Greenwich Council can press ahead with the controversial sale of public land at The Heights despite concerns that only two residents attended consultation events.
The authority backtracked on its original proposals to sell off garage sites at the Orchard Eastate in Lewisham and Kidbrooke Park Close following protests from residents and councillors.
The plans sparked a backlash with neighbours concerned primarily about parking, and with elected officials over the use of a private developer – Pocket Living – instead of building council housing.
A scrutiny panel approved the schemes in principle last night despite concerns about the council’s assumption that because few people in Charlton bothered to reply, there was little opposition.
Only 14 people replied to the consultation in Charlton, with six people disagreeing with the sale, and drop-in sessions were only attended by two residents.
Director of housing Jamie Carswell said: “There has been widespread support that there needs to be more homes in the borough. I had to weigh up that – which is borough-wide – against the level of sentiment at each particular site.
“Not to dispute that there was a small number of people responding, but I had to weigh up that lack of concern, against the overwhelming necessity for housing in general.
“This was always going to be a decision made on balance. Balancing this up, the overwhelming positivity for housing or the naturality at the Heights, that is the balance of this recommendation.”
Charlton councillor Gary Parker called for more consultation to be done and questioned why Pocket had been allowed to embark on a PR drive complete with template support emails.
He said: “Pocket produced a website with a model email and produced Facebook ads and other ads to support their case. I have real concern that developers with a commercial interest have tried to influence a public consultation.
“This was a consultation about the sale of public land. In Charlton, whatever way this is spun round, only two people supported it. The Heights was a neglected estate for a long time, socially isolated with very vulnerable people there. There is a history of anti-social behaviour, all of this has contributed to the low consultation rate.
“I think you have to do further consultation work in this area. You can’t read any conclusions from this.”
Housing bosses said they threw out responses submitted through Pocket’s PR drive, none of which were considered as part of the consultation.
Councillors were told that another consultation would not change the results, citing a lack of community and opposition on the estate as a reason for the low turnout.
Chris Kirby, cabinet member for housing, said: “We ran the same consultation across all estates. Everyone had the same opportunity.
“I believe this was an exemplary consultation – people have had the opportunity to have their say, when there have been strong feelings they have told us and we have listened.
“People do not tend to overwhelmingly respond to something they don’t think is going to affect them.”
The land at The Heights is contaminated and would be too expensive for the council to build on, but specialist developer Pocket believes it can build 45 one-bedroom flats on the site.
Councillors voted to approve the recommendations but told the cabinet member to ask Pocket to build some two-bedroom homes.
Did you take part in the Pocket consultation in Charlton? If so, let us know in the comments.
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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