Rockwell rises again: Sadiq Khan rejects Greenwich Council’s refusal of Charlton Riverside scheme

Rockwell render
Residents said the new blocks would loom over their homes and deny them natural light

London mayor Sadiq Khan has blocked Greenwich Council’s refusal to allow a developer to build 771 homes at the end of Anchor & Hope Lane, meaning he will now decide whether or not it will go ahead, rather than local councillors.

Developer Rockwell had planned to build on the VIP industrial estate behind Atlas and Derrick Gardens, with five 10-storey blocks, but its plans were thrown out by Greenwich Council’s planning board last month, with chair Sarah Merrill calling the proposal “reminiscent of Stalingrad”.

All 11 councillors on Greenwich’s planning board voted to reject the scheme, the first to come forward at Charlton Riverside – designated an “opportunity area” by the mayor.

But Khan has now opted to take over deciding what happens with the scheme himself – the first time a Greenwich Council planning decision has been called in by City Hall.

Rockwell Charlton Riverside
Rockwell says its new scheme will look like this

In a letter sent to Greenwich Council and seen by this website, Khan says that the proposal will have a “significant impact on the implementation of the London Plan and the draft London Plan” – the mayoral blueprint for planning across the capital.

City Hall has said that Khan’s draft London Plan aims to “get more affordable homes built, especially in areas served by strong infrastructure”.

Rockwell’s plans are for 32.4% of the units to be “affordable” housing – an increase inserted at the last minute. Of those, 162 would be for London Affordable Rent – roughly £150/week for a one-bedroom flat – and aimed at those on low incomes, with the remaining available for shared ownership.

The news will anger local residents who have battled against the proposals – particularly those who live in Atlas and Derrick Gardens, who say the Rockwell development will loom over their homes and deny them natural light. Local industries have also voiced concerns about whether they will be able to continue in business with a large residential development on their doorstep, and Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook has complained that his recording studio would be put in jeopardy by the plans.

Khan’s call-in follows his backing of plans for the Silvertown Tunnel and expansion of London City Airport, the cancellation of extra trains for the Jubilee Line, the shelving of plans for Cycle Superhighway 4 to run through the area and planned cuts to bus services.

It will also annoy Greenwich Labour councillors, who will be expected to campaign for Khan in 2020’s election – and who are well aware that the infrastructure in the area is anything but strong.

But City Hall watchers have not been surprised. The possibility of a call-in was first mooted just days after the planning meeting in an article by Estates Gazette journalist Paul Wellman, followed by another one by former Guardian London writer Dave Hill, who is close to Khan’s team.

Derrick Gardens
The development site runs around Atlas and Derrick Gardens, built as workers’ cottages for the Cory boatyard

The Charlton Champion understands a second scheme rejected by Greenwich councillors – for 272 homes near Abbey Wood station – has also been called in for the mayor to decide himself.

What is a call-in?

London mayors have the power to “call in” major developments after councils have made a decision, but it rarely happens. While it has never happened to Greenwich Council, two past developments on its borders have been called in.

A call-in effectively means the planning process starts again, with the mayor’s officers taking over and a public hearing taking place at City Hall.

Five years ago, Boris Johnson took over the decision-making for Convoys Wharf in Deptford from Lewisham Council after an appeal from the developer. Johnson approved outline plans for three towers of 26, 32 and 40 storeys but a detailed scheme has only recently emerged.

More recently, Khan overturned Bromley Council’s approval of a new stadium for London’s oldest football club, Cray Wanderers, who play in the eighth tier of English football, and two four-storey blocks of flats at Flamingo Park, off the Sidcup by-pass.

The mayor said he blocked it because it was on Green Belt land, even though the site is used for a waste transfer station and car parking. The club withdrew its plans and is hoping a new scheme, also backed by Bromley, will get approval from the mayor.

Anchor & Hope Lane development site
Part of the site as it is now, with low-rise Derrick and Atlas Gardens to the left

Khan’s call-in adds another twist to the tale of the Rockwell proposals, which first emerged in 2016 with proposals for a 28-storey tower and 975 homes at the south end of the site close to Charlton station, with just 13% “affordable”.

Negotiations with Greenwich Council finally produced a revised plan by the end of 2017, cutting the maximum height down to 10 storeys with 25% “affordable”. In July 2018 this was increased to 35% “affordable” when judged by number of rooms, or 32.4% when assessed by the number of units.

But pressure from residents – who pointed out that the plans still did not fit the new masterplan for the riverside – led to councillors on the planning board deferring the scheme in April until after the following month’s council election.

5pm update: Greenwich Council regeneration cabinet member Sizwe James says: “I am disappointed that the Mayor of London has called in the Eynsham Drive and Charlton Riverside planning applications, both of which were rejected by our Planning Board last month. This means that the Mayor of London, and not the local councillors elected by the people of Greenwich, will decide on these applications.

“At the Planning Board, local residents spoke passionately about the issues they had with the proposed developments. The committee members listened to the residents and shared their concerns about the height of the buildings, the lack of homes for families, and the affordability of those homes.

“After the planning applications were rejected, we hoped that the developers would come back to us with a new application that provided much needed affordable housing for families, in developments of an appropriate size and scale for Abbey Wood and Charlton.

“Whilst I respect the rights of the Mayor of London to call in these planning applications, and understand the pressure he is under to get more homes built, we very much hope he will address the concerns of residents in the process.

“I would urge him not to simply wave the applications through, but include us in discussions with the developers to secure a greater proportion of well designed, affordable family homes.

“We also need to learn from the mistakes made in the 60s and 70s and create proper neighbourhoods, with walkable streets, places to work and spaces for children to play and socialise.

“I hope that we can work together with the developers and the Mayor of London to do this.”

 

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