Construction giant Berkeley Homes is transforming parts of Woolwich and Kidbrooke with its huge developments. But it now faces controversy over some of its plans and, for the first time, criticism from senior Greenwich politicians. MARK CHANDLER finds out more.

Berkeley chief John Anderson greets me, clad in a charity Christmas jumper, at the Kidbrooke Village Information Centre - the hub of his company's £1bn transformation of an area once branded "Britain's hardest estate".

Nothing is left of the snow-covered Ferrier Estate I visited several Christmases ago when just a few families who rather liked the place were holding on for new homes as part of a much-maligned "decant" process - emptying out the rundown blocks so construction work could begin.

"Building surveyors refused to work here in the initials days because they were being abused, stoned, spat at, " Mr Anderson explained, blaming a minority of problem tenants and a shortfall in rental income for the disrepair and problems the Ferrier faced.

He said: "The Ferrier Estate had a terrible reputation. If you lived here and tried to get a taxi no taxi cabs would come here." 

Around 1,000 new homes have been built in the new Kidbrooke Village so far over five years meeting a 200-unit per year target and there are 1,000 people employed every day, although "not enough" from Greenwich, despite a successful apprenticeship scheme and partnership with a skills centre on site.

But a review of the project, including bringing forward to 2016 a new, three form of entry Wingfield School and abandoning plans for a hotel, has been criticised by local MP Clive Efford who branded a proposed 31-storey tower in the village centre, "sheer naked greed".

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The proposed tower at Kidbrooke

Mr Anderson said the block, now downgraded to 25 storeys but far taller than the demolished Ferrier high-rises, would act as a "wayfinder" for the centre and look "stunning".

He said: "I think it's a statement as well. I think it's saying 'this is Kidbrooke'. It should be located in a prominent position." 

Mr Anderson went on: "It's something we're going to be proud of. We certainly stand by it and think it's the right decision."

He said they were looking at the "viability" of affordable housing in that block, but stressed the figure is currently 38 per cent across the site. Of the private units, owner-occupiers and rentals are split 50/50, 92.4 per cent of units have gone to UK buyers and absentee landlords are, according to Mr Anderson, not a problem there.

News Shopper: One block left in Kidbrooke Ferrier Estate demolition

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The Ferrier has been demolished and Kidbrooke Village is 1,000 homes into a 4,800 unit project

He said: "It's become a community. It feels right very quickly, within five years. Probably on the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich it took us almost until now, about 12 years, until you felt there was a cohesion."

Mr Anderson lives in his company's landmark Royal Arsenal development where he sometimes bumps into neighbour and former Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts at the Dial Arch pub.

Under Roberts, the council was sometimes accused of being too cosy with Berkeley - though Mr Anderson points out the councillor paid full price for his Royal Arsenal property, it wasn't a show flat and Mr Roberts is unlikely to work for Berkeley in the future.

But, last month, the council's deputy leader Councillor John Fahy accused Berkeley of "pure vandalism" over proposals which would demolish a listed building to make way for a taxi rank and cycle racks at the new Crossrail station, allowing greater access to other buildings which may be used for markets and cultural activities.

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The proposed new square at Woolwich Crossrail station would demolish a listed building

Mr Anderson said the councillor's comments were "unfortunate" and admitted that the issue had not been addressed before because of speculation over whether Woolwich would get a station at all.

He said: "If this is the best we can have surely we should strive for that. If the consensus is the listed building is more important then that is a decision English Heritage and planners should make."

Mr Anderson went on: "It should have been planned as part of the scheme from day one but because no one was engaging, it's coming out at the last minute.

"We know it's not an easy decision and therefore it's not one we've taken lightly."