlets located outside the local area, rather than the recruitment of those unemployed and resident within. The inquiry has heard no evidence to rebut the reasonable appearance that many of the employment opportunities would not be made available to the unemployed who are resident within the Borough. Mr. Sharp of Lewisham commented, when referring to the provision of employment car-parking spacing under the proposals, that such spacing would be necessary to accommodate the quantity of employees that would be anticipated to commute to the Site by car and from outside of the local area.
In the absence of robust evidence, we submit that the estimation of employment density likely to be generated by the proposals is ambiguous, and where it is construed to mean only new employment and is net of job losses elsewhere, that estimation is a gross exaggeration. Familiar employment trends relating to non-food retail warehousing and small industrial premises support this conclusion: namely, the propensity for non-food retail warehousing, small industrial premises and drive-thru restaurants not to be labour-intensive.
That the Society would support employment use for the Site (in addition to or as an alternative to residential use) this is conditional upon the suitability and viability of the particular employment projection. The projection as set out by the Applicants is ambiguous and lacks any credible evidential basis.
Whatever the level of employment to be generated from the proposals, no account has been made by the Applicants of the retail unemployment that is likely to be caused through local comparison and convenience goods store closures or necessary streamlining as a consequence of the effects of trade diversion from independent retail units proximately located within competing town centres to include Catford, Sydenham and Forest Hill.
We submit that the key objectives of Planning Policy Guidance Note 13: Transport (“PPG 13”), would not be satisfied by the proposals. In relation to retail and employment sites, PPS 6 and PPG 13 require that sustainable transport choices are made available to enable sufficient access to and from the Sites by means of public transport. For a transport choice to be defined as sustainable in PPG 13 terms and in relation to the proposals, it must, we submit, present a viable and practicable option that may be exercised to accommodate recurrent visits to the Site. A transport choice is not sustainable where it provides merely a theoretical means of access that proves unattractive to users because of impracticality. To access and return from the non-food bulky goods retail element of the Site with numerous bulky good purchases would clearly infringe the principle of sustainable access. This conclusion is consistent the Society’s view that the phase II land may be suitably accessible from Lower Sydenham station in circumstances where it is used for residential purposes given that, in contrast to a retail use, a residential use is unlikely to be reliant on using a car and is further unlikely to involve journeys to and from the station whilst carrying items similar to bulky goods.
The bus catchment area defined by the Applicants comprises a walk, wait and ride time. Mr. Bird suggested on behalf of the Applicants that the ride time may be, as a maximum, approximately 20 minutes along an indirect route, and by that premise, that the bus catchment area would comprise a smaller geographical area than that relating to the car catchment area (10 minutes travel time, off-peak). By the Applicants’ own bus catchment definition, any area accessible only by an indirect bus route (and which required at least one change of bus) was discounted. This renders the residential areas east of Forest Hill, Downham, south of Honor Oak and Bellingham to the east of Bell Green, inaccessible in PPS 6 terms. To the extent that persons located outside of the bus catchment area are nevertheless included within the retail need catchment, access to the Site by bus would not be a sustainable transport choice. The inquiry has heard no evidence that a relevant bus company that would operate services to the Site would seek to extend the range of those services into the identified inaccessible areas in response to the implementation of the proposals. PPS 6 implies that accessibility should be adjudged in terms of present transport services and not on a wholly speculative analysis of whether and to what extent transport services may be extended following the implementation of a retail proposal.
Where public transport access is unsustainable in PPS 6 and PPG 13 terms, we submit that other relevant transport planning policies also conflict with the development. These include policy 3C.1 of the London Plan that provides that the Mayor will support high-trip generating development only at locations that disclose high levels of public transport accessibility and capacity. We submit that accessibility for the purposes of the London Plan must be construed consistently with that contemplated under PPS 6 and PPG 13 and include adequate appreciation of the sustainability of the particular means of access.
The non-food retail element of the Site will be a net attractor of private vehicle users. By the Applicants’ own assessment, the modal split in relation to the site suggests that 77% of persons visiting the site will attend by car (APP 15: para 6.5).
We submit that few consumers within the travel catchment areas (as defined by the Applicants) are likely to choose to access the proposed non-food bulky retail units by walking or by cycle. Policy TRN 1 of the UDP requires that proposals that generate a large volume of traffic or person movement must be located close to good public transport facilities. The Society considers that the proposals conflict with the requirements of policy TRN 1. More generally, the development proposals conflict with the objectives of PPG 13 (PPG 13: para 4) and the UDP in so far as sustainable transport choices for people are not promoted, the accessibility to the retail facilities on phase II and III land and services by public transport, walking and cycling would not be promoted, and the need to travel (especially by car) would not be reduced.
The provision of a substantial amount of retail car-park spacing that is marginally below the Annex D PPG 13, UDP, and London Plan levels would, we submit, support this conclusion. The substantial provision for retail car parking should be considered in light of the departure from the UDP and London Plan in relation to the employment parking provision. We therefore submit that the substantial provision of car parking is unacceptable despite the need for regeneration given that the need may be satisfied by the provision of alternative land uses that do not necessitate an equivalent level of car parking (namely employment and residential uses).
To the extent that the retail element of these proposals would produce a high trip generation, the Site is not served with bus services that satisfy the geographical area within the need catchment area. Furthermore, the location of the Lower Sydenham Station, at approximately 800 metres from the Site would not satisfy the requirement that the proposal be located sufficiently close to good transport facilities to render access by rail sustainable. It is submitted that pedestrian access from Lower Sydenham Station must be assessed with appropriate consideration of distance and convenience of route.
PPS 6 places emphasis on the relative importance of these specific criteria to determining whether access to retail facilities may be properly deemed as accessible. Furthermore the Walking Plan for London, issued by Transport for London (February 2004), describes ‘walkability’ in terms that refer to convenience and ease. The question as to whether a route may be accessible by walking therefore necessitates the sufficient appraisal of whether the passage is reasonably convenient over the distance required to be covered given the retail purchase loads that are likely to be carried. The planning guidance therefore distinguishes, by necessary implication, between accessibility to food, and non-food bulky goods retail sites. To the extent that a home delivery service may enable some bulky goods to be delivered, the relevant planning guidance does not establish an artificial distinction between accessibility to order as opposed to that which enables personal receipt of goods immediately upon their purchase.
Even on consideration of the improvements that may be forthcoming under any section 106 agreement relating to the system of controlled pedestrian crossing facilities located between Lower Sydenham station and the Site, the number of crossing points would remain to be traversed by any person travelling directly to and from the Site from the Lower Sydenham station. We submit that these crossings could not be traversed in a manner that demonstrates convenience where the pedestrian is carrying non-food bulky goods. This is irrespective of the improvements that may be secured under the 106 agreement.
Alternative use for phase II land
We submit that there are viable uses for phase II land that may be implemented as alternatives to retail use. The viable alternatives would comprise residential, employment, industrial or mixed use. By reference to the clear commercial success of proximate business parks located in Bromley (Worsley Bridge Road and Kangley Bridge Road), the Society considers that phase II land may suitably accommodate a business park/high-tech park use. Alternatively the phase II land could be re-designated under the Proposal Schedule 1 of the UDP as a defined employment area. This remains the position of the Society despite the repeated, albeit unsubstantiated, assertion of Lewisham that the phase II land is only suitable for retail use given the need for regeneration. To the extent that the Society shares Lewisham’s view that the Site requires regeneration, it remains crucial that redevelopment is undertaken in an appropriate form.
