Berkeley Homes and Boris Johnson’s £500 ceremonial trowel

Back page of Meridian magazine, September 2014 edition
There’s an interesting feature in this week’s Economist about Berkeley Homes, the developer which had a great influence on Greenwich Council during the Chris Roberts years.

It’s not just interesting because it features “a local blogger” commenting on the former Dear Leader, who’s still in close contact with the council leadership, and his ownership of a Berkeley home on the Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich. It also features the revelation that Boris Johnson was given a £500 ceremonial trowel by Berkeley’s chairman, Tony Pidgeley, last summer. (He was also given a glass paperweight in October.) Johnson is, of course, responsible for strategic planning approval for developments such as the Arsenal (which is GLA land) and Kidbrooke Village. (Mind you, at least you can find Johnson’s gifts and hospitality on the City Hall website – try having a look for the equivalent on the Greenwich site.)

It’s not just Berkeley, it’s not just Greenwich, it’s not just Boris Johnson. Developers’ demands are weighing heavily on many London boroughs, but some are more eager to be associated with them than others. And Berkeley’s particularly good at gaining influence, especially as Pidgeley is also president of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (chair: Chris Roberts’ friend Mark Adams) which has been pushing heavily for the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge. Indeed, this written answer from Johnson to London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon acknowledges the link between Berkeley and the LCCI.

Next month’s tall ships boondoggle will also feature another example of a developer wielding financial power – Barratt Homes, which is currently letting historic Enderby House rot away, is sponsoring the event and has its name on banners in Greenwich town centre. “Festival supporters” include Berkeley, Cathedral Group (Silvertown Tunnel supporter and Morden Wharf developer) and Knight Dragon (Greenwich Peninsula developer). Lots of lovely hospitality, no doubt.

It’s not just on tall ships where developers and councillors can get together. Earlier this summer Cathedral’s chief executive Richard Upton popped up at the unveiling of a tree dedicated to Vice Admiral Hardy at Devonport House, Greenwich, alongside Greenwich leader Denise Hyland and Lewisham’s deputy mayor Alan Smith. Cathedral owns Devonport House, alongside the Movement development by Greenwich station and the Deptford Project across the borough boundary. Naturally, it got a warm write-up in Greenwich Time.

So it’s worth keeping an eye on little things like this. As developers become more powerful, and with councils often unable to build their own housing, do we have representatives that can resist these charm offensives and fight for a good deal for us all?

Incidentally, the picture above is that of an ad for the latest phase of the Royal Arsenal – effectively, the flats that’ll pay for Berkeley’s contribution to the Crossrail station there. Note the little back-scratch for the mayor in the shape of a New Routemaster cruising along Beresford Street – in reality, it’s highly unlikely that the Roastmaster will ever make it to SE18.


  1. If the starting point of this Blog is to create the impression that Councillors are in the pockets of developers and have their noses well and truly in the trough, it is not only misleading but far from the truth. The belief that Councillors are failing to declare gifts and hospitality is simply not true. If the author has any evidence then he should publish any evidence he has. I appreciate that this is unlikely to happen. I hold no particular brief for any developer and my views of the overdevelopment of the Arsenal by Berkeley Homes is well documented. It is not unusual for any local authority to seek sponsorship for their activities and the Royal Borough is no different. However we need to find new opportunities to build housing for those in the greatest need and a key reason why the Council is in the process of developing its own Housing Company. While there may be a perception that developers can do what they like fails to understand the Planning process . Councillors work hard on the Planning Board to reduce the excesses of developers but the planning process nationally needs to be far more robust .

  2. Sorry to contradict, but in reality, it’s highly LIKELY that the “Roastmaster” (New Routemaster / New Bus for London, to give it the more official names) will make it to SE18. The scale of the fleet requirement for them – c600 over five years to 2018 – indicates that over the next several years TfL will propose NBL for a high proportion of routes going out to tender. Initially these are likely to be concentrated in Central London, but routes linking the centre and “inner outer” areas are prime candidates. Think of the 148, Camberwell Green to White City, already using NBL, and the 53, Plumstead to Whitehall. One question is whether the NBL will be mandated on certain routes, or whether the tender will be more subtle, eg by specifying emissions limits, which could mean a choice between the NBL (built by Wrightbus) and a variant of the Enviro (built by Alexander Dennis, long the most popular supplier to Stagecoach and some other operators). If and when I discover more, will keep you posted.

  3. John Fahy –

    1) Would you say Boris Johnson is in the pocket of developers?

    2) Could you link to where councillors’ gifts and hospitality are recorded on Greenwich Council’s website?

    3) Could you link to your own gifts/hospitality, and that of Chris Roberts?

    These should be simple things for you to do.

