FoCNR pressure improves Norman Road outlook – but major battles lie ahead

We have previously provided a partial report on the result of the Norman Road planning application. The following update has been written for the upcoming Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve newsletter, and contains the news that the developer has now agreed to the condition that a ‘green wall’ be made part of the construction, which will be immediately adjacent to what is left of Erith Marshes.

By Chris Rose, Vice-chair, Bexley Natural Environment Forum.

The outcome of the May Council planning committee’s decision on the Norman Road ‘Site 3’ application, at the former electricity sub-station location, was two ‘gains’ over what would have happened had we not intervened, as can be seen from a comparison with the previous ‘Site 4’ application, which we unfortunately missed the boat on. These were a ‘green wall’ (‘To ensure the development provides areas for biodiversity in accordance with London Plan and Core Strategy Policies and to minimise the visual impact on the adjoining Metropolitan Open Land’) and the agreement that some of the Section 106 money to be paid by the developer should be directed to the Marsh Dykes Catchment Project, thereby benefiting biodiversity in the immediate vicinity.

These ‘positives’ are in no small part due to the nineteen letters of objection – mostly from FoCNR members – made to the application for the industrial/distribution building on this former electricity sub-station site, which added valuable weight to BNEF’s own substantive submission. They also helped to ensure that our calls for expansion of marshland habitat, or at least the the incorporation of a brown roof, minimisation of hard surfacing and avoidance of light pollution, were the major arguments against put in front of councillors for their consideration in the agenda papers. As ‘we’ were the only objectors, we also got the full 5 minutes worth of speaking time, where these demands were emphasised again.

The developer said that because forklifts would be used within the building, there could not be sufficient support pillars to take the weight of a brown roof. Cllr. Colin Tandy distinguished himself by saying that if the Council was serious about advancing its policy of having brown roofs on industrial buildings near the Thames, it should simply refuse applications for types of building that couldn’t incorporate them in the first place. Cllr. Michael Slaughter claimed that there were examples of green roof planting slipping downwards in the rain, which missed the point that in any case a brown roof aggregate would pack together like hoggin so this shouldn’t happen. Unfortunately objectors don’t get the chance to come back in and challenge misleading statements by Councillors! The most revealing and shocking interjection was by Cllr. Brian Bishop who thought too much time was being spent on all this biodiversity talk, one industrial building was simply being replaced with another, and ‘There is more than enough space for all the biodiversity down there already’ (which rather ignores the simple fact that there are not infinite numbers of individuals of rare species smothering Crossness, and there is obviously some reason – lack of sufficient habitat perhaps !!!!  – why they are indeed rare in the first place …….).

Sensing there was support for the argument about a brown roof, and given that it could not be legally imposed, Planning Chief Susan Clark drew attention to a similar scenario that had arisen over an application by Pirelli, where a green (planted) wall had been agreed upon instead. In the circumstances, she invited Councillors to vote on making this a condition of approval, in the knowledge that the applicant could appeal against it, and Cllr. Bishop partially redeemed himself by supporting that proposal, even if it was just to get onto next business ASAP. Councillors then voted in favour of the application with this and other conditions.

To give the Council its due, those other conditions, which included a 5m buffer along the Norman Road ditch, to allow for Water Vole colonisation (which is a useful stick to wave elsewhere given this width is nowhere near adhered to in public open spaces along the Cray and Shuttle), and controls over lighting to prevent negative impacts on the marshes (which we will have to keep our eyes on, and report instances of inadequate compliance) were also imposed on Site 4, which we had no involvement with. But the statement of the Ecology and Sustainability Officer that ‘Brown Roofs would be ideal for the Site 3 development’ fell short of the degree of advocacy one would have expected for the Council’s clear public policy objective regarding such features in this geographical area, which might help explain why none appear to have been constructed to date. That aspiration appears not to have been voiced at all over Site 4, although the developer had voluntarily proposed photovoltaic or solar thermal installations on the roof.

We were informed in late August that the developer has agreed to adhere to the green wall condition, which sets a useful minimum fall-back benchmark for arguments about brown roofs on any further developments in this part of the Borough.

Looking west from Crossness nature reserve to the Norman Road development sites whetre the electricity sub-station once stood. If we couldn't get a return to marshland, at the very least we didn't want yet another grey box dominating the view ....

Looking west from Crossness nature reserve to the Norman Road development sites where the electricity sub-station once stood. If we couldn’t get a return to marshland, at the very least we didn’t want yet another grey box dominating the view ….

In the circumstances, and given the very ‘just-in-time’ nature of the appeal for more letters of objection, and the circulation of the crib sheet to facilitate that, it’s a reasonable result, and with better organisation we should be able to stir up more trouble in future. But we will have to. Bexley is now proposing to astronomically increase its housing allocation from 4,545 by 2026, with 438 of these in Belvedere, to 22,000, with 11,000 of these in Belvedere by 2030, despite the previous figure having been agreed after public consultation, accepted as adequate by HM Inspectorate, and published by the Council in its Local Development Framework only 2.5 years ago. In addition the government has been claiming that Councils with approved LDFs in place would not be hit with whopping demands to take even more houses. This is a severe breach of public trust, currently being compounded by Bexley Council Officers giving evasive answers to both BNEF and to FoCNR member Ralph Todd about where these figures have come from, and exactly where they are all supposedly going to go. And then there is Transport for London that has come back with schemes for not one but two Thames road bridges into the Borough, one either side of Crossness ……………..

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