Charlton has a long tradition of community partnerships reflecting the vibrancy and diversity of its residents. The last ten years have witnessed many changes to the physical landscape of the area as areas which traditionally serviced heavy industry have given way to a rise in diverse business, employment and residential opportunities. Like many London boroughs, the Royal Borough of Greenwich (‘the Council’) is grappling with an increased demand for housing, particularly affordable and social accommodation. The last ten years have seen a boom in planning applications throughout the borough as more and more land is released for residential development. Whilst supporting development, local groups have always been keen to ensure that this is of high quality, is sympathetic to the local setting, and maintains the rich heritage of Charlton.

Royal Borough of Greenwich (RBG) Charlton Riverside Masterplan

In 2017, the Council adopted the Charlton Riverside Masterplan Supplementary Planning Document (‘the Masterplan’) which sets out a vision for the transformation of the part of Charlton that is located between the River Thames and Woolwich Road, including industrial estates to the east of the Thames Barrier.  The Masterplan was developed over a number of years with consultation and input from the local community.

The Masterplan anticipated large-scale development in Charlton and there was considerable concern in the community that the first plans submitted from developers seemed at odds with the agreed vision: employment-led, low-rise and containing a good proportion of affordable housing.  For more information see: https://www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/downloads/download/433/charlton_riverside_masterplan

Community action

In November 2017, a handful of representatives and interested individuals of local residents’ associations and amenity groups met to discuss ways in which these very different groups could work together to have a positive effect on RBG’s community-led review of planning, and achieve more of a say for local residents on planning issues.  They came together under the banner of Charlton Together.

Charlton Together is made up of representation from The Charlton Society, Charlton Central Residents’ Association (CCRA), Derrick & Atlas Residents’ Association (DAGRA), SE7 Action Group, The Valley Hill Hub, the Charlton Parkside Community Hub, Quixotic Records and the Benefice of Charlton.  Other individuals and Councillors have attended Charlton Together meetings on an ad-hoc basis.

The groups within Charlton Together operate quite differently being small and large, fully constituted with fully paid up members, and digitally based with no funds, etc.  Their individual planning application scrutiny and campaigning styles also differ from hand-written objection letters, online submissions and petitions, and extensive use of social media.

Charlton Together adopted a flat management structure with rotating Chairs and note-takers, meeting according to need.  It was hugely strengthened by the support from local Councillors. 

Focussing on large-scale planning applications (or MAJORS), Charlton Together undertook work on scrutinising applications, canvassing local views so as to best represent the community, attending consultation events and asking developers those ‘difficult questions.’

Charlton Together has been active in raising awareness, throughout the area, about the importance of high quality, good planning and how it can support the Council in delivering the vision within the Masterplan area.  Campaigning has included social media, public meetings, posting leaflets through letterboxes, online and hard copy petitioning and extensive engagement with local Councillors and borough Planning Officers.

Charlton Together felt that it needed to use all the tools it could to better influence decision-making at local planning authority level for development proposals in Charlton.  This was the trigger to looking into establishing a Neighbourhood Plan for Charlton, and subsequently led to the formation of the Charlton (London) Neighbourhood Forum (‘Charlton Forum’).

Success to date The first major application (Leopard Guernsey, VIP Trading Estate and the VIP Industrial Estate, Anchor and Hope Lane) galvanised Charlton Together to take action, given the development proposal’s many deviations from the Council’s adopted Charlton Riverside Masterplan SPD (2017).  Charlton Together made representations at the Council’s Planning Board Committee Meeting, which subsequently refused to grant planning consent for the application.

As the development proposal was of strategic importance, the application was then ‘called in’ by the Greater London Authority (GLA) for determination.  Charlton Together again made representations to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, at his Planning Committee.  Again, the application was refused.  The applicants appealed the decision and a public inquiry was held in Charlton in early 2020.  Charlton Together made strong representations, and alongside the Council’s legal team, was successful in arguing for the Inspector to recommend to the Secretary of State that planning permission should be denied.  The applicant’s appeal was dismissed in a ruling published on 3rd June 2020.  The judgement was particularly impressed by community representation.

For the full ruling please see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/recovered-appeal-land-at-vip-trading-estate-and-industrial-estate-anchor-and-hope-lane-london-se7-7te-ref-3233585-3-june-2020

So, what have we learnt so far? As a group, Charlton Together has built up considerable insights and expertise on the planning process, learning how to: scrutinise documents; make arguments to developers; manage Freedom of Information requests; work in partnership with the Council; and, use the power of community action.

As a community, we are better engaged with our elected representatives – our local Councillors, Council officers and those within the community who have expertise.  We have learnt the ‘planning lingo’ such as ‘design and access statements,’ ‘viability assessments’ and ‘environmental impact assessments.’ We have also worked with other interest groups outside the area who have been supportive of our aims.

Where are we now, and where do we go next? Building on the success of the Leopard Guernsey result, and faced with a plethora of new planning applications, the next logical step for Charlton Together was to be active in establishing a Neighbourhood Forum for Charlton, in order to bring forward a Neighbourhood Plan. If you live or work in our area – join us in making Charlton a safe, happy, healthy and vibrant place to live and work. Join Charlton Forum. It is free to join and open to anyone living, working or studying in Charlton.