Greenwich Council’s Planning Board have approved 330 homes in Thamesmead with a funding agreement between the council and developer that ignores Transport for London guidance on improving links to public transport.
Unlike many reports on this site about planning meetings this post will focus less on the architecture and affordable housing element, as what’s happened tonight (16 November) has great relevance borough-wide. It’s about much more than one project.
A report before the Planning Board showed a number of Transport for London suggestions either completely ignored or brushed over.
It pretty much ensures many residents will drive and reduces those who do not into using dingy, indirect and hostile footways and underpasses, while revealing no strategy to improve the situation.
This is despite clear targets in Greenwich Carbon Reduction Strategy 2021 and Greener Greenwich in 2016.
The meeting did see some councillors raise the issue of how residents are expected to reach the nearest railway station, major bus stops, shops and amenities – but quite a few ignored it completely.
Even when it was raised, the response from Greenwich Planning Officers failed to give any real answer as to why they ignored TfL and will not ensure new residents can safely reach many services.
Councillors also failed to ask why Greenwich’s pet project GLLaB – a job agency and training scheme – continues to take the bulk of income from funding agreements.
At £333,000 it will see more than any single allocation to healthcare, education or improvements to the local area.
Just £40,000 is allocated to improve Pier Way – which is in the complete opposite direction to Plumstead station and shops. That’s the entire amount to be spent on physical street work – almost 90 per cent less than GLLaB.
£270,000 is allocated to buses but there was almost no detail from Greenwich Council on what it will fund except peak time changes. Double deckers? Level of frequency enhancements? No detail was forthcoming.
At the start of the meeting, Cllr John Fahy raised concerns over the £270k for buses, parking, the loss of a care home and a lack of four-bed homes.
Greenwich Planner Andrew Harris acknowledged “constraints of the site and road”. It was not enough for the Planning Department to seek improvements.
There will be 129 car parking spaces for 330 homes.
There is no controlled parking zone in the area and poor links to public transport make car ownership likely for many – and who can blame them?
TfL wanted a car-free development and investment in improved links to public transport including Plumstead station and the numerous bus routes that pass that site.
Instead we’ll only see a small sum spent on single-decker routes that run close to the site which are often very busy (and pretty indirect to some destinations).
Greenwich’s Planner Officer stated the site was “not appropriate for car-free at present” as there’s no Controlled Parking Zone. The obvious question is why not install one in advance, subject to the standard legal process.
That wasn’t asked and there was no explanation.
Cllr Olu Babatola also asked about care homes. He noted a discrepancy between Greenwich Council stating no demand for a care home and the GLA who state differently.
Harris responded to say that the “adult social care team state over provision in borough.”
Next up was Cllr Sandra Bauer who raised 26 objections and a petition.
She mentioned links to “Plumstead bus garage”. I’m not sure if she meant Plumstead station and people wouldn’t walk to the garage for a bus (none stop there in service), though it is on the way to shops and Plumstead station.
Cllr Averil Lekau was the first to clearly raise the issue of walking links and how residents would reach Plumstead station. The station also has far more bus routes running than stops near the development.
She also mentioned buses being obstructed nearby and how useful £270k would be if that issue isn’t tackled.
She also stated that “Section 106 disappears into the ether”.
Harris responded to say that TfL requested the £270k but had no specific details.
Then he stated that on the key subject of thousands of residents not just here but in the wider area having such poor links to Plumstead, they did talk about it but decided not to do anything.
Why? Because there’s affordable housing.
Yes, affordable housing can minimise developer contributions to an authority but Greenwich will still see sizable income and found £333,000 for GLLaB after affordable housing totals were agreed.
It’s no real answer. Why does GLLaB receive £333k and pedestrians and cyclists heading to Plumstead £0? Why not, say, £150k for public realm and active travel and £170k for GLLaB?
Ironically GLLaB is supposed to help people find work, yet offering them so much funding ensures residents are hampered on accessing public transport to reach work.
If you’ve been doing this as long as I have you see that Greenwich allocate *far* more to their job agency GLLaB than other councils do to their equivalents. They do not ignore a vast number of key areas for it as Greenwich do.
What even more odd is how this sacred cow is not referred to by almost all Greenwich councillors who spoke. Not just this time but every time.
It’s a clear choice to choose £333,000 for GLLaB and zero for better walking links to Plumstead.
The Greenwich Council Planners ignored GLLaB when explaining why the public realm and measures to entice walking and public transport were ignored, and instead spoke of £318,000 for the NHS.
Next up was Cllr Clive Mardner who asked if £270,000 for buses annual or a one-off. It’s a one off (which is pretty obvious).
Mardner said nothing about improving access to the isolated site.
Next up was the newest Greenwich councillor and youngest on the Board. Cllr Clare Burke-McDonald raised the issue of links from the site to the wider area and offered the best question thus far and revealed why fresh blood and younger people are sometimes crucial.
The council could badly use some councillors who havn’t been in post for many, many years and ignore key issues.
I’m being a bit harsh on age though, as Cllr John Fahy (who is no spring chicken I’m sure he’d agree!) asked good questions throughout.
What frustrated was Greenwich Planning staff fobbing them off and no comeback that really challenged. I feel a bit harsh criticising cllrs who did raise pertinent points but some replies from Planning Officers just didn’t stack up and they got away with it.
By this stage it was clear the Planning Department and staff had little real answer as to why they ignored TfL, ignored safer pedestrian routes and improving access to public transport, shops and amenities on foot or cycle.
