Old Kent Road Action Plan

Submission: Old Kent Road Area Action Plan consultation

This is not the way to do development. The Old Kent Road Area Action Plan has been ad-hoc, top-down and developer-led.

It is not too late to change course. Southwark, if it wishes to, can adopt a model of community-led development.

The worst assumption about the housing crisis is to think that local government is powerless. The retreat from developers at the Elephant & Castle was telling – almost overnight, an offer of 33 council homes shot up to more than 100. When planners show strength, a very different kind of development is possible.

The Old Kent Road plan has to be more ambitious.

It is an enormous project – a 20,000 home development spanning more than 20 years. It has to be done right.

Some concessions have been secured, but on the key tests of affordable homes, mixed communities and new infrastructure the plan still isn’t good enough.

The Old Kent Road is a real chance to show what community-led regeneration can do.

It’s a model that has built cohesive, balanced communities at Coin Street and Leathermarket – and built a lot of affordable new homes.

Their commitment to affordability, heritage and diversity is real, not tokenistic. With council support, that could be happening elsewhere.

Instead, it is the luxury-flat model that dominates. Southwark has to shift away from this. If it doesn’t, the political will for regeneration – already sagging – will be lost.


Mixed communities

The stand-out claim that this plan hits 35% affordable housing is a sad reflection of low expectations.

In response to the earlier round of consultation, residents called on the council to ‘go further, and adopt the Mayoral aspiration [to require] 50% affordable housing’. This is not an unreasonable ambition.

For renters, the plan aims for 1 in 10 homes at council rent and less than 1 in 5 at ‘living rent’ – capped at a third of average wages. That will not create genuinely mixed communities.


Mixed use

One of the biggest criticisms of the OKR Area Action Plan is the displacement of small businesses – especially local manufacturers. The area is home to hundreds of workshops and light industry.

‘Mixed use’ development – integrating affordable workshop space for existing firms with new housing – is not overly difficult. But it requires some resistance to housing developers. This plan still lacks a serious commitment to mixed use.


Green infrastructure

The plan rightly emphasises the need for a tube station at Bricklayers’ Arms. An extra station on the Bakerloo Line Extension is essential to the success of developments at both Old Kent Road and Elephant & Castle. The council has to be much more pro-active about securing the station though.

Southwark Council is placing a lot of eggs in the Bakerloo Line basket. Transporting the occupants of 20,000 new homes will require an enormous expansion in walking, cycling and bus use – or the Old Kent Road will soon become one of the most congested in London.

As Southwark Cyclists have said, it is essential to build cycle and pedestrian infrastructure as part of the plan. That means expanding the Santander public bike hire scheme to the area, building protected cycle lanes on key connecting roads (including the Old Kent Road itself), and improving pedestrian crossings all along the Old Kent Road.