The Lewisham Gateway got the go ahead from the Strategic Planning Committee yesterday. It was a lively debate that explored a number of issues - the main ones being whether the 'low-H' (a new road layout replacing the existing roundabout in Lewisham town centre) traffic system would work, air pollution, the economic benefits, the 500 parking spaces on the scheme, the economic benefits...the scheme was granted permission on a 4-2 vote so fairly decisive.
How did I vote...I was against this application....why?
(1) Air pollution - the report stated quite clearly that there would a significant adverse impact on air quality as a direct consequence of this development - stay away if you have asthma. It is really quite worrying that in 2007 we are willing to undertake developments that are pretty much guaranteed to cause significant degradation in air quality...
(2) Affordable housing - this scheme is hoping to bring forward just 15% of the 800 units as affordable...and more so these will be '50% shared-equity' units not the most needed social-rented...the Lewisham Gateway is not for anyone on a moderate income or less;
(3) The importance of the jobs that will be created has been overstated - in the 'inner zone' roughly the Parliamentary constituencies of Lewisham Deptford & Lewisham East - there will be 7 jobs per ward. The scheme has the scope to reduce unemployment - but as a way of tackling the relatively high levels of unemployment in these areas spending £250M seems quite a difficult way to go;
(4)The NHS in Lewisham will be short-changed by about £4.8M. This is funding that will need to be found to deal with providing healthcare prior to the strategic funds following the new residents. We'll pay for that by increased stress on healthcare facilities and calls for cuts in other budgets.
(5) A genuine opportunity to create a good cycling route through Lewisham has been lost.
It is useful to point out that, contrary to the opinions of many of the objectors I have been persuaded that the 'low-H' will work. However, to have objected on the basis that I thought the 'low-H' wouldn't work would have given officers real headaches if the application had been rejected - however & more importantly it would have been inconsistent with an newsletter article I wrote in 2000 calling for the roundabout to be scrapped. Further I think that high-density housing has a place in Lewisham centre - particularly adjacent to railway stations and public transport thereby reducing the need for cars.
Though it's not a planning matter, great play was made by some members of the committee that this was a 'great opportunity' and that such a scheme will not be able to be developed for quite some time. However as the planning officers pointed out the scheme was so financially sound that the applicants were happy to put £25M up front...perhaps another scheme available to all income groups, constructed with sustainability at its heart, low or zero-carbon, and properly fitting a society that needs to address the challenges of climate change might just have been around the corner. We'll never know.
Finally, I accept the decision of the committee tonight and feel privileged to have played a part in shaping Lewisham town centre for more than a generation. Over the coming years the various elements of the scheme will come back to the committee for approval and at that stage I hope to have the opportunity to hold the applicant to the pledges made in this scheme.