Imagine if your local council had begun the process of allowing a massive new development of luxury housing, exclusively for the affluent, towering over the skyline. Imagine if that development included its own private school, and a luxury hotel.
And imagine if it’d decided to renege on its past plans to create mixed communities, where people who wanted homes for social rent or affordable housing would have a fair shot at living in new developments.
What’s more, imagine if it’d approved plans to shunt the non-affluent into a plot half a mile away, creating a little ghetto as far away from the luxury homes as possible? And what if it never asked you about it?
This is social cleansing – and it’s beginning to happen on the Greenwich Peninsula as Greenwich Council yields to the demands of private developers.
Controversial plans for the peninsula were backed at a planning meeting held in public at the end of February, but it went completely unrecorded at the time, save for a few lines posted in comments on this website.
Now residents on the peninsula are threatening legal action against the council for ignoring its own policies on redevelopment.
February’s meeting saw councillors agree to reduce to 0% the proportion of affordable housing to be offered at Peninsula Quays – the development planned for land just to the south-west of the Dome, surrounding the northern end of Tunnel Avenue.
In the past couple of years, land here has been cleared and decontaminated and roads rebuilt. No planning application’s gone in yet – a small exhibition was held a month ago, showing tower blocks and plans for up to 1,638 homes (see a business plan) – but this is an adjustment to the masterplan which covers the whole peninsula.
The plans include a private school, “high-end private residential” units at Drawdock Road, and a four/five star hotel at Ordnance Crescent.
Effectively, the council’s planning board approved the idea that a development which will sit opposite Canary Wharf should be built in Canary Wharf’s own image – exclusively for the affluent. It’s envisaged this will be up and running by December 2019.
To make up the difference, new developments to the far south of the Dome – around where the City Peninsula tower now sits – will see levels of affordable housing shoot up to between 54% and 58%, mostly for social rent rather than shared ownership. These developments were also given permission that night, and will be completed by December 2017.
Greenwich Council says that overall, the 11 plots considered together will be 25% affordable – but all those properties will now be pushed to the south, towards City Peninsula and Greenwich Millennium Village.
There was no consultation on this change – pushed through so developers can grab £50m in grants. Residents at City Peninsula and GMV are furious, as they expected levels of affordable accommodation to be even across the peninsula. They’re now threatening to force a judicial review of the councillors’ decision, accusing them of railroading the change through.
A letter to Greenwich Council seen by this website brands the councillors’ decision as “unfair”, adding that the new plans don’t offer enough family accommodation and contradict both local and London-wide planning guidelines.
So far, they’ve had no response from the council – but the residents are sure of their case.
This aggressive development follows Hong Kong billionaire Henry Cheng investing £500m into the project last year through his company Knight Dragon, teaming up with existing developer Quintain.
At present, if the Knight Dragon/Quintain proposals go through, they’ll destroy the dream of the peninsula as a stable, sustainable community, as promised when Greenwich Millennium Village was conceived in the late 1990s.
Indeed – and the planning documents hint at this – it may all be one long hangover from the construction of the Millennium Dome itself, with central government keen to recover the costs it spent on infrastructure back then.
While by most accounts GMV (which remains separately developed) is a fine place to live – and the river-facing homes at City Peninsula look like fantastic places – it still suffers from being physically isolated from the rest of the area by dual carriageways. But it’s developed into a mixed community, and people seem to rub along fine.
Greenwich Council’s frustration with the pace of development on the peninsula is well-known. In 2004, it expected 500 homes a year to be built over the next 20 years. In fact, only 229 homes have been built since then.
But in the long term, is it really worth junking the benefits of building a mixed number of homes just to get developments back on the move again? Greenwich Council’s and developers’ desperation to get things moving again could have long-term, disastrous consequences for the regeneration of the area. This is a complicated tale, but one to watch closely over the next few years.
Update, 13 April 2013: The minutes from the planning board meeting are now available, which show the proposals criticised by local residents, local councillors Dick Quibell and Mary Mills, and planning board member Hayley Fletcher (who isn’t named).