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Regeneration: former biscuit factory to be transformed into 1,500 homes

Under plans approved this week by Jules Pipe, the Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, the site of a former biscuit factory in Southwark is ready to be transformed into more than 1,500 homes and new buildings for a local secondary school.

Every single one of the 1,548 new homes to be built as part of the redevelopment of the ‘Biscuit Factory’ and ‘Bermondsey Campus’ in Southwark will be for the rental market. Some 35% will be designated as affordable housing, including homes at social rent levels.

The proposals will also include new facilities for the Compass Secondary School and flexible commercial space, including affordable workspaces. Additionally, two new pedestrian routes through nearby railway arches will be created.

The scheme was previously refused planning permission by Southwark Council in February 2019, with the authority stating that the plans would not deliver enough affordable housing and that the homes would not be of a high enough quality.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, spotted the application last May and decided to step in to subject it to further scrutiny. Since Khan’s intervention, the number of homes has been upped from 1,342 to 1,548, with the level of affordable housing also boosted from 27.5% to 35%.

Of the affordable homes on offer, some 342 are set to be provided at discount market rent (a level of rent ‘significantly below’ the market average) and 140 at social rent levels, for tenants referred via the local authority.

“The site has the potential to deliver more than 1,500 new homes in an area of London with a high demand for affordable housing, close to transport links and central London,” Pipe said.

“It will also provide new facilities for a secondary school which is currently housed in dated buildings. Overall, it would make a significant contribution towards the regeneration of this part of Bermondsey. Having considered all the evidence available to me, I have decided to approve this application.”

It means City Hall have effectively overruled Southwark Council, whose planning committee unanimously threw out the planning application last year over concerns about the number of affordable homes, when it comes to the £500 million development on the site of the former Peek Frean biscuit factory – a ‘world-renowned biscuit maker’ that earned Bermondsey the nickname of ‘Biscuit Town’.

Ward councillors and Southwark Council have still voiced concerns that the ‘affordable’ homes are not truly affordable for Bermondsey residents, and argue that the 140 social homes fall short of the minimum number demanded by planning policy.

“While we all recognize the housing crisis and the need to build homes, that cannot be pursued at the expense of building the homes that people can actually afford to live in,” Cllr Hamish McCallum, (Lib Dem, North Bermondsey), commented.

“Who will these ‘affordable’ properties be ‘affordable’ to – because it certainly won’t be my constituents?”

He said of the recent decision: “This will obviously be a huge disappointment to hundreds of local residents who will be impacted by the heights and other impacts of this scheme.”

The scheme is being developed by Grosvenor, a group which develops, manages and invests in property in over 60 cites across the globe, and is helmed by the billionaire Duke of Westminster. It was responsible for the development of Mayfair in the 1720s and Belgravia a century later.

Simon Harding-Roots, Grosvenor’s executive director of Major Projects, said the company was committed to bringing ‘lasting social and commercial benefit to the communities where we work.”

“We are committed to the area and will ensure that the transformation of the Biscuit Factory happens quickly and directly supports all those living and working in this part of the borough.”

The original Peak Freen biscuit factory opened in Dockhead, Bermondsey in 1857, when James Peek – already a well-off tea importer – opened a biscuit factory in a former sugar refinery. He was joined in 1860 by a relative, George Hender Frean, and they began exporting biscuits to Australia the next year.

The current site, adjacent to a railway viaduct on Drummond Road, was opened in 1866-1867 as James Carr joined the firm as an apprentice. Once one of the biggest suppliers of biscuits in the UK, it was still the biggest Christmas pudding maker in England in 1984, but by the late 1980s it was starting to struggle. It was purchased by Nabisco and then Danone, but in 1989 – with biscuit sales declining and manufacturing running at only 50% - the factory was closed with the loss of 1,000 jobs.

It’s been used as a business complex since, but will now be converted into one of London’s largest rental schemes in a part of the capital that has come to define hipster living in recent years.

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