Controversial nine-storey tower near Oxleas Woods could be cut back

Shepherds Leas render of courtyard
Councillors objected to the height of the planned tower at Shepherds Leas

Controversial plans for a nine-storey tower block close to Oxleas Woods could be reworked to make the block smaller, Greenwich Council’s leader revealed last night.

Councillors on the borough’s planning board rejected the plans from Meridian Home Start, a company spun off from Greenwich Council, to build 70 flats, all for discounted rent, at Shepherds Leas, opposite Falconwood station.

The plans, on the borough boundary, were opposed by hundreds of people who feared that light pollution would disturb wildlife in the ancient woodland close to the site. They said the tower would be visible above trees from Oxleas Meadow, which has a protected view out towards Kent. Council planners had recommended the scheme was approved.

Meridian is appealing against the rejection, but last night Okereke said it would also be submitting a new plan that would include a smaller tower.

Appealing against a rejection while simultaneously preparing a revised scheme to allay objectors is a common tactic among developers.

In a written question to Okereke, the Conservative opposition leader Matt Hartley asked if he thought it was “acceptable for the council’s own developer, Meridian Home Start, to choose to not respect the decision of the council’s own planning board”.

Okereke insisted that the Meridian was “not the council’s developer” and that “the decision to appeal was a decision made solely by Meridian Homes and not the council”.

He added: “In addition to submitting an appeal on Shepherds Leas they are in the process of pulling together a revised planning application that addresses the reason for refusal and reduces the height of the tallest element.”

In a follow-up question at last night’s full council meeting, Hartley again called on Meridian to withdraw the appeal: “Obviously by submitting an appeal, Meridian Home Start are hedging their bets and going for leverage.

“Will he suggest to Meridian that they withdraw their appeal and instead focus on responding to the community’s concerns? I think residents who objected and the community who objected would find that very welcome indeed.”

Okereke – who spoke for the rejected scheme at the planning meeting – said: “I acknowledge that while Meridian Home Start is our partner it is a community benefit society which has agency to make its own decision making of which I’m not part of.”

Anthony Okereke at Greenwich planning board
Anthony Okereke supported the original scheme

The decision to reject the Shepherds Leas scheme divided Labour councillors, who believe that a development opposite a railway station would be an ideal opportunity to make a small dent in the borough’s housing waiting list.

Greenwich agreed to fund the scheme last year with £8.1 million of right-to-buy receipts, and the development is seen as crucial for expanding Meridian Home Start, which provides homes for rent to Greenwich residents at about 65 per cent of market rates.

But the cherished woodlands have always been a sensitive area for development, with many objectors remembering the fight against roadbuilding plans in the 1970s and 1980s that would have obliterated the site.

Neighbouring Bexley Council had also objected to the development, which would be midway between Eltham and Welling town centres, believing it would increase parking on its side of the border.

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