Greenwich councillors have snubbed their own planning officers by giving permission for a new unit for kidney patients to open in Thamesmead – despite being advised to to turn the scheme down.
The unit, which will be operated for Kings College Hospital NHS Trust, will be sited on Nathan Way. Council officers said the area was designated for industrial uses and not suitable.
But councillors gave temporary permission for five years after hearing from patients who said the facility would mean they did not face long journeys across London and Kent for dialysis treatment.
The surprise decision came in the first meeting of the council’s new-look planning board on Tuesday, the first for more than a decade that did not feature the council leader or cabinet members making decisions, with the new faces on the committee still clearly getting to grips with their roles.
Councillors also deferred a decision on a housing complex in Abbey Wood featuring a 17-storey tower for a site visit, but only after 80 minutes of representations and discussion; while a contentious plan to put a temporary library on a car park off Plumstead High Street was also approved.
The new Thamesmead facility will have 20 stations for patients with chronic renal failure who need to undergo gruelling dialysis treatment up to three times a week, lasting four hours at a time.
There are 121 patients in Greenwich borough, but facilities for only 60 at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, which also has to serve patients from Bexley. Many currently have to travel to East Dulwich, a facility that is closing soon, with other facilities located in Bromley, Sydenham and Darent Valley Hospital at Dartford.
The forthcoming closure of the Dulwich centre meant Diaverum UK, the firm operating the unit on behalf of King’s College trust, had decided to begin work on converting the Thamesmead site after applying for planning permission in November and having not received a decision.
The firm said it had searched for many years for a suitable site and many of its units were already based in industrial areas, with patients typically arriving by car or ambulance. However, this did not stop planning new planning chair Sarah Merrill asking why it had not located the unit in Woolwich town centre.
Would ‘prevent patients from dying prematurely’
Officers also said the site suffered from poor public transport accessibility and threatened the viability of neighbouring businesses, citing a single complaint from a manufacturing firm next door which said it produced noise and dust in its day-to-day work.
But one patient, who already has to travel to Dulwich, said the new centre would “prevent patients from dying prematurely”, while another said it would benefit patients from across a wide area of south-east London and north Kent.
Thamesmead Moorings councillor and cabinet member Averil Lekau, addressing the committee, questioned the officers’ assertion that non-industrial uses should not be permitted, saying many churches were already based in the area, and that the site was easily accessible by bus (although current TfL plans see the 472 service that serves the area replaced by a less-frequent route).
Committee member Norman Adams moved that the committee give the facility the go-ahead, explaining: “I think we’ve heard enough tonight that merits an exception to our industrial policy.”
Fellow Labour councillor Clive Mardner spoke of his experiences working for Healthwatch Greenwich and visiting a dialysis unit in an industrial area in Lewisham, and said: “What we have been presented with is a good building which meets the needs of the local community. But is this an application that demands exceptional consideration? In this instance, I believe the case has been made.”
Planning chair Sarah Merrill said: “I believe there are many, many sites in Greenwich that could have accommodated this. Having said that, it’s clearly an emotive issue, so I would like to propose that we give temporary planning permission for a limited time while the Royal Borough of Greenwich works with you to find an alternative site.”
After the meeting, Eltham South Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher, who also sat on the committee, said: “This was the right thing for us to do – a limited, conditional approval on the basis of the clear public benefit provided to patients. I wish them all the best.”
Tower trouble in Abbey Wood
After hearing an hour and 40 minutes of evidence, the planning board opted to defer a decision on plans for 272 new homes – including 35% “affordable” (10% social rent) – on the site of the PDSA pet hospital at Abbey Wood, which would feature buildings of three, eight, 14 and 17 storeys. A new pet hospital would also be provided.
The committee heard from Abbey Wood councillor Ann-Marie Cousins, who said that Crossrail construction work had disturbed an underground river, the Wogebourne, which had affected surrounding homes with flooding and “boggy gardens”.
Nigel Fletcher also queried the fact that just £50,000 had been allocated to public realm in the area – which contains the crumbling Abbey Wood Estate – compared with £1.2m set to disappear into council coffers from the developers’ Community Infrastruture Levy (CIL). He was told that this was in addition to CIL money, but the council was trying to arrange further funds for local bus services.
Local residents also raised concerns about the heights of the towers – particularly in relation to the view from Lesnes Abbey Woods – but Greenwich officers said they were acceptable because Bexley Council had already given outline approval for similar-sized towers across Harrow Manor Way.
Cllr Cousins said that what Bexley decided on tall buildings in Abbey Wood was “nothing to do with Greenwich” and it should go its own way.
After chair Sarah Merrill said the height of the buildings was an issue, committee members voted to defer so they could look at the site, but Nigel Fletcher was unhappy with the decision, asking: “This has been deferred for for a site visit to judge on buildings in another borough that aren’t there yet?”
Plumstead parking woes
The committee also approved plans to replace Plumstead’s Albery Street car park with a temporary library, despite protests from the Positive Plumstead Project, whose representatives had to wait three hours to be heard.
Residents challenged the council’s own statistics on parking, with Jessica Currie saying local businesses had already suffered because of changes to parking arrangements in the area.
But councillors voted through the proposal for the temporary library, which will be in place while the nearby Plumstead Library is redeveloped.
Meanwhile, an application by Tesco to restrict free parking at its Woolwich store was withdrawn after council officers recommended refusing it.
Councillors also refused permission for unused retail units at the Greenwich Creekside development in Deptford to be converted into housing.
Tuesday’s meeting was unofficially streamed live by this website as an experiment. The first two items on the planning board meeting (the Abbey Wood tower and dialysis clinic) can be seen on 853’s YouTube page – starts 13 minutes in, Thamesmead clinic is 1hr 40mins in. The Plumstead car park/library hearing can be seen here.
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