The view of the Society at the 2003 inquiry was that housing development would be unsuitable on phase II and III land owing to the level of ground contamination. This was as a consequence of the allocation within the then UDP (which has remained unchanged under the 2004 UDP) that residential use was inappropriate. This view was, at that time, wholly in accordance with the view of Lewisham and the developer. The Society now advocates the viability of residential use on both phase II and phase III land. This is consistent with its appreciation that phase II and III land is viable for residential use through the containment of contaminants and remediation respectively.
The contention of the Applicants that the residential use of phase II land would not be viable in financial terms because of a requirement for extensive and costly remediation works is based on a false assumption of the absolute requirement that remediation works must be undertaken to enable residential development. The Applicants have assessed that remediation must be undertaken given its perceived risk of disturbing contaminants either through construction or inhabitation of the land.
To the extent that phase II land is contaminated the Society disagrees with the need for remediation, and thus refutes the suggestion that the costs associated with that process would inevitably be incurred in order to deliver residential use on phase II land. There is no necessity to remediate phase II land so that the effects of minimal disturbance that may be caused to the land either through construction or inhabitation may be circumvented.
Those on behalf of the Applicants have misjudged the risk of the migration of contaminants during the construction phase of any housing development since it has been improperly assumed that development will require in-situ construction and will cause substantial disturbance. The Applicants have failed to properly assess the viability of the modular construction of housing (i.e. construction off-site) that would involve prefabricated components so that disturbance to the land may be greatly minimised, thus greatly diminishing the potential for contaminants to migrate. The building costs associated with this type of construction relative to those of in-situ construction would be substantially less given the absence of less-efficient, on-site labour. This has not been taken into account as part of the Applicants’ initial assessment of the total cost of providing housing on phase II land which is based on a model of in-situ construction only.
Those on behalf of the Applicants further assume disturbance to the land being caused by the exertion of loads imposed on the ground from conventional medium-density housing. This assumption does not address the fact that such loads may made be far lighter through the use of loads imposed from modular lightweight medium-density housing that may accommodate a particular number of storeys. The relative expediency of assembling lightweight dwellings and the cost associated with using lightweight materials in lieu of the conventional composite materials contemplated under the Applicants’ assessment would substantially diminish the total cost of providing residential development on phase II land. The relative environmental benefits associated with the construction of modular lightweight medium-density housing have been ignored by the Applicants. The Applicants have not undertaken any proper assessment of the commercial or functional viability of lightweight housing but have assessed only those construction and engineering costs associated with a conventional housing model.
The Applicants further suggest that some disturbance to phase II land would inevitably be caused by works to remove sub-terrain foundations before any piling (to provide a suitable foundation structure) may be undertaken as part of a residential development process. The suggestion that a risk of disturbance would arise from foundation removal assumes that extensive sub-terrain foundations remain on the land and would be located such as would frustrate piling. The Applicants have undertaken no geo-physical assessment of phase II land to establish the extent to which that land may contain the sub-terrain foundations of former buildings that formerly belonged to the gas works. This form of sub-terrain survey is conventional in assessing the presence of foundations and could have provided satisfactory evidence as to the location of any foundation.
Instead the Applicants seek to rely exclusively on a plan (Plan D 1/2) that outlines exploratory holes and structures formerly sited on phase II land, and on the general assumption that the foundations relating to those buildings remain extant. The plan is neither sufficiently accurate in assessing the location of any extant foundations nor is determinative that such foundations in fact remain. Furthermore, even where foundations remain in existence, OS 1894 plan suggests that the structures associated with the former gas works were primarily sited on phase I land and not phase II land. In that it has not been sufficiently demonstrated that those foundations in fact exist and are located in a way that would frustrate the insertion of foundation piles, we submit that the Applicants have improperly dismissed the functional and commercial viability for residential development. The oversight is substantial given the established need for key-worker housing that could, to some extent, be satisfied by the residential use of phase II land. The Applicants could and should have fully considered the potential for off-setting the extra expenditure that could arise from the use of non-composite materials against the substantial savings that would be gained from the use of a modular construction technique. In the event the conclusion of the Applicants that residential use of the site would not be viable is unsubstantiated.
In the longer term and during the occupational phase of any residential development, the appropriate capping of phase II land would provide an impermeable barrier across the footprint of the land to provide a suitably robust and vapour and impact resistant layer to prevent the release of contaminants. The process of capping may be accomplished by use of protective barrier that would comprise a bituminised macadam layer, a membrane and a base granular layer to seal all contaminant vapours below ground. That the land could be efficiently capped in this manner, the contamination below ground would present no risk to the health of occupants.
The process of capping contaminated land for human habitation is well-established and has been employed in relation to phase I land where the same type and degree of contamination may be presumed to exist. It was suggested by Mr. Clark on behalf of the Applicants that the containment approach in lieu of remediation could give rise to property blight and prejudice the commercial interest for residential use of phase II land because of public concerns for the harmful effects on human health of contaminant leakage.
The Society considers this as being a highly speculative and unsound conclusion. It is also inconsistent with the commercial success of the neighbouring Sainsbury’s store where public reaction has clearly been indifferent to the presence of the same type and extent of contaminants. Where the transitory (albeit frequent) use of phase I land by the individual customer may be contrasted with the relative permanent occupation of phase II land for residential use, it may be assumed that J Sainsbury, as owner of phase I land, would have fully accounted for the impact of any concerns for human health arising from full-time staff who would remain on site for a comparable length of time to residents of phase II land. The Applicants have not suggested that the Sainsbury’s store has attracted any concerns for human health from either customers or staff that may blight the commercial success of the site. Rather, the Sainsbury’s store remains attractive both in terms of a commercial centre and as an employer.
The approach to containment through capping may be repeated in relation to the mound area that is located on phase II land. It is disputed that retention of the mound would render the residential use of the land unviable. Mr. Clark for the Applicants accepts that the fencing-off of the mound is a viable scheme yet suggests that Lewisham would consider that its retention would be unacceptable. Where that conclusion is supported by Lewisham, we submit that it is prompted without the full consideration of the possibility for its landscaping as an additional spacious feature that may complement surrounding housing development.
The process of vapour and impact-resistant capping could be undertaken in relation to the mound as it could in relation to the balance of the phase II footprint. The concern of National Grid that the retention of contaminated deposit beneath the site would be unacceptable appears to be based on an improper assessment that there would remain a risk to human health or to the commercial attractiveness of residential development on phase II land though the retention of contaminated material. We submit that the fencing-off and landscaping of the mound would present a viable alternative in terms of protecting human health, diminish the costs of remediation and provide a satisfactory landscape solution to neighbouring residential development. The scarcity of landfill sites to receive toxic material deposits strengthens our view that the functional and commercial viability of containing contaminants below the entire footprint of phase II land, as an alternative to land remediation, should be given full consideration.
