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 rejectinga 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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Charlton Riverside: Plans for 67 affordable-rent flats thrown out by councillors

Optivo scheme
Optivo’s scheme was rejected by councillors. A separate planning application from another developer is in for the scrapyard

Greenwich’s Labour-dominated planning committee threw out plans for 67 flats that would be available for affordable-rent levels last night – further delaying the redevelopment of the Charlton riverside.

The Optivo housing association had planned to build the flats in blocks of up to seven storeys on the site of a bed warehouse in Eastmoor Street, close to the Thames Barrier.

One councillor complained that the rents would be too expensive – even though Greenwich Council’s own new-builds, which he had helped give permission for, are to be offered at the same rates.

While residents’ groups criticised the proposals, some called for the scheme to be approved with conditions to reduce its density and improve its design.

Of the six councillors present last night, only two voted for the scheme, with two opposing and two abstaining, meaning the proposal was rejected. Because of the restricted nature of the webcast, it was not clear to online viewers which councillors voted for the scheme, or even who was present. Only two of the nine councillors on the planning board are Conservatives, and one of those was absent.

Last summer a plan for 771 homes at Anchor and Hope Lane was rejected by a planning inspector for being too dense – meaning the Optivo scheme could have been the first major project on Charlton Riverside to be approved.

Optivo from Westmoor Street
The Optivo scheme pictured as if the neighbouring proposal had been approved

Charlton Riverside has long been earmarked for redevelopment by City Hall, with thousands of new homes planned for the area – but with a tightly-defined masterplan which suggests developers should keep most buildings to 10 storeys or less, to differentiate the area from Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.

Planning for the area is complicated by the fact that the land ownership is fragmented – despite Greenwich Council quietly buying up plots over the years – making it harder to co-ordinate an approach to the area. Other major development schemes usually have one or a handful of dominant landowners.

The guidance for the Eastmoor Street area is for heights of three to six storeys – just smaller than Optivo’s plans. Local objectors fear that allowing higher would give the green light for developers to propose even higher buildings, making the masterplan worthless.

However, there are worries that an unwillingness to compromise will simply take vital planning decisions out of the hands of the town hall and into the hands of City Hall or planning inspectors – again, risking the integrity of the masterplan.

Last night’s rejection of the Optivo scheme – against the advice of their officers – could put the Labour council in the awkward position of having to explain to a planning inspector why it did not want homes that would be available to the 23,000 households on its waiting list.

While Optivo had cut their original proposals down from nine storeys to seven, residents’ groups criticised the proposals – even though some called for it to be approved subject to a reduction in density.

Optivo scheme
A view of the Optivo scheme from Eastmoor Street. The scheme in white is a separate development which is awaiting a decision

Roden Richardson, from the Charlton Society, said that while Optivo’s scheme was the nearest to the masterplan heights he had seen, he still wanted to see the proposals cut down to six storeys with a “far less monolithic design”.

Richardson also said he was concerned about Environment Agency flood risk guidance which he said was being used by developers to justify taller buildings.

Brenda Taggart, a member of Charlton Central Residents Association and Charlton Together, a group representing a number of local organisations, said the land ownership issues on the riverside meant that companies were “squeezing as much development in as they can to minimum standards” and this applied to Optivo’s scheme.

“The consequence is over-development and this supports the community recommendation to try to reduce the height and further reduce the density,” she said, adding that she backed the scheme being allowed.

Optivo scheme
The site as it is now

Jane Bland, speaking for Charlton Together, said the group supported the scheme but also raised concerns about heights.

Another resident, David Gayther, said the masterplan had been endorsed by City Hall and national planning authorities as “an exemplar of its kind” and should be foremost in councillors’ minds.

“The plan [from Optivo] does not reasonably adhere to a human scale of development – it’s close – we’re aware of the pressures on this site but we want to see something less commonplace,” he said.

“This is going to be the precedent, this will be the plan for the next 40 to 50 years.”

Gayther urged that the scheme be approved subject to revisions to its design, but said: “The council spent a million pounds on this masterplan – support it.”

Optivo
A view of the scheme from Woolwich Road

Pete Woodford, of the architecture firm behind the scheme, BPTW, said the development would be a “modern, warehouse-inspired building”, designed to fit in with an emerging residential neighbourhood and surrounding industrial buildings.

Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner, who is also the chair of the housing scrutiny panel, questioned the use of London Affordable Rent, a level endorsed by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan which is about 50 per cent of market rent – higher than most Greenwich Council rents. However, the council’s new Greenwich Builds homes – which Mardner has voted for in the past – are being let at these higher levels, on the grounds that they still qualify for benefit payments.

