Monday 22 March 2010

43-81 Greenwich High Road

I've been meaning to write about this for ages, but have lacked the stamina. It's a long tale and I'm not going to go into the full details, just offer some info and links for those immediately affected by it to be able to investigate further.

If you do, you will find not only is it a salutary tale of how little power our elected representatives actually wield, but it demonstrates how loopholes are there to be exploited by developers should they so wish to do so.

Information is difficult to find on the Greenwich planning website, since the development does not yet have a name, and even when you do find the relevant pages (try searching for applicant's name 'Reefmark', or for the full set, under address 43-81 Greenwich High Road) many of the applications don't have documents attached. And when you do find information, it can be confusing and difficult to unravel for anyone with only a basic understanding of the planning process. Hence I apologise for any misunderstandings or confusion arising from my interpretation.

The trail of planning applications goes back as far as 2001, when an application was lodged for a mixed use development consisting of five buildings of 3-7 storeys. In June 2002 the same developer applied for "environmental impact assessment opinion for redevelopment of the site to provide 26,711 sq.metres of commercial space for B1 and B8 purposes and 98 off-street parking spaces".

Certain types of development require that an environmental impact assessment be carried out by the developer, but while some cases are cut and dried (eg nuclear power stations etc) there are many that might only require it under certain conditions - for example if the site was in a particularly sensitive location. If the developer is not sure whether an EIA will be required, they can ask the council to give an opinion on this. The results of this application are unclear - it seems that it went to appeal, but only last year, and the information suggests that still no decision has been made.

Later that same year, Reefmark made a further application to develop the site for 26,711 sq m of B1 (office & light industrial) and B8 and 98 off-street parking spaces, and this application was approved.

Scroll forward to 2005 when an application was lodged by for another environmental screening opinion, this time in relation to a development of 37,160sqm of student accommodation (700 beds), a 150-bed hotel, a food store with flats on four floors, office space and commercial/warehouse space. This application - made by an independent planning consultant - was 'refused'. I assume this to mean that the council would require an EIA for such an application. Keep the details of this development in mind, they may become familiar in due course.

The following year the application that forms the basis of what is currently being built, was submitted by Reefmark. This was for outline planning permission for 'demolition of existing buildings and redevelopment ... to provide a mixed use scheme comprising of 8,075sqm commercial accommodation (Class B1 office, B1c light industrial and B8 distribution), a 102 bed hotel and 226 residential units'

Greenwich Council refused planning permission, but the developer appealed and permission was granted by the Secretary of State in October 2006. The number of residential units was revised to 227 and the developer gave certain commitments as part of the deal:
The developer undertook to "preserve the heritage of the site by:- 1. use of (or if not physically possible, retaining) the lettering from the Merryweather building; 2. preservation of artefacts of the industrial usage of the site in the landscaping of the development, in particular a gantry as identified by the representatives of the Greenwich Conservation Group and Ashburnham Triangle Association; and 3. the erection of a storeyboard/plaque visible to the public detailing the history of the site."

Various other applications follow, mostly relating to the submission of reserved matters that were included in the decision to allow the application - noise, building facade materials, archaeology, landscaping etc.

It's difficult to find images of the development, the documents on the planning website are mostly technical drawings and Galliard Homes has nothing on its website except lots of information about Greenwich. You might think you were buying a property in a very grand building if you looked at this!

However a bit of sleuthing did lead me to the architect's website where I was able to find these renderings of what's to come.

The top one shows the view from Devonshire Drive, the bottom one is the facade along the High Road (see Mumford's Mill in the background). However don't take this as read; imminent decisions might see a Tesco's or Sainsbury's sign popping up along that frontage.....(read on)

Here's the elevation of the development from Greenwich High Road. To get an idea of the scale, click on the picture to make it bigger and you can see the existing building - the old Rose of Denmark pub - in the middle.

However this wasn't the end of the story. Last year Reefmark & Premier Inns applied to increase the size of the hotel from 102 beds to 150 beds - ie 50% larger than the original. This was approved by Greenwich Council, with 20 conditions attached - from the quality of the facade materials to the parking arrangements and construction hours. For once, a lot of documents are available here if you click on 'documents' at the top of the application.

