Woodland Heights
Woodland Heights was built in the 1920s as a nurses’ home

Plans to build eight extra flats on top of a former nurses’ home in Blackheath were thrown out by Greenwich councillors on Tuesday after scores of objections from neighbours.

Developers wanted to add an extra storey to Woodland Heights on Vanbrugh Hill, a local landmark which overlooks east Greenwich.

Local MP Matt Pennycook submitted a written objection to the scheme, while planning chair Stephen Brain – who used the meeting to announce he was standing down at May’s election – said the scheme appeared to be “greedy”.

Built in the 1920s, the block served as a nurses’ home but the five-storey building was converted into 42 flats in the early 2000s.

A procession of current Woodland Heights residents told councillors that their privacy would be invaded by building the eight penthouse flats and roof garden, while the narrow road access to the site would not be able to cope with extra residents.

Woodland Heights from Vanbrugh Hill
The building overlooks east Greenwich (and its rush-hour jams)

Greenwich planning officers had recommended the scheme be approved, despite a similar proposal being rejected 22 years ago. They said they could not find the reasons why the earlier scheme had been thrown out.

Tim Barnes of the Greenwich Society said that light from the roof garden would affect the Westcombe Woodlands, a protected area tucked away between the flats and homes on Maze Hill which is a habitat for bats and rare birds.

“The attraction for the developer is that the roof terrace will look over the woodlands, but consequently those in the woodlands will look up to the extension and the terrace above,” he said.

The existing building was “already out of scale”, he said, while Maggie Gravelle of the Westcombe Society said that a redeveloped building would, in effect, be seven storeys high with the roof terrace.

“Most of the houses are small Victorian terraces which would be dominated by the additional bulk,” he said.

Vanbrugh Hill
Dodgy driving: One resident said Vanbrugh Hill, seen here on Tuesday morning, was “mayhem” Credit: The Greenwich Wire

Residents told of near-misses with delivery drivers and minicabs in the narrow access road, with one father telling how he had to pull his daughter out of the way of one driver.

Another resident of Woodland Heights said that she feared that leaseholders like her would end up paying the costs if anything went wrong with the extension.

While Clive Collett, representing residents of Lasseter Place, a small cul-de-sac next door, said the scheme would create “an overpowering sense of enclosure”.

“These would be luxury penthouse apartments – the developer would make substantial financial rewards at at the expense of the local community,” he added.

Another neighbour, Fiona Moore, spoke of fears about construction traffic, saying that rush hour traffic on Vanbrugh Hill was already “mayhem”.

Speaking for local residents, Blackheath Westcombe Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty said that for those living in Woodland Heights, “the effect of having building above you for months on end must be unbearable, especially if you are working from home”.

For the developer, architect James Engall paid tribute to Greenwich’s “diligent planning team” and said he was “proud to be helping deliver sustainable homes in London”.

The eight new homes would “seamlessly integrate into the existing infrastructure”, while the roof garden would “transform a barren outdated rooftop” by providing new wildlife habitats, and would be set well back to protect neighbours’ privacy.

Woodland Heights
Woodland Heights was converted into flats in the early 2000s, when a rooftop extension was also refused

But Brain said he had found up to 20 reasons to refuse the scheme – “the highest I’ve ever had, and I’m not against redevelopment as people will know from my casting vote [approving the 36-storey] Morden Wharf”.

“It appears quite a greedy revdelopment,” he added. “There’s an awful lot of apartments in that space.”

Victoria Geoghegan, a senior council officer, warned councillors that they would need firm reasons to turn the scheme down, because there was a shortage in the long-term supply of housing in the borough – something which favours developers under planning law.

But Pat Slattery, a Greenwich West Labour councillor, was unimpressed. “I don’t think it does a blind thing to help the local housing shortage,” she said. “I don’t think we’re short of eight penthouse units.”

Criticising the roof garden, she said: “A select group of people could party all night of they wanted to – if I lived there, I would. The proposal does nothing to enhance the area or the building.”

All five councillors present on the Greenwich area planning committee voted against the scheme.

Plans to rebuild the post office on Greenwich High Road with nine flats above got a better reception from the committee. That was unanimously passed after councillors were assured that the counter would remain in operation during the rebuild.

In a brief discussion, councillors heard that the rebuild was needed to secure the future of the post office counter because of a downturn in trade in the branch’s other services.

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.

You can also buy the editor a coffee at ko-fi.com. Thank you.