Greenwich councillors backed plans for new council homes in Eltham last night, but with both Labour and Conservative members criticising the design of their council’s own new block.
The borough’s planning board endorsed proposals for 20 flats on the site of garages on Well Hall Road. But councillors said they were unhappy because of the block’s effect on the historic Progress Estate, across the road, and the consultation with neighbours.
One Labour councillor said he was concerned that the homes, of a modular design so they can be built quickly, would not be “value for money” as they had a 60-year lifespan.
Council officers said the flats would complement more modern buildings on the same side of Well Hall Road and would “sit comfortably across from the conservation area”. Of the six councillors who voted on the scheme, only three voted to approve the building – one abstained and two voted against.
The new homes are part of plans to begin work on 750 new homes by 2022, in an attempt to reduce the council’s 20,000-strong waiting list for housing. All homes in the Greenwich Builds programme have been passed so far: the most controversial element of the project, building on green space in Kidbrooke to create 82 new homes, has yet to go before the councillors.
They are being built using modular methods, where each part is built away from the building site and then put together on site, meaning the homes can be finished within months rather than years. The first modular homes in the Greenwich Builds programme were unveiled in Robert Street, Plumstead during the summer.
Anthony Okerere, the cabinet member for housing, said: “This will be a high-quality scheme with some of the best materials used. We have worked hard with officers to produce a scheme we can all be proud of and I want to continue to be proud of this development in years to come.
“If you grant permission today families will be getting the keys to their new homes next spring. I’m appearing on behalf of residents and those on the housing waiting list, and I’m asking on their behalf for you to support this application.”
The new homes would be opposite the Progress Estate, built in 1915 to provide homes for munitions workers at the Woolwich Arsenal, and which has been a conservation area for 45 years.
A statement read out by a local resident, Nigel August, said that while the garages had been “virtually abandoned a number of years ago”, but that he and his neighbours did not believe the new block would fit in with its surroundings.
“The council stated at the first meeting last year that the building would be two storeys at the end, which I would be fine with. However, I was amazed when the plans came back with three storeys, rising to four at the old flats. It will obviously dwarf my property and looking down into the windows of the properties behind them.”
Eltham South Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher said the proximity to the historic estate was “significant”. “It has struck the residents as quite strikingly different.”
Matt Waddelow, of the architects behind the scheme, Shedkm, said: “We’re trying to be referential in terms of the materials, through the use of brick and using warm tone on metal cladding, in an overlapping pattern which reflects the shingle used on the Progress Estate.”
But Fletcher, who voted to against the scheme, was unimpressed: “I really can’t see how that reflects anything that’s there already. I’m pretty unforgettable with it;. The principle of the development is fine and of course we need more houses, but this is quite a prominent location on a main road opposite the estate and I’m quite disappointed by the standard of design.”
Charlton Labour councillor Gary Dillon raised concerns about the consultation, which was held online because of the pandemic. “We’ve heard a number of comments from residents about the design not being in context with the surrounding area,” he said.
When asked by Blackheath Westcombe Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty if residents’ concerns about the design had been taken into account, Alex Flint, of the architects behind the scheme, Shedkm, said: “We went through a very comprehensive design process with the residents after the public consultation and also the [council’s] urban designer to ensure the design was rectified and changed to manage the residents’ views.” He added that changes had been made to reduce the block’s impact.
However, Duncan Wroe, the council officer in charge of Greenwich Builds, could not say how many people took part in the consultation. Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner said the lack of information on the consultation was “concerning”.
When it came to the vote, Dillon raised concerns about the modular construction: “I am concerned about the modular build and the lifespan of a modular build. We are using our valuable land to build much-needed houses and I understand the need for speed, but at the same time I also believe we need to be looking at value for money.
“We should be looking at other construction methods that will guarantee a longer lifetime. We don’t want to have to end up rebuilding everything in 40 years’ time. I’m disappointed in the design, if it blended in it would be more pleasing on the eye. I will reluctantly support the application because we are in desperate need for the accommodation this will bring.”
Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner said he would reluctantly support the application, but then abstained when it came to the vote: “I’m hoping next time the design will be given more thought and will blend in with the local area.”
Brighty voted against “with a little bit of reluctance”, explaining: “I like the design of the building and I don’t think it fits in with that particular area. When we first had these apps from Greenwich Builds, they did seem to make a great thing about working with the community. I know it’s different now with Covid-19, but I don’t think they’ve done a great job here.”
However, committee chair Stephen Brain joined Charlton councillor Linda Perks in supporting the application, commenting: “We must get some housing going.”
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