For those of us who live on the North/North-West side of Herne Hill, and for the many more who use Herne Hill Station, the familiar close horizon has been brutally and unexpectedly disturbed by a huge and intrusive new housing development.
For many years – probably for ever, in fact – we have enjoyed fairly open skies. With the exception of the two post-war tower blocks facing Brockwell Park, there have been no very tall buildings either in Herne Hill itself or on the horizon, until the eye reaches the distant new towers of Vauxhall, Blackfriars and The Shard, and the City. As we wandered down Kestrel Avenue from Herne Hill, the tallest object we could see on the skyline was Battersea Power Station with its iconic white chimneys.
That is so last year! Battersea Power Station has been blotted out. Now, anyone walking down Kestrel Avenue is assaulted by a massive new apartment block. It crouches just over the Herne Hill border, neighbouring the Ark Evelyn Grace Academy and sandwiched between Shakespeare Road, Loughborough Park and the Thameslink railway track. But its presence now dominates the whole horizon in that direction.
What is it? Loughborough Park, once a prewar and relatively un-dense social housing estate managed by the Guinness Trust, has been in the throes of redevelopment for some years, at the behest of Lambeth Council. Controversially, the old tenants were “persuaded” to vacate their properties to allow redevelopment: Brixton Buzz had a typically partisan but probably accurate account of the process in 2015.
The Loughborough Park development, being carried out and managed by Guinness Homes Ltd, is an ambitious one. It will provide 487 new apartments, accessed on a social rent, “affordable” rent or shared ownership basis. Some of the blocks, visible from the train, are already in occupation: the whole thing is due for completion by 2019. The 133 apartments offering shared ownership are being marketed under the apparently enticing strapline “Electric Quarter”. The others seem to have no such fancy label. The huge block that now looms on our horizon appears to be one of those.
The need for new housing in London is undeniable. Our city’s population is expected to reach more than nine million by 2020 – an increase of 14 per cent in a decade – pushed up by immigration and rising birth rates. And in a further decade London will be home to more than 10 million people as it continues to draw in migrants and generate young families.
So we must resign ourselves, here in Herne Hill, to a blighted horizon and, once this giant block is occupied, by significant nighttime light pollution. But one weeps especially for the residents of the northern segments of Shakespeare Road and Mayall Road, whose rear-facing outlooks must now be ruined forever by these huge blocks.