Today, I have written to Bromley Council to oppose the Areli Real Estate planning application to redevelop the Walnut Centre in Orpington.
Although I do believe that Orpington could benefit from regeneration, these particular proposals are not suitable for the town centre. Nor do residents support these proposals, as the number of objections submitted to Bromley Council make clear.
Before writing my response to the planning application, I asked constituents for their views. I received 1,030 responses to my online survey or via email. They were overwhelmingly opposed to the application, with 901 writing in opposition and only 71 supporting the proposals. The remaining 58 were undecided or did not express a firm view.
I want to thank everyone who took the time to tell me their views on the development. I have included the common thoughts and concerns residents have raised with me in my letter to Bromley Council.
Before I outline my objection, I would like to say there are positive aspects to the application. The development would not only be a significant investment in the town, but it could deliver an improved market and town square. This could benefit the high street and boost community spirit in Orpington. A new Saxon Day Centre and improved leisure centre would also be welcome. However, my concerns outweigh the possible benefits.
My main reason for objecting to the application is the sheer bulk, size and scale of the development proposed. These proposals would erect fifteen new buildings, ranging from four to 19 stories. Eight blocks would be above ten stories tall.
Orpington is a suburban town that is more akin to Kent than a metropolitan city centre. The proposed development is not in keeping with that unique character. As well as being at odds with the surrounding area and the proposals exceed planning guidance for the town centre.
I also raised concerns about redeveloping the Walnuts Leisure Centre. While new facilities would be welcome and I believe compliant with planning policy, the prolonged closure with no alternative would impact local people who use the facility.
It would also significantly impact Orpington Ojays Swimming Club, which has existed for almost fifty years. When I met with the club recently, they made it clear they will not survive the length of closure required by the plans.
It is also not clear that the new facilities would be a higher specification of the existing leisure centre. Disappointingly, the swimming facilities do not appear adequate to hold competitions despite a regulation length 25-metre pool being proposed.
In my objection letter, I made it clear that I expect them to address these concerns if this development is approved. The construction of the leisure centre would have to be prioritised, completed at the earliest stage in the development, and swimming facilities improved as a condition of planning permission.
I also raised concerns around parking. Unfortunately, the Mayor of London's London Plan would require no parking spaces for this development. This would supersede Bromley Council's parking requirements which this application does not meet.
The development would retain the multi-story car park but reduce the commercial parking at the shopping centre by 225 spaces. These spaces would be reserved for residential parking, with an additional 122 spaces created. This means a total of 347 spaces for 989 flats.
This is an insufficient number for Orpington. While we have a good mainline rail service into central London, people rely on their vehicles to travel within the borough and neighbouring counties. Residents are just as likely to travel out as they are in. That's why I believe the application is wrong to assume that residents will not require more parking spaces.
As Orpington's Member of Parliament, I do not have the power to decide this application or direct Councillors to oppose it. However, for the reasons I have set out, I do urge the Council to reject it in its current form.
Bromley Council's consultation is open until Wednesday, 23rd February. I urge you to respond and have your say.