A new development of 40 council homes behind Eltham High Street was approved by Greenwich councillors last night – amid calls for the council to buy an adjacent derelict site to build more homes.
The five-storey development replaces a recently-demolished block on Orangery Lane which was built as a depot for British Gas in the 1980s. It later became council offices and was the home of Greenwich Foodbank until last year, when its warehouse was relocated to Shooters Hill.
A new public space and lighting along Merlewood Place, an alley linking Orangery Lane with Eltham High Street, are also part of the plans, which are part of the Greenwich Builds programme to start work on 750 council homes by May 2022. Last night’s approval takes the total so far to 357.
The 37 flats and three houses would be available for London Affordable Rent – about half market rent – and like most Greenwich Build projects, will be built using modular technology.
While the development sits opposite the listed former Eltham House orangery, it also sits next to a former industrial site that has been disused for some years.
No objectors spoke, although local Conservative councillor Charlie Davis, addressing the planning board, said that it was “a good use of the site” but said that the council needed to look at the “wider context” of its Eltham town centre masterplan and look at the adjacent site, which is on the market for £2.8 million and has been the subject of two failed attempts at redevelopment.
“”The council have looked into purchasing this site before,” Davis said. “Bringing forward both sites at this time would allow for a better development and would allow for more joined-up thinking. It’s not being looked at in the best way,” Davis said. (watch the whole meeting)
Labour councilor John Fahy questioned why there were not more family homes in the development when so many people on the housing waiting list were on overcrowded households – a point raised before in previous planning meetings for council homes. Ten of the 40 homes have three bedrooms, while there are 17 two-bedroom homes, 11 one-bedroom flats and two studios.
“Why are we continuing to build one- and two-bed properties when the direction of travel is to build three- and four-bedroom properties?” he asked.
Peter Fernandez, one of the council officers in charge of Greenwich Builds, said that his team were taking a “programme-wide view” of the number of bedrooms needed in each development, with other projects such as Brook Estate including more family homes. He also said the development’s proximity to rail and bus services was a consideration.
Last month, in response to an 853 report on a council block in Plumstead, Anthony Okereke, the cabinet member for housing, said that of 22,949 households on the council’s waiting list, 13.375 were hoping for a one-bedroom flat.
Fahy said that the development was “particularly good” with a “high-quality design”, while NIgel Fletcher, a Conservative member of the planning board, said that it was “a good development”.
“The back of the high street is a bit of a mess of different buildings and different sites and it is worth us taking note of the adjoining site and how we approach the masterplan,” he said.
The eight councillors present on the planning board voted unanimously in favour of the application.
Architect Robert Winkley, of Rolfe Judd, said the plans for flats were “brave, bold and socially responsible” and appealed to councillors to “apply discretion and common sense” and ignore council officers’ recommendation to reject the scheme. He said “internal politics” had prevented the developer from discussing plans with council officers.
But the planning board threw out the proposal, with Nigel Fletcher – also a local councillor for the area – branding it “frankly insulting”.
Planning chair Stephen Brain emphasised the independence of the committee – namechecking this website, although it was unclear whether he wanted the comment reported or not. “I don’t believe that we are led by the nose by officers, and I wouldn’t want that recorded either, in the minutes or in things like social media or in things like 853 or other public blogs [sic] so I’d like that on the record please [sic].”
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