Greenwich councillors have thrown out revised plans for the next phase of the Kidbrooke Village development after voicing worries about the lack of local transport capacity, density and placing all the homes for affordable rent in one block.
Berkeley Homes had hoped to build 1,306 homes to the south and east of the development, on land formerly occupied by the council’s Ferrier Estate. It already had permission to build about 1,000 homes, but had applied to rejig the development by breaking up some of the blocks and making them taller – with one block going from nine to 17 storeys.
The scheme, which was backed by Greenwich planning officers, promised 38.5 per cent of the homes would be “affordable” – 11.5 per cent at London Affordable Rent (about half market rents) level and 27 per cent for shared ownership.
The surprise decision came on the casting vote of planning chair Stephen Brain, who said the housing of all the London Affordable Rent tenants in one block at the edge of the development was “backdoor ghettoisation”. With two councillors – Labour’s Mehboob Khan and Norman Adams – excusing themselves from the vote because of connections with the development, and the Conservative Nigel Fletcher losing his connection to the Zoom meeting at the end of the session, the eight councillors left on the planning board were split four-all.
Brain seemed surprised at the result, and when asked by the committee clerk to give a casting vote, declared “I can’t be hypocritical” and reaffirmed his opposition. Charlton councillor Linda Perks initially said she would abstain before correcting herself and opposing the scheme; while her ward colleague Gary Dillon also opposed it. They were joined by Conservative Geoff Brighty, who said the scheme would be an unwelcome addition to an already “ugly” skyline from Blackheath.
Of the four councillors who voted for, two were former regeneration cabinet members – former deputy leader Peter Brooks and former leader Denise Hyland. They had both nurtured the council’s previously close relationship with Berkeley Homes during their time as senior councillors, yet were still able to take part in the decision. They were joined by Middle Park and Sutcliffe councillor Ian Hawking and Thamesmead Moorings’ Olu Babatola, neither of whom gave any explanation as to why they supported the scheme.
Last night’s decision once again highlights a fault line between council planning officers and City Hall, who are both trying to push through many new homes as possible – particularly in designated locations such as Kidbrooke – and local councillors, who will have campaigned on building extra homes but also worry about the lack of infrastructure.
There are no plans to substantially improve train services from Kidbrooke, while the only recent public transport improvement has been the 335 bus to the already-overcrowded Jubilee Line at North Greenwich.
Many of the concerns at the meeting reflected those raised last year when councillors threw out plans for 619 new homes at Kidbrooke Station Square, openly mocking transport projections. That scheme – which is on Transport for London land – was forced through by City Hall, and the same could happen here if Sadiq Khan “calls in” the scheme. Alternatively, Berkeley could appeal to planning inspectors, decide to rework the scheme, or revert to its last proposal for the site, approved in 2015.
Greenwich Council is planning its own 117-home scheme on the nearby Thomas Tallis School site, which is due to come before councillors in November.
Berkeley Homes’ plans included demolishing the OneSpace community centre and building a new park, linking its new Cator Park with Sutcliffe Park, with a pavilion to be operated by the London Wildlife Trust.
But while its plans for green space met with approval – Brain said that altering the blocks so the park ran through them was a “masterstroke” – there were worries about density. While Berkeley had 4,000 homes approved across the whole development in 2009, which was increased to 4,966 in 2015, this revision would have taken Kidbrooke Village up to 5,268 homes. The proportion of “affordable” housing was cut from 38% to 35% in 2015. The development, which has the 21-storey Birch House as its centrepiece, is due to be completed by 2030.
While Berkeley Homes had promised to build 82 more London Affordable Rent homes and 24 extra shared ownership homes, it had also wanted to build another 196 for private sale.
‘Solely motivated by profit’
One Kidbrooke Village resident, Abi Lewis, said she was supportive of the overall development but said the increase in density was “far above” what had been originally approved, while existing residents would lose sunlight. “Residents who made purchase decisions based on masterplans have been effectively misled by Berkeley Homes,” she said.
