Blackheath Business Centre in March 2021
The Blackheath Business Centre will be demolished for 63 flats

London mayor Sadiq Khan has declined to intervene in plans for a controversial development of 63 flats on Blackheath Hill, on the border of Lewisham and Greenwich boroughs.

Developers GS8 and Vabel plan to demolish the Blackheath Business Estate to build two blocks of nine and seven storeys, along with a four-storey workspace building.  

Lewisham’s strategic planning committee – its equivalent of Greenwich’s planning board – narrowly approved the proposal last December on a casting vote from the chair.

Councillors heard that development will see 36 mature trees cut down to be replaced with a large wall that will cut off light from a row of homes where vulnerable and disabled people live. The developers argue the wall will be “green” – though it is not mentioned in Lewisham’s draft conditions or in the Mayor of London’s recent decision – while they plan to plant more trees.  

Blackheath Business Estate
The development will be right next to an existing housing block

The developer’s consultant ecologist – who did not attend the meeting – concluded the current trees were of “low quality”. But this was at odds with the council’s own tree expert, who concluded that the plans would be “detrimental” to the area. Planning consultant Peter Hadley, who represented local residents at the meeting, said it was one of the worst applications he had ever seen
After the committee’s decision, the case went to the mayor, who has the power to take over as planning authority if he does not agree with the decision.  

But Sadiq Khan said he was “content for Lewisham Council to determine the case itself, subject to any action that the Secretary of State may take”. 

Blackheath Hill render
The scheme is next to existing and planned blocks on the Heathside and Lethbridge estates

The news has dismayed locals who say “no voice” has been given to tenants in the social housing by the proposed development.  

Although the City Hall report identified some concerns with the plans, including segregated rooftop play spaces, impacts on daylight and sunlight, on overlooking and privacy, and an adjacent nature conservation site, City Hall’s planning officers concluded that the plans were, on balance, acceptable.  

“GLA officers note that the residential element would cause negative impacts on daylight and sunlight, overlooking and privacy, particularly for ground floor units in Block D of Parkside [a housing development next to the site] but that there are some mitigating circumstances, including the urban environment, the site’s topography, and the limited daylight and sunlight impact on living areas,” the report said. 

Lethbridge estate rebuild
Behind the development site, work on redeveloping Lewisham Council’s Lethbridge estate continues

A representative of the Blackheath Hill residents’ group which contested the plans said that Lewisham Council had “not afforded appropriate weight to its policies that seek to preserve amenity”, particularly in relation to the loss of daylight and sunlight and the overbearing harm to those residents faced with a large wall instead of trees.  

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “We recognise the concerns raised by local residents and have carried out an extensive consultation. Whilst we appreciate that this development will mean a change in the local area, the council is satisfied that sufficient efforts have been made to uphold our planning policies which includes protecting existing amenities. 

“As part of the planning permission which was granted, the developer is obliged to support current business tenants to either relocate or secure premises in the new development.  

“Measures will be put in place to mitigate the impact of construction on neighbouring residents and businesses. The development does not contravene the council’s development plan, nor does it contravene the London Plan.”

  • Lewisham councillor Leo Gibbons, who voted for the proposal at the meeting in December, wrote a blog post about the decision earlier this year, saying: “To me, the choice was clear about the actions we needed to take for the greater good. Over the next 20 years, London will need to build a million new homes. It is a steep task, and that will only be made possible if politicians are brave enough to be straight with the public about our need to densify and be able to communicate the trade-offs we all need to make.”

  • LDRS logo

    Gráinne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
    See more about how 853 uses LDRS content.

    Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.

    Please join over 100 donors who use Steady, PressPatron or Patreon to give a little towards our costs every month. The money pays the bills, a wage for the editor and pays others to write for the site.