Jumbo hold-up: Greenwich councillors’ gasholder stand-off throws school opening in doubt

Blackwall Tunnel approach
The proposed Silvertown Tunnel route would run just to the left of the gasholder

Greenwich councillors have refused to revoke a legal order allowing gas to be stored at the historic East Greenwich gasholder site – throwing into doubt the opening date of a new school just a few hundred metres away.

Planning officers have already given permission for the No 1 gasholder, which sits at the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel approach, to be demolished after owner SGN used a planning loophole known as “prior notification”.

But the technicality which allows gas to be stored on the site – a hazardous substances consent – remains in place, and needs to be revoked if St Mary Magdalene School, just to the south of the site, is to fully open in September.

It also needs to be revoked for the Silvertown Tunnel – which received planning permission in May – is to open as planned in 2023.

Councillors on Greenwich’s planning board voted 6-5 to refuse permission for the consent to be revoked, saying there wasn’t enough clarity on what SGN planned to do with the site.

‘We shouldn’t be doing SGN a favour’

Eltham South Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher told the meeting he was unhappy aboit being asked to make a decision “that will increase the development value of the land”.

“I’m not convinced we should be doing SGN a favour until they come back and say what they want to do with the gasholder site,” he said. “We can revoke the condition stopping the school from opening. It’s unfair to use it as an excuse.”

The planning board’s decision came less than two weeks after Labour councillors were told to vote down a motion wanting the gasholder to remain, with all but one – Charlton’s Gary Dillon – complying.

But in the planning meeting – which is supposed to be non-political – they rebelled against their leadership’s lack of interest in the 130-year-old structure.

In response to a question from another Charlton councillor, Linda Perks, councillors were also told had no power to stop SGN demolishing the gasholder – contrary to what Peninsula councillor Chris Lloyd told voters during the election campaign.

Chris Lloyd tweets
Lloyd claiming SGN needed planning permission to demolish the structure back in April

Lloyd’s fellow Peninsula ward councillor Stephen Brain addressed the committee, outlining his desire for the structure to be reused as an arts venue similar to the Roundhouse in Camden.

Planning chair Sarah Merrill voted for the consent to be removed, saying that the process had gone on long enough – the decision had already been deferred from the previous meeting to seek more information.

“We are where we are, and on the basis that it holds up operation of the school, I will be voting for revocation,” she said.

But the vote was lost – leaving open the possibility that SGN will appeal to the government.

The meeting also saw plans for two major new developments refused, with a scheme for 771 new homes at the end of Anchor & Hope Lane, Charlton, turned down because it did not comply with the recently-developed masterplan for the area.

Abbey Wood rejection

Another scheme, for 272 homes in buildings of three, eight, 14 and 17 storeys close to Abbey Wood station, was also refused, with councillors unhappy about officers recommending approval based on the fact that neighbouring Bexley has approved – in principle – to see towers of 15 storeys across the road.

Notably, the meeting saw former council leader Denise Hyland – who had sat on the planning board ever since her election to the council in 2006 before leaving it this May – speak against the scheme. She criticised the lack of car parking spaces, saying it was unreasonable to expect residents to use public transport.

The development was rejected by 10 votes to nil, with one abstention.

Most of the meeting was webcast by this website – coverage begins with the gasholder at 27 minutes, 30 seconds in.

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