Greenwich Council has demanded that developers tear down a riverside development in Woolwich because it has been built without planning permission.

Phase 2 of the Mast Quay development, next to the Woolwich Ferry, was completed at the end of 2022 and residents have now moved in. But the finished blocks differ from those promised by developers in 2012, when the scheme was given planning permission.

One senior councillor branded the blocks, of 15 and 23 storeys, “a mutant development that is a blight on the landscape”.

Greenwich Council has now served Comer Homes with an enforcement notice demanding that the two buildings – which contain 204 homes – be knocked down.

The two buildings differ in both external and internal design. Councillors approved two glass-clad blocks, but instead they were given metal features and grey cladding.

Greenwich says that other breaches include:

  • Residents have poorer quality accommodation than was promised
  • Promised roof gardens and children’s play areas have not been built
  • The footprint of the towers is bigger than was promised
  • “accessible” apartments for wheelchair users have steps to their balconies, meaning residents cannot use them
  • car parking has replaced a promised landscaped garden
  • a residents’ gym has replaced commercial floorspace

Comer applied for retrospective planning permission for one of the blocks earlier this year, ut was refused. The company has 28 days to respond to the enforcement notice, which was issued on Monday.

The council says it will offer support to residents living in the blocks. The next-door Phase 1 blocks are unaffected. If the company does not appeal or an appeal is unsuccessful, it will have a year to knock the blocks down.

“The completed Mast Quay Phase II built-to rent-development has been built without planning permission and is therefore unlawful because it is so substantially different to the scheme that was originally permitted by the planning permission given in 2012,” the council said in a statement issued this lunchtime.  

“In total there are at least 26 main deviations to the original planning permission. 

“The council believes that the only reasonable and proportionate way to rectify the harm created by the finished Mast Quay Phase II development to the local area, and the tenants living there, because of the changes made during its construction is the complete demolition and the restoration of the land to its former condition.”

The original plans for Mast Quay were submitted in 2010. Credit: Upchurch Associates

It is the first time that Greenwich Council has ordered an entire development to be torn down.

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, who is also Labour’s shadow housing and planning minister, said on social media today that the council’s action was “extremely welcome news”.

Ann-Marie Cousins, the council’s cabinet member for community safety and enforcement, said: “We believe Mast Quay Phase II represents significant harm to the area and harm to present and future occupiers of the buildings.

“The developer has had plenty of opportunities to apply for planning permission to vary what they had permission to build before they carried out the work, instead of applying after they had already done it.

“For example, since starting work on site in 2015 they have had many years to engage with us regarding the amendments they claim it was necessary to make, due to changes in building regulations, yet there was no contact or application made, and an attempt was only made retrospectively as a consequence of the enforcement investigation.

“Why should children have no place to play because it was cheaper not to include it? Why should disabled tenants be prisoners in their own homes because step free access to the balconies wasn’t included? Why should the outside areas be dominated by tarmac and cars instead of trees and grass and plants?

“Without enforcement our planning system can have no integrity and that is why we will not shy away from property developers exploiting the system for their own gain, to the detriment of residents and other responsible developers who do the right thing.”

"Before" and after view
What was promised by Comer Homes and what was delivered. Credit: The Greenwich Wire/ Upchurch Associates

Aidan Smith, the cabinet member for regeneration, said: “The Mast Quay Phase II development had the potential to deliver hundreds of beautiful riverside apartments in an exciting area of London with a rich maritime past. Instead, what we have is a mutant development that is a blight on the landscape, local conservation zone and heritage assets and views.

“As a borough we work with many responsible property developers who deliver schemes that we can be proud of and we will always work with responsible developers to unlock sites and deliver the new homes that our borough needs.

“If a scheme matching what has been built at Mast Quay Phase II was submitted for planning permission today, it would be refused, and we cannot let what has been delivered at Mast Quay Phase II go unchallenged.”

Council leader Anthony Okereke said: “The right thing to do is not usually the easy thing to do. That is why we will not stand by and allow poor quality and unlawful development anywhere in our borough and we are not afraid of taking difficult decisions when we believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Comer Homes said on Wednesday that it would appeal against the order.

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