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Traffic and the Environment
Where the retail element of the Site will not, for the reasons set out above, be accessible by sustainable pedestrian or cycle means of travel, it is restated that the retail element will prove a net attractor of private vehicles. The substantial amount of car-parking provision included within the proposals, although below the threshold set out in relevant planning guidance, supports this view. An assimilation of the subsisting car-parking provision relating to the Sainsbury’s store with that to be provided in relation to phase II land should, we submit, be taken into account by the First Secretary of State. when assessing the impact of the Site as a net attractor.
To the extent that the report of the Inspector to the First Secretary of State in relation to the 2003 inquiry suggested that taking into account the permitted provision of existing car parking would be unfair, we submit that that is not a view specifically endorsed by PPG 13 and improperly disregards the wider objectives of the policy guidance that seeks for access to a retail facility by means of public transport to be promoted and for the need to travel by car to be reduced. The incentive for accessing the Site by private vehicle in light of the substantial car-parking provision and the purchasing of non-food bulky goods is clearly established. The modal split relied on by the Applicants is neither realistic in light of the commercial scheme proposed nor is it sufficiently robust.
The substantial increase in access to the retail element of the Site by means of private vehicle will have substantial adverse effects on the local road network and on the local environment. The commercial success of the retail element envisaged by the Applicants will produce a proportionate increase in private and service vehicular traffic and a substantial increase in atmospheric pollution. The pollutants that comprise petrol and diesel vehicular emissions, to include nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, are various, and where emitted within a proximate distance of residential areas, would be damaging to human health in addition to the wider environment.
Pollutant emissions would substantially rise, and increase exponentially, with the increase in vehicular traffic anticipated to visit the retail element of the Site. The exponential increase in pollutants would be directly referable to the link between traffic flow saturation, high pressure weather conditions and the slowing of vehicular speed. The increase in traffic queuing around Bell Green in consequence of increased trip generation caused by the retail element of the proposals will give rise to this exponential increase. We submit that the Traffic Assessment undertaken by Savell, Bird and Axon and Air Quality Impact Assessment reported by Capita Symonds do not provide sufficiently robust evidence to disprove this view. For, those assessments have underestimated the increase in traffic flows that will be generated by the development, miscalculated the likely modal split by affording too little consideration to private vehicular traffic, and have not taken proper account of the exponential increase in pollution that is likely to result.
Mr. Barrowcliffe’s suggestion that pollution in the area will not increase to that extent is founded on the incorrect assumption that there may not be an exponential increase in the emission of pollutants to the extent as set out by Mr. Bryan. That the emission of pollutants may rise exponentially, rather than proportionately in relation to the increase in vehicular traffic on the local road network is a finding accepted by Mr. Barrowcliffe. Mr. Barrowcliffe has however not sought to quantify the exponential increase in pollutant emissions that he would envisage as a result of any given increase in vehicular traffic on the local road network.
The entire length of the Sydenham Road, the gyratory and all feeder roads except Perry Rise are included within the Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) that is designated within approximate distance of the Site (see fig. 4.2 map in UDP). The designation is made by Lewisham in response to the need to limit pollutant emissions within a geographical area that experiences an acute number of pedestrian trips and to safeguard the human health of those travelling within or to and from the site. The proximity of numerous schools located within the local area (SS1: plan – appendices), underlines the designation of the AQMA on an assessment of the likely level of human exposure to pollutant emissions. The purpose of the protection given to any area contained within an AQMA is to ensure that the level of pollutant emissions is suitably managed and local air quality adequately safeguarded. It therefore follows that the sources of pollutant emissions should be adequately restricted where any increase may infringe the very purpose for the AQMA designation.
That the Applicants suggest that the analysis in terms of traffic impact is sufficiently robust, it has not taken account of the directional split of traffic and the relative use of the principal roads that link around Bell Green. Therefore, in relation to the traffic flows that are suggested would be generated by the proposals, no evidence has been provided to rebut the contention that a significantly high percentage of additional vehicular traffic generated could choose to use particular feeder roads in preference to others, therefore exacerbating the congestion of those roads that already suffer traffic saturation.
Numerous residential roads have been accepted by Lewisham as familiar rat-runs used to avoid traffic around Bell Green. There is no evidence before the inquiry to suggest that those already frequently used roads would not experience further increases in traffic flows should the proposals be implemented.
The Western Screen Line Traffic Counts (LBC 5) produced by Lewisham provide a misleading assessment of historical traffic flows along the Sydenham Road between the years 2002 to 2005. The figures presented do not accurately take account of the extent or duration of extensive roadworks comprising the recurrent Transco works performed along Sydenham Road and Kirkdale Road and pedestrian accident reduction scheme (TfL/Lewisham partnership) works undertaken in relation to the Cobbs Corner roundabout. The extent of these works is detailed in Plan E. Their effect on the functioning of the local road network feeding Bell Green has been underestimated by Lewisham.
The traffic counts fail to describe satisfactorily the effect of the works and the provision of single lane access for traffic travelling in both directions along the Sydenham Road and Kirkdale Road. The counts fail to detail the likelihood that a high proportion of drivers that would normally have travelled along Sydenham Road would have instead elected other routes to avoid significant queuing. Furthermore, none of the ten sites at which the traffic counts were undertaken correspond with any of the familiar rat-run routes acknowledged by Lewisham. That the data purports to demonstrate the absence of a growth trend in traffic along the Sydenham Road and within Lewisham more generally over the years 2002 to 2005, it is misleading and we submit, should be disregarded.
No evidence has been produced to inquiry of traffic flows along routes that have been acknowledged by Lewisham as being popular rat-runs. These routes include the use of Priestfield Road, Lescombe Road and Garlies Road (feeding Perry Rise and Perry Hill to the north of Bell Green) (Plan G) and Silverdale Road, Queensthorpe Road, Bishopsthorpe Road, Burghill Road, and Adamsrill Road (feeding Sydenham Road to the south west of Bell Green) (Plan F). The use of these routes as rat-runs pre-supposes traffic saturation at daily peak times without taking further account of the anticipated increase in flows that will inevitably be caused by the retail element of the proposals.
The only updated figures relied on by Savell, Bird and Axon to support the contention of the Applicants that the proposals will not cause a substantial increase in traffic flows derive from an assessment of the local network undertaken during April 2006. It is curious that this assessment coincided in part with the Easter holiday period by which all vehicular traffic generated by the school-run and for all schools within the local area (Plan E), would have been absent from the roads during weekday peak times. During this time, it may also be inferred that considerably less traffic flows would have been generated at peak times on Saturday given the propensity for a substantial number of families to holiday away from home during that same period. Therefore, the only present-day up-date on which the Applicants rely to demonstrate a decrease in traffic flow is, we submit, misleading in its principal conclusion.
The historical increase in traffic flows adjacent to the Bell Green area during Friday PM and Saturday midday peak hours from 1988 and prior to the opening of the Sainsbury’s store, and in 2001 following its opening, is set out by Mr Bird (APP 15: table 5.7 at para. 5.54). Mr. Bird suggests that ‘there is no material change in observed traffic flows in the area’ when the figures are compared. This assessment is inconsistent with the approximate 25% increase in Saturday midday peak hour traffic flows over that time in relation to the Southend Lane Eastbound route and misrepresents the approximate 10% increase relating to the Southend Lane Westbound during the Friday PM peak hour. These periods are acknowledged to correspond to the busiest times at which a retail park that includes a convenience goods store will be visited.
