Opponents of controversial plans to redevelop an Orpington shopping centre, building around 900 flats, met in public to air their concerns.

More than 50 people gathered on December 3 to share their views on Areli Real Estate’s proposals, which would see the Walnuts Shopping Centre partly demolished, making way for four residential blocks, the tallest reaching 19 storeys.

The attendees agreed that the height of the development is "unacceptable" and would look "incongruous" with the Orpington skyline, while the density of flats would create a burden on local services.

A spokesperson for the group, named Nuts to the Walnuts, said: “Local residents are in favour of investment in our High Street and the provision of more affordable housing and council housing.

News Shopper: An indicative view from Homefield Rise (Areli Real Estate)An indicative view from Homefield Rise (Areli Real Estate)

“There are many who are worried that if the project goes ahead, it could negatively affect them and their families.

“We will continue to engage with local residents and hope that both our local conservative councillors and Areli will realise the extent of objections to the current plans and therefore revise the submission of the final planning application due in this month.”

Areli Real Estate is leading the project on behalf of global investment company Tikehau Capital, which acquired the shopping centre in 2019 for more than £30m.

Part of the existing buildings would be retained, according to the developer’s application for an environmental assessment, and the existing multi-storey car park would be extended.

Two smaller buildings, in addition to the tower blocks, would also be built - one two-storey and one nine-storey.

The total mixed-use development would create 100,000sqm of floorspace across the residential units, a new leisure centre, day care centre, office floor space and car parking, together with “new and enhanced public realm, access and connectivity across the site."

Residents claim the two tallest towers would be in breach of policy 48 of the local plan, which protects views by limiting the skyline.

Attendees expressed concerns over parking arrangements, pointing out that only 37 per cent of homes will be offered a space.

Concerns were also raised about the disruption to vital services, which will be closed during construction, such as the Saxon Centre, a daycare centre catering for elderly clients.

The closure of the Walnuts leisure centre during its redevelopment will also come at a cost to the local community, it was argued, who may be unable to afford private services elsewhere.

Particular concerns have been raised about the future of the O'Jays swimming club, which would require the pool to be rebuilt at the same size to allow competitive meetings, and deep enough for competitive diving.

Orpington Labour Party secretary Richard Honess, Liberal Democrats representative Rick Das, Sheila Brown from campaign group ‘Friends of the Earth’ and Steve Morris from the Orpington O’Jays were in attendance.

A spokesperson for Areli Real Estate previously told News Shopper: “Orpington is recognised in the London Plan as one of the 35 Major Town Centres in Greater London.

"Furthermore, the application submission will be accompanied by a comprehensive heritage, townscape and visual impact assessment, the viewpoints for which have been agreed with Council officers.

"This includes assessment of the relevant local viewpoints defined by Local Plan Policy 48.

"Our policy compliant scheme will ensure sufficient car parking spaces for both shoppers and residents, as well as 1,800 proposed cycle spaces.

"We will also have a number of car club spaces which we know are very popular for those who do not wish to own a car but would still like the option to drive.

"From the very start of the process, we have always made it clear that the new retail offer would be focused on quality, local, independent retailers, restaurants, bars and creatives.

"We firmly believe that local and independent occupiers reflect the future of the high streets and that this approach will provide Orpington with a distinctive and vibrant town centre.

"We continue to listen carefully to businesses, residents, both young and old, as we bring forward our £500m plans that are deliverable and offer significant benefits in order to create a vibrant town centre for people of all generations to live, work and enjoy.”

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