London mayor Sadiq Khan is pressing ahead with plans to cut bus route 53, which links Charlton with central London, despite widespread opposition from local councils and MPs.
The 53 will be cut back to run from Plumstead to County Hall from June 15, and will only run to Whitehall for night services, which will be renumbered N53. Day services will also be cut from every seven and a half minutes to every eight minutes.
The proposals have gone ahead despite opposition from Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark councils, and local MPs Matt Pennycook, Teresa Pearce and Clive Efford, and a 1,900-signature petition from local bus users.
Pennycook said: “I’m extremely disappointed that they have chosen to press ahead with cuts to the 53 bus service despite the significant local opposition that was expressed.”
He said he would press TfL for guarantees that passengers would not have to pay twice for their journeys to central London – many 53 journeys last over an hour, meaning Khan’s “hopper” fare would not apply for passengers changing near the end of the truncated route.
The cut to the 53 was first revealed on this website last year. It is part of a larger programme of cutbacks to bus services, particularly in central London, to address a fall in ridership and TfL’s financial problems. The mayor’s transport agency had its funding cut by Evening Standard editor George Osborne when he was chancellor, while coffers are also being drained by Khan’s partial fare freeze and delays to Crossrail.
But while south-east London – with few Tube services – gets hit by the cut to route 53 as well as a separate cutback to route 171, which serves New Cross and Brockley, proposals for four cuts in central London, including routes along the King’s Road in Chelsea, have been abandoned.
The scheme, which included building 10-storey blocks, was bitterly opposed by residents in Atlas Gardens and Derrick Gardens, who said the buildings would loom over their homes. It was rejected by Greenwich councillors in July, despite council officers recommending they approve it, because it did not conform with the recently-agreed masterplan for the Charlton riverside.
In his written summary, Khan says: “This is an underutilised, brownfield site in an opportunity area and very accessible. It is well-connected and in an area capable of accommodating growth. It is precisely the kind of site that we need to bring forward in order to create vibrant and active places, ensuring a compact and well-functioning city.
“However, I am clear that we must deliver good growth, not growth at any cost, where people have more of a say and don’t feel excluded from the process. I have listened carefully to the concerns of residents and considered the substantial amount of work done on the Charlton Riverside Masterplan. I consider that this is the wrong development for the site.”
Khan outlines four reasons: poor design; its effect on Imex House, a commercial building next door which houses Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook’s studio; the lack of space for existing local businesses on the site; and the lack of a Section 106 agreement for “affordable” housing and other mitigation of the scheme’s impact.
In his reasons, he urges Rockwell to “go back to the drawing board, in partnership with the community, the council and the GLA, to come up with a scheme that delivers on the strong ambitions we all share for the future of Charlton Riverside”.
Khan’s reasons may raise eyebrows elsewhere in Charlton, where 10-storey blocks at Victoria Way – just outside the masterplan area – were approved by Greenwich councillors in January 2018 without any explanation to objectors, a decision that was later ratified by the mayor. Indeed, Rockwell can still appeal to planning inspectors and challenge Khan’s decision.
Greenwich Council rejected the plans last year, saying it was against the masterplan for the riverside land. But within weeks Khan “called in” the proposal to decide himself. Local councillors and residents fear that approval will set a precedent for the riverside, which has no major infrastructure improvements planned, to be developed with tower blocks rather than family housing. Many thought Khan would simply rubber-stamp the scheme.
The mayor said the site was easily accessible, and said council planning committees needed to bear in mind London’s housing crisis.
But he told the audience to cheers: “In my view, this scheme is not of sufficient design quality, and the layout and massing leads to a poor residential environment and poor quality public realm.”
He also voiced concerns on the effects on local businesses.
Neighbours and local businesses had lined up to reject the scheme, and Khan praised the contribution of residents, calling them “the opposite of NIMBYs”.
The chair of the Charlton Central Residents Association, Jodie Coughlan, laid into Rockwell’s lack of consultation – something highlighted by Khan in his verdict.
“This is a serious insult to the intelligence of the public, and our confidence in the GLA as a planning authority,” she told the mayor. “For something of this scale, an intelligent approach should have been taken from the beginning. Many residents are saying ‘why bother?’ … CCRA would strongly urge the mayor to reject this application and send Rockwell back to engage with the community.”
Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook – whose recording studio is next to the site – also spoke, to say he had been “locked out” of meetings between Rockwell and the Greater London Authority since 2015.
All 11 councillors on Greenwich’s planning board rejected the scheme, with chair Sarah Merrill declaring: “This application in no way resembles the spirit of the Charlton Riverside masterplan, in terms of height, massing and design. It’s reminiscent of Stalingrad.” Other objectors include local MP Matt Pennycook, who says the scheme remains too dense and should be cut from a maximum of 10 storeys to six storeys, while it also needs more family-sized homes. He also calls the design “sterile and monotonous”, and says there needs to be a cut in car parking.
