I imagine everyone knows by now that on Tuesday evening Peabody Housing Association
(PHA) was given permission to rebuild large chunks of South Thamesmead but it might be worth
describing what it was like to be at the planning meeting and hear what some of the Councillors had to say about the scheme.
Apart from myself there were 20 people in the public area, ten from Peabody and ten residents. Once again the seating was not laid out as dictated in the Agenda by the small minded dictator.
As usual at planning meetings the Chairman had a relatively easy job to do and Councillor Peter Reader (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) does it well. I don’t often go to Planning Committee meetings but in my experience Councillors are on their best behaviour. It must help that no Cabinet Members attend and nor does Councillor Sharon Massey, so there is unlikely to be any unnecessary nastiness.
Full planning permission was being requested by PHA for what is to be called Southmere Village to replace the area formerly known as Tavy Bridge.
A Council officer described the location and the plans. All the land under consideration lies to the east of Harrow Manorway and Southmere Village is to the north of Yarnton Way - for those who know the area well, just north of the Health Centre. The pedestrian crossing at that point is to be replaced by a ‘super crossing’, that is wider and raised.
There will be a town square with water features, a cafe area and library - the triangular building in the picture - and the whole site will occupy 3·78 hectares. Buildings will extend over 3,691 square metres and car parking will be provided beneath the residential blocks with a small provision for visitors at ground level. The highest buildings will be on eleven floors but most will be less than that down to three storeys.
Overall the site will be comprised of 35% affordable homes and be predominantly of brick construction “of different hues and tones”.
Ms. Epps from Peabody addressed the Committee but chose only to give a brief history of the charity. Established in 1862 and managing 29,000 homes, accommodating 80,000 people in London and aiming to build 1,000 new houses each year. The Thamesmead scheme will be Peabody’s largest ever and Ms. Epps was confident it could be delivered.
Mr. Baikie, Peabody’s Director in Thamesmead did not push his case particularly hard, one might suppose he knew he was pushing at an opened door. He said that one of the challenges is the marshy ground which makes construction expensive coupled with the low property values in the area. Additionally the affordable housing grant is a bit lower than elsewhere in London.
The first Councillor to speak was Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) who thanked Peabody for its extensive public consultations. He asked for some numbers and was told that there would be 92 one bedroomed properties, 78 two bed, 40 three bed and 25 four bedrooms. 127 units on Southmere Village would be at affordable rent. PHA has been emphatic that there will be no buy to let but it is not part of planning conditions.
Councillor John Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) wanted to congratulate Peabody on a very attractive application but also had three questions. Who was going to look after the landscaping? (Peabody.) Another was on the number of affordable homes (“the first phase is skewed towards one and two bedroom properties”) and the third was a request to look at a floor plan - which cannot be answered here.
Councillor Hackett asked about charging points for electric vehicles. It will be provided in line with current standards with monitoring for future growth. With that Danny said he was happy with the application and moved its approval. However other Councillors still had some questions.
Councillor John Davey said “it is an excellent scheme. It used to be grim and depressing and this is a vast improvement. It should be outstanding”. However he was concerned about parking, the north south public transport situation is pretty atrocious. More people living here will make it even worse. But there is no real solution unfortunately”. Because of this “we need more car parking in Bexley than in the London plan.
John Davey (Conservative, Crayford) was also worried about the potential for high wind velocities between buildings but he wished to second the application.
It was agreed that parking must be carefully considered but Southmere Village was “for decanting existing residents and the forecasting was based on existing car ownership”. Future parking provision would be lower because the marketing would be based on the facilities for cycling and “the sustainable methods we try to encourage. TfL had proposed a car free environment [for future developments] which was something that Bexley did not support”. The wind situation “was not considered inappropriate”.
Councillor Colin Tandy (Conservative, St. Mary’s) wanted to comment on the difficult north south links. He said that the Overground was going to be extended to Barking Riverside “and there is talk of it being further extended under the Thames”. His view was that it should pass underneath Abbey Wood station to provide a Crossrail interchange and “in the fullness of time” it should burrow under Knee Hill “to Upper Belvedere and Bexleyheath”. It would provide the much needed north south link across the borough.
Councillor Tandy speaks more sense about railways than the rest of the Conservatives put together who still harbour dreams of knocking down Abbey Wood station even before it is completed and running Crossrail to Slade Green or even Ebbsfleet - and leaving the north south problem to fester.
With questions exhausted, the vote was taken and planning permission was granted unanimously. Site clearance was started by Gallions Homes two years ago so renewed progress is likely to be seen by February 2017.
The Committee then took a break before considering the plans for two areas between Abbey Wood station and Yarnton Way and a third one between Southmere Village and the A2016 dual carriageway, Eastern Way.
Note: The above is a factual report of what was said at the meeting. I am aware that there has since then been clarification, some might say confusion, of the figures for affordable homes. The murkydepths blog provides some details.