A Greenwich Labour councillor has suggested that her party colleagues had already made up their minds to approve plans for new council housing before holding a meeting to make a decision last night.
Odette McGahey made the serious allegation when councillors met to discuss proposals for three houses to be built on garages at Woodville Close, a small council estate next to the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout at Kidbrooke.
Neighbours objected to the plans, mainly because of the loss of car parking spaces and resulting safety concerns from parking in adjacent Hervey Road.
Greenwich’s planning board eventually approved the plans by eight votes to one after more than two and half hours of discussion, but in tetchy exchanges McGahey suggested her own party colleagues had not come to the meeting with an open mind.
The plans are part of Greenwich Council’s programme of building 1,750 council homes – many of which are on small sites on existing estates. The programme featured in the last Labour manifesto, which McGahey and her colleagues stood on.
Councillors on the planning board are legally obliged to act independently when deciding applications from their own council and while no homes in the current programme have been rejected, others have been in the past and some schemes have come in for criticism. Last year plans for 70 flats at Falconwood from Meridian Home Start, a scheme the council was paying for, were rejected.
McGahey said that plans for the site had been finalised before the council applied to City Hall for a grant last year, and this took place before residents had been consulted.
But she went further and appeared to suggest that the decision to build had already been made.
“This seems to have been agreed before the residents were consulted,” she said. “Given the sense that the decision has already been made and these planning board meetings should start with an open mind, it doesn’t feel like that’s happened.”
An accusation of “predetermination” can land the council in serious trouble. Last year councillors were barred from considering plans for the Silvertown Tunnel entrance because the council had passed a motion criticising the whole project.
McGahey and her fellow Kidbrooke Park councillor John Fahy had raised concerns about the Woodville scheme at a council meeting in February, reported by this website at the time – a story she said had been “blown out of proportion”.
Asked by planning board member Chris Lloyd (West Thamesmead) in what way the matter had been predetermined, McGahey said: “We’ve been told repeatedly, and we were told this in the council meeting that this was going ahead. The funding’s already been applied for and it feels like it’s already been decided, which is not how it should be.
Referring to fellow councillors Maisie Richards Cottell (East Greenwich) and Olu Babatola (Thamesmead Moorings), Lloyd said that his Labour colleague was being “disingenuous”.
“No decision has been made because I have a vote. Maisie has a vote, Olu has a vote, no decision’s been made yet. That’s why we’re here now,” he said.
“So I think it’s disingenuous for people to say that a decision has already been made to try to back us into a corner.”
Babatola invited McGahey to clarify her comments, saying: “Everybody’s viewing this and you know, as one of us, as a councillor saying that – we need to correct it.”
But McGahey responded: “What I said is it had the appearance of having been predetermined, and actually the appearance is as important as the act.
“And I’m saying to you, we need to show that we haven’t predetermined. And to me the obvious answer is this development needs to be looked at again. And there are several areas that are just not good enough.”
Another councillor on the planning board, Clare Burke-McDonald (Charlton Hornfair), said that McGahey’s allegation was “quite serious”.
“Predetermination does have a legal meaning, and, and it’s not really acceptable to throw that around that people have predetermined it because we haven’t,” she said.
The planning board’s chair, Gary Dillon (Charlton Village), said that there were often complaints about consultation but that his members still had to scrutinise the application as with any other.
“We are not predetermined as some of the decisions that have surprised residents over the last 12 months have clearly proved,” he said. “So we are sensitive to those accusations, but I can assure everyone, but we are not predetermined for any application.”
McGahey also claimed that an alternative site at Flintmill Crescent was rejected because it was “not profitable” – even though the application was for council housing rather than for homes to sell. The site had been rejected because of the costs of decontamination and rerouting utility cables, the meeting was later told.
McGahey’s accusations pushed the focus away from local residents’ main complaint – the loss of parking spaces and consequences for safety. Some residents would have to leave their cars in nearby Hervey Road, which is linked to Woodville Close by an unlit access road.
“I want to really point out the distance that you are asking women to walk in a secluded road at night with children or on their own,” she said.
Lloyd responded to say that in a previous job as a pizza delivery driver, he had felt safe in the area. But one resident, Daniela Ivanov, said: “The proposal is clearly detached from the lived experience of people who live in that cul-de-sac.
“Would any member accept a planning decision where they have to park in another area, out of sight? Is that a safe space to carry my toddler and groceries at night?”
Branding the consultation “one-sided”, Ivanov said: “What this is saying to us is that the council is willing to compromise on your living standards to meet [housing] targets.”
While Fahy agreed the decision had not already been made, he said the “die had been cast” in July 2021 when the council had applied for funding to build the homes.
Fahy told the councillors that approving the plans would be “an act of vandalism”, compromising on “the design of our forefathers” who had built the block. But another planning board member, David Gardner (Greenwich Peninsula), said the site had become a “hotch-potch” since more recent homes had been built.
Aidan Smith (Greenwich Park), the cabinet member for regeneration, said that there were over 20,000 households on the council’s waiting list, with over 900 in temporary accommodation last year, costing the council £1.3 million a month.
“There’s a shortage of family-sized properties and the private sector is not delivering enough to meet demand. We’re trying to correct this with Greenwich Builds,” he said.
Smith said the council had gone “above and beyond” in consulting residents by inviting neighbours to a meeting with one of his team, as a private developer would not have had to consult at all on such a small site.
Asked by Richards Cottell if he could address issues with parking and safety, Smith responded: “Not really. As we’ve already heard from the residents, some already walk to and from the bus stops.
“Obviously some use their cars – I haven’t seen any crime figures but I don’t think it’s unsafe. I didn’t think that developing three houses and losing parking spaces would increase that safety risk.”
When it came to a decision, Lloyd said there were “compelling arguments about dark corners” but noted that the police had made no comments about safety in the area.
But other councillors were more concerned about the issue. Majella Anning (Creekside) responded: “If we have to leave it up to the Metropolitan Police to decide on women’s safety, then we might have to think again.”
Anning said she could not vote for the proposals without a rethink of the parking plans, and pushed for money to be set aside for CCTV and lighting to be improved.
Dillon also said there needed to be discussion on reworking the parking plans.
After almost half an hour of discussion of whether such a move would be legal, councillors voted by eight to one to approve the scheme on the proviso that a disabled parking space was included and further work was done whether better parking, lighting and CCTV could be introduced.
Pat Greenwell (Eltham Town & Avery Hill), the sole Conservative councillor present, was the only member to vote against.
Five other council homes were approved last night, all in Abbey Wood; three at Commonwealth Way and two off Sewell Road, were also approved last night.
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