Pocket Living ‘micro-flats’ for The Heights passed by Greenwich Council

The Heights development
The blocks would sit behind two-storey homes on The Heights

Plans for 48 “micro flats” on a council car park on The Heights were approved by Greenwich councillors last night, two-and-a-half years after the proposal to sell the land to a private developer caused a political storm.

Developer Pocket Living plans to build 45 one-bedroom flats and 3 two-bedroom flats on the contaminated plot overlooking The Valley. It plans to sell them all for 80 per cent of market value to people earning under £71,000 within the borough of Greenwich – meaning they tick the official definition of “affordable”, if not the dictionary definition.

The company specialises in building small flats on awkward sites, with one-bedroom flats typically little bigger than a studio. It has been funded by City Hall under both the Johnson and Khan mayoralties, and has former Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford on its board.

When Greenwich first outlined proposals to sell land on its housing estates to Pocket, it caused an outcry within the local Labour party, with 12 out of the party’s 41 councillors in post at the time attending a protest meeting at Charlton House.

Plans to offload sites off Lewisham Road and Kidbrooke Park Road were later scrapped, but the council pursued proposals to sell the land at The Heights after just two local residents attended a consultation meeting in 2019.

Two linked blocks of four and five storeys will be built, with two car parking spaces for disabled residents – 21 spaces for existing residents will be retained and relocated, with Pocket’s homebuyers banned from buying residents’ permits. A viability assessment supplied with the planning application suggests a one-bedroom flat could sell for £260,000 with the discount applied.

The Heights
The whole site is used as a car park at present

A decision on the scheme had been due to be taken in December, but councillors voted to visit the site. The lockdown meant they had to watch a video tour instead.

Only four objections were received – including from the Charlton Society and the nearby Charlton Central Residents’ Association – but 18 supporters got in touch to back the plan; 14 of those had contacted the council in the wake of the original meeting being announced.

Possibly reflecting the internal Labour tensions around the scheme, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe spoke in support of the application. “This site is one I and the council have been involved in for a number of years,” he said. “This piece of land is not one that was suitable for the council to deliver [as housing],” he said. “We were new to council house-building, we simply didn’t have the skills and experience to deal with a highly contaminated piece of land.”

Referring to those who already live on the low-rise Heights estate, he said: “When you’re looking out on a gated-off hill that has ‘hazardous – beware’ signs on, any improvement has got to be better than none.” He promised the public realm in The Heights would be “substantially improved” with funding from the sale. The estate has recently undergone a refurbishment with upgraded pathways, suggesting it would be the entrance to the Pocket site that is in line for improvements.

“It’s not often that you get to decide on a scheme that more residents support than oppose, but that is a fact,” he said. “There are 235 of our younger Greenwich residents who are registered for the chance to buy a Pocket home, which is indicative of the substantial interest that we know there will be.”

Thorpe said he had visited a similar Pocket scheme in Lewisham and all the residents had previously lived in the borough. “There were teachers, public sector workers, firemen, that shows the kind of offer Pocket can make to younger residents who are desperate to stuck in their own home, who are likely to be stuck in an HMO, and the discount means they can take that first step into home ownership.”

Pocket Living render
The flats would overlook The Valley

Conservative councillor Spencer Drury also spoke in support, telling the committee that Greenwich’s housing cabinet member, Anthony Okereke, had suggested he visit a Pocket development at Sail Street in Kennington. “What a high-quality build we would be seeing – the communal spaces are genuinely well-designed and form a good basis for a community. This is a really useful, valuable addition to the affordable homes in the borough,” he said.

The only objector to speak was local councillor Gary Parker. He told the committee: “This site has been unused since the Second World War, even in the heyday of council house building this wasn’t built on. What information has Pocket got that previous generations of [council] officers didn’t?”

Parker also raised questions about the developers’ consultation, citing The Charlton Champion’s report that residents’ groups in Greenwich appeared to have been contacted rather than ones in Charlton.

Pocket’s chief development officer, Nick Williams, described the company’s work as a “public-private partnership”, and said a typical Pocket buyer would be earning about £40,000.

