Updated story: Plans to knock down the Leegate shopping centre and replace it with 562 homes were approved last night – with a 15-storey tower now set to dominate the local skyline around Lee Green.

Lewisham Council’s decision is now likely to end a long-running  saga about redeveloping the crumbling 1960s shopping centre, which sits on the border with Greenwich. An earlier proposal, which included a new Asda superstore, was approved in 2015 but did not proceed.

Blocks of 8, 10 and 12 storeys are also planned for the site, as well as a public square, local supermarket, medical centre, community centre, gym, restaurant, and a replacement for the Edmund Halley pub, which closed in December. One in five of the homes would be available for people on housing waiting lists.

Local councillors joined objectors in raising worries about the height of the tower, which would be visible from Blackheath, and the density of the housing. But Lewisham’s planning officers had recommended that the strategic development committee – its equivalent of Greenwich’s planning board – approve the scheme.

Draft planning rules for Lewisham recommend that buildings are kept to just 12 storeys at Leegate – but while the council has approved the rules, they need to to go before a planning inspector before they can come into force; so the committee had fewer grounds on which to refuse the scheme.

Leegate, December 2020
As it is now: Leegate pictured in late 2020 (photo: The Greenwich Wire)

Luke Warner, a Blackheath councillor, and James Rathbone, a Lee Green councillor, were also unhappy that Galliard Homes had been able to submit an application without including an assessment of how much money it would make on the development. The developer had said it needed to build the 15-storey tower to accommodate more “affordable” housing in the development.

Rathbone and Warner said they spoke for the six Lewisham councillors that represent the Lee Green ward which is home to the development and the Blackheath ward which sits opposite.

Neither of the councillors for the adjacent ward in Greenwich, Kidbrooke Village & Sutcliffe, attended the meeting – Greenwich had its own meeting at Woolwich Town Hall at the same time. Greenwich had filed its own objection on grounds of height and the impact on the Grade II-listed fire station opposite.

Leegate developer's render
A rainy-day view of the scheme from the junction of Taunton Road – street furniture on Burnt Ash Road and the edge of the Sainsbury’s supermarket on the left are not shown

Of the new 562 homes, 114 will be for London Affordable Rent – about half market rent and available to people on housing waiting lists – and 59 for shared ownership. 

Lewisham judged this as 36 per cent “affordable” housing, as it counts habitable rooms rather than individual homes, and there were a larger number of two and three-bedroom homes in this category. 

This also meant that Galliard did not have to submit a viability assessment. If counted by individual homes, as Greenwich does, it would be 30.7 per cent “affordable”.

Galliard’s architectural and technical director, Michael Watson, said that the scheme had been “the culmination of nearly three years of hard work under testing circumstances and testing the sanity of all involved”. He added that it had been a challenge for the developer to accommodate the level of “affordable” housing demanded by the government and City Hall.

Nick Patton, of the Blackheath Society, said that ignoring the draft local plan’s preference for blocks of 12 storeys or less would be “a travesty of the democratic process”.

Carol Hicks of the Lee Forum said that over 40 per cent of the homes would be single-aspect – with windows on just one side. “This is not good enough,” she said, adding that they would be vulnerable to overheating. Hicks also criticised “monotonous” and “slab-like” blocks on the Eltham Road side of the development.

But another local, Andrew Fuller, spoke enthusiastically in favour of the scheme, even suggesting it be named “Lee Village” to match Blackheath Village and the Berkeley Homes Kidbrooke Village development close by.

The current blocks were “without any doubt an eyesore”, Fuller said, adding that the new blocks would look better and help prevent antisocial behaviour.

“They should be inspired by Kidbrooke Village, which has transformed the Ferrier Estate,” he said. “Plenty of high-rises have gone up in Lewisham and they went through 15 years ago, why there’s been so much fuss about Leegate I don’t know.”

One of the committee members, Perry Vale councillor John Paschoud, said he was unhappy that there was no viability assessment, but said he was happy with council officers’ assurance that this was the best scheme that they could obtain for the site. “I am aware of the previous applications and applications that didn’t reach the committee table and how this exceeds them,” he said.

Another committee member, Sydenham councillor Liam Curren, voiced regret that Lewisham had not done more to ensure that a first-floor health centre planned for the development was on the ground floor. “We should have grasped this opportunity with a bit more enthusiasm,” he said.

But despite those misgivings, the scheme was passed unanimously. James-J Walsh, a committee member and cabinet member, said: “I think what we’ve got before us is, on balance, a positive development for the borough.”