Further figures presented by Savell, Bird and Axon that would suggest the effect, at daily peak and Saturday peak times, of residential development replacing retail and restaurant use on phase II is based on two core assumptions that concern the number of pass-by traffic and linked trips movements. The proportion of pass-by retail and restaurant traffic is assumed to be 30 % and the percentage of linked trips is assumed to be 20%. Where those assumptions may have overestimated the number of pass-by trips and linked trips to the retail and restaurant elements of phase II land and have, as a consequence, undervalued the amount of new trips generated in relation to that destination, the integrity of the assessment comparison between the retail/restaurant use of phase II land and its residential use, may be doubtful. There is clear potential for this assessment to present a distorted account of the traffic that may be generated in relation to the alternative use of the phase II land.
Furthermore, Mr. Bird sets out figures relating to the effect of pass-by and combined trips (APP 15). The analysis however incorporates multiple assumptions that include 50% of the trips to and from the proposed non-food retail development being of a primary nature to the exclusion of combined trips and 20% of trips to the non-food retail being a combined trip within the development or linked with an existing trip to Sainsbury’s.
The TRANSYT data produced by Savell, Bird and Axon detailing the Friday AM and PM and Saturday peak traffic flows on the existing road network invite the First Secretary of State to compare flows generated under the implementation of the extant retail planning permission for the Site and the level of flows anticipated to arise following the implementation of the proposals. This approach suggests that it would be irrelevant to make comparison between those traffic flows presently generated on the existing road network and flows that are predicted to arise following implementation of the proposals and the incorporation of new pedestrian crossings. The contrived approach that is invited to be taken finds no support within the UDP, London Plan or PPG13.
Where comparison is appropriately made of two way traffic flow predictions on streets within the vicinity of Bell Green and flows currently observed the substantial effect of traffic impact becomes apparent. Appendix A of Volume 2 of Mr. Bird’s proof of evidence (APP 15) documents that during the Saturday peak, the flow is predicted to increase by 8 % along Perry Hill (north of j/w Perry Rise), by 11.5 % along Perry Rise (NW of j/w Bell Green), by 14.2 % in Bell Green (Perry Rise to Southend Lane) and by 9.3 % along Sydenham Road (SW of Stanton Way). Where these predictions do not take account of a high growth increase in base flow, we submit that the assessment of the relative increase in traffic flow may yet be higher than the substantial increases set out.
To the extent that highway works may be undertaken pursuant to any section 106 agreement, we submit that they are likely not to prove sufficiently effective in relation to the areas that correspond with the above comparison flow predictions. Furthermore, the substantiated extent of the predicted increases in traffic flow along roads other than the Bell Green gyratory means that even where the Gyratory operates adequately without high levels of traffic saturation, as the Society readily concedes is the case, the impact of traffic on main feeder roads and along familiar rat-runs, remains unacceptably high.
Where comparison is properly made of traffic impact relating to the observed traffic existing road network and that relating to the development to include the pedestrian crossings, it is clear that various links would suffer a substantial increase in the degree of traffic saturation. These include links 40 and 41 concerning Perry Hill (APP 15: table 7.3), link 12 concerning Stanton Way, links 52 and 53 concerning Southend lane and Sainsbury’s exit left turn (APP 15: table 7.4), link 13 concerning Stanton Way right turn, link 40 concerning Perry Hill, and links 52, 53 and 54 concerning Southend Lane and the Sainsbury’s exit (APP 15: table 7.5).
No conclusion has been presented by Mr. Bird on the comparison between observed traffic flows on the existing road network and those flows relating to the proposed development incorporating pedestrian crossings. When this comparison is made in relation to the above specific links, the TRANSYT results disclose that the traffic flow expected to be generated by the proposals will have a substantial effect on the local network during the weekday AM and PM peak and Saturday peak times. The First Secretary of State is invited to consider the impact of substantial increases in flow, when assimilated with the likely substantial increased burden on residential rat-run routes located around the Perry Rise and Sydenham Road areas.
The headline conclusion made on behalf of the Applicants that the proposals will produce no discernable growth trend in the generation of traffic flows during weekday peak and Saturday peak times, is undermined by the misleading approach taken to comparing flows that ignores present levels of traffic generation. Where the proposed measures contained within the section 106 agreement and that relate to Perry Hill may contribute to pedestrian safety along this route, they will produce the incidental consequence of reducing overall traffic speed and are likely to promote extensive queuing.
When properly scrutinised, the analysis undertaken on behalf of the Applicants in relation to traffic fails to rebut the core submission made by the Sydenham Society, namely that he proposals would generate a significant number of new traffic flows on roads that feed into the Bell Green area and that will exacerbate existing traffic saturation at various pinch points and will promote further rat-running along residential roads that will prejudice their safety.
The Sydenham Road is acknowledged by Lewisham to be an area that has a significant annual accident rate. In addition, the road is acknowledged to be one of the busiest in the Borough in attracting approximately 22,000 vehicular movements each day. To the extent that traffic claming measures may be required to be implemented in relation to the Sydenham Road, those measures would slow vehicular traffic.
We submit that any measures to be implemented pursuant to the section 106 agreement in relation to traffic management (within the meaning of PPG 13 at para 64) would fail to complement the wider transport objectives by reason that traffic generation would, by scrutiny of the Applicants’ own assessment, increase substantially as a consequence of the development proposals (where these involve the retail element on phase II land). By PPG 13, measures may include (para 66) those that promote safe walking, cycling and public transport across the whole journey and measures that may help to avoid or manage congestion pressures which might arise in central areas. Against the background of a substantial increase in traffic flows, saturation points and rat-running, the Applicant has adduced no robust evidence as to the likely (beneficial) impact of any measure that may be implemented pursuant to the section 106 agreement. The Secretary of State is invited to conclude that the entirety of any measures to be implemented.
For the reasons set out above, we invite the First Secretary of State to refuse planning permission for the proposals.
(The Sydenham Society – Chair: Pat Trembath)
On 19 October, Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, granted permission for development of the long derelict Bell Green Gasworks site. The approved development plans provide a huge retail and business park with a Homebase and garden centre, 4 additional retail sheds, business/industrial units, a family restaurant and 156 residential units.
The Sydenham Society is disappointed at the outcome but pleased that we were full participants at the recent inquiry where we were able to express the many concerns of a large number of local residents. By taking part in the inquiry we made sure that these concerns were taken into consideration and examined fully by the independent Planning Inspector. We were able to challenge various statements and statistics provided by the developers and the council when arguing in favour of the development.
Although the outcome is not what we wanted, we have represented local views on this subject at the highest level, which after all is the primary role of the Society.
The Sydenham Society has always acknowledged that Bell Green is an area in need of regeneration and has for many years argued with Lewisham Council that this could be achieved by other means. One welcome benefit of this decision should be the construction of an overdue pedestrian tunnel through the railway embankment at Southend Lane rail bridge – a long agreed safety measure which should not have been contingent on the outcome of a planning decision.
The die is now cast and we in Sydenham, residents and traders alike, are going to have to live with this development, whatever its consequences.
