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Council orders developer to pull down new flats

27 Sep 23 Comer Homes has been ordered to pull down two tower blocks in Woolwich for multiple breaches of planning permission.

What Mast Quay Phase II was supposed to look like, according to the planning application (left) and what was actually built (right)
What Mast Quay Phase II was supposed to look like, according to the planning application (left) and what was actually built (right)

The Royal Borough of Greenwich, as the local planning authority, is taking enforcement action against Comer Homes Mast Quay Phase II development, on Woolwich Church Street in London SE18.

Comer Homes has indicated that it will lodge an appeal.

The build-to-rent development comprises two residential towers, peaking at 23 storeys.

Council investigations over the last year concluded that the completed Mast Quay Phase II development was unlawful “because it is so substantially different to the scheme that was originally permitted by the planning permission given in 2012”.

The council counted 26 main deviations to the original planning permission. These include:

  • visible design changes to the external appearance of the towers – the final towers look more solid and bulky because of the removal of the stepped back top floor and the glazed curtain wall façade to Block E that would have given the appearance of a sail. 
  • visible changes to the materials and windows – different cladding, less glazing, smaller balconies, smaller windows and no wraparound balconies resulting in a reduction of daylight and sunlight, and to a reduced outlook. 
  • increasing the approved size of the footprint of both towers
  • not providing the roof gardens for residents and the public, children’s play areas, green roofs or landscaped gardens
  • lower quality residential accommodation
  • non accessible ‘accessible’ apartments that have steps to the balconies so that wheelchair users cannot use their outdoor space.
  • provision of a residents’ gym in place of the approved commercial floorspace which is also not accessible to anyone who uses a wheelchair
  • a reduction of the amount of commercial floorspace for offices, shops and cafes at ground-level
  • failure to provide enough underground car parking so that car parking dominates at ground level replacing what should have been a landscaped garden area with trees and plants and less car parking overall that could place pressure on street parking
  • a lack of disabled parking bays 
  • shared residential/commercial basement access that could lead to conflicts
  • a poorer quality footbridge to Woolwich Church Street.

Mast Quay received planning permission in 2012. The original application was made by Mast Quay Developments Ltd but the developer went into administration upon completion. The Comer Homes Group bought phase two of Mast Quay in and the planning permission passed to it then. 

In a statement, Greenwich Council said: “The council believes that the only reasonable and proportionate way to rectify the harm created by the finished Mast Quay Phase II development to the local area, and the tenants living there, because of the changes made during its construction is the complete demolition and the restoration of the land to its former condition.

“Therefore, the council issued an enforcement notice on Monday 25th September, which is subject to appeal rights for a period of at least 28 days following the date of issue. To support the residents currently living in the development the council has written to them directly to provide them with support, assistance and advice.”

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Cllr Anthony Okereke, leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “This decision is not one that the Royal Borough of Greenwich has taken lightly, but I believe it is reasonable and proportionate to the scale and seriousness of the situation. Mast Quay Phase II represents two prominent high-rise buildings on Woolwich’s riverside that just are not good enough, and the reason that they are not good enough is because the development that was given planning permission is not the one that we can all see before us today.

“The right thing to do is not usually the easy thing to do. That is why we will not standby and allow poor quality and unlawful development anywhere in our borough and we are not afraid of taking difficult decisions when we believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Cllr Ann-Marie Cousins, cabinet member for community safety and enforcement, said: “Following a complex, lengthy and detailed investigation, including complaints from local residents, we are taking this unprecedented step because of the magnitude of the number of significant deviations that we have discovered from what was approved by the original planning permission. We believe Mast Quay Phase II represents significant harm to the area and harm to present and future occupiers of the buildings.

“The developer has had plenty of opportunities to apply for planning permission to vary what they had permission to build before they carried out the work, instead of applying after they had already done it. For example, since starting work on site in 2015 they have had many years to engage with us regarding the amendments they claim it was necessary to make, due to changes in building regulations, yet there was no contact or application made, and an attempt was only made retrospectively as a consequence of the enforcement investigation.

“Why should children have no place to play because it was cheaper not to include it? Why should disabled tenants be prisoners in their own homes because step free access to the balconies wasn’t included? Why should the outside areas be dominated by tarmac and cars instead of trees and grass and plants?

“Without enforcement our planning system can have no integrity and that is why we will not shy away from property developers exploiting the system for their own gain, to the detriment of residents and other responsible developers who do the right thing."

A spokesperson for Comer Homes said: "The group’s focus now is to urgently discuss this matter with the council and won’t be making any further comment until this has taken place.  Further updates will follow once the appeal process is in motion."

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