Shepherds Leas render
The proposed development from Lingfield Crescent, across the border into Bexley Credit: Meridian Home Start

A Greenwich Council-backed developer is appealing to planning inspectors after the borough’s councillors threw out plans to build a nine-storey block close to Oxleas Woods.

Councillors on the planning board turned down Meridian Home Start’s proposal for 70 flats at Shepherds Leas, on the borough boundary at Falconwood, even though they formed a key part of the recently re-elected Labour council’s housing plans.

Meridian Home Start, a company spun off from the council, confirmed to this website that an appeal was submitted last week after rumours emerged on social media yesterday.

Rents would have been set at about 65 per cent of market value. The 70 flats would have been reserved for people who had lived in Greenwich for five years and available to people on the council’s housing waiting list.

Greenwich Council leader Anthony Okereke spoke up in favour of the scheme, which is being funded by the town hall – resorting to handwritten placards to get his message across, while planning officers had recommended approval.

Anthony Okereke at Greenwich planning board
Anthony Okereke channelled Bob Dylan to sell the scheme to councillors

But hundreds of people objected or signed petitions against the scheme, complaining that the tower would be visible above trees from Oxleas Wood, a protected view out towards Kent. They also said that light pollution would harm wildlife in the area. Tory-run Bexley Council and the neighbouring Old Bexley & Sidcup MP, Louie French, also filed objections.

Greenwich’s officers conceded that the council-owned site, between the A2 and Rochester Way and midway between Eltham and Welling town centres, was not deemed suitable for tall buildings under the town hall’s own policies. But they said that the need for “affordable” housing and London-wide policies about creating landmark buildings could override this.

The all-Labour panel of councillors threw the scheme out by five votes to two, asking that Meridian come back with a scheme that could not be viewed from Oxleas Woods.

But now what is effectively a flagship Greenwich Council scheme will ended up being decided by a planning inspector.

Render of Shepherds Leas block
The nine-storey block would be between the A2 and Rochester Way Credit: Meridian Home Start

Many Labour councillors were furious at their colleagues’ decision, pointing at the borough’s growing waiting list for housing and believing that a location opposite a railway station was ideal for development. Conservative government cuts to rail services announced last month may have weakened the developers’ case, however.

The area around the cherished woodlands has always been a sensitive area for development, particularly since campaigners saw off roadbuilding plans that would have obliterated the site of the Shepherds Leas scheme.

Bexley Council was also concerned about a possible increase in demand for parking and pressure on services in its borough. Parking around Falconwood is a sore point between the two councils, with Bexley unhappy about Greenwich plans to implement restrictions to stop Kent drivers using local streets as a park-and-ride facility.

The Shepherds Leas site now. It is currently occupied by property guardians

Matt Hartley, Greenwich’s opposition Conservative leader, criticised the decision to go to appeal rather than try to rework the scheme.

He told 853: “You would have thought that the council’s developer would respect the verdict of the council’s own planning poard, and come back with an improved scheme that addresses the community’s concerns.

“Instead, they are appealing against the decision and trying to go above the planning board’s head. Meridian Home Start is perfectly entitled to do that within the planning system, just like any other developer, but from the council’s own development company, this is a very disappointing move – and frankly symptomatic of the ‘we know best’ attitude at the top of Greenwich Council.

“We’ve heard a lot from this new administration about listening to residents, but actions speak louder than words.”

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