Tiny private flats approved on Charlton public land. When “affordable” is not affordable

Greenwich Council’s Planning Board have tonight (16 Febuary) approved plans for pocket flats on public land in Charlton with land to be sold to private developer Pocket Living.

All councillors supported the plans which appeared to show few had read accompanying reports. Many referenced the “affordable” nature of the scheme which as we’ll see is wrong according to reports submitted to the meeting. I took an in depth look at reports last week.

Council leader Danny Thorpe is not on the Greenwich Council planning board but did speak in support of the scheme to sell public land despite the council seeing homeless numbers rising rapidly. The homes are supposed to be affordable – though at the very highest level of 80 per cent market rates. Yet it appears it doesn’t even meet that level and could be priced over and above market rates.

It’s not affordable

The actual price of homes according to a report will be greater than new-builds for sale nearby at full market cost. The Pocket Living application states a forecast sale price of £622 per square ft – which is supposed to be 80 per cent market rate and thus affordable, yet the nearby Synergy development on Victoria Way in Charlton sees full price flats at 100 per cent market rate costing less at £574 per sq ft.

Claims in planning meeting – contradicted by projected sale prices in accompanying report

Greenwich Council had previously stated Pocket Living would be “genuinely affordable”.

Danny Thorpe stated the land was too contaminated to build either council homes or homes using Meridian Home Start – or even via a Housing Association. They simply didn’t have the expertise. Not even a big Housing Association?

And do Pocket Living? They have hardly built that many developments. The report states contamination removal is tax deductible so additional costs will not be met by Pocket Living.

He stated “any improvement is better than none” for an empty site. Well yes, but is setting the bar so low in a housing crises the best way to go about things?  He then stated the development would gain income for the council, though it appears it could be as low as £176,000. That won’t buy half a house.

Housing budget overruns due to emergency housing need seen every few months in council reports

Meanwhile more millions are having to be regularly found to meet emergency housing costs due to a lack of social homes. Numbers rose from 1340 to 1446 in three months to December 2020 – up from nearly 1,200 in late 2019.

December 2020

He then mentioned more residents supporting this application than opposing. However in 2019 a report into the land sale actually showed this:

More opposed than supported

Greenwich ignored the results stating: “Again, while the estate residents disagree with the proposals (albeit on a small sample), the weight of other evidence, including general support for house building and the wider need in the borough it is recommended that the council will proceed with the disposal of this site to Pocket Living in line with the July 2018 recommendations to Cabinet.”

Support truly affordable housing? Then you must surely approve this right?!

I covered the PR drive from Pocket Living back in 2018. Pocket Living went big on the “affordable” aspect without mentioning – as we now see – they simply aren’t.

A pre-written template by the developer that they encouraged people to email stated: “Affordable home ownership for local people like me, helping them stay in the communities they grew up in and which stops them having to move out of the area to get on the housing ladder, should be the priority of any council.”

Two years later and it appears the “affordable” homes are more expensive than full market priced homes nearby – and existing properties.

Thorpe then mentioned the homes being for younger local people. Yet if they’re more expensive than full price homes nearby – both new build and existing – then it does nothing about the affordability problem. He kept referring to public sector workers. These homes will not be cheap and why would a nurse or teacher – even if they could afford one – pay more?

Despite many arguable claims from Labour’s Danny Thorpe, he was followed by Conservative councillor Spencer Drury who stated Thorpe knows much more about these things. Drury then stated it was for “people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford their own homes” meaning he didn’t read an accompanying report showing costs higher than other new builds.

The site

Once again, it is MORE expensive according to the proposal’s OWN report than other new builds nearby under construction. Watching these meetings really does want to make one bang their head on a desk. The info is there for councillors and they don’t read it.

Cllr Gary Parker then spoke about density. It’s not that tall! Only four floors. How will the housing shortage be met? It’s not by putting up two-up two-downs everywhere. There’s 20,000 on the waiting list.

I think what is very, very noticeable is the lack of younger people being given a voice at meetings like this – or those who in crap housing and for which this plot does nothing. A Lewisham councillor recently wrote about how many people in need are not represented. It’s starkly apparent at so many meetings.

So what does the approval ultimately mean? Well, a public site will now no longer offer homes to those in the most need, taxpayer costs will further increase as more people housed in temporary accommodation and future buyers will be paying more for an “affordable” flat on the borderline of legal size limits than those for sale at full price down the road.

Any buyers with half a brain will not buy here given high costs. Pocket Living PR drive was full of nonsense two years ago – and perhaps they’ll attempt to hoodwink buyers here and hope they don’t compare prices.

Despite little in the way of apparent benefit, the council leader then stated he hoped to see more developments from Pocket Living. Last year the council was reportedly attempting to sell the rose garden in east Greenwich to Pocket Living.

Perhaps by the time any future plans arise, hundreds if not thousands more people will be in emergency housing as more public land is sold off. More costs for taxpayers; higher prices for homebuyers. And all councillors approved it.

You can view the meeting here.

UPDATE: Hours after approval was given a new report on Greenwich borough finances was published. It again shows spending on homelessness continues to cost local people large amounts.

Feb 2021 Greenwich report






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I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

    10 thoughts on “Tiny private flats approved on Charlton public land. When “affordable” is not affordable

    • I do not understand why the councillors do not read your analysis.

      • They should at least read the reports given. None of this is private. How do Pocket Living claim an affordable rate for their flat is higher than fully private flats down the road now being built? Then they claim no comparable data – and cllrs in both parties ignore it.

      • I see it’s £260,000 for an extremely small studio. In the local area a larger 1 bedroom home is up to £50,000 less. Who would fork out and pay this higher price? First time buyers can use Help to Buy to gain the bigger and cheaper existing home.

        Completely baffled by this. I simply do not see who it is for except the developer. A scandalous waste of public land.

    • If Pocket Living are claiming to sell at market discount and then look to sell over market prices where’s the profit going? They get mayoral support don’t they and public funds?

    • Thank you for this excellent article.

    • Excellent article.

      The Directorate level of RBG Housing just seems engorged with ‘careerist’ centrists: i.e. looking to move on to a very well paid career in the corporate property development sector.

      It’s an enigma why they think Pocket Housing is so great, given the evidence above. Can only think someone at Pocket has ‘tapes’ on them …

      • ‘It’s an enigma why they think Pocket Housing is so great, given the evidence above. Can only think someone at Pocket has ‘tapes’ on them …’

        It’s an easy sell. Money in exchange for land. Greenwich council doesn’t have to tackle the contaminated land problem or build anything itself.

        • Yes, seems fairly reasonable on a pragmatic level I suppose. I did look into this further on other local sites and Twitter yesterday and there’s a more detailed counter-argument supporting these developments: I remain cynical though, as we were on the recieving end of Pocket Housing’s original, highly manipulative and mendacious PR campaign in the first instance.

          The language they are using in the latest pieces I mention seems divisive and patronising in the same way: for example the mnemonic acronyms labelling people as YIMBY (Pro-development/ ‘Good Person’) or NIMBY (Against-Development/ ‘Bad Person’).

          It might be better if they’d put across the proposals in a manner that doesn’t insult residents intelligence to the point of excruciation the the first place.

    • Great article Murky.Thanks for the update.


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