A largely unpopular development in Brixton was approved on Tuesday (November 3), despite thousands of objections.  

It also emerged that residents were “distressed” after they were reported to have signed in favour of the scheme without being given the full details.  

Lambeth’s planning application committee voted four to three to approve Hondo Enterprises’ 20-storey office block in Pope’s Road. 

The tower will be connected to a nine-storey block, and includes community space and a public square.   

The majority of comments on the application oppose the plans – 1,868 objections to 260 comments of support.  

An online petition opposing the development has more than 7,000 signatures. 

But on Tuesday, planning officer Robert O’Sullivan dismissed the online petition as the council “could not confirm the accuracy” of it.  

He also said that to date, 3,777 total representations had been received – 1,384 in support and 2,393 against. 

The decision at the end of the three-and-a-half hour meeting was deferred from August, postponed to allow the developer to respond to committee members’ concerns. 

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Members were worried about the viability of office space in the wake of the pandemic. In August, a survey put forward by Hondo suggested there was an appetite for returning to offices, but this was labelled “limited”.  

It emerged at Tuesday’s meeting that nationally, there was a decline in demand for office space, but Lambeth Council had commissioned a report which found that the borough has three per cent office stock, “suggesting a lack of supply and strong demand”.  

But Cllr Joanne Simpson, who asked if the developer had more evidence on the subject, said what the officer was presenting was based on “speculation”. 

The survey was also not made available to members or the public. 

A big concern for some was that Hondo would have permitted development rights down the line if it could prove there was no demand for office space, allowing it to convert the blocks into flats without going to planning. 

At the August meeting Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, raised concerns about the damage the development would have on the conservation area and the lack of demand for office space after Covid-19.  

On Tuesday she said the amendments to the scheme had not “fundamentally addressed” her concerns and said the applicant had “not provided a convincing response to the question of demand” for office space.  

The MP added that there is “no widespread evidence of community support”.  

“I’ve been contacted by constituents who were distressed that they were persuaded to sign a model letter of support for the application in the street without details of the scheme, such as the height and appearance being explained to them,” she said.  

Mr O’Sullivan said he was “confident” a condition to the application would stop the developer from changing the use from office to residential. 

“We’ve had a very robust legal overview of the wording of the condition and we are confident that that would remove the ability at any stage in the future to use permitted development rights to change to residential,” he said.  

The changes made to the proposals relate mostly to design and include lightening the colour of the building’s façade, reducing the size of the feature beam on top of the building, and moving the dedicated community space to a more central position within the market.    

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At the last-minute Hondo also offered a 25 per cent uplift in its affordable workspace offer – increasing it from 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent – and a 25 per cent increase in dedicated community space. 

But members remained concerned about the harm the development would have on heritage – the height of the tower is a departure from local plan policy. 

Historic England, the Brixton Society, and the Brixton Recreation Centre remained against the plans, which they say will harm the conservation area and overshadow listed buildings. 

A lawyer, representing a member of the community, and two residents spoke at the meeting objecting to the plans.  

Sandra Brown said the Brixton Rec had changed her life, said it was “built to serve the community” and had a “sense of equality” within its walls.  

She said the prospect of being overshadowed by a “huge, domineering tower” is “alarming”.  

“Housing hundreds of affluent office workers – what will this building offer me and my community?” she said. 

The scheme’s architect, a planning consultant, and a Brixton resident spoke in favour of the scheme.  

Resident Karl Lokko said he had dedicated the last ten years of his life to tackling youth violence in the area. 

“I know the best way to improve the fortunes of Brixton is economic investment – 2,000 jobs, a community space that we control, affordable work space for 500 young people to start their careers, and millions coming into Brixton every year is something that this area has never seen,” he said.  

The economic benefits would later be echoed by members who approved the scheme, who said the “benefits outweighed the harm”.

Coldharbour ward councillors Scarlett O’Hara and Emma Nye both spoke to oppose the development.  

In the end committee members Cllr Ben Kind, Cllr Becca Thackray, and Cllr Simpson voted against the tower, while chair Cllr Claire Wilcox, Cllr Mohammed Seedat, Cllr Tim Windle, and Cllr Jessica Leigh voted in favour.  

The application was approved subject to adding an informative in the “strongest form of words possible” against a “flip” to residential and a condition to limit the use roof terraces to avoid noise pollution. 

It was also agreed that the affordable workspace management plan should come back to committee, along with an informative urging the developer to comply with the new emerging London plan in relation to its carbon footprint.