A development in Blackheath that will see trees cut down and leave disabled residents in darkness was criticised in light of the conclusion of Ella Kissi-Debrah’s inquest.

The nine-year-old, who lived near the South Circular in Lewisham, became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on Wednesday (December 16).

Assistant Coroner Philip Barlow concluded that traffic fumes, which exceeded World Health Organization guidelines, contributed to Ella’s death.

On the same day Lewisham’s strategic planning committee approved a planning application for Blackheath Business Estate.

Members were tied four against and four in support, but the casting vote from the chair approved the plans.

GS8 and Vabel plan to build 63 flats in two blocks of nine and seven storeys, along with a four-storey workspace building.

To do this they will demolish the current commercial units, along with 36 mature trees, which are set to be replaced.

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The developer’s consultant ecologist – who did not attend the meeting – concluded the trees were of “low quality”.

But this was at odds with the council’s own tree expert, who concluded: “The proposal will be detrimental to landscape amenity and landscape character in this part of Blackheath adjacent to a wooded escarpment site of importance for nature conservation (SINC) and where the site contributes to the setting to the Blackheath Conservation Area.”

The site is also next to the A2, which one councillor said “never stops, it’s constant traffic”.

Referring to the tree officer’s conclusion, committee member Cllr Liam Curran said: “[The trees] contribute to the importance of the hospital setting for the brain injury recovery centre and reduce air pollution from the heavily trafficked A2.”

He added: “On the day [that the coroner rules] that one of Lewisham’s residents, who lived adjacent to the South Circular, died as a direct result of poor air quality.

“And here we are chopping down 36 trees that the tree officer says contribute to air quality on one of the major arterial routes through Lewisham.”

Ben Spencer, co-founder of GS8, said: “We always look at retention as the first port of call but it was determined by our ecologist and our landscape gardeners […] that a lot of them have proved to be of a lower quality than could be retained.

“What we have done is retained portions of some of the dead log and some of the shrubbery which can be reused in the proposed development as new habitats.”

But Cllr Suzannah Clarke, who said she was “deeply troubled” about the trees, said she had great respect for the council’s tree officer.

“When you say the trees are not of standard, that’s not what she reports,” she said.

Mr Spencer said: “I would have hoped to have our ecologist here tonight but unfortunately he couldn’t make it.

“I can’t admit that I’m an expert in this field. I’m only going on the advice that I’ve been given and the advice is to the contrary of the tree officer.”

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Mr Spencer said the proposals include a 110 per cent increase in flexible workspace.

“In terms of design, the commercial building has been developed to be zero waste and energy positive, where we will reuse non-contaminated materials from the existing site in the finished building and produce more energy from renewable sources than it requires.

“This will allow our tenants, many of whom we expect to be small businesses, to operate with greatly reduced overheads,” he said.

The current businesses have first right of refusal for the new build.

Blackheath ward Cllr Amanda DeRyk spoke against the development, as well as a planning consultant, a resident, and the chair of the Blackheath Society.

People were concerned about the impact the development would have on families with special medical needs who live beside the site and will be faced with a large wall instead of trees where the office building will be.

Planning consultant Peter Hadley, representing the Blackheath’s residents group, said he knows the council has to meet housing targets.

“[However] the harm that is identified heavily outweigh the benefits,” he said.

He said flats would lose daylight and sunlight, which the applicant and planning officers, who recommended the plans, admit.

“Existing ground floor apartments in Chalkhill House and Cardinal House are positioned much lower than the application site and serve those with impaired mobility.

“These residents would see 100 per cent of their light loss,” Mr Hadley said.

The consultant said it was one of the worst applications he has ever seen.

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Residents with special medical needs will face the back of this building

A resident spoke on behalf of her neighbour who lives in the homes designated by Peabody as reserved for families with complex medical conditions, including those in wheelchairs.

“The proposed building would be so tall that a significant portion of us would be completely cut off from the very little natural light that we are getting now.

“Our bedrooms and kitchen would become unbearably dark, even in daytime,” she said.

She said the trees filter the air and support physical and mental health.

“This is significant, as many residents suffer from respiratory illnesses including my two small children,” she said.

The developer is planning to make the wall green – covered in vegetation – but objectors say it will be no replacement.

Cllr DeRyk, who urged members who were minded to approve not to do so until they had seen the site, said: “These are not affluent residents who can afford to move elsewhere, these are some of the borough’s residents with the most need and these are their homes.”

Councillors pushed for the development to be tenure blind – the flats are divided into 14 London Affordable Rent, six shared ownership, and 43 private.

Affordable tenants will be in one block, private in another.

Mr Spencer: “The only reason we’ve been driven down that route is because the housing associations always fear having to share service charges with a block that they don’t control.”

He added he would be willing to work with the council to help housing providers move past their concerns.

Cllr James-J Walsh asked for a condition to ensure that all residents have access to all amenity space, regardless of tenure.

Members went into private session to discuss legal advice on the strength of reasons for refusing the application.

Four hours after the meeting began, Cllr Leo Gibbons put forward a motion to approve the plans.

Cllr Curran, Cllr Clarke, Cllr Sakina Sheikh, and Cllr Kevin Bonavia voted against the motion.

Chair Cllr John Paschoud, Cllr Gibbons, Cllr Walsh, and Cllr Olurotimi Ogunbadewa supported the motion.

The Mayor of London must now agree the application.