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The Stag Brewery regeneration –a planning test for our time?

A planning application to redevelop the Stag Brewery in Mortlake was approved by Richmond Council last week. The largest regeneration scheme in the London Borough of Richmond, and one of the largest in London, it’s now in its second incarnation, following rejection by the Mayor of London in July 2021.

I’ve written about the sorry state of affairs between the applicant Reselton Properties (a wholly-owned subsidiary of City Developments Limited), LBRuT’s planning officers and planning committee, and the local community before, so there’s no need to go through the back story. But what happened last week at the Planning Committee meeting was quite extraordinary, and its significance has only been amplified in recent days as planning and housing policy comes under the spotlight .

The Government’s Housing and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove set out a long term plan for housing for earlier this week. A key element is community input:

“to deliver housing anywhere, all new homes built will need to be accepted by the community – they will need to be beautiful, well-connected, designed with local people in mind and be accompanied by the right community infrastructure and green space. Communities must have a say in how and where homes are built.

In this plan, communities will be supported to be at the heart of new development in their areas.”

Whatever party governs over the next few decades, these principles seem to be broadly accepted. The winds are blowing in one direction.

But back to Mortlake, and the LBRuT planning committee. The reason their decision on the Stag Brewery application was extraordinary is threefold.

First: Councillors on the planning committee fully acknowledged that the proposed scheme has flaws and more than a few of these flaws were described as “significant harms”. But they felt these harms would be sufficiently mitigated. By what exactly, they didn’t say. The lack of any vision for the area – which includes a most beautiful stretch of the River Thames, known as the Arcadian Thames – was glaring. The air, and the discourse, was thick with fatigue and indifference.

Second: Affordable housing provision is abysmal and frankly an insult to anyone seeking to access the housing ladder in SW London. What was a substandard 17% in version 1 back in 2021 when the Mayor rejected the application, is now reduced to a shockingly low 6% in version 2. Bear in mind that the Mayor’s London Plan aims for a target of 50% affordable housing in large regeneration schemes.

This of course is due to renewed pressures on “viability” says Reselton, the applicant.

Third: Community engagement has been non-existent. As I pointed out in my allotted 3 minute statement to the Committee, both Resleton and LBRuT are well behind the curve in working with local residents and building trust amongst stakeholder communities. What a missed opportunity this is, as other more forward looking and inclusive projects across London are showing us.

This point seemed to resonate with some members of the Committee, and prior to the vote the Committee chair put to members the option of voting on community engagement as a condition of approval. They declined.

The Mayor of London now has to decide whether to call this application in or give it his approval. Will he abide by his own London Plan and reject it on the basis of poor affordable provision? Will he sense the direction the planning winds are blowing and place conditions on its approval?

The is an opportunity to establish a new normal on planning and housing in London. Letting this one go will tell us it’s business as usual – and as we all increasingly agree, this is not sustainable.

Below my statement to the Committee:

What I object to is the indifferent and sometimes hostile process that both applicant and council are undertaking in engaging with the local and wider community.

If continued, I believe this approach will compromise the project and, more importantly, the health and wellbeing of local residents. We’re going to have to live with each other for a long time, so getting this right is in all our interests and crucial to success.

But I’m encouraged to see that other places are getting it right, and it’s worth highlighting a few of them. Three of the largest and most complex regeneration projects in London are Earls Court, Brent Cross, and Barking Riverside.

All have integrated social impact and governance into their plans and are implementing initiatives that engage local residents and include them in the development process.

At Earls Court, developers TfL and Delancey have established a codesign process with local residents and created a public inclusion panel; they’ve established a Community Hub where events and activities are run for local people; they’ve set up an Fund to support local projects, and established an artist in residence programme.

I could go on but time constraints disallow it.

What Earls Court and others demonstrate is how behind the curve both Reselton and Richmond are in embracing new approaches or even following norms in community engagement. Other London boroughs, and other property developers, are doing much, much better. And so could we.

Indeed, community engagement is now seen as an integral element of planning practice, and the proposed revisions to the National Planning and Policy Framework place it at the centre of its recommendations. Equally, the trend for private investors to make positive social and environmental impact – known as ESG – has been gathering pace in the property sector.. City Developments Limited, owner of the applicant, Reselton Properties -- regularly touts its ESG credentials to investors -- but somehow these haven’t been applied in Mortlake.

I’ve seen no evidence that either Reselton or Richmond council understand the impact of the proposed scheme on the local or wider community. The impact assessments supporting the application are out of date and were undertaken remotely with no local input.

Local trust has been eroded not only by these missed opportunities, but also the hostility manifested through outright rejection of community-led initiatives such as the recent petition for an independent review of transport. Or the applicant’s facebook campaign promoting misinformation on the scheme. Or the online consultation with local attendees’ comments turned off.

We all deserve better - this is the largest development in Richmond borough, and one of the largest in London. It will impact many thousands of people. What could – and should - be embraced as a positive initiative, putting Richmond on the stage as an exemplar of 21st century riverside development, is being squandered. This needn’t be the case.

I want to see a comprehensive programme of community involvement if this scheme is to go forward, and I have a full list of what this might look like. At its core is an oversight group comprised of local stakeholders – including residents, businesses and civic groups. Initiatives that support local health, the environment, sport, arts & culture along with the River Thames ecosystem will be elemental in building trust in our local area.

Investing now in building this trust can be done, and it’s the right thing to do. Show us you care, and I’ll show you my support.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

25 July 2023


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