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HERE WE GO AGAIN! – MAIS HOUSE COURT HEARING IMMINENT

A second Judicial Review into Lewisham Council’s controversial approval of a monster build on Sydenham Hill moves a step closer.



Following Lewisham Council’s hasty second approval of planning permission for a mega development on the City of London’s Corporation’s Sydenham Hill Estate, a member of the Friends of Mais House sought further legal advice. Acting on that advice, a claim for a Judicial Review to quash the latest grant of planning permission was issued in the High Court and was served on Lewisham Council and City of London on 1 October 2021. 
On 10 February 2022, High Court Justice Sir Duncan Ouseley issued an Order for a hearing at which he will decide whether to grant permission and proceed straight to a Judicial Review, a so called “rolled up” hearing. 
The Friends are immensely grateful for the community’s  support and are asking for further contributions to the                      legal fund here: 
https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/friendsofmaishouse/ 

Summary of Grounds for new Judicial Review: (i) The Council misunderstood policy, had no evidence and acted unreasonably in asserting that the scheme was the ‘optimum viable use’, or more accurately, that a smaller scheme was not viable. (ii) The Council acted unfairly, in breach of the Statement of Community Involvement and in breach of the obligations with respect to background papers in publishing a large volume of material shortly before the committee meeting and proceeding with the meeting. (iii) The Council failed to publish third party consultation responses at all in breach of the requirements on background papers.


Readers could be forgiven for thinking this is a case of déjà vu all over again, as the community has already successfully rallied to fight off this development once before. In May 2021, a High Court Judge ruled that Lewisham had acted illegally when it granted planning permission for the City of London Corporation to demolish Sydenham’s Mais House sheltered housing flats and build a massive development in one of the most environmentally sensitive and prominent areas of South East London.


COURT RULED COUNCIL ACTED ILLEGALLY


Mrs Justice Lang agreed that Lewisham Council’s planning processes were unsound, ordered the quashing of its grant of planning permission and urged Lewisham and the City to work with residents to reach an acceptable design.


BUT LEWISHAM DETERMINED TO DRIVE MONSTER DEVELOPMENT THROUGH


But within weeks of Mrs Justice Lang’s ruling the community was left stunned when, instead of holding discussions with residents and at dizzyingly short notice, Lewisham rushed the very same planning application back before a Planning Committee, which again ignored concerns and granted permission.

Now, lawyers acting on behalf of a member of the Friends of Mais House, believe that Lewisham’s processes on that second occasion were also flawed and are again calling for the planning application to be quashed.

Consequently, in late 2021 a Claim was submitted to the High Court for a fresh Judicial Review into the way Lewisham Council handled its second grant of Planning Permission to demolish Mais House.

A Judge has now ordered a “rolled-up” hearing, which could take place as early as April. At that hearing, both sides can put their arguments and the Judge will decide there and then whether to proceed straight to a full Judicial Review of Lewisham’s handling of this second grant of permission.


MAIS HOUSE


Until “decanted” by owners, the City of London Corporation, Mais House was the much loved home of dozens of older residents. Plans approved by Lewisham are for a huge development that will irreparably damage the environment and tower over existing housing. But under these contentious proposals, the sheltered housing will not be replaced. As reported in the South London Press way back in 2016, Mais House residents did not want to leave their homes. But they had no choice. By the summer of 2018 the City had “decanted” them.




Below: the proposed development looms over existing housing; yet in all this there is no sheltered housing.



The Story So Far ...

In a David v Goliath struggle, residents and neighbours of the City of London Corporation’s Sydenham Hill Estate have spent more than three years and £40,000 of their hard-earned money fighting their landlord’s plans for a massive development on one of the most cherished and prominent parts of South East London. Friendly persuasion had failed when the Corporation refused to engage with residents on a design that worked for all, instead steaming ahead with plans for a mammoth development that led to the forced removal of dozens of elderly residents from their homes and that will prove devastating for remaining and future communities.

It was 2020 when a Lewisham Planning Committee first approved the Corporation’s contentious planning application; driving residents, including many social housing tenants, to raise money to drag Council Planners before the High Court.

But despite a Court Judgment that saw its grant of planning permission quashed, Lewisham Planners were determined to save face by rushing the self-same planning application back before a Planning Committee that included some of the same Councillors who had made the earlier, now legally discredited, decision.

Ignoring High Court Judge Mrs Justice Lang’s recommendation that Lewisham Plannersought to urge the City of London Corporation to “re-consider the height and scale of the proposed development, and submit a more acceptable proposal”, Lewisham’s Strategic Planning Committee, defying pleas from local MPs and the community for postponement and meaningful consultation, by a 5-1 vote again approved the same plan for the massive development on Sydenham Hill.

The controversial Mais House planning application is on one of the highest points in South London. It will tower over neighbouring Grade II Listed Lammas Green and, breaking the treeline, will be visible across London.

Residents were shocked when, despite the High Court’s May 2021 ruling, Lewisham Planners suddenly announced on 17 June 2021 that the existing proposal would be presented unchanged for determination by its Strategic Planning Committee on 29 June. Lewisham and the City of London Corporation have been resolute in not discussing amending the scheme with residents and instead rushed the unaltered proposal back to the Planning Committee at such short notice that the community reeled at the prospect of having to wade through an additional 40 complex documents and a 250 page Case Officer report released just a few days before the Committee met, only to be faced with yet another Addendum Report published on the very day of the Committee meeting.


Nevertheless, despite the extreme short notice, more than 240 people objected to the proposal and there was only one letter of support. Local MPs Helen Hayes and Shadow Attorney General Ellie Reeves both sent strong letters urging Lewisham to refuse the application and work with residents on a less damaging design.

In her letter Ms Reeves asked Lewisham to: “...reject any decision in relation to Mais House until planning Officers have worked with the local community to find a solution that addresses their concerns.”


