Deptford Creek is to get two more tall towers after Lewisham councillors approved plans for 26 and 30-storey blocks without social housing on Copperas Street.
The scheme went through on Tuesday night after the developer, Kitewood, threatened to cut the number of shared ownership homes if the proposals were rejected – a tactic branded “a sweetener” and “the sword of Damocles” by one councillor, who tried to get the plans thrown out.
The developers, Kitewood and Galliard Homes, plan to build 393 flats on the Deptford site, of which 15 per cent will be for shared ownership, which qualifies as “affordable” housing. Instead of providing social housing, the scheme will include a £13.6m extension to the Trinity Laban performing arts university. Its principal, Anthony Bowne, said the institution’s future would be under threat if the scheme was rejected.
Kitewood’s blocks would be next to the Union Wharf development, which has blocks of 23 and 12 storeys next to Deptford Creek Bridge and was approved by Greenwich Council five years ago. The boundary between the two boroughs runs between the sites and down Copperas Street. A 28-storey block, Ravensbourne Wharf, on the other side of the creek was approved by Greenwich in January.
The development would finally complete the redevelopment of land off Creek Road which began with the submission of a masterplan for the “Creekside Village” area to both Lewisham and Greenwich councils in 2006.
The first blocks of Creekside Village West – eight to 17-storey buildings branded “Greenwich Creekside” despite being on the Deptford side of the creek – were completed in 2011. Lewisham approved its side of the project, part of Creekside Village East, but the developer went into receivership. While a later application in 2015 was thrown out on appeal, the planning inspector had no objection to tall buildings on the site – in part because Greenwich had approved Union Wharf, and also because City Hall planning policies encourage tall buildings in the area around the creek.
Matters are further complicated by Lewisham Council owning part of the land, which was part of its former recycling yard – Lewisham will get ownership of 16 flats on the site which it plans to let at full market rates. The site also includes Trinity Laban’s car park.
Councillors on Lewisham’s strategic development committee – its equivalent of Greenwich’s planning board – were told that a viability assessment found that the developer could only afford 10 per cent “affordable” housing, but that it was prepared to take less profit after City Hall had indicated that it would be more likely to ratify the scheme if it increased that proportion to 15 per cent.
“Our aspiration in this borough is 50 per cent ‘affordable’ housing, and we try to get as close to that as we can; with the mayor of London it’s 35 per cent,” Blackheath councillor and democracy cabinet member Kevin Bonavia said. “What interests me is that this is effectively a sweetener.”
Planning officer Gareth Clegg said: “If Trinity Laban wasn’t there, it would be able to support 35 percent ‘affordable’. The applicant recognises there is a political desire for an improved ‘affordable’ housing offer, it simply means the developer would be prepared to accept a reduced return and it recognises that there would be significant costs and time implications if it went to appeal.”
“There’s still a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads,” Bonavia responded.
Planning chair and Perry Vale councillor John Paschoud agreed, saying the offer was “a political sweetener to ourselves and the mayor of London”.
Much of the meeting focused on Trinity Laban’s work in the community, and whether supporting a 150-seat theatre, dance studios and rehearsal spaces was a worthwhile substitute for the lack of “affordable” housing. The Laban dance centre moved to New Cross from Surrey in 1975, then to Creekside in 2002. It merged with Greenwich-based Trinity College of Music in 2005 to form Trinity Laban, and works across both boroughs.
Professor Bowne told the committee it had been 13 years since the last attempt to expand Trinity Laban on the site. “A combination of government cuts, Brexit and Covid-19 have made this development essential to secure our future as an organisation. Put simply, there is an existential threat to our very existence.
“To be financially sustainable, we need to attract more students to meet the shortfall in funding and the only way to do this is to increase the size of our facilities.”
But Rushey Green councillor James-J Walsh pressed Bowne on Trinity Laban’s commitment to the community, and pointed out that the land for its Creekside site had been sold to it cheaply by Lewisham Council.
“I’d quite like to see some metrics on black young people being involved in Trinity’s work and making sure they have access to access this, and making sure it’s not being taken up by a more privileged community inside Lewisham. As someone that was on the governing body, it always seems to feel like Trinity Laban has been more connected to Greenwich than the London Borough of Lewisham,” he said.
But Professor Bowne said Trinity Laban did more work in the community “than any other conservatoire or any of the other universities in SE London”, had created 600 jobs and brought in £33 million each year to the local economy. “We have 600 young people in Laban every Saturday, 64 per cent are Lewisham residents, over half are from black and minority ethnic communities.”
Downham councillor Andre Bourne – also a cabinet member for culture – said that Trinity Laban could appear to be “more of an exclusive school” and should consider doing more in the south of Lewisham borough.
Professor Bowne replied: “We’re better at doing the community activity than promoting it. We work with 10,000 people under 18 in boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich – more come from Lewisham. I’m grateful for the grant we get from Lewisham, it’s more than we get from Greenwich, but it’s £50,000 and we spend £3 million, and we have to raise that money from somewhere.”
The plans also include public access along Deptford Creek as far as Kent Wharf – itself recently redeveloped – but councillors heard that the section past the Trinity Laban building would be gated off at night because of issues with its structure.
Professor Bowne said the Stirling Prize-winning building’s design was chosen because it faced the community of Deptford rather than the creek, so it was not designed to have access to the waterside.
“It’s a plastic building, you can cut it with a knife and burn it with a cigarette end,” he said. “There needs to be an architectural solution to this problem. It was designed to have a fence behind it but we need to find a solution and I’m sure we will.”
When Grove Park councillor Suzannah Clarke questioned the amount of commercial space in the new development – pointing out that much of the space in the development on the Greenwich side of the road remains unlet – she was told by Kitewood’s planning consultant Simon Chadwick that there would be “a different offer compared to what’s over the road” and that the presence of Trinity Laban students would make them more attractive.
Bonavia remained unimpressed with the lack of “affordable” housing and moved a motion to reject the scheme, supported by Lewisham Central councillor Aisling Gallagher. “It’s a huge ask for public benefit when the biggest public benefit we can do for our people is to make sure they are properly housed,” he said.
But after a break to take legal advice, his motion was tied 4-4, and fell on chair Paschoud’s casting vote. Finally, after three and a half hours, a motion to approve the scheme – with conditions to press Trinity Laban for more community work and access to the creekside – passed by five votes to three. The project now goes to London mayor Sadiq Khan for final approval.
Approval of the project means a cluster of new towers around Deptford Creek without any housing at social rent levels – 50 per cent of market rent or less – although all will have some level of what is technically termed “affordable” housing (80 per cent or less).
Next-door Union Wharf, which is entirely for rent, was approved by Greenwich with 7.3 per cent of housing at 55 per cent of market rent, a further 7.3 per cent at 65 per cent and 9.2 per cent at 75 per cent. Essential Living, which owns Union Wharf, had objected to the latest development, saying that it would block out daylight.
Ravensbourne Wharf, across the creek, is also being built for rent, and was approved with just 20 per cent of homes at London Living Rent, which begins at £1,109 per month in the area.
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