By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans for a six-storey student accommodation block have been approved in the teeth of hundreds of objections.
A planning application to build 185 student rooms in Spa Road from Student Urban Living Bermondsey and Bermondsey Spa Ltd was approved by a Southwark planning committee on Tuesday (March 3).
Rows of neighbours turned up to the debate where councillors unanimously voted through the plans.
Some residents who live behind the proposed development stand to lose up to 60 per cent of their daylight.
But a light expert working with the developers said the loss was so stark because those living in the homes could see an “unusual” amount of sky for the location.
“The retained levels [of light] are acceptable,” he said.
The controversial development went through a host of changes after several rounds of consultation, including making 35 per cent of the rooms affordable, reducing the height from seven to six storeys and the number of rooms from 206 to 185.
A key concern was the impact on the heritage of the Buddhist centre beside the site, a Grade-II listed building and Southwark’s first public library.
But the centre withdrew its objections following the changes.
One objector, speaking on behalf of residents, said the loss of light and privacy would affect the wellbeing of those living in the area.
Phillipa Marks said: “The sheer size of the proposed development is out of keeping […] it does, we feel, alter the character and the beauty of the surrounding area. It dominates it.
“There’s a big concern that two rather large student developments in an area which is probably the furthest away from a higher education college in central London is out of keeping and it will significantly impact the wellbeing of the local residents. Their enjoyment of the park, the local amenities, GP surgery, police, transport are going to be quite severely impacted by a very large number of high turnover residents in such a small area.”
Guy Bransby, a planning consultant for Student Urban Living, said the developer’s £6.5 million payment towards Southwark’s new council homes programme “will help the council to deliver its target of 11,000 new council homes by 2043”.
He said a private residential scheme would “not be in Southwark’s control”.
“Other benefits include helping to meet a significant unmet demand for professionally managed student accommodation close to eight nearby universities.
“There are currently 21,000 students over 20 living in Southwark, of which 50 per cent live in private rented accommodation such as houses of multiple occupation.
“This in turn will free up more housing to address London’s shortage.
“We’re also offering over £1 million worth of infrastructure improvements.
“We’re also improving security and surveillance by bringing the site into active use and providing lighting and CCTV where there’s been a history of anti-social behaviour.
“And we’re also providing jobs and skills and apprenticeships for local people,” Mr Bransby added.
Councillor Damian O’Brien, representing the London Bridge and West Bermondsey ward, said a residential development would be better.
He said: “Talking to my ward councillors we would actually prefer that this application was for residential because it’s what we need with social housing included.
“There are actually no tertiary education providers within easy walking distance and therefore the students will have to travel.
“Because it’s student accommodation we’re concerned about loss of amenity.
“I do appreciate that the site will have some common space but in the middle of summer, Spa Gardens is a very attractive place to go and if I had the option of sitting on a terrace or going to the park I know where I’d prefer to go.
“That’s going to have an impact on the family life of residents who are there at the moment.”
He suggested the developers should pay £20,000 for a pedestrian crossing and raised table already planned for Spa Road but not funded.
The developers agreed to this condition at the meeting.
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