“Many of our residents come from private rented HMOs – moving into a single person’s flat makes a big difference to their life chances,” he said.

Valley Grove estate
The flats will sit above an old chalk pit that now contains Charlton Athletic’s ground and the Valley Grove estate

Williams said the homes would be affordable for 42,000 households in Greenwich borough, including 10,000 key workers; he cited a hospital doctor who had moved 11 times in 10 years before moving into a Pocket home in Walthamstow. “Typically people live for five, six, seven years in a Pocket property,” he said. “Some people from our first scheme in 2008 are first there 13 years later.”

He added that 700 residents as well as groups and amenity societies had been contacted by Pocket about its plans.

Councillors were also told by an engineer working for Pocket that the technology to deal with the contaminated land had improved since the Heights estate was developed, and that controlled modulus columns would be used to stabilise the land, on the edge of a former chalk pit.

All nine councillors voted for the scheme, but two said they were doing so reluctantly – Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Norman Adams raised concerns about the contamination, while Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner said that homes available to people earning £71,000 were “not helping to resolve our housing crisis in Greenwich, because local people are not going to be able to afford that”.

Charlton councillor Linda Perks backed the scheme, saying while there had been worries about the proposal at first, “I feel that the concerns that have been answered. I can’t speak completely for the community but a lot of people will have been reassured by the effort that has been put in.”

Fellow Labour councillors Denise Hyland, Stephen Brain, Ian Hawking and Mehboob Khan joined her in supporting the scheme, along with Conservatives Nigel Fletcher and Geoff Brighty.


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Charlton Park users left in dark as Greenwich Council refuses to back new lighting

Charlton Park
Only the north-south path in the park has any lighting

Greenwich Council has refused an application for funds to install new lighting in Charlton Park – despite complaints that the lack of lighting in the park makes it unsafe for women.

The only lighting in Charlton Park comes from old lamps on its main north-south path – with nothing to help protect those using other paths after dark. There is also no lighting at the skate park.

The park recently received a share of a £1 million fund to modernise and redecorate the sports changing rooms, improve the playground, install new furniture and carry out basic repairs. There is also funding for a wildlife meadow to the east of the park.

But a separate application for funding to improve the lighting has been refused. The money would have come from the council’s Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund, which distributes money raised from a levy on developers and has to be spent in the community by law.

The need for improved lighting was specifically mentioned in a survey of park users by the Friends of Charlton Park in the wake of it getting the earlier funding.

The Friends’ survey had 226 respondents, and 125 asked for improvements to the playground. After that, 54 called for better lighting. “The park is not safe for women after dark right now,” one respondent to the survey said, while another said more lighting would encourage women to play sport.

Another said: “The skateboarding park has been a lifesaver for my son – he struggles in teams but this has allowed him to make friends on his own … Lighting for the skateboarding park would be amazing.”

The Charlton Champion understands that complaints made by people opposed to a past proposal to put lighting in the skate park were a factor in the council’s decision to reject the funding application.

A council spokesperson said: “The Friends of Charlton Park group got in touch recently about applying for Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth funding. This would be for a new path around the main field, new lighting around the new proposed path, as well as for new lighting to other paths and the skate park and outdoor gym.

“We told the group we could not support this application at this time, because there needs to proper discussion, consultation and consideration before an application for funding can be submitted. However, we have said that we would be happy to discuss this further for future rounds of funding.”

The decision also followed the council’s ruling cabinet voting in December to invest £25m in a long-term contract to replace lighting across the borough’s streets. The spokesperson said “this programme was to look at improving the energy efficiency of the council’s current street lighting stock, and not to look at lighting currently unlit areas”.

Other topics covered in the survey included activities, with 43 people wanting more activities in the park, with support for plans for Parkrun to come to Charlton. Planting and nature was supported by 43 people, with 41 people wanting amenities such as a picnic area or support for the Old Cottage Coffee Shop.

The full survey results can be found on the Friends of Charlton Park website.


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Use volunteers to get food, Greenwich Council tells shielding tenant cut off by building works

Fletching Road
The access route to Louise Noyce’s home was cut off on Wednesday

A disabled woman living in a Greenwich Council flat has been told to rely on volunteers to bring in food because her usual access route to her home has been cut off by contractors building new homes.