We would like to thank everyone who has given their support to this campaign, whether through a donation or by giving their time and expertise
The Public Inquiry decision has been handed down. The development proposals put forward by Castlemore Securities Ltd, on behalf of British Gas have been approved and the face of Bell Green will shortly start to change. This is not yet the end of the story – it is the middle – the end has yet to be written.
The history of this troubled 46-acre site goes back to 1969 when gas production ceased. By 1989 British Gas and Lewisham Council were discussing the redevelopment of Bell Green. Originally Lewisham’s hopes for the site were for a mix of shopping, industry, office, leisure and open space. In 1991 British Gas asked for permission to build a supermarket, a petrol filling station and facilities to attract non-food retail uses, alongside new offices for its own use.
In April 1992 British Gas published a leaflet stating that they wanted “to provide for an alternative to the non-food retail element…..Leisure uses are felt to be appropriate to complement the supermarket and the linear park, although it is not certain what sort of leisure operators might come to the site. A multi-screen cinema and a bowling alley are the possibilities.” The leaflet mentions “supermarket” four times! If these plans had got the go ahead imagine what type of destination Bell Green might have become.
Despite advice in 1991 from the London Planning Advisory Committee that Bell Green was not an acceptable site for major retail development, and that retail proposals were likely to cause ‘significant harm’ to established shopping centres, Lewisham Council granted outline planning permission in February 1993 for food, industry and warehousing. The leisure element was dropped from the plans.
It was only after the Outline Permission was granted in 1993 that the Sydenham Society became aware of the enormity of the plans; that a hypermarket foodstore (not the “supermarket” of the publicity leaflets) with 1100 free car parking spaces was what was planned.
The Society mounted a massive local protest against the effects of the Savacentre and armed with a large petition members of the Sydenham Society, local retailers and over 250 local residents crowded into the Town Hall on 3 November 1994 to try to persuade local councillors to refuse permission on the grounds of traffic impact and effect on local high street trade.
But it was not to be.
Permission was granted and Savacentre – the fourteenth and last of 21 planned by Sainsbury’s – opened on 15 August 1995. As expected, traffic did increase and statistics showed that vacancies in local high street shops rose from 6% in 1995 to 14% in 1996, and virtually all the shops in the parade at Bell Green closed for business shortly thereafter.
Since then the Sydenham Society has continued to object to plans for further warehouse sheds on the Phase 2 and Phase 3 sites. The argument remains the same as in 1994, increased traffic and damage to local trade by large-scale retailers.
In the intervening years there has been much evidence as to how the power of the supermarket giants and similar retailers has affected local high streets. Evidence by the New Economics Foundation in their report Ghost Town Britain pointed the finger at out-ofretail town retail parks and, more recently, MP Jim Dowd’s non-party parliamentary committee brought out a report, High Street 2015, showing that in the UK over 7,000 small retailers are closing annually as a result of unfair competition by the supermarket giants.
The Sydenham Society has participated in two public inquiries over the past 3½ years and the decision has been in favour of development on both occasions. We know from objections on the files in Lewisham’s planning office, from response to discussions at our Annual General Meetings and to the overwhelming generosity of our membership – over £7000 has been donated – that we have reflected community concerns at these inquiries.
Whether these concerns are justified will become clearer over the next couple of years as the Bell Green site is developed. Will the local roads be able to cope with increased traffic; will there be instances of rat- running in residential roads; will the high street traders be able to sustain their trade? Only time will tell and then, and only then, can the end of the Bell Green Gasworks story be written.
Special thanks should be extended to members of the current Bell Green team: Alistair Bryan, Vivien Day, Jimmy Dickens, John Hutchinson, Barbara Kern, Annabel McLaren and Pat Trembath. An acknowledgement is also due to the support of Sydenham Traders and its Chair, Geraldine Cox.
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 .
- The Sydenham Society is a local, and entirely voluntary, amenity society with a paid-up membership of nearly 1,100 local residents. Its catchment area is principally Sydenham, but also extends to other parts of the Borough of Lewisham, including Forest Hill. The Society’s Executive is responsible for developing broad policy responses to local issues as they arise. There are two sub-committees, one specialising in roads and transport issues and the other in conservation, planning and environmental issues. Much of the work of the two committees involves advising and making representations to the London Borough of Lewisham (the Council), about local transport, planning and other associated matters.
- What follows is the Sydenham Society’s statement of case, as required under Rule 6 of the Town and Country Planning (Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2000, made in connection with the above inquiry.
- The current applications are as follows:
a. the Phase ll application is for non-food bulky goods retailing floorspace of 13,517 m2, business and industry floorspace of 10,644 m2 and a restaurant of 316 m2; and
b. the Phase lll application is for non-food bulky goods retailing of 1,247 m2 (or restaurant), and residential accommodation of 156 flats.
- Although an outline permission already exists for the further development of the Bell Green site, the scale of development now proposed far exceeds the provision contained in the existing permissions.
- If the existing proposals are permitted then the result would be an out of centre retail park at Bell Green, of almost 29,000 m2, that would be larger in its retail floorspace than its closest town centres of Forest Hill and Sydenham. The site would provide 1,830 car parking spaces, the majority of which (1,642) would be for shoppers. The proposed developments, when combined with the existing food retail provision on the Bell Green site, would damage the vitality and viability of Forest Hill and Sydenham and would result in a significant net increase in car traffic on the network. The developer estimates that 77% of visits to the proposed sites would be by car.
- The Sydenham Society considers that the applications fail to meet the requirements of national planning policy guidance. We also consider that the applications do not comply with relevant development plan policies including the London Plan and the Council’s UDP – July 2004.
- We also consider that the Council’s consideration of the applications, as contained in its reports to the strategic Planning Committees of 16 June and 14 July, was insufficient and flawed.
Response to the Secretary of State’s Statement of Matters
- The Sydenham Society’s objections to these applications can in the main be referred to the Secretary of State’s statement of matters as follows:
a. retail and town centres, including matters at 4(a)(ii) and 4(a)(iii) of the Government Office’s letter dated 5 October 2005;
b. employment, including matters at 4(a)(iv) and 4(c);
c. transport, including matters at 4(b)(i), 4(b)(ii) and 4(b)(iii), including traffic generation and car parking; and
d. alternative uses of the land, including matters at 4(e) in relation to housing provision.
- The Sydenham Society’s main points in relation to each of the above are developed further in the sections which follow
- Retailing and Town Centres
- PPS6 enjoins local authorities to consider the extension of primary shopping areas where growth cannot be accommodated in existing centres. The Council has not properly examined that possibility in respect of the proposals. As a result, possibilities such as an extension of the Forest Hill shopping area, in respect of which Lewisham Council have developed an Urban Design Framework, have not been properly examined in connection with these applications.
- Nor, as part of the sequential test, has a thorough assessment (as required by PPS6) been made of all potential development opportunities in town centre or district centre sites. For example, the Council have not properly considered in any detail the potential of the Lee High Road site, which is noted in the UDP for retail, or a mix of retail and residential, and is described as a key development site. Likewise the Council have failed properly to consider, in sufficient detail, the Old Market site, Catford which could accommodate significant retail floorspace – approx 18,000m2 – albeit over a longer time scale than at the Bell Green site.