Rockwell wants to build 771 homes, with the possibility of 165 homes (21.4%) for “affordable rent” and 127 (16.4%) for shared ownership with a City Hall grant.
Residents, who believe the development would tower over the cul-de-sacs at Atlas and Derrick Gardens, have accused Rockwell have circulating misleading images of the scheme.
You can see a recording of the hearing, which began at 2pm and lasted two hours, on the City Hall website. Brief updates on what happened follow…
Live updates (most recent first) – refresh for updates
5.05pm. And that’s that – a surprising verdict, but not too much of a shock to those who heard the residents’ testimony this afternoon.
4.50pm — DECISION REJECTED
Khan says he called in the population to give it more scrutiny and that London has a booming population and needs housing. “In Greenwich alone, I’m told there are 17,000 households on the waiting list. We must optimise the development of underused sites while protecting the green belt… this needs to be recognised at a local level by council planning committees.” He criticises Rockwell’s lack of consultation, but says council planning committees need to bear London’s needs in mind. He says the site is clearly accessible… but then rejects it to cheers from the public gallery, citing a poor quality environment, poor quality public realm. Blimey.
4.49pm Khan is back in the chamber.
4.04pm Smith says Rockwell has had interest from three providers to take on the “affordable” housing. Khan is now going to retire to consider his decision. “Hopefully it’ll be today when I come back,” he says.
4.03pm Khan questions Greg Smith on Rockwell’s lack of consultation. He claims to have attended five different consultations. “We feel we’ve done everything we should be doing, and we’ve tried to do more.” Asked engagement with the riverside industries, Smith says Rockwell has agreed to send construction materials by river rather than road. Questioned about Glenn Tilbrook’s objections, Smith says Rockwell did engage, but Tilbrook responds but he did not get sufficient details in the answers given to him. “There is nothing in the reports about sound going into my premises, and I’ve asked.”
3.57pm Sadiq Khan commends planning chair Sarah Merrill for her engagement with residents, adding that “it is an example for other councils to follow…. the residents are “the opposite of NIMBYs”. But he asks her: “If an applicant reduces height and density, do you appreciate that it results in fewer homes and affordable homes?” She responds that Greenwich could make up the numbers because Charlton Riverside as a whole is such a land area. “If we’re given the leverage, we can deliver the affordable homes that would be lost here. We believe that this is housing at any costs… and we need to spread the housing along the vast area of riverside,” she said. Asked about Rockwell’s plan for businesses: “Our view is it’ll provably be Costa Coffee for want of a better word. We would have liked to have seen a greater mix with low-scale manufacturing and industry, not just retail space.” Senior planning officer Victoria Geoghegan backs her up.
3.51pm Now Greg Smith of GVA, Rockwell’s consultants says the site “has excellent transport links”, and says existing industrial occupiers will be helped to move locally. Rachel Huff of Simpson Huff architects promises a “vibrant, mixed-use” development, and outlines some of the changes to the scheme since the mayor called it in. It will “create a new working, thriving, living neighbourhood,” she says.
3.45pm London Assembly member Len Duvall speaks. “This site is simply too small for the number of homes planned on it, I’ve had people come to me and say the previous scheme that went to the council was better.”
3.42pm Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze thanks the mayor for his over-60s Oyster card, then says Rockwell and the GLA have spent 16 hours in meetings since 2015. “We’ve been locked out of them,” he said. “The model of the proposed development was a model of misrepresentation – existing buildings were depicted as being larger than they are, I wish my studio was a three storey building.” He adds: “The GLA have ignored us and swept our concerns away.” He says he faces a loss of income from studio rental and a loss of access for his tour bus. “We thank Rockwell for the offer of soundproofing, but this needs to be dealt with by independent professionals answerable to us.” He adds: “Where’s the hope and where’s the love in this development?”, calling the scheme “a kick in the teeth for residents”.
3.37pm David Gayther of Charlton Together, a network of community groups, says the community feels “let down” by the GLA in calling it in. “Mr Mayor, you’ve said over and over that Londoners should develop their own communities, but nowhere in London is doing that better than Charlton. We have better relations than ever with our own council.”
3.33pm Phil Connolly of the Atlas and Derrick Gardens Residents Association. “I have Parkinsons disease, so I’ve joined the movers and shakers before I met you,” he jokes. “The planners have lost the plot a little – they think significance is related to quantity and scale,” he says, pointing out that Rockwell hasn’t monitored for PM2.5 pollution. “We have 13 deaths a year in our council ward… the Rockwell development is set to make that worse.” He adds: “You’re our mayor – we elected you. We beg you not to leave you in the bands of Rockwell, getting darker and colder, and we don’t want the pollution Rockwell is threatening us with.”
