Greenwich planning chair clashes with residents in Charlton Riverside row

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

Greenwich’s chair of planning was ticked off by a former council leader on Tuesday night after he clashed with residents over what new buildings on the Charlton Riverside should look like.

Labour councillor Stephen Brain challenged members of local lobby groups who are insisting that a masterplan drawn up to redevelop the area, involving building thousands of homes but keeping tall buildings to a minimum, should be followed closely.

But Dave Picton, who led Greenwich Council for two years in the late 1980s, said he was “surprised” that Brain was not following a ruling made last year which defined 10 storeys as “high rise” for the area.

The exchanges took place as councillors on the planning board met to decide whether 188 homes in blocks of up to nine storeys should be built by the developer Aitch on land behind the derelict Victoria pub, close to the Thames Barrier.

Last week, the same planning board rejected a housing association’s plans to build 67 affordable-rent homes after local lobby groups complained about the development’s seven-storey height.

Those same residents returned to the town hall last night to object to Aitch’s plans, which only include 40 affordable-rent homes and 10 for shared ownership – five percentage points short of the council’s target of 35 per cent “affordable” homes.

But in a meeting disrupted by Covid restrictions – the government has banned councils from holding their most important meetings online, despite the continuing pandemic – Brain and the residents started to fall out.

The masterplan suggests a maximum height of 10 storeys in the area to differentiate it from the Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal, and to complement the low-rise nature of the wider Charlton area. But in the area where Aitch wants to build the new homes, the guidelines suggests three to six storeys. A further complication is that ground-floor housing is not allowed because of the risk of flooding around the Thames Barrier.

Roden Richardson, speaking for the Charlton Society, said that allowing a nine-storey block would be a “major departure” from the masterplan.

The “unacceptable heights” would set an “extremely worrying precedent” for the rest of the riverside area, he said, resulting in even denser development and the need for additional infrastructure.

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

But Brain said: “What special character does the area have currently? From the Woolwich Road down to the river – in terms of scrapyards and people who will take your wheels off your car if you stand still for more than five minutes.

“I don’t think this development, in my experience, is high rise. Any definition in any architecture book would define high rise as being above 11 storeys.”

Richardson responded: “The character is Charlton as a whole, not just the riverside.”

“But the application is for the riverside,” Brain said.

An irritated-sounding Richardson said: “We’re going back a long way with the creation of the masterplan – one of the key points of the masterplan was the riverside’s integration with Charlton as a whole.”

Brain replied: “I don’t want to be argumentative, but I’m going to be because I’m the chair, but in that case you should be building three-bedroom Victorian houses. Or from what I was hearing last week, perhaps it should be an estate of bungalows? Or bungalows on stilts because they wouldn’t comply with the environmental safety regulation.”

He then cut Richardson off to move on to the next speaker.

David Gayther, from the Charlton Central Residents’ Association – which covers streets about half a mile from the proposed development – said he found Brain’s comments “disturbing”.

Denying that local lobby groups were looking for “three storey Victorian housing”, he said that the masterplan called for “reasonably high-density, mixed use, medium height development that promotes quite a different community … a blank canvas on which to build a new Charlton that avoids some of the mistakes of Woolwich”.

“I do understand masterplans,” Brain shot back at the end of Gayther’s contribution.

Aitch render
Aitch’s view from Westmoor Street looking south

Picton referred to a planning inspector’s findings when plans for 10-storey blocks off Anchor and Hope Lane were thrown out last year. “The inspector differentiated between Greenwich [Peninsula] and Woolwich, and Charlton riverside.

“He said explicitly that Charlton riverside was urban, it wasn’t metropolitan. In terms of height, he said very clearly that 10 storeys on Charlton riverside is high rise. That view was endorsed by the secretary of state and I’m surprised that you don’t seem to have picked that up.”

Contradicting his earlier remark, Brain said: “I thought mid-rise were defined as being between five and 12 storeys, and high-rises were 13 floors and above, and that’s my definition that I tend to work to.”

The levels of “affordable” housing also came under scrutiny, although one member of the planning board, Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner, had to have London Affordable Rent levels explained to him – even though one of his other roles on the council is chairing the housing scrutiny panel.

London Affordable Rent is a policy of London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. It sets levels at about half of market rent – higher than council or social rents offered to existing tenants, which are about 40 per cent of market rent – but are available to people on universal credit. The housing charity Shelter has questioned whether London Affordable Rent is set at a fair level, but it is usually the cheapest rent available.

When questioned why the development did not offer social rents, Greenwich’s principal planner Jillian Halford said that London Affordable Rent was “certainly affordable to borough residents”.

“We may disagree on that,” Mardner said. Greenwich Council itself uses London Affordable Rent for its new Greenwich Builds properties – schemes which Mardner has voted in favour of.

