Inspector gives 255 Charlton Riverside homes the go-ahead

The two schemes would bring 255 new homes to what is currently industrial land

A planning inspector has approved two new housing developments on the Charlton Riverside, including 107 homes for people on housing waiting lists, overturning Greenwich Council decision to refuse the schemes last year.

The twin schemes, for land behind the disused Victoria pub on Woolwich Road, are the second and third housing developments to get approval on the riverside after plans for 1,200 homes close to the Thames Barrier were approved in March.

The housing association Optivo has now got the go-ahead to build 67 affordable-rent homes on land between Eastmoor Street and Westmoor Street, while the developer Aitch will build 188 homes on the plot next door, including 40 affordable-rent homes and 10 homes for shared ownership.

A lobby group representing residents’ associations, Charlton Together, had objected to the Aitch scheme, but both were thrown out by Greenwich’s Labour-dominated planning committee last July for not fitting in with the masterplan drawn up for the Charlton Riverside.

Eastmoor Street Optivo render
Optivo’s plans for Eastmoor Street, with the Aitch scheme in white next door to it.

In that area, the masterplan suggests building three or four-storey townhouses to fit in with the Victoria and the former Lads of the Village pub – now a vets’ surgery – near by. Optivo is planning blocks of up to seven storeys, while the Aitch scheme goes up to 10 storeys.

But the planning inspector, Patrick Hanna, said that townhouses did not fit in with plans to build up to 7,000 homes on the riverside – or guidance from the Environment Agency that the lower floors could not be occupied in case of flooding.

“The townhouse typology is unlikely to be a realistic or optimal option at the appeal site, which in turn affects the ambitions for an intimate village feel in this location,” he wrote.

“As a consequence of these site constraints, it follows that when the [masterplan] is taken as a whole, and bearing in mind that it represents guidance only, its general thrust can reasonably and sensibly be taken to encourage medium rise developments.”

Having commercial units on the lower floors would be more attractive than townhouses with ground-floor garages, Hanna added.

Optivo’s site as it is now with the Aitch site to the right

Hanna also said that the council should have approved the schemes because the borough did not have a big enough supply of new housing coming up.

Despite the clear flaws in the masterplan, Labour councillors Gary Dillon and Jo van den Broek – elected last week for the new Charlton Village & Riverside ward – put it centre stage in a leaflet delivered to residents.

In a passage that may only have made sense to those involved in residents’ groups that have fought for lower-rise buildings on the riverside, they promised to “ensure that the communities’ voices are heard and that the spirit of the masterplan is respected”.

However, the inspector’s decision – and his explicit acknowledgement that aspects of the plan are flawed because they do not take into account flood risks – may now give future developers the confidence to aim higher when they submit their plans.


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1,200 homes by Thames Barrier approved – despite warning of ‘nauseous’ smells

Hyde Herringham Quarter
The development would make use of a jetty on the Thames. The Tarmac plant at Riverside Wharf is on the left

A plan to approve more than 1,200 homes by the Thames Barrier was approved by Greenwich Council last night on the casting vote of its controversial chair of planning, Stephen Brain.

The Labour councillor, who is standing down after the elections in May, goaded objectors by inviting them to send abusive emails as he broke a 4-4 tie by approving the project from the housing association Hyde.

“Start tapping now and I’ll read them in the morning,” he said.

Some of the future residents in the Herringham Quarter development in Charlton will face living in homes where they will not be able to open their windows because of concerns over air quality from an asphalt plant next door at Riverside Wharf.

The development site as it is now, as seen on Google Streetview

A representative of Tarmac, which operates the plant, said that the business would be under threat because the new blocks would tower over the plant’s chimney, and residents would be subjected to nauseating smells.

A string of residents’ lobby groups also complained that the development was too dense. But their complaints were dismissed by Brain, meaning the first major development on the Charlton Riverside – earmarked for up to 8,000 homes in a City Hall blueprint – has been given the go-ahead.

Hyde plans to build 718 homes along with commercial units at Herringham Road and New Lydenburg Street, close to the Thames Barrier, in blocks of up to 10 storeys. The first residents could move in by 2026. Hyde was also given outline permission for a further 494 homes, and will return with more detailed plans in the future.

The land concerned – Plots A and C could be finished by 2026. Plot B is the Tarmac plant. Detailed plans for plots D and E will follow

Of the first phase, 263 homes for London Affordable Rent, about half market rent and available to people on housing waiting lists, comprising 37 per cent of the total number of homes. Another 133 homes (18 per cent) will be for shared ownership, with the remainder going on private sale.

There will be more private homes in the later stage, taking the proportion down to 40 per cent “affordable” housing across the site.

