Press Release - Central London residents battle Southwark Cathedral over development plans

19/06/2009 17:02

(London, 19th June 2009): For the third time since 2005, a group of residents in central London has been forced into battle with Southwark Cathedral to protect their community and an historic walled garden in their area.

Southwark Cathedral will be submitting plans to Southwark Council to redevelop All Hallows Church, Church Hall and Community Garden on Copperfield Street in Borough with a four-storey development of nine market-rent flats. The development also provides for a worship and community space that can expand into an external amphitheatre and a house for the Canon Pastor when accommodation already exists on the site.

Local tenants and residents have twice successfully opposed proposed developments by Southwark Cathedral that would have severely damaged the quality of life of a community that lives in a key conservation area a short walk from Southwark Cathedral.

The demolished church, sandwiched between the Winchester Estate on Union Street and listed cottages on Copperfield Street, is being replaced by a building that will box in the estate, creating a tomb-like effect. Like previous proposed developments, it will also reduce natural light and privacy, and lead to increased artificial light levels and noise in the estate and cottages.

The latest proposal could also destroy the private and tranquil nature of the award-winning walled community garden that was created from the rubble of a WW2 bombsite by local residents and maintained by them for the last 35 years with little help from the church. The garden is unique in that it is situated on one of the last remaining Nazi bombsites in central London.

After coming under sustained pressure to meet with local residents to discuss the plans, Southwark Cathedral held two consultation meetings on Monday, 15th June, and Tuesday, 16th June 2009.

At the consultation meeting on Monday, 15th June, the Dean of Southwark Cathedral, Colin Slee, refused to scrap the current plan in order to explore with local residents alternative uses for the site that would provide income for the church and preserve the community’s quality of life. He also refused to put into writing that the community garden would remain open to the public in perpetuity. At that meeting, he also declared that if this planning application was not granted, Southwark Cathedral would ‘just submit another one’.

At the subsequent consultation meeting a day later, he conceded that safeguarding public access to the garden could ‘possibly’ be written into the planning application. Southwark Cathedral also conceded to ‘one more small meeting’ with local representatives, which include leading business people and social innovators, while signaling its intention to submit its planning application ‘within two to three months’.

A vote on the current proposal was taken on both nights, so it could go on the record how many people supported the development. The vote on Monday night, 15th June, was 33 against the scheme, and 1 for. There were 8 abstentions. The vote on Tuesday night, 16th June, was 25 against the scheme, and 2 for.

The vote was held in response to inaccurate and misleading information put out by Southwark Cathedral in its recently published 2008 Annual Report that the new All Hallows ‘scheme has been discussed with the Bankside Residents Forum and met with a favourable response’.

Bankside Residents Forum does not represent the community directly affected by the proposed scheme. The residents affected by the development were not informed of this BRF meeting. Nor were they invited to a subsequent Forum meeting on the 20th April 2009 at which Southwark Cathedral outlined its plans again.  Local residents only became aware of the meeting by chance when one local just happened to pick up a BRF flier.

At the meeting on Monday night, a BRF spokesperson denied they gave Southwark Cathedral a 'favourable' response to the scheme. She described the response as 'neutral'. The Save All Hallows Campaign will now be seeking a formal clarification from the Forum, in writing, that they did not give that inaccurate statement ascribed to them by Southwark Cathedral.

An additional vote was held on Tuesday night at the suggestion of Southwark Cathedral’s architect, Roger Molyneux. This was on whether people were in favour of no development on the site. There were no objections to the church being developed. In fact, local residents have declared for years that it is in the community's interest to have the church developed to stop the poor state of repair that Southwark Cathedral is allowing it to fall into.

Local objections lie in what is being proposed under the current scheme and the effect it will have on people's lives, combined with the fact that two people will lose their long-term home as a result. They are two of the key people involved in maintaining the garden for the past 35 years. They have also been instrumental in preserving, for future generations, the unique nature of the conservation area that has increasingly come under threat from developers since it became an attractive place to live and work. They are valued members of the community.

Local residents had difficulty in securing the costings of this proposed scheme from Southwark Cathedral on both consultation nights. This was to establish the financial viability of the venture. It was only on the intervention of the Tuesday chairperson, MP Simon Hughes, Lib Dems, who asked the cathedral to reveal their costings ‘in the interest of transparency’, that the Cathedral team finally admitted it could take between 15 and 20 years to see a return on its investment.

Una Devine, local resident and member of the Save All Hallows Campaign, says:

“At both meetings, Colin Slee asserted that there is a 'misconception' that the Cathedral has plenty of money. Unlike much of the business community in the current climate, the church could not be that financially challenged if it can afford to sustain a development that will not make a return for the best part of two decades. There are few businesses that have the luxury of operating like this.

“Southwark Cathedral claims the community garden will not be affected by the development. Local residents are unhappy with these claims so far. No guarantee has been given that the garden will not be blocked for access while the scheme – if it gets the go-ahead – is being built. The proposed build is expected to last for 18 months.

“In any event, if this proposal is green-lighted, the unique nature of the garden as a quiet haven for local residents and the thousands of workers in the area will be lost forever by it being turned into the front lawn of a block of flats.”

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For further information, please contact Una Devine, Save All Hallows Campaign.