Following consultation with the developers, Bromley Lib Dems remain opposed to the development because of the height of the tower blocks, the impact on the leisure centre, lack of sufficient affordable housing and absence of plans for increased services (especially education and health) to support the 1200+ new residents in Orpington. Allowing a development of this size will be an open invitation to developments of a similar - or bigger - height.
On Thursday 21 October, Orpington residents had an opportunity to meet the professionals from Montagu Evans (planning consultants), Benoy Design (architects) and Areli Real Estate who are engaged in the producing the plans to revitalise the Walnuts Shopping Centre. It is essentially a high rise residential development, with almost 1000 new units.
There was a mixed response from residents with many expressing deep concern about the proposed height (now reduced by the developers from the initial 25 storey block to 19 storeys) of the main buildings, as well as the general impact on services and congestion in the town.
The developer promises to relocate on the market square a “state of the art” leisure centre in place of the current facility, and we are very happy about the proposed street level access, although are concerned about the shortened swimming pool, which will comply with Sport England’s requirement for competition pools.
In terms of prices the developers are mooting prices at £325,000 for a 1 bedroom flat and £450,000 for a two bedroom flat – dependent on market conditions, possibly with local residents being given priority. There will be approximately 350 car parking places allocated for residents, including environmentally motivated measures such as car club and electric charging points. The existing Walnuts car park will be kept for visitors to the shopping centre, but with a different access route.
Bromley Lib Dems are opposed to the plans in their current form, and will argue for the developers to address the following points:
- Reduce the height of the main buildings further – the blocks should be broadly no more than the height of Orpington College (itself higher than all residential buildings). There is a danger that the more high rise towers gain planning consent, the more likely it is that other developers will obtain consent for similar high rise blocks – and in a few years the character of the town will have been irredeemably harmed.
- Take on board residents' concerns about the leisure centre – this is one of the biggest leisure centres in Bromley, and a much valued community asset, and should be replaced on a “like for like” basis.
- Affordable Housing – the development will include about 10 – 20% affordable housing, split roughly between social rent and shared ownership property. We need the share to be at the 20% level minimum and we would support housing being allocated for key workers, which is not part of the current plans.
- Environmental concerns are not addressed, both in terms of making sure the construction is carried out with sustainability being a paramount concern and providing details of the energy efficiency standards being followed in the flats themselves.
Many questions remain to be answered and the scheme will need rigorous assessment when the application comes before the Council. There is no doubt that Orpington could benefit from further investment in the Walnuts Centre – which has been enhanced by the creation of the cinema and the Premier Inn a few years ago, but it is a question of getting the right scheme which works for residents, as well as the developer.
The proposed development therefore represents both an opportunity for the town and a risk – construction will involve a minimum of two years disruption. The final result will have an impact on our town’s environment long after Tikehau Capital, the ultimate owner, has exited their investment. It is a concern that the developers initially came forward with a plan for 25 storey block – as it seems unlikely that they would have done this without having had some discussion with Bromley Council first, suggesting the Council is open to very high rise development in Orpington, this perhaps being the first of a number. A clearer plan is needed for Orpington generally so that residents can be reassured that this is not the case.