Seven up: Smaller Valley House scheme gets council go-ahead

Valley House render
The previous Valley House scheme was nine floors high, the new one is seven storeys

Greenwich Council’s planning board has backed plans for a seven-storey block of flats on Woolwich Road, six months after it threw out a request to build a nine-storey development.

Developers want to knock down Valley House – a former office block on the corner of Gallions Road – and replace it with 73 flats.

The approval, which came at a meeting on Tuesday evening, comes after months of wrangling over the development. Last June, councillors deferred a decision after objecting to a separate entrance for residents living in “affordable” housing in the scheme. Then in September, a revised proposal was rejected on the chair’s casting vote.

This time around, 10 objections were received, with the Charlton Society and Central Charlton Residents Association – which covers an area south of the railway line – commenting that the building was still too bulky. There were 80 letters of support, many of which used a generic text praising developer London Green’s scheme.

11 of the 73 flats are due to be “affordable”, including seven for social rent. Councillors placed a condition on the development that it be advertised domestically before it is promoted to foreign buyers.

Valley House: Greenwich councillors throw out nine-storey Charlton block

Valley House render

Greenwich Council’s planning board has thrown out plans for a nine-storey block of 74 flats on Woolwich Road – even after the developer agreed to remove the “poor doors” so residents of social and private housing shared the same entrance and facilities.

Councillors had demanded the scheme be deferred in July because of concerns about the “poor doors”, but at also because of the size and density of the development, which faces two-storey homes.

Concerns had been dismissed by council officers, who said in a report: “In an evolving area such as this, it is not practical or even reasonable to expect a developer to mirror the low density of the two-storey terraces on the southern side of Woolwich Road, as the opportunity to provide both market and affordable housing would be missed.”

But in a surprising decision, the nine-strong board dismissed the scheme. Four councillors – Ray Walker, Peter Brooks, Harry Singh and Mehboob Khan – backed the proposal. But four voted against and one, Angela Cornforth, abstained. As planning chair Mark James was one of those opposing the scheme.

Council leader Denise Hyland – the only London borough leader who sits on their council’s main planning committee – was absent due to an engagement elsewhere, as was regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe.

A CGI from architects Chassay & Last.
A CGI from architects Chassay & Last.

28 objections had been received for the scheme, which objector David Gayther called “the most important development here for years”. Residents’ groups had feared approval would set a precedent for the forthcoming new Charlton Riverside masterplan, which observers say is likely to feature demands for more tall buildings by the Thames.

Objectors were led by the Charlton Central Residents Association – whose area, which is south of the railway line, does not cover Valley House. Representative Anne Waite lambasted the lack of measures to deal with poor air quality in the area, saying “we’ve got rid of poor doors and replaced them with poor floors”.

Fellow resident Linda Waite picked holes in the planning document, highlighting a “sloppy use of cut and paste” which appeared to recommend councillors approve a completely separate application. She branded it a “pick and mix” of what recommendations from the masterplan were accepted and which were ignored.

Greenwich Conservation Group’s Philip Binns said there was no indication the developer had even considered reducing the height of the building.

But a representative of the developer denied the scheme “disrespected” loals, and said losing the top two floors would have a disproportionate impact on the number of “affordable” homes that could be provided – which was only 18.9%.

Eltham West councillor Ray Walker said he “couldn’t see the impact on existing residential amenity”, but chair Cllr James said he did not think the scheme conformed with the current Charlton Riverside masterplan. He joined Geoff Brighty, Christine Grice and Nuala Geary in voting down the proposal.

Two other controversial planning applications – one to replace the rear of Charlton Conservative Club with housing, the other the expansion of a care home on Victoria Way, go before a separate planning committee on Tuesday.

New Our Lady of Grace school approved for disused Highcombe playing field site

new Our Lady of Grace School on Highcombe
Developer Galliford Try’s image of the new Our Lady of Grace School on Highcombe
Plans to rebuild Our Lady of Grace primary school on a disused playing field in Highcombe were passed by Greenwich Council last night, despite a 100-signature petition signed by neighbours who oppose the development.

The scheme, passed unanimously by the nine councillors on the planning board, will see the Roman Catholic school move down the hill from its Charlton Road site to open space last used by the former St Austin’s comprehensive school and its successor, Christ The King sixth form college.

The school building was demolished when Christ the King moved to Lewisham in the early 1990s and was replaced with housing, but the playing field remained in church ownership and was left abandoned. The land and Highcombe itself have long been a blackspot for flytipping.

It will enable the school to double its intake to 420 pupils, at a time when primary school places are in high demand. Vehicles will enter via Highcombe – 18 staff parking spaces are being provided – with deliveries using Lime Kiln Close.

The new school could be open as early as September 2016 – a factor in councillors wanting to approve the application now instead of wanting to defer it to iron out issues with those who live near the site.

With a shortage of school places in Greenwich borough, planning chair Mark James said that as community open space can be used for education, “that is the overriding consideration” in the case. Councillors did call for a community garden to be included on the site.

Our Lady of Grace site render

Neighbours are concerned about increased car traffic on adjacent side roads as well as the loss of open space – the 1992 planning agreement for Lime Kiln Drive stated the site was to remain for recreation – with some calling for the school to be rebuilt on its existing site or at the Blackheath Bluecoat site on Old Dover Road. There are also concerns about a “multi-use games area” alongside the school.

Charlton ward councillor Gary Parker led objectors, saying the development would add to the “significant” amount of traffic caused by parents and staff driving to schools in the immediate area. He asked for the application to be deferred.

Martina Keating of the Charlton Central Residents’ Association – whose area doesn’t cover Highcombe – complained the group had not been invited to consultation events. She was also concerned about effects from building the school, adding that piling work at the Sainsbury’s site could be heard from Charlton Village.

Keating said the application had a “rosy view” of car parking – adding that most current Our Lady of Grace staff and pupils came by car. She was also concerned about claims that Victoria Way was a “quiet road” that was suitable for pupils to use to cycle to school, particularly with an increase in traffic caused by new superstore development.

Caroline Love of Charlton Community Gardens pointed out that her group was formed through unsuccessful negotiations with Southwark Diocese to use the land, lamenting the loss of potential for a “community-managed local park”

Local resident Richard Lovegrove, who presented a 100-strong petition from immediate neighbours, said the area would struggle to cope with traffic and branded the scheme a “dangerous, flawed proposal”. Another resident referred to a 1914 covenant on the land which he said meant the owners “must not cause noise or nuisance to neighbours”.

But a father of a child at Our Lady of Grace school, Mark Adams, said there was a “silent majority” in favour of the scheme, claiming most parents there did not drive.

Representatives of the scheme said it was impossible to rebuild the school on its current site due to the listed buildings next to it, and in any case they didn’t own the land there. They added that a scheme to hire out the playing field at “reasonable” rates had failed.

The current site of Our Lady of Grace is not included in the planning application. A previous application covering both sites failed in 2014 because of worries about housing planned for the land where the school sits now.