Greenwich councillors voted last night to defer a decision on building new council homes in east Greenwich after neighbours voiced concerns that the development was intrusive and too dense.
The eight one-bedroom flats, 16 two-bedroom flats and eight three-bedroom houses off Tuskar Street are part of the council’s Greenwich Builds programme to start work on 750 new homes by 2022.
The three to four-storey blocks are on the site of a former sheltered accommodation block, Sam Manners House, which was demolished earlier this year.
Neighbours complained of what they called an inadequate consultation process – which included a brief online consultation in May, during the spring lockdown – and said that there was a lack of outside space for new residents.
One resident, Teresa Perchard, said the council was applying planning rules inconsistently after refusing two developments in the neighbourhood because of a lack of outdoor space – including plans for a house behind the Vanbrugh pub.
Councillors on Greenwich’s planning board, its main planning committee, voted 5-4 to visit the site to see it for themselves. Their decision to defer comes four weeks after councillors on the same committee criticised plans for 20 council flats in Eltham on similar grounds, although in that case the scheme was approved.
Sheila Keeble, speaking for the East Greenwich Residents’ Association and the Greenwich Society, said the new homes were “crammed onto a very small site, they’re very pokey, with no storage space, they’re really not going to be built for what we now know as the new normal”.
“The outside space is tiny and would be completely overshadowed – I’m not sure how that’s going to work and whether you’d want your children to play there.
“This does not live up to the idea of good quality council housing that we have come to expect in the past.”
She also criticised the appearance of the homes, saying: “There’s a mish-mash of different styles that don’t seem appropriate to this area.”
Asked about the consultation, she said: “If this was a private developer we’d be quite angry. A lot of people didn’t realise this was a project and were surprised when Sam Manners House was demolished [during the spring lockdown] while they had to stay in their house – this hasn’t been a good introduction to Greenwich Builds.”
In May, the council’s own cabinet member for planning, Sarah Merrill, said she wanted to see private developers pause their consultation during the spring lockdown. However, her colleague Anthony Okereke, the cabinet member for housing, said it was “imperative” that the council moved forward with its own homebuilding plans.
Another resident, Justine Taylor, said the properties – which will be built using modular techniques – looked like “a short-term fix” and said that while the new development would be a similar height to Sam Manners House, the old 1970s block was set back from the road. “It was not lovely, but it it had trees and was solidly built of London stock brick like the surrounding houses,” she said.
The block’s use of overhanging balconies mean new residents would be able to see into bedrooms on Tuskar Street, another neighbour said, while there were also worries expressed about it blocking out light to the garden at almshouses next door.
Addressing the committee, local councillor Chris Lloyd said he heard the neighbours’ worries with “a degree of concern” but went on to say: “The application is compliant with planning policy and planning law. We’ve heard very clearly the height is the same as was previously there, the mix of one, two and three-bed homes is a very good mix. It reflects what is needed in the local area and needs to be seen in context of the 19,000-plus waiting list – we have heard of the high density but the need is very very high.”
He also said that the previous cabinet member for housing, Chris Kirby, had gone “above and beyond” in dealing with residents’ worries.
Lloyd’s colleagues, however, were more receptive to his constituents’ concerns. Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner – the chair of the housing scrutiny panel – pressed planning officers on whether they were being inconsistent in supporting a scheme which did not meet guidance on outdoor space for residents.
Beth Lancaster, one of the officers, said the scheme complied with London planning rules: “Each scheme is assessed on its own merits and the context of the scheme. Not every scheme will meet every policy and it is acceptable to approve a scheme if it does not meet a policy.”
In documents presented to councillors, officers admitted that play space for children fell below what was required, but said that they could use the “pocket park” 30 metres away in Mell Street, or play areas in Greenwich Park, East Greenwich Pleasaunce or Mycenae House, which is 900 metres away.
Quizzed by Mardner on density, Alex Flint, of the architects Shedkm, said the scheme had been made less dense as a response to feedback made during the consultation: “We do feel that part of Greenwich, an inner city site, is more than suitable for the density we are proposing. It provides suitable amounts of amenity space and green space.” He said the scheme was in the “best interests of the urban grain of the city and the waiting lists of those who require housing”.
The consultation also came in for criticism from Thamesmead Moorings councillor Olu Babatola, who said it was “not that good”, although he said he would back the scheme.
Mardner said: “It’s one of those remarkable situations where the residents are telling us one thing, the applicants are telling us another, especially around engagement. Just because they made some adjustments doesn’t mean it’s right.
“Right now, the comments made by residents are making me not comfortable with this application. I’ll listen to the rest of my colleagues and make a decision.”
Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Norman Adams echoed Mardner’s views and suggested the scheme was reviewed.
Eltham South Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher said he did not think the committee could defend refusing the scheme. Charlton councillor Linda Perks said her concerns about the proposal had been answered, the committee should consider a site visit rather than reject it – however, she declined to propose one herself.
Adams then proposed a site visit, which was seconded by Mardner. The committee backed the proposal by five votes to four. Despite the lockdown rules, the councillors are still able to visit the site and see it for themselves before the issue comes back to the committee.
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