Impact of the Proposals
- If the Phase II application is approved then the total retailing floorspace located on the Bell Green site (including the Savacentre on the developed Phase 1 site) together with the Phase III proposal would be 28,606m2.
- The result would be a retail park with retailing floorspace larger than Forest Hill centre (18,158m2), larger than Sydenham town centre (23,040m2) and 62% of the size of Catford town centre (46,358m2).
- The retail park would (i) combine food and non-food retailing (with the non-food element containing – within the Savacentre – non-bulky goods) and (ii) provide 1,641 free car parking spaces for shoppers. Its sheer retailing scale and massive free parking provision poses a real threat to the viability of existing shopping centres, especially Forest Hill and Sydenham.
- The Council already recognises the vulnerability of both shopping centres. In 2003 the Council adopted an Urban Design and Development Strategy for Forest Hill (as part of its wider programme of regenerating ailing town centres across the borough). In the case of Sydenham, the Council created the Sydenham Regeneration Partnership as a forum for securing the regeneration of the town centre.
- However, at May 2003 (the latest available data) both Forest Hill and Sydenham town centres had a level of vacant retail units well in excess of the national average of 10.5%. The Forest Hill vacancy level stood at 15.3% and Sydenham at 13.3%.
- Against that background, there must be the most serious concern about the level of spending that the developer estimates will be diverted annually from the local town centres by their proposal.
- The developers’ figures for diverted trade, in bulky goods spending, are:
Area £ per annum % of goods spend
Forest Hill £550,000 12.6%
Sydenham £490,000 8.5%
Catford £1,890,000 12.3%
- In addition to loss of spending on bulky goods there will be an additional loss of spending on non-bulky goods, and on food, arising from a decline in the shopping ‘footfall’ of the local centres, i.e. a decline in visitors to the town centres. The Council’s retail analyst, Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP), when referring to the broad range of comparison goods, i.e. bulky and non-bulky, stated that ‘subject to any permission being suitably conditionedthe levels of comparison impact on the existing centres, at less than 3.5%, are likely to be acceptable’. That assessment did not factor in further potential losses of food sales. In any event, NLP’s conclusion falls well short of a clear view that centres such as Forest Hill and Sydenham would not be harmed by the Phase II proposal. The developers’ evidence should be subject to the greatest possible level of scrutiny.
- The Greater London Authority (GLA) have serious concerns about the ‘conflict with emerging and established national and regional policy by virtue of their scale relative to the established local centre’. In other words, the GLA is concerned that the amount of retailing proposed for the Phase II site is disproportionate to the size of existing town centres, and thus a threat to their viability. The GLA’s view is that ‘on balance’ their doubts can be outweighed only by the addition of housing (now met by the Phase III proposal) and a reduction in levels of car parking on the site. The developers do notpropose tomeet the GLA’s objection in respect of reduced car parking.
- Bromley Council, with a borough boundary approximately 1km from the Bell Green site, formally objected on the grounds that ‘in view of the amount of retail floorspace, its location outside an established town centre and the amount of on site parking, the proposal would significantly undermine the trading patterns in neighbouring town centres in Bromley and would harm the viability and vitality of those centres, would encourage an unsustainable increase in car-based trips to the north of the Borough and would thereby be contrary to PPG6 and to Draft PPS6.
- Bromley’s second ground for objection is ‘that the delays forecast for vehicles on the A2218 Southend Lane would increase the likelihood of significant queuing of vehicles seeking to use Worsley Bridge Road and would, in turn, increase the number of vehicles diverted onto other roads in the adjacent part of the London Borough of Bromley most of which are predominantly residential and would be detrimental to traffic flow and vehicle and pedestrian safety.’ This is echoed by the Society, as considered later in the section in this statement of case which deals with transport.
- Neither the Council nor the developer have responded to Bromley’s concerns.
- From a retail perspective alone, there is a clear case for refusing to permit the proposals.
- The proposals are contrary to development plan and national policy, including but not limited to the following provisions.
Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres (PPS6)
Paragraph 1.3 – ‘The Government’s key objective for town centres is to promote their vitality and viability by: â€¦promoting and enhancing existing centres by focusing development in such centres and encouraging a wide range of services in a good environment, accessible to all’.
Para 2.56 – ‘Deprived areas often have poor access to local shops and servicesâ€¦local authorities should work with the local community and retailers to identify opportunities to remedy any deficiencies in local provision. This is likely to be best achieved by strengthening existing centresâ€¦’.
Para 2.57 – Local planning authorities ‘should strengthen local centres by seeking to ensure that there is a range of facilities in local centres consistent with the scale and function of the centre, to meet people’s everyday needs, particularly in deprived areas’.
Para 2.58 – ‘Local authorities should, where appropriate, seek to protect existing facilities which provide for people’s everyday needs and seek to remedy deficiencies in local shopping and other facilities to help address social exclusionâ€¦local authorities should take a positive approach to strengthening local centresâ€¦’.
The London Plan
Policy 3D.1 – boroughs should enhance access to goods and services and strengthen the wider role of town centres, including UDP policies toâ€¦encourage retail, leisure and other related uses in town centres and discourage them outside the town centres.
Policy 3D.2 – the scale of new schemes should be appropriate to the size and role of the established local centres.
London Borough of Lewisham UDP – July 2004
Policy STR.STC 1 – ‘To sustain and promote the vitality and viability of the existing shopping centres in the Borough
- The Council refer to the schemes’ potential (in retail and light industry) to create up to 475 jobs. This figure is not substantiated either in the officer’s reports to the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee or by the developer. In his report to the Committee on 14 July 2005 the officer explained that the figure of 475 is based upon ‘recognised’ employment/floorspace ratios (see paragraph 2.5 of that report).
- However, neither the officer’s report, nor the developer, disclose this ‘recognised’ formula in order to explain how the figure of 475 additional new jobs is arrived at. This formula should have formed part of a published human resource plan setting out, precisely and in detail, the methodology used to justify the figure of 475 additional new jobs. There is no real evidence of the employment to be generated by these proposals.
- In the absence of a human resource plan, or other similarly detailed and persuasive evidence, very serious doubts must exist over the validity of the predicted job figure of 475. There are two reasons for this in particular:
a. retail warehousing is not labour intensive, nor are small business enterprises, nor small industrial premises; and
b. experience of earlier planning applications for the Bell Green site reveal that potential business and industrial users were only prepared to transfer their existing staff to the site. Few wholly new jobs would have been created. There is no reason to expect a different attitude from potential employers in respect of the present application.
- The officer’s report, in advancing the figure of 475 jobs, takes no account of the prospect of serious job losses arising elsewhere in the local light industry and retail sector as a result of the proposed development. The developer acknowledges that town centres in Sydenham, Forest Hill, and Catford would lose at least around Â£3million per annum, in takings. The loss of this large sum from existing low profit margins would inevitably harm existing employment levels.
- The reduction in takings by shops and in business and light industry in local town centres would be caused by two factors:
a. a reduction in footfall in the town centres, as shoppers divert to the Bell Green site which (taking account of the existing superstore on the site) would cater for food and non- food (both bulky and non-bulky goods) items; and
b. a loss of trade, by shops such as DIY, plumbers, furniture etc, to the national chains likely to occupy the retail warehouses on the proposed development.
