A community group hopes to take Lewisham Council to the High Court over a planning decision they say is unlawful and will harm the local area.  

In August, a Lewisham planning committee approved an application from City of London Corporation to build 110 new social homes on the Sydenham Hill Estate, with the decision officially published in November. 

See related: New social housing approved for Forest Hill 

As per an agreement with the council, half of the homes will be let to Lewisham residents.  

The proposals will see Mais House, formerly sheltered housing, and 38 garages in Otto Close knocked down.    

The proposed replacement for Mais House, made up of 99 flats, will see the height rise to seven storeys.   

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The plans 

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

Residents spoke against the scheme at the planning meeting, concerned about density, pressure on amenities, disabled access, and the impact the development would have on Grade II listed Lammas Green and the conservation area.  

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

Since then, Friends of Mais House has been mounting a legal challenge to the decision. 

The group is seeking a Judicial Review on various grounds – they say the council failed to take into account the harm the development would do to Lammas Green and the conservation area.  

They argue that the council failed to take into account that its own conservation and urban design officer objected to the scheme and “omitted significant parts of her advice”.  

They argue that the committee was not told that the Twentieth Century Society had objected to the scheme, and that the council failed to make all background papers available.  

Although FoMH backs new social homes, they feel the consultation was poor and that City of London imposed what it wanted to do on residents, rather than listen to them.  

They feel residents in Mais House were misled, as they were initially told the building would be refurbished not knocked down. 

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Lammas Green in the snow

FoMH member Mary McKernan told the local democracy service that the proposed development is totally out of character with the area. 

“No one on the estate has said that they wouldn’t want some sort of development, but the scale of it is massive.  

“It bears no resemblance to what’s there already and [there was] no thought for the effect on the existing community on the estate and around the estate,” she said.   

Ms McKernan said the City of London held “presentations rather than consultations”.  

“Action on the feedback was never really taken. 

“It was never a genuine attempt to sit down with the residents and come up with a solution that the residents would be happy with,” she said.  

Residents also feel they have been kept in the dark. 

Ms McKernan said: “We’ve never had reports to show that the housing has to be on the scale that it is.  

“We’ve never had reports to show exactly why it wasn’t possible to refurbish Mais House.  

“There is this wall of secrecy with the City.” 

If the judge grants a judicial review, FoMH is hoping that permission for the development will be overturned.  

“We’re hoping that the scheme will be quashed and that the City will sit down and work on a co-design with the estate residents.” 

FoMH also wants a residents ballot on the development, though City of London isn’t obliged to because of the number of homes. 

The Corporation is receiving funding from the Greater London Authority (GLA) for the housing, but the GLA only requires a ballot with developments of 150 or more units.  

“I’m quite sure, knowing what the feeling is on the estate, that it wouldn’t have been voted for,” Ms McKernan said.  

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Trees set to be cut down 

While mature trees will be cut down if the plans go ahead, the group is also concerned about Sydenham Hill Woods.

“It’s a remnant of the Great North Wood. It’s ancient and it’s absolutely beautiful – that’s going to be really damaged by this massive development. 

“The wildlife corridor being built over, the bat roosts, the owls – all that is going to be lost.  

“And then the most important thing is the impact on the people,” Ms McKernan said.  

FoMH has been raising funds for legal fees, so far reaching more than £8,600.

But they need to reach a target of £12,000 by January 26 to  ensure they can pay their lawyers for the next stage. 

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Responding to the planned legal action, Cllr Paul Bell, cabinet member for housing and planning, said the development will provide new social housing for Lewisham residents.  

He said: “The planning process followed an extensive programme of consultation with the local community and key stakeholders, giving them the opportunity to feedback on plans throughout the design process.  

“The successful planning application was assessed in accordance with the relevant planning policy, taking all relevant planning considerations into account, including those points raised by Friends of Mais House. 

“It will mean a change in the local area and we recognise that. Homelessness, severe overcrowding and a lack of secure, decent and genuinely affordable housing means we need new homes as soon as possible.” 

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “The scheme reflects what is needed locally and will make a positive contribution towards alleviating Lewisham’s housing shortage.

“This site, with Lewisham’s approval, permits us to create affordable homes for social rent for people who need a place to live.”