Louise Noyce lives in a block of flats in Charlton next door to where Meridian Home Start, a council spin-off company, is building 29 houses and eight flats on the site of an old sheltered accommodation block and garages.

The construction work cut off access to the flats from Fletching Road, a quiet street behind Charlton Village, apart from a narrow alleyway. The residents all have Fletching Road in their addresses.

This final remaining route to their road was blocked on Wednesday, with residents told that they would have to use a bin storage area on Charlton Church Lane to get in and out of their homes. The route is expected to be closed for about eight weeks.

Fletching Road
Residents used to have deliveries taken down this alley, which is now closed for 8 weeks

Noyce, who uses a crutch or a mobile scooter to get around, has been shielding during the lockdown and relies on supermarket deliveries for her supplies. She is also recovering from injuries sustained after falling while trying to use the bin storage area, which sits on top of a slope. “My knee gave out on the slope because it is too hard on my joints,” she said.

She has been told by her supermarket that because she cannot provide a recognised address on Charlton Church Lane, she can no longer get deliveries.

“The shop said they can only deliver to my bank card address,” she said. “I have to eat to take medication, so either I don’t eat or I go out to get my shopping myself and break the lockdown law and hope I don’t get coronavirus.”

Fletching Road
Noyce injured herself using the council’s suggested access route, via the bins

She said others in her block are elderly or disabled and face similar problems. “I am not the only one who will have to do this if we don’t get access to our road.”
After raising the issue with the building contractor in November, and getting nowhere, she tried emailing Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe earlier this month. She was advised by a council officer to use the town-hall’s volunteer-led community hub service to get supplies.

Noyce, who is 50, has had to spend the pandemic stuck at home next to the noisy building site, making her depression and anxiety worse. “I don’t like asking for help because I will try and look after myself,” she said. “I have had people help me but I get ripped off or they can’t help when I need it.”

The new development, Duke Court, replaces a sheltered accommodation block, Fred Styles House. The 37 homes were given planning permission as council housing in October 2017; however the development has been transferred to Meridian Home Start, a spin-off company which charges tenants about 65 per cent of market rent, compared with the 40 per cent typically charged for a council flat.

Fletching Road
Noyce has been stuck at home next to a building site during the pandemic

At the time, residents complained of a lack of consultation about the planned work – and the then-chair of planning, Labour councillor Mark James, said more work needed to be done in communicating with residents. Three years on, it appears his words have not been heeded.

“I had no idea until it started coming down,” Noyce said. “I feel they should have moved us all out. I feel as if I don’t have a voice in the matter.”

When visiting the block on Thursday, The Charlton Champion spoke to an elderly neighbour of Noyce’s who told how she took a bus one stop to reach Charlton Village because she was unable to walk up the hill at Charlton Church Lane. She added that the problems accessing the block were compounded by a broken lift.

Fletching Road
Work on the new homes is taking place behind the plywood partition

Despite Noyce’s pleas for help, the council has been insistent that using Charlton Church Lane should be sufficient, even though her supermarket will not recognise the address. “Please could you advise delivery companies that the most appropriate access arrangement to your flat is via Charlton Church Lane,” a council officer wrote on Wednesday.

“They don’t care what happens to disabled and old people,” Noyce said.

“I don’t know what I will do next, I will just try and look after myself the best I can. I will keep trying with the council because what they are doing is wrong.”

Fletching Road
The new homes replace a sheltered accommodation block

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “Fletching Road remains open to vehicles and no area of the road is due to be closed off. As part of the building works, a footpath will be closed for eight weeks and affected residents were given advanced warning by the contractor beginning a year ago.

“In the interim, affected properties can be accessed from Charlton Church Lane via a footpath to the street. Signs have been installed advising visitors to the area of access routes to the various blocks on the estate.

“Residents should advise their delivery companies of these temporary arrangements. It is disappointing if supermarkets are not currently recognising this alternative route – and we would urge them to rectify this.

“If shielding residents are unable to receive their groceries, the council’s community hub can help.”


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