A Texan socialite and DJ has won his battle to build a 20-storey office block in south London, against the objections of anti-gentrification campaigners and the local community.
The decision to allow Taylor McWilliams, the director of developer Hondo Enterprises, to develop the tower block came after a three-hour virtual meeting by councillors on Tuesday night.
Hondo Enterprises also owns Brixton Market and other sites in the area, such as the now-closed Club 414. The proposal is backed by American investment fund Angelo Gordon and designed by British architect Sir David Adjaye.
Campaigners objected to the plans on the basis it would threaten local businesses and the character of Brixton, signifying a continued wave of gentrification that has swept through the area. Groups opposing the plans also claimed that the height of the tower breaches Lambeth Council’s policy on tall buildings, due to the site’s proximity to conservation areas, and feared depleting office demand during the coronavirus pandemic would leave the building empty, allowing the potential for office space to be turned into flats under Permitted Development Rights.
Before the meeting on Tuesday night, almost 2,000 opposition comments had been submitted as part of the online consultation, and a petition opposing the tower had reached almost 8,000 signatures. Only 260 comments in support had been submitted. Other opposition came from Historic England, The Brixton Society, local MP Helen Hayes, and local councillor Scarlett O'Hara.
After over three hours of deliberation, the vote was tied three-three between councillors, with the deciding vote falling to councillor Clair Wilcox, who eventually supported the proposal.
According to the planning permission, the tower block will feature shops, restaurants, cafes and businesses in the first three levels, with a restaurant on the eighth floor, and office spaces from the second to 19th floor. It will also contain some public toilets.
The proposed development has proved controversial due to Hondo Enterprise McWilliams’, involvement in a dispute with a local food grocer earlier this year. McWilliams threatened Nour Cash and Carry, a food grocer in Brixton Market, with eviction during the pandemic. Campaign group Save Nour Save Brixton, which came together after news of the eviction emerged, successfully campaigned against the notice, saving the grocer in June.
Since the win, the group has been leading the campaign against the tower, organising protests and social media campaigns against the proposed development.
Alongside McWilliams’ role as director of Hondo Enterprises, he is also one-quarter of DJ group and record label Housekeeping. The Texan socialite frequently appears in the social pages of British newspapers.
McWilliams, a member of DJ group and record label Housekeeping, told VICE News: “We are very pleased that our proposed development, which will deliver 2,000 jobs for Brixton and £2.8m every year for the local economy, has been approved by the elected members of Lambeth’s planning committee.”
“However,” he added, “we fully appreciate this has been seen as divisive by some so we commit today to redoubling our efforts to work in partnership with the local community.”
On the night of the decision, around 50 people gathered safely in Brixton to watch the decision of the councillors.
One Brixton local called the decision “a fucking disgrace,” and disputed the integrity of the planning officers.
Hiba Ahmad, one of the founding campaigners of the Save Nour campaign told VICE News: "I was really disappointed and really devastated to be honest with you, because I feel these people are meant to represent us [and] we've made our views very clear. When you look at the objections on the website, the petition, people are so clearly against this.”
“It’s going to be another empty building that's going to litter the environment, mess up the local area and drive out people from their shops and from their homes,” she continued. “It's just so irresponsible. It's really disgusting to see.”
VICE News reached out to Lambeth Council but it had not responded at time of publishing.