Opening Submission

PLANNING INSPECTORATE REFERENCE: APP/N5660/V/20/3254203 and APP/N/5660/V/20/3257106
1. Sir, we are heartily glad that the Secretary of State called in these applications for his
determination, and that he has appointed you to advise on the application through this Inquiry.
We look forward to setting out why this proposal is fundamentally flawed and must be rejected.
2. This is a sorry state of affairs.
3. A series of central London sites have been gradually vacated for over 20 years and left to the
foxes and buddleia.
4. The sites are in public ownership, and a vital public service is still delivered from one of them,
but the owners should be thoroughly ashamed.
5. Two of the buildings on them are listed, another makes a positive contribution to the
Conservation Area in which they all sit. Another listed building sits adjacent. Designated and
non-designated heritage assets are distributed in the area, around a village green given to the
parish by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1703. The two oldest buildings in South London are
close by, including one of the nation’s great historic palaces. A river flows outside, the largest
piece of contiguous open space in this world city, providing fabulous views of our listed buildings
and – uniquely – two palaces, the other being the Palace of Westminster, part of the World
Heritage Site.
6. On the other hand one of the sites, vacant for decades, backs onto a series of large social
housing estates and occasional terraced streets, the remnants of post-war comprehensive
development, with some of the worst multiple deprivation in our city: poor health, high
unemployment, low educational attainment, poor public transport. The immediate area contains
the only protected locally significant industrial land in central London, serving the Central
Activities Zone, and giving some local employment in a broad range of jobs.
7. Everybody locally wants these sites back in use. We are proud of our area and believe in its
future. We don’t harbour fantasies of what the sites should be. Light industrial uses and local
jobs– like the coffee roasting and fish preparing; offices and homes provided in an appropriately
restored building, along with a new fire station; and even, maybe, a museum if we were lucky,
welcoming new people and businesses to our area.
8. But that hasn’t happened. The owners took an age finding a development partner, haggling over
the emerging planning designations, submitting and withdrawing applications, being refused
permission and losing an Appeal… and then starting all over again, another 7 years wasted
coming up with another fundamentally inappropriate application.
9. Meanwhile the central site has been abandoned for nearly two decades – although for a brief
and bizarre 18 months the owners started realising its potential with various meanwhile uses,
which then evaporated once they thought they had their planning permission. And the glorious
1937 buildings rot.
10. What is appropriate for these sites? Luckily in this country we have a plan-led system of
development, and what is appropriate is set out in great detail in the development plan. The
sites are in an opportunity area where development for housing and jobs is strongly supported;
they are partly in a Key Industrial and Business Area (KIBA), which determines the broad range of
jobs which could be provided; they are in a Conservation Area with its sensitivities, and they are
sites clearly designated in the development plan as inappropriate for tall buildings. And the sites
are surrounded by over 500 homes with residents whose amenity needs to be protected.
11. Given these constraints, the plan is unusually flexible: no other KIBA in 2020 includes “some
residential within the KIBA boundary may be considered, if it can be demonstrated that this is
necessary to achieve an acceptable scheme in all other respects”.
12. But upon first seeing the application it would be easy to imagine that there were no planning
framework to guide development. No less than four tall buildings are proposed, and a fifth
extended vertically, contrary to some of the very reasons it was listed.
13. These tall buildings would be ubiquitous in their impact, everywhere and anywhere. One of the
lesser ones lands in its area completely out of context, dominating views, decimating residential
daylight, dwarfing the adjacent former Ragged school, now an industrial gallery. The shortest
tall building, a mere 40m high office slab would rise several storeys over the nineteenth century
listed Southbank House and would wreck the daylight in the newer homes on Black Prince Rd.
14. The two taller buildings would cause yet more damage to daylight – particularly to some of the
most vulnerable people in the neighbourhood. 12 children live in the five ground floor flats in
Whitgift House. Three are severely disabled. For the second time in their short lives they are
threatened with having their sky taken away from them.
15. But the two taller buildings would also damage heritage assets: they would interfere with
protected views of the exquisite moderne silhouette of the listed fire station headquarters – its
striking design itself a delightful response to the height constraints of the 1930s. Our tall
buildings have no such ingenuity: they would just rise. At 38m wide they would be far from
slender – please look out for that word, Sir, it appears ten times in Mr Pilbrow’s Proof. But
repetition doesn’t eviscerate the facts of the matter: these tall buildings would not be slender.
They would be just tall. And bulky.
16. They would appear in many local views across the Conservation Area. They would lower over the
former Ragged School and over the industrial land they would squat on, undoubtedly leading to
the termination of the fish preparation business and the collapse and eventual de-designation of
the KIBA. They would lower over the 4 storey social housing, over the local park and playground.
17. They would come crashing through the medieval roof of the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace, and
they would destroy views of the genuinely slender mitre which has been dramatically thrusting
from the roof into the clear sky for over 300 years.
