A local authority in London has ordered the “complete demolition” of two residential tower blocks comprising almost 200 apartments developed by a company linked to billionaire brothers Luke and Brian Comer.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Royal Borough of Greenwich said it had conducted an investigation over the past year into the second phase of the Mast Quay built-to-rent scheme, near the Royal Arsenal in southeast London, which uncovered 26 separate deviations from the original plan.
Among other things, the local authority said there had been “visible design changes” to the external appearance and size of the towers and to the materials used, including different cladding and smaller windows and balconies than previously specified.
Planners also found that the quality of residential accommodation was lower than perceived in the original plans for the scheme. They found that no roof gardens or children’s play areas had been provided and that the developers had failed to deliver enough underground parking space.
“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 local authority said in a statement on its website.
The council said Comer Homes was told not to rent out homes while the investigation was being conducted. “Unfortunately