Controversial plans for 80 council homes on green space in Kidbrooke were finally approved last night – but with neighbours complaining that they had received “unnecessarily aggressive” communications from Greenwich Council as they tried to challenge the scheme.
The development on Rochester Way, which is part of the Greenwich Builds programme to start work on 750 new council homes by next year, will take up 60 per cent of the green space at the Brook Estate. A residents’ group, Save the Brooks, had tried to get the plans reworked to preserve more of the space, and had said an alternative scheme could preserve more green space for just three fewer homes.
They had succeeded in persuading councillors to visit the site at a meeting before Christmas, but the planning board’s trip was scrapped when the third coronavirus lockdown began earlier this month.
Instead, councillors taking part in the remote meeting were treated to a long series of Google Streetview images of the scene, while campaigners submitted their own video to members of the committee (shown below). They object to the loss of green space and the design of the blocks, and say that some of the alternative green spaces outlined by the council are either private land or unsuitable.
Councillors voted by six votes to one, with three abstentions, to support the scheme – but unanimously voted through a motion to push the council builders to build two new zebra crossings after hearing residents’ concerns about speeding traffic on Rochester Way; concerns that had been downplayed by both council officers and Greenwich Builds representatives.
Save The Brooks representative Claire Fraser said councillors should throw out the scheme and the town hall should work with estate residents to develop a new proposal. “We’re really disappointed and quite upset that communications over the past few days have been unnecessarily aggressive – a battleground – and the response we’ve received have been legal rather than the open and respectful discussion we keep trying to have,” she told the committee.
After a fractious public meeting a year ago the group had tried to represent the estate’s residents to the council, she said, but the council’s lack of response meant neighbours had started to break away from the group. “This week it reached a point where residents started to address the council directly in frustration – all we’ve tried to do is make suggestions from those who know the area, suggestions that actively support the council in meeting its target for new homes, but that also consider what is valued and needed by this community.”
Fraser said the communication with the council had been “very, very much one-sided”, adding: “We need communication between the neighbourhood and the council that’s positive; it’s been anything but positive, it’s been really horrible.”
Her fellow campaigner Danny Mott added: “I’ve a complete history of unanswered emails, stuff that’s not been taken up, stuff they’re offered to take up but it’s not materialised.”
Fraser said the group had offered to submit their own plans but that the council did not take them up; in the end no alternative proposal for the scheme was submitted during the planning process. For last night’s meeting, council officers prepared a document outlining why they did not think the residents’ plans – for 77 new homes – were acceptable.
Peninsula councillor Stephen Brain, who chairs the planning board, said that if his communications seemed aggressive it was “because I was trying to make sure I was not trying to predetermine anything”; while Jeremy Smalley, the council officer in charge of the programme, insisted there had been a thorough consultation with residents.
The plans would see 18 houses built between Halsbrook Road and Rochester Way; 35 houses and a five-storey block of 12 flats between Ridgebrook Road and Rochester Way; and five houses and a four-storey block of 10 flats between Bournbrook Road and Rochester Way.
Two councillors who spoke against the scheme last month reiterated their arguments for the committee. Conservative councillor Charlie Davis criticised the design of the scheme and said the council could build more on other sites.
Labour councillor David Stanley, whose Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward covers part of the estate, said he backed building homes there but said the “contemporary design does not fit in and that will be a problem in years to come”.
Criticising the density of the development, which is surrounded by 1940s semi-detached homes, he called for more homes to be built on the old Thomas Tallis School site instead.
An improved playground for young children was part of the plan, but the committee heard that Transport for London was unlikely to approve a pelican crossing on the busy Rochester Way – which sparked some astonishment from councillors. The council had earmarked £72,000 for a zebra crossing and some traffic calming works; all 10 councillors backed an amendment to push for two zebra crossings instead.
“I don’t want to be chairing a meeting in three years’ time when some kid’s been knocked down,” Brain said.
Smalley said his team would work to put a second crossing in place.
However, three Labour councillors abstained when it came to the vote. Charlton councillor Gary Dillon criticised the design: “Time and time again we are seeing people raise concerns about [Greenwich Builds] square blocks being put into established estates – we are desperate for accom but we need to be more sensitive.”
He had benefited from growing up surrounded by green space on the Abbey Wood Estate, he added. “I’m disappointed that this proposal isn’t more sympathetic to the character of the area considering the loss of the space that’s been sacrificed by the community,” he added.
Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner said he was “conflicted” over the design of the scheme, while Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Norman Adams noted that the applicant “doesn’t seem too concerned that it doesn’t blend in with existing landscape”.
Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty voted against, recalling representing the area in the 1980s. “It was always clear to me that the green spaces were an integral part of the way the state was planned, and we’ve heard that is still the case tonight,” he said.
But six councillors – Brain, Thamesmead Moorings’ Olu Babatola, Middle Park and Sutcliffe’s Ian Hawking, Charlton’s Linda Perks, Abbey Wood’s Denise Hyland and Greenwich West’s Mehboob Khan supported the scheme.
Hyland, a former council leader, said she was not bothered about the scheme being different from the surrounding homes as she appreciated the variety of styles in London housing. “It actually makes it very interesting,” she said.
“I do understand there is some cost, but to me, cost-benefit wise, I see more benefit than cost,” she said.
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