Saturday, April 8, 2017
Southwark Council is currently consulting on the new 'Southwark Plan'. This plan identifies key sites across the Borough, and puts in place high level recommendations as to what the Council would support, and require, as a matter of policy for various sites all over Southwark. It includes Council owned and private sites where the Council would like to see particular sorts of development.
A lot of these sites are welcome, and indeed critical to delivering important Labour missions - like our 10,000 new council homes. In a crowded borough like ours, making optimum use of all land is critical, at a time of a housing crisis created by greedy Tory central government and a broken, intensively privatised housing policy framework.
However, in Walworth, one site has caused massive concern for local residents: 330-340 Walworth Rd. This is better known as the old Co-Op Department Store, which now houses Iceland, Peacocks, The Gym, and Oli's.
The latter two businesses are local institutions, and key in our community to helping us meet our commitments around making healthy living, both eating an exercise cheap an accessible.
Like lots of Walworth residents, and other local councillors, I'm opposed to including this site in the Southwark Plan, and pointing developers to this site. The reasons are threefold:
1.) the potential permanent loss of these amenities, particularly low cost gymn membership & cheap, late opening fresh food serving a divers community.
2.) the temporary loss of these amenities- there's no guarantee that a new gymn would be low cost, no guarantee that the units would be suitable for these particular businesses, no guarantee that they could survive a temporary cessation in trade, and the effects of the loss of these facilities on those who need their services accessible.
3.) the loss of an interesting building, with a co-operative history, in a conservation area, which is different in a mostly Edwardian shopping high street.
I've published my full letter of concern below, as well as the positive response I've received from Cllr Mark Williams, the cabinet member responsible. He's made a number of proposals which certainly address some of the above, but I'm concerned that they don't answer fully my concerns - in particular points 2 & 3. A better compromise may be the designation of part of the site- like the rear or building on top, meaning we can protect the use of the two most loved businesses.
Consultation on the plan closes on the 28th April. Please add your voice to help inform the process HERE.
Dear Cllr Williams,
I am writing with regard to the above proposed development on the Walworth Rd., a matter which is currently being consulted on by your department for inclusion in the ‘New Southwark Plan’.
I have been asked by numerous local residents, party members and campaign groups to lodge my objection to the inclusion of 330-344 Walworth Rd as one which would be desirable for the Council to regenerated for a wide range of deeply felt reasons in our local community.
Firstly, I share the concerns of many local residents about the loss of the amenities which the building contains. Among the tenants in the building are Peacocks, which is a low cost chain store, providing high quality new clothing and accessories, and Iceland a low cost frozen goods supermarket. The former is a rarity along the Walworth Rd, and both represent two of the biggest brand name stores down the road. We have often discussed the importance of maintaining the Walworth Rd as a shopping destination in and of itself, and both of these add much to this area of Walworth.
More importantly, and most emotively, the building also has The Gym and Oli Food Centre. The former is a very cheap, highly regarded and well used gymn facility. The cost of membership is fixed at the point of joining, and so some residents using the facility are paying as little as £12 a month; the current cost for new joiners is around £20 per month. The upper floor has been in use as a low cost gymn under a number of providers for many years, and protecting this use is vital – especially bearing in mind our ambitions to help make healthy living and exercise as cheap and accessible for our residents as possible.
Oli Food Centre is a local institution and has had a long tenure in the building. They are a quality retailer of a variety of world cuisine and ingredients, as well as more general low cost groceries and quality, cheap, fruit and vegetables. They (like The Gym above) have 24 hour opening, and so are easily accessible for shift workers and other residents often excluded by smaller stores. This is obviously a key component to ensuring it is easy to live healthily in our borough. They cater for a number of local communities who are not well provided for – not least central and eastern Europeans – as well as members of our Turkish, Latin American and Middle Eastern communities. During the riots in 2012 they were a bastion of hope and defiance, remaining open at all costs, becoming the stuff of local legend. Protecting a home for Oli’s is a vital concern.
I recognise that their tenure is in no way protected at the moment, but the longevity of these businesses, and that this building accommodates them at rates they can self-evidently afford in the long term, are obviously vital considerations.
It is not just the permanent loss of such institutions, which I recognise could be in part protected through the planning process – but also the temporary loss of such businesses. An hiatus while a new building is constructed on the site, even if it accommodated the same businesses, would lead to many members of our community losing two quality amenities for a period, costing extra as they are forced to use ‘Metro’ chain supermarkets with longer opening hours, and losing the only low cost commercial gymn within reasonable travelling distance – as well as potentially incurring additional costs for exercise if their subscriptions (which are tied to that particular location) are ceased.
