main attraction last night was the two major redevelopment plans, Larner
Road in Erith and the Tavy Bridge area of Thamesmead. In the chair was
councillor Peter Reader who does the job perfectly well but whose skills are not
stretched by a committee from the more reasonable end of the Bexley spectrum.
The nature of the meeting does not generally lead to political point scoring and
the absence of the council’s leading exponents of the art such as the Bacons, Teresa
O’Neill and Linda Bailey is welcome. On the other hand it makes for a long and
tedious meeting as the committee ploughs through the relatively mundane house extensions.
The sound system appeared to be defective again and with an audience peaking at just over 30 murmuring and moving on the constantly creaking seating and councillors addressing the chair in the opposite direction, audibility was a problem at times. One planning application went through very quickly and not a single word could be heard from the gallery.
The Larner Road application was for Phase I which consists of some smaller multi-occupancy dwellings (flats to you and me) fronting the North End Road. 15 storey blocks will be replaced by five, four and three storey buildings arranged so as to form a ‘slope’ down to the regular houses to be built behind them. (Phase II.)
The planning officers made their usual competent presentation with impressive Computer Generated Images which are unfortunately not made more widely available. A major feature is to be the ‘Home Zone’ which is said to be a “lightly trafficked community space and the hub of social interaction providing safe play opportunities for young children’. This proved to be the most controversial aspect of the design.
The houses planned for Phase II will each have their own gardens but funding for them is not yet available and only outline permission was being sought last night.
Chris Taylor was the ‘sponsoring’ councillor but he spoke only very briefly in favour presumably sensing he was kicking at an open door.
Councillor Colin Tandy (Bexley’s representative at the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) was keen to bring his specialist knowledge to the fore and advocated dry sprinklers in the multi-occupancy buildings and hard wired smoke detectors. His suggestion sounds like a good one but no one knew if those safety features were already included nor was it clear that his suggestion was taken on board.
Councillor Val Clark was worried by the concept of a Home Zone and felt it would give rise to neighbour disputes over parking and children kicking balls at cars. The planning officers said that such schemes are “actively encouraged by government guidance”.
Councillor John Waters said he wanted to ask some “silly questions”. Why is the number of dwellings planned for Phase II so vague? Because it’s only an outline plan; and why are more than 10% of parking spaces to be for the disabled when the requirement in Bexley is usually said to be 7%. The only thing silly about that question is that there was no answer.
Councillor Margaret O’Neill was concerned that the loop road around the development will “become a kind of racetrack. There is a lot of anti-social behaviour in the area”. I thought a big part of the plan was to produce housing that would not encourage that sort of thing. Apart from that bit of negativity she thought it was “a wonderful plan”.
Councillor Munir Malik was concerned about the loss of affordable accommodation but was reassured by the fact that although the number of units might reduce slightly, bedsits will be replaced by family units with an overall increase in floor space accommodating more people than before. He too was a little concerned about the Home Zone and wondered whether vehicle access could be restricted to residents.
Councillor Brian Bishop was the voice of commonsense who had evidently taken the trouble to look at similar schemes elsewhere and said it should be “given a chance as the design should ensure harmony”. John Waters agreed, saying “it is fine as it is”.
Councillor Michael Slaughter said the scheme was “imaginative” but he “had reservations”. Once again it was the Home Zone. “Different colour blocks doesn’t stop traffic” he said, which if true is going to prove fatal in the Broadway.
Councillor Bishop moved that the plans be approved and he was seconded by councillor Margaret O’Neill. Exactly one hour after discussion began the vote was carried unanimously in favour.
By the time the committee moved on to discuss Tavy Bridge the audience numbers had fallen to five. The Larner Road residents had actively supported Orbit whose representative addressed the committee but the small contingent from Thamesmead had no one from Gallions to speak up for them.
Councillor Sandra Bauer, the ward councillor, did not display the enthusiasm I had expected. “I am not against this development. This is not a community plan, it has lost its hubs, the shops. The scheme is a gamble.” In an obvious reference to the recent anti-Gallions protests by residents, she went on to say that Gallions residents pay more ‘taxes’ than other Bexley residents and deserve more.
Councillor Waters said “it was another very nice scheme” and councillor Malik said “it was a great scheme”. In reply to one of his questions, the planning officer said “there are no specific community facilities“ but there is to be a library. Councillor Malik was assured that not only was the floor space increased but, this being a high rise development, the number of affordable dwellings was increased too.
Councillor Val Clark said she was “gobsmacked by the large tower blocks. It’s ugly and I don’t like it”. Outside the meeting she was heard to say it looked “so sixties”. The planning officer’s graphics, in my opinion, showed none of the Thamesmead brutalism style of architecture so beloved of film makers and TV producers and the plan was overwhelmingly approved. Only councillor Mike Slaughter voted against. I have no idea why. One can only assume he would prefer that Thamesmead people continue to live in Clockwork Orange conditions.
Tavy Bridge was over and done with in just 30 minutes. It was five past ten but the long suffering councillors had more house extensions to examine. I had better things to do.
Note: For the younger generation and those with failing memories, Stanley Kubrick’s film, A Clockwork Orange was filmed in and around Tavy Bridge.