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Potters Fields coach park: 3 towers will be built

Berkeley Homes is to press ahead with the construction of three tall towers on part of the Potters Fields coach park in a move which has angered opponents of the controversial scheme.

Potters Fields coach park: 3 towers will be built
It is understood that Berkeley intends to build the three towers furthest from the river
Potters Fields coach park: 3 towers will be built
Hoardings were erected around the site last week (Picture by Josh Bowers)

Berkeley Homes finally won planning permission for its proposed cluster of cylindrical towers in February 2006 when deputy prime minister John Prescott endorsed the verdict of the planning inspector who had heard the developer's appeal against Southwark Council's initial refusal to grant permission.

As part of the land that Berkeley proposed to build on is owned by the council which remained implacably opposed to the planned towers, local residents assumed that the only way forward was for the authority and the developer to work together – as they had pledged – to bring forward a new scheme for the whole site.

Rumours about impending construction work on the site began to circulate after hoardings were erected last week around the site on the corner of Tower Bridge Road and Tooley Street.

Berkeley Homes: "no further information"

When we asked Berkeley Homes last week to respond to the claims that they were going to press ahead with part of the scheme on the section of the site they own, their representative told us: "... we have no further information to give you on the Potters Fields site".

A council spokesman told us that "from the council's point of view, nothing has changed" since our report on the joint statement issued by Berkeley Homes and Southwark Council in October 2006 and Nick Stanton's comments to us in a pre-election interview.

The Southwark Liberal Democrat manifesto included a pledge to lead "the development of the vacant site between Potters Fields Park and Tower Bridge to include a nationally and internationally-recognised centre for arts and culture".

According to a statement released by the Pool of London Partnership Berkeley Homes intends to begin work shortly on phase 1 which includes an L-shaped building on the corner of Tower Bridge Road and Queen Elizabeth Street that has 86 designated affordable housing homes for Southwark residents, and three of the cylindrical residential towers with retail and office space on the ground floors.

The statement says that groundworks will begin early in the new year.

The former St Olave's Grammar School/Lambeth College building is also owned by Berkeley Homes which, according to the PLP, it plans to transform into a 60-bed high quality hotel.

Concerns aired at community council

The concerns of local residents about the future of the prime riverside site were raised at the meeting of Bermondsey Community Council on Monday night. Pat Varney of the Shad Thames Residents' Association asked councillors to respond to the reports on the London SE1 forum and elsewhere that Berkeley Homes planned to start work imminently.

Council leader Nick Stanton, in whose Riverside ward the site lies, said that he was still trying to seek clarification from Berkeley Homes about their activities on the site and confirmed his understanding that the developer was able under the terms of the planning permission to proceed with partial development of the overall scheme.

Cllr Stanton reiterated his belief that the site "shouldn't be defined by housing" and that there should be an international architectural competition with leading "architects vying with each other" to create a new cultural facility.

"I hope the Mayor [of London] and Berkeleys will see sense," he added, to applause from the residents attending the meeting.

Reaction to the latest twist in the saga

Alan Chapman, vice-chairman of the Shad Thames Residents' Association and a long-standing campaigner against the Berkeley development, told us that he was "very concerned" when he heard that work was about to start on the site: "I had had several conversations with Nick Stanton at the time when the ODPM decision was made known and was led to believe that the scheme would never go ahead because Southwark would not agree to the development on their part of the site.

"I understood that in all probability a deal would be done with Berkeley Homes so that Southwark would be able to develop the site with a mixed residential/cultural use. Quite clearly this has not happened."

Green Party London Assembly member and Southwark councillor Jenny Jones told the London SE1 website on Tuesday: "I am extremely disappointed that Berkeley Homes have decided to build a massive and unwanted development here, despite opposition from both the local community and the council.

"Their action shows a complete disregard for the needs of those living in the area. As a local councillor, I will be working to ensure that the part of the site belonging to Southwark Council will be used to provide open space and facilities that the whole community can use."

The Berkeley Homes scheme has been consistently opposed by local politicians including MP Simon Hughes, who said two years ago: "I am strongly of the view that it should not happen".

We have again asked Southwark Council and Berkeley Homes to comment on the statement issued by the Pool of London Partnership but no reply had been received at the time of publication. This story will be updated if further comment is forthcoming.

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