A decision on "the most unpopular planning application" Lambeth has ever seen was deferred on Tuesday night, after hours of debate.

Plans to build a metal recycling centre in West Norwood were scrutinised intensely by Lambeth planning chiefs, but the council’s legal boss told members after three hours and 45 minutes that they had no choice but to defer the meeting.

Developer Urban & Provincial wants to construct a purpose-built 1,915sqm industrial shed for metal recycling, to be run by Southwark Metals, as well as an office building at the end of Windsor Grove.  

But locals are fiercely opposed to the plans, describing the site as a “monstrosity”, they say will put school children at risk of being knocked down and increase “toxic” air pollution.

Now more than 5,500 people have signed an online petition against the proposals. The planning application received 2,531 objections and four comments of support.

News Shopper: Plans to build a metal recycling centre in West Norwood were scrutinised intensely by Lambeth planning chiefsPlans to build a metal recycling centre in West Norwood were scrutinised intensely by Lambeth planning chiefs

One objector said there is “no benefit” for local communities.  Adding: “Only inconvenience, jamming of already congested roads, pollution, and respiratory problems.”

The street is bordered on one side by a residential estate and a Royal Mail delivery office on the other.  

The proposal, on the site of the former West Norwood Car Breakers, would allow 25,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) of material to be processed, while 78 vehicles are expected to enter and leave the site per day. 

The developer argues that Lambeth “faces a massive shortfall in being able to deal with the waste it produces”, and the centre will make a “significant contribution” to meeting local demand. 

Lambeth council officers say the development would have a “negligible” impact on air quality, will protect the nearby Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) through planting new shrubs and trees by developer, and highlighted that metal is 100 per cent recyclable.

The developers also plants to rehabilitate the SINC, with other measures such as installing bird boxes, hedgehog houses, invertebrate boxes, and log piles.

The site is located behind two schools, Kingswood Primary and Parks Campus.  Objectors at the meeting included a Royal Mail representative who said the site is “unsuitable” for such an increase in vehicles coming into the area.  

Two residents spoke against the plans.  

Mum Louise Galizia said: “Babies and children as well as adults with underlying health conditions are affected the most but air pollution damages everyone’s health. 

“Roads as polluted as main roads in Lambeth are known to cause irreversible stunted lung growth.” 

Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes objected at the meeting, as well as all three Gipsy Hill ward councillors.  Cllr Matthew Bennett said: “Never in my 11 years as a councillor have I known an application to be so universally opposed by residents right across the borough.” 

He added that local amenities would be affected by dust and vehicle fumes and that the impact on transport would be “permanent and negative”.  

Cllr Pete Elliott questioned why officers were recommending the plans despite such opposition.  

“The fact that Lambeth’s planning team is still supporting this application shows there is something wrong with democracy and the planning system in Lambeth,” he said, adding that the air quality is already bad in the area, with legal limits breached. 

He said there are no safe cycling routes nearby, while the plans would further endanger cyclists.  

Cllr Jane Pickard said the application is to sort and package metal from demolition sites across London for shipping overseas and “replaces the applicant’s massive former site in north Southwark”.  

“It does not increase metal recycling in London, so does not offset the extra road pollution,” she said.  

Sean Tickle, representing a consultant for the developer, said: “This is very much a question of planning balance, balancing the benefits against its effects.  

“Whilst developing an underused site such as this creates impacts to surrounding neighbours and introduces increased activities, it delivers significant benefits to the borough in terms of increased waste capacity, the reuse of a brownfield site in an industrial area, and it has global benefits in terms of carbon production.” 

The two main issues for the committee were increased traffic on the roads and air pollution.  

Before they ran out of time, committee members indicated they were either minded to reject the application or had concerns about it.  

Officers said the committee should defer as it did not have time to set out reasons for refusal.  

The deferred application is linked to another one, also from Urban & Provincial and yet to go before committee, to build more than 200 flats on a site currently used as a waste processing plant on Shakespeare Road in Herne Hill.