Some of the blocks will be built on the site of Maybanks Wharf, currently a recycling yard for Westminster Waste, but the Tarmac yard will remain.

Tito Arowobusoye, a planning consultant representing Tarmac and other local wharf operators, said a third of London’s construction aggregates were processed in the local area – a local industry that could be put at risk if new neighbours were not protected from air quality and pollution.

An air quality expert, Gordon Allison, said the Tarmac plant would be eventually be hemmed in on two sides, with Hyde’s block just 60 metres from the chimney. “In my 25 years in the industry I’ve never seen a proposal where the building will be hit by a plume from an industrial chimney stack,” he said.

Herringham Road, close to the development site, in 2020: Planning chair Stephen Brain said the area was “not pleasant”

“It’s not a sensible proposal – when the wind blows, it will hit the nearest building. Chimneys should be taller than the buildings nearby.”

Allison warned that odours from the plant could also be an issue. “I find it nauseating, even though I’ve worked in the industry my whole career,” he said.

The solution – to fit affected flats with sealed windows and mechanical ventilation – was “unproven”, he added. “There is a genuine risk of nuisance complaints that hasn’t been recognised.”

Asked by Brain if he thought development by the Tarmac plant was impossible, he said that it was not – but that the buildings should be set further back, or the developer should pay to make the chimney taller.

Herringham Quarter render
A view from the Thames, with the Tarmac plant on the left

Trevor Curson of Buro Happold, an environmental consultant to Hyde, said that the developer had planned for a worst-case scenario of the plant operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – something it does not do.

After hearing of complaints from residents of Greenwich Millennium Village whose homes back onto the Murphy’s Wharf aggregate depot, said that future residents would be better protected from noise than in other nearby developments. One 10-storey block was to shield residents from the noise of the Tarmac plant, the committee heard.

Representatives of several overlapping lobby groups in the Charlton area criticised the scale of the development. Jodie Coughlan, speaking for the Derrick and Atlas Gardens residents’ association – the only group actually based on the riverside – saying it was an “unreasonable and untenable level of deviation” from the local masterplan, which sets maximum heights of three to five storeys for much of the area.

While Hyde said that their blocks, which would step down to six storeys at street level, were at a human scale, the groups disagreed, with the Charlton Central Residents Association’s David Gayther calling it “monolithic in nature”.

Maybank Wharf
Maybank Wharf has been used for waste paper processing since the 1960s – but will soon see new housing

Hyde’s Jaime Buckley said that the housing association had “a limited window” in which to build the scheme because it depended on a £22.5 million grant from City Hall – £60,000 for each affordable-rent home.

Promising the scheme would be a “catalyst” for redeveloping the rest of the riverside, she urged councillors to balance “not just what is desirable, but what is achievable”.

While Hyde will be paying towards new bus services and new roads, Charlton councillor Gary Dillon voiced concerns about the effect of the development on local infrastructure.

Pointing out that the Charlton Riverside masterplan was created with up to 5,000 new residents in mind, but now City Hall was expecting up to 8,000, he said: “Those people who live between Greenwich and Woolwich Dockyard know how fragile the infrastructure is. We’re sometimes waiting for two hours to move five minutes up the road.

”My concern is that developers are looking at this [City Hall] aspiration taking at gospel, but it has no support – there’s no infrastructure development plans or TfL budget to develop new links, and there’s the possibility of extra traffic from the Silvertown Tunnel.”

Hyde’s vision of Herringham Road in the future

Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher also said he would turn down the scheme, saying that the whole point of the Charlton masterplan was to create somewhere distinct from the towers of Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich: “It’s really frustrating that when we want to see regeneration here, we’re presented with things we can’t accept because they’re inconsistent with the masterplan.”

Of the three women on the committee on International Women’s Day, none gave their views, while four of the five men did.

Brain said: “I know this area very, very well, how many objectors live near this site? Not many. I see one hand out of all the speakers. It is not residential, it is not pleasant, I’ve had my car serviced there for 30 years.

“The area is horrible, this provides an opportunity to improve the area. If we turn this down, how do any of the applications for the riverside go forward?

“I wouldn’t like to be on the doorsteps saying I’d turned down a great big chunk of social housing. We’d be turning down the futures of many of our residents.”

Brain was joined by fellow Labour councillors Sandra Bauer, Clare Burke-McDonald and Averil Lekau in supporting the scheme, but Labour’s Dillon and Fahy voted to turn it down, along with Fletcher and Geoff Brighty for the Conservatives.

It then fell to Brain to give a casting vote – as he had done in favour of the 36-storey Morden Wharf development last September.

“I’m still receiving abusive emails,” he said. “Start tapping now and I’ll read them in the morning. I’ll be voting in favour. Thank you very much.”


