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Redevelopment of old fire HQ on Albert Embankment approved

Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

Residents whose homes will be overshadowed by a £500 million development planned for the former London Fire Brigade HQ on Albert Embankment shouted "shame on you" after plans were voted through on Tuesday night.

Redevelopment of old fire HQ on Albert Embankment approved

Developer U + I, in partnership with the London Fire Commissioner (LFC), plans to build 443 flats, a 200–room hotel, to revamp Lambeth Fire Station and build a new LFB museum at 8 Albert Embankment.

The site was LFB's headquarters from 1937 to 2007.

After a three-and-a-half-hour debate in a packed committee room at Lambeth Town Hall , the vote was tied at three to three, while the chair's casting vote approved the plan.

Objectors, representing residents in nearby flats, implored councillors to reject the plans because of the loss of daylight they would suffer.

But despite having concerns about the development, three councillors said the benefits outweighed the potential negative impact.

The main arguments in favour were that it was "better" than the previous appeal and that it would provide homes.

A planning officer compared the loss of light to nearby Eustace House, which had a tall building erected beside it 20 years ago, but one audience member said he moved out of that block because he developed depression and warned councillors not to "make the same mistake".

To build the two towers included in the plans – 26 and 24 storeys in height – would be a departure from policy in the borough.

Lambeth's local plan states it would support development that "relates in height and bulk to the adjacent townscape, taking into account the height, massing, and scale of neighbouring buildings, and the historic built form of the area".

It states: "The heritage sensitivity of the site makes it inappropriate for tall building development."

Visakha Chandrasekera, representing the Whitgift Estate TRA and Lambeth Village, a residents' network of the surrounding area, told the committee that their online petition had gained 3,000 signatures, ten times that of the comments of support on the planning application.

A single father-of-three, who lives on the ground floor of Whitgift House and would be "one of the most affected" by loss of light, said there were 12 children on the same floor, three of whom are disabled.

He said: "I have a disabled son who needs care and good quality housing.

"We live in our homes, not like all the empty flats on the Embankment – we council tenants don't get to choose where we live, or have the money to move.

"40 per cent (daylight) is twice the amount we should lose […] you should protect us with the Lambeth Plan, it says no towers, there should be no towers."

According to planning officers' projections, those on the ground floor would be "majorly" affected by loss of light.

Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum, said neighbours have been "lied to" about the impact of the development.

He said: "The education centre which you gave £300,000 towards is not on the lighting studies and technical studies presented by U + I.

"Each tall tower will cast shadows in our gardens which were built to face the sun, sunlight we thought protected by the local plan."

He added the centre, which could have been built elsewhere, was "built in trust of Lambeth's planning policy".

Deputy CEO of U+I, Richard Upton, said the redevelopment of the site has been "a long time in the making".

He said: "We've worked very hard with LFB to ensure the proposals are radically different (from the failed appeal), having listened and consulted very carefully to the community," adding there was a "silent majority" who supported the plans.

Andy Roe, deputy commissioner of LFB, said Lambeth Station is in a "key location" for fires and emergencies across London.

He said: "It helps deliver some of the fastest response times in London to Lambeth.

"It now requires very significant modernisation to keep up high operational standards."

It emerged through councilllors' questions that to qualify for the shared ownership affordable housing on the site, residents would have to earn twice the average Lambeth salary and that fire engine access was problematic and had not been finalised.

Cllr Tim Windle, who voted for the development, said he had concerns about heritage but the plans posed "less than substantial harm" and approved of the "higher than normal provision of affordable housing" (40 per cent).

He said: "I'm particularly concerned about light, which goes well below our revised target criteria."

Cllr Ben Kind, who opposed the development, said he had "quite considerable problems with the application", including loss of light, lack of servicing facilities, and accessibility to the site.

Cllr Liz Atkins, who opposed the plans, said she supported the "new improved fire station and museum and especially the new affordable housing" but said she wasn't convinced by the need for a new hotel and "largely but not least, concerned mostly about the impact on daylight and sunlight".

Cllr Malcolm Clark, who voted against the plans, said he understood the benefits outlined in the report but did not fully agree with them and that he had "no confidence in the ability of what is proposed to be deliverable and not have significant impact".

He said: "I don't feel there are any real or significant benefits to existing residents."

Cllr Mohammed Seedat and chair Cllr Clair Wilcox both voted for the development because they believe it would be a "benefit to Lambeth", supporting the LFB museum, the amount of affordable housing, and work space provision.

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