Greenwich Council set to sell The Heights land for private housing after only two attend consultation

The Heights
Greenwich Council plans to sell this land at The Heights for private housing

Greenwich Council can press ahead with the controversial sale of public land at The Heights despite concerns that only two residents attended consultation events.

The authority backtracked on its original proposals to sell off garage sites at the Orchard Eastate in Lewisham and Kidbrooke Park Close following protests from residents and councillors.

The plans sparked a backlash with neighbours concerned primarily about parking, and with elected officials over the use of a private developer – Pocket Living – instead of building council housing.

The council undertook a seven-week consultation before deciding to scrap two of the sales, but still wants to dispose of land at The Heights, above Charlton Athetic’s stadium.

A scrutiny panel approved the schemes in principle last night despite concerns about the council’s assumption that because few people in Charlton bothered to reply, there was little opposition.

Only 14 people replied to the consultation in Charlton, with six people disagreeing with the sale, and drop-in sessions were only attended by two residents.

Director of housing Jamie Carswell said: “There has been widespread support that there needs to be more homes in the borough. I had to weigh up that – which is borough-wide – against the level of sentiment at each particular site.

“Not to dispute that there was a small number of people responding, but I had to weigh up that lack of concern, against the overwhelming necessity for housing in general.

“This was always going to be a decision made on balance. Balancing this up, the overwhelming positivity for housing or the naturality at the Heights, that is the balance of this recommendation.”

The Heights
The land between The Heights and Sam Bartram House is contaminated

Charlton councillor Gary Parker called for more consultation to be done and questioned why Pocket had been allowed to embark on a PR drive complete with template support emails.

He said: “Pocket produced a website with a model email and produced Facebook ads and other ads to support their case. I have real concern that developers with a commercial interest have tried to influence a public consultation.

“This was a consultation about the sale of public land. In Charlton, whatever way this is spun round, only two people supported it. The Heights was a neglected estate for a long time, socially isolated with very vulnerable people there. There is a history of anti-social behaviour, all of this has contributed to the low consultation rate.

“I think you have to do further consultation work in this area. You can’t read any conclusions from this.”

Housing bosses said they threw out responses submitted through Pocket’s PR drive, none of which were considered as part of the consultation.

Councillors were told that another consultation would not change the results, citing a lack of community and opposition on the estate as a reason for the low turnout.

Chris Kirby, cabinet member for housing, said: “We ran the same consultation across all estates. Everyone had the same opportunity.

“I believe this was an exemplary consultation – people have had the opportunity to have their say, when there have been strong feelings they have told us and we have listened.

“People do not tend to overwhelmingly respond to something they don’t think is going to affect them.”

The land at The Heights is contaminated and would be too expensive for the council to build on, but specialist developer Pocket believes it can build 45 one-bedroom flats on the site.

Councillors voted to approve the recommendations but told the cabinet member to ask Pocket to build some two-bedroom homes.

Did you take part in the Pocket consultation in Charlton? If so, let us know in the comments.


LDRS logoTom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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Greenwich Council set to sell The Heights parking spaces to ‘compact homes’ developer

The Heights
The plot of land sits above The Valley and Sam Bartram House

Greenwich councillors have voted to sell car parking spaces at The Heights to a private developer, promising to invest the proceeds in new council housing.

The small plot of land, which overlooks The Valley, will be sold to developer Pocket Living, subject to a consultation with council tenants who live nearby.

Pocket believes it can build 45 one-bedroom flats in a four-storey building.

Greenwich Council’s cabinet also voted to sell two other plots of land to the same company – one off Kidbrooke Park Road and the other on the Orchard Estate in Lewisham, providing 151 one-bedroom flats across the three sites.

The developer, which specialises in “affordable compact homes for first time buyers”, will sell the homes to Greenwich residents at a 20% discount, with a covenant in place to ensure they cannot be sold for a year after purchase. No parking permits will be issued to buyers.

The Heights
The entrance to the site from The Heights

The Heights
The land between The Heights and Sam Bartram House is contaminated

80% of the proceeds from the sale will go into new council housing, with the remainder being used to improve the immediate area in the housing estates affected.

The proposal has been criticised because of the small size of Pocket’s homes, and the fact the council had opted to sell to a private firm rather than Meridian Home Start, the company it set up to deliver housing at 65% of market rents. Neither criticism was directly addressed in the meeting.

The Heights
Residents currently use the land for car parking and recycling

Regeneration director Pippa Hack, the senior council officer in charge of the scheme, said developing all three sites would deliver between £100,000 and £130,000 in council tax receipts.

“All the homes will be for sale to people who live or work in the borough, and 70% of buyers who buy through Pocket have incomes of up to £40,000. They will be sold at 20% discount compared to the local market, there will be a restrictive covenant that secures the properties in perpetuity, so there will be no sub-letting or no sales in year one,” she added.

Asked by deputy leader David Gardner what the council would do if the consultation revealed significant opposition to the scheme, Hack said officers would need to judge if the concerns outweighed the benefits of the scheme.

Cabinet member Averil Lekau added: “It seems obvious to me that you will listen to the views of residents and you will weigh that up. We would never say we would go to consultation unless it was meaningful.”

Leader Danny Thorpe said: “There have been some comments online about these particular schemes and our decision to dispose of the land; I would point out that on The Heights in Charlton, that is actually contaminated land that we are looking to dispose of; and while I appreciate that there have been some concerns about that, we have to address the housing crisis in any way we can.

“The land we are looking at here is land that we haven’t been able to make the best use of as an authority, so that conversation with residents will hopefully be a positive one when we explain what we’re doing.

“And also, we can utilise some money directly for us to build our own homes, council homes at social rents. It won’t provide us with the funds to provide all the homes we need, but it will provide us with some. And we have to start somewhere.”

One resident of the housing opposite The Heights plot was unaware of the scheme when The Charlton Champion visited the site on Wednesday. When told what the council was planning, she responded: “What? But we need that for our car parking!”

Last October, Greenwich councillors approved plans to build 37 new homes at nearby Fred Styles House, on Charlton Church Lane, a scheme that was later switched to Meridian Home Start.

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