A couple of weeks ago, John Tyson (prospective parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark) and I met Mark Brearley at his factory just off the Old Kent Road. Last year, Mark set up Vital OKR, an association of the businesses along and around the road. There are over 1,000 businesses in the area, giving work to around 10,000 people, but a large proportion of these are under threat from Southwark Council’s draft ‘Area Action Plan’.
The businesses are incredibly diverse. Some of them, like the tyre and vehicle repair shops, will be familiar from a casual walk along the road. But all kinds of extraordinary businesses are tucked away in the light industrial spaces just off the main road: furniture and prop makers, cafe proprietors, hydraulic engineers, theatrical chandlers, art shippers, metalworkers, picture framers, building contractors, architects, product designers and photographers. There are companies that hire out coaches and companies that hire out projection equipment.
The hats worn by
Yeoman Warders in the Tower of London are produced in Bermondsey, near the Old Kent Road, by Royal Warrant holder Patey Hats
. And not to forget Mark’s own Kaymet factory which has been producing metal trays in south London since 1947. Altogether, the Old Kent Road is a highly productive and fast-growing economy.
But all this is under threat if Southwark Council’s draft ‘Area Action Plan’ for the Old Kent Road is implemented without a radical rethink. The plan as it stands would see businesses replaced with dense blocks of flats, creating a dormitory district instead of a vibrant high street offering a mix of local jobs.
Why does it matter so much that these businesses remain a part of our city, instead of being pushed out? Take printing as an example. The 17 volume printers in the area employ 400 people. They supply everything from reports to Parliament to the restaurant menus pushed through your door. That demand is not going to disappear. If the printing was done instead somewhere else – in Maidstone, say – we’d lose local jobs and instead see even more delivery vans crawling into the city along the Old Kent Road, with all the congestion and pollution they bring.
The Green Party’s policies
on planning are to ‘provide housing that is suitable for and affordable by local people as well as the land, infrastructure and facilities for work, social and cultural activities’. We want to see a mix of homes, shops, workplaces and leisure uses. That’s the pattern of development that best meets sustainable transport and energy objectives – imagine, for example, walking to work and using solar panels on flat roofed factories to generate energy for local homes. Above all, we’re in favour of empowering local communities to be genuinely involved in the development of local planning policy.
As a Green London Assembly member, Jenny Jones visited businesses on industrial estates around London and argued powerfully against the expulsion of local economies. Caroline Russell AM has also been on a walking tour of the Old Kent Road area with Mark Brearley and Gavin Weber (Weber Industries).
Southwark Council’s draft Area Action Plan threatens the jobs and diversity of the Old Kent Road, offering nothing in return but blocks of flats and mini supermarkets. It is essential that all local politicians understand just what is at stake and work to help this vibrant economy survive and grow.
Many of the Old Kent Road fabricators do bespoke work for architects, artists, theatre companies and start up companies. Their expertise and central location are highly valued by their clients. SeTwo make theatre sets and props with a 10 person team at their Verney Road premises.