Lewisham’s 34-storey Tesco tower approved by minister after public inquiry

Meyer Homes render
A view of the proposed development looking south towards Lewisham station

Developers have won an appeal to build a 34-storey tower on land next to the Tesco supermarket in Lewisham after council officials dropped their objections at a public inquiry.

Meyer Homes was given permission to build the tower by the secretary of state for local government, Robert Jenrick, after a planning inspector recommended approval of the scheme, which only consists of 20% “affordable” housing.

Lewisham Council had rejected the scheme on grounds of excessive height and a lack of affordable housing in May 2018, as well as a lack of access to Lewisham station, prompting Meyer to appeal.

Meyer then submitted a nearly-identical scheme, including a “skydeck” and access to Lewisham station, which Lewisham councillors then approved in December 2018. However, the following March the Greater London Authority – the mayor’s office at City Hall – overturned that approval – again, on the grounds of “affordable” housing.

This month’s decision relates to the original application – without the skydeck – however, what has been approved does include the viewing platform and improved access to Lewisham station.

The development includes blocks of eight and 14 storeys close to the 12-year-old Silkworks complex on Conington Road, close to the border with Greenwich borough, as well as the 34-storey block next to platform 4 at Lewisham station.

A public inquiry was held at Lewisham Town Hall in May

Of the 365 homes, 73 will be “affordable”. Of those, 30 will be for discount market sale. Just 16 would be for social rent, with 27 for “affordable” rent – the two rental categories making up just 12% of the housing on offer.

“The Secretary of State considers the public benefits in the form of improvements to the Silk Mills path, the access to the station and the new public space outweigh any additional harm identified in relation to the small scale housing to the south east of the tower,” the decision notice reads.

“There would be no harm caused to any view from locations including Blackheath, Blythe Hill Fields, Hilly Fields and Mountsfield Park.”

Meyer’s Lewisham scheme is in the former Tesco car park

City Hall’s intervention in the second application meant Lewisham could only resist Meyer’s appeal on the mayor’s grounds of a lack of “affordable” housing.

But the council’s case began to fall apart on the second day of a public inquiry held at Lewisham Town Hall last May. City Hall’s advocate withdrew because of a conflict of interest, and Lewisham Council then pulled out of the hearing after conceding that the 20% “affordable” housing was the most Meyer could afford.

However, the GLA continued with its objections, despite not having a legal representative. The inspector, Paul Jackson, criticised the mayor’s office, and has made it liable for some of Meyer’s costs. “I conclude that the GLA’s behaviour in further pursuing its grounds of objection without any credible evidence, following the withdrawal of the council, was unreasonable behaviour that led to unnecessary and wasted expense,” he said.

Recommending approval – and rejecting objections from neighbours – Jackson said in his report: “The amount of affordable housing proposed at 20.2% is the maximum reasonable amount and no evidence whatsoever has been provided to show that there is any more surplus in the viability of the scheme that would facilitate more.

“There would be no significant harm caused to any heritage asset. There would be no unacceptable impacts on the living conditions of any nearby occupiers. The new access to the station is an important benefit of the scheme and the section 106 agreement provides the framework for naturalisation of the river as and when the adjacent landowner (Tesco) is willing.

“The improvement in the accessibility of the Silk Mills Path is a valuable feature of the scheme, as is the creation of landscaped public open space adjacent to the river. The tower would be a conspicuous tall element contrasting markedly with adjacent small scale development in some views, but the public benefits would firmly outweigh any harm caused.”

Meyer, which bought tranches of land from Tesco in 2015, has also appealled against the rejection of a development including a 27-storey block in front of the chain’s Woolwich store. A public inquiry into that scheme was held in October.

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