    The council as a corporate body is certainly heavily influenced by the needs of Berkeley Homes, as evidenced in the recent Bridge The Gap campaign for river crossings, and the even more recent decision to move a skate park from Woolwich to Charlton, thanks to a hefty sum of money from Berkeley Homes:

  4. I should add that nobody’s accusing anyone of anything – but the Economist piece highlights the close relations between a developer and London’s mayor and boroughs. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest the relationship between Greenwich and Berkeley has been unhealthily close – think of the fiasco over bus services through Kidbrooke Village, which Greenwich tried to blame TfL for. And on a broader level, we know the last administration’s planning board contained the leader, regeneration cabinet member and the chief Labour whip – that’s not healthy. If Stephen Brain hadn’t ousted Ray “what bullying?” Walker as chief whip, that grim troika would have continued.

    Rather than knee-jerk defensiveness, I’d like to hear how transparent the council will be in dealings with developers. At least we can see where Boris takes his freebies from…

  5. Off topic, but it appears the designs of the row of towers along there have been altered and now look better. I was quite disparaging before as they resembled the Bedford Hotel (Holiday Inn) in Brighton which can be seen here

    The row of commercial units all along at street level should become a thriving parade of shops, pubs, bars, restaurants etc. Given this is London though, and rents are extortionate, there’s every chance they wont be let and some converted to residential.

  6. Another thing I like about that image is that it is high density. Looking at the image and it could easily be a city street in Germany, French, Spanish etc. Most main city streets in continental cities have tall & dense residential developments along them and units at ground floor level offering a good choice of amenities. It’s also ideal for such density near a major transport interchange. This model works very well wherever it exists which is why it is so common.

    The issue in the UK is not the density or height but that many of those flats will not be affordable or sold abroad and left empty. Plus the size of them with the UK having the smallest new builds in the EU and minimal regulation for private sales

  7. This is an increasingly important issue that needs to be adequately addressed by our local representatives, and not just with defensive statements. It also appears an awful lot of these are luxury homes/not genuinely affordable and therefore don’t necessarily address the need for housing. Also, just my impression but it does always seem the developer gets their demands, with our without Boris’ help. Planners need to make sure pollution, remaining green spaces and infrastructure/transport are assessed fully and big developments not just give a green light because it’s someone important’s mates (we’ve already got Boris for those kind of back-scratching deals, we need local politicians to be more neutral).

  8. To be fair though Joe in many cases if local authorities block then developers simply appeal to the Mayor and GLA.

    Authorities need to come up with robust local master plans which give more weight to their decisions. Greenwich still flout their own masterplans when giving approval though as seen in Woolwich and Greenwich, and in places just havn’t bothered coming up with one. The huge growth area around Abbey Wood is one example, despite Crossrail criticising the lack of action on creating one in reports. Greenwich council have done nothing, along with Bexley Council.

    Authorities should also be fostering close relationships and placing emphasis on close working whilst plans are drawn up so satisfactory proposals come before planning. No good having minimal interactions then complaining by the time it comes to planning. Often too late by then.

  9. The Future of London support was sponsored by crossrail

    It includes –

    “A Thamesmead and Abbey Wood Supplementary Planning
    Document was produced jointly by Greenwich and Bexley
    councils and adopted in 2009…However, no detailed masterplan has
    come forward for the area, despite acknowledgement in
    the SPD that a “comprehensive masterplanning exercise” is
    required to avoid “piecemeal development”

    Despite good cross-borough work on station design
    and the Thamesmead and Abbey Wood Supplementary
    Planning Document, progress has stalled in creating a
    masterplan for Abbey Wood between RB Greenwich and
    LB Bexley. Opportunity stemming from the new station
    should not be lost, so potential levers to encourage its
    delivery should be considered by all stakeholders involved.”

    There are a number of hurdles
    in delivering regeneration and development around
    Abbey Wood station…Good work on strategic planning guidance risks
    being lost if masterplans are not created to carry
    their principles forward.

    The area has significant scope
    for further development, including the intensification of
    existing land (highlighted in the Thamesmead and Abbey
    Wood SPD); going forward though, there is a genuine need
    for closer partnership working between public and private
    sectors and the development of a more defined spatial
    vision for the area to allow Abbey Wood to maximise its

    5 years on from the SPD and no word of any masterplan and now developments are underway.

  10. I asked John on twitter about the lack of action on a Abbey Wood masterplan despite the clear need and statements in reports such as –

    “There are a number of hurdles in delivering regeneration and development around Abbey Wood station…Good work on strategic planning guidance risks being lost if masterplans are not created to carry their principles forward.”.

    The response was a robot like ‘on message’ statement – “exciting plans for the Abbeywood Crossrail Station will lead to a wider regeneration opportunity” which means little and answered nothing. Stating the bloody obvious with no details. I replied asking what sites – there are many. No response. Oh, and the deputy leader spelt Abbey Wood as Abbeywood. May seem minor but its a bit like someone pronouncing Woolwich as Wool-wich. Something outsiders may do and not the deputy leader of the borough in charge.

    At this rate if good development occurs it will be more likely to come down to luck than planning. A reliance on the developers to come up with decent designs for image reasons.

Comments are closed.