853 exclusive: Views from the historic centre of Greenwich will not be damaged by the 36-storey Morden Wharf development that was approved by councillors this week, the national heritage watchdog has said.
Historic England, which advises the government and local councils on heritage issues, has told 853 that it believed the setting to the Greenwich world heritage site was constantly evolving and that the 1,500-home development was too far away to have a detrimental impact.
Greenwich’s planning board narrowly approved the £770 million development, which includes towers of 21, 25, 30 and 36 storeys, on the casting vote of planning chair Stephen Brain, who is also the local councillor.
They could be the first tall buildings to be built on the west side of the peninsula, although six years ago blocks of 24, 27 and 32 storeys were approved next door at Enderby Wharf as part of the now-abandoned cruise liner terminal scheme. That site’s new owner has indicated that it still plans to build towers there.
U+I, the developer, said the scheme would revitalise a neglected part of the peninsula and bring much-needed new housing. But opponents voiced fears that the towers would affect views from Greenwich town centre and Greenwich Park – which have the highest planning protection of all as a world heritage site.
Objectors included the council’s own conservation officer, while local Labour MP Matt Pennycook said he was “incredulous” that the scheme had been approved. Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty, a member of the committee, said allowing the development would be “municipal vandalism”.
Historic England did not submit a formal objection to the scheme, but instead suggested the council seek the advice of its own conservation officer. One objector said that the body had “delegated” its position to that officer, while planning officers said they had received a “stock response” from it.
Three years ago, Historic England raised issues with the notorious Westferry Printworks development on the Isle of Dogs, where communities secretary Robert Jenrick overturned a planning inspector’s recommendation to reject a 46-storey scheme proposed by a Conservative Party donor. Jenrick was forced to overturn his own approval and the scheme is back with a planning inspector.
It told Tower Hamlets Council in September 2018 that while it did not have “significant concerns” about the six towers, it did have worries “that tall building development of this scale might set for this area [the west side of the Isle of Dogs], in particular the creep towards the Maritime Greenwich WHS and within the background of Tower Bridge”.
However, because other tall buildings had already been approved for the west side of the Greenwich Peninsula, Historic England was more comfortable with Morden Wharf, a spokesperson told 853.
“After carefully considering the proposals at Morden Wharf we identified some issues that needed to be considered in relation to the historic environment, but advised we were confident that Greenwich had sufficient expertise in-house to make the necessary full assessments, especially in relation to the Grade II listed Enderby House for which we are not a statutory consultee,” she said. “We therefore did not offer any formal advice on the application, which is not uncommon.”
She added: “We took the view that the proposed scheme does not raise any new issues in relation to the World Heritage Site, but is instead part of a succession of large developments around the Greenwich Peninsula that has, and will continue to, evolve the urban setting of the world heritage site.
“We believe that the outstanding universal value of the world heritage site would not be harmed by this proposal because it is outside the WHS boundary and some distance away from the Grade I-listed buildings within the park.”
While U+I’s chief executive Richard Upton is a commissioner of Historic England and sits on the body’s London advisory committee, it said he played no role in the decision.
“Richard Upton did not have any involvement in Historic England’s handling of this application, and no advice was sought on this occasion from the London advisory committee, on which he sits,” the spokeswoman said.
“As the government’s adviser on the historic environment, our advice is objective, robust and our process is fully transparent.”
There has also been disquiet inside Greenwich’s ruling Labour party about Brain’s decision to endorse the development after the committee tied 5-5 on the application. One figure in the party suggested to 853 that Brain – who backed the scheme in the original vote – should have fallen back to the status quo and rejected the scheme.
However, such situations are not uncommon elsewhere – in the past 15 months two controversial developments on the Lewisham-Greenwich borough boundary, at Blackheath Hill in west Greenwich and Copperas Street in Deptford, were approved because Lewisham’s chair of planning, John Paschoud, made a casting vote.
Brain himself also used a casting vote to reject part of the Kidbrooke Village development in July last year, although the scheme later returned to the committee and was approved.
U+I share price rose by 6.9 per cent on Wednesday, following the decision to approve the scheme the previous evening.
Morden Wharf will include business and retail space, a nursery, healthcare facility and a possible new home for the Queen’s rowbarge Gloriana. Of the 1,500 homes, 21 per cent will be for London Affordable Rent while a further 10 per cent will be for shared ownership. There will also be £4.8 million for a new primary school and U+I will pay half the cost of a Thames Clippers pier.
There was also £2.5 million for Transport for London to reroute a bus – likely to be the cross-river 108 service – into the largely car-free development, although there was scepticism about how this would address the poor public transport provision in the area.
U+I will have to return to councillors at a later date with detailed designs for the residential part of the scheme.
Several businesses already operate out of Morden Wharf and are to stay in the development, including MDM Props and the Brew By Numbers brewery, which is holding a beer festival today and tomorrow.
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