Plans to convert a failed commercial development in Deptford into a 123-room hotel were deferred by Greenwich councillors last night after it emerged that the building is covered with flammable cladding.
The lower floors of Cavatina Point, a 12-storey block on Creek Road, were meant to be a a hub for shops, offices and flats when the development opened in 2011. While the flats above are occupied, no businesses have moved in to the lower floors.
Now Criterion Hospitality wants to convert the units into a hotel as part of its Zedwell brand. All the rooms would be windowless “to create an atmosphere and environment for relaxation, escapism and rest”. The frontage would be covered in images of Greenwich tourist attractions and a green wall put in place to improve the appearance of the building.
But its application ground to a halt last night when it emerged that the building is still covered in flammable cladding, four years after the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington killed 72 people.
The building’s freeholder was applying for permission to remove the cladding from Cavatina Point and its neighbouring buildings in the same development, councillors on the Greenwich area planning committee were told, but the application was not yet valid as planning offers were waiting for more information.
Council officers had recommended the hotel was approved. But Greenwich’s chair of planning, Stephen Brain, opted to defer the application to seek legal advice, and was supported by the other members of the committee.
“This is a building with unsafe combustible cladding on the exterior, but we’re recommending we put 123 people in there in hotel – what am I missing in terms of the timing?” asked recently-elected Greenwich West councillor Pat Slattery.
“Part of it is down to land ownership issues, which are not planning considerations, ” responded Andrew Thornley, a senior planning officer, pointing out that the application to open a hotel and the application to remove the cladding could not be linked under planning laws.
“It seems illogical that we can’t take them into account but this is outside the control of the applicant as [removing the cladding] is something they could potentially never discharge through no fault of their own.”
Peninsula councillor Chris Lloyd said it was a “bizarre system” that could force councillors to approve a hotel in a building with dangerous cladding, while Brain said he was “somewhat aghast”.
While councillors heard that the building could – in theory – become a hotel in eight to 10 weeks, Simon Zargar, the agent for Criterion, later said that opening would still be “several months away”. He suggested that an “appropriate condition” be put in place regarding the cladding and that councillors should approve the application.
Councillors were uneasy about the position they had been put in. “We know that we are being asked to give planning permission on a building, which is inhabited by residents, which is not fire safe, potentially,” Brain said.
“If there was a fire at the building, what would be the potential criminal liability on us, as a planning committee, for having given permission on a building we know is not fully protected and has residents above it?
“I’m concerned that I would have legal responsibilities on this as the chair of this committee.”
“We’re potentially introducing 100-plus beds into a potentially dicey situation. In planning law that is not a material consideration, but it does not sit easily with me,” said Lloyd.
After some deliberation with planning officers, Brain called for a vote on deferring the application, which was passed, saying he would be “extremely uncomfortable” with passing the application without certainty about the cladding.
“We’re not saying no, but I would like the grounds clarified that we would not be individually liable, and the Royal Borough of Greenwich liable, for any deaths or injuries that should occur in the event of a fire, after we knew fully and in detail that the fire protection is subject to a separate application which has not been approved and fully submitted.
“It’s not like we can close our ears – we’ve heard this, we know it exists.”
— RGB Group (@R_G_B_Group) December 15, 2016
Some construction work on the site has already taken place – a December 2016 tweet from a company involved in the works showed images of finished rooms.
There are 24 developments in Greenwich borough with ACM cladding – the type used at Grenfell Tower. According to Greenwich Council, 14 have completed recladding works. On Saturday, leaseholders demonstrated outside the sales office of a development in east Greenwich to draw attention to the issue.
Cavatina Point is part of the Creekside Village development, which was originally intended to run up to Deptford Creek and span both sides of the Lewisham/Greenwich borough boundary. Lewisham approved the second phase, but then the developer went into receivership.
Eventually ownership of the land was split up, and the four-block first phase was the only part of the development to be built.
Both boroughs later approved tall towers from other developers on the remaining two plots of land – Greenwich approved the 23 and 12-storey Union Wharf build-to-rent development, which was completed in 2019, and Lewisham approved 26 and 30-storey blocks last November.
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