Peninsula vision

Enveloped on three sides by the lower Thames, the Greenwich Peninsula is probably most familiar to Londoners as the home of the O2 arena. Many will be unaware that the 190-acres of land that surrounds the world’s busiest music venue is also the site of one of the capital’s largest regeneration schemes with up to 10,010 new homes and 325,000 square metres of commercial floorspace earmarked for construction over a 25-year period.

Once home to a vast complex of heavy industry, including the last gas works ever to be built in London, this barren and heavily contaminated wasteland was selected in the late 1990s as the site for a flagship sustainable community. Decontaminated and remediated by English Partnerships, the original Peninsula vision was for a brand new London district – a stable, sustainable, integrated community linked to central London by the new Jubilee Line extension that would, once completed, stand as a totem of urban renaissance and an example of what a well-designed twenty-first century mixed community could be.

Now, a decade and a half on, it’s unclear whether that original vision can still be realised. After a long period of inactivity when, along with numerous other schemes in the Thames Gateway, development on the Peninsula stalled, the earthmovers are once again chewing up the soil. Yet they’re doing so in a very different context than the one in which the original Peninsula vision was conceived. The remorseless rise of house prices in the area, the steady influx of international capital, the Coalition Government’s decision to cut the affordable housing grant by 60 per cent in 2010, the introduction of the “Affordable Rent” regime and a Mayoral administration that has been more than willing to relax its affordability targets and intervene in the planning process to ensure that private development of any kind proceeds – all have made it that much harder for local planners and politicians to secure socially inclusive, integrated and sustainable regeneration.

And so it has played out on the Greenwich Peninsula. The arrival of Knight Dragon Developments Limited, a Hong Kong-based property developer, as sole owner of the site in 2013 quickly led to a welcome resumption of development after a prolonged period of inactivity under the previous joint owners Quintain and Lend Lease. But Knight Dragon’s arrival also heralded a very different approach to regeneration, one that has led to the effective segregation of lower-income tenants from wealthy homebuyers through planning authorisations that have clustered new affordable homes onto the eastern side of the Peninsula away from the glittering towers of Canary Wharf.

Now Knight Dragon have signalled their intent to go one step further by applying for a revision of the 2004 Terry Farrell designed Greenwich masterplan – a document that set the framework for the comprehensive development of the site – in order to facilitate an increase in the number of total permitted ‘units’ from 10,010 to 15,497, many of which would be high-cost, high density and high-rise, particularly those to the immediate west of the 02 arena.

Knight Dragon can’t be blamed for attempting to increase the number of luxury private homes for sale on the site. The private house-building industry is, after all, ultimately a numbers game and as a corporate developer Knight Dragon exists to maximize their profit. Like other developers in the capital, they are simply responding to signals from its insatiable property market and a Mayor intent on achieving his London-wide target of 42,000 new units per year even if it means forgetting about affordability and breaching his own density guidelines (a case in point lies just a few miles west of the Greenwich Peninsula at Convoys Wharf, a scheme called in by Johnson after the developer, Hutchinson Whampoa, accused Lewisham Council of pushing the scheme’s viability “to its limits” with their calls for a generous proportion of affordable homes).

Nor can the proposals simply be dismissed out of hand. In a global city that is facing an acute housing shortage (Greenwich currently has over 14,000 people on our housing waiting list) on a complex urban “brownfield” site there may well be some justification for an increase in homes, height and density and Knight Dragon are right to argue that much has changed in the 11 years since the original Greenwich Peninsula development framework was approved. However, once the usual developer jargon about ‘dynamic place making’ has been stripped away, the essential question is whether the revisions that are being proposed will be of benefit to the local area and the local community, not just overseas investors and company profit margins.

In the negotiations that surround Knight Dragon’s proposed revision of the 2004 masterplan compromises may be inevitable but any bargain made must be hard struck. The developers’ assessments of viability must be approached with a critical eye and any proposed improvements to local infrastructure or the public realm scrutinised carefully to determine whether they’re in any way sufficient to accommodate what would be a significant increase in population. Most importantly, a commitment to creating a socially integrated community based on tenure-blind development and a mix of genuinely affordable homes spread across the entire site must be maintained vigorously.

Put simply, regeneration on the Greenwich Peninsula cannot come at any price. London is not Manhattan or Hong Kong and the local community will not tolerate the place they love being carpeted over with scores of high-rise towers containing flats that their family members have little chance of ever living in. Under the prevailing approach to regeneration in our capital even the most successful development project involves complex trade-offs but it’s more important than ever that we hold onto the ideal of socially inclusive, integrated and sustainable development that benefits Londoners, not just overseas investors. In this latest act in the renewal of Greenwich’s physical tapestry the principles contained in the original Peninsula vision – of a socially inclusive, stable and environmentally sustainable community that would be respectful of our common heritage and would create thousands of jobs, first-class social and community infrastructure and a vibrant public realm – must be preserved and fought for.

Matthew Pennycook was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Greenwich & Woolwich constituency in 2015.