- Taken together, the proposals for retailing and employment would certainly not have the effect of strengthening or protecting existing shopping centres. They are more likely to result in harm to local shopping centres, especially those of Forest Hill and Sydenham. The employment benefits claimed to flow from the proposals have not been justified and appear to be exaggerated. Neither the developer nor the Council have attempted properly to assess what the net employment gain, if any, might be.
- The Sydenham Society believes that the designation of the Bell Green site as a Defined Employment Area in the Council’s UDP would be more suitable and beneficial for local residents.
- By not utilising this land for a use which brings significant levels of employment, and high quality employment at that, the proposals amount to a wasted opportunity. Regeneration, employment and economic growth will best be served by making the best possible use of land to generate high quality local jobs. The current proposals are contrary, and therefore harmful, to meeting objectives of regeneration, employment and economic growth to the greatest possible extent.
- Accordingly, the employment benefits of the proposals are over-stated and are not supported by proper evidence. No account is taken of the harm in employment terms that will be caused by the development. Employment in nearby areas will be harmed. This is contrary to development plan policy and national planning policy guidance.
- The proposals are contrary to development plan and national policy, including but not limited to the following provisions.
The London Plan
Policy 3B.5 Strategic Employment Locations – “With strategic partners, the Mayor will promote and manage the varied industrial offer of the Strategic Employment Locations (SELs), set out in Annex 2 as London’s strategic reservoir of industrial capacity. Boroughs should identify SELs in UDPs, and develop local policies for employment sites outside the SELs, having regard to:
â€¢ the locational strategy in Chapter 2 of this plan
â€¢ accessibility to the local workforce, public transport and where appropriate, freight movement
â€¢ quality and fitness for purpose of sites
â€¢ the release of surplus land for other uses in order to achieve the efficient use of land in light of strategic and local assessments of industrial demand.”
London Borough of Lewisham UDP – July 2004
Policy STR.EMP 2 – “To protect a range of suitable sites for business including industrial uses, in line with sustainability and environmental objectives, especially for new growth areas of the economy.”
Policy EMP 1 – “the Council will aim to ensure a satisfactory supply of land and premises for employment uses, by protecting where appropriate those existing sites and buildings which it considers to be particularly suitable and by providing or identifying additional sites for new development in suitable locations, including where appropriate, Town Centres”
EMP4 – “Employment sites outside Defined Employment Areas Applications for the redevelopment, in whole or in part, of land currently or previously used for employment purposes but not falling within a Defined Employment Area will be approved where they are for an employment use and the land is still considered suitable for such a use, having regard to other relevant policies in the Plan. Applications for other uses will be approved if it can be demonstrated that, and evidence has been produced that: a) in the case of proposed mixed use development the number of jobs likely to be created by the proposal outweighs the loss of the employment site.
- The proposed retailing developments on the Phase II and Phase III sites are geared primarily towards the car user. If implemented, the proposals, taken together with the business/industry element of the application, would result in a major increase in peak period traffic on the road network in the area.
- The Phase II proposal provides for a total of 598 car parking spaces. If added to the existing car parking spaces at the Savacentre site of 1,121, then the total car parking spaces (including the 111 spaces associated with the Phase III proposal) would be 1,830. Of those, 1,641 spaces would be devoted to retailing – food, non-food, and restaurant uses.
- The developers’ transport consultants, Savell Bird & Axon (SBA), have estimated that 77% of visits (person trips) to the combined Phase II/III proposals would be made by car, including by car as passenger. SBA have also estimated that 50% of trips made to the non-food retailing element of the proposals would be of a primary nature i.e. trips new to the road network, rather than pass-by trips already on the network or trips linked with an existing visit to the Savacentre.
- Focussing on some of the local roads, in 2003 SBA predicted increases, at Saturday peak, in traffic flows arising from the Phase II and Phase III proposals ranging between 7.3% and 16.7%. SBA’s 2005 analysis predicts lower – although still significant – levels of increase, up to a maximum of 11.8%. The 2003 analysis took as its starting point existing traffic flows and then measured the predicted increase against that. Whereas, the 2005 analysis took as its starting point existing traffic flows plus a notional level of traffic arising from ‘approved development’ for the Bell Green site i.e. floor areas consented to in the Masterplan for Bell Green but which have not been implemented. Thus the 2005 analysis started from a higher base count than the 2003 calculation, resulting in a lower percentage increase in predicted traffic levels.
- The Council’s report of 16 June 2005 to its Strategic Planning Committee, on the Phase II application, refers to ‘increases of about 6% or 7% over existing flows on the network’ during the Saturday peak period. That prediction was in fact based on a flow comparison between previously approved but unimplemented development at Bell Green and flows predicted to arise from the proposals. (The Council’s later report of 14 July 2005 to its Committee corrected the misleading statement in the first report). However, despite the Society repeatedly asking them to do so, the Council have not produced a comparison between existing traffic flows on the network and flows arising should the current proposals be implemented. The flow comparison used by the Council is seriously misleading.
- It is inescapable that the Phase II and Phase III proposals would, in combination, generate increases in traffic levels on the local network that can only be described as substantial. The Council’s conclusion in the officer’s report (para 6.39) is that ‘there is sufficient capacity on the road network at most times to accommodate the proposed increase in demand from the Phase II and Phase III development’. Residents in the roads referred to above would strongly disagree with that conclusion, as would the Society.
- The officer’s report does not argue that the overall effect of the proposals would be to maintain or reduce the existing levels of traffic on the wider network, nor does it refer to any data that would support such a view. In short, the available evidence suggests that the Phase II proposal would result in a net increase, significant in scale, in existing traffic levels on the network. It follows that some parts of the network would experience increased congestion. The Society considers that the effect in traffic terms would be significantly adverse and unacceptable.
- Having regard to the expected impact, the Society considers that from a transport perspective the Phase II and Phase III applications are in clear contravention of important government planning policies at national, regional and local level.
- The Bell Green site is immediately adjacent to an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), comprising several of the roads that would carry the weight of the additional road traffic that the proposals would generate. The traffic assessments undertaken by the developers identify all of those roads as likely to experience a marked increase (between 7% and 16%) in traffic flow, during the Saturday peak, as a result of the proposals.
- The Council’s officer’s report on the proposals contains no specific discussion of the impact of the proposals on the AQMA. Instead, it merely refers to the conclusion of ERM (consultants appointed by the Council) that the developer’s Environmental Statement complied with environmental impact assessment regulations and dealt with all significant environmental impacts, apart from some relating to construction noise.
- One of the roads forming part of the AQMA is Sydenham Road, the main shopping thoroughfare of Sydenham town centre. The developers predict an increase in traffic on Sydenham Road, arising from the proposals, of 10.8%, peak period.
- All that ERM have said about Sydenham Road is that ‘the applicant has assessed the impacts of air quality on Sydenham Road by using the Health Centre (at Bell Green) as the key sensitive receptor in this location. The assessment shows that this receptor will not be significantly affected by the Phase II development’.
- In other words, ERM simply referred to the developer’s own assessment without providing any independent analysis of whether the conclusion reached by the developer was robust. Moreover, had ERM objectively assessed the developers’ assessment they would have noted that the receptor used to measure the air quality impact on Sydenham Road is located completely separately from Sydenham Road. It is in a location at Bell Green that has a quite different built environment than Sydenham Road and that experiences fewer and shorter traffic queues. In other words, the receptor used is in entirely the wrong place to measure air quality in Sydenham Road.
