Plans to convert Greenwich’s art deco former town hall into flats were deferred last night after councillors raised doubts about the scheme.

Meridian House, whose clock tower is a local landmark, opened in 1939 as the headquarters of the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. After the current council was formed in 1965 the town hall was surplus to requirements and sold eight years later.

Riverlow Group hopes to convert most of the building from offices into 73 private rented flats by building extensions on the roof, along with offices and commercial space. 

But councillors on the planning board questioned why there would be no homes for those on the borough’s 27,000-strong housing waiting list – with the only legally “affordable” housing being 15 flats offered at a 20 per cent discount, well adrift of the council’s targets.

Greenwich normally demands 24.5 percent of housing is set aside for people on waiting lists, with 10.5 per cent classed “intermediate” – shared ownership or, in this case, rent at a smaller discount.

Historic England, the government’s heritage body, also raised concerns about the effect of the extensions on the Grade II-listed building, which was most recently used by the Greenwich School of Management.

Isolde Murphy, a neighbour, said her home would be among the worst affected by loss of daylight.  “I applied to change my windows and that was refused because of millimetres of double-glazing, but what is being proposed across the road is a world away from that,” she said.

“What is being proposed [for housing] is so far below the target. It was designed to be a civic building for the people. I agree it should be put in use but for this price, I’m not so sure.

Pat Slattery, a local Greenwich Park councillor and the council’s cabinet member for housing, said that the discounted flats would still cost £18,000 per year in rent.

While she was “happy that this iconic building was being put back into use”, the developer should offer “more help for their neighbours and fellow citizens”, she said.

“Flats at 80 per cent market rent are of no use to local people. I am asking this planning board to ask for some of these homes to be at social rent.”

Under questioning from councillors, the developer’s representative Gerry Cassidy, from the Greenwich-based consultancy BPTW, said that the council’s own officers had encouraged a higher level of commercial space.

Greenwich Town Hall plaque
The building was the old Greenwich town hall, but was sold off by the new council in 1973. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

Majella Anning, a Greenwich Creekside councillor, asked: “If you had not been persuaded to offer so much space to commercial, would you have gone for 60-per cent market rent or some at social rent?”

“Hypothetically, yes,” Cassidy said. “We could see what kind of blend we could do. Whether or not that would have a fundamental impact, I couldn’t tell you – some of the commercial space would have to stay commercial, like in the basement, but we would be open to different scenarios.”

David Gardner, a Greenwich Peninsula councillor, said that there was already a “glut of commercial property” in Greenwich town centre. Cassidy admitted that no market testing had been done. 

When it emerged that more work needed to be done to examine how much daylight and sunlight the building’s closest neighbours would lose, planning chair Gary Dillion suggested that the proposal be deferred – hinting that Riverlow could use the time to look at other issues too.

“I’m going to put it to the committee that we defer this item so that survey could be done, because it is no use after permission is granted,” he said.

“And in that time the applicant will be able to consider some of the other points raised by members tonight.”

The application is now set to return to councillors at a later date. The original town hall complex also included the Borough Hall, which was retained by the council when the rest of the building was sold but remains empty with its future uncertain.

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