Abbey Wood crown post office -copyright Julian Osley
Abbey Wood was the last remaining crown post office in Greenwich borough. Credit: Julian Osley via Creative Commons

Greenwich councillors backed plans to build new flats on the site of Abbey Wood’s closed post office last week, while there were calls for a replacement post office to be included in the development.

The council’s planning board – the cross-party committee that deals with large developments in the borough – endorsed plans to demolish the closed facility and replace it with 30 flats, with five at London Affordable Rent (slightly more than social rent) and one for shared ownership – less than the 35% “affordable” housing the council’s planning policy demands.

Council officers say that this takes into account a viability assessment, which will be reviewed, and a need to provide more homes at the affordable rent rate.

The development, on the borough border with Bexley, will also include space for new offices or workspaces – with officers saying the area need new employment uses to replace the post office and old sorting office. Local councillor Ann-Marie Cousins backed calls from members of the public for space to be given over for a new post office.

“My understanding is that a B1 use is very restrictive. If there was to be a community post office – with other uses such as people selling clothes, something like that – it doesn’t look like it would be [allowed],” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Victoria Geogehan, the council’s assistant director of planning, said the category was restricted was “employment uses such as offices or light industrial”, but added: “If someone wanted to operate it as a post office, they can come back and apply for a change of use.”

“If we gave it a A1/B1 use [allowing shops], the floorspace is quite significant – at 500 square metres – what we were concerned about was that it might impact on the vitality and viability of the Wilton Road area. We’re very concerned about eroding that in terms of the shopping parade. That’s why we only gave it a B1 use. But if there is the opportunity for someone to operate it as a post office, you can come back to us. But we’d have to give it for general retail use, which would open it up to for small supermarkets, that kind of thing.”

Developers’ view from Abbey Wood Road, with the site of the Harrow Inn to the left

Cousins called for the area’s demographics to be taken into account. “The nature of the area is changing and that does mean that a specialist supplier – European food or ethnic food – would be ruled out.”

Pointing out that an applicant would have to pay to apply for planning permission for change of use, Cousins added: “In a new development we would be putting the cost onto what probably would be minority groups.”

Renovating toilets

Cousins also called for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – a levy placed on the developers behind major schemes – to be spent on refurbishing nearby public toilets. “In terms of the use of the CIL, it always seems to be pre-allocated without discussion – is that something that can be taken up?”

“At the end of the day, it’s down to the council,” planning chair Sarah Merrill said. “We can have a discussion after with whoever the cabinet member is – Sizwe [James].”

Questioning the developers’ planning consultant Karen Jones, Eltham North councillor Linda Bird said she was “disappointed” at the number of one-bedroom flats in the scheme, which is close to Abbey Wood station. “This will have little relevance to local people, it will be more or less a dormitory,” she said. Jones said that older people were now downsizing to smaller properties and that the development would provide a first step on the housing ladder for younger people.

Bird voted against the scheme, while Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner abstained. The other six councillors backed the proposal, giving it planning approval. (The video above cuts off before the vote – apologies.)

Another development opposite, a development of 66 flats on the site of the old Harrow Inn – bulldozed by developers ten years ago – is awaiting a decision from Bexley Council.

Magistrates court approval

Councillors also supported plans to turn the old Greenwich Magistrates Court and adjacent former school offices into part of a 293-room hotel, with seven councillors out of seven present backing the scheme, subject to a condition proposed by Eltham South councillor Nigel Fletcher telling the developer to retain or reuse furniture from the building’s courtoom. Merrill said: “I don’t have any issues with this at all, I’ve looked at the application in detail and it’s a great use of the building.”

You can see councillors discuss the scheme in the video below.