On Tuesday of last week Southwark’s planners announced a retreat from their most extreme high-rise plans for Bermondsey village.

The announcement came in the one and only public meeting scheduled for the re-consultation on the key SPD that seeks to facilitate the Sellar high-rise plans for Bermondsey village, held at the Village Hall.

Taken aback by the large attendance of local residents incensed at the secret deals with Sellar to pave the way for a high-rise wall of buildings the length of St Thomas St and into Bermondsey St, Head of Planning Policy, Simon Bevan quickly played his best card in an attempt to defuse the situation. Before the meeting got properly underway he announced that any high-rise plans would not now include the two Sellar owned sites at the top of Bermondsey Street.

Where this leaves Sellar and his proposed three Shard satellites is a matter of speculation. As is the impact the decision will have on his financial position: He paid way over market value for the two sites at £11.25m. It would seem to leave the company in which they were bought, Sellar Properties (London 1), confronting huge losses and clearly insolvent. What will his Irish Banker’s have to say, we wonder.

Although encouraging, this development still leaves much to be done to drive back the planners high-rise ambitions and our subscribers are urged to write letters to Southwark Council in response to the SPD and also the ‘Quill’ proposal that is currently in consultation. Time is short and we are posting up some form letters for the purpose. However, as always, personal letter are preferable.

There is a lot to report and more news will follow soon. The BVAG site should also be progressively more central to the campaign as it has now broadened beyond the Sellar plans to a wider platform. BSTOWERS subscribers will be automatically added to the BVAG.NET mailing list.

Please download the letters to Peter John here and add your own comments if you wish to:

(1) SPD-Quill Letter to Peter John

(2) SPD-Quill Letter to Peter John

(3) SPD-Quill Letter to Peter John

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Southwark Council’s public meeting on the Bankside, Borough & London Bridge Planning Framework will be at 6.30pm on Tuesday 12 October in the Bermondsey Village Hall, Kirby Grove.

The meeting will be chaired by the Cabinet Minister for Planning Policy, Cllr Fiona Colley and the Head of Planning & Transport at Southwark Council, Simon Bevan. There will be a presentation on the draft Borough, Bankside and London Bridge Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) followed by a question and answer session.

The BVAG/BStowers will be asking for clarification on the following issues:

• The extension on the tall building zone that overlaps the Bermondsey Street Conservation Area
• Sellar’s proposals for 3 tall towers at the top of Bermondsey Street
• The Quill – the proposed tall tower on Weston Street

Once adopted the planning framework will be used to decide if planning applications in Bankside, Borough and London Bridge should be approved, so it is crucial that the local residents who are interested in the future of this area attend the meeting and share their views.

For more information on the SPD see www.southwark.gov.uk/bblbspd

The closing date for objections is 5pm Friday 29 October

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Southwark Council postpone new SPD Consultation

The new SPD consultation period previously scheduled for six weeks commencing 3 September has now been put back by a fortnight to start on 17 September.

Southwark Council have announced this postponement on their Web site: http://www.southwark.gov.uk/info/200151/supplementary_planning_documents_and_guidance… but not directly to the people to whom they wrote letters announcing the consultation dates.  On the plus side, the web site does now record the many objections received once we undertook Southwark’s consultation task for want of effort on their part.

The BVAG consultation office/cafe in Globe House was scheduled to hold an opening on Monday 6 September to help the consultation process along.  In view of the postponement we will use the delay to get the place a bit more complete for a delayed opening now to be held on Wednesday 15 September.

More details to follow.

Does anyone have any information on why Southwark decided to delay the start of the re-consultation?

Two purely speculative theories:

(1)        Just bureaucratic inefficiency and tardiness.  (Entirely plausible but a bit dull.)

(2)        Council Leader Peter John was recently quoted in the press as saying he expected to receive Sellar’s application for the Shard Satellites in Bermondsey St imminently.  Even by Southwark’s standards it would look a bit off if the Sellar application came in just when the consultation closed.  Have Sellar asked for an extension?  (Perhaps a bit too much logic in this one.) ?

The long awaited reply to our FOI request of Southwark Council to explain Sellar’s role in the production of the SPD is now with us.  No surprises, they weren’t happy to disclose it all but there is quite enough to show what a starring role Sellar played in the drafting of the SPD.  Given how much Sellar stands to gain from the planners doing what he tells them this is obviously a scandal.

In a stark change of policy from their previous extreme reticence and minimal responses Southwark this time decided to bury the detail in a forest-worth of paper.  We are still ploughing our way through this material – and looking for volunteers to help with investigation of a variety of newly revealed dimensions to the plot.  The essence is however emerging.

What seems to have happened is that no later than the beginning of 2009, Sellar decided that assuming control of the SPD would be a potentially profitable investment.  This was around the time that they revealed their model of the ‘Three Spires’ proposal (see How it would look)  for which they had already (very expensively) acquired some of the required sites at the Bermondsey St/St Thomas Street junction (see Site plan and ownership).

The process by which Sellar proceeded to seek to exert influence over the terms of the SPD was to ‘convene’ (in Southwark’s words) routine meetings attended by Southwark’s planners, Sellar, Guy’s Hospital and, occasionally, miscellaneous others including Network Rail and the GLA.  The meetings took place at Fielden House in London Bridge St on Friday lunch time or late afternoon.  ‘Lunch will be provided’ Sellar’s emails informed the select invitees.  ‘No such thing as a free lunch’ is the celebrated phrase attributed to Mrs Thatcher’s 1980’s monetarist guru, Milton Friedman.

To thinly disguise their commercial interest in having the SPD pave the way for their ‘Three Spires’ project, Sellar used two devices.  One was to link up with Guys Hospital to promote a joint ‘vision’ for the London Bridge area and thereby gain a good-cause decoy.  The other was to attempt to distance themselves from the guidance to the planners on what the SPD should say by putting it in the mouths of ‘experts’.  Among those ready to promote Sellar’s vision by trotting out facile pseudo-scientific ‘conclusions’ on tall buildings –  provided they were paid enough – were planning consultants, DP9 and locals, Tibbalds.

They provided some profound advice in planner-friendly form such as the helpful illustration below to facilitate informed planning decisions on sky-scraper applications.

(to be continued)

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