- The overall quality and independence of ERM’s assessment of the developers’ Environmental Statement must be seriously questioned in the light of their Sydenham Road analysis. The Society considers that the proposals will result in unacceptable harm to air quality as a result of the increase in traffic.
- The proposals are contrary to development plan and national policy, including but not limited to the following provisions.
Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres
Paragraph 2.49 ‘The Government is seeking to reduce the need to travel, to encourage the use of public transport, walking and cycling and reduce reliance on the private carâ€¦local authorities should have regard toâ€¦the impact on car use, traffic and congestion’
Paragraph 3.27 ‘In assessing new developments, local planning authorities should consider: whether the proposal would have an impact on the overall distance travelled by carâ€¦’
Paragraph 49 – ‘The availability of car parking has a major influence on the means of transport people choose for their journeys. Some studies suggest that levels of parking can be more significant than levels of public transport provision in determining means of travelâ€¦even for locations very well served by public transportâ€¦Reducing the amount of parking in new developmentâ€¦is essentialâ€¦to promote sustainable travel choices’
The London Plan
Policy 3C.16 Tackling congestion and reducing traffic ‘Working with strategic partners the Mayor will aim from 2001 to 2011 toâ€¦achieve zero growth [in traffic] across the rest of inner London [other than central London]
Policy 3C.18 Local area transport treatments ‘â€¦There is an urgent need to reduce congestion and traffic levelsâ€¦.Boroughs should consider local initiatives that aim to reduce trafficâ€¦’
Lewisham Unitary Development Plan – Adopted Plan July 2004
Chapter 6 Sustainable Transport and Parking – Policy STR.TRN 1 – ‘To co-ordinate land use and development with the provision of transport and car parking, so as to minimise the need for car travelâ€¦’
Policy STR.TRN 4 – ‘To adopt an integrated car parking strategy which contributes to the objectives of road traffic reductionâ€¦’
Reasons for policies – ‘There is a need to reduce car travel in order to reduce traffic congestion, improve the business-operating environment, improve bus reliability and improve air quality and health’
Chapter 8 Shopping and Town Centres – Policy STC2 Location of New Stores (Sequential Test) ‘â€¦Proposals for substantial retail provision on the edge or outside of these Centres [Major and District Town Centres] will only be considered if â€¦the proposal is sited so as to reduce the number and length of car journeysâ€¦’.
- Alternative uses for the site
- The Sydenham Society has engaged with the Council over the past 10 years about alternative uses for the site. It is a site with a long history of industrial and employment uses. The Society has suggested that the Council should consider using this site to produce high quality employment and training for local residents such as a high-tech science or business park. The Council has however chosen to consider this site primarily for retailing and includes it in its UDP Shopping and Town Centre chapter.
- The Council has designated the site as “unsuitable for residential because of contamination”. The Sydenham Society believes that acceptable methods of building houses on contaminated brownfield sites are now available and has argued that this is also an alternative method of regenerating this site. The latest Phase III proposals now show that the Council is prepared to depart from the adopted UDP designation.
- The Society considers that by providing more housing on the Phase II site the overall mix of uses on the development would be improved and many of the harmful effects of the proposals would be avoided.
- The site has a number of attributes which make it highly suitable for residential development, not least its sustainable location near the transport network for those needing to travel to work.
- By failing to make use of more land for housing as part of the overall development of this land the proposals do not maximise the opportunities presented by this land, including to promote a more sustainable pattern of development.
- The proposals are contrary to development plan and national planning policy as a result.
- Summary and Conclusions
- The Society accepts that there is a need to develop the remainder of the Bell Green site. Indeed, the Society has been pressing the Council over the last decade to persuade the site owners to put forward plans for site regeneration.
- The present proposals, Phase II and Phase III, have the Society’s firm support in respect of their business/industrial and housing elements. The Society has consistently argued that those uses (and others) should form the core of regeneration. However, the Society has also consistently argued that further large-scale retailing should not be developed at the Bell Green site since that would damage the already faltering town centres of Forest Hill and Sydenham, and would create significant additional traffic in an area whose roads are badly congested. On that basis we have not objected to the Phase III proposal, in which the housing element predominates, but we continue to oppose the Phase II proposal which is dominated by the non-food retailing element.
- The Society understands that the Council had to consider the applications before them, and on their merits. The Society also understands the argument that the Phase II proposal, when linked with Phase III, would bring into use a site that has long lain idle and in a way that would provide some employment and housing, and not just retailing. But the Society believes that the better view is that the benefits of the combined Phase II and Phase III proposals are clearly outweighed by the disbenefits (arising principally from the Phase II proposal), especially of damage to local town centres and significant increases in car traffic. That is why the Society considers that there are firm planning grounds for refusal, on its merits, of the Phase II application.
- As to the link between the Phase II and Phase III proposals, the developer and the Council argue that in order to provide the social housing element of the housing proposed for Phase III, and the employment element of the Phase II proposal, both have to be subsidised by a substantial retailing element on the Phase II site. That is a superficially attractive argument. However, on closer scrutiny, the argument is not compelling.
- Neither the developer nor the Council have specified what would be a minimum level of retailing that would be needed on the Phase II site in order to subsidise the employment and housing proposals. On the face of it, it appears possible that the developer could scale down the proposed retailing and still be able to provide the necessary cross-subsidy for housing on the Phase III site, and possibly also the employment proposal on Phase II. There must be the possibility too that, if not immediately then within the foreseeable future, funding for social housing in the form of a social housing grant could replace a cross-subsidy from retailing on Phase II. In other words, the Society considers that it may be possible to disengage the Phase III site proposal from the Phase II site proposal.
- Returning to the subsidy for employment uses, the developers’ 2003 analysis of the viability of such uses on the Phase II site specifically excluded the possibility of a residential development on Phase II (which they acknowledged would be valuable) as a source of subsidy. That was because the UDP excluded housing, and still does, from the entire Bell Green site. However, the Council has now departed from its own UDP policy by agreeing (in principle) to housing on Phase III. There is no reason then, in principle, why that policy flexibility could not be extended to Phase II. Moreover, as recently as April 2005 the Council’s environmental consultants said that they had ‘no information to preclude possible residential development of the Phase II site’.
- The Society considers it apparent then that if the Phase II application is refused that need not prevent a further application from coming forward which could provide for a mix of housing and employment on the site, and possibly a much scaled down amount of retailing. A housing development could subsidise the employment use and would have the major benefit of neither impacting on town centre viability nor creating significant increases in current traffic levels.
- In other words, we believe that a development on the Phase II site that provided, predominantly, a mix of housing and employment uses (light industry etc) would be of infinitely greater value to the local and to the wider community than a DIY store, garden centre, and other associated retailing.
The documents to which the Society currently intends to refer at the inquiry are noted where relevant above. The Society reserves the right to refer to additional documents as it investigates further the proposals and develops its evidence.
This statement of case gives as full particulars of the case which the Society proposes to put forward at the inquiry as is possible in the circumstances. The Society reserves the right to refer to additional points as it further investigates the proposals and other relevant matters and develops its case.