BY TOBY PORTER
They might be ugly ducklings, but as far as residents are concerned, a set of gas holders deserve all the protection of swans.
The rusting structures at Perry Hill are a reminder of an age when steel and industry dominated South London’s skyline. These days, it is housing blocks which are the boom industry – so the locals want to see them made into homes. And they have now fought off a successful attempt to flatten the Bell Green Gas Holders to build a supermarket.
Lewisham’s planning committee last week voted not to allow developers Kier to tear them down and build an Aldi store, which they say would have created up to 200 jobs.
The Sydenham Society was one of the groups which fought to keep them – and successfully campaigned to persuade Lewisham council to give them a local listing when a bid failed to get English Heritage to give them the national standard of protection.
Its members also wanted to protect the Livesey Memorial Hall, which sits in front of the metal structures – this was a community centre for gas workers built by the company which ran the gas industry in the area, the South Suburban Gas Company, and named after Sir George Livesey, who pioneered profit sharing in the fuel industry.
But town hall planners said the gasholders were “not considered to be of significant heritage value”.
Historian David Stack, who had a parent and a great-grandparent who worked at the gas works, was another resident who fought to protect them. He said: “The gasholders are a symbol of Sydenham and its rich and important past – the only secure foundation on which to build its future. They are of infinitely greater value than the retail outlets of multinational companies, which will worsen the congestion and pollution problems that already blight the Bell Green area.”
Labour’s Cllr Alan Hall said: “On balance, Lewisham council’s planning committee have rejected the application to demolish the Bell Green Gas Holders. Local residents were concerned about air quality, traffic and they were disappointed that the site had not been considered for housing. The removal of the bowling green would have affected the original setting of the heritage buildings. The Gas Holders survived bombing raids in the Second World War, and they have survived a skirmish with planning committee C.
“Residents are not against development. What they want is housing. There are plenty of examples of innovative use of gasometers, like in King’s Cross. Why can’t we have that in Sydenham?”