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

Asked by Glyndon councllor Sandra Bauer why “affordable” housing levels had dropped from 35 to 30 percent, Halford said that the cut had been made to keep the development viable after original plans for 10 storeys were dropped.

Brenda Taggart from Charlton Together, another lobby group, questioned the developer’s attitude to “affordable” housing after a series of upward and downward revisions, saying it “has more elasticity than my old grandma’s knickers”.

The planning meeting had to end after two hours because of Covid restrictions – the cramped 115-year-old Woolwich Town Hall chamber is he only meeting room fitted with cameras so meetings can be viewed remotely, and councillors can only meet for two hours with a 15-minute break to air the chamber.

The restrictions have played havoc with Greenwich’s planning meetings, which had been held online with only a few hitches until communities secretary Robert Jenrick and a court ruling stopped the practice for councils’ decision-making meetings.

Councillors will hear from the developer and resume their deliberations on 20 July.


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Greenwich Together ’21: Find out more about Charlton Park’s summer festival

Charlton Park
Charlton Park will be the venue for Greenwich Together ’21 in August

An “enchanted forest” and live music are among the attractions planned for Greenwich Together ’21, a one-day festival to take place in Charlton Park on 21 August.

The event is a continuation of Greenwich Council’s annual Great Get Together event, which was held at Barrack Field on Woolwich Common before moving to Woolwich town centre in 2019.

Now the council is promising “family-friendly, Covid-safe activities for all ages and abilities to enjoy. Try out some sports or dance moves, listen to bands give it their all, or wander through an enchanted forest being charmed by the flora and fauna bursting into life all around you.”

There will be children’s activities, craft workshops, local community and voluntary sector area, live music, a dance tent, sports and ‘have a go’ activities, a marketplace and street food from around the world, a chillout zone with yoga and mindfulness activities, and funfair rides.

Organisers are looking for bands and traders to take part – apply via the council website.

Greenwich Together ’21 is being put together by Continental Drifts, which organised the Sparkle in the Park event at Avery Hill Park in Eltham last December.

Victoria Sandell from Continental Drifts will be filling in park users about the festival at the Friends of Charlton Park AGM, which takes place via Zoom on Tuesday night at 8pm – sign up via the Friends website.


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Greenwich Council plans to hold £165,000 festival in Charlton Park in August

Charlton Park
Charlton Park could host Greenwich Council’s main summer festival in August

Greenwich Council’s annual Great Get Together festival is to move from Woolwich to Charlton Park and be given a new look and name, tender documents issued to potential event producers reveal.

Held to coincide with Armed Forces Day for the past decade, the event began life at Barrack Field on Woolwich Common, as a merger of smaller events held around the borough in the years before that. It moved to Woolwich town centre in 2019.

After last year’s event fell foul of the pandemic, the council is now planning to relaunch its annual jamboree, with Saturday 21 August pencilled in as a start date – at a cost of £165,000.

The move from Woolwich to Charlton Park will disappoint those hoping for a boost to the troubled town centre, which is receiving up to £17.1m in government funds to make it more appealing to visitors and residents.

But the council says “this year provides a natural opportunity to reconfigure the event and move location”.

“This location has been chosen as the park is in the centre of the borough, is a large, flat, green space with many sections, fenced with several gates, a small car park and is well equipped with existing facilities including a skate park, cafes and a playground making it the perfect location for a contemporary outdoor community festival, with exciting new content for residents to enjoy,” the tender document, spotted by tweeter Jo Brodie, states.

“The event will also provide an opportunity for thanks to our NHS and key workers, as well for reflection and memorial to those lives lost during the pandemic. The focus for the event should be a contemporary family festival with an overriding theme of equality and diversity,” potential organisers are told.

“We envisage music, arts, culture, food and entertainment from around the world, but embedded in the diversity of the variety of communities we have in Royal Greenwich [sic]. The event needs a rebrand – with a new name that captures this essence.”

The document says that for this year only and as “a celebration of the potential end of the pandemic, we are able to invest more in the event than ever before, enabling the opportunity to produce a really spectacular show”.

While coronavirus restrictions remain in place until at least June 21, and scientists have warned of a third wave in July or August, the tender document makes the assumption that London will be in a better position to hold outdoor events.

“The end of summer date hopefully allows for the Covid-19 restrictions to have been lifted, the vaccination programme to have been completed, and anticipates that visitors will have regained confidence in large events and social gatherings again,” the document states.

The proposals appear to be similar to those for the hugely popular Lewisham People’s Day, which takes part in Mountsfield Park in Catford. However, organisers have also been told that “due to the borough’s rich military history and some armed forces content at previous events, we may want to include some content of this nature such as an assault course and visibility and support from local community groups such as the Army Cadets and British Legion”.

The plan to spend £165,000 on a festival in Charlton Park comes two months after the council declined to spend money on improving lighting in the park to make it safer during the winter months.

Companies who want to put the event on have until 30 April to submit their application.

A version of this story appears on our sister website 853.


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