As our community continues to grow, it is vital that we are providing the infrastructure to support it, not just in terms of provision itself but accessibility and cost too. The trends in new businesses around the site make me less confident that after a temporary break that the same or similar businesses could be viable in that location or after any period of limited protection which the planning process could provide.
It would also be remiss of me to not mention the architectural qualities of the building. For the Walworth Rd – the decision to make it a conservation area is one which we whole heartedly support both locally and as an administration – it is an architecturally interesting design, dating from the inter-war years. As much of the Walworth Rd is Victorian or Edwardian in date, the current building adds much in terms of interesting additional character and the story of our high streets as they have evolved. It is also sited facing the Grade 1 St Peter’s Church and the rotunda, which is visible from the Walworth Rd, provides a pleasing and sympathetic contrast to that building, as well as the contemporaneous section of the Church Commission Estate.
The architecture and the businesses which are housed within it are vital parts of our local community and the story of Walworth. Housed within an old Co-Operative Department store, I would also hope you share my affinity with its design as a member of our movement.
I am hopeful that the Council will explore other sites in our locality in order to continue to meet our meaningful pledges as an administration around house building – not least our ambitious council house delivery programme. I recognise that the site is large, and it would be great to look at how it could be reconfigured to support a compromise, and any way we can protect the businesses within it and make them more secure. That said, I would urge you to join the strong, divers and coherent opposition to this proposal as part of a Southwark plan which helps us build a stronger borough.
I have copied here the Newington councillors, in whose ward the site is currently situated, but I understand it to be moving into Faraday after 2018. I’ve also added the other Walworth councillors, due to the status of the project in our wider community, and I will be sharing this correspondence, and I hope your response, with residents who ask for my position on the matter. I have also copied the leader of the Council, mindful of the status of this New Southwark Plan. I look forward to your response, which I am sure will be in the sympathetic and constructive way you have approached regeneration issues in our ward throughout your tenure.
Cllr Paul W Fleming
Labour Member, Faraday Ward
Thank you for your emails about the proposed site allocation for 330-344 Walworth Road which is currently out for consultation as part of our preparation of the New Southwark Plan. I’ll set out some of the background and what this consultation means and then hopefully suggest a way forward that we can all agree on.
The Site Allocations that we are consulting on are for those sites across the borough that we either expect to come forward for redevelopment or that we want to come forward for redevelopment during the New Southwark Plan period (broadly 2018-2033). The site allocations are our way of having additional controls through the planning system on what comes forward in any development proposal for these sites. Any other site that comes forward across the borough that doesn’t have a site allocation (or if we were to choose dropping the site allocation for any of those proposed in the current consultation) will be judged against our existing planning policies. By including required uses or other acceptable uses for a site then we can encourage – or demand - that that use is included in any new scheme. This is what we are proposing to do with 330-344 Walworth Road.
In the case of 330-344 Walworth Road we are consulting on the following required uses:
• Town centre uses (A1, A2, A3,
A4, D1, D2) – to at least existing provision (2,339 m2) at ground floor fronting Camberwell Road
• Residential (C3)
And the following other acceptable uses:
• Gym (D1)
In addition we have set out that redevelopment of the site must:
• Provide town centre uses on the ground floor with active frontages on Walworth Road, including shops, restaurants and bars;
• Provide new homes;
• Support the Low Line walking route adjacent to the railway viaduct.
Should the site come forward for redevelopment then this designation in the NSP will help ensure that retail and gym use are re-provided on the site. As with any site outside of our direct ownership we cannot mandate which individual businesses are in any particular shop unit, as you know we can determine and enforce the planning use class. This proposed site designation strengthens our hand in that regard. Should this site come forward we would of course put pressure on the owner to have a relocation plan for the businesses affected, and there are new opportunities in the area with the new shops being built by lendlease on Elephant Park – 10% of which are at discounted market rent.
As a possible way forward you could all request, through the consultation, that instead of listing ‘gym use’ as an ‘other acceptable use’ we could have this as a ‘required use’. Please let me know what you think of this suggestion, and if you have any further questions or want to meet to discuss in more detail with officers and myself then we will get this set up.
Councillor Mark Williams Labour Member for Brunswick Park Ward Cabinet Member for Regeneration and New Homes