38 Wellington Street
Work has already taken place on the site

A planning battle looms over a controversial development on the site of the old Woolwich Grand Theatre after Greenwich council officers recommended refusing permission for an educational facility to be built on its ground floor.

The bottom floor of the development in Wellington Street, next to Woolwich Town Hall and opposite Greenwich Council’s headquarters, has been empty since it was completed two years ago. Councillors approved the development of 34 flats in 2014 despite a campaign to save the Woolwich Grand Theatre, which stood on the site. One of the planning conditions was that a plaque was to be placed in “a prominent location” to commemorate the history of the site. This never materialised.

Last October, the property developer Paradigm Land applied to convert the bottom floor into an educational facility, claiming that it had been unable to find a tenant to take it on for commercial or leisure use. The space had seen “regular use as a tea room and weekly use for screenings”, according to the application.

Planning documents state that the facility would offer before and after-school study as well as “alternative provision to mainstream education offer for children 8 to 18 years of age who may need support” during the day.

The development was called in by local councillors John Fahy and Jackie Smith for a planning committee to decide upon. However, the developers have now appealed to a planning inspector because the council has missed a deadline of 21 January to make a decision.

A second, almost-identical, planning application has also been submitted. This would allow the developer to be able to use it as an educational facility among a range of other uses.

Council officers have recommended both applications are rejected, although in the case of the first application, this rejection will now have to become a submission to a planning inspector, who will make the final decision.

38 Wellington Street
A “breakfast club” is already being advertised

The decision would have been made tomorrow night, however, all council meetings have been postponed because of the coronavirus lockdown. It is not yet clear how decisions like this will be taken while the emergency continues.

Council officers said using the site for educational use was appropriate, but said the application did not outline pupil numbers or demonstrate the standard of education it would offer. There were also issues with whether air conditioning would affect existing residents.

However, work has already taken place on the ground floor and part of the first floor of the building, with hoardings advertising a “breakfast club” operated by Sumus Education, a company which shares directors with Paradigm Land, according to Companies House records. Sumus had also been advertising for staff.

The facility would be “a new school, focused on inspiring, supporting and nurturing children who find mainstream schools a challenge”, according to Public Sector Building News.

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