The site of the controversial Morden Wharf development could be sold – less than four months after planning permission for towers of up to 36 storeys was rubber stamped by Greenwich Council.
Outline plans for 1,500 homes were approved by Greenwich’s main planning committee in September last year on the casting vote of its chair, Stephen Brain. Final approval was issued by the council’s officers at the end of June.
Now the developer Landsec and the Morden College charity, which owns the site, have confirmed that they are looking into selling the site, which could net them tens of millions of pounds.
Local MP Matt Pennycook was among objectors to the scheme, who said it would ruin historic views from Greenwich Park. Pennycook said he was “incredulous” that his colleagues on the Labour-led council had approved the scheme, which would feature towers of 21, 25, 30 and 36 stories on the riverfront.
Screengrabs of a sales brochure for the scheme were circulated on social media last week. The booklet touts the “uninterrupted views to the west [that] allow residents to enjoy sunsets over Canary Wharf”. While the website of Gerald Eve, the firm commissioned to market the site, shows the site as having been “withdrawn”, representatives for the developer confirmed that it was looking to sell.
The company behind the scheme, U+I, was taken over by Britain’s biggest commercial property company, Landsec, at the end of last year. Richard Upton, U+I’s boss and a passionate advocate for the Morden Wharf scheme, stepped down in May. Morden College, the freeholder, was founded in 1695 and owns almshouses in Blackheath.
A spokesperson for the project told 853 on Monday evening: “U+I, a Landsec regeneration company, has been working on plans for Morden Wharf in collaboration with Morden College – a long established charity in the Royal Borough of Greenwich for more than 300 years. Following the receipt of planning consent last year, we are now exploring the sale of the site as part of our wider business plan and to raise vital funds for the charity’s work supporting the elderly across the borough.
“We’re proud of the masterplan we have created at Morden Wharf with renowned architects and landscape designers and are now looking for a specialist partner to deliver the consented scheme, including a new riverside park, Thames path, 1,500 homes and commercial spaces.”
The sale would include the homes of businesses currently on the site, including the Brew By Numbers brewery and taproom, which is currently applying for retrospective planning permission for its outdoor bar. The craft brewery has a ten-year lease.
Brain shrugged off the concerns of the town hall’s own conservation officer to break a 5-5 tie to approve the scheme. He quoted the Greek philosopher Heraclitus – “change is the only constant” – in supporting the project.
Earlier this year this website revealed that Brain later became a consultant for Lowick, which worked on community engagement on behalf of U+I. Lowick said Brain, who stood down as a councillor in May, had been taken on for his “wealth of insight” into local government and would not be involved in schemes in Greenwich.
The council’s own planning officers – who recommended councillors back the scheme – conceded that they were unhappy with the design of the towers, but only outline approval was given for the residential part of the scheme. Any purchaser will have to return with more detailed proposals by June 2025.
However, work can start straight away on alterations to the site’s Southern Warehouse to accommodate retail and business uses and improvements to the river wall and Thames Path. Permission will lapse if work does not begin within three years.
Until 2009 Morden Wharf was the home of the Tunnel Refineries glucose plant, whose distinctive smell had wafted across the area for decades. After U+I’s predecessor company, Cathedral, became involved in 2012 it had been touted as a possible site for a new stadium for Charlton Athletic, with a council masterplan drawn up under former leader Chris Roberts including a 40,000-capacity arena on the site.
A potential buyer could be Criterion Capital, the owner of the Enderby Wharf site next door, which was originally to house a cruise liner terminal. Criterion, which is owned by the billionaire Asif Aziz, bought the land in 2019. It scrapped the terminal but still has outline planning permission for towers of 24, 27 and 32 storeys.
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