Local residents have persuaded Greenwich councillors to visit the site of 80 new council homes planned for green space in Kidbrooke after telling them they had their own plans for the land.
Council officers had recommended the planning board rubber-stamp the new homes for the Brook Estate, planned as part of a pledge to start building 750 council homes by 2022.
But after persuasive arguments from the Save the Brooks, and a number of missteps made by councillors and officers in arguing for the development, the committee voted by five votes to three on Tuesday night to take a look at the land on Rochester Way themselves – despite council leader Danny Thorpe speaking at the meeting to implore councillors to approve it.
The plans for 58 houses and 22 flats, with a commercial unit and 48 car parking spaces, include improvements to the open space that will remain.
Residents from the Save The Brooks campaign said they had no objection to placing housing on the land, aimed at reducing the 20,000-strong waiting list in the borough. But they complained the scheme took over too much of the green space which acts as a landmark for drivers heading to and from Eltham.
They also said that it represented overdevelopment – especially with a second scheme, from the council’s spin-off company Meridian Home Start, also being built on the estate, and the same firm’s recently-completed Jack’s Acre development close by.
The plans would see 18 houses built between Halsbrook Road and Rochester Way; 35 houses and a five-storey block of 12 flats between Ridgebrook Road and Rochester Way; and five houses and a four-storey block of 10 flats between Bournbrook Road and Rochester Way. A new pedestrian crossing will be built on Rochester Way.
“The majority of the residents are not averse to building additional social housing. We didn’t complain about the 29 homes in Jack’s Acre in 2016, or the 35 homes in Carnbrook Road that are under construction, and we aren’t complaining now,” said the campaign’s Claire Fraser.
“We believe these proposals do not have the best interests of future or existing residents at heart. We have grave concerns about the 12 per cent increase in homes and the removal of the last of our green spaces. This proposal will severely change the face of our community.”
Residents voiced fears that the new homes would increase traffic on the estate’s narrow roads, and put too much pressure on public transport, with Kidbrooke station a lengthy walk away on a route they said had a reputation for antisocial behaviour.
Fraser said the residents had an idea that would make the scheme “palatable” – “it would give the residents sunshine in their own houses,” she said. “We understand houses need to be built.”
But while the proposals had been discussed verbally, they were not submitted as a response to the planning application.
While the council promised a revamped children’s playground as part of the plans to improve what would remain of the green space, locals to the south of Rochester Way said they would be reluctant to allow children to cross the busy road. While money was set aside for a crossing, nobody from the council could guarantee it would be a pelican crossing – the final decision would be taken by Transport for London.
Speakers for the council claimed the residents would still have plenty of green space nearby – but they included private sports grounds and a locked nature reserve in their calculations.
Kidbrooke Green Park, the closest green space, was “often waterlogged” and a long way for elderly residents to walk, neighbour Peter Dabbs said.
“The replacement space is not really big enough,” Dabbs added. “I live almost opposite, the green space is no bigger than my back garden and the rest of it is paving.”
Other contributions from those advocating for the new homes appeared to be tone deaf, or worse. Housing cabinet member Anthony Okereke, who gave a speech that differed little from past council home applications, claimed that the area would soon benefit from a new bus service. But the 335 route began over a year ago; the residents had been talking about it a few minutes before Okereke spoke, and they said the service stopped too far away to be convenient for their new neighbours.
“I’m aware this has been green space for quite some time, there used to be housing there many years ago, actually,” said council leader Danny Thorpe, neglecting to mention that the housing consisted of temporary prefabs erected after the war, as happened on other open spaces such as Eltham Common, Blackheath and Charlton Park. (See a 1950s map of the Brook Estate prefabs.)
Referring to the 20,000 households on the housing waiting list, and the 3,000 in priority categories, Thorpe said: “When I was elected leader I promised we would do all we can to meet the housing crisis; we have seen homes in places like the Brook Estate bought and sold in right-to-buy and destabilising local communities.
“All of the rents on the homes you see before you are being set below 40 per cent of market value, genuinely affordable homes for those stuck on those lists.”
Eltham North Conservative councillor Charlie Davis, addressing the committee, said the new homes would “stick out like a sore thumb”.
Local Labour councillor David Stanley, addressing the committee, used the same phrase, saying that the housing on Halsbrook Road was being “shoehorned” into a relatively small piece of open land. “It will stick out like a sore thumb and will not help with community cohesion,” he said.
“I support new social homes but we have to protect the evironment for existing residents – we could lose half a dozen homes and build on the Thomas Tallis site and meet our target of 750 homes.”
When planning committee member Geoff Brighty said the scheme looked like other Greenwich Builds projects, Matthew Waddelow, of the architects Shedkm, said they had deliberately decided to build it in “contrast with the dark brick of existing two-storey housing” to “address more contemporary developments such as Jack’s Acre”.
“There is a contrast with the existing buildings, but we are looking at how the character of the wider area is changing and how we can make a positive contribution to it,” he said.
Norman Adams, a veteran of planning committees and another local councillor in the Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward, praised the objectors. “It’s the first time I can recall that objectors have come forward with quite positive proposals based on their experience – if the only primary difference is three units, I would have thought by now that someone would have exercised a bit of control to amend the proposal,” he said.
“It’s all well and good to say, ‘we’ll deal with details at a later stage’, but if an applicant has consent, it gives them a great advantage. No-one has objected to social housing, only its design, distribution and environmental effect.”
Conservative Eltham North councillor Nigel Fletcher agreed. ”It’s unusual for an objectors’ group to come to us with no objection to principle to development at all. The presentations from councillors Thorpe and Okereke were in effect made redundant.”
Despite strong objections from former council leader Denise Hyland, who said pausing for a site visit would be “kicking it into the long grass”, the councillors voted 5-3 to take a site visit early in the new year.
Hyland, Charlton councillor Linda Perks and planning chair Stephen Brain voted against the site visit, but Adams, Brighty, Fletcher, Charlton councillor Gary Dillon and Abbey Wood councillor Clive Mardner backed the deferral.
It is the second time councillors have deferred an application from the town hall’s own housing team after not being satisfied with presentations – last month plans for homes in east Greenwich were paused for a site visit before being passed unanimously two weeks ago.
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