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Filter beds plan turned down

January 23, 2013

Report and photo by Alex Ritson:-

Approximately 180 people packed into the Council Chamber of the Guildhall last night at which the proposal to build  luxury floating homes on Surbiton’s historic filter beds site rejected.  Almost all of the people in the public gallery were opponents of the plans.

Council officials split the public debate ahead of the vote into five sections – history, river sports, ecology, metropolitan open land and any other business.  Both the opponents and the scheme’s backers were given five minutes to speak on each.  The main opposition arguments were these.

  • The scheme would destroy most of one of the most important and revolutionary pieces of public health engineering in the world.
  • It would have greatly narrowed the river at what was already one of its narrowest sections, making river sports difficult and dangerous.
  • The proposed nature reserve was tiny, and the developers had already done everything they could to destroy the wildlife on the site.
  • The site was Metropolitan Open Land – the equivalent of Green Belt – and should never be developed simply to make luxury homes.
  • The developers had written their own letters of support for the scheme, and then persuaded other people to sign them.

These claims were rejected be the developers, Hydro Properties, who had commissioned various reports from experts who contended that each of these claims in turn was wrong.  Their main argument was

  • that the site was a hostile and dangerous place to which the public had no access.
  • Building the luxury homes and a restaurant would generate an income which would allow at least a small part of the site to be opened up to the public.
  • A small brick building left over from the original development would be converted into a history centre, in which schoolchildren from future generations could learn about the importance of the site.

Councillors questioned both sides closely and critically.  One major issue which Cllr. Ken Smith (Con) and others raised concerned the requirement for developers of luxury homes to provide 50% of the site for affordable housing, to be used by Surbiton’s less affluent residents.  Hydro didn’t want affordable homes on its filter beds site, and instead intended to make a payment to allow for affordable homes to be built somewhere else.  Councillor Smith suggested that as the floating homes were likely to cost a million pounds each, this should equate to a contribution of around £32 million pounds.  Why, he asked, was the developer instead proposing to give barely £260,000 pounds for affordable housing – barely enough to buy an ex council flat in Kingston?

Councillors voted unanimously and regardless of party to refuse planning consent, prompting applause and cheers from the floor.  The one argument advanced by Hydro in support of the development that everyone agreed with was that the filter beds have been disused for far too long.

Editor’s note: This may not be the end of the matter. It is open to Hydro either to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against the decision or to make a fresh application with a modified plan. If they do the former an enquiry will be launched similar to the ones on Sunrise homes reported elsewhere on this site. If they do the latter the process just concluded will be gone through again. A new application may try to address the specific reasons for the rejection of this application.

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