27 January 2022
Dear Planning and Regeneration Committee members,
We are the 'Fight the Tower' Campaign, one of the many local community groups objecting to the planning application of Hondo Enterprises to build a 20-storey office block in the heart of Brixton. We are taking this opportunity - after meeting you on the 9th of November 2021 - to express our concerns about the Mayor’s planning application call-in process.
We highly appreciate your role in monitoring and scrutinising the above and we hope - in our relatively brief email - to contribute in this process. We are approaching this in the most positive way possible.
There are roughly four areas of concern we would like to cover in this letter to you:
· Non policy compliant and inadequate development proposal
· the community involvement in the process
· the need for FOI requests by the public
· the re-consultation process
Non policy compliant and inadequate development proposal
· The height of Hondo's office block (20 storey) does not comply with London’s and Lambeth’s tall building policy.
· An office block will not improve local people's lives; only 14% of jobs within the development would go to Lambeth residents where Brixton has been identified in the London Plan as a strategic area for regeneration.
· Savills and the JLL report stated that there will be insufficient demand for this amount of office space particularly post Covid.
· There are inadequate levels of community involvement in the calling-in application process. While the Mayor has called-in Hondo's application, Lambeth Council has continued to be actively involved in the process - evident in the email communications provided by the GLA - while members of the community have been neglected from the process.
· GLA's website is difficult if not impossible to navigate, not accessible to all, with errors in notices on, for example: dates, addresses and even the names of the relevant Councils. 1,404 residents' objections didn't make it to the website on time and as a result the voices of these people were never heard.
· When the Mayor announced the calling-in of the application in March 2021, there wasn't a system in place for public participation in the process. There was no way we could know what the Mayor had in mind or how to contact and influence him meaningfully.
· Public hearing date. Even after almost a year since the application was called-in, the public still doesn’t know when the hearing is likely to take place.
· Due to the inadequate community involvement in the call-in application process, the public has been forced to rely on FOI requests that should not be a substitute for proper engagement between a public body and the wider community. We therefore submitted a FOI requesting the GLA’s communications relevant to the application. When a response was finally received, it was heavily redacted. What we mean by 'heavily redacted' is more often than not, whole email content blocked out and as a result impossible to make sense of.
· We have also repeatedly asked for the minutes of GLA's relevant meetings, but we were told that there are no records of these ZOOM meetings. Astonishingly, we received the Agenda outcomes record that simply states that the application was discussed with no other information provided.
· To our amazement, the latest response to our FOI request to the GLA in January 2022 stated that:
"Regulation 12(4)(e) applies to communications explicitly whereby GLA officials have engaged in free and frank discussions on matters pertaining to the Pope Road planning application. The exception is engaged in order to protect the necessary space for GLA officials to explore ideas in private against the backdrop of a project which is under great public, media and political scrutiny."
Our understanding of the above is that the GLA prioritise negotiations with private entities instead of scrutiny and transparency with the public that they are meant to serve.
· The GLA has given to the public an incorrect postal address to send in their views and comments on Hondo’s application; as a result, we sent 15 kilos of signed by the public postcards objecting to Hondo's application to the wrong address. We called again and again to get clarifications and we were receiving conflicting information. Does the GLA expect members of the public to go to these extreme lengths to just submit an objection to a planning application?
· GLA sent an email to the members of the public that there will be an extension to the public consultations on Hondo’s application, due to the wrong postal address given to the public. However, we as the main local campaign objecting to the application have not received this email. We had to ask around and discover this extension even though we are mentioned in the emails between the GLA and Hondo.
· On GLA's website some of the revised application pdf folders could not be opened. When we asked the GLA to correct the above and make them accessible, their response was an apology and a correction of the technical error a few days later. As soon as we had access to the pdfs, we submitted a request for a short extension in order to be able to read and comment on the revised plan. This request was immediately denied by the GLA and instead we were advised to visit the GLA offices in person and by appointment. The time of the publication of the revised application was during Covid restrictions where the public were working from home, yet the GLA suggested - after they rejected our request for a short extension - to visit the GLA offices in order to access the relevant files.
· Our written representations have been disclosed to Hondo Enterprises to improve their application, while we, as a community group, have to resort to FOI requests to learn anything about the process and the substance of the GLA’s relevant communications.
We are making all the above known to you in the hope that we can restore our faith in the system that calls-in planning applications and gives a meaningful voice to communities.
We are happy to engage with you at any time, during the calling-in of Hondo's application.
We thank you for your time and your effort to improve this process.
Fight The Tower Campaign - Brixton