A proposed scheme criticised for failing to reflect the heritage of its surroundings was rejected by a Southwark planning committee on Monday (June 29). 

CIT and Union Car Parks acquired Vinegar Yard in Bermondsey in 2017, and applied to build a 20-storey office block and pavillion above an underground music venue, as well as knocking down a two-storey warehouse.

The site, surrounded by St Thomas Street, Fenning Street, Vinegar Yard, and Snowfields, sits across the road from London Bridge Station and is currently used as an open-air market. 

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The office tower block plans were in the Bermondsey Street Conservation Area, an issue for voting members and objectors.  

The committee voted it down six to two five hours after the meeting started, declaring it too big, lacking in green space and heritage, and worrying the nearby Horseshoe Inn would be “swallowed up”.  

Members were concerned the impact on nearby residents would be too great – planning officers admitted daylight would be taken away from people’s homes, but they said “on balance” the benefits of the scheme – such as job creation and retail space – outweighed the negatives.  

Ewen Puffett, from CIT, said “we’ve gone the extra mile to make the scheme relevant for local people and the borough’s post-Covid recovery”.  

John Bushell, an architect from ‎Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), said: “Vinegar Yard will be a front door to Southwark for the 90 million people who use London Bridge Station every year.” 

He said: “We have a fantastic office building accommodating about 2,000 people, proof of concept is that tenants like Guys and St Thomas Hospital are already interested in taking space”, adding that the ground floor would be dedicated to the arts, culture, food, and affordable work space. 

Mr Bushell added that the proposed façade of the building reflected the “character and history” of Old Bermondsey. 

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Representatives of the Old Bermondsey Neighbourhood Programme spoke at the meeting to object.  

Local architect Toby O’Connor said there were “significant heritage issues” with the proposals, which he said would be an “extreme overdevelopment” of the area, and raised concerns that an approval would set a “dangerous” precedent for future development.  

“The proposals cause unacceptable, significant, and irreversible harm to the conservation area due to the proposed extreme contrast in scale, and due to the unnecessary demolition and disfigurement of key positive contributors and their settings, none of which is outweighed by the proposed public benefits, moreover, which will set a dangerous precedent for further damage to the conservation area,” he said.  

Mr O’Connor later questioned whether Covid-19 had been taken into account, as the future of offices is not currently clear.  

Landscape architect Jessica Beattie said the scheme would not mitigate the wind in the area, while it lacked green space.  

Chair of the Forum, Amy Carruthers, said the building work would not only affect residents, but a local school, whose pupils would be affected for their “entire primary school career”.  

London Bridge and West Bermondsey ward Councillor Humaira Ali said the scheme “does not cut the mustard”.  

“Snowfields and Bermondsey Street Village have very unique characteristics, not just in the fabric of the buildings but in the nature of the close-knit community and the very villagey feel.   

“Bringing a City of London-type shiny building into the direct context of the conservation area means that the feel would change irrevocably,” she said, raising as well the lack of green space.  

Commenting before the vote, Councillor Kath Whittam said she was “not happy” with the proposals. 

“The Victorian Society says the proposed buildings will be overbearing to the Horseshoe Inn and I agree entirely with that. 

“There’s only going to be between four and six metres away from the main building and it will be completely swallowed up,” she said. 

Cllr Whittam added: “I’m not happy with the demolition of the warehouse, the changes over time show its history, if we wipe that away then we are wiping out our history.” 

Barrie Hargrove said “the benefits [of the scheme] massively outweigh the harm”, and would bring economic vibrancy.  

Cllr Adele Morris, said she was “really torn”, but rejected the scheme on the grounds that it would have a negative impact on local people, on the conservation area, and that is was too big.  

“The impact on local people is going to be quite significant, the people who are living next door to it are least likely to feel the benefits of the scheme including the route through which may simply bring more people into the areas they currently live in,” she said.  

Cllr Margy Newens, said she was “not torn at all”, and rejected the scheme over size and failure to reflect heritage. 

Cllr Damian O’Brien and Cllr Catherine Rose also rejected the application, while chair Martin Seaton backed the proposals.  

Cllr Whittam put forward a motion to reject the application, which was approved unanimously, on the grounds of “oppressive height, scale, and massing”, and resulting negative impact on the area.  

The committee was also due to look at another proposed development beside Vinegar Yard, but this was deferred so details on the conservation area could be gathered.