3.27pm Carol Kenna of the Charlton Society: “We believe the masterplan as it stands at the moment is a very good starting point for the development of the riverside area. On the contrary, at our first resident with Rockwell, the developers were offered sweeties – to tick a box if we wanted a creche. We were told we couldn’t discuss principles, and we feel we are not being treated that way. We were given two days notice of the latest consultation – two, two-hour slots at the weekend. The model was inaccurate, we were told by one representative it was in scale, another that it wasn’t in scale, and they had a public disagreement.” She says she is “puzzled” that the GLA has called it in based on inadequate Greenwich housing figures – but the GLA did not respond to a query on why. Kenna would like to know where Khan stands since he has recently called for community-led development.
3.23pm Jodie Coughlan from the Charlton Central Residents Association criticises Rockwell’s approach to consultation – four hours right at the end of the consultation period, with a 3D model produced right at the end. “This is a serious insult to the intelligence of the public, and our confidence in the GLA as a planning authority,” she says. “For something of this scale, an intelligent approach should have been taken from the beginning. Many residents are saying ‘why bother?’… CCRA would strongly urge the mayor to reject this application and send Rockwell back to engage with the community.”
3.18pm Local resident Yann Leclerc thanks Rockwell for listening to community concerns – but says the scheme still isn’t good enough. “The play street is a lovely idea, but in reality I doubt it will be used very much,” saying it will not be an attractive setting and will be used as an access route for industry. “How many children will actually use it?,” he says, pointing out the lack of family housing and the overshadowing.
3.15pm Phil Aust of Day Aggregates, representing the riverside industry. He talks about the importance of the aggregate industry to London – a third of the capital’s building industry’s needs comes through the Greenwich/Charlton wharves. This development itself will require “tens of thousands aggregates” – but he says current plans will mean that this will come by road, not by river.
3.12pm “The scheme is a complete travesty of that masterplan… this is housing at any price, and its legacy will be that it is a social mistake,” Merrill says to applause.
3.07pm Greenwich planning chair Sarah Merrill says that the leader of council was “not comfortable” with it, and says it “in no way” reflects the Charlton masterplan, which took six years and £1 million of work. She cites overdevelopment, adding that the new plan compounds this; points out the reduced level of family housing; and the effect on business neighbours such as Squeeze’s recording studio. “We don’t want Squeeze squeezed out,” she says.
3.06pm Provisions are in place for a “potential bus transit route”, while Rockwell will pay £2.1m for a new west-east access road towards Warspite Road. “Although there are planned public transport improvements, these will not be delivered before this is determined,” the City Hall officer says, justifying the large amount of car parking on the site. There will be £830,000 for bus services (presumably the “bus transit route”).
3.04pm Dealing with Glenn Tilbrook’s criticism that the scheme will damage his use of his recording studio, the City Hall officer this there will be access for a tour bus, heavy works will be taking place at agreed times and Rockwell has agreed put in soundproofing to protect the studio if needed.
2.55pm Residents’ windows on Atlas and Derrick Gardens will, at most, experience a “minor adverse impact”, apart from one which will be in a room where there is another window that isn’t affected. So that’s alright then.
2.52pm. We are being shown views of the scheme from Atlas and Derrick Gardens. Many locals say these visualisations aren’t accurate.
2.48pm. A City Hall planning officer has been talking. His delivery isn’t too exciting, but to sum up, he says the scheme is in “sustainable location” and complies with London Plan policies – the London Plan is the mayor’s masterplan for all of the capital. Those who struggles to take buses to North Greenwich this morning may beg to differ…
2.43pm. WE’RE BACK! Thank you to reader Paul Chapman for suggesting randomly hitting the “play” button on the webcast. Let’s hope City Hall’s planning decision-making is more sound than its IT.
2.16pm There is currently no sound on the City Hall webcast, rendering this attempt at a live blog rather pointless. If the sound reappears, we will try to resume it, otherwise, we will catch up with the result after it is announced. Apologies.
2.05pm. Still waiting to start. It’s fair to say that many local decision-makers are expecting Khan to approve the scheme. Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has already written to Communities Secretary James Brokenshire today to ask him to consider calling in the scheme to be decided by a planning inspector if Khan gives it the green light today.
The amended scheme, created after discussions with Khan’s officers at City Hall, sees two storeys lopped off a block that overlooked homes in Derrick Gardens, meaning the historic cottages of Atlas and Derrick Gardens will now have a four-storey block behind them.
Another block, to the south of Atlas Gardens, has also had two storeys removed, cutting it down to five. Other blocks around the site have been increased in height to compensate.
Rockwell’s new scheme is unlikely to satisfy critics, who say the developer’s plans go against the recently-adopted Charlton Riverside masterplan, which sets out a vision for lower-rise developments aimed at families in Charlton to sit in between the towers of Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich.
All 11 councillors on Greenwich’s planning board rejected the scheme, with chair Sarah Merrill declaring: “This application in no way resembles the spirit of the Charlton Riverside masterplan, in terms of height, massing and design. It’s reminiscent of Stalingrad.”
But Rockwell – which has retained former Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts’ company Cratus Communications as lobbyists – insisted it was “fantastic opportunity to kick-start the regeneration of this area”.