More than 300 new Greenwich Council homes were approved by councillors last night – but with Labour representatives criticising their administration’s own scheme for being too tall and not having enough family homes.
One Labour councillor, who will be standing in a nearby ward in next month’s election, even called for fewer council homes to be built on the site and said the council should be looking elsewhere to build more homes.
The development on the old Thomas Tallis School site on Kidbrooke Park Road, part of the Greenwich Builds programme, will be the council’s biggest housing project since the late 1970s.
A first phase of 117 homes was approved in 2020, and now they will be joined by 322 more homes. Eight blocks will be built, of between six and 15 storeys. All homes will be for London Affordable Rent – about half market rents.
Four years ago, council leader Danny Thorpe pledged to start work on 750 homes by this year. Last night’s decision takes the total approved, under construction or finished to 710.
More than half of Greenwich’s new council housing will be on the Kidbrooke Park Road site – just a few hundred metres from where the former Ferrier Estate, built as 1,900 council homes in the late 1960s, was handed over to Berkeley Homes for demolition and redevelopment as the 5,000-home Kidbrooke Village.
While there were objections relating to the effect on adjacent allotments – the last remnant of the RAF base that spread out across the area until the 1960s – nobody addressed the planning board to object.
The development – which is close to Kidbrooke station – will be almost car-free, with just blue-badge parking spaces provided.
While in 2019, councillors rejected a TfL-backed scheme for 600 homes near by because they felt local public transport infrastructure couldn’t support it – Kidbrooke Station Square was later pushed through by City Hall – there were no such objections last night.
David Morton of HTA Design, the architects behind the scheme, told the planning board that it would provide an “exceptionally high standard of affordable housing”, with the tallest block at the entrance, facing the Aldi supermarket, and mansion blocks facing the semi-detached homes on Kidbrooke Park Road.
Rob Michel, a landscape architect with the company – which also worked on nearby Cator Park – said the development would be a “blooming and green neighbourhood where people and wildlife can feel at home”, promising a community garden where residents could grow their own food.
But both Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher and Labour’s Gary Dillon both voiced concerns about the height of the 15-storey block, particularly in relation to views from Blackheath.
Fletcher said that local people had suggested that 10 storeys would be acceptable, but HTA’s Simon Owen said that the building would be seen “in the context of its surroundings”, particularly as the nearby Kidbrooke Station Square blocks, now being built, will be taller.
Dillon asked if the homes from the 15-storey block could be redistributed by making the other blocks bigger.
“A scheme with too many tall buildings would lack diversity of design,” Owen said. “Having buildings of different heights will result in a better scheme.”
Dillon was unimpressed and said that local residents had believed only 10 storeys would be built. “This planning board has been consistent in looking at heritage views from Blackheath – each time a developer says ‘it’ll does’t make too impact’.
“I’m now seeing quite a large swathe of tall buildings ebbing across Blackheath. This is a Greenwich Council build, we should be looking at protecting heritage.
“I don’t believe the 15 storeys are essential to deliver the same amount of affordable housing, and I’m just disappointed that you’ve not taken in the residents’ comments and looked at the bigger picture and at the heritage. The next developer that comes along will tell us exactly the same story.”
Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy – who is standing in nearby Kidbrooke Park in next month’s election – was another Labour councillor to criticise his town hall’s own decisions.
Questioning why there were just 15 four-bedroom homes against 130 one-bedroom flats, he said: “We’ve got 2,500 families in overcrowded accommodation. It’s an issue we constantly have with you [Greenwich Builds].
“Why are you not looking at the real issues around housing need when in actual fact the demand is not for one-bed, it’s for three- and four-bed?”
Duncan Broe, the council officer in charge of the Greenwich Builds programme, said the site was better suited to flats: “We’re well aware of the mix and the requirements, we would love to build six-bedroom houses everywhere but we have to make best use of the land. We have built bigger houses and we will continue to do this.”
But Fahy said that was “not defensible”.
“All you need to do is build less to meet housing needs, and then find other areas of the borough to build houses to meet housing need,” he said.
Broe said: “There are not a lot of larger site in the borough. We’re not like a private developer that can cross-subsidise by having private sale and shared ownership – we’ve got to make the best use of what we’ve got. This is our biggest site and our biggest chance to get families and homeless residents accommodated.”
Dillon later spoke in support of Fahy’s criticisms, saying that one-bedroom flats were being “amply provided” by private developers.
But both councillors supported the scheme, with Fahy calling it an “important development”. He said his concerns about the housing mix were best “discussed outside”.
Planning chair Stephen Brain said he thought the issue of housing mix was valid, but added: “Considering we don’t have an HMO policy, you should ask the young people in ropey HMOs if they’d like a new Greenwich Builds one-bedroom.”
Dismissing concerns about height, he said: “If I’m at the gates of Greenwich Park, why do I only look at Kidbrooke? Why don’t I look at the 16 buildings that Lewisham have stuck up?
“When you look at Kidbrooke in the distance, it’s very minimal. And I like the 15 storeys right at the front, it acts as a sentinel, it says ‘this is Greenwich Builds, we’re here’.”
The four Labour councillors backed the scheme. They included Glyndon ward’s Sandra Bauer, who is standing in Kidbrooke Village, which will cover the scheme, in next month’s election. Fletcher opposed it.
Last night’s meeting also approved 49 flats on the site of a former vicarage at Sowerby Close in Eltham and a 14-storey student block in Woolwich.
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