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: First 255 new homes could get council go-ahead next week

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

The first plans to build housing on the Charlton Riverside could finally get the go-ahead from councillors next week – replacing warehouses and industrial units on Eastmoor Street with 255 flats.

City Hall wants to see thousands of homes built on the riverfront around the Thames Barrier in the coming years, with a number of schemes in the pipeline. Plans for 771 homes off Anchor and Hope from the developer Rockwell were thrown out by a planning inspector a year ago after being rejected by both Greenwich Council and London mayor Sadiq Khan on grounds of both height and density.

A masterplan for the area calls for lower-rise housing – a maximum of 10 storeys – in an attempt to differentiate it from the Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal, while Greenwich Council’s housing policy demands that 35 per cent of homes must be “affordable”.

Optivo render
View from Woolwich Road with both schemes

Now two smaller plans have come forward for land behind the old Victoria pub, which could finally start the transformation of the area – but will also provide an insight into the trade-offs and compromises involved in creating what will eventually become a new neighbourhood. In one scheme, objections to taller buildings have been followed by a cut in the amount of “affordable” housing at a time when there are 23,000 people on Greenwich Council’s waiting list.

Planning officers are recommending that the schemes get the green light – but councillors on Greenwich’s planning board will have the final say at a meeting on Monday 28 June.

Aitch render
A view of the Aitch scheme looking east from Penhall Road. The red lines represent storeys lopped off the scheme
Aitch render
A view from the Barrier vets’ clinic. Red lines represent storeys lopped off the scheme

The first – and most controversial – scheme is from the developer Aitch Group, for land behind the current Beaumont Beds warehouse and to the west of Barrier Gardens. Aitch originally planned 230 homes with 10-storey blocks – after objections these have been cut down to 188 homes with blocks of up to nine storeys, with commercial units on the ground floor and play space for children.

Before the objections, the plan had 35 per cent “affordable” housing; now only 29.7 per cent of the homes would be “affordable”, with the developer saying it cannot afford to build more. Of the total, 21.2 per cent would be for London Affordable Rent – half market rents, available to people on the housing waiting list but more expensive than standard council rents – and 8.5 per cent would be for shared ownership.

The scheme has drawn objections from resident groups. The Charlton Society says the blocks are too tall, as the masterplan suggests heights of three to six storeys at this site, adding that it “would be a waste of time commenting on any other features of the design”.

Eastmoor Street
The current view south down Eastmoor Street.

The Charlton Central Residents Association – whose patch is some way from Eastmoor Street – also objects, saying the scheme would “not exactly providing good quality living accommodation” while the Derrick and Atlas Gardens Residents Association, which represents the only residential streets currently on the riverside, calls the height, density and massing “extreme”.

Charlton Together, an umbrella group representing residents’ organisations, says: “We continue to be faced with plans for dormitories that could be anywhere.”

Aitch render
Aitch’s view from Westmoor Street looking south

In their report, planning officers say that the heights in the masterplan are simply guidance, and that traditional houses would not be allowed in a flood risk area.

“The scheme is characterised by a six-storey main parapet and which is considered appropriate to the intended mid-rise character of this part of Charlton Riverside,” they say.

Overall, there were 28 objections, with 34 comments in support.

Optivo render
Optivo’s plans with and without the next-door Aitch scheme, as seen from Westmoor Street

Less controversial are plans for 67 flats on the site of the Beaumont Beds warehouse. These would be from the Optivo housing association – which held a very short-notice consultation in January 2020, meaning it snuck under the radar for many – and would all be for London Affordable Rent.

These would be in blocks of up to seven storeys, with two ground-floor commercial units.

The Beaumont Beds warehouse as it is now. The plans do not include the cash and carry warehouse next door

However, there are still objections on the grounds of height from the Charlton Society and the Greenwich Planning Alliance, with worries expressed about a lack of play space – with Maryon Park across the busy Woolwich Road from the development. Other residents’ groups did not comment.

The major challenge to both developments is a lack of infrastructure. While new healthcare facilities are planned for the riverside, the NHS London Healthy Urban Development Unit calls for money from both developments to be spent on existing GP surgeries in the meantime – a request refused by council planners who say the developments are not big enough. Councillors could revisit the issue if they take enough interest in it.

Optivo render
View down Eastmoor Street including both schemes
Optivo render
View from Woolwich Road with both schemes

Developers will also have to pay a £3,000 council levy on each flat to contribute towards the major infrastructure needed – new roads, including what will effectively be an extension of Bugsby’s Way; improvements to Woolwich Road and Anchor & Hope Lane; a new secondary school; one or two primary schools; ten nurseries; the health centre; Thames Path upgrades; improved public realm and a new park.

Network Rail has raised the issue of pressure on local trains, while Transport for London is charging a £2,812 levy on each flat to pay for new bus services through the riverside area – an extended 301 bus service from Woolwich is expected to be introduced as an interim measure.

If approved, other major schemes are likely to follow soon with developers understood to be impatient to start work on their projects.

They are:

One small scheme has already been approved for the riverside area – the conversion of the crumbling Victoria pub with the addition of a single flat next to it. However, the developer has already applied to split the single flat into two.

Close to the riverside, building works have begun on the Antigallican pub after permission was granted for a 60-room hotel there two years ago. There has been no decision on plans to change this to a 49-room co-living space.


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Charlton Riverside: 230 homes in 10-storey blocks planned for Eastmoor Street

Aitch scheme render
Aitch’s plans, looking south: Barrier Gardens is to the left, with the Beaumont Beds (Optivo Homes) site behind and Mirfield Street at the front

Developer Aitch Group has launched a consultation into plans for 230 new homes between Eastmoor Street and Westmoor Street on the Charlton Riverside.

With the coronavirus lockdown, it has launched a virtual exhibition of its plans, which would see 10-storey blocks built on a plot behind the current Beaumont Beds warehouse and to the west of Barrier Gardens.

It is the latest in a number of proposals for the riverside, all at varying stages in the planning process. None have yet been approved, never mind built, making imagining what these developments will be like somewhat tricky. While Aitch says 35 per cent of the homes would be “affordable”, this would be a mix of “affordable rent” and the much less affordable shared ownership. 30 car parking spaces are planned. More details can be found at www.eastmoorstreet.co.uk.

In January, the housing association Optivo Homes held a very short-notice consultation about a development on the Beaumont Beds site.

Elsewhere on the riverside, five major schemes are still in the works:


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