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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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”.
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.
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”.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
U+I plans 380 homes on the old Siemens factory site on the Charlton/Woolwich border, along with a co-working hub for local businesses and space for light industry. The scheme, Faraday Works, was recently altered because one of the Siemens buildings was given a Grade II listing – resulting in a cut to the “affordable” housing on the site.