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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The Quill is a proposed high-rise student residence on Weston Street/St Thomas St. The planning application was re-submitted last month following the applicants withdrawal allegedly due to the height and scale (which hasn’t changed much).

Southwark’s SPD and its high rise building zone in Bermondsey Street and St Thomas Street is at the heart of Sellar’s proposal for their three Shard satellites at the top of Bermondsey Street overlaying the conservation area. If the Quill is approved it will be a stepping-stone for further high-rise in and around the conservation area opening the gateway for other developers to follow suit. The Quill’s own PR agent, Four Communications, state “the Quill will act as a catalyst for further local regeneration, delivering a strategic foothill to sensitively relate to its taller neighbours and emerging clusters”. This is a clear statement of intent and it is obvious that the Quill goes hand in hand with the high-rise zone proposed in the SPD in paving the way for Southwarks high-rise ambitions for the area. If approved it will also make a mockery of the consultation process surrounding the SPD by pre-empting the high-rise issue.

The planning application was released with conflicting information and BVAG have challenged the Council on the dates of the consultation period, which range from 20 days to 38 days. Conflicting consultation notices have also been coincided with the notice of the withdrawal of the previous Quill application (09-AP-2657), even though this occurred many months ago, resulting in an (accidental?) misleading of the statutory consultees.

Our Consultation Café has pictures of the Quill and copies of the elevation drawings. Come along and read up on what you can do to fight the application and what it seeks to bring in its wake.

There are various matters that BVAG is presently investigating in relation to the Quill, its proposers and what role Southwark Council have played in its gestation.

Currently we know the present occupants of the building on Weston Street that the new development would replace, Kings College, have a remaining five years on their lease and say they have neither been invited to negotiate a surrender not to enter any agreement to occupy the fantasy new building.

The owner of the site is a company hidden in Jersey but the promoters of the development, Investream Ltd, say it is an ‘associated’ company. They have agreed to come and talk to BVAG but are not coming up with a date as they said they would. We will be posting a standard objection letter for subscribers to send shortly; meanwhile we recommend subscribers write their own.

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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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