Nelson Square finds itself now in the middle of an unprecedented property boom. Gentrification of the surrounding area is happening very fast and new luxury buildings appear in every direction.
Palestra on the site of the old Surrey Chapel is already the second building since the war. Its bulk is overpowering and the top of the building can be seen from the Square above Rowland Hill House. The building, finished in 2004, was the first of many to change the character of the Square for good.
Linden Homes has recently completed The Residence in the south-western corner of the square, on the other side of Pocock Street. Local opposition managed to reduce the height to the current 10 storeys from proposed 27 storeys. When Linden Homes included the small park beside Helen Gladstone House in their planning application, as a “pocket park” they wanted to spruce up, the locals activated to oppose the application. This plot of land has been lovingly looked after by the local community for years now, and the fear was that Linden Homes wanted to make it into a private garden for the new buildings. The battle against Linden Homes was one of the very few, where local residents’ opposition has been able to gain at least a partial victory in Southwark. Click to see the campaign website BARD – Blackfriars Action For Responsible Development
Even if Southwark Council’s policy is limiting tall buildings only to the north side of Union Street, there have already been cases where that policy has been ignored by the council’s planners. Ironically, the finished building now is the least unsuitable of all the ones being built around the square.
The Music Box is being finished at the time of writing in the north-eastern corner of Nelson Square. Here the planners used Palestra as a justification for a very imposing height and the tall box is now filling up the view from the Square to that direction. Local opposition was ignored, and the harmonious view of the 1950s blocks from the Square is now ruined.
The next development to block daylight to the square, and increase the wind tunnel effect, will be a new office and apartment development above Southwark underground station. A tall building has been planned for the site ever since Jubilee Line was built, but the original planning permissions have long since expired. Now we are hearing of TfL’s plans for a 90m tower in the corned of Blackfriars Road and The Cut – well above the heights allowed by the Council’s own tall buildings policy.
The south-eastern corner of the square may be safe, as the buildings in that corner are either listed or part of a conservation area.
The park itself is protected by the London Squares Preservation Act of 1931. Said Act was used recently to stop building in another similar square elsewhere in London. Click here to read the Act in reference to a recent campaign in Kensington (edited to reflect the local area but still valid for Southwark as well as seen in the image below)
It has not always been safe though – several plans to build on the actual Square have been rumoured to be in the planning until very recently. Click on the images below to see a larger version of a map dated 1976, held in the National Archives, showing Nelson Square as a potential site for a nursery.
Southwark Parks has in September 2016 started to redevelop the Square extensively. The plans will retain some features, including the mature plane trees, fig trees and cherry trees. It does not seem that Southwark Council are planning to add references to the long and rich heritage of this square.
Southwark’s removal of old council estates
Many, even newer estates than Nelson Square Gardens, have disappeared and are disappearing in Southwark. The pressure to use the now very valuable land for a more profitable use must be enormous. Some comfort can be sought from the Council’s recent stock condition survey, where the buildings in Nelson Square were deemed to be of good quality and no immediate action was suggested.
Rise of property prices and the Housing Act
The property market, as well as successive government policies, pose a serious threat to the Square. Since Right to Buy was introduced, a large amount of the former council flats are now privately owned. The value of the properties has rocketed, and many will be tempted to realise the value of their properties and sell, maybe to investors and for buy-to-letters.
The newly passed Housing Act will make the situation even worse. As the government is forcing local councils to sell off their most expensive properties as soon as they become free, more, if not all of the housing stock in Nelson Square may well end up in private hands.
Unique example worth saving
This website was partly inspired by the will of some residents of the Square to highlight the unique nature of our square, which should be in Southwark Council’s interest to save for future generations.
As money and development have changed the area of Borough and Bankside, we must not allow the same to happen to Nelson Square. It must be seen as a brilliant example of post-war building of social housing for working people. The design is of a high quality and the overall feel of the Square itself is still intact. Here we have a wonderful combination of what was first built in the area in the 18th century in reasonable harmony with the best of post-war social housing. Southwark Council saw Nelson Square as a flagship housing scheme after the war. Its outstanding and exceptional value should still be recognised and kept for future generations.
In a worst case scenario the history of the square will have gone a full circle: With loss of the social housing element, and when nobody on normal salaries will be able to afford to live in the area, we could be back to the 19th Century situation. The Square was an enclave for the well off, and the park was only used by the rich residents in the Georgian houses around the Square. It will require great effort to stop it becoming again a “dandies’ parade” where ordinary people with normal incomes will no longer be welcome.