City Hall throws out Lewisham’s 34-storey Tesco tower over unaffordable housing

Meyer Homes render
A view of the proposed development looking south towards Lewisham station

London’s deputy mayor for housing has overturned Lewisham Council’s backing for a 34-storey tower close to the Lewisham Tesco store, saying the amount of “affordable” housing on offer is “wholly unacceptable”.

The Meyer Homes scheme, which consists of three blocks of 34, 14 and eight storeys, was passed by four votes to three by Lewisham’s main planning committee after planning officers said the council could not negotiate a better deal on low-cost housing.

Only 20% of the homes at the scheme, on Conington Road – close to the border with Greenwich borough – would have been “affordable”. Of the 365 homes, only 73 would have been “affordable”. Of those, 30 would have been for discount market sale. Just 16 would be for social rent, with 27 for “affordable” rent – the two rental categories making up just 12% of the housing on offer.

Meyer had tried to increase the level of “affordable” homes to 24% – but demanded that it be approved by the end of this month, which was branded “unacceptable” by City Hall.

“I consider that the level of affordable housing has not been adequately justified and, as such, it has not been demonstrated that the scheme will deliver the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing,” Jules Pipe, who is Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, said in a letter to Lewisham Council directing it to refuse the scheme.

“I urge you to work with the applicant on a new scheme that optimises affordable housing delivery across the site,” Pipe, a former elected mayor of Hackney, told Lewisham.

Meyer Homes graphic
The 34-storey Tower B1 is next to Lewisham station, while the other two blocks are next to recent developments on Conington Road

The planning report into the scheme states that City Hall told Lewisham Council three weeks before the planning meeting that the scheme did not fit the London Plan, the planning guidance for the capital, telling it that the amount of “affordable” housing was “wholly unacceptable”.

However, it said “the Lewisham and Catford Opportunity Area has the capacity to support a mixed use residential-led development”.

Embarrassingly for Lewisham’s Labour council, the version of the London Plan the scheme does not comply with is the one drawn up under Boris Johnson, rather than Sadiq Khan’s plan which has yet to be implemented. Lewisham’s own core strategy sets a target of 50% “affordable” housing.

City Hall officers also found that the sale values in the blocks had been underestimated, while it criticised the inclusion of a viewing platform on the 34th floor of the tallest tower, which would have been open for three hours each day, adding that the removal of the “skydeck” could give an opportunity to add more “affordable” housing.

Lewisham is already facing an appeal to planning inspectors from its refusal of an earlier version of the scheme, without the viewing platform.

December’s planning vote on the Tesco site represented a divide in Lewisham council between councillors who coalesced around former elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock, who feared wasting money on planning appeals, and those closer to his successor Damien Egan, who are eager to see more progress in providing social housing in the borough.

Earlier this year the strategic development committee – the equivalent of Greenwich’s planning board – approved plans for work on phase two of the giant 30-storey Lewisham Gateway scheme to begin in autumn, but expressed frustration that they had little influence over the project, which was given outline approval 10 years ago.

Meyer bought 14 development sites from Tesco in 2015 when the supermarket giant gave up its own ambitions in the property business. As well as its struggles with the Lewisham site, it has also tussled with Greenwich Council over plans to build a 27-storey tower in Woolwich. Those plans were refused by Greenwich in November, with Sadiq Khan endorsing the refusal the following month.

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