Lewisham Council - Our statement on the demolition of the Bell Green gasholders

Lewisham Council statement on the demolition of the Bell Green gasholders

Published on 08 January 2019

We recognise the historic and cultural significance of the gasholders at Bell Green for Sydenham. On 26 July 2018, Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham, wrote to Southern Gas Networks (SGN) to make it clear he did not want to see the gasholders demolished as any part of the development on the site.

It is disappointing that SGN is yet to respond to this letter and the Mayor will be writing to them again to raise further concerns since raised by residents.

We are unable to prevent the demolition of the gasholders as they are not statutorily listed or within a conservation area. Their demolition can take place under a permitted development process - prior notification of demolition - where the only consideration upon which we can make our decision is the method of demolition. Under this process, the heritage significance of the gasholders is not a valid consideration.

Last year, the Council explored the possibility of imposing an Article 4 Direction on the gasholders to prevent their demolition. However, doing so could leave the Council liable to repay significant sums in compensation to SGN. This is money that could be better spent on frontline services that residents rely on.

Imposing an Article 4 Direction retrospectively, after SGN has been granted permission for the mode of demolishing the gasholders, would leave the Council open to a legal challenge for unreasonable behaviour and having to compensate the site owner.

On 11 April 2018 the Council initially refused prior approval for demolition as the details submitted in respect of traffic management, method of demolition, and remediation of contamination were inadequate. SGN submitted another application resolving these reasons for refusal and this was approved on 11 July 2018.

Former application to list the gas holders

An application was made to Historic England to statutorily list the structures. However, in April 2017 Historic England confirmed that, given the large number of gasholders throughout the country, the threshold for special interest is high, with only 16 designated examples in the country.

It was considered that the Bell Green examples were not more exemplar than other listed examples found in London and the rest of the country and therefore were not statutorily listed. During this period the applicant applied to Historic England for, and was granted, a Certificate of Immunity from listing. This prevents Historic England from listing the gasholders for a period of five years.

On a local level however, the Council do consider the gasholders to be of significant historic, social, and architectural value to the borough of Lewisham, representing a tangible industrial heritage within the borough’s wider townscape and skyline. For these reasons, we have locally listed the structures as non-designated heritage assets on our Local List. The significance and importance of the gasholders is detailed in the mayor and cabinet report of 25 October 2017 which approved their local listing.

Much work has gone into recording details of the gasholders, and producing plans and images for the Historic Environment Record, and these will go on the public record in due course. This was secured by us as a condition of the prior approval for demolition application. It is worth noting as well, that any further historic information can be submitted to the Historic Environment Record by anyone, and we would encourage those who hold any information to send it to the record or to the Council’s local history and archives centre.  SGN are open to retaining part of the structure on site to acknowledge the heritage of the gasholders. We are very supportive retaining part of the structure and has begun a dialogue with SGN as to the feasibility of this.

Lewisham Council consider the bowling green and tennis courts to form part of the curtilage to Livesey Hall, a Grade II listed building. However, there would not be any basis for us, as local planning authority, to require that SGN to delay demolition of the gasholders until it has a planning permission for development of the wider site. This is a decision for the landholder. We are expecting SGN to withdraw its planning appeal relating to the application refused by the Council in November 2017 for a retail store (Aldi) and SGN offices to be developed on the site of the gasholders and bowling green. This is because permission has recently been granted for the change of use of the former ‘Toys R Us’ unit at Bell Green to a food retail store for Aldi. The withdrawal of the appeal removes the current risk of redevelopment of the bowling green and provides an opportunity for us and SGN to work together on a masterplan for the site.

We are fully aware of the concerns of residents about the future of the gasholders at Bell Green, and look forward to working with the community to secure the future of the site. This is particularly in the context of the need to deliver much-needed affordable housing for local people, along with the new draft Local Plan, which will be going to public consultation early this year.

The work that SGN is set to start this week (7 January 2019) is for site set-up and other preparatory works, with actual dismantling of the gasholders not due to start for a few months. 



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