A local council has ordered developers to demolish two apartment buildings in Woolwich, south-east London. This follows a breach of planning conditions by the developers in the construction of the Mast Quay Phase II development. According to Greenwich council, there were at least 26 deviations to the plans which were originally approved in 2012.
The decision spelled bad news for tenants and developers alike, with many tenants having already moved into the apartments. Following the decision, the tenants in the 204 flats now face the difficult decision of finding somewhere else to live. The Royal Borough of Greenwich has described this as an “unprecedented” decision.
In a statement, the developers have subsequently signalled their intention to appeal against the enforcement notice. This case acts as a warning to developers that deviation from original planning permission can prove to be disastrous for developments.
Who were the developers involved in the project?
Comer Homes Group is a real estate conglomerate founded by two billionaire brothers, Luke Comer and Brian Comer. The group’s UK arm has built a number of new-build property projects in the UK over the years. They mainly develop long-term rental apartment build to rent properties. These property projects are located in London, Hertfordshire, Dorset and the South East.
Mast Quay is one of the best-known long-term rental apartment projects developed by Comer Homes Group in the UK. The project received strong support from the local council since its launch, with the Royal Borough of Greenwich believing that the long-term rental apartment project could solve the local housing difficulties, an issue faced by the entire country.
In 2017, tenants moved in after the first phase of the Mast Quay development project was completed. Finally, two long-term rental residential buildings in Mast Quay Phase II were officially completed last year.
What were the infringements by Comer Homes Group?
However, this year, the developer received terrible news. The Royal Borough of Greenwich ordered that Comer Homes Group must immediately demolish the two residential towers, mainly because the two residential towers completely violated planning conditions. There were at least 26 breaches of planning permissions in the two buildings.
The visualisations prior to planning permission being granted over a decade ago show a vastly different vision of what was intended for the development. The cabinet member for regeneration, Aidan Smith, has since decreased it as a “mutant development that is a blight on the landscape.”
The following is a statement from Greenwich Council:
“The Royal Borough of Greenwich has taken the decision, as the local planning authority, to progress with enforcement action against the Comer Homes Group’s Mast Quay Phase II development of two residential towers, one of which is stepped, with 23, 11, nine and six storeys, located on Woolwich Church Street, London SE18.
The Council’s extensive investigation over the last year has concluded that the completed Mast Quay Phase II built-to rent-development has been built without planning permission and is therefore unlawful because it is so substantially different to the scheme that was originally permitted by the planning permission given in 2012.”
The 26 deviations to the original planning permission include the following:
- Significant changes to the design of the tower’s exterior
- The materials and windows appear significantly differently to the original planning application, including: different cladding, less glazing, smaller balconies, smaller windows and no wraparound balconies, resulting in less daylight and sunlight and poorer views
- The actual area of the two buildings is larger than the originally approved area.
- No rooftop gardens, children’s play areas, green roofs or landscaped gardens for residents
- Accommodation quality is lower
- Apartments are not built as “accessible” so that wheelchair users cannot use their outdoor spaces such as balconies
- The project provides a residents’ gym in place of an approved commercial building space that is also unsuitable for anyone using a wheelchair
- Has reduced commercial floor space for ground-level offices, shops and cafes
- The project failed to provide adequate underground parking, resulting in a predominance of surface parking. This replaces what would have been a landscaped garden area of trees and plants, and an overall reduction in parking, which may put pressure on street parking
- The project lacks disabled parking spaces
- The project’s shared residential/commercial basement access could lead to conflicts
- The project provides access to a poorer quality footbridge to Woolwich Church Street
Due to the above problems with the development, the local council believes that the only way to rectify the damage caused by the completed development would be to completely demolish both buildings. The land would be restored to its former condition.
The Borough issued an enforcement notice on 25th September. This is subject to appeal rights for a period of at least 28 days.
Developers fight back
After learning of the news, Comer Homes Group immediately hit back. They announced that they would appeal against the planning enforcement decision and expressed their great disappointment at the council’s move. The developer also accused Greenwich Borough Council of “inaccurate public statements that misrepresent our position and actions”.
A spokesman for Comer Homes Group said that the overall development of the Mast Quay project was divided into three development phases. The first phase of the project was completed in 2007 and not subject to any new planning implementation. However, they believe that the council’s assessment of the second stage was harsh, leading to an order for its demolition. The third phase of the project has not yet been built, so it has not been affected.
The developers said they applied for planning permission a long time ago. However, many policy changes have occurred over the years, leading them to make changes for some practical reasons. This ultimately meant that completed buildings are different from those originally planned. They had hoped to avoid demolition of the flats by seeking retrospective planning permission.
What should local tenants do?
According to media reports, Phase 2 of the Mast Quay development project already has a total of two new buildings with 204 apartments, most of which are already rented. This means that tenants of these properties must now find new accommodation immediately.
The apartments are not cheap, with some tenants paying more than £2000 a month to live in them. Many of the tenants have also signed long-term rental agreements.
Some nearby residents have questioned whether it is necessary to demolish all buildings if they are not dangerous given the housing shortage. It is said that more than 20,000 local families are waiting on the borough council’s housing waiting list.
This case can remind investors that if you are planning to invest in a long-term rental apartment building project, it is important to do research before investing. This includes checking the qualifications of the developer, whether the property has potential problems, and whether there is protection if problems arise. For example, if they encounter a problem similar to this case, will they have the funds to return it?
In addition, before choosing an apartment building, it is best for tenants to choose a property owned by a developer with a good reputation. The most important point is that when you sign the contract, you should read the terms in great detail to see if there is a guarantee of cancellation if something like this goes wrong.
If you encounter any difficulties in purchasing a property, please contact Lisa’s Law Solicitors. Our property lawyers have many years of experience in this area and can assist you.
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