Comments on Berkeley Homes Malt Street plans

In August 2017 Berkeley homes submitted a planning application in the Old Kent Road (OKR) Opportunity Area, for what they call the Malt Street site. You can see it here. 

 Source: http://www.berkeley-oldkentroad.co.uk/proposals

Source: http://www.berkeley-oldkentroad.co.uk/proposals

The application violates both current policy and draft policy for the area, most notably by proposing no industrial or workshop accommodation. Current policy says that’s all there should be, draft policy says that it must be there in combination with other uses including housing. Since draft policy has not yet reached consultation stage, and only beyond that will there be an inquiry with a planning inspector, and following that, comments, potential further changes, then adoption; Berkeley’s application is an insult to the process. The way it’s meant to work is that only after a fair process should schemes that meet the policies be embraced.

Nevertheless, a pragmatic and realistic take demands taking the Berkeley scheme as it is proposed and seeking to push it somewhere better, via bold-tweak suggestions rather than start-again demands. The focus of tweaking-efforts must be securing much more workspace, including industrial, in the development. To move it away from a residential-led scheme with unnecessarily ample ground floor shrubbed-and-paved amenity spaces, towards a mixed-use piece of city providing accommodation for new and existing industrial businesses. Space can be found in the scheme for more than 40,000 square feet of decent, ground floor, industrial space, with goods access. And the upper floor workroom and studio extent can be boosted to over 70,000 square feet. These shifts would make it a much more enjoyable and diverse place, as well as more productive and job-giving.

The Malt Street site is about one third (perhaps more) of the vacant and available land in the OKR Opportunity Area. It could be developed without displacing residents or businesses (although even this piece has only been made available by pushing out a big maintenance contractor’s depot, and still Lascot would still need to move). There is virtually no other decanting space within the area’s existing industrial and workroom/studio accommodation, which is fully occupied across the OKR area. Even ignoring strong competition from new and incoming businesses, if this development fails to deliver a range of accommodation, including for light industrial, in substantial quantities, then we can kiss goodbye to many businesses as they get expelled to make way for re-development elsewhere in the area. If this opportunity gets flunked on the Malt Street site, if it doesn’t incorporate industrial, then much slaughter of the existing OKR economy will be inevitable.

 Source: http://www.berkeley-oldkentroad.co.uk/autumn_2016_exhibition

Source: http://www.berkeley-oldkentroad.co.uk/autumn_2016_exhibition

The Berkely proposal shows lots of awkwardly shaped and glass-fronted commercial spaces, to which goods access has not been thought about. Most likely all that space, being unsuitable for such as studios/workrooms or workshop/industrial (where the big demand is), would all be taken up by uses supporting the residential: things like creches, gyms, health clubs, beauty treatment places. That’s what’s happened at Barratt's Greenland Place in Deptford, where the so-called Cannon Wharf Business Units have been filled with prosperous suburb-support services; all good things, but in the wrong place. Making it feel like a residents’ enclave, a little neighbourhood unit, rather than a shared piece of the city. Southwark have committed to growing the Old Kent Road as a high street (even though they keep giving permissions that denude it), so it would be logical to encourage such suburb-support uses as those listed to go there, and to the secondary high streets in the area (which should also be protected and expanded), including Peckham Park Road. Better to make most of this space away from the high street, with light industrial/workshop and studio accommodation. 

 Berkely Homes plan for the Malt Street site, source: photo taken at public exhibition by Mark Brearley 2017

Berkely Homes plan for the Malt Street site, source: photo taken at public exhibition by Mark Brearley 2017

Meanwhile, there is only 25% affordable housing proposed, not Southwark Council’s minimum policy requirement of 35%, and even that is not compliant with the required tenure mix. Others will battle hard on that, we hope.

 Credit: Mark Brearley 2017

Credit: Mark Brearley 2017

Here is a sketch of ideas for how the scheme could be adjusted. The sketch has suggested ground floor industrial/workshop space coloured red. It includes thoughts on how the vehicle depot site they work around could be developed in future, with another hybrid industrial/workroom/studio (or part residential) building.

This sketch keeps all the main residential blocks the same as the Berkeley proposal, but pushes them up a meter or two to give appropriate height for industrial. Keeping cores the same, tweaking the configuration of the ground floor needs of the residential (but keeping the same extent), substantially reducing the paved and shrubbed-up spaces, then using a bit of access-ingenuity, juggling the plans, junking the silly ‘mews' housing on the Surrey Wharf site (the bit that meets Malt Street), suggesting a three-storey workshop/studio/workroom building instead, and growing a big chunk of nicely-done shed in place of some of the vast public square.

Through all that, you could get to 42,000 square feet of ground floor industrial in 10 units (which could be divided to achieve 13 or more), all with decent goods access. There is nil industrial in the Berkely application scheme. You could also get to about 73,000 square feet of upper floor studio/workroom. The Berkely application scheme has about 45,000 square feet. Finally, you also get three mall scale cafe/retail (or whatever) spaces, not radically different from the Berkeley application, just juggled about a bit. It should be possible throughout to achieve acceptable backs (low noise levels etc.) and general compatibility with residential.

