Go-ahead for 443-home London Fire Brigade HQ revamp despite policy departure

A south London council has approved plans for a mixed-use scheme with up to 443 homes in buildings rising up to 26 storeys despite a recognition from planners that local policy sought to restrict tall buildings on the site.

A visualisation of part of the finished scheme (pic: U&I (8AE) Limited & The London Fire Commissioner)
A visualisation of part of the finished scheme (pic: U&I (8AE) Limited & The London Fire Commissioner)

Earlier this week, the London Borough of Lambeth approved a full planning application for the redevelopment of the London Fire Brigade’s former headquarters at Albert Embankment.

The application sought consent for the redevelopment of the 1.6-hectare site to provide 443 homes, along with more than 24,000 square metres of non-residential floorspace within buildings of up to 26 storeys in height.

This would include a new fire station, a London Fire Brigade museum, a hotel, business floorspace, retail space, a gym, restaurant, public realm and car parking.

According to a planning report, the application would be a departure from local planning policy which states that the "heritage sensitivity of the site makes it inappropriate for tall building development".

However, planners advised that the height and massing of the development "has been assessed in relation to its impact from a wide range of viewpoints and has been found to be satisfactory, including in relation to its impact on heritage assets".

The report added that this view was supported by both the Greater London Authority and heritage watchdog Historic England which had also come to the same conclusion.

Planners advised the committee that the proposal would provide 172 affordable housing units - which is 39 per cent of units or 40 per cent by habitable room - "which will contribute to meeting the housing needs of the Borough." The report said that, for such developments, local planning policy requires a 50 per cent affordable housing rate.

However, the report added that the proposal "has been viability tested and the 40 per cent offer made is considered the maximum reasonable proportion of affordable housing that the scheme can currently provide".

It said this was due to "abnormal costs associated with the development," including "the provision of Lambeth Fire Station and the works associated with the conversion and restoration of the site’s heritage assets".

Recommending approval, the report said the development would "bring forward the regeneration of the site and is aligned with the desire for growth within the Vauxhall area".

It said the proposal would provide "a substantial uplift in jobs" with a "wide-range of flexible employment spaces creating diverse employment opportunities for established business, small to medium sized enterprises and start-ups".

These benefits would outweigh the scheme’s departure from local planning policy, the report concluded.

The council resolved to approve the application, subject to the completion of a section 106 agreement and referral to the mayor of London.

Consultancy Lichfields acted on behalf of applicants U and I (8AE) Limited and the London Fire Commissioner. 

Last week, the London Borough of Wandsworth approved plans for the mixed-use redevelopment of a west London industrial estate, after planners advised that the scheme would deliver a policy-compliant level of affordable housing and a "significant increase" in industrial floorspace.

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