Plans for 110 new social homes to be let at target rent in Forest Hill were approved by a Lewisham planning committee on Thursday (August 27).  

The City of London Corporation’s proposals for Sydenham Hill Estate, which will see Mais House and 38 garages in Otto Close knocked down, were approved despite concerns about disabled access – which is non-compliant in a part of the development – and the density of the build. 

Concerns were also raised about the pressure on local schools, GPs, and amenities. The applicant told the committee that there was enough availability in the area, though this was disputed by an objector.  

More than 200 objections were submitted, including from the Forest Hill Society, the Sydenham Society, and Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes.   

Objectors said the plans would put nature and the conservation area at risk.  

A resident of Lammas Green spoke at the meeting and said, though locals supported social housing, the scale of the scheme was “hugely inappropriate” for the area.  

He said it included a “startling” 100 habitable rooms beyond the maximum threshold for suburban development, and would involve the loss of green space, privacy, and light for nearby residents.  

But planning officers and committee members felt “on balance” the need for social housing was too important.  

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The scheme 

Between two and four storeys, Mais House is a block of 63 flats designed for older people but empty since 2018 when residents were relocated.   

Its proposed replacement, made up of 99 flats, will see the height rise to seven storeys.  

Mais House and Grade II listed Lammas Green beside it lie within the Sydenham Hill Conservation Area.  

The Otto Close garages will be rebuilt as a part two and three-storey terrace block with 11 houses.  

The homes will include 47 one-beds, 41 two-beds, 11 three-beds and 11 four-beds – Lewisham will be able to choose 50 per cent of the residents. 

The plans also include a community room, estate office, and new children’s play area.  

Randall Anderson, speaking for the applicant, said the scheme would deliver “much needed homes for social rent”.  

“With over 10,000 people on the waiting list for homes in Lewisham and 50 per cent of the schemes nominations rights sitting with Lewisham we can go some way to help reduce that number and, crucially, put roofs over people’s heads,” he said.  

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The planned terraced houses in Otto Close

Disabled access 

Planning officer David Robinson said “the impact […] on disabled and elderly persons both living in and visiting the development” was “fully considered” and it was acknowledged that Otto Close would not be gradient-complaint.  

“However, the post-scheme proposes 11 wheelchair user dwellings, equivalent to the 10 per cent required, within Mais House and to the upper end of the site where compliant and step-free access and wheelchair parking would be provided,” he said.  

Mr Robinson said it was “not physically possible” to be compliant in that area.  

“If we weren’t to develop this part of the site because of that it would result in the loss of 11 family socially rented units – that’s the only other alternative we have here so it is a balance.  

“We understand that it’s not desirable, we don’t want to be recommending applications for approval that aren’t fully compliant but that is the situation we’re in here, as unfortunate as it is,” Mr Robinson said.  

Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall, not a committee member, made a representation on behalf of the chair of the council’s disabled people’s commission, Jamie Hale.  

He said: “As a wheelchair-using Lewisham resident and chair of Lewisham disabled people’s commission, I both recognise the urgent need for further social housing, especially accessible housing, but also the risks – practical and in terms of social isolation – that this development carries.  

“Regardless of the paths they’re replacing, having paths with a gradient of over the recommended 1:12 both risks injury to people whose mobility aids may tip over, and will serve to restrict full access to the development for disabled residents.  

“At a time when Lewisham Council is truly committed to ensuring that the voices of disabled residents are heard at every level, it seems essential to me that full discussion with disabled experts takes place on these plans as we progress in the delivery of this social housing.” 

Cllr Hall asked that a “proper” qualities impact assessment be undertaken.  

Chair James-J Walsh had asked for advice to ensure the application was not be breaking any laws on the wheelchair access, or in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act if the plans were approved.  

The legal officer said the council would need to take into account the impact on people with protected characteristics, but as long as members have “enough information to consider the impact and assess it and weigh it against the other material planning considerations, they would be fulfilling their obligation”. 

When later putting forward a motion to approve the plans, Cllr Obajimi Adefiranye said the development was the kind “that we terribly need in Lewisham”. 

The plans were approved unanimously.