Speaking to the Council

Over the past few days, our campaign has been speaking to Greenwich Council and working with them to explore the options for saving The Swan.

We thank Councillor Matthew Pennycook for taking the time to respond to our questions, and for being the most pro-active member for the West Ward.

Matters discussed were as follows:

1)  Refusing to grant permission for method of demolition (14/0919/SD)

The senior planners pointed out that “refusing to discharge conditions … without just cause, and indeed with an openly stated ulterior motive … would leave the Council open to legal challenge. [..] Moreover, our officers have advised us that the developer could easily file an application to renew the existing planning permission before the forthcoming expiry date... If the planning department refused to renew the existing permission [without just cause] it would again leave the Council open to legal challenge.”

We would argue that serious local opposition could be seen as ‘just cause’, but from a procedural standpoint we can see how this might be challenged.  At any rate, this decision has now been made, and so we need to find other alternatives.

2)  Extension of the Ashburnham Conservation Area

The Council advised that “The Ashburnham Triangle Conservation Area was extended as recently as December 2008 to include sites on the northern side of Greenwich High Road and Deptford Bridge. The Ashburnham Triangle Association (ATA), which represents residents in the area and which has a dedicated planning hub, was consulted at the time and did not recommend the Swan Tavern for incorporation (although there is a record that two individuals did ask for the building to be included). As a result, the Swan Tavern was not included in the extension for its protection.”

Firstly, it is good to know that Conservation Areas can be extended, and we call on the Council to do the same again.

Secondly, we take the point that The Swan – a once unloved derelict – was overlooked at the time, but we believe that this was a mistake which should now be rectified.  Clearly, the two individuals who asked for inclusion also thought so, and this sentiment has since strengthened.

The ATA has since changed its stance in light of developments on the High Road, and is now fully in favour of saving the Swan.  Just this morning, a spokesman from the ATA planning hub commented on their 2008 position as follows:

“[..] at that time there were still a number of other pre-1900 buildings on this road… As we both know, most of those other buildings have now been removed .. some in the face of stiff but ultimately ineffective opposition from the ATA. With their disappearance, the White Swan now stands as an almost unique example of pre-20th century architecture on this road, and its architectural merits shine out against its rather tawdry modern surroundings.”

3)  Options for conservation under the Localism Act 2011

We wanted to make sure the Council had explored every avenue, so we asked them to look at Eric Pickles’ flapship Localism Act.  Their response follows, and we are still awaiting a follow up:

“We are seeking further information about what action might reasonably be taken under the Localism Act 2011 and will provide you and others that have written to us with an update as soon as we receive a response.”

4)  Increased opposition since 2011

The Council gave the following rather cowardly summary of their position.

“We fully appreciate that new residents have moved in… since July 2011 and that following your campaign a greater number of residents are now unhappy about the demolition … but the appropriate moment for significant local concern to be expressed … was three years ago when over 300 residents were directly notified by letter … and we, as your local representatives, requested the decision be made at a public meeting..”

Well, speaking personally, I did not live here in 2011, and so if “the appropriate moment”  was three years ago then I shall continue to object in an wholly inappropriate capacity!

Even back in 2011, we know that the Greenwich Society and Greenwich Conservation Group did object at the meeting, but were overruled.

Furthermore, as the ATA have pointed out, the sands have shifted since 2011, largely due to the Council failing to protect other architectural gems.

The Council can try all they like to blame the situation on the mistakes of the past, but in the end, they are the only ones who have the power to rectify these mistakes today.

5)  Paradoxical Planning

The Councillor assured us that “the committee decided to give planning authorisation while seeking to retain the important historic elements of the building, including the white swan roundel, by mandating that they be incorporated in its replacement”

Whilst this was probably supposed to make us feel better, all it does is highlight that the original claim of ‘architectural insignificance’ was utterly disingenuous.

Rather than retaining just ‘important historic elements’, it would have been so easy to retain the full facade (as we commonly see elsewhere in the City and beyond).  We are certain the developers would still have found the project quite profitable.

6)  What next?

The Councillor says “We will continue to explore what last minute steps might be taken (I have scheduled a call with officers this afternoon) but we fear that the July 2011 planning authorisation leaves us with little room for manoeuvre.”

In the meantime, we will not give up – please write to all three of the West Ward Councillors, and the Mayor, following the steps given here.  Spread the word to your friends, family and neighbours.

We will bring you the latest when we hear more!

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