Hands up who has noticed that the Council has increased the number of additional houses it thinks could (read should) be built in the Borough from 4,545 by 2026, with 438 of these in Belvedere, to 22,000, with 11,000 in Belvedere by 2030?
The former figure appears at Appendix A on p108 of the Local Development Framework, the job of which is to provide the ‘justification’ for the broad thrust of the Council’s planning decisions. The document was agreed as recently as two and a half years ago following a period of written public consultation, and a hearing in public where further questions could be asked and properly argued over. The proposed housing allocation was accepted as adequate by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate.
The latter numbers, representing a 22-fold increase within Belvedere, and what at a conservative estimate would result in a 20% increase in the Borough’s total population over the 2011 census, appear without explanation, in Bexley Council ‘Growth’ strategy – ‘Our emerging vision’ leaflet, on which public comment was sought up to 5th September.
The obvious question is where are they all going? The number of houses now being proposed for the Erith Quarry Site of Importance for Nature Conservation is 700. We cannot see from Google Earth imagery of the Borough where an amount of undeveloped land anywhere near equivalent to 30 times that is going to come from. The Council has calculated that the need for industrial land will fall, so that some of it will be released for other purposes. But it is still a major stretch to see how this many more dwellings can be accommodated, which raises concerns for open spaces. Or is the Council banking on lots of high-rise, even though it has just had the Larner Road estate demolished?
Bexley Natural Environment Forum is pressing the Council for detail, having only received answers so far that are vague or stretch credulity. Strip out the jargon and Council officers are claiming that these are simply illustrative figures, based on a ‘density matrix’, and that they have not identified any specific sites for all these buildings. Yet they are also spending our money working on plans for ancillary ‘development’ to go with this construction spree. You do not have to be the most brilliant mathematician in the world to know that to derive a figure from a density multiplier you need to put the number of units of area into it, i.e.: number of square metres x density (amount of units per square metre) = number of units. We think there has to be a figure for the number of square metres, and that there must therefore be a list of measured pieces of land on the ground. So we have asked again for a list of those places which the Council thinks could/should have housing put on them in this period.
The cynic might argue that the purpose of publishing such figures in the public domain is to provide some future cover of the ‘well we did consult people about this’ variety, especially if it can then be trumpeted that the ‘actual’ figure turns out to be lower. Claiming that they are essentially ‘speculative’, whilst failing to point out the massive hike from the LDF figures, or being specific about exactly where they will go, has the benefit of making it less likely that anyone will notice and start complaining in time to stick enough spanners in the works.
The Council says it ‘remains committed to maintaining its existing network of valued open spaces and is a key member of the South East London Green Chain and the Mayor’s London-wide Green Grid Network.’ The simple answer to this claim is: Viridion Park (yet another imminent loss of land to ‘development’ when we should be re-building the Erith marshes Metropolitan Site of Importance for Nature Conservation), Erith Quarry (Bexley Grade 1 Site of Importance for Nature conservation which the Council seems happy enough to see a large part of covered with 700 houses) and Bexley By-pass (still supported by Bexley Council despite the fact it would tear through another SINC site and destroy the tranquility of Churchfield Wood). We suggest that the Council’s idea of ‘valued’ (or what is valuable in a non-monetary sense) is flaky at best, and not to be relied upon by those who really want to protect and improve these places as indicating that the Council will be similarly inclined.
Doubtless people were making the same statements about protecting everything we value about the area in the 1930s, just before much of it got covered in swathes of housing, and have continued to do so since, as ever more of it has been concreted over and the next crowd ‘save’ the most valued bit of what’s left for a few more years. What is being pursued in reality, based on the fixation with ‘growth’, is limitless development with a dollop of delusional ‘you can have your cake and eat it’ on slapped on top.
Meanwhile, the Council is still developing its follow-on Detailed Policies and Sites planning document, based on the ground rules laid down in the LDF. The consultation on that closed in September 2013, but it won’t be until next year that this is examined in public. BNEF is calling for a proper public debate on the strategic implications of Bexley’s inflated house-building proposals, and for residents to have a further opportunity to submit written comments on DPAS since it follows that this document will need to be significantly altered if these numbers are accepted, and we ought to be able to have our comments on these revisions on the record.
Much of Belvedere is on the floodplain, and London is seriously water-stressed. The DPAS draft fell way short of delivering anything like true sustainability with the numbers of people we have already, so is likely to prove wholly inadequate for a vastly larger task (if that cannot be stopped) without major outside pressure. We do not share Bexley’s ‘don’t worry, something will turn up’ view of the future when it comes to water, food, clean air and renewable energy supplies or nature, which is in dire straits.
At the LDF hearing we listened to Council officers telling us what a good job they had done in holding down the number of dwellings projected in the plan to what they thought was a reasonable limit that would avoid excessive ‘over-development’. The Council now needs to explain how it suddenly finds that 22,000 houses is acceptable.
As far as we can see this is being driven by the ‘Further Alterations to the London Plan’ , a 354 plage document that almost no one in the Borough will have read, handed down by Boris ‘there is no alternative to more urbanisation’ Johnson, and bound up with TfLs proposals for two road bridges over the Thames into Bexley and other schemes to guzzle ever more resources. We doubt people who voted Boris/Conservative in the 2012 GLA or 2014 Borough elections thought they were getting this, indeed our online research of the relevant manifesto and public policy documents for these elections can find no mention of future housing targets for Bexley, just a 2014 comment that 5,000 houses were being built here already.
Whatever the case then, Boris and the Conservatives clearly now see Bexley, which still has a relatively good supply of greenery, as a prime building site, and are giving every impression of wanting to avoid an open debate on this and to ensure that as few people notice as possible before it’s too late.