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Vauban Estate: Bermondsey residents launch petition against infill plans

People on a Bermondsey estate have slammed plans to build new council flats on their car park in the latest example of Southwark residents rebelling against infill plans.

Southwark Council has floated plans to build about thirteen flats on the car park of the Vauban Estate, which borders Spa Gardens – although no application has been submitted yet. But a group of residents say they have collected signatures from 92 out of 102 households on the estate who are against the plans, over concerns about a loss of light and sense of connection to the gardens, as well as a loss of parking.

Southwark is overcrowded and thousands of people are stuck in unsuitable housing, waiting for council accommodation. The council plans to build 11,000 new homes by 2043, many through infill plans – building on spaces within estates that are considered underused.

Initial plans show the new buildings, which would have a maximum of four storeys, would be twelve-fifteen metres away from the windows of existing flats. The council says the plans aim to minimise loss of light in the block next to the new flats. The plans would also include a path through the new block to maintain access to Spa Gardens, the council said.

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Southwark expects to submit a planning application in autumn this year. If that is successful, building work will begin in spring 2022 and finish in winter 2023.

Humaira Ali, a Liberal Democrat councillor for the neighbouring London Bridge and West Bermondsey ward, said that council officers and local councillors had not engaged enough with residents over building plans. “Residents on the Vauban have a long running set of issues including drains, damp and have been repeatedly left in the dark over new plans,” she said. “Residents got in touch with Damian [O’Brien], William [Houngbo] and I as neighbouring ward councillors and as the Liberal Democrat opposition to ask if we would hear their concerns, which we did.

“This is not about being for or against building new homes. Residents have asked that anything built here has an integrated design with the current estate, that the estate improvements consider resolving existing issues and that the landscaping draws the whole estate together. Furthermore the Council needs to plan properly for the impact of removing the car park so that residents don’t end up with engines idling under their bedroom windows.”

Council officers formed a group to consult with locals and help shape the plans, but Vauban resident and group member Philip Carr said he felt more like he was being updated on plans in the meetings rather than consulted.

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The Vauban Estate news is the latest criticism of Southwark’s borough-wide infill programme, which has been plagued by repeated allegations of insufficient consultation and engagement with estate residents.

Cllr Ali added: “We are hearing repeated stories from residents across Southwark of poor consultation, lack of co-design and poor change management. We are seeing repeated gaps in communication which leads to great anxiety and often leaves residents with unanswered questions.”

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, the Labour cabinet member for council homes and homelessness, said: “We are proposing to build 13 new much-needed new council homes on the old Vauban Estate car park on Alscot Road. Like most local authorities in London, we have an acute lack of truly affordable housing, and we have over 15,000 households on our housing waiting list, with many people living in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation. There are 22 households on the Vauban Estate alone that are living in housing need. These new homes are desperately needed, and our local lettings policy means that at least fifty percent of the new homes here would be offered to local tenants already living in the area.

“Consultation with existing residents on the Vauban Estate has been extensive and we have been listening to their views and ideas on this development since October 2019. However, I do acknowledge that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our consultation over the last year, and we were not able to carry out engagement activities such as the door knocking and face-to-face consultation events which we usually would. I recently met with residents from the estate who organised the petition and I agreed that we will carry out a wider consultation now that social distancing restrictions have eased. I look forward to continuing a close dialogue with residents here to deliver the new council homes that the community desperately needs.”

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