A controversial development, permission for which was quashed by a High Court judge, has again been approved by a Lewisham planning committee. 

See related: Sydenham Hill Estate: High Court orders consent quashed 

City of London’s plans for 110 social homes on the Sydenham Hill Estate only received one letter of support, compared to more than 200 objections.  

The strategic planning committee voted to approve the plans five to one on Tuesday night (June 29).  

Members felt the need to house homeless families was more important than problems related to the development. They spoke of the “massive need for decent social housing”.  

Mais House, a block of flats empty since 2018, will be demolished and replaced by a part four, six, and seven-storey building of 99 flats.  

The height increase of three storeys is an issue for residents.    

Mais House and Lammas Green beside it lie within the Sydenham Hill Conservation Area, as does most of Otto Close, a two-storey block made up of 30 homes, which sits next to 38 garages.   

The garages will be knocked down and replaced with a part two and three-storey terrace block with 11 houses. 

All the new homes, including studios, one beds, two beds, and family-sized units, will be let at target rent, half to Lewisham residents.

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The decision, the second on the plans, came five weeks after a High Court Judge ordered that the initial one be scrapped.  

See related: Lewisham: Sydenham Hill Estate plans back to committee 

Local group Friends of Mais House successful campaigned for a judicial review into the planning approval last August and Mrs Justice Land ruled on May 18 that it should be quashed after “significant errors made by the council”. 

She ruled that not enough weight was given to harm to heritage assets, the conservation officer’s advice was not taken into account, and background papers were not made available.   

FoMH described the win as a “David v Goliath move” and urged City of London to produce a new scheme by “working collaboratively” with residents. 

But they were “disappointed” after Lewisham scheduled the meeting to decide on the plans so quickly, while objectors and members had to grapple with 42 documents posted online just a week, and in some cases a few days, before June 29.  

The scheme was exactly the same as the one previously proposed, but the planning officers’ report was nearly 40 pages longer than the previous. 

It included more information on heritage and significantly more input from the council’s senior conservation officer, tree officer, ecological regeneration manager, and sustainability manager. It also referenced the reasons for the council’s loss in court.   

Several issues were raised by officers including the “insensitively high” proposed six-storey building in the development and the “detrimental” loss of trees and green space.  

A major issue of contention throughout has been the loss of 19 trees, some mature.  

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City of London plans to plant 45, but Lewisham’s principal planning officer acknowledged last night it will take years to replace the benefits of the current trees.  

Led by Cllr Kevin Bonavia, the committee agreed to strengthen a condition to the development that would mean the planted trees would be monitored in perpetuity.  

The issue of wheelchair access came up again last night – 11 flats in the proposed Mais House replacement building has access, but the family homes planned for Otto Close does not.  

But David Robinson, principal planning officer, said: “The topography of the [Otto Close] site doesn’t allow for building regulation compliance.” 


Throughout, locals have felt they haven’t been listened to.  

But Kieran Rushe, planning consultant representing City of London, said the opposite. 

He told the committee: “This is reflected in over 40 separate consultation events, including a regular residents steering group.  

“Over the course of the consultation period, there have been many changes to the scheme in response to feedback.  

“The height was reduced and the number of homes went from 150 originally down to 110.  

“We’ve also removed the previously proposed basement carpark and redevelopment of the ball court as a direct result of listening to residents.” 

Randall Anderson, for City of London, also said that if the scheme was reduced any more it would “not be viable”.  

“This is at the very edge of what we can afford,” he said.  

Helen Kinsey, a member of the FoMH and a tenant severely affected by the plans, spoke at the meeting and spoke against the felling of “much-loved trees” that children play in.

She said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of green space for health and wellbeing and that there is an ongoing mental health crisis. Ms Kinsey said not enough time was given to go through the documents. 

She said: “Residents feel a grave injustice regarding the consultation process, which we feel has been a tick-box exercise.  

“We urge you to review the scale and height.” 

Ms Kinsey, who has been twice homeless herself, said the community backs social housing but that the estate and local amenities cannot support so many new homes.  

Richard Harwood QC, who represented Ms Kinsey in court, said at the meeting: “This committee knows quite a few things which the previous committee didn’t.  

“It knows that the conservation officer objects, it knows that there would be a moderate to high degree of harm to the conservation area, that there will be a moderate degree of harm to listed buildings.” 

He urged the committee to refuse the application.  

Cllr James-J Walsh pressed the objectors on what they said was “limited engagement” with residents and asked “what they expected”.  

He said: “My heart goes out tonight to the 10,000 people on our waiting list who are living in hostels.  

“You mentioned the mental health crisis and one of the things that is objectively and extraordinarily adding to that is the amount of people that are living in hostel accommodation, cramped conditions, and have no security of tenure.” 

Ms Kinsey said: “There needs to be a far more progressive, visionary way of thinking how we can build social housing in London, not simply cramming us all on top of each other.  

“I’m totally with you, I really think that we need social housing, but in this particular area five storeys would be more acceptable and [we should] keep those trees that the children play in. 

“The application simply needs a bit of tweaking.” 

Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall, not a committee member, also spoke at the meeting.

He made a representation on behalf of the chair of the council’s disabled people’s commission at the meeting last August.  

On Tuesday he said MP Ellie Reeves had asked the committee to reject the application until planning officers could work with the community to come up with a solution.  

Cllr Hall said the council should remember Mrs Justice Lang’s judgement and said: “When she did that she said that basically the council had acted unlawfully.” 

He said as a result more time to “interrogate”  the documents should be allowed.  

Cllr Hall also asked “ who exactly is in favour of this application”.

Mr Robinson later said there was one letter of support for the development.  

Cllr Stephen Penfold, who voted against the application, raised concerns about why so little time was given between the publication of the documents and the decision date.  

The council’s legal advisor told him: “It is the view of the council and it is my view that those documents have been made available in sufficient time, within what it required by legislation.” 

He added that it was a “matter to take up with national Government”.