Council accused of lacking empathy over Upton Centre homes plan

upton centre in 2011

The Upton Centre was demolished in 2016. Pictured here in 2011. - Credit: Google

A councillor has accused Newham of not showing empathy over a controversial plan to build homes without replacing a community centre.

Newham Council's scheme to build 65 homes at The Upton Centre site in Claude Road, Upton Park, was approved in a meeting on Wednesday, February 24.

Cllr Daniel Blaney, who chairs the committee which voted for the plan, said: "There's been a missed opportunity to show empathy with what is going on with this site. However, we have to apply the planning law."

The council received one letter of support for the plan and 38 objections which included concerns over design as well as the impact on people with protected characteristics such as age, race, disability and faith.

Simon Davis, a portrait painter who lives nearby, said the council had promised a replacement community hub ahead of The Upton Centre's demolition.

Miraj Patel, who advises the Upton Centre Association, denied the scheme was of a high quality, adding organisation members felt perplexed why the council wanted to build there.

He accused the local authority of not consulting the association and of rushing the scheme through to secure GLA funding.

Upton centre protesters at the town hall

The closure of The Upton Centre sparked protest at the town hall in 2015. - Credit: Steve Poston

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The scheme is part-funded by City Hall, but the share depends on the project starting by March 12.

Mazhar Ali, senior development manager at the council, said housing is a priority for Newham which has 27,000 on its waiting list.

He reminded the meeting that mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz's election manifesto pledged to build 1,000 homes by 2022.

upton centre site

The site has been vacant since The Upton Centre was demolished in 2016, although a member of the Upton Centre Association said during the meeting that squatters have moved in. - Credit: Google

The Upton Centre closed in 2014 and the building was demolished two years later. A previous application for 55 homes, a nursery and community centre was submitted in 2019. It included a gym, community cafe and a small hall.

But Newham's cabinet chiefs decided to provide a nursery and homes on the site in January last year. A second application was submitted in November.

The scheme is for a U-shaped building rising four to five storeys with "affordable" homes and a nursery covering 362 sqm.

Councillors heard that including a community centre in the plan would affect delivery of the homes and there was demand for nursery spaces in the area.

They were also told other community facilities are nearby and the centre has been shut for six years.

Some groups which used The Upton Centre have still not found bases. The site's listing as an asset of community value expired in March.

Cllr John Whitworth, who missed the vote, said nearby community centres were not adequate alternatives.

While there would be "some impact" on daylight and sunlight, the scheme's effect on noise, local services, parking and overlooking were considered acceptable. Transport for London has not raised any objections, the meeting heard.

A recommendation to provide a vegetarian food-only kitchen and large hall for celebrations was found to go against Newham's local plan policy.

Cllr Daniel Blaney said he found the tone in relation to the community centre "completely unsympathetic" to the nature of the borough.

He accused the council of failing to communicate understanding of the multi-cultural nature of Newham.

Cllr Blaney described a suggestion that it didn't matter people with protected characteristics were affected because the centre was demolished six years ago as "offensive".

Cllr James Beckles said neighbours deserved more insight into the building's design.

"We owe it to residents to have the full facts. If this was any other organisation bringing such a design, we would question it," he said.

However, Cllr Beckles declined an invitation to move to defer the application.

Cllr Rachel Tripp welcomed the scheme as addressing the "overwhelming need" for "affordable" homes, but said the "overarching problem" was the lack of images showing the building.

Neil Deely, who chairs the council's design review panel, said the watchdog was happy with how the scheme looks.

Cllr Alan Griffiths explained that the fact somebody would prefer something different on the site was not a good reason to refuse planning permission.

The application was approved unanimously.