Woolwich tower plan
Meyer’s original tower was rejected by a planning inspector

The developers behind Woolwich’s rejected Tesco tower have come back with new plans – lopping 12 storeys off the building to propose a 15-storey block facing General Gordon Square.

Meyer Homes is also planning seven further blocks behind the store, facing the South Circular Road, of between 11 and 16 storeys, as it attempts to rescue the final stages of the Woolwich Central development, which were thrown out by a planning inspector a year ago.

News of the scheme only emerged in a late-night tweet from Anthony Okereke, Greenwich Council cabinet member for housing and local Woolwich Common councillor, posted at 10.20pm on Sunday night.

The developer’s agent, Curtin & Co, is hosting an online exhibition at 6pm on Thursday. Okereke was an account manager for Curtin until last month, where his role was “providing strategic advice on high-profile development schemes and undertaking community and political engagement”.

The Woolwich Central website recyles an image of Borough Yards, another Meyer development

It is unclear just how Curtin planned to promote the event. The lack of notice will further aggravate relations in a community already suspicious of Meyer, whose original development was first rejected by Greenwich Council in 2018. Meyer appealed to a planning inspector, who upheld the council’s decision.

Okereke’s tweet, posted over a bank holiday weekend, gave less than four days’ notice of the event, which takes place in the first half-term holiday since the end of the coronavirus lockdown.

Other developers have published interactive exhibitions which can be viewed at any time of day or night – but Curtin and Meyer have published an un-proofread website with stock images and are banking on residents being free on Thursday evening at four days’ notice.

One image is recycled from the Borough Yards development on the Vinopolis site at Bankside, complete with railway arches – not a feature found in Woolwich. While Borough Yards is a retail and street food development, Woolwich Central is mainly residential.

853, which has covered the development since it was first announced, was not sent any publicity.

Meyer Homes image of tower being reduced in size
Watch it come down: The original scheme has been negotiated down with council planners, although this image appears to differ from another on the website

Long-running saga

Meyer’s plans aim to finish off a development which began in the mid-2000s when Tesco’s development arm, Spenhill, built a new civic centre for Greenwich Council along with a new store and 960 flats, with the loss of two local landmarks – Woolwich’s post office and the Director General pub as well as council offices dating from the 1930s to 1970s. This development was later lambasted by the planning inspector who rejected the later phases.

Tesco intended to build in front of and behind the store, but the supermarket giant pulled out of property development in 2015 and sold the remainder of the site to Meyer, which eventually came forward with its own plans.

Meyer’s original tower, which was widely condemned for having no “affordable” housing of any nature, shrinks from its 27-storey Flatiron Building-style design to a stumpy 15-storey block under the new proposals. There would be 134 “much needed high-quality flats” in the tower, but Meyer does not say if they will all be for private sale, as the original tower would have been.

The ground floor would feature “a co-working area as well as a bar and social space”, with community facilities on the first floor.

While most attention was focused on the tower – condemned by the planning inspector as “looming somewhat oppressively over General Gordon Square” – the plans for blocks of between nine and 16 storeys behind were also condemned by the inspector, who said they would “fail to provide adequate living conditions for its occupiers”. This is where the “affordable” housing would have been.

Now Meyer plans 590 homes in seven blocks of between 11 and 16 storeys with “a high-quality mixture of 1- 2- and 3-bedroom properties”. Again, there is no detail on how many properties would be “affordable”.

In total, there would be 724 homes – 80 fewer than the original proposal.

Meyer proposals
Meyer’s plans for the tower (left) and the blocks behind (apologies for the poor quality of the images)

Battle over views

Despite the condemnation of its original proposals by the planning inspector, Meyer will be counting on some elements of his report as well as decisions made by Greenwich Council in the 2000s and much earlier.

While the green in front of Tesco is liked by locals, it was only ever meant to be temporary – the council even gave permission for a 27-storey tower there in 2007. That approval had lapsed by the time Meyer submitted its plans. The planning inspector said the Tesco store was so ugly, the site needed to be developed “to mask its heinous impact”

While there will be worries about views from the Royal Artillery Barracks – where renders show the new development peering above the historic site, the inspector said that while there would be harm to the site, it would be at “the lower end of the scale”, citing buildings that have already gone up, including late-1960s tower blocks.

Greater harm, he said, would be caused by the original development to the Royal Arsenal conservation area. Cutting the tower down to a 15-storey block could well reduce those worries.

As for worries about views from General Gordon Square, only last week Greenwich Council approved 23-storey blocks on Spray Street, with more tall buildings to come as part of the leisure centre development. And Maritime House, on the other side of the square, was built as the 11-storey Churchill House as long ago as 1964, and has since had extra floors added.

Tesco green
A planning developer said the Tesco store was so ugly it should be hidden by a new development

Housing struggle

The bigger battle may well be over housing. Greenwich Council usually demands 35 per cent “affordable” housing – a catch-all term which does not necessarily meet the dictionary definition of the word.

The original scheme saw Meyer offer just 23.1 per cent “affordable” housing – but the planning inspector deemed that acceptable, which could make it difficult to try to push for an increase.

Of the 804 homes, 134 homes (16.6 per cent) would have been for London Affordable Rent – about half market rent, and available through housing associations – 52 (6.4 per cent) would have been shared ownership. “Of the former category, 34 would be three-bedroom units, suitable for families. In view of the pressing need for this type of affordable housing in the borough, this would be a substantial and important public benefit,” the inspector said.

Last week the council approved Woolwich Exchange with just 19.7 per cent “affordable” housing, with 14 per cent for London Affordable Rent.

One political change at the council may also be on Meyer’s side. Sarah Merrill was the councillor who led the planning board which rejected the scheme in 2018, and went on to become cabinet member for regeneration last year – a key job in pushing for better housing developments.

But the widely-respected councillor lost that role earlier this month, with the regeneration brief passing to deputy leader Denise Scott-McDonald. It remains to be seen how she will fight for a better outcome at the Tesco site.

Residents can sign up for the consultation at gotowebinar.com and view the website at meyerhomeswoolwich.co.uk.

10am update: Anthony Okereke’s previous employment at Curtin and further details of the planning inspector’s thoughts added. Headline also corrected to state the right number of storeys (apologies!).

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