Last month, Greenwich Council’s planning committee voted unanimously to reject two housing schemes which between them envisaged the building of over 1,000 new homes, 35 per cent of them affordable. As such, they met Sadiq Khan’s “threshold” requirement for housing schemes coming through borough planning systems and were therefore set to be looked upon favourably by City Hall. With this particular borough blocking the plans’ path, disregarding the advice of its own officers in the process, would the Mayor step in, as he has powers to do, and push the two projects through?
Writing about this at the time, I said that Khan’s next move would be watched closely by other boroughs and by the property industry at large. I explained that there is significant concern that a combination of internal Labour political considerations (a wariness of Corbynite populism) and the way Mayor Khan’s administration is set up (deputy mayors, responsible for delivering policy, not being in Khan’s inner circle) is hindering the supply of new housing, including the affordable varieties. Would the Mayor intervene over the Greenwich decision if it brought him into public conflict with activists accusing him of siding with property developers rather than objections by local campaigners about the scale and style of the proposed development?
We now have an answer. Khan has “called in” both of the schemes, meaning that he, not Greenwich, will decide if permission for them will be granted. The relevant documents, available on the GLA website, set out the Mayor’s reasons.
The larger of the two schemes, which seeks to redevelop the VIP Trading Estate at Charlton Riverside, proposes 771 homes, of which 162 would be for social rent and 88 for shared ownership. The Mayor’s officers point out that the new homes “would equate to 29% of the council’s annual housing target and 24% of the draft London Plan target” by making use of “an accessible, underutilised, brownfield site in an Opportunity Area”. The smaller scheme, on Eynsham Drive in Abbey Wood, proposes 272 new dwellings, of which 67 would be for social rent and 28 for shared ownership. This project “would equate to 10% of the council’s annual housing target and 8% of the draft London Plan target,” write the Mayor’s planning officers. The Eynsham Drive site too is described as “an accessible and underutilised site”.
Another observation made in the both mayoral reports is that Greenwich’s recent delivery of affordable housing and housing overall has been well below the targets set by the current London Plan – Boris Johnson’s, which is still formally in effect – and by the borough’s own local plan, despite outline permission for the huge, 12,000 home, Greenwich Peninsula masterplan, making the overall picture look better. They add that during the financial years 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17, the proportion of affordable homes has been just 18% – well short of the council’s own 35% target and even further short of Mayor Khan’s long term target of 50%, included in his draft new London Plan.
Reading those officers’ reports, it becomes hard to see how the Mayor could have failed to intervene, so clearly do the two schemes meet the criteria for approval set by him and by Greenwich Council itself. Even so, the response to his decision from Greg Smith of GVA, the company advising Rockwell, the developer of the Charlton Riverside scheme, is worth reflecting on:
This is a positive sign that many of London’s property developers have been hoping to see since the local elections concluded in May…There has been a growing trend of large scale regeneration schemes being refused at the local level against planning officer recommendations. We need a more positive outlook from our elected representatives to help get house building moving at the pace needed to meet demand and address London’s affordability crisis.
Smith was quoted in Estates Gazette, whose coverage is here.
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