Campaigners obtain GLA planning officers’ report recommending refusal for pulled 20-storey proposals

Greater London Authority planning officers advised Sadiq Khan to reject Adjaye Associates’ controversial 20-storey tower earmarked for Brixton town centre, newly-released documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.

Adjaye’s office-led mixed-use Hondo Tower had been approved by Lambeth Council in November 2020, but Mayor of London Khan subsequently used his planning powers to take over determining the scheme, created for Texan entrepreneur Taylor McWilliams’ Hondo Enterprises.

As well as 25,435sq m of new office space, the Pope’s Road project would have delivered retail space, restaurant and café space, and incubator space for fledgling local businesses.

Khan’s decision was due to be taken at a public meeting in June last year, however Hondo asked for a postponement of the meeting and pledged a redraw of the proposals. Planning officers’ advice to the mayor had not been published at the time.

A statement on the GLA’s website said “significant concerns” had been raised by Historic England and others that would “require commensurate changes” to be overcome. It added that “re-engagement should involve the local community as well as statutory bodies”.

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Adjaye Associate’s designs for Hondo Enterprises’ 20-storey Brixton tower were sent back to the drawing board

GLA planning officers’ advice to Khan remained unpublished. But following a nine-month battle to obtain the document under the Freedom of Information Act, scheme opponents last week secured the release of the 150-page report with the assistance of the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The advice unequivocally urges Khan to reject the tower on the grounds that its height, scale and mass “represents an unacceptable form of development” that would harm the character and appearance of the area.

Officers said the harm would affect six listed buildings, five conservation areas and two parks – and that the public benefits of the scheme, which included the creation of an estimated 1,600 jobs, would not outweigh the harm.

The Grade II*-listed Church of St Matthew and Budd Mausoleum and Brixton’s famous Electric Avenue market street were among the affected buildings and neighbourhoods.

Officers complimented Adjaye Associates’ design work but said the Pope’s Road site was not identified as suitable for tall buildings and the high-quality of the practice’s proposals could not detract from the impact on the wider area.

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“The architectural quality itself and the materials of the proposed building are considered high quality,” they said. “GLA officers recognise the significant track record of the architects in designing developments that are architecturally of a high quality across the UK and, subject to conditions, the detailing and finish of the proposed building would no doubt be to a high standard.

“The principle of a landmark building was previously accepted in strategic terms by officers, but a landmark building does not inevitably give rise to the harms assessed as being generated by this proposal and, indeed, harm to the setting of designated heritage assets can act to detract from the overall design quality.”

Officers said Hondo had been asked to test options for reducing the height of the tower, but it had “become apparent” that the height was driven by the need for a “certain quantum” of office space.

They said the “quantum-led” approach did not align with “plan-led” and “design-led” approaches required by policies in the London Plan, and did not reflect a more contextual approach required in a “sensitive context where the site is not allocated for a tall building”.

GLA planning officers referenced modelling work done by Lambeth Council’s conservation and design team, which suggested the site was suitable for a building of no more than 14 storeys – or 57m – in height.

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Historic England inspector Alex Bowring had argued that the 96m scheme would be “significantly larger than anything in the vicinity” and cause “far-reaching harm” to local heritage.

He said the tower would have its “most profound impact” on Electric Avenue.

“The proposed development would, by virtue of its scale and assertive design, aggressively loom over this intimate street, terminating views out of the conservation area,” he said.

In a submission to the GLA he said the conservation department’s modelling suggested that the proposals were “at least 38m” taller than the site could reasonably accommodate.

Danai Nardi of the Fight the Tower campaign said the findings of the just-released report were not shocking, but showed how much money and energy were being “poured into keeping an unsuitable, failing development proposal on life support”.

“Lambeth Council made the wrong decision in approving the tower, and the GLA’s own technical team have proven this point, and yet we’re still kept in suspense over whether this monstrosity should be built or not,” she said.

“This process is an absolute disgrace and we need clear answers from all parties involved on what the next steps are.”

Hondo Group has yet to lodge reworked plans for Pope’s Road.

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