Bermondsey build to rent: Duke of Westminster’s £500m plans for ‘renters’ campus’ on former custard cream factory site set to crumble

The Duke of Westminster’s plans to turn the former Peek Freans biscuit factory in Bermondsey into a vast “renters campus” are set to be dashed at a planning meeting tonight after claims that the scheme near the Shard will create a “ghetto” of wealthy and transient tenants.

Southwark council is expected to throw out the £500 million plan to redevelop the site — where for more than 130 years, chocolate bourbon, custard cream and Garibaldi biscuits were made — with 1,300 rental homes in a string of towers of up to 28 storeys, plus shops, restaurants, bars, offices and a new secondary school.

A report by Simon Bevan, the council’s director of planning, concludes that not only does the proposal include insufficient “affordable” housing, but the lower-cost homes it does contain would be too expensive for “those in greatest housing need”.

Bevan is concerned at the number of flats planned on the 15-acre site, and says a significant proportion do not have private outside space. He also warns that the roads through the site contain blind spots that could potentially endanger pedestrians.

The biggest bone of contention is the offer that 27.5 per cent of the flats be “affordable” and let at an average discount of 25 per cent to priced-out renters who could otherwise not afford to live in Bermondsey. Southwark has a policy that new developments should contain 35 per cent affordable homes.

Bevan points out that even a 25 per cent discount would still exclude average earners. Two-bedroom affordable flats at the development would cost £1,742 a month, or £27,144 per year.

“If you assume that rent cost should not exceed 40 per cent of net income, then the maximum rent affordable to a couple on a joint household income of £78,000 would be £21,840,” he says.

One-bedroom flats would cost £1,508 a month, and three-bedroom flats £1,894 a month.

The plans are proposed by the Grosvenor Estate, which manages the land portfolio of Hugh Grosvenor, 28, who is 7th Duke of Westminster. With an estimated £9 billion fortune, he is the world’s wealthiest person under 30.

The estate insists its project will deliver badly need jobs, regeneration, and provide homes for people “from a wide cross-section of the community with an emphasis on local people”.

However, more than 150 local residents and business owners have objected to the proposals, alongside the three ward councillors Anood Al-Samerai, Eliza Mann, and Hamish McCallum who voiced “frustration” that, despite four years of local consultation, Grosvenor had only recently mentioned the “unacceptable” height of the buildings planned.

The councillors echoed Bevan’s concern over affordable housing. “We are outraged that Grosvenor’s planning application does not meet the council’s policy of 35 per cent ‘affordable’ housing,” they said.

“We are also concerned that the ‘affordable’ rents they are proposing are not really affordable.

“We also want to see priority for the new homes given to existing Bermondsey residents as they are the ones who will put up with the disruption.”

Other objectors were blunter in their condemnation of the project, one describing it as “a money-grabbing exercise” and another predicting it would become “high-end rental for the few” and a “ghetto of transient population”.

Craig McWilliam, chief executive of Grosvenor, Britain & Ireland, said the council’s response was “disappointing” but acknowledged that “difficult choices” had to be made when designing a viable project.

“Our proposals are for a neighbourhood that is accessible to the growing majority of Londoners who simply cannot afford to buy, do not qualify for social housing and want the advantages of a secure professionally managed home to rent.

 “This includes Southwark’s many health, education, public order and fire service workers who could, through our proposals, afford to live close to where they work.”

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