Build more family homes, Greenwich Labour councillors tell their own town hall

Gilbourne Road, Plumstead
The development includes two houses and a five-storey block of 13 flats

Labour councillors have pressed their own housing department to build more family homes while approving plans for 15 new council homes on a green in Plumstead.

A five-storey block of 13 flats and two townhouses on Gilbourne Road, near Rockliffe Manor primary school, were given approval on Tuesday night. They form part of the Greenwich Builds programme to begin 750 new homes by 2022 – last night’s decision will take the total up to 317 either already approved or under construction.

But the Labour council’s own representatives on the planning board raised doubts about the scheme including eight one-bedroom flats – as well as worries about the design of the carbon-neutral homes. The project also includes five three-bedroom flats, two two-bedroom houses and 11 car parking spaces.

Councillors were told that the flats would be for social rent, although they would actually be for the higher London Affordable Rent – from £161/week – which the housing charity Shelter does not consider to be social rent. Typical council rents are about £91/week, excluding service charges, among the lowest rates in London.

Google Streetview image of Gilbourne Road
Residents can be seen sat on the green in the image submitted to councillors

While trees on the site will be kept with new ones planted, Conservative councillor Charlie Davis, who does not sit on the board, spoke to object to the plans, saying that Google Streetview images included in the planning documents showed that the green space was well used. Council officers say that there are a number of other green spaces nearby, including Plumstead and Winn’s Commons, and East Wickham Open Space, across the borough boundary in Welling.

“Again the council are building on green space which is used by the community,” he said, referring back to the plan for 80 homes on the Brook Estate in Kidbrooke and pressing for brownfield sites to be used instead.

“We were given nearby commons that can be walked to but this doesn’t take into account the impact on less able-bodied residents.”

He also said the development – which like many Greenwich Builds schemes is made up of modular buildings with flat roofs designed by the architects Shedkm – “completely fails to fit in with the surrounding area”. The development would be next to five-storey council blocks from the 1960s, as well as smaller council blocks, Victorian terraces and suburban bungalows on nearby Kingsdale Road. Similar criticisms were levelled at the Brook Estate scheme and another development on Well Hall Road in Eltham.

“There’s no acknowledgement of the heritage of the surrounding area – It’s just plonked in with the same design, regardless of where it’s going in, and this is a big failing of the entire project, there’s no attempt to fit in with the surrounding area,” Dillon said.

But local Labour councillor Matt Morrow, who spoke to support the scheme said he had no concerns about the design. “It’s an updated modern version of the blocks – I don’t know when council blocks became heritage assets that we can;t build near, did people object to those blocks when they were built?”

Noting that 49 people could live in the new homes, and that there were 22,000 people on the housing waiting list, he said: “Only last Friday I spoke to a family in an overcrowded flat. [Council housing] officers told them they would have to wait 10 years – that is the scale of the need.

“I don’t think you’ll find anywhere nicer to live for a lower rent in Plumstead. I think these houses will be loved by the families who move into them. I urge councillors to vote for them and give a bit of hope to families on our waiting list.”

But planning board members were more lukewarm about the proposals. Charlton Labour councillor Gary Dillon said: “I’m disappointed to see eight one-bed and two two-bedroom houses. Why is this development not more family oriented? When we look at our waiting list, more than 50 per cent of those are families, yet we still want to contribute one-bedroomed apartments on our prime valued land. I would have thought targeting families would have been our top priority.”

When Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner raised the same point, Julian Shirley – acting as planning agent for the development, responded: “The mix was given to us by your planning officers. I appreciate there is demand for family units out there – there’s also demand for ones and twos.”

Mardner – who abstained on the vote – also raised concerns about the flat roofs of the housing. Architect Matt Waddelow said this was to accommodate energy-saving measures and solar panels.

Kidbrooke with Hornfair Labour councillor Norman Adams also abstained, saying: “This trend of nothing but flat roofs is a concern. We seem to be adopting a perspective that bears very little relationship to the surrounding built environment. I wonder if there’s a way to meet the carbon requirement with pitched roofs.”

Dillon said he was reluctantly voting for the homes, but remained unhappy about the high proportion of one-bedroom flats. “I will reluctantly support the application but will talk to our housing team, land is precious and we need to maximise the use of the land at our disposal.”

While the scheme passed easily, with six votes for, no objections and two abstentions, and the meeting also heard calls for the surrounding open space to be improved, Adams raised the point about one-bedroom homes after the vote.

“There are these issues about mix that [council] officers need to address,” he said. “It’s becoming more difficult to move up the housing ladder to bigger accommodation, and there questions about what our objectives should actually be, I’d like to see officers give us a briefing on what mix of accommodation they consider appropriate. We seem to be slightly drifting away from trying to provide accommodation for families.”

Stephen Brain, the councillor who chairs the planning board, offered to set up a meeting to discuss the issue. He cited the high cost of one-bedroom flats in his own Peninsula ward and noted that they were often “unaffordable” in the private sector.

The Labour councillors’ concern about their town hall building so many one-bedroom flats comes as their party’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, campaigns on a manifesto of starting 10,000 new council homes across London over the next three years. Greenwich’s current homebuilding programme is being partly funded by City Hall money.

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