London apartment block that deviates from plans must be torn down, says council

Buildings rarely look as good as the airbrushed architects’ visualisations produced to persuade planners to grant permission. Extra sharp highlights, implausibly blue skies and deeper colours are all part of the dark arts of the computer-generated rendering.

But the gulf between what was proposed for an apartment complex rising 23 storeys above the Thames in south-east London and what was actually built has finally proved too much.

After counting 26 major deviations from the original planning permission that it granted, the Royal Borough of Greenwich has taken the extraordinary move – “unprecedented”, it said – of ordering the developers of the Mast Quay II development to pull it down. It means tenants in 204 flats now face the prospect of finding somewhere else to live.

The visualisations before planning permission was granted over a decade ago showed a standard piece of contemporary residential architecture with details intended to render an otherwise blocky project easier on the eye. What was built is far more rudimentary and, in parts, resembles stacked shipping containers. There had been complaints from local people, the council said, adding that some of the buildings occupied a bigger footprint than allowed and there were missing facilities, including for disabled people.

Announcing the decision on Tuesday, Anthony Okereke, the council leader, said it was “just not good enough”.

Aidan Smith, cabinet member for regeneration, described it as a “mutant development that is a blight on the landscape”. He said: “If a scheme matching what has been built at Mast Quay Phase II was submitted for planning permission today, it would be refused, and we cannot let what has been delivered at Mast Quay Phase II go unchallenged.”

Asked why it did not act sooner, Greenwich said it was not until 2022, when building work was finally finished, that it became clear that the breaches to the planning permission were more than just external.

Comer Homes Group, which acts as landlord as well as developer, describes the buildings on its website as a “luxury development of two- and three-bedroom riverside apartments. A magnificent crafted living space with panoramic views of the River Thames and vistas of the capital.”

But the deviations noted by the council included a missing glazed curtain wall that was supposed to give the appearance of a sail, smaller balconies and windows, no roof gardens or children’s play areas and “non-accessible ‘accessible’ apartments that have steps to the balconies so that wheelchair users cannot use their outdoor space”.

There was supposed to be an underground car park, but that wasn’t built, the council said, and instead surface car parking occupied land that had been earmarked for gardens.

On Tuesday, the council said in a statement that its “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 council believes that the only reasonable and proportionate way to rectify the harm created by the finished Mast Quay Phase II development to the local area, and the tenants living there, because of the changes made during its construction, is the complete demolition and the restoration of the land to its former condition.”

The developer, Comer Homes Group, has been contacted for comment. Greenwich’s statement said the developer had argued that it needed to make changes to the originally permitted design owing to alterations to the building regulation. The developer applied for retrospective planning consent, but only “as a consequence of the enforcement investigation”, the council said.

The developer has 28 days to appeal against the enforcement notice to the government’s Planning Inspectorate.