Comments

  1. Mary says

    Matt – thank you, thank you. But – ok what happens next?? You’ve outlined a big problem but, trust me, there are a host of smaller ones. I could analyse this in a whole lot of detail, and there are some good things going on – but – what can I say – all needs pulling together.

    0
  2. Shivanee GMVA Secretary says

    Mr Pennycook, can I check whether you are Cabinet lead for regeneration, as suggested by the Guardian article? RBG’s website states that Danny Thorpe is.

    Peninsula residents are from all over the UK and around the world, and Greenwich borough. I have met quite a few neighbours who grew up locally in Woolwich, Plumstead, Lewisham (including from council estates). My neighbours include charity workers, restaurant managers, tradesmen, beauticians, airline stewards as well as civil servants, teachers and professionals in financial services.

    The Yacht Club, Ecology Park, The Pilot attracts people from all over Greenwich and beyond. When I attend Shenda Falvey’s fabulous bootcamp (Westcombe Park resident) in Central Park, I meet up with residents from WP, E Greenwich and Charlton as well as Peninsula neighbours. Millennium Minis nursery is owned by a GMV resident (also a Millennium Primary Governor) who contributes generously to the local community. Millennium Primary is a very inclusive school and I understand most children attending don’t live on the Peninsula and are drawn from very wide catchment (larger than other primary schools up the hill in Greenwich I believe).

    The GMVA committee is comprised of social and private renters, as well as leaseholders (also landlords). GMVA holds quarterly Residents meetings open for all residents to keep updated on Peninsula developments. We also hold the Big Lunch annually and summer kids play activities. These activities are free to all residents specifically to ensure that no parents are put off by prices at bouncy castles etc.

    I would hope this fits your vision of a socially inclusive, stable and environmentally sustainable community?

    0
  3. Matthew Pennycook says

    Hi Shivanee,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    The GMV absolutely fits my vision of a socially inclusive, stable and environmentally sustainable community.

    It’s a genuinely tenure-blind development, contains a significant proportion of affordable housing, was built to exacting urban design and environmental standards and was accompanied by significant investment in infrastructure and the surrounding public realm.

    It is, as you rightly make clear, home to a thriving and established group of residents (locals as well as those from overseas that have chosen to make Greenwich their home) many of whom make a significant contribution to the local area and community. Most importantly it (and from what you say the GMVA committee too) is socially inclusive as is Millennium Primary, which I visited only last week.

    If Knight Dragon intend to replicate the GMV model across the site and to adhere to the principles that underpinned its development and the Millennium Communities Programme more generally I would welcome it with open arms. My concern, however, is that they may have something very different in mind.

    Best wishes,
    Matthew
    p.s. I am not a member of the Council’s Cabinet and do not lead on regeneration (and having re-read the piece I cannot see where the Guardian suggest I do). Cllr Danny Thorpe is the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Transport.

    0
  4. Shivanee GMVA Secretary says

    Thanks for the response. The article mentioned the Regeneration Cabinet member in a way that I was also confused!

    I am commenting on behalf of GMV but at this stage I don’t see much difference between GMV or other (City) Peninsula residents. Both associations are in touch and I am also Secretary to the Peninsula Forum which is our joint Residents/Developer & Stakeholders Forum. We meet with Knight Dragon and will testify that we certainly offer our views! I don’t think anyone living here wants the area to develop by designated developments and I really don’t think human interaction follows planning policies anyway. Personal views on housing policy are a private personal issue for residents. Not everyone wants to be politically engaged and many residents may not even understand what ‘mixed tenure’ means etc.

    Representatives from GMVA, City Peninsula and Knight Dragon have already met to discuss the future. Cllr Brain joined us too. City Peninsula and GMV both agreed to develop the Peninsula Forum as our ‘neighbourhood association’ to encourage community building and representation on planning as the new residents of both GMV (phase 3), Knight Dragon and Bellway homes soon occupy. In it’s short 15years, the local Peninsula community is evolving and will want to influence the development o the Peninsula and have a say on matters, though I don’t think many residents are much interested or keen for living here to become a political issue.

    Kind regards
    Shivanee

    0
  5. Shane Brownie says

    Hi Matthew, thanks for the really interesting blog post. Great see a politician finally taking on the opportunities and challenge facing the future on the peninsula. Although I appreciate there are many factors involved, Greenwich council ultimately needs to take responsibility for the decision to reduce and polarise the affordable housing on the peninsula, including the Officer’s for the advice they provided.

    I very much hope the lessons have been learnt following their previous decision on affordable housing on the East Peninsula masterplan and that they do not again give in to the wishes of Knight Dragon and, as you say, ensure an inclusive, integrated and sustainable community for the future.

    0

Trackbacks

  1. […] Incidentally, the definition of ‘affordable’ of was changed by the coalition government to be 80% of the market rate of an area- which would further lock ordinary people and key workers out of the housing market. Labour have now pledged to revise that definition back to a realistic term linked to average wages and house prices. In fairness, more than one of our general election candidates have spoken out on the issue with some conviction so there is hope. Labour candidate, Matt Pennycook outlines his thoughts on the project here. […]

    0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *