Charlton hustings: Councillors acted ‘appallingly’ over Victoria Way scheme, ex-planning officer says

Victoria Way, February 2017
The Victoria Way site last year. Demolition teams have now moved in.

A former Greenwich Council planning officer who is standing for election in Charlton this week says councillors acted “appallingly” when they decided to back a controversial development in Victoria Way without explaining why.

The eight-strong planning committee faced jeers from the public after after endorsing the Fairview New Homes proposals for a former warehouse site, which include two 10-storey blocks and 144 car parking spaces, as well as a nursery and office space.

Neighbours had called the plans “overbearing” and had voiced concerns about traffic congestion and the lack of facilities for residents. Others criticised a lack of consultation with residents about the scheme.

In the meeting overseen by vice-chair Ray Walker (Labour, Eltham West), councillors Mark Elliott (Conservative, Eltham South), Clive Mardner (Labour, Abbey Wood), Danny Thorpe (Labour, Shooters Hill – council deputy leader and regeneration cabinet member), Sarah Merrill (Labour, Shooters Hill), Norman Adams (Labour, Kidbrooke with Hornfair), Steve Offord (Labour, Abbey Wood) backed the scheme without discussig 125 objections from residents, three written objections from local councillors in Peninsula and Charlton wards and concerns raised by Transport for London and the Greater London Authority about the high level of car parking spaces.

Only Thorpe attempted to offer any explanation when it came to vote on the scheme. Conservative Geoff Brighty (Blackheath Westcombe) voted against it.

At the Charlton ward hustings on Saturday, Green candidate Clare Loops – a former planning policy manager for Greenwich who is standing in Thursday’s council election – condemned the way the councillors acted.

“Just looking at the way the committee is structured at the moment, they should be discussing the points raised, and that is appalling that it didn’t happen,” Loops – who now works for neighbouring Bexley – said.

But incumbent Labour councillor Gary Parker said: “What you have to remember is that the Planning Board is not whipped, and it wasn’t just Labour candidates that voted for it. They get the papers in advance and they get officers’ recommendations, and there was a recommendation in favour of it.

“I do think we should listen to residents a lot more, but the complexities of planning law make that very difficult.”

‘Charlton has no representation on planning committee’

It is normal convention in a Greenwich planning meeting for councillors to discuss the application – no explanation has been given as to why they didn’t on the Fairview Victoria Way case.

Parker agreed with Loops that the council needed to bring some applications to planning committees at earlier stages to obtain residents’ input.

Fellow Labour candidate Gary Dillon said that the Charlton area had no representation on the Planning Board, which is the council’s main planning commitee, “I hope that changes after the next election,” he said.

But Lib Dem candidate Ian Gerrard responded: “Parties decide who serves on committees – if Charlton isn’t being represented, that’s down to Labour.”

Women’s Equality Party candidate Pamela Ritchie also attended the hustings, along with one of the three Conservative candidates, Macharia Gakuru, and a second Lib Dem candidate, Charlie Rome. Linda Perks – the Labour candidate condemned by a judge for rule-breaking in a union election – did not attend.

Planning issues dominated the hustings, with concerns raised about the fate of the Charlton Riverside masterplan in the light of the planning application by Rockwell for 771 new homes on an industrial estate at Anchor & Hope Lane including five 10-storey blocks.

“All residents of Charlton could be affected by this,” Ritchie said, adding: “We’ve already seen the segregation in Woolwich between the new-builds and the town of Woolwich.”

“I don’t like calling it Charlton Riverside,” Loops said. “The best way to integrate it would be to call it ‘Charlton’.”

Parker said the council was consulting via the Charlton Stakeholder Forum, which he called “a public forum”. “I’ve been at some of them, I haven’t seen any of the opposition there.”

(The Charlton Champion has never been invited or asked to publicise its meetings. Furthermore, this website understands that at the last meeting, representatives of developer Rockwell outnumbered all other attendees.)

He also pointed to the council’s Better Together meetings and public planning meetings – such as the one which discussed Victoria Way where councillors ignored residents.

Loops said it was “worrying” that council officers had recommended the Rockwell development even though it was contrary to the masterplan. “What’s the point in having a plan if you’re not going to follow it?,” Lib Dem Rome said.

There was also criticism of both council leader Denise Hyland and deputy leader Danny Thorpe sitting on the Planning Board – Greenwich is the only council in London where the leader sits on its main planning committee. Gary Parker said a leader or deputy leader on the planning board “leaves you open to potentially being compromised, blurring the distinction between the [council’s] planning function and being a member of the executive”. “If I was in that position, I wouldn’t be on it, but that is for them to decide.”

On Sunday, a resident at the hustings for Woolwich Riverside ward – which covers some of the eastern side of Charlton – also brought up former Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts’ role as deputy chairman of Cratus Communications, which has acted for the developers of both the Fairview Victoria Way and Rockwell Charlton Riverside schemes. “I suppose ex-leaders of councils have to earn a living,” Labour councillor John Fahy said.

Ideas for Charlton’s future

Back at the Charlton ward hustings, candidates were also asked how they would improve Charlton Village and Charlton Church Lane. Conservative Macharia Gakuru said he would change Charlton Church Lane into a one-way street, while Lib Dem Gerrard suggested the council could temporarily lower business rates.

Loops said: “We need to make sure footfall in the Village is all of us using it. We could be changing some of the A5 uses – hot food takeaways – into more of a cafe culture, to provide more places to hang out. And slow down the traffic – 20mph is much better.”

Parker said: “We need to look at more pop-up shops and a range of other short-term measures to support businesses and people who want to get into business. I think the council could be more flexible about this.” Ritchie complained about the state of the pavements on Charlton Church Lane and suggested parking in that street could be moved.

All candidates also spoke out against the current plans for the proposed Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal in east Greenwich, which will allow ships using it to use their own highly polluting engines rather than energy from the National Grid.

All 51 seats in Greenwich borough are up for election on Thursday – see candidates, manifestos and more hustings coverage over on 853. Of the councillors that passed the Fairview Victoria Way scheme, all are up for re-election in their various wards except Mark Elliott and Ray Walker; while Steve Offord was deselected in Abbey Wood and is now contesting Eltham North.

Video from selected parts of Saturday’s Charlton hustings – including opening and closing statements – can be seen on YouTube.

The Charlton Champion sent a questionnaire to candidates…

Charlton ward candidates (three are elected): Gary Dillon (Labour), Macharia Gakuru (Conservative), Ian Gerrard (Liberal Democrat), Rebecca Ireland (Liberal Democrat), Catherine Latham (Conservative), Clare Loops (Green), Maya Mann (Conservative), Gary Parker (Labour), Linda Perks (Labour), Pamela Ritchie (Women’s Equality Party), Charlie Rome (Liberal Democrat). Polls are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday 3 May.

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