Plans for 38-storey blocks at North Greenwich station were approved last night as a taller, denser masterplan for the Greenwich Peninsula was backed by councillors.
The new blueprint replaces once drawn up in 2015 and means the demolition of the existing bus station and its replacement with a new transport hub as well as 5,813 homes, a theatre, bars, restaurants, a primary school, a healthcare facility, sports facilities and new public spaces.
Of the 5,813 homes, up to 1,235 (21.2 per cent) will be for London Affordable Rent (about half market rents, slightly more than Greenwich Council rent), while up to 1,138 (19.5 per cent) will be for shared ownership or London Living Rent (roughly two-thirds of market rents, although this can vary).
One of the old masterplan’s key elements – a film studio – has disappeared from the plans. City Hall recently backed plans for a film studio in Dagenham. This will be replaced by 1,757 extra homes, taking the total for the land being developed by the Hong Kong property company Knight Dragon to 17,487. Blocks on the old film studio site, to the south of the bus station, will be up to 24 and 35 storeys.
Plans for distinctive 40-storey towers at the bus station designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, first announced in 2017, have also been dropped. The new bus station will have five stops rather than the current four, with 19 rather than the current 15 stands. There are also proposals to “revise” North Greenwich tube station to incorporate new entrances.
The peninsula’s Central Park will also be expanded to roughly the size of Clapham Common, councillors on the planning board were told.
Another element of the 2015 plan – a riverbus pier on the west side of the peninsula – is removed and replaced by an agreement to fund a feasibility study. Existing car parking for the O2 will be replaced by two multi-storey blocks with a total of 2,000 spaces.
The masterplan was passed along with detailed plans for blocks of 30 and 22 storeys next to St Mary Magdalene School – a 476-home scheme which went through with little discussion from councillors. Some 31 per cent of homes there will be for London Affordable Rent, 29 per cent for shared ownership. Work on that site is due to start early next year; Knight Dragon will have to return to the council with detailed proposals for the remainder of its plans.
The company’s chief executive Richard Margree said the company had already built 2,000 new homes in a “new piece of the city”. “We don’t want to build a dormitory town. Homes and jobs, yes, but also culture and community,” he said, calling the plans “worthy of a royal borough and of a world-class city like London”.
“This application was compelling when we first came up with it, I’d suggest it’s now essential,” he added.
Quizzed by Charlton councillor Linda Perks, architect Angie Jim Osman said the blocks would now be taller by three to seven storeys. “We want the plots to be flexible,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the buildings will all be at that height [stated in the outline plan], but to ensure that there is a mix of building typologies, and a range of heights from seven storeys to the cap on each plot. With more open space provision, the aspiration to keep the footprint of the buildings compact so there is more light between them.”
When Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner said that meant “increasing density at an alarming rate”, Osman responded: “We are providing more open space and more public realm between buildings. That’s something we can undertake from the loss of the film studios; a central pedestrian spine which we didn’t have, and a number of play streets.”
Charlton councillor Gary Dillon raised worries about transport capacity in the area, saying there would be “an awful lot of traffic going in and out of a very tight area”.
Transport consultant Ian Pritchard said that pressure in the area would be reduced by car parking spaces being reduced to one for every 10 homes, from one for every four, and that the new bus station would provide extra capacity. “We’ve done detailed modelling with TfL on bus lanes and bus gates, so that will help with any congestion in that area,” he said.
Dillon said he was concerned about increased demand to use North Greenwich station from residents in areas further afield, and demand on buses from children attending St Mary Magdalene school, and needed to know more about what contingency plans were in place for traffic problems. “As a councillor in Charlton, we know the problems any incident in the Blackwall Tunnel can bring,” he said.
However, the planning chair, Peninsula councillor, Stephen Brain, countered that as a governor of St Mary Magdalene school, he understood that the numbers of children taking buses to school were not a problem, but “older people complaining that children shout”.
Brain, who said he lived near Westcombe Park station, added: “You mention people coming from Plumstead, with Crossrail or Thameslink, I wouldn’t dream about going to North Greenwich. Other avenues are opening up for people commuting into central London – I used to use the tube, if I’m going to North London, I’m going to use Thameslink.” (It was not mentioned that the current fares policy means it is often cheaper for people to take the bus to zone 2 North Greenwich and then use the tube to central London than take a train from zone 4 Plumstead.)
When it came to voting, Eltham North Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher criticised the scheme, complaining that as key decisions on the peninsula had already been taken in 2004 and 2015, “we don’t have an awful lot of latitude”. (watch here)
Repeating lines from Margree’s address to councillors, he said: “‘Building a new piece of city, taking advantage of the unique geography and the river’… we’ve lost the river. This is a peninsula surrounded by the river, and we’ve lost it. We’ve had a wall of glass and steel put around it, and now the open space in the middle, we’re filling that up as well.
“We may be building a new piece of city, but the city we seem to be building is Manhattan, with taller and taller buildings going up in the middle to match the taller and taller buildings on the outside.
“You can’t see the O2 anymore – this landmark piece of architecture that defined the peninsula – you can’t see it any more. And certainly after this has gone up, you won’t be able to see it at all.
“We’ve got, next to a school – next to a school! – a 30-storey building going up. Over the road from a park. It may be called Central Park, but if we’re trying to build Manhattan you’ll find the proportions are slightly different; Central Park makes up a large proportion of Manhattan, this is becoming a tiny little strip while everything else is built out. I cannot be a part of approving this.”
But the scheme went through by six votes to two, with two abstentions. Long-serving Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Norman Adams said: “I think we’ve reached the end of the road, the concept of high rise is well-established and it’s just a question of how many floors and if you’re going to exchange a few floors for more environmental open space, I think that’s a reasonable compromise.”
Referring to Brain’s comments about alternatives to North Greenwich tube, he said: “I’m not persuaded by the problems about congestion, but the construction of other public transport systems are going to mitigate the worries that we’ve had. It’s been demonstrated that overall the impact might not be as we fear. It’s right for us to fear, but not to the point of being obstructive or difficult.
“I accept some of the worries about high rises, but when I was chair of planning we spent years trying to find someone to develop that site – nobody was interested, it was polluted, when it was owned by British Gas they weren’t that interested either.
“What’s come in its place is, in some respects, quite exciting, a new way of living, and I hope people will regard it as their home, not as a transit camp where they move on to better things.”
Adams, Brain, Perks, former council leader Denise Hyland, Thamesmead Moorings councillor Olu Babatola and Greenwich West councillor Maureen O’Mara supported the scheme; while Fletcher and his Conservative colleague Geoff Brighty voted against. Dillon and Mardner abstained.
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