Lewisham Council’s own consultees also objected to the scheme.


The Council’s Conservation and Tree Officers established the level of harm to the natural and built environment. Its independent Design Review Panel, a group of professional design experts recruited by Lewisham to serve as an advisory body, are not happy with the scheme and have made a number of recommendations.


Lewisham Council ignored them all.


Despite the Mais House campaign’s support for new, inclusive social housing in a more acceptable design on the site, the Planning Committee has now ruled that housing outweighs the multiple harms to the environment to which the Council’s own Conservation Officer and Design Panel had objected.

The housing that is planned is neither accessible nor sheltered. It is massively environmentally damaging. Campaigners had sincerely hoped that the City of London Corporation would 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.

We are very sad that Lewisham would not act on the specialist advice they sought and were given and we feel that Council Officers and our elected representatives treated this process as a mere seen to be done, “tick box” exercise. It was unfair that we were ambushed with so many complex documents – some of which should have been published over a year earlier – at almost literally the 11th hour.


FURTHER BACKGROUND:


Following the first Judicial Review into how Lewisham handled its earlier attempt to drive the scheme through, Mrs Justice Lang had on 18 May 2021 quashed the Council’s first grant of planning permission, stating that:


“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.”


In her Judgment, Mrs Justice Lang also pointed out that:


“156. In my view, the submissions of the IP [Interested Party: that is the applicant, the City of London Corporation] lost sight of the fact that, in the main, the objectors were not opposed to the redevelopment of the Site in order to upgrade the existing social housing and increase the number of residential units. The Claimant’s objection related to the inappropriate height and scale of the new buildings, which would harm the setting of the Grade II Listed buildings and the Conservation Area.

157. In my judgment, if the legal errors which I have identified above had not occurred, it is possible that the Members would have concluded that the IP ought to re-consider the height and scale of the proposed development, and submit a more acceptable proposal.”



  • Friends of Mais House is a community group, formed by residents and neighbours of the City of London Corporation’s Sydenham Hill Estate as a result of their frustration at the failure of the City and Lewisham to listen to concerns about plans for a massive redevelopment of the Estate.

  • In November 2020, Lewisham Council granted planning permission for the development of 110 units on the Corporation of the City of London’s Sydenham Hill Estate, with the resulting loss of 63 sheltered homes at Mais House.

  • On 11 February Mrs Justice Lang gave the go ahead for a Judicial Review into the way Lewisham Council handled the planning application.

  • In her Order of 11 February, Mrs Justice Lang said: ‘In my view, the Claimant’s grounds are arguable and merit consideration at a full hearing’

  • Lawyers[Susan Ring of Harrison Grant Solicitors & Richard Harwood QC] are acting on behalf of a member of the Friends of Mais House.

  • The High Court Judicial Review hearing took place before Mrs Justice Lang on 27-28 April and estate residents and neighbours worked together to raise funds for the legal challenge. Mrs Justice Lang handed down her Judgment on 18 May 2021. She quashed the grant of planning permission on four Grounds:


  • Failure to give great weight to harm to heritage assets and failure consider extent of less than substantial harm as required by the Planning Policy Guidance.

  • Failure to take into account the Conservation Officer’s advice

  • Failure to make background papers available

  • Failure to ask the Design Review Panel to considerthe planning application in breach of legitimate expectation.


  • On Thursday 17 June 2021, the community learnt that Lewisham were returning the very same planning application to a Planning Committee on Tuesday 29 June.

  • Tues 29 June 2021: by a 5:1 vote Lewisham’s Strategic Planning Committee, Chaired by Cllr John Paschoud, elected to approve the City of London’s planning application. The application was unchanged.

  • 18 August 2021: Lewisham Council publishes grant of permission for the development.

  • Residents said:“We fully support are development providing 100% social housing. However, the density of this proposal is disproportionate. It is set to hugely compromise the lives of both tenants and the environment.”

  • In exchange for the grant of planning permission, Lewisham Council will be allocated 50% of the new units. Yet the much needed sheltered housing will not be replaced and communal green space and amenity areas will be lost, along with many much loved trees.

  • The loss of 63 sheltered housing flats means that the net gain from this development is 47 residential units. Tenancies will be allocated 50:50 between Lewisham and the City of London housing waiting lists.

  • There is no safe disabled access route to the 11 family houses, making them unsuitable for wheelchair users.

  • 10% of the flats will be wheelchair accessible, although Lewisham’s Design Review Panel challenged the ground floor apartments which open directly onto the public open space which have no apparent defensible zone. All have bedrooms facing directly onto it which raises concerns of privacy. Campaigners find this worrying if these flats are the ones to be allocated to disabled residents who may potentially be especially vulnerable.

  • Standing at the top of Sydenham Hill Ridge, one of the highest points in South London, low rise Mais House will be replaced with a group of blocks up to eight storeys in height, breaking the tree line for the first time and visible across London.



There is a strong sense of injustice about how the development consultation was carried out. Some of the issues consistently raised were:


  • Unprecedented density in a suburban location with poor infrastructure and transport links at the top of a hill.

  • Incongruous design - overbearing and intrusive disregard for the Area of Special Character along Sydenham Ridge and impact on setting of Heritage assets.

  • Negative impact on biodiversity in a nature corridor, loss of 19 mature trees and severe damage to several more excellent specimens

  • Loss of play space for children.

  • Displacement of Mais House residents, lack of specialist assisted living and limited accessible homes.

  • Sydenham Woods wouldn't be there if local residents hadn't campaigned for it back in the 1980s - Southwark council wanted to build on it.


The Friends are asking for contributions to their legal fund here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/friendsofmaishouse/ 
Learn more on
 www.friendsofmaishouse.com 


















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