Plans to build more than 1,500 new homes on the site of the former Peek Freans biscuit factory in Bermondsey – in buildings of up to 35 storeys – have been given the green light after London’s deputy mayor overturned Southwark Council’s decision to block the scheme.
Grosvenor, the property firm owned by the Duke of Westminster, bought the Biscuit Factory and the former Southwark College site in 2013.
Its planning application for a build-to-rent development on the 5.4 hectare site was rejected by Southwark planning committee in February 2019, before the case was ‘taken over‘ by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
A public hearing was convened at City Hall on Friday morning, with the final decision placed in the hands of deputy mayor Jules Pipe.
Jules Pipe said: “The site has the potential to deliver more than 1,500 new homes in an area of London with a high demand for affordable housing, close to transport links and central London.
“It will also provide new facilities for a secondary school which is currently housed in dated buildings.
“Overall, it would make a significant contribution towards the regeneration of this part of Bermondsey. Having considered all the evidence available to me, I have decided to approve this application.”
The hearing was told by GLA planning officer Justine Mahanga that revisions to the scheme in the past year had overcome all of Southwark’s reasons for turning it down.
A key change is the revision of the affordable housing offer from 27.5 to 35 per cent – representing an additional 160 affordable homes.
Grosvenor has also increased the height of the proposed buildings, with the tallest now 35 storeys compared to 28 storeys in the proposal rejected by Southwark.
Senior Southwark planning officer Yvonne Lewis addressed the deputy mayor to argue that while the changes were welcome, they didn’t go far enough to meet the council’s concerns on design or on the affordability of the housing.
South Bermondsey Labour councillor Leo Pollak spoke to “recognise and applaud” the most recent changes, but warning that the scheme still had the potential to exacerbate economic divides either side of the railway line.
In his remarks North Bermondsey Lib Dem councillor Hamish McCallum criticised the tall buildings proposed by Grosvenor which he described as “wildly out of step with the local context” and warned that even the affordable homes would be out of reach to many of his constituents.
Jerry Flynn of the 35 Per Cent Campaign questioned the lack of detail in the public domain about how the tenancies for the affordable housing would be managed and renewed, whilst Harpreet Aujla of Southwark Law Centre suggested that given the scale of Grosvenor’s expected profits from the scheme, it was reasonable to expect them to comply with policy on affordable housing in every detail.
Speakers in favour of the development included local fishmonger Russell Dryden of the Blue Bermondsey BID, who – after sharing childhood memories of scrounging broken biscuits from Peek Freans – said that “the proposed development will complement and align with our aspirations” for The Blue.
Douglas Lewis, chair of the Compass School – which will gain a new building as part of the scheme – said: “We fully support this application and encourage you to approve it”.
Shannon Donovan of Bermondsey Community Kitchen added: “”These homes will provide an influx of residents who can use The Blue for their local spending.”
Sheila Taylor, chair of Cherry Garden Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said she had been “deeply disappointed” by Southwark’s refusal of Grosvenor’s planning application and welcomed Mayor’s intervention and the tweaks to the scheme that have happened since.
She said that the Biscuit Factory in its current state represented an “empty hole” in the middle of Bermondsey.
The final speaker to address the hearing was Simon Harding-Roots of Grosvenor who stressed his company’s long-term commitment to Bermondsey and that his scheme would “breathe new life into this brownfield site”
He said that Grosvenor had taken care to ensure its plans would integrate well with Bermondsey’s existing communities, with “no fenced-off areas, no gated communities” and “five acres of space open to the public” including a rooftop terrace.