18. They would confuse views from the bridges and along the river the rhythm of tall buildings
which has developed, from the cluster at Vauxhall Cross, and down along Albert Embankment to
the low lying areas around the medieval buildings. And they would even be visible from
Parliament Hill and Primrose Hill: but not as distinct tall buildings, rather as a merging murk of
buildings behind and beside the Victoria tower of the Palace of Westminster, whose Gothic
crenulations can currently be seen five miles away against the sky and the Surrey hills.
19. We will over the next two weeks go over these points in detail. You will hear claims that the
towers are slender, the public realm generous, the listed building sufficiently robust to handle
intrusions, the housing necessary, the high street repaired, the daylight losses not really
unacceptable, and the public benefits overwhelming. Please don’t take these claims on face
value. Test the evidence, for each and every one is unsubstantiated and frankly incredible.
20. And each and every impact is indicative of over-development of the site – a difficult thing to
achieve on a site which could clearly accommodate 150 or so homes and some seriously useful
businesses and a refurbished fire station, without breaking sweat. But stuffing 443 flats, over
100,000 sq. f of offices, and a 200-bed hotel means building big, building up and up, and then
scrabbling around greening various shared surfaces, and yet still only coming up with a third of
the urban greening required.
21. We properly and fully agree that there would be benefits of this scheme. Firstly, a refurbished
and renewed fire station. Secondly a very welcome museum, notwithstanding the fact that it
could considerably better accommodated – Delancey’s bid shows one alternative. But a
refurbished fire station and shell for a modest museum does not require a £500m development.
What’s more, a third benefit – the sustainable re-use of the listed building as residential – would,
along with a suitably subservient extension wrapping the back, be sufficiently profitable to prove
viable. There is already a tenant proposing a use for the central site for a electric vehicle and
charging centre which central London desperately needs
22. Why doesn’t the LFC go for a more modest but appropriately scaled development? Perhaps
because it won’t bring the £42m it expects to receive from a capital receipt were this scheme
approved (an oddly identical figure to that budgeted to receive on the failed Appeal scheme
seven years ago). The applicant even hints as much, and tries to claim this as a planning benefit.
It is not, and cannot be a material consideration in this planning decision.
23. But also, Sir, please note what isn’t being talked about by the applicants. Firstly, the key
constraints and minimal requirements set out in the development plan. The site specific
“inappropriate for tall buildings” is magicked away in the SoCG (6.16-18) on the basis of false
information known for over a year. The demonstration of the necessity for building housing on
the KIBA – the only construal of which can be as an enabling device – is completely absent. The
demonstration of considering alternatives to establish the Optimum Viable Use for the purposes
of heritage considerations is again wholly absent. The additional clear planning constraints
placed upon the site in the Local Plan following the last inquiry – precisely to avoid a repeat
performance – have been haggled over or simply ignored.
24. In a famous case Tesco Stores Limited (Appellants) v Dundee City Council (Respondents)
(Scotland) [2012] UKSC 13 Lord Reed observed:
“The development plan is a carefully drafted and considered statement of policy, published in order
to inform the public of the approach which will be followed by planning authorities in decision making unless there is good reason to depart from it. It is intended to guide the behaviour of
developers and planning authorities. As in other areas of administrative law, the policies which it
sets out are designed to secure consistency and direction in the exercise of discretionary powers,
while allowing a measure of flexibility to be retained. Those considerations point away from the
view that the meaning of the plan is in principle a matter which each planning authority is entitled
to determine from time to time as it pleases, within the limits of rationality…
…Development plans are full of broad statements of policy, many of which may be mutually
irreconcilable, so that in a particular case one must give way to another. In addition, many of the
provisions of development plans are framed in language whose application to a given set of facts
requires the exercise of judgement. Such matters fall within the jurisdiction of planning
authorities… Nevertheless, planning authorities do not live in the world of Humpty Dumpty: they
cannot make the development plan mean whatever they would like it to mean.”
25. Finally, Sir, I would like to point the other aspect which is not being talked about by the
applicant. That is, the communities who live and work here, and will be impacted profoundly
and negatively by these proposals. The applicants have helicoptered in a proposal which is
dismally inward facing. Images are shown of people walking down the lit-up narrow street rebranded ‘gardens’, or of sitting at a cafe table enjoying the bright lights of the development.
There is no relationship with the goings on in the area, with the social housing on Whitgift
Street, or the industrial or artistic uses in the KIBA, or with the multiple micro-businesses in
Southbank House, or with the visitor experience of the Garden Museum.
26. We have just been through the rigours of revising the Local Plan, confirming the importance of
protecting residential amenity and industrial land and heritage assets, and of achieving
appropriate levels of growth on our precious reservoir of brownfield land.
27. Reading the applicant’s – and much of the council’s – response is to enter into that Humpty
Dumpty world Lord Reed warned us all against.
28. We look forward to you recommending to the Sec of State how to turn the world right side up by
refusing these plans.

Michael Ball
1st December 2020