Thursday, May 26, 2022
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HomeNewsHousingAnti-infill campaigners to 'occupy Peckham Green' at crunch time protest

Anti-infill campaigners to ‘occupy Peckham Green’ at crunch time protest

Protestors will gather in Peckham this Saturday to demonstrate against Southwark Council’s plans for two new housing blocks on Peckham Green, a park that isn’t a park –  according to the local authority.

Construction is expected to start as early as next month after planning permission was approved in 2019 for 168 new homes across the entire redevelopment. The project is due for completion in August 2023.

One-hundred-and-twenty are planned on the green, officially known as the Flaxyard site, with the remainder planned for a redevelopment in Sumner House and a vacant corner plot at the Junction of Peckham High Street and Melon Road.

As we reported in May of this year, out of the 120, 96 would be for social rent, with another 24 put up for shared ownership.

On Saturday, campaigners from across the borough will ‘occupy Peckham Green’ and call on the local authority to scrap the plans.

They say the green is clearly a public park and has been used that way by the community for decades, and that the proposals are another example of controversial ‘infilling’.

However, the site is not formally designated as a public park and therefore has not been afforded the same protections against development.

In planning documents, the green is listed as the ‘Flaxyard site’, named after its former private owners. It was bought by Southwark Council in 1995 after a planned commercial development was cancelled.

It was later identified as a terminus for the mooted Cross River Tram and bus interchange which was shelved after political opposition.

In 1999 planning consent was given to change the site’s designation from a derelict residential site to temporary open public space pending any future development.

In the current Southwark Plan – essentially a planning strategy for the borough’s future – it is designated for ‘mixed-use residential’ development.

Later, it was earmarked for a Clarion Housing Association scheme but this was scrapped in favour of the local authority directly developing its site after it ended its partnership with the association.

If work goes ahead next month, two new buildings of four storeys and between four and six storeys will be built on the 1.4 acre patch of land next to Sumner Estate.

In a statement sent to the News, the event’s organisers ‘Save Peckham Green’ told the us they were supportive of new social housing being built but not on green space: “You don’t build on parks in one of the poorest, most polluted areas of Southwark, with already the one of lowest amounts of green space per resident in the borough.

“You don’t build on parks in the age of climate change, or in the time of pandemic. You don’t build on parks even if you are building needed housing.

“As residents on estates, we support social housing but not by building on vital green space.”

CPRE, the countryside charity, has also voiced its opposition to the plans, describing it as a ‘damaging development’ and a ‘huge loss for the community’.

Infill homes are essentially new flats shoehorned into pre-existing estates described by the council as ‘unused’ or ‘underused’. Some blocks are seeing new storeys added on top.

As we reported last week, Southwark’s Liberal Democrats have come out against infill projects, instead calling on the council to give estates’ green and communal space more protections.

This week, Southwark Green Party told the News that it could support ‘some sensitive infill projects on genuine brownfield sites’ but that building on inner city parks, gardens, ball courts and sports pitches is unacceptable.

The party – which has previously supported estate-wide ballots on regeneration and advocates a refurbishment before demolition and redevelopment policy – said: “Parks, gardens and ball courts are not spare land.

“This space and facilities are built into the design of estates in lieu of private gardens and open spaces.

“These schemes effectively ask those with the least to give up the most.”

The Greens believe stakeholders are often overlooked during consultations, with residents only becoming aware of complex proposals at late stages. Another key concern is how the council’s infill plans align with its climate action, as concreting over green space increases flood risk as well as the biodiversity of mature trees.

The party supports better enforcement of the 35 per cent affordable housing pledge for private developments and prioritising renovating empty properties across the borough.

Last week we reported that campaigners were left dismayed by the council’s refusal to stop and reconsider similar developments in Little Dodson and Bells Gardens. Both groups have vowed to continue their fight.

Southwark Council is increasingly offering residents a ballot on future large-scale regeneration projects, as evidenced in recent polls at Ledbury and Tustin estates. Yet residents are not given a ballot on infill plans.

This week the News asked Cllr Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for council homes and homelessness, why this was the case and whether the council would commit to offering a ballot on infilling.

She provided the following statement to the News on Wednesday: “I understand the concerns of the campaigners, but there is a difference between large-scale estate regeneration projects where existing social rented homes are demolished and replaced with large numbers of new homes, and our smaller new homes projects.

“The Greater London Authority’s (GLA) criteria for holding ballots on estate regeneration projects applies to any scheme seeking GLA funding that involves the demolition of social rented homes and the construction of 150 or more new homes.

“It is always a difficult decision where to build new council housing, but as a council we have a duty to act in the interests of all residents in Southwark, thousands of whom are living in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation, many with young children.

“We are in the midst of a national housing crisis, and with more than 15,000 households on our waiting lists, half of these including children, it is absolutely vital we build more council homes.

“With limited space in the borough we are having to be inventive and innovative in where and how we build these essential new homes.

“We work closely with our residents to shape the way we deliver all our new council homes, from site identification through to consultation, design, planning, and delivery.

“Where we are looking at building on existing play areas or open spaces these are being replaced – and often improved – as part of the proposals and residents are given the opportunity to take an active part in shaping the look and feel of new homes and amenities that help make their communities stronger, safer, and more rewarding places to live.”

At a council assembly meeting earlier this month she had vowed to continue working with residents and ensure any proposals were ‘tweaked’ where possible, but reiterated the stark need for new housing in the borough.

Alongside continually losing council homes through right-to-buy, a national policy over which it has no control, the council is also forced to grapple with over-inflated land prices in a borough that has seen something of a gold rush in recent years.

With landowners wildly speculating, the council has had something of a headache when it comes to buying sites suitable for large developments.

In one example, from 2019, a site valued at around £5 million came onto the market suitable for new council housing, but its owners gave a ‘guide price’ of £25 million before eventually withdrawing from the market.

The protest will begin at 1pm.

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