“The increase in units is solely motivated by profit and not viability issues,” she said, adding that if the land had stayed in Greenwich Council hands, there would be have to be a minimum of 50% “affordable” housing. “This one last attempt to grab as much cash as possible from the project before it completes,” she said.
Lewis said the transport modelling looked “dubious”. “If you are trying to use the Bexleyheath line at rush hour, you are jammed in like a sardine from Kidbrooke and if you get to Blackheath it is nigh-on impossible to get on,” she added. “I’d implore you all to travel on the line between 7.30 and 9.00.”
Howard Shields of the Blackheath Society noted that all the London Affordable Rent homes were in one nine-storey block at the edge of the site – “set in a remote part of the masterplan some distance from public transport”. “We urge you to challenge this most strongly,” he told the councillors.
Julian Evans, the development director for Berkeley Homes East Thames, told councillors that the company was interested in “greening the masterplan” by reconfiguring the blocks, and claimed that train services were running at 70 per cent capacity. “Across London, transport is a challenge,” he added, claiming that each train between 8am and 9am would see just seven additional passengers as a result of the scheme.
Councillors were not impressed. Brain said Kidbrooke Village was “a dormitory development… I wouldn’t want to see what 100 per cent capacity would be”.
‘I was going to say stingy’
Brighty was blunter. “Isn’t true one of the benefits of the scheme is a profit to Berkeley Homes?,” the Conservative councillor asked. Lewis said the benefit would be additional homes in a place designated for development. Brighty pressed him. “You will make more money at the end?”
“We will have to assess that at the end,” Evans responded.
Dillon said that as the land had been gifted by Greenwich Council, the affordable rent element was “quite low – I was going to say stingy”. Evans said Berkeley was planning 77 per cent more affordable homes than under the previous scheme and that “I don’t need to labour where we are in the wider market position with the additional uncertainties [of coronavirus]”.
Quizzed by Perks on the block for affordable rent tenants, Lewis said that the housing association L&Q, who would manage the homes, preferred to have them all in the one block, and insisted that residents would have exactly the same facilities as other residents.
Daylight consultant Alex Buckley shrugged off concerns about a lack of sunlight, saying the levels were standard for developments of this nature. “There’s a different between losing something you don’t have and being plunged into darkness – there’s a lot of emotive language,” he said.
When it came to voting, Brooks – a fierce defender of Berkeley Homes when he was cabinet member for regeneration – said: “We’ve been on this journey for many years now. I understand this is not everyone’s cup of tea but if I weigh up and balance it carefully, I’m in favour of it.”
Hyland had an almost identical summary, but praised the work of architect Piers Gough, who has worked on the project, and said she was prepared to back the scheme.
Brighty condemned the scheme. “I’m very unhappy about the increase in heights and we’ve seen the effect on Blackheath from the existing buildings in this development. The current skyline is very ugly and shouldn’t have been allowed.
“I’m not convinced by the transport argument – there are problems with capacity on Southeastern, in addition Kidbrooke Station Square is going to be built and that will increase demand, and in the future we’ll be possibly looking at development on the Thomas Tallis site – I don’t think that’s been taken into account enough.”
Brain said he shared the concerns on transport – “I’m really unhappy” – and said he wanted to see affordable-rent homes mixed in around the site. “I think it’s backdoor ghettoisation – I’m quite unhappy about some elements. It’s the curate’s egg, it’s good in parts.”
Perks hesitated before opposing: “I’m really torn on this one, I like the design changes, I think they’re really good. But I’m concerned about the density and the impact of that density – on balance, I think I’m going to abstain. Sorry, not abstain, I’m going to oppose, I’ll be against.”
Brain’s casting vote sparked a joyous reaction from Lewis and shock on the faces of those who had backed the scheme.
Appearing to be slightly lost for words, he added: “It’s always difficult when an interesting and exciting project gets – … not necessarily through, but you’ll have some views on that, Berkeley Homes and your consultants.”
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