On London has given our campaign the right to reply to an article by Commissioner Dany Cotton earlier this month, in which she described 8 Albert Embankment as her personal legacy project. Making it all the more surprising that despite repeated requests, she has still not agreed to meet us face to face.
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Dany Cotton’s praise for the London Fire Brigade’s plans for redeveloping its property at 8 Albert Embankment paints a very different picture from that envisaged by the Lambeth residents who would live in its shadows. The LFB’s proposals, which have been submitted to Lambeth Council, include a 24 and a 26-storey tower, which would deprive adjacent council homes and a public park of sun and daylight, entailing significant damage to heritage buildings in the process. Furthermore, the housing element does not meet Lambeth’s target of 50 per cent being affordable and, as the Greater London Authority’s Stage 1 report on the plans says, neither does it reach Sadiq Khan’s threshold of 50 per cent of new homes built on GLA land – which the LFB site is – being affordable at a time when such housing is desperately needed by Londoners. Is this the legacy the outgoing LFB commissioner wants to leave?
The Lambeth Village community organisation, of which I am a member, believes the Lambeth fire station building could already have been refurbished and be being put to multiple good uses if the LFB had not continued to be intent on pushing through plans that are at odds with Lambeth’s planning policies. A previous attempt, in 2011 failed, falling foul of both the council’s planning committee and then the planning inspectorate on grounds of major adverse reductions in daylight for the neighbouring council estate. Now the LFB is wasting thousands upon thousands of pounds of public money on a new scheme that we believe planning policy dictates should be turned down.
It feels necessary to state that Lambeth’s planning policies are not red tape. The council’s current Local Plan has been produced through an evidence-based process, publicly consulted on, and has been through a public inquiry. It contains changes from its predecessor following the rejection of the LFB’s previous application. These set out design principles, which clearly state that the 8 Albert Embankment site is not suitable for tall buildings. Consequently, the LFB’s submitted plans are already designated a “departure application”, meaning they would ordinarily be rejected. The fact that the LFB is persisting with them suggests they have come to believe planning policy doesn’t apply to them.
We believe Lambeth’s planning officers and councillors should uphold their planning policies and reject the plans, not least keeping in mind the planning inspector’s decision last time to reject the application on the single issue of sun and daylight. A report by the Building Research Establishment, the independent body that produces sun and daylight benchmarks, has already classified the anticipated light reduction impact on adjacent council homes in this proposal “major adverse”, just like their previous failure.
Dany Cotton should be worried that an absurd repeat of history is going to happen. Local residents are calling on her to show real leadership and take action to stop this from happening. Although U + I, the LFB’s co-developer on this project, held meetings with local groups in late January and early February 2019, the scheme has been in the making since 2016, so to us the history of engagement is far too little far too late.
The proposed scheme may well provide a permanent Fire Brigade Museum to replace the current temporary one, but that would be one of the smaller elements of the development. Indeed, if it goes ahead it will be dwarfed by the 200-bed hotel next door, which will wrap around the back of the Grade II listed Fire Brigade Headquarters and across the parade ground, removing both views of significance and causing great damage to the setting. Further negative impact will come from the proposed two-storey glass box roof extension on top of the fire station.
We believe the two towers would clearly breach the protected art deco outline of the listed building (plus protected views) and cause extensive shadowing across the neighbourhood, all the way to the Garden Museum on the doorstep of Lambeth Palace. Finally, on land principally protected for employment this is clearly a residential-led development.
We appreciate that Dany Cotton relies on the advice of others in these matters. But she is personally fronting the LFB’s campaign to have its plans accepted and has so far declined to meet in person with local people. It is time for that to change and for City Hall to get involved too, ensuring neither “daylight robbery” nor damage to London’s heritage happens here for so little gain.