Shepherds Leas: Nine-storey block near Oxleas Woods recommended for approval

Render of Shepherds Leas block
The block would sit opposite Falconwood station on Rochester Way

Contentious plans for a nine-storey block of flats opposite Falconwood station have been recommended for approval by Greenwich Council officers, despite hundreds of objections.

The development at Shepherds Leas, between the A2 and Rochester Way and next to the woodland of the same name, would include 70 flats, all on offer at about 65 per cent of market rents and available to people on housing waiting lists.

Shepherds Leas would be the biggest development yet from Meridian Home Start, a company spun out of Greenwich Council that has mostly concentrated on building small estates of houses.

But the nine-storey block, right on the borough boundary and midway between Eltham and Welling town centres, has attracted the ire of local residents’ groups, conservationists and neighbouring Bexley Council.

The Shepherds Leas site now. It is currently occupied by property guardians

A public consultation led to just six messages of support, but 488 objections; two petitions from the Friends of Oxleas Woodlands feature over 4,700 names.

Council officers admit that the block, right on the borough boundary, is “not located in an area designated as appropriate for tall buildings in the development plan”. It would be the tallest building for some distance, as the area is mostly comprised of semi-detached homes.

However, they add that “the proposal satisfies all of the assessment criteria of the tall buildings assessment and would deliver a high quality contemporary building which would act as a focal point and local scale landmark for Falconwood”.

The Shepherd Leas site is currently occupied by 17 homes originally owned by the Crown Estates, but later sold to Greenwich Council. Originally a development of 40 new homes was planned. Meridian Home Start opted for a denser scheme, at one point proposing an 11-storey, 83-flat block before settling on nine. Last October Greenwich agreed to help fund it with £8.16 million of right-to-buy receipts.

Shepherds Leas render
The view from Lingfield Crescent, across the border into Bexley

Shepherdleas Wood, which lies across the Bexleyheath railway line from the site, and adjacent Oxleas Woods are deemed a site of special scientific Interest while their importance for nature conservation are also nationally recognised.

Objectors, who include the Eltham Society, say the block will be too tall and would overshadow the wood, creating light pollution and affecting birds, bats and other wildlife. They also say it will be too close to the A2 dual carriageway.

Former local councillors Spencer Drury, Charlie Davis and Matt Clare also submitted objections.

The development would only offer car parking for blue badge holders, and Bexley Council has objected because of worries that residents will simply park across the borough boundary. Falconwood station and the residents’ nearest shops and schools all fall under the Conservative-run borough.

If the scheme is approved, Bexley will be offered £25,000 to help it review parking in the area.

Shepherds Leas render of courtyard
Greenwich officers say the development will help local ecology with features including green roofs

Louie French, the neighbouring Conservative MP, has also criticised the proposals. French – who as a Bexley councillor supported selling off a local park in Erith for housingtold Facebook that the scheme was “out of keeping with the local area”.

Greenwich officers say there is adequate public transport in the area, which is served by two single-deck bus routes, and that London planning policy encourages this. Government cuts mean that Falconwood station is currently only served by four trains per hour during the day; it had been six before the pandemic.

They also say that the development will help biodiversity by including green roofs with solar panels, bird and bat boxes and gaps in fences for hedgehogs; and that there will be a 10-year ecological management plan.

If the scheme is approved, Meridian Home Start would have to pay nearly £70,000 to the council’s job brokerage Greenwich Local Labour and Business; E45,000 towards improving local health services and £20,000 to improving cycling facilities. It would also have to install a controlled crossing on Rochester Way.

Shepherds Leas render
The view from Riefield Road. Greenwich officers say the block will barely be visible from nearby woodland

The decision will be the first test for Greenwich’s new planning board, which will be chaired by Charlton councillor Gary Dillon after his combative predecessor Stephen Brain stepped down as a councillor.

Contrary to a pledge given by the previous council leader Danny Thorpe, Dillon’s vice-chair is a sitting cabinet member – Denise Hyland, who is on the cabinet covering maternity leave.

New councillors Majella Anning, Maisie Richards Cottell and Jit Ranabhat also join the board along with more experienced counterparts David Gardner, Sandra Bauer, Olu Babatola and Chris Lloyd.

The sole Conservative on the planning board, Pat Greenwell, is unlikely to be able to take part in the decision because she has also filed an objection to the development.

One factor that could put pressure on councillors is that Greenwich does not have a five-year supply of new housing – a feature of planning law that is meant to encourage development. If councillors reject the scheme, then Greenwich would have to demonstrate why the development is unsustainable.

A decision is due to be made next Tuesday. Councillors are also scheduled to discuss a plan to build 58 flats on the former Dandridge site on Woolwich Road in Greenwich as well as revised plans for a visitor centre in Greenwich Park and a film studio on a Thamesmead industrial estate.

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