The new housing minister tried to block a £770 million property development in his constituency, despite the Labour Government’s campaign against Nimbys.

Matthew Pennycook, the Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, wrote to his local council complaining that plans by developers to build a series of high-rise apartments were “wholly inappropriate” and would have a “detrimental impact” on the “local heritage”.

His letter, sent as the constituency MP in 2021, was written despite the developer’s claims that their Thames wharf project would improve a brownfield industrial site, create 1,100 new jobs and bring an annual £42 million a year boost in “socioeconomic value” to the area.

The emergence of his letter comes after Rachel Reeves, the new Chancellor, used her first major speech to reveal plans to relax planning laws despite anticipating an inevitable backlash from Nimbys and “political pain”.

She said she would speed up infrastructure projects by reforming the national planning policy framework and restore mandatory housebuilding targets for local authorities as part of a drive to build 1.5 million homes over five years.

However, despite his new role in delivering this drive, in May 2021, Mr Pennycook attempted to intervene in a planning dispute over proposals to build a residential mixed-use development called Morden Wharf in his east London constituency.

‘Inappropriate for the site’

He opposed plans for 1,500 homes – a third of which would be “affordable” homes – complaining that the proposed high rise properties on the Greenwich Peninsula were too tall.

The development, which was approved by the local council in the autumn of 2021 although no work has yet started, proposed a 19-acre site would contain four tower blocks rising between 21 and 36 storeys.

Mr Pennycook wrote: “I feel strongly that the proposals submitted would be inappropriate for the site in question and would have a detrimental impact on the existing character of the area.”

He claimed the scheme went against the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s local plan, adding that there were strong grounds for the council to reject it because of “namely the excessive heights of several of the buildings”.

In his letter, published on his social media, he acknowledged that although he agreed in principle to mixed-use developments for “what is unquestionably an underutilised site, it is imperative that any development authorised be appropriate”.

He accepted that tall buildings were appropriate for the area and conformed to local planning policy, but objected to the development’s height because nearby tower blocks only had 18 storeys.

The MP wrote: “Four towers between 21 and 36 storeys would be inappropriate for this site and would have a detrimental impact on the existing character of the area and local heritage assets.

“They would represent an abrupt and dramatic increase in building heights relative to the adjacent buildings.”

At the time, U+I, the developer, said it was transforming an underused brownfield industrial site with proposals that were “in keeping” with the area and would create 1,100 jobs.

The development, if it goes ahead, will have a mix of commercial and residential properties and include 3.9 acres of park space.

The Greenwich Society had also expressed concerns about how the scheme would look.

A Labour source insisted the minister remains convinced a better development could still be found for the brownfield site.

“Despite planning consent being acquired by the developer for this substandard, speculative application, not a single housing unit has yet been delivered.

“Matthew believed at the time, and still does, that a better 1,500-home scheme could and should have been delivered.”

A Greenwich council spokesman said: “Construction work on Morden Wharf has not begun as revisions to the original plans are currently going through the planning process. 

“As such, all pre-application discussions and objections are confidential. More information can be found on our planning portal.

“Following a transfer of ownership, the buyers are looking to revise the original plans, the council has not requested these changes.”

Mr Pennycook was appointed housing minister last Friday.

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