A planning inspector has rejected an appeal against the refusal of planning permission for the redevelopment of the former London Fire Brigade headquarters on Albert Embankment.
The decision, which is the result of a strong campaign by residents of the adjacent Whitgift Estate who feared their homes would be plunged into darkness, will be a bitter blow to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority which stood to gain a capital receipt of nearly £42 million from the sale of the land.
In December 2011 Lambeth's planning applications committee rejected Native Land's proposal to convert the listed building close to Lambeth Bridge into luxury flats and replace the ancillary buildings at the rear with new-build homes.
The development, which was recommended for approval by council officers, would also include a refurbished Lambeth Fire Station.
The scheme, known as Florian Place after St Florian – patron saint of firefighters – was designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands architects.
The inquiry focused on the effect of the proposals on the character of the listed 1930s former London Fire Brigade HQ and its surroundings, the scheme's impact on nearby residents, the level of affordable housing proposed, local employment issues, infrastructure questions and the scheme's relation to planning policy.
Mr Phillimore's report, upholding the council's decision to refuse planning permission, was published this week.
"I have found the proposal to be acceptable on three of the four main issues, including having regard to viability considerations," wrote Mr Phillimore.
"It would secure the future of the listed buildings, and have regeneration and economic benefits including the provision of a large amount of residential accommodation. In many respects it would be a sustainable development.
"However, one of the core planning principles set out in the National Planning Policy Framework is always to seek to secure high quality design and a good standard of amenity for all existing and future occupants of land and buildings.
"The harm to the living conditions of Whitgift House and 2 Whitgift Street does not comply with this objective, and represents a shortcoming in achieving a fully sustainable development."
The inspector concluded that "the effect of the proposal on Whitgift House is that the accommodation in almost all flats would appear markedly gloomier and there would be a substantially increased reliance on electric light". He added that "...the impact of the proposal on daylight to Whitgift House would go beyond what can reasonably be expected to be borne by the occupiers, in particular of those flats with the most affected living rooms.
"This would amount to a substantially harmful diminution in the quality of living conditions, notwithstanding improvements that the proposal would bring to the wider amenity of the area."
Participants at the inquiry included George Turner, representing the Whitgift Estate Tenants and Residents Association and Friends of Lambeth High Street Recreation Ground, Michael Ball of the Waterloo Community Development Group and David Boardman of the Kennington Association Planning Forum.
Mr Turner said this week: "The decision of the inspector is very clear – the effect of this development on the homes of residents at Whitgift House would have been devastating.
"His decision is a vindication of the campaign launched by residents who have spent almost two years fighting council officers, developers and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to make sure that quality of life of residents came before the maximisation of profits for private developers.
"Now this issue has been finally decided there needs to be a thorough investigation as to what led a public authority such as LFEPA to behave in such an aggressive way towards our community, and what led officers of Lambeth Council to continually frustrate the efforts of local residents seeking to protect their homes."
In his evidence to the inquiry London fire commissioner Ron Dobson claimed that Lambeth Fire Station might have to close if planning permission was not granted for the scheme. The commissioner refused to answer questions about the financial implications of the sale of the land, citing commercial confidentiality.
The inquiry also heard from Kate Hoey MP who criticised the fire authority for doing "secret deals with developers".
It is nearly six years since the fire brigade agreed to sell the prime riverside site to Native Land. The sale is conditional on the grant of planning permission. According to an internal fire authority document seen by the London SE1 website, the purchase price is £41.88 million.
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: "We are aware of the planning inspector's ruling and are currently considering his decision."
The leader of Lambeth Council, Cllr Lib Peck, said: "This is welcome news for local people and reinforces the importance of making sure major developments do not impact adversely on local communities.
"We're keen to see regeneration in Lambeth but it has to be through sustainable and appropriate developments."
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