A row over a Bermondsey development has escalated with local campaigners alleging that Shard developer Sellar has “vandalised” a heritage building to earn planning permission.
The Old Bermondsey Forum (OBF) and the Bermondsey Village Action Group (BVAG) are accusing Sellar of tearing out a hydraulic hoist from a historic warehouse in Vinegar Yard, near London Bridge train station.
The campaign groups, coordinated by property developer Russell Gray, recently discovered that the hoist, which was originally used to lift goods in and out of the building, had been removed. Pictures from 2012 show the hoist in good condition, but seven years later the application documents show it is no longer there.
Sellar have not responded to requests for comment from City A.M.
The allegations come ahead of a Southwark planning committee meeting which will consider two major developments in Bermondsey, including the partial demolition of the Vinegar Yard warehouse.
The property firm last year unveiled plans for the warehouse which would see an office and retail scheme, on land Sellar has owned since 2008. The council is set to approve Sellar’s proposals, having considered they are “compliant overall”.
OBF and BVAG allege that the removal of the hydraulic hoist help justify Sellar’s demolition to make way for a “restoration”, which would see a 17-floor tower block being built in the middle of the warehouse.
Property developer and campaigner Russell Gray told City A.M.: “That’s not restoring a building, it’s like leaving wallpaper outside a tower block. To heritage bodies it’s not a restoration.”
Sellar’s planning website claims the scheme would provide “modern and flexible office and co-working space” and that it will bring 1,600 new jobs to the area.
Heritage campaigners have expressed their dismay at Sellar’s current proposals. Last year the Victorian Society, a conservation charity, wrote to the council and said: “The removal of the roof, gutting of the interior, and demolition of the south wall in order to construct a 17 storey block within it demonstrates a complete indifference to the fabric and significance of the building.”
Historic England also expressed concerns in a letter to the council last year. It said: “The redevelopment of the site with a tall building of a very different scale would cause harm to the significance of the relatively low scale conservation area”.
However local campaigners are unconvinced the council will stand up to “demanding developers”, pointing to its decision to grant the construction of a 133m building by US developer Greystar.
In a committee report, Southwark council said: “The warehouse is currently vacant due to its poor state of repair and various structural issues.”
However, if the campaigners’ allegations prove correct it would suggest Sellar had deliberately destructed and neglected the building. This would break rules set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which state: “Where there is evidence of deliberate neglect of, or damage to, a heritage asset, the deteriorated state of the heritage asset should not be taken into account in any decision”.
As a result the OBF has called for the council to launch an inquiry to clarify the extent of any neglect or vandalism before a decision is made on its applications.
The OBF and Sellar are both expected to make representations to Southwark council this evening.
Southwark Council said it does not comment on ongoing planning proposals.