A controversial development of 34 homes in Woolwich was narrowly passed by Greenwich councillors last night – despite the borough’s chair of planning questioning whether local people could afford to live in them.
Four terraced houses on Sandy Hill Road and an old petrol station will be demolished as part of the scheme from Charlton-based Lita Homes, which is also behind a recent nine-flat development on the site of the Lord Clyde pub on nearby Brookhill Road.
The scheme includes 31 flats and three houses, with plans for three of the flats to be made available for shared ownership. Nineteen of the flats would be single aspect, with windows in just one direction. The developer said that the cost of decontaminating the petrol station meant it could not offer any social housing.
The loss of the four terraced homes had led to a local outcry, but the developer maintained that they were too dilapidated to repair, and council officers recommended approval.
After neighbours complained that the four-storey development would block light to the terraces that surround the site, councillors on the planning board were evenly split on the matter, with chair of planning Stephen Brain commenting during the summing up: ”The agent said they were building new homes for local people, I’m not sure how local people are going to be able to afford these homes, but that is not a planning consideration.”
The committee split by four votes to four on whether to back the scheme, with Brain, who voted for the scheme, approving the development on his casting vote. Plans for commercial space in the development were replaced at the last minute with community space after ward councillors told developers that commercial space would not be viable.
Among the objectors was Kevin Veness, from the Speak Out Woolwich lobby group, who lives close to the site. “We’re in favour of redeveloping the garage site, it’s an ugly site,” he said, but he pointed to the number of times the planning officer had said aspects of the scheme were permissible “on balance”.
Calling the scheme too dense, he said: “There really is an attempt to get as much as possible into the site, for sale to buy-to-let landlords.”
Another neighbour, Barbara Harris, was also worried about density. “I think it’s optimistic when someone says a two bedroom unit will house three people – that’s not how the places nearby are occupied at the moment. There are three-bedroom homes occupied by 10 people, none of the tenants are concerned with the local area.
“There doesn’t seem to be any concern from the council that these won’t be homes for local people, they’ll just be sold to foreign investors who will rent them out in places they wouldn’t live in themselves.”
Harris also said that parking would be an issue: “The traffic warden comes around every six weeks, when it’s not raining.”
Vicki Lamb spoke on behalf of her mother, who lives opposite. “She bought her home with a 100 per cent mortgage from Greenwich Council in the 1960s, she loves the area and she loves her neighbours,” she said, recalling the once-common practice of councils helping with house purchases. “The proposals make it very clear that profit margins are [the developers’] priority even if it comes at the expense of local residents.
“She will lose most of her natural light, it’s a four-storey building. All she really wanted was for it not to be as tall – they don’t want a four-storey block opposite their houses. It will harm the residents that have been loyal to Greenwich borough. If it was maybe three storeys she would be more likely to support the project.”
Local councillor David Gardner raised the heritage of the site as part of Burrage Town, a Victorian development between Woolwich and Plumstead, and said that London planning policies favoured the retention of existing buildings.
“The area is in much need of regeneration but it has to take into account streetscape, neighbours’ right to light and wellbeing.”
But the councillors also heard from David Arnold, whose family runs the Melbourne Arms pub close to the site. Praising the plans, he recalled the state of Woolwich in the 1990s. “This site is a reminder of Woolwich’s past, and not a good one.”
The developer’s planning agent, Greg Pitt, said Lita Homes was “a local homebuilder looking to deliver new homes for local people”, adding that the scheme would be “a modern new development in keeping with the local architectural style”.
Lita was accepting “below-average profits of nine per cent rather than the 15 to 20 per cent set out in national guidance” to build the scheme, he said..
Answering a question from Eltham South Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher, the developer’s environmental consultant, Rishika Shroff, said there had been “a slight confusion” over how much daylight neighbouring properties would lose, adding that all of the properties would lose more than 20 per cent daylight were non-residential.
Questioned by Charlton councillor Gary Dillon, Lita Homes director Xhevat Lita said there was no connection between his company and Sandy Hill Developments, which is selling it the land.
Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner said he was concerned that “the flats appear small, they appear to be squeezed in to make it more viable”. “I’m going to accept what the residents are saying on the loss of light,” he added.
Fletcher said the loss of the Victorian terrace was “regrettable” and said he was not satisfied with the answers on daylight and sunlight. “It does sound to me that this is very much an ‘on balance’ recommendation [from council officers] … on balance, there is some work to do. I don’t think it’s quite right as it is now.”
But Thamesmead Moorings councillor Olu Babatola supported the application, saying the site would continue to be plagued by antisocial behaviour if it was refused. And former council leader Denise Hyland said: “That site has been an eyesore for a very, very long time, full of antisocial behaviour and vandalism. The four houses are past their sell-by date, we’ve 34 flats that are going to improve the area dramatically.”
Hyland said she feared losing the three shared ownership homes if the decision was refused and it went to a planning inspector to decide. “ I don’t think that’s worth the risk,” she said.
Those arguments were enough to swing Charlton councillor Linda Perks from opposing the scheme to backing it, while Brain said the committee’s decision must be justified on planning grounds. When the vote came back tied, Brain cited David Arnold’s contribution as an influence on his thinking. “These sites are so common and they need to be cleared, so I am giving my casting vote for this development to be approved.”
Brain, Perks, Hyland and Babatola voted for the scheme, while Fletcher, Dillon, Mardner and Blackheath Westcombe Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty opposed it.
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