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Flats near Oxleas Woods approved despite ‘turquoise monstrosity’ criticism

Plans for discounted-rent flats close to Oxleas Woods were approved at the second time of asking after the developer lopped two storeys off the proposed building.

Meridian Home Start was given the go-ahead for 63 flats at Shepherds Leas, on the borough border at Falconwood. All homes would be offered at 65 per cent of market rents.

But councillors on the planning board raised concerns about the colour of the revised development with one objector branding it a “turquoise monstrosity” that was out of keeping with nearby brick-built housing. They said that Meridian should change the plans to blend in better with the neighbourhood.

The Shepherds Leas site, next to the wood of the same name, is currently occupied by 17 homes originally owned by the Crown Estates, but later sold to Greenwich Council, which has helped fund the development with £8.1 million. Meridian Home Start was spun out of the council eight years ago and has built homes in Eltham, Kidbrooke and Charlton.

Previous plans for a nine-storey block with 70 flats were rejected in June 2022 after over 5,000 people signed petitions against the scheme, complaining that the tower would be visible above trees from Oxleas Wood, a protected view towards Kent. 

Shepherds Leas estate, Falconwood
Crown Estate blocks from the 1970s currently sit on the site. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

A planning inspector also threw out that plan in September last year – saying a nine-storey block would be an “alien, urban feature” on the skyline from the woods, and “would contrast starkly with the surrounding character” of neighbouring streets. But the inspector said a seven-storey building would be acceptable, and that is what the panel of councillors accepted on Tuesday evening.

There were still 87 objections to the new scheme, with local groups including the Riefield Road Residents’ Association remaining  unhappy. Bexley Council also objected.

Wayne Greenslade, from the residents’ association, said his group was “not against social housing, rather what is being proposed, which does not blend in with local properties”.

Andrew Curtois, a Bexley councillor for Falconwood & Welling, said the smaller building brought a sense of “deja vu – the same unacceptable planning application that negatively impacts Blackfen, East Wickham and Falconwood”. 

He said the effect on his residents would be “like offering your guests a meal at your neighbours’ house”. 

Render of new scheme
Councillors raised concerns about the terracotta colouring of the block. Credit: Meridian Home Start/Cartwright Pickard

“More parking will go to Falconwood – Bexley residents – yet again taking from the neighbour and making life harder for our residents,  he said, adding that “the definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly with different results”.

Godfrey Monroe, another objector, said the design was “ugly and an affront to the beauty of the surrounding area”.

Pat Greenwell, the Conservative councillor for Eltham Town & Avery Hill, recused herself from the planning board to speak against the plans, calling the scale “excessive”.

“Its blue turquoise glazed gladding will be at odds with the surrounding houses,” Greenwell said. “It will destroy the amenity of the residents in the Riefield Road area.”

She called for children’s play space on the site to be cut back for an even lower-rise development, saying: “Many local residents and myself believe that the play area in the plans is excessive at 671 square metres, and there will also be a doorstep play area at the front of the site for children. The plans also incorporate large community landscape gardens. 

“Surely these areas could be better utilised in the design of a less high building.”

Render of new scheme
The view from Lingfield Crescent, across the boundary into Bexley. Credit: Meridian Home Start/Cartwright Pickard

Charlie Davis, a former Greenwich Conservative councillor for the area, said the vast majority of residents wanted to see a sympathetic redevelopment. “Unfortunately this is not a scheme that the community can be proud of,” he said. “Meridian have instead persisted with a slightly scaled down version of the turquoise monstrosity that was previously rejected, that would be out of keeping with any area.”

While the Friends of Oxleas Woodlands had filed an objection, the organisation’s Jane Hughes said that it would not be opposing the scheme. She called on the council to ensure Meridian adhered to an environmental assessment, addng that it did not have funds to carry out its own environmental assessment of its own. 

Emma Peters of Meridian Home Start said the revised scheme was a “more coherent building that offers much-needed high-quality and affordable new homes while sitting in the rich natural amenity of Oxleas Wood”.

Render of community space in the scheme
Pat Greenwell, a Conservative councillor, said the play space was too generous. Credit: Meridian Home Start/Cartwright Pickard

Peters said the development would be “a true net zero scheme” while Charles Dymond, of the architecture firm Cartwright Pickard, said the homes would be “spacious, warm and bright with very low running costs for residents”.

Dymond said that the children’s play space fitted planning guidelines with about 60 children expected to live in the flats, while that issues with railway noise, Thames Water infrastructure and land ownership – a strip of land facing Rochester Way is owned by Transport for London – meant that a smaller block with the name number of homes was not possible. 

Pressed by Greenwich Peninsula councillor David Gardner on why terracotta cladding had been chosen rather than brick, Dymond said the block was designed to blend in and be enveloped by the greenery around it, and the terracotta cladding had a low carbon content.

“There are relatively few viewpoints where you see it in any context with the other buildings,” he said, adding that the block would add “a new sense of identity, a new sense of place” to a dilapidated site.

Bexley Council street sign opposite Shepherds Leas site
Property guardians currently live on the site, on the borough boundary with Bexley. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

“We think this building is a really positive, statement for Falconwood, it will help improve that approach (to the area) and that forecourt area in front of the station,” he said.

The development was passed unanimously after Gary Dillon, the chair, said that the permission should include colouring that was “more sympathetic to the local area”. However, the written decision document issued after the meeting said the colouring should be “harmonious to the natural environment surrounding the application site”.

Creekside councillor Majella Anning questioned why the taller development had been put forward in the first place, leading to two years of delays.

“We had a huge number of objectors, thousands and thousands of people,” she said. “What a pity that these many, many voices were not listened to at the time. It was quite clear that the board would have approved this application at seven storeys, the treeline height. 

“We would then be now at two-thirds of the way to a new-build with affordable housing.”

Greenwich council leader Anthony Okereke spoke in favour of the original scheme two years ago – bringing Bob Dylan-style placards to display as he spoke – but he arrived too late to speak on Wednesday.

He told The Greenwich Wire after the meeting: “This development will deliver much needed homes on this site, supporting our residents to build a life in the borough.”

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