But more ominously, Reefmark recently made yet another application, having suddenly decided that the development should be remodelled to include a RETAIL STORE (read food store) and RESTAURANT! They didn't really need any business space here, the developer has clearly decided (although they haven't given any justification for this) and in fact it would be much better used by (whisper the name) Tesco's or similar.

Greenwich Council refused this application, giving four very strong reasons; change of use (ie you are taking the piss surely, this isn't what we gave you permission for in the first place?!); detrimental impact on Greenwich town centre shopping; noise impact and traffic impact.

Once again Reefmark has appealed the decision, demonstrating that it doesn't give a monkeys about what it was given permission for. It wants to build a supermarket and it's damned if it's going to be thwarted in this. You might remember, assuming you are still awake at this stage, that the idea of a foodstore in the development was mooted some years previously, but then dropped when it was not welcomed. Obviously these operators know that there's more than one way to skin a cat.

There is still time to object to this, should you wish to do so. The deadline is 2 April 2010.

The case has been referred to the Planning Inspectorate and you can find the details here. Register your objections by emailing the caseworker via teamp3 at (replace 'at' with the @ symbol of course).

*Having just gone past this development again and noticed the London & Quadrant Housing Association/Greenwich Council logos on the hoardings for the first time, I realise that the politics of it all is much more complicated than I first thought.


Anonymous said...

The Dame's crusade against Tesco's continues ;-)

Aside from that, really enjoyed your piece - I have been wondering for a while what is going on.

Galliard are also responsible for the Greenwich Reach riverside (New Capital Quay) development. I'm guessing we will need to keep an eye here also!

Deptford Dame said...

I wouldn't say I have a crusade against Tescos - I'm not too keen on the Waitrose that is promised for New Capital Quay either. I think we have plenty of shopping available locally and plenty of supermarkets within reach by car or public transport. I want our local independent shops to thrive, I don't want the bland high-street experience that is available in so many places already. I want variety and diversity in my shopping experience, I want somewhere that sells RIPE avocados and FRESH herbs!

Paul said...

THanks for exposing this. It is truly gob-smacking.

What is most concerning about all of this is how little can be done; as a resident, your objections only tend to be noted when you are an immediate neighbour.

I don't necessarily blame the council, as I've seen the area committee in action recently and was pretty impressed by how perceptive they can be. But they are always mindful that if they lose on appeal, they will be liable for costs or even damages (this is the big stick that Tesco's use over county and parish councils).

I'm not so impressed with the planning department, though - whether through lack of manpower or lack of interest they rarely look closely into developers' schemes, many of which - like this - are extremely sketchy when it comes to details. With recent schemes like Greenwich Market, or even the piss-poor development that brought us Wetherspoons, McDonalds, Carphone Warhouse and an Orange mobile phone shop, all recommended by the planning staff, no wonder this Borough is one that has developers drooling.

Gareth Gardner said...

What a tangled tale - well done Dame on unravelling a very complicated story. It just goes to show that our planning system is anything but transparent and democratic - you need to be a planning professional to get to grips with all this!

It's interesting that an independent planning consultant made the original application that contained retail in the mix. It very much appears to be testing the water via the back door (sorry to mix my metaphors).

No matter what the outcome regarding the mix of uses - and surely the area doesn't need a new supermarket - the designs themselves appear to be extremely pedestrian. Greenwich is a world-class location and frankly deserves better than this bland confection.

Sue said...

Hear, hear, Gareth! And well done, Dame. Thank you for finding the energy to look into this. I am relieved to see a picture at last and to know that the building presently looming over my flat, and even nearer, my studio, is not actually going to get much taller...
I am now going to post some slander about Galliard Homes on crosswhatfields...

Anonymous said...

It looks like there not be food store after all. Tesco might open the food store in "The Movement" which is closer to Greewich NR and DLR station.

Anonymous said...

ups.. missed the "will" note be..sorry