Southwark Planners have a beautifully simple approach to neighbourhood consultation:  Don’t tell anyone what’s going on and nobody objects.

The Bankside, Borough and London Bridge SPD (Supplementary Planning Document) is the development plan for the area that will be used to determine planning applications for many years to come.  It makes some very controversial proposals in relation to high-rise buildings in St Thomas Street and Bermondsey Street – intruding into the Bermondsey Street Conservation Area.

The map below shows a zone demarcated as suitable for tall buildings.  This embraces two buildings in Bermondsey Street (40 and 42-44) that have recently been purchased by Sellar.  Southwark planners have been most reluctant to account for how the incongruous finger of their high-building zone came to be added (see tall buildings study evolution) and how far it was in collaboration with Sellar.

This difficult-to-decipher map is to be found in Southwark’s draft SPD page 36, figure 20.

Even immediately adjoining owners had no realistic way of knowing that outside their front doors Southwark was paving the way for 50 story tower blocks.  Southwark Planners claim to have discharged their statutory consultation obligations by measures such as placing small ads in local papers and notifying a few community groups.  The reality is that anyone other than the most obsessive of local busybodies could never have known about the high-building zone if we hadn’t made it our business to do Southwark’s consultation for them.  Despite living in a building that stood to be most acutely affected by tall buildings zoned for within 15 metres of their windows residents knew nothing of Southwark’s plan until the deadline for comments had passed.

Once we consulted local people in the immediate vicinity of the proposed new high-building zone, the numbers spoke for themselves.  Our method was simply to put up posters on Globe House – a building immediately across Bermondsey Street from the proposed new tower blocks and talked to people.  Soon the Council received well over 100 objections to add to the paltry 16 their consultation had produced.

Not to be deterred from their plan to usher through a development plan without the hindrance of local people, the planners came up with another deft tactic:  The consultation poster we posted gave a deadline of 23 April (see above) for comments.  This was because we received written confirmation from the planners in the following terms ‘I write to confirm that the deadline for the Bankside, Borough and London Bridge Consultation has now been extended to 23rd April 2010 @ 17:00.’  Below is the email sent to us:

From: “Warren, Sandra” <Sandra.Warren@SOUTHWARK.GOV.UK>
Date: 26 March 2010 09:43:29 GMT
To: <liz@lordshiva.net>
Subject: BBLB SPD Extension of time


I write to confirm that the deadline for the Bankside, Borough and London Bridge has now been extended to 23rd April 2010 @ 17:00.

Kind regards

Sandra Warren
Planning Policy
Southwark Council

Once they realized they would receive an avalanche of objections they declared that the extension of the consultation period as notified to us was not for everyone but only for us.  They thereby licensed themselves to discard the vast majority of objections as invalid.

The ‘invalidate-them’ device was to create two categories of objections:  Firstly, the minimal number received prior to the deadline nobody knew about would be fully recognized and ‘reported’.  Secondly, the much larger number would be ‘responded to by officers’??? and not reported.  Effectively this meant complainants would receive a stock reply and both complaint and stock reply could then be binned and forgotten about. Here is a typical response to one of our subscribers:

From: Carnuccio, Michael
Date: 16 April 2010 13:58
Subject: RE: SPD Bermondsey Street
To: steve ford

Dear Steve,

Thank you for your comments.

Can I take this opportunity to clarify that the consultation relates to a planning framework for the area, not a specific planning application. The draft SPD provides guidance on a range of topics including land use and design of new development. We will use it to help decide planning applications.
It has been brought to our attention that posters, flyers and emails have been distributed showing an image of a high-rise development at the top of Bermondsey Street. Please note that these were not made or put out by the council and the development it depicts is not a proposal of the council, the SPD or the subject of any planning application.

If you haven’t already, you can see a copy of the draft SPD at www.southwark.gov.uk/bblbspd

The most relevant sections relating to your concerns are 4.2.2, 4.2.6, 4.2.12 and 5.5.

The draft SPD recognises that Bermondsey Village has a special character and any development will need to respect and respond to this. We have identified locations where tall buildings might be appropriate if they meet a series of criteria. This includes being sensitive to the character and scale of conservation areas. The draft SPD sets out specific land use, design and public realm guidance for the St Thomas Street car park site that we want any development proposals to meet. This includes not wanting the view up Bermondsey Street to be dominated by a tall building. Building heights should step down to the Bermondsey Street corner and any development along the Bermondsey Street frontage should continue the established heights and building line of the street.

Please also note that any formal planning application for the site would be subject to its own consultation process.

Michael Carnuccio
Team Leader, Planning Policy Team
Regeneration and Neighbourhoods
Planning Policy
PO Box 64529, London SE1P 5LX
T: 020 752 55475 F: 020 7084 0347

Currently we are applying pressure to the Council to acknowledge all objections and to re-open consultation in a genuine manner and for a realistic time scale so that local people can be genuinely informed and have a realistic chance to comment.

See downloadable letters if you would like to write to Southwark Council

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