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Coopers Yard: Charlton Riverside transformation in limbo after councillors reject more homes

Eastmoor Street
The Aitch development site as it is now, viewed from Eastmoor Sreet

Greenwich councillors dealt a blow to their own town hall’s plans to redevelop the Charlton Riverside after they rejected a second housing scheme for a site near the Thames Barrier.

The developer Aitch Group had hoped to build 188 homes land behind the derelict Victoria pub, between Eastmoor Street and Westmoor Street, along with shops, workspace and a new green space. But Labour and Conservative councillors objected to the height of the development on Coopers Yard, which had been recommended for approval by their own planning officers.

A three-year-old masterplan for the Charlton Riverside – which both Greenwich Council and City Hall have long earmarked for thousands of new homes – suggests a maximum height of ten storeys for buildings, with guidelines of three to five storeys in that particular area.

But Aitch wanted to build up to nine storeys – insisting that the masterplan provided guidance, not strict rules – enraging local lobby groups, including the Charlton Society and the Charlton Central Residents Association, who believe this breaks the terms of a masterplan they were closely involved in writing.

The situation is complicated by the Environment Agency objecting to ground-floor housing close to the Thames Barrier because of the risk of flooding – an objection which calls parts of the masterplan into question.

Aitch Charlton render
Aitch wants to build 188 homes close to the Thames Barrier

Labour and Conservative councillors sided with the lobby groups for the second time in three weeks, rejecting Aitch’s plans – leaving Aitch to decide whether to appeal to a planning inspector or try to rework the proposal with council officers.

Three weeks ago, in a separate decision on a site next door which currently includes a bed warehouse, councillors rejected 67 affordable-rent homes from the housing association Optivo that would have been available to the 23,000 people on the council’s housing waiting list.

Tuesday’s vote saw the rejection of another 40 homes for London Affordable Rent that would have been included in the Aitch development along with 10 shared-ownership homes, making 30 per cent “affordable” housing.

The two refusals now plunge the Labour council into a high-stakes gamble on the future of its own masterplan – successful appeals from Aitch or Optivo would take much of the decision-making out of the hands of local officials and could result in less money being spent on local infrastructure to support the new developments and their neighbours.

With other developers waiting to present their plans for the riverside to councillors – some much bigger than Aitch’s scheme, like the Faraday Works project on the old Siemens factory site, the decision is a significant setback for the Charlton riverside’s transformation into a new neighbourhood.

The meeting was split into two parts because of Covid-19 restrictions – Woolwich Town Hall’s only meeting space fitted with cameras is its cramped council chamber – with the first meeting two weeks ago seeing planning chair Stephen Brain clash with local lobby groups.

Tuesday night saw Aitch’s associate planning director, Luke Cadman, tell councillors that the scheme would be of a “human scale and very much in contrast to Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich town centre”, adding that there would be a net increase in jobs and that existing businesses would be given help leaving. Feedback from residents had resulted in changes to the scheme including a reduction in height, he said.

Referring to his company’s own proposals, Optivo’s scheme and others in the pipeline, he warned: “These proposals, many developed over years of discussion, could result in 5,000 new homes and 1,500 jobs. By not supporting [your] officers’ recommendation tonight, and reiterating an absolute test of heights and density, this potentially jeopardises the delivery of the [masterplan] vision, and thousands of new homes and jobs.”

Failing to permit development could see “pressure for housing development shift to other more sensitive parts of the borough”, he added.

Pointing out that Greenwich Council itself is the largest landowner on the riverside, with its he said that refusal would have “far-reaching ramifications for the council and its redevelopment aspirations, and for the ability to deliver new homes and jobs”.

Eastmoor Street Optivo render
Optivo’s plans for Eastmoor Street, with the Aitch scheme in white next door to it. Both plans have been rejected

Challenged on this by Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner, Cadman said: “There are a lot of developers that are seeking planning approvals to deliver on the [masterplan] vision – I’ll just leave it there. It’s not really what anyone wants to see.”

Mardner – who chairs the council’s housing scrutiny panel, so may have been expected to know the answer already – also asked who would be eligible for the London Affordable Rent homes, which charge half market rates and are for people on the council’s waiting list. The rent level is an initiative of Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

Optivo’s site as it is now with the Aitch site to the right. Both proposals have been rejected. The cash and carry warehouse to the left is not part of any scheme

Charlton councillor Gary Dillon said he was “disappointed that height and density is not important to the project”.

“If every developer walks into this room and says the same thing, we’re going to get 20,000 dwellings in an area earmarked for 8,000, and that throws the transport and infrastructure out,” he said. “Every part of the [masterplan] has been calculated. To dismiss it is pretty disappointing.”

