Greenwich councillors risked a clash with Sadiq Khan on Tuesday night after throwing out a scheme for 619 new homes at Kidbrooke station backed by Transport for London.
TfL, which is chaired by the mayor, and the housing association Notting Hill Genesis want to build on land next to the station as part of a capital-wide scheme to build homes on TfL land.
But councillors said the Kidbrooke Station Square scheme, which included a 20-storey high tower, was too dense and lacked sufficient transport connections. Addressing councillors, the Eltham MP, Clive Efford, said the area risked looking like the centre of Lewisham – but without the transport links.
Council officers had recommended the scheme be approved, despite it conflicting with the borough’s own masterplan for the area, agreed in 2008. Kelly Harris, the head of development planning at Notting Hill Genesis, said the scheme would contain “well-designed and attractive homes built to the highest standards”, promising an “employment-led” local hub which would complement the Kidbrooke Village development across the railway line.
But Greenwich’s planning board – its main planning committee, made up of 12 councillors – rejected the development unanimously.
Christine Grice, the ward councillor for the adjacent Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward, told the committee that the new homes would “place a considerable strain on the transit system in the area”. She added that the inclusion of children walking to school in the scheme’s transport assessment disguised the impact on the rail service from Kidbrooke station.
The developers’ figures had claimed the scheme would only result in an additional 16 people travelling on each rush-hour train from Kidbrooke, and that only 159 people would travel towards central London from the scheme, with 72 travelling towards Kent. Clive Efford branded these figures “risible”.
“It would be irresponsible to encourage further development without insisting on improvements on local infrastructure, especially public transport,” Efford said.
“The developers acknowledge that there will only be a moderate level of transport accessibility,” Efford said, adding that there would be some improvements by 2031 “by the provision of regular bus services and pedestrian access to those bus services”. “This is not good enough,” he said.
Efford added that despite promises from the developers of Kidbrooke Village – Berkeley Homes – that there had been a “huge increase” in usage of Kidbrooke station, and that a planned new bus route – the 335 to North Greenwich – was coming anyway thanks to money from Berkeley once its development had reached 1,900 homes.
Having said Greenwich had “quite rightly” refused the controversial Rockwell development in Charlton on grounds of density and massing, Efford said the Kidbrooke scheme shared the same faults.
Mocking the service from Kidbrooke rail station, and the lack of long-promised 12-car trains, Efford said “you’ll die of old age before you can catch one”.
“As much as the social and affordable housing are welcome… this development has all the appearance of the area around Lewisham station but has none of the transport infrastructure,” he said.
Lewisham Council had also filed an objection to the proposal, citing damage to the view from Blackheath. While Greenwich’s neighbour did not send a representative to Woolwich Town Hall, councillors repeatedly cited concerns for how the scheme would affect the skyline over Montpellier Vale. Efford also bemoaned the “mini-Manhattan” visible from Eltham.
Greenwich planning officer Ben Oates acknowledged “a harmful impact” on Blackheath, but said it would be a “less than substantial harm”. He said planning officers had pushed for more public benefits from the scheme, including improved access across Kidbrooke station.
Oates also said that despite the size of the blocks planned by TfL and Notting Hill Genesis, the development would remain “subservient” to the towers of Kidbrooke Village, including the 21-storey Birch House under construction across the railway line. The developers had also reduced the size of the towers in response to public comments.
The density of the scheme also came under attack, with Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher pointing out that the scheme was twice as dense as permitted in the London Plan – again, a figure connected to the level of transport in the area.
Steven Butterworth of Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, a planning consultancy retained by the developer, said this was correct – but pointed out that half the mixed-use schemes approved in London were also above the levels set in the London Plan, a document set out by City Hall. Its guidelines on density were “not to be slavishly applied”, he said, adding the scheme had plenty of play space and daylight.
Levels of “affordable” housing were also scrutinised – with 25% of the scheme being for social rent and a further 25% for shared ownership, which would only be affordable for households earning more than £49,000 – 21% of Greenwich borough’s population. Harris could not say how many of Notting Hill Genesis’ tenants managed to increase their share of ownership to 50%.
There were also concerns about air quality and the impact of the Silvertown Tunnel – despite the council’s backing for the road project – on the adjacent A2. The proposed development is on land left over from the development of the dual-carriageway A2 in the 1980s and the 1960s scheme to build a “motorway box” around London.
Rejecting the scheme, Peter Brooks, the former council deputy leader who helped draw up the original Kidbrooke masterplan, said: “It was never, ever the intention to make it look like, as Clive Efford said, Manhattan. It’s quite upsetting, really. The Kidbrooke [Village] development is what it is, but let’s not overcrowd it.” He called for developers to come back with a scheme that was “a little bit smaller and a little bit less dense”.
“It’d be wrong for us to say it’s the mayor’s development and we do need the homes so we’d better have it, and don’t worry about Blackheath… we’ve got to protect our environment.”
Fletcher said: “I’m concerned to see that the GLA suggests it is in compliance with the London Plan – we can see that it isn’t, but somehow because it’s TfL’s plan, it’s being judged by them as being in compliance. I fear that if we do reject this, it’ll go to the mayor and we might not get the result we want. But I think we need to say it doesn’t comply with our planning policy, it doesn’t comply with the mayor’s planning policy, we should reject it.”
All 10 councillors present – chair Sarah Merrill (Labour, Shooters Hill), Angela Cornforth (Labour, Plumstead), Peter Brooks (Labour, Glyndon), Adel Khaireh (Labour, Glyndon), Gary Dillon (Labour, Charlton), Linda Perks (Labour, Charlton), Linda Bird (Labour, Eltham North), Clive Mardner (Labour, Abbey Wood), Nigel Fletcher (Conservative, Eltham North) and Geoff Brighty (Conservative, Blackheath Westcombe) voted to reject the scheme.
Planners will now be waiting to see if TfL and Notting Hill Genesis amend the scheme, or if Khan will call the proposal in to decide himself.
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