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Wild Abandon

How an overseas developer has let down the local community of Mortlake, and how LBRuT can save it

The photo you see above is looking south over a derelict site that once produced the King of Beers (Budweiser) and before that rolled out the barrel for Watney’s – the former Stag Brewery in Mortlake, Southwest London.

The photo below is looking east from the same place.

This beautifully located site on the banks of the River Thames has been derelict since 2015 when InBev ceased brewing and sold the site to City Developments Limited (CDL), a Singapore-based listed multinational real estate corporation. Operating as Reselton Properties, its UK subsidiary, CDL has submitted several planning applications to redevelop the site via its local agent Dartmouth Capital. Its first application was approved by LBRuT, and subsequently “called in” by the Mayor of London, who some eighteen months later rejected it. Revised applications were submitted earlier this year, which are still in progress. A timeline and summary of the situation can be found on the local community group’s website here. The consultation period on this application ended before the summer, and no date for public hearing has been given.

In the meantime, LBRuT has granted CDL/Reselton permission to lease part of the site for film production – initially set for two years, this is now being considered for a further five.

And as the site languishes, closed off to the local community, CDL and the redevelopment of the Stag Brewery are emerging as a case study in how not to do urban regeneration in London in the 21st century – out of touch, out of ideas, and out of local support.

In a London where recent high-profile riverside regeneration schemes such as Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station have been loudly criticised for the exclusion of local residents and the non-delivery of promised affordable housing, CDL is falling into exactly the same traps – except in late 2022 it is being exposed before it even happens.

Where to start? There has been little and poor-quality community engagement ,and when it has happened it’s been defensive and one-off, such as the “webinar” hosted by Reselton’s “community engagement consultants” Soundings immediately before the submission of the current planning application. This “engagement” was a de facto announcement of intent with no opportunity for input from local residents.

Information flow on what is happening onsite has been non-existent, and the film production operation has literally blocked any access to the site, with men in high-vis jackets guarding the gates on a daily basis. A notice to block off adjacent Ship Lane - a popular access route to the river for cyclists, dog-walkers and pedestrians -- for film production earlier this year provided no alternatives to local residents or cyclists for river access. When I enquired about involving local residents as film extras, I was told to apply online to head office.

Increasingly the Stag scheme is standing out as an outlier amongst London’s portfolio of regeneration projects, for all the wrong reasons: abandonment of a derelict site; no community engagement – no office, website, twitter acct, or events to bring residents in and build support; no jobs for locals in the temporary commercial activity onsite.

CDL and its associates are beginning to look like dinosaurs; anachronisms in a city where regeneration is taking new, collaborative and in many cases, community-led forms.

Their approach to the Stag Brewery redevelopment pales in comparison to other regeneration schemes in London, such as Brent Cross, Earls Court and Barking Riverside.

London-based developer Argent is regenerating Brent Cross, and creating a new town on a brownfield site driven by net zero targets, strengthened public transport links , and metrics supporting “neighbourliness, inclusivity and good health”.

At Earls Court, developers Delancey alongside TfL have formed the Earls Court Development Company. They have continually opened up parts of the site for community events, maintain an office for dialogue and information, and run competitions for local schools and charitable organisations to raise awareness and funds.

The regeneration of Barking Riverside is led by a collective of stakeholders, including developer L&Q, LB Barking & Dagenham, the Mayor of London, Homes England and TfL. It is embracing opportunities to build in new transport, health and leisure services and maintains continual dialogue with its local community.

CDL has talked about none of this, or indeed any impact of its proposed redevelopment on local people and their environment. This is particularly bizarre for a company which prides itself on its ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) approach to property investment and development and touts its multiple SDGs (sustainable development goals) to its shareholders on a regular basis. If anyone would like a local definition of “greenwashing”, look no further.

How LBRuT approaches its decision on planning permission to redevelop the Stag site will be a real test of its commitment to the local community of Mortlake, the many who enjoy the Thames towpath and its own reputation as a progressive, forward-thinking local authority. Watch this space.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

November 10, 2022


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