Cadman insisted that Aitch had not ignored the masterplan, saying that there was more to it than height and density, and that the scheme fitted Sadiq Khan’s London planning policy. “When you weigh it all up, on balance, as your officers have done… we’ve done a huge amount to meet its aspirations and we haven’t just ignored the height, the heights and density have all been a consideration in what we’ve done.”

Dillon sits on the committee of the Charlton Society, one of the groups that objected. He declared at the start of the meeting that he was a society member and had not taken part in its discussions on the proposals.

Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy, whose ward includes the development site, repeated a question his two Labour colleagues had put to Cadman, asking if Aitch had “had any regard for the masterplan” when drawing up its proposals, accusing the company of ignoring residents’ views.

“I’ve answered that a few times, the masterplan required a few things,” Cadman said, pointing out that the plan also allowed for a new road and green space which were set out in the plans. He added that the company had spent two years consulting local people and had recently made changes as a result of local lobby groups’ feedback.

Conservative Nigel Fletcher said that it was clear that the masterplan had divided the riverside into plots, and the maximum for that plot was five storeys.

Simon Camp, from Alan Camp Architects, said that the masterplan did not take into account the risk of flooding and that homes had to be above a certain height. “The town houses in the masterplan are impossible due to the constraints,” he said.

“We’ve taken that on by maximising the commercial and maker spaces, and the community facilities, we’ve expanded the green link [open space] – so we’ve taken into account other aspirations in the [masterplan] and then we’ve looked at the height.”

The masterplan showing lower-height buildings around Eastmoor Street, the white gap to the east. (Click to enlarge)

When it came to the decision, Mardner said that the masterplan was “not just a policy, but a Greenwich policy” and that it had been endorsed by the planning inspector who threw out plans for 10-storey blocks in a much larger scheme off Anchor & Hope Lane last year. Refusal was straightforward, he said, and the masterplan was “sacrosanct”.

Aitch render
A view from the Barrier vets’ clinic. Red lines represent storeys lopped off the scheme after lobby groups’ objections

Fahy complained that the riverside, where land ownership is split, was “being developed piecemeal” and that the planning board had a duty to ensure that developments there reflected the area’s heritage.

Allowing the Aitch scheme would allow other developers to build tall buildings, he said, adding: “If that’s the case, we might as well chuck the masterplan in the bin and allow developers to carry on regardless. The applicants were well aware of the requirements to meet the masterplan. It’s not something you pluck out of the air – it’s a legal document and we have to have some principles that guide us in our decision making.

“They say they got the green light from our officers – I find that hard to believe.”

The report before councillors contained an endorsement of the plan from council officers.

Fletcher said he did not believe it was a straightforward refusal, but said the developer had not justified why it wanted to build higher than suggested in the masterplan.

“We see this masterplan as being very important. We think it’s important, the heights and density are important,” he said. “We have a different reading of [the masterplan] than the applicant and it should be something we are prepared to defend.”

Aitch render
A view of the Aitch scheme looking east from Penhall Road

But planning chair Stephen Brain spoke up for the proposal, criticising “emotive terms” made by local lobby groups at the last meeting. He said it was possible to be flexible with the masterplan “if a balance is achieved across the area”.

“It has 30 per cent ‘affordable’ homes, which we need for Londoners, it has designated play space – there’s very little in the area. I do know the area – I’ve had my car serviced down there for 32 years, I’ve walked around that site a lot,” he said.

“One speaker said that children could cause noise – it’s what children do. It provides green space, and retail – the area desperately needs retail, the only thing you can buy down there is a burger from a dodgy van and you wouldn’t be wise to do such a thing.

“It’s an area where people work but don’t live. You can see from all the Range Rovers down there – they drive down there and go back to Kent in the evening.”

Referencing the Environment Agency’s objection to ground floor homes, Brain referred to last week’s flood disaster in western Germany, which left scores dead, saying it had brought the issue into “sharp relief”.

“One of the main German newspapers said all of the people living on habitable spaces on the ground floor were dead. That’s why the Environment Agency makes these guidelines, it’s in a flood plain and the heights may have to be higher.”

Brain mocked the notion put forward by one of the local lobby groups, who spoke of “protecting Charlton from the river to the slopes and into the village – they didn’t say how far it went, does it go beyond the village to Charlton [sic], or to Bexley? I couldn’t understand that at all.”

“I can’t see what turning this application would do for the area. It’s an area that is industrially blighted and I can’t see many bungalows being built down there.”

But the vote was lost and the plans rejected on grounds of height and massing – leaving the immediate future of the Charlton riverside up in the air, and possibly out of the hands of local people.

This story also appears on our sister site 853.


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