Disabled charity angered about being cast aside for housing project

By Joe Coughlan, Local Democracy Reporter

Bromley council has revealed plans to build flats on the former site of a charity – which says it feels badly let down after past assurances it would be able to continue operating from there.

Details of a project to deliver a new seven-storey block of flats have been outlined for a car park site in Beckenham Road, Beckenham.

Planning documents from Rivington Street Studio, on behalf of Bromley council, said all 35 flats in the project would be available for social rent.

All homes would reportedly have private balconies or terraces and the site would also include a shared residents’ garden with children’s play area.

Conservative councillor Yvonne Bear, portfolio holder for renewal, recreation and housing for Bromley council, said in a statement: “This new development in Beckenham will help bring forwards much-needed additional affordable housing as we continue to progress with our commitment to provide more Bromley homes for Bromley people.”

But the site currently covers Lewis House, a small detached building which previously hosted Bromley Experts by Experience (X by X), a charity staffed by disabled people to support those living with disabilities.

They are far from happy.

Joanne Munn, the charity’s chief executive, said X by X originally held a tender from the council to operate in the building until the end of 2022, with the option to extend the contract by two years.

However, Ms Munn said the council later went back on this offer in October 2022 and that the current contract could only be extended by one year instead of two.

She said she was told in March last year that disability services were to be taken back in-house by the council and that the charity had to move out of Lewis House by the end of the year.

Ms Munn said: “I would like to say that X by X are very disappointed with the lack of transparency shown by Bromley council on this issue, having repeatedly advised us since 2021 that there were no plans to build on the site of Lewis House itself.

“Is that the way to show respect to local residents and, specifically, to local disabled people who have used Lewis House for the past ten years?”

The current plans said the design for the project dates back to March 2022, and that Lewis House would be demolished as part of the scheme.

Ms Munn said council officers had previously assured her in 2021 that there was ‘no way’ the building would be knocked down. X by X is reportedly now based on North Street in Bromley town centre and paying 240 per cent more in rent.

Ms Munn said: “No mention is made of the fact that a small charity led and staffed by local disabled people has lost £38,000 per year of council commissioning and been evicted from our office ‘home’.

“No mention is made of the fact that we are now paying 240 per cent more rent, which we are struggling to afford, or that we have had to make a longstanding member of staff, one of the founding members, redundant.”

Council officers said in a report last month that the Lewis House site was part of a project to provide 1,000 new affordable homes across the borough.

A council spokesman said: “We are obviously sad to see anybody lose their job, or have to spend more money relocating, but in these straightened economic times the council simply has to ensure wider value for the wider taxpayer.

“This change will however see an improved service to our users and badly needed social housing for those currently waiting in temporary accommodation and both of those achievements are something to celebrate.”

They added: “There has never been any lack of clarity of our desire to improve our services for the borough’s most vulnerable residents when the opportunity presents itself either.”

A public consultation on the new homes on the site of Lewis House is scheduled on February 24, 27 and 28 in Beckenham Library. Views can also be submitted online until March 4.

Pictured top: Joanne Munn outside Lewis House (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)

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