Planners in Southwark are moving to restrict the conversion of railway arches, amid concerns many will be turned into homes.
The move will withdraw permitted development rights, currently in place, which allow such arches to be converted to residential use without the need for planning permission. The council, which has around 800 arches in its borough, is concerned that such conversions remove valuable commercial space; it also views many such arches as being inappropriate places for homes, as many suffer from damp, vibration and noise issues. An Article 4 direction will trump the government’s permitted rights, stopping such conversions from freely taking place.
The borough’s planning director, Simon Bevan, added: “In many areas in Southwark, multiple lines pass over the arches, particularly on the north-south routes to London Bridge station. Occupiers would be subject to regular train movements overhead, posing potential significant noise and vibration issues.”
“The railway arches around Southwark have such great potential to be turned into busy, thriving shops, workshops, cafes or community facilities that draw people down into the borough,” added councillor Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration and new homes.
“In Elephant and Castle in particular we have a vision of creating a ‘low line’ or series of shops and cafes in the arches that people can walk down from the river to our new town centre at the Elephant.
“Putting homes in these arches will have a direct impact on the surrounding communities as well as being wholly unsuitable locations for people to live, and the council just wants to make sure that any such proposals receive the proper consultation and consideration they should have.”
However, the move has not impressed everyone, not least architects who have enjoyed the challenge of creating homes from arches. Didier Ryan of Undercurrent Architects, who told the London Standard the move was a “reactive policy decision to thwart private initiatives”. Ryan’s practice won a 2013 award for its creation of a home under arches in Southwark, about which he commented: “It’s possible to do something very exceptional with very difficult conditions. We had a tough site but problems can create very positive results.”
LPA Perspective: It is clear that many railway arches are damp, dark and probably do not make great places to live. Put aside the technical solutions to dampness, they remain prone to vibration and generally are challenged when it comes to getting natural light into them. So fundamentally, they are not great places to live – and are far better suited to the storage of scaffolding, or similar industrial uses.
And, as has been seen with permitted development and office buildings, the impact of allowing commercial building stock to be taken out of commercial use, is that businesses find it harder, and more expensive, to track down a suitable place in the capital from which to operate.
On balance, then, it appears to make sense for planners to adjudicate. Without their intervention, hundreds of damp, dark – and unhealthy – homes could be created.