When it came to the determination, Charlton ward councillor Gary Dillon – who is listed as a committee member of the Charlton Society, but told the meeting that he had not taken part in discussions about the scheme – complained about the increasing numbers of homes planned for the Charlton Riverside area.

“The [masterplan] has taken a lot of time from the council and the community to come together. But in the short time I have been on this planning board, I have watched the number of mooted dwellings increase from 3,500 to 8,000,” he said.

Eastmoor Street view
A view down Eastmoor Street with both schemes in place

Dillon said that if the rest of the riverside area was built out to a similar density as the Optivo scheme, then it would be expected to take between 12,000 and 16,000 homes.

Thamesmead Moorings councillor Olu Babatola backed the scheme: “I can understand the concerns, but I believe the benefits outweigh all of those things. The number of people we have on the waiting lisyt – the building will relieve us in some way but it is a way forward.

But Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy said he would be voting against, saying: “We either have policies or we don’t. If we don’t defend the masterplan now, we will have a root and branch problem across the area.”

Voting for the scheme would be “doing an injustice to the community we serve”, he said.

After the vote, when councillors formalised their reasons for voting against, Fahy referred to the masterplan and said: “Let’s test it.”

The Optivo scheme had been due to be decided alongside a neighbouring plan for 188 homes in blocks of up to nine storeys. The meeting was cut short due to Covid-19 concerns – the government has banned councils from hosting most meetings online – and this is now due to go before the committee next week.


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Faraday Works: Siemens building stays and ‘affordable’ housing cut in new Charlton Riverside plans

37 Bowater Road
37 Bowater Road was listed by English Heritage last year – U+I wanted to demolish it (photo: Neil Clasper)

The developer behind plans for hundreds of new homes on a riverside factory site has launched a new consultation on its plans after abandoning plans to demolish a key building.

U+I is asking residents to comment on revised plans for Faraday Works – the old Siemens factory on the Charlton/Woolwich border – after 37 Bowater Road, which was due for demolition under its original proposal, was given a Grade II listing.

The former cable factory was given the listing in February 2020, shortly after an application for planning permission went in on the site. It is not known if any local campaign group pushed for English Heritage to take action on plans to demolish the site; no group announced the listing at the time.

Faraday Works
The long-derelict wire factory could become a hub for new businesses

But – as with the case of the covered market in Woolwich – keeping the listed building could come at a cost. Plans for 35 per cent “affordable” housing – which Greenwich Council demands in new developments – have been scaled back to “zero to 8 per cent”, with U+I and the council seeking funding to increase this amount.

Last month Greenwich councillors approved plans for the Woolwich covered market site that offered just under 20 per cent “affordable” homes but kept the market after it was listed: original plans were to demolish it and have 35 per cent “affordable” housing.

The original plans for Faraday Works included building 492 homes on the site, restoring the crumbling former wire workshop on Bowater Road as a centre for new businesses and building 13-storey blocks in other parts of the site.

Faraday Works render

Now its plans are for 380 homes and include building a roof extension on top of 37 Bowater Road to “reflect the engineering legacy of innovation … [this] has been supported by Historic England in early consultation”. New housing will be cut down to 10 storeys, while plans for the wire workshop and a light industrial site remain unchanged.

Galliard Homes, which recently bought the Leegate development at Lee Green, has pulled out of the project.

Faraday Works render

Richard Upton, the chief executive of U+I, said: “Shortly after submitting the application in late 2019, 37 Bowater Road was designated Grade II Listed by Historic England, the only building on site planned for replacement. As a result, U+I are bringing forward revised proposals for the site, that retain much of the ambition and ethos of the previous scheme, and centre the restoration of the historic buildings as a key piece of the Faraday Works story.

“We agree that Charlton Riverside needs to be truly unique and distinctive, with the site’s heritage being a key component of that identity. Our ambition is an exemplar heritage-led scheme, featuring new homes, retail and employment spaces, all wrapped in beautiful public realm. This will deliver space for 800 jobs and around 380 new homes.

“37 Bowater Road will be sensitively restored and adapted along with all of the other existing buildings on site. The building will feature commercial and light industrial uses on the ground floor, and residential above, where unusually high ceilings and large open floorplates will create stunning new heritage apartments.

Faraday Works render

“We also want to reflect some of the legacy of engineering innovation on this site through contemporary additions and extension. We are pleased that the key move of cantilevered roof extensions to 37 Bowater Road has been supported by Historic England and the Design Review Panel in early consultation.

“Over previous public consultations, and through extensive discussions with our neighbours, we’ve listened to and learned from their feedback, and we’re once again asking for input in order to create an exemplar London neighbourhood.”

Faraday Works render

Residents can visit faradayworks.com to find out more, while there will also be a chance to talk to the developers over Zoom on Thursday, with in-person tours of the site on 15 and 17 June.


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