‘We’re fighting for our community’s survival’: Why the Rockwell Charlton Riverside row matters

Rockwell Charlton Riverside scheme
Rockwell’s new blocks would sit behind the small houses which make up Atlas and Derrick Gardens

Controversial plans to build 10-storey blocks behind homes off Anchor & Hope Lane go to Greenwich Council’s main planning committee on Monday. Developer Rockwell plans to build 771 homes on land surrounding Atlas and Derrick Gardens – which, if approved, would be the first housing development in the Charlton Riverside regeneration scheme.

Council planning officers are backing the scheme – but residents of Atlas and Derrick Gardens say the plans ignore a recently-finished masterplan that cost £850,000 and took five years to prepare. A petition has been set up to demand the council sticks to its plan.

Derrick and Atlas Gardens Residents’ Association chair SELINA TALLETT says the people most affected by the scheme feel patronised and ignored – and Greenwich councillors need to defend their council’s own masterplan.

At the river end of Anchor and Hope Lane, you’ll find Atlas and Derrick Gardens. It’s a community of 74 homes, a few houses with the rest being small flats. Our community is a blend of social and private tenants as well as homeowners. I’m a resident of Derrick Gardens – I have only ever lived in the borough of Greenwich.

These homes are examples of model worker home properties and carry some historical significance, having been built by local shipping industrialist William H Cory for his employees and their families in 1908. Earlier this year, our homes were given conservation area status to reflect this history.

However, our community is now fighting for its survival.

As the only homes on the Charlton Riverside, we have peacefully lived for years with all industry around us – including what is now the VIP Trading Estate, which is behind Atlas and Derrick Gardens. But now the Mayor’s development plan identifies Charlton Riverside as an “opportunity area” for London.

To capitalise on this, Rockwell Property – on behalf of Leopard Guernsey Anchor Propco – has bought the VIP Trading Estate and wants to build luxury “family homes” on the site.

These ‘”family homes” would feature a collection of tower blocks, with most of the 771 properties exceeding £500,000. After nearly two years of discussions, the “affordable” housing provision has climbed from the initial offer of 8% to 25%, whilst the density has reduced from 975 to 771 homes.

Derrick Gardens
Atlas and Derrick Gardens are now part of a conservation area

‘We would lose all natural light’

Rockwell’s proposed blocks of flats, with up to 10 storeys, would be just 18-20 metres behind our homes. We would completely lose all and any natural light.

Yet Greenwich Council’s planning officers deem this an “acceptable” trade-off to “kick-start development in the area”.

London needs new homes, but I and other Atlas and Derrick Gardens residents feel our quality of life should not be forfeited for financial gain and to meet local authority targets.

Especially where there is established planning guidance in place which says that homes built within this area should be of low height and low density, and complementary to the heritage of the area while not having a negatively impact on existing neighbourhoods.

Rockwell’s development has been designed without meeting key parts of local strategy, policy and the masterplan established specifically for the Charlton Riverside.

For me, it’s beyond disappointing that Greenwich Council’s hard work in establishing this local guidance is being ridden roughshod over by a need to meet targets and a desire not to upset developers.

The housing crisis has been a very easy loophole for developers to exploit: how many Londoners can afford luxury one/two-bedroom flats exceeding £500,000? Rockwell’s plans are disingenuous at best, mercenary and opportunistic at worst.

We need new homes which meet all layers of planning policy, not just the bits which are convenient or release the most profit for developers, regardless of the consequences for others. Which is why Greenwich Council needs to hold the line.

Rockwell Charlton Riverside
Away from Atlas and Derrick Gardens, this is what Rockwell is promising…

‘Don’t be scared of refusing Rockwell’

But nothing in this process has convinced us that housing Greenwich borough’s residents, especially the 17,000 on the waiting list, is actually a priority for either the developers or for the council.

Greenwich planning officers are scared of what will happen if Rockwell’s application is rejected: paying for an appeal and a date with the Planning Inspectorate.

But Greenwich Council should not fear an appeal. Rockwell knew the local policies in place when it purchased the land.

It has already spent five years and £850,000 of existing residents’ money in developing a masterplan – not upholding this and not explaining in detail why planning officers are supporting Rockwell’s schemes calls for questions to be asked about whether public funds are being mismanaged. We support the petition urging councillors to stick to their masterplan.

We have been disappointed with the lack of honest engagement from the council – including some of the very councillors we elected – with an apparent inability to see the wider issues that approving this application will create and exacerbate.

Even though this proposal has loomed over us for two years, we only had a site visit a month ago, where it was clear that some who participated and would be deciding on the application did not even know our neighbourhood existed.

Rockwell render
…but residents say the new blocks would loom over their homes and deny them natural light

‘We demand better for Charlton Riverside’

Charlton Riverside is already an identified opportunity area – development does not need to be kickstarted by inappropriate schemes by hook or by crook. It needs to have the right start to set the tone for the rest of the area.

Many communities across London will be going through similar issues with development which is both inappropriate for their local community and does little to address the actual housing crisis.

Our planning system needs to change and we need to see Greenwich at the forefront, listening to and engaging with us, using the policies developed with taxpayers’ support to benefit its residents, not for the financial benefit of developers – especially when those developers are aided by consultation organisations employing former council leaders.

We hope that by raising awareness of our plight, we can urge both officers and councillors to reject this application, and demand better for our Charlton Riverside.

The residents’ petition on the Charlton Riverside Masterplan can be found at change.org.

Read previous Charlton Champion coverage of the Rockwell planning application here.

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