Greenwich councillors reluctantly backed a changes to a major new development in Woolwich that would give it just four more homes for social rent at a meeting last week.
The Island Site development in Woolwich, of 298 flats, shops and a dance school, had already been approved by councillors in 2017 – despite just 18 of those flats being for social rent, and 22 for shared ownership. But it had returned to be rubberstamped by the planning board, the committee of councillors that decides on major schemes.
This was because it had been included in a conservation area and because City Hall had intervened to include more “affordable” housing in the scheme. But the mayor’s intervention saw just four extra flats for social rent included in the scheme, while 16 more shared ownership flats have been included.
The planned development will transform a neglected part of the town centre and reuse historic buildings and frontages from the original Woolwich Polytechnic. But the lack of homes for social rent angered councillors on the committee, but while chair Sarah Merrill said she sympathised with objectors, they were unable to reject the scheme.
“The will of this planning board is different from before,” she said. “We are very keen to push developers to produce as much affordable housing, as much London Affordable Rent social housing, and that we are renowned for being quite tough on this.
“Whilst I do have sympathy, and I think objectors in the room know that, I have an obligation to the Royal Borough of Greenwich and to people who pay their council tax and I am not in a position to put this borough open to challenge. There is only one option before us and that is to approve what is before us tonight.”
Keith Rodwell, representing the developer, said City Hall had offered a £500,000 grant towards “affordable” housing in the scheme. “I know that sounds like a lot of money, but in the context of nearly £90 million development costs, it is not all that significant.”
Asked by Charlton councillor Linda Perks if there was any scope to increase the amount of social housing, he said: “No. There is a viability process, set by central government. It’s been gone through incredibly thoroughly on this scheme, twice, and the same answer has come out. The mayor has accepted that.”
He added that his aim was that the development should be “night-time hub”. “One of the things that this town has missed is a restaurant quarter,” he said.
One objector, John Edwards, of pressure group Speak Out Woolwich, complained that his group had not been consulted about the proposal, while Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy said the council “ought not to be simply representing developers who are queuing up to develop in the borough without any regard to the needs of the community”.
However, asked if he objected when the original application came forward, he said: “I must have blinked, it passed me by.”
The only councillor on the planning board both in 2017 and now, former deputy leader Peter Brooks, confined his questions to security arrangements and CCTV for the public spaces on the development.
Councillors also backed plans for 59 new flats on the site of the old Greenwich police station on Royal Hill, despite objectors saying it would damage views of the Borough Hall, an “art deco gem”.
In an indication of how councillors have now cooled on the idea of shared ownership as “affordable” housing, the development was due to be decided last month but was deferred to see if more rented housing could be provided. Of the 59 flats, nine were due to be offered under London Affordable Rent, a form of social rent, with eight for shared ownership. This has now been revised to provide 11 rented flats – including one three-bedroom flat – and just two for shared ownership.
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