Greenwich councillors backed over 330 new homes on the site of a condemned care home in west Thamesmead last night – but spent much of their time grilling their own planning officer on why so little was being done to improve poor infrastructure in the area.
Fairview New Homes is planning to build 333 homes in blocks of up to 12 storeys next to Broadwater Dock. The development is on the site of the former Gallions View Care Home, which closed in 2019 after being criticised by inspectors.
The development will have 115 homes for London Affordable Rent – about half market rents – hitting the council and City Hall’s target for “affordable” housing. There will be four blocks of flats and ten houses, with 129 car parking spaces and a small park.
It will face the old Royal Arsenal Canal, which was closed in the 1960s. The final remnant, Broadwater Dock, has been drained for some years. Council officers meant the presence of the dock, together with the nearby Royal Artillery Quays development, allowed for the 12-storey block in an area where a tall building would not normally be permitted.
Transport for London had a list of complaints about the scheme, with no money being provided to improve the unpleasant and indirect walking route to the nearest rail station at Plumstead, almost a kilometre away.
It also formally objected to the parking provision, as the development should be car-free as one of the first to come forward since new planning guidance had been introduced for Thamesmead by both City Hall and Greenwich Council. No TfL spokesperson was present to express its views in person.
Instead, Fairview will have to pay £270,000 towards providing a single extra bus on the 244 or 380 routes in rush hour, while just £40,000 go towards a cycle route to the Thames Path so residents can access Woolwich Crossrail station. A further £60,000 will be spent on a consultation on parking controls in the area.
Elsewhere, there will be £318,000 towards new health facilities and £333,000 for the council’s Greenwich Local Labour and Business job brokerage. Up to £475,805 will go towards a carbon-offsetting fund.
Unusually, the eight councillors on the borough’s planning board – the committee which approves or rejects big developments – spent well over an hour quizzing planning officer Andrew Harris on why so little was being done to improve transport and pedestrian connections in the area.
A proposal from planning chair Stephen Brain to make a site visit was not taken up – sparing the committee the chance to make the awkward journey from Plumstead station themselves – but council officers were given a harder time than the developers themselves as bemused councillors tried to make sense of why so little was being done to improve local infrastructure.
Thamesmead Moorings councillor Averil Lekau said the council was “missing a trick” by not improving walking routes to Plumstead. “There’s an assumption that people are going to be cycling off merrily to Woolwich,” she said.
“If you’re not cycling, Woolwich station is a lot further than Plumstead. Most people would walk to Plumstead.”
She added that the narrow streets around the development were already clogged with parking and would struggle to accommodate extra buses.
Sandra Bauer, whose Glyndon ward includes the development, made the same point, adding that the paths and crossings to Plumstead were “not good”.
But Harris, the council officer in charge of the scheme, said that planning officers considered that the Thames Path “would be one of the main commuter routes into Woolwich, with the Elizabeth Line coming, that we imagine people in the development will be utilising”.
Shooters Hill councillor Clare Burke-McDonald asked why a walking route to Plumstead was not being funded while Greenwich’s job brokerage, GLLaB, was getting £333,000. Senior Greenwich planner Alex Smith told her that this was a standard sum that came out of council policy. “There’s no way a developer can move away from that,” he said.
Harris said that planning officers had to bear in mind the high proportion of affordable-rent homes in the scheme – typically, a development would usually have nearly a quarter of its homes for London Affordable Rent, lower than the 35 per cent in this scheme.
Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher raised worries that the mayor could call in the scheme to decide himself on the basis of Transport for London’s objection. But Harris said a car-free scheme was “not deliverable” in that location because of its poor transport links and because there was no existing parking permit scheme. “The only way that can be achieved is by asking for a CPZ which cannot be achieved unilaterally without asking residents,” he said.
While councillors have raised issues with infrastructure around developments before – most recently at Morden Wharf in Greenwich – the Gallions Reach scheme is notable because infrastructure in west Thamesmead is among the worst in the borough, essentially being a series of side streets with little thought given to parking, bus access or future needs. Harris said officers would consider their concerns for future developments.
Two local residents spoke to object to the development, with one questioning why the site could not be left as a care home – a point raised by some councillors too.
While City Hall planners had said there was a need for care home capacity in the borough, Greenwich’s own officers said there was spare capacity – but Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy said that this had been down to residents dying during the pandemic.
“The argument that we don’t need a care home is quite frankly ridiculous, I’m quite cross that our social care team should take such a narrow view,” he said.
However, his Labour colleague Lekau said she agreed with the officers’ views.
When it came to the vote, Fahy said he would be voting against. “We need increased social housing, but not at any price and we need to reflect on what our strategies are,” he said,
“We know that the access to Plumstead station is a major issue for local residents. What should be happening is an investment strategy to decide how we provide an access point to Plumstead station.”
Bauer said the area was “as full as it can be with public transport”; while another Thamesmead Moorings councillor, Olu Babatola, said he would abstain because he “did not know who to believe” between City Hall and his council’s own officers over care homes, while adding that the extra bus service would be inadequate.
But Fletcher said he had been reassured by the council officers and the developer, whose director of planning Mark Jackson faced relatively few questions from councillors. “It’s not as overdeveloped as it could have been on this site, actually it’s been quite restrained and thoughtful,” he said.
Planning chair Brain also spoke up for the development. “I think it’s very easy when we sit here and we do speak against building homes for us to then go home,” he said. “On this one, there are some real plusses that have come out, and the open space is being increased in terms of playspace for children.
“We do have over 22,000 families on our waiting list – that’s an awful lot of our residents who don’t have a home. We have children at school heaving back up from school to Enfield or places like that in the evening.”
The development passed by five votes to two, with one abstention.
Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.
Please join over 100 donors who use Steady, PressPatron or Patreon to give a little towards our costs every month. The money pays the bills, a wage for the editor and pays others to write for the site.
You can also buy the editor a coffee at ko-fi.com. Thank you.