Controversial homes scheme approved

By Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter

20th Jul 2023 | Local News

An image of how the development will look
An image of how the development will look

A new South West London neighbourhood with more than 1,000 homes, offices, shops and a secondary school has been approved, despite only including 65 affordable homes.

A local mum slammed the scheme as a "disaster" for Richmond families in unsuitable conditions, desperate to move.

The 1,068-home development is planned for the old Stag Brewery site, in Mortlake, and includes tower blocks up to nine storeys tall, restaurants, a hotel, cinema and 1,200-pupil secondary school. Richmond Council's planning committee approved two planning applications making up the scheme, from Reselton Properties Limited, on Wednesday, July 19.

The plans will now be referred to the Mayor of London for a final decision. He can let the committee's decision stand, direct refusal or call the scheme in.

Original plans for the site with 813 homes were approved by the council, but called in by the Mayor over a lack of affordable housing in 2020. The developer then increased the scheme to 1,250 homes, with up to 30per cent affordable housing, but this was thrown out by the Mayor in 2021 due to concerns including height and scale.

The two new planning applications drew fierce opposition from locals, with 978 objections overall. Residents and councillors raised concerns about the level of affordable housing included in the scheme at the meeting on July 19, along with the impact on congested local roads, the height of the tower blocks and the need for a new school. It includes 65 affordable homes, with 52 at social rent.

Nahed Ibrahim said her family-of-six lives in a "mouldy, damp two-bedroom flat" in Chertsey Court, near the site, which is impacting their health. She has chronic pain and limited mobility, while her kids have asthma, eczema, ADHD and partial hearing loss.

The mum said she has been registered to move for four years, hoping to move along with thousands of people in the borough, "but no one wants my flat because our living conditions are so bad" – leaving her "stuck". She slammed the scheme as a "disaster for all those in need of social rent family housing". She said the level of market housing will "starve us of a sense of community, it won't build a new heart in Mortlake".

Local Alistair Johnston described the "community's complete horror and devastation at the proposed loss of the brewery playing fields as part of the massive overdevelopment of this site". He said the playing fields provide two hectares of open space and would be redistributed under the scheme as "much smaller pieces of space". 

Una O'Brien, another local objector, said the plans include "hardly any affordable homes, all overshadowed". She said: "We all want the site to be developed but not this scheme. The density and urbanisation are overbearing, placing all the harms on the surrounding neighbourhood, with no significant mitigation." She added: "This scheme does not add a new heart to Mortlake, more like a heart attack for local residents as they try to go about their daily lives." 

A council report said the "low level of affordable housing provision is due to economic viability" and the number "exceeds that which is deemed the maximum and viable quantum". A planning officer added review mechanisms would allow the council to increase the level of affordable housing if considered viable.

But Green councillor Niki Crookdake said the council had negotiated a "derisory deal with a very clever developer". She raised concerns about the overall impact of the scheme on traffic with three other local developments, either approved or planned, "adding 3,000 homes and over 6,000 people to the area with low PTAL [Public Transport Accessibility Level] ratings". She added: "We should build a school last, not first, ensuring we can max out affordable housing and not waste millions of pounds of public funds if pupil numbers don't materialise."

Guy Duckworth, on behalf of Reselton Properties Limited, said the mixed-use scheme includes a "reduction in height in the sensitive areas around the site". He said Community Infrastructure Levy payments ranging from £48million to £66m would be made as part of the development, to upgrade infrastructure.

The scheme has "greatly improved environmental credentials", he added, including being fully electric as all hot water and heating is provided by electronically-powered air source heat pumps. He said there would be a net gain in biodiversity at the site, around 10 acres of public space and a new park, while sports facilities at the "much-needed" school could be used by the public outside of school hours and in the holidays. 

Mr Duckworth argued the scheme "delivers for the local community", with 80pc of its affordable housing at social rent and "optimised for family occupation". He said it would improve accessibility across Mortlake, along with pedestrian and cyclist safety at Mortlake Green, Sheen Lane and Clifford Avenue, and include measures to "improve the congested local road network".

Murray Levinson, from architects Squire and Partners, said the scheme is "not fundamentally different to the one Richmond minded to grant in 2020″ and had been taken to the council's design review panel twice "to gain their support for the massing and height". He described it as a "high-quality scheme that will provide a sense of place and a new heart to Mortlake" – with flats "grouped around a variety of generous open space or new animated streets".

Mark Tuffney, head teacher at Lowther Primary School, in Barnes, argued there is a "need for a secondary school". He said there are "specific pockets of the borough where children cannot get into a local state secondary school", resulting in parents "leaving the area because… they're worried" about the number of places.

But Green councillor Richard Bennett said he could not vote for the scheme. He said: "I'm not satisfied that we've got a good solution here in terms of height and density of buildings. I think there are enough harms for me to feel uneasy that they're balanced by the public benefits."

Other councillors criticised the plans but argued its harms would be outweighed by benefits. Lib Dem councillor John Coombs raised concerns about the lack of affordable housing while many local families deal with "severe overcrowding". But he said the "clawbacks that we have going forward mean that we will most probably end up with more affordable housing". He argued the "benefits that we get outweigh the harms" due to planned mitigations.

Lib Dem councillor Martin Elengorn added the scheme would provide a "new centre for Mortlake" in place of a "derelict brewery". The committee approved both applications at the end of the meeting, which will now be referred to the Mayor.


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