Community groups have welcomed the cancellation of plans to build a complex of town hall offices.
A new office building for front line children and housing services staff, due to be built in Asylum Road, Peckham, was scrapped on Tuesday of last week by Southwark council’s cabinet.
The building, in Asylum Road, known as Queens Road 4 (QR4) and controversial with some residents, was due to go to planning in June and, if approved, opened in 2022.
But the “far-reaching and unexpected impacts” of the Covid-19 pandemic has led Southwark to backtrack on the plans, which were authorised by cabinet in 2017.
Now the council is considering building temporary accommodation alongside office space there, in light of the “fundamental shift in ways of working” and to address the “acute” need for flats.
Peckham Vision’s Eileen Conn has called for the council to stage an inquiry into how such a “bad plan” was able to get through so many stages.
She said: “The council needs to change the system to avoid this being repeated.
“It was a bad decision to demolish the previous building, now lost for ever. It could have been a useful building for local purposes.
“The planned building to replace it was wrong for the site and not thought through properly. It was wrong to focus all those services in that one place, and fortunately the Covid crisis showed them the errors before it was too late.”
Peckham SOS’s Jenny Beavan said: “It was always talked about as a building which didn’t fit the scale of the surrounding buildings and would cause a great loss of light to those buildings. So I am not unhappy it will not be built.
“Maybe a day nursery in a low level eco building within a green space with trees could be a useful addition to our area. The building could also provide some hot desk office space if needed.”
Cabinet member for finance and resources, Councillor Rebecca Lury, said in a foreword to the report recommending scrapping the scheme: “Whilst ensuring we are not over-providing office space that may no longer be provided, we can also address some of the acute issues around the availability of temporary accommodation in the borough.”
The council announced during the summer it would be “pausing” the plans, on which it has already spent more than £2 million.
Part of this was spent on demolishing a former council building on the site, which is just opposite Queens Road station.
Cllr Lury said: “Covid-19 has had far-reaching and unexpected impacts throughout our borough.
“We have seen a fundamental shift in ways of working, with our staff adapting at great pace to working from home, or in a more flexible way.
“At the same time, we have been able to accelerate many of our digital approaches to service delivery, such as in housing solutions, which has meant less need for individuals to be physically present in our offices.
“Before the pandemic, we had plans for Queens Road 4, that would see the site delivering significant new space for our staff.
“But as we have seen the impact of Covid-19 on our borough, we are now in a position to reconsider some of the previous options for the site that were previously deemed unviable based on what we expected to need the space for.”
Another reason for the U-turn is the “considerable financial challenges the council anticipates in the coming months and years” – the project was expected to cost nearly £20 million.
Cllr Lury said: “This does not remove the need for us to provide safe, modern and welcoming spaces for our front line staff. It does provide us with the opportunity to look at other options for the development, which may have a wider beneficial impact in the long-term.”
The council will now look for another site to build town hall offices and an architect to explore ideas for the Asylum Road site.
Pictured top: The QR4 site
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