Labour councillors are to be challenged to disown the town hall’s decision to sell open space close to the Blackwall Tunnel approach in Greenwich at a meeting next week – while new council documents suggest the land could be sold to controversial developer Pocket Living.
Conservative councillors have put down a motion for next week’s full town hall meeting calling on Greenwich Council to oppose the sale of land at the junction of Tunnel Avenue and Blackwall Lane. Two Labour councillors, Peninsula ward’s Chris Lloyd and Greenwich West ward’s Aidan Smith, have already come out in opposition to the sale, with Lloyd offering to help residents in his ward object as the council has insisted all representations come by post.
The old rose garden, which contains a number of trees, absorbs pollution from the nearby Blackwall Tunnel approach, which will see more traffic when mayor Sadiq Khan’s Silvertown Tunnel is built. It is in an area with little other open space.
While the motion will almost certainly fail – and may well end up being amended to state that Conservative government cuts have forced the council to sell the land – it will exacerbate bad feeling inside council leader Danny Thorpe’s Labour group, with councillors being forced to toe the line to back a sale they oppose.
When Bexley Council undertook a similar land sale last year, Thorpe condemned its cabinet member Louie French as “a Tory who thinks profit is more important than people”. He has been silent on social media about this particular sale, despite one resident telling him: “You’re better than this.”
The Tories’ motion says that the sale plan breaks council policy on open space, including one objective that states: “Where there is a shortage of open space, informal green spaces should be upgraded to diversify their offer providing opportunities for informal play, sport and nature conservation.”
Residents only found out after former local councillor Mary Mills was tipped off about a sale notice in a little-read freesheet. Mills then publicised the issue on social media, followed by Aidan Smith, a councillor for Greenwich West ward. Greenwich Council did not respond to or acknowledge an enquiry from 853 about the proposed sale.
The council tried to sell the land to the developer of flats on an adjacent plot six years ago, ignoring 54 objections to approve the sale in 2015.
This time, the identity of the proposed buyer has not been revealed. However, last night the council published a decision notice on its website regarding the “disposal of land at Tunnel Avenue to Pocket Housing”, to be discussed by its cabinet in November.
It has not so far been possible to confirm whether this is a reference to the rose garden, but the site is the sort favoured by Pocket Living, a private developer which specialises in building “affordable compact homes for first-time buyers” on awkward sites.
Last year Greenwich planned to sell three sites on housing estates to Pocket, but it backed out of selling two of them – off Lewisham Road and Kidbrooke Park Road – after resident complaints and a rebellion among Labour councillors.
However, a planning application has gone in from Pocket to build 48 “compact flats” at The Heights in Charlton, many of them barely bigger than a studio flat. The flats are designed for first-time buyers, and would be sold at 20 per cent off market rates to Greenwich borough residents – meaning they qualify as “affordable” housing.
Pocket is financially supported by Sadiq Khan’s administration at City Hall, while former Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford sits on the board of the company. A viability assessment submitted with the Charlton proposal shows that the company can expect to make a 17.5 per cent profit on that scheme.
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