High Court throws out Lewisham Council’s permission for 110 social rent homes

Mais House render
The City Corporation’s development would have offered 110 houses for social rent

Campaigners are celebrating after a High Court judge ordered that Lewisham Council’s planning permission for 110 new homes on an estate in Sydenham be quashed over “significant errors” in its decision-making. 

Friends of Mais House has been fighting the City of London Corporation’s plans for the Sydenham Hill Estate – on the borough’s boundary with Southwark – since they were approved by a Lewisham planning committee last August.   

The City Corporation had wanted to demolish Mais House, a four-storey block of 63 flats designed for the over-60s, and replace it with 110 homes for social rent in buildings of up to seven storeys. Half of the homes would be let to people on Lewisham’s waiting list, the other half for the City’s own housing register. Sydenham Hill is one of 12 estates that the Square Mile’s local authority runs across London.
Current Sydenham Hill residents branded the plans too dense, said they would put pressure on amenities, did not have appropriate disabled access, and would harm Lammas Green, a Grade II-listed 1950s housing scheme set around a village green, and the wider conservation area. They also said they were not consulted properly.   

Sydenham Hill render
A view down Sydenham Hill with the new development in place

Mature trees were also set to be cut down if the development went ahead, but Lewisham’s planning officers and councillors felt “on balance” that the need for social housing was too important.    
The Friends group challenged the decision, saying that Lewisham failed to take into account the harm the development would do to Lammas Green and the conservation area.  It also argued that the planning committee failed to take into account that the council’s own conservation and urban design officer objected to the scheme and “omitted significant parts of her advice”.     
The judicial review took place over two days last month, with Helen Kinsey, a member of the Friends group, represented in court by Susan Ring and Richard Harwood QC

Handing down her judgment yesterday, Mrs Justice Lang said: “Given the number of significant errors made by the council, and the possibility that, absent such errors, a different conclusion could have been reached by the planning committee, I consider that the decision to grant planning permission ought to be quashed.” 

The judge found a number of failures in the way the council handled the application, including that the planning committee were given an incomplete picture of the harm to local heritage harm and were materially misled on some aspects of the heritage issues.  She ruled that not enough weight was given to harm to heritage assets, the conservation officer’s advice was not taken into account, and that background papers were not made available. 

Mais House trees
The court heard that these mature trees would be felled

A spokesperson for the Friends group said they had won a “David v Goliath” battle.

“Social housing campaigners have checked Lewisham Borough Council and the City of London Corporation from building an enormously oversized development in a conservation area, directly opposite a last tract of fragile ancient woodland,” they said. 

“The Friends of Mais House are delighted the planning permission has been quashed. They are happy that they have finally been heard in a fair hearing and justice has been done.  

“They sincerely hope the City of London Corporation will now work collaboratively with them to produce a sustainable co-design scheme for the estate that respects the existing community, the environment and the heritage, as well as providing high quality, sustainable homes for new residents that will last well into the future.” 

Mais House via Google Streetview
Mais House in 2014. The building is now empty and boarded up (Image: Google Streetview)

Paul Bell, Lewisham’s cabinet member for housing and planning, said the planning decision would be reviewed in light of the judgment.

“The proposed Mais House scheme is 100 per cent social housing and would provide much-needed social homes for local residents on our housing waiting list,” he said.

“It is vital that we continue building more social homes in Lewisham in order to tackle the housing crisis and help those residents who are most in need. We are disappointed by this ruling and the relatively minor issues it has raised concerning the decision making process.

“We will be reviewing the decision in light of this judgment to address the issues it has raised so that this scheme can be reported back to a planning committee at the earliest opportunity.”

LDRS logoGráinne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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