The scheme in the sketch is vast, with very tall buildings, and hence will to many people be shocking, but it’s best not to get lured into agonising on the height/massing issue. It may be large and high, but is generally fine on sunlight and daylight, the microclimate will be ok, and privacy/amenity decently respected. It has the interesting effect of no residential use immediately to the north (parts of the Asda and B&Q sites) - should redevelopment happen there (very likely) - because that’s where the shadows will fall from a row of six towers. A good scenario would include a band of dense industrial there, able to take more vehicle intensive activities (the likes of builders’ merchants, courier depots or dark kitchens), perhaps accessed from a reinstated Olmar Street (extending from its residue still there at the current end of Ossory Road, across to Malt Street).

 Source: http://www.berkeley-oldkentroad.co.uk/our_vision

Source: http://www.berkeley-oldkentroad.co.uk/our_vision

Perhaps the trickier debate is public space. Berkeley sell their paved-and-shrubbed expanses as public green spaces, even though they are not really. No doubt they will be popular parts of the scheme on paper, as they look enticing, but they are way too big and without enough purpose. After all, within 500m of the Berkeley site there are about 30 green spaces, including pocket parks, generous chunks of amenity landscape, green squares, a recreation ground and four decent-scale parks, amongst them the eastern end of giant Burgess Park. Within that 500m zone there are about 22 hectares of green space, and no shortage of paved areas. Also, of course, the full 56 hectare extent of Burgess Park is close by, its eastern entrance being just 100m away from the west end of the site. Formal parks with a 10-minute walk are Burgess Park, Surrey Canal Linear Park, Bird in Bush Park, Brimmington Park, Patterson Park, Caroline Gardens. Leyton Square Recreation Ground is nearly adjoining, with wonderful mature trees. In the sketch above, you still get a nice-sized square and traffic-free areas, generous path links, plenty of space for trees and to sit, enough space for playing; but there is less overall spend needed on construction and maintenance of dress-up landscaping, and so money could be called for to get the link to Ossory Road going, to boldly improve the mess of paths, fences and badly-located gates that mess up access to the Surrey Canal Park and Burgess Park. And then a proper programme of improvements to the amazing network of green spaces that weave through the estate could be started, and all the connections sorted; starting with next door Leyton Square. If it’s a choice between extra expanses of paving/planter areas with a few more trees, and space to house some good businesses, providing diverse jobs, making a more mixed piece of city, (not just a new prosperous steroided suburb-enclave), the business space wins! Rather than spending on such giant shrubbed-up public spaces, it’s better to create good workshop, studio and workroom accommodation.

An important urban link is from Haymerle to Ossory. The Berkeley scheme does not indicate anything about how to achieve the Haymerle to Ossory link, one of the two required links north; not even when that end of their proposed development (it’s a later phase) happens. They just leave a landscaped gap so you can get to the retaining wall and fence and peep into the Asda car park! They should be pushed to make it happen, soon in fact, before they even build their first phase. It would be a great improvement gesture, making many people’s lives quite a bit more convenient. Surely, it’s within the capability of the mighty Berkeley and the magnificent Southwark (helped by the GLA), to negotiate an Ossory link route with Asda, and modestly with ABC. It only needs a few square meters of the corner of ABC’s yard, maybe it can even happen without that, and it only needs a bit of juggling around of Asda parking spaces, only losing 12 or 15. If persuasion failed then that would be a good reason for CPO. It doesn’t even destroy people’s lives.

The industrial/workshop and studio/workshop accommodation could be sold or passed over to trusts, to run in perpetuity. Or the industrial part could go to someone more straight-forward like Capital Industrial. Developing this, getting Berkeley to buy into it, could be helped along by the Good Growth Fund perhaps, and even better if Mr Lunts was asked not to hand over any from the £400 million Housing Zone cash in his wallet unless Berkeley embrace building a piece of city, rather than a pumped-up housing estate. We could find a bundle of superb tenants without much difficulty. These days that’s easy. (But that’s all running ahead!)

The proposal to build in sheds and yards sounds totally good to me and would at least in some way embed the scheme with the existing context. There should be reasons for locals to go to that new part of their neighbourhood. Some vague bit of green or strange piazza in front of fancy glass buildings will achieve the opposite. Spaces that can work and double up for other uses at e.g. weekends would be good. Dense with shop, workshop fronts facing onto public space and trees where ever they can be fitted would be good. Some of the existing public green spaces that are part of estates such as Leyton Square could do with investment. Spread the investment wider than their site. -- Heartening quote from VitalOKR member.

The next phase of consultation on the Malt Street site is scheduled for Autumn 2017, although the Malt Street Regeneration website doesn't have a date set yet, we've heard the public exhibtion may be Thursday 21st September and Saturday 23rd September 2017.