Greenwich’s planning chair Stephen Brain to quit council in May

Labour campaign photo
End of the Peninsula show: Stephen Brain, left, campaigning with Matt Pennycook, Chris Lloyd and Denise Scott-McDonald

Greenwich Council’s controversial chair of planning, Stephen Brain, will not be standing in the next council election, to be held in May, he confirmed tonight.

Brain made the announcement during a planning meeting which saw the rejection of an additional floor on a converted nurses’ home overlooking east Greenwich, the area the Labour councillor has represented for the past eight years.

Announcing his unhappiness with the proposal before him, he insisted he was not electioneering for the poll.

The Labour councillor broke away from questioning the architect presenting the proposal to make his announcement.

“This is not playing to the gallery for the May elections, because I’m not restanding. I’ve chosen not to stand,” he said.

“I’ve not been kicked out, I’ve not been thrown out, I’ve got other work I need to do – I’m not playing to the gallery on this one.”

A technical glitch meant Brain’s comments were only captured in sound – but viewers watching the webcast at home could see the bemusement on the architect’s face when the picture returned.

One of Brain’s two fellow councillors in the Peninsula ward, Chris Lloyd, will also not be standing in the area after accepting a nomination to stand in the new West Thamesmead ward.

Peninsula ward, which is also represented by deputy council leader Denise Scott-McDonald, is being split in two. The Green Party is heavily targeting the new East Greenwich ward – an area where passions have been stirred up by the council’s handling of traffic issues and Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s Silvertown Tunnel.

Brain has built up a combative reputation since being elected in 2014 – not least on social media, where many residents found themselves falling out with him or being blocked.

In 2017, he threatened the local Greens with the police after the party mentioned Greenwich Labour’s support for the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal – a project he opposed – in a leaflet. The Greens called his threat “bullying”, while later called it “a friendly warning”. Incoming council leader Danny Thorpe ditched the scheme, inherited from his predecessors Chris Roberts and Denise Hyland.

Stephen Brain at Greenwich Ikea launch
Brain, right, with council leader Danny Thorpe, then-mayor Peter Brooks and Scott-McDonald at the start of work on east Greenwich’s Ikea in 2017

A year later Brain voted against a proposal to reverse Greenwich Council’s support for the Silvertown Tunnel in a behind-closed-doors Labour meeting – despite having opposed the tunnel at hustings the year before.

In 2020 he became chair of planning, but riled residents and some colleagues with what they saw as grandstanding. His first major decision – a casting vote on the Kidbrooke Village development – led to a surprise rejection, with him criticising part of the scheme as “backdoor ghettoisation”, comments he later took back when the proposal was later accepted.

He also had a public row with fellow councillor Mehboob Khan – his rival for the planning role – in a meeting held over Zoom.

More seriously, he clashed with residents and local MP Matt Pennycook over his approval – again on a casting vote – of the 36-storey Morden Wharf development, with Pennycook saying he was “incredulous” at the decision.

Despite there only being 12 weeks until the council election – on 5 May – Labour’s selections for the poll are still continuing after they were delayed when senior officials walked out after alleged interference in the process. New wards mean there will be four new councillors, taking the total to 55.

Labour currently holds a tight grip on the council with 42 of the 51 councillors, with most of the nine Tories representing seats around Eltham.

Revelations of lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street and sleaze scandals surrounding Boris Johnson and his cabinet are likely to seriously damage the Tories’ chances of progress – and could even reawaken Labour dreams of taking all 55 seats this time around.

However, while there will be a Labour-Tory fight in the south, the loss of established names like Brain and Lloyd in the northwest will boost Green hopes of a first success there.

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 Thank you.