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Appeal: 800-home scheme would ‘compound a terrible mistake’

Woolwich / iStock: 519160230

Plans to complete a lapsed redevelopment of Woolwich town centre that began in 2007 have been rejected by the housing secretary, after an inspector heavily criticised both the original masterplan and the new proposals.

AUTHORITYGreenwich Borough Council
INSPECTORPaul Griffiths
PROCEDURERecovered appeal

The appeal concerned two parcels of land in Woolwich town centre that formed part of what was originally known as the Love Lane Masterplan, which received outline permission in 2007.

The plan was divided into four parts. Phases one – comprising a new civic centre and library – and two – a mixed-use development that included a large Tesco superstore – were completed, but the outline permission lapsed before phases three and four, both high-density residential developments, could be built. 

In 2017, developer Meyer Homes sought permission for a new scheme intended to complete the redevelopment of the area, now known as ‘Woolwich Central’. The scheme used the 2007 outline permission as a starting point, but did not seek to claim it as a fallback position.

It planned to build a 27-storey tower on the phase three site, offering retail and office space on the ground and first floors, with 206 flats above. On the phase four site, seven blocks of between nine and 16 storeys would provide another 598 flats. All affordable housing would be provided at the phase four site.

The scheme was rejected in January 2019 before being recovered by the housing secretary in September of that year. An inquiry convened by inspector Paul Griffiths met in November 2019.

Griffiths strongly criticised phases one and two of the development, noting the “profoundly negative influence” they had on the town centre. He was particularly scathing about the “heinous” Tesco store, noting its Carbuncle Cup win – awarded to “the ugliest building of the year” – in 2014.

He called the granting of outline permission for a tower at the site in 2007 “a terrible mistake”, commenting that its impact on the grade-I listed Royal Brass Foundry nearby was “seemingly of little importance to anyone, including English Heritage”.

The tower now proposed would be “of a height that would dwarf anything around it, existing or proposed”, said the inspector, and the phase four scheme would be “an uninspiring design of nine rectilinear, monolithic blocks that are now common in many town centres” that was “not life-affirming”. 

He quoted a resident of one of the flats above the Tesco store, who said the scheme “looked like a prison block”, adding that she “didn't want to look at it”.

Recommending the scheme for refusal, Griffiths said that while the phase three and four sites needed to be developed, the appeal scheme would “compound the errors” of 2007.

In his decision, the housing secretary Robert Jenrick ruled that the design of the tower, although “very pleasing when viewed in isolation”, would be of an incongruous height that would harm its surroundings. 

Jenrick also agreed with his inspector’s findings on heritage impact, concurring that the proposed tower would “form a competitive and distracting feature” that would “dilute the focus” on the area’s heritage assets. He also agreed that the scheme would not provide a reasonable living environment for occupiers of its single-aspect units. 

In conclusion, Jenrick ruled that the scheme’s public benefits were “far outweighed” by the harm it would cause to the area, noting the council’s five-year housing land supply. On this basis he dismissed the appeal.

The inspector’s report – case reference 3233519 – can be read here.

Image credit | iStock