Plans for two Greenwich Peninsula tower blocks with no “affordable” accommodation were rubber-stamped by councillors last night – with the developer pledging to start work next year.

The blocks of 36 and 20 storeys, plus commercial units and a three-storey cycle storage unit, would sit on vacant land between the Millennium Way roundabout, outside the O2, and the River Thames. The 866 private rented flats will form the first phase of a neighbourhood that will be known as Meridian Quays.  A riverside park will eventually be built where the Magazine venue is, but that was not part of last night’s application.

Greenwich Council gave outline permission for the blocks in 2015. That original permission included allowing an all-private development on the Meridian Quays site in return for building more elsewhere on the peninsula, including in the towers currently being built next to St Mary Magdalene school.

Eventually, Knight Dragon hopes to build 17,500 homes across the area, but even though the company has been involved with the peninsula for a decade, progress has been slow. Dominic Glanz, the developer’s head of projects, said there would be a speedy start to Meridian Quays.

Split view of the development, one showing the tallest tower in full
The towers would be southwest of the O2. Credit: Knight Dragon

“If you approve these applications, we will be looking to start on site later in 2024,” Glanz told councillors. 

“Knight Dragon has assembled a new delivery team with a primary to primary focus to accelerate development,” he said. “We are proud custodians of Greenwich Peninsula and we take our role and responsibility in delivering this new part of London very seriously.”

Drawback Road Google view showing Canary Wharf
Antosocial behaviour at the nearby Drawdock Road slipway was also raised. Credit: Google Streetview

The plans involve rerouting some roads in the area including the far northern end of Tunnel Avenue. David Gardner, one of the planning board and a councillor for Greenwich Peninsula, asked how the proposals would help eradicate problems with drug dealing at the slipway on Drawdock Road, just north of the site.

Chris Wilkinson, the architect, said: “You picked up the key point, there. I think people will make a significant difference there. And these will be 24-hour managed homes. 

“So there’ll be estate management in the buildings themselves. So I think an element of natural surveillance is going to improve that area.”

Gardner also raised concerns about the lack of green space in the application, complaining that the area was already full of “loads of tarmac”, and asked if a planned route linking the development with North Greenwich station needed to be so wide.

He was told that the road needed to accommodate access to the slipway and a Blackwall Tunnel vent, but the route would be brick-set rather than built with tarmac.

Councillors were also told that because the development was given outline approval in 2015, it only had to comply with standards in force under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty, rather than the more stringent greening standards put in place by Sadiq Khan.

The site at Millennium Way as it is now. Credit: Google Streetview

Because the development already had outline approval, councillors’ hands were largely tied. Chris Lloyd, a former Labour councillor for the peninsula who moved to West Thamesmead last year, complained about even having to be in Woolwich Town Hall last night.

“When this came to the preceding planning board this was chewed over in great detail, looking at the whole application in its entirety and it was decided it was acceptable,” he said. “I don’t see why we’re doing it again.” 

Lloyd also mocked his colleague Gardner’s environmental concerns, saying: “I certainly don’t wanna see a mud dirt track next to the O2.”

Asked by Gardner how a development of all-private rented flats would “alleviate the housing crisis” in a borough where the average salary was £32,000, Glanz responded:  “I was talking to my colleagues this morning. It seems that it can no longer be a crisis because it’s been going on too long, hasn’t it? 

“I think, in short, that it needs housing across all price points to be delivered. So I think this will bring a significant contribution.”

Update, Tuesday November 14: Knight Dragon said in a statement on Monday: “We are delighted by the decision of Greenwich Council’s planning board. The approval of these plots will allow us to continue momentum in delivering the homes and facilities that our community want to see. 

In seeking to address urgent housing needs, we have to date prioritised the delivery of affordable homes. As a result, of the c.2,500 homes delivered, 37 per cent are affordable – well in excess of the 28 per cent rolling minimum agreed with the council. Knight Dragon has already invested over £1 billion into the Greenwich Peninsula masterplan, and we look forward to additional applications over the next 12 months.”