Greenwich Council’s Assistant Director Victoria Geoghegan then stated the allocation was “proportionate” and mentioned a future strategy.
My sound cut out for a second or two but £330k for GLLaB and £0 for active travel to Plumstead station is simply not proportionate. It contravenes all Greenwich Council state about carbon reductions, active travel and green issues.
It reduces residents to car dependency or deeply off-putting walks through deserted and dank underpasses and alleys
The mention of a future strategy is a bit late now given they’ve approved 1,750 homes near the gyratory (yes, they pretty much ignored improved pedestrian links there as well) with associated agreement and now this.
So a strategy with no money available from adjacent developments as agreements already made. Great. Perhaps more begging to a broke TfL now?
Ah but Peabody have land nearby you may say. Yep, the same Peabody who stated they won’t build for many years here. Probably at least 20 years.
If we’re relying on Peabody then we’re in deep trouble.
The only money being spent is oddly on Pier Way which not only leads away from Plumstead station and shops, but also away from the most direct route to Woolwich Crossrail station and Woolwich Arsenal station. Not to mention Woolwich town centre.
They ignored a TfL request to add pedestrian crossings at a roundabout on the most direct route to Woolwich. No, me neither. It’s baffling move after baffling move.
This is not an authority that shows any sort of knowledge of the area.
Given Pier Way is the only area to see even a token sum, it was interesting to hear a local resident raise parking issues on Pier Way. It’s already busy.
Now imagine 330 new households, no parking zone and 129 parking spaces on site and will Pier Way even be desirable to cycle along with additional parking? It’s not even a direct route from the development to nearby services.
It almost seems contrived to do the least possible to get people out of cars.
There were other issues about height and affordable housing. The total affordable housing is 35 per cent which is all at London Affordable Rent. That’s around 50 per cent market rate. 35 per cent at LAR is a higher level than most developments so good news there for ever more people in need of truly affordable housing.
Design-wise for me it’s a pretty bland Fairview scheme. They specialise in dull boxes most of the time.
I do want to stress again the high level of affordable homes makes little impact upon ignoring pedestrian access and links. They still found £333k for GLLaB.
Greenwich will want to use it as an excuse and it simply isn’t.
Developer Fairview Homes was up next and they spoke about funding however they don’t dictate that so much goes to the council’s agency GLLaB. That’ll be Greenwich Council insisting upon it.
A long night
One spicy little nugget was Cllr John Fahy asking about service charges and the managing agents in the new development.
Planning Board chair Cllr Stephen Brain stated asking about the managing agent wasn’t relevant.
Fahy replied saying ” I know but I’m asking it.” And why not? Don’t ask you don’t get.
He didn’t get. No answer was forthcoming from Fairview.
On parking, developer Fairview’s representative made the bold and somewhat astonishing statement that people won’t park in area (even with no parking zone) as there’s good public transport links! Well, if you like packed single deckers and not walking anywhere.
To be fair a developer isn’t likely to know or bother to know. It’s the local authority and councillors who should…
When it came to vote Cllr Olu Babatola abstained on the issue care home demand. He said nothing on pedestrian links.
Cllr Lekau supported. While she raised links earlier in meeting nothing was said in final comments.
Cllr Sandra Bauer opposed.
Cllr John Fahy opposed. On the care home issue he stated a need in future and it was “a nonsense to argue” there wasn’t. He was “cross with the social care team” who stated there was’nt a need.
Fahy spoke for some time on access to Plumstead station being an issue. “Buses are heaving” he said and stated an investment strategy was needed on how to link into Plumstead station
Cllr Nigel Fletcher noted the need for housing. He then made an odd point and criticised TfL but not Greenwich.
He stated TfL were contradictory in wanting car-free development when they said parking would overwhelm nearby streets.
Perhaps I misheard as TfL’s point seems logical to me. TfL wanted a car-free development alongside improved links to public transport so residents are less reliant upon cars alongside a controlled parking zone.
It’s not contradictory to want car-free but also state 129 spaces for 330 homes could overwhelm local streets without a parking zone.
Surely the issue is Greenwich failing on almost all those points. Not going for car-free, not improving pedestrians links and finally not ensuring a parking zone in place before occupation.
129 spaces for 330 homes is a square peg in a round hole. A lot of cars adding traffic but not enough to prevent spillage into surrounding areas.
Cllr Clive Mardner rounded it off with little said of much relevance.
And then the chair Stephen Brain approved. He had earlier suggested a site visit.
You could also see the squirming from others. You won’t be shocked to realise that suggestion was not taken up.
A walk from Plumstead station to the site on a winter’s evening would certainly have focused minds. The very reason some councillors wouldn’t want to go is the very reason they should have. To see what it’s really like.
So then, what can we make of this?
Well, all the hogwash emanating from Greenwich Council and PR gestures amid green reports might as well be binned.
This plan is pretty much saying to residents to get a car and add to local congestion – and no one could blame them if they did.
Ignoring dire pedestrian links from new homes to transport and services yet again says everything. Ignoring TfL guidance shows an arrogance to match dated thinking.
As for cllrs who were silent on it? Well, they’ll still give out leaflets on green issues or improving local areas. They have little credibility.
Alongside the Planning and Highways Department – and others at the upper echelons who always ensure GLLaB swallows much of the pie – they’ve condemned thousands of residents and families to dire and unsafe means to reach crucial services and transport links. Well done.