Labour and Conservative councillors have criticised developers for launching consultations on new schemes during the coronavirus lockdown, including one for a new school in Eltham that has seen over 3,000 objections.
Developers have launched “virtual consultations” to replace the exhibitions that they usually hold before applying for planning permission on new sites.
They include a plan for 230 homes near the Thames Barrier in Charlton and revisions to a scheme for over 600 homes in tall blocks at Macbean Street in Woolwich.
The Harris academy chain and the Department for Education have also begun consulting on plans to build a new 1,150-pupil boys’ school in Eltham, at the Mansion site next to Avery Hill Park and the historic Winter Garden.
A petition against the scheme set up by the Friends of Avery Hill Park had been signed by 3,059 people by Tuesday afternoon. The group objects to “the imposition of a block-style non-descript green-clad building next to the Winter Garden” and is demanding public access to a renovated Mansion and Winter Garden. It also fears traffic problems, with the planned school being opposite Crown Woods Academy.
The borough’s opposition leader Nigel Fletcher, whose Eltham South ward covers the site, told a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Monday: “I’ve been quite surprised to see that large developers in the borough – particularly the one I’m involved in at Avery Hill – have not paused their pre-application procedures.”
The Conservative councillor added: “Given what pressure our planning officers are under it seems extraordinary to me that they’re not pausing that to at least give us a break – not to mention that the consultation is not able to take place in any meaningful way.
Sarah Merrill, the new cabinet member in charge of regeneration, said she agreed with Fletcher – but added the government was encouraging developers to press on with projects.
“I would wish to support developers delaying consulations – I agree with you that it’s not easy to do public consultations at the moment,” she said.
“The difficulty we have is that there is no provision in the emergency measures to allow us to, for want of a better word, enforce that. If developers insist on going ahead, then we have to accept that.
“Also, unfortunately, the government is encouraging and incidentivising developers to get on with it as fast as they can. They see that as a vehicle to rebooting the economy. I don’t agree with that as an adequate way forward.
Merrill also said the government telling councils to allow developers to delay payments towards “affordable” housing and local infrastructure was “a huge problem”.
“We are up against a bit of a machine there,” she said.
Roger Tester, keeps his health and social brief, whilst Spencer Drury continues as spokesperson for housing. John Hills, himself an Army veteran, takes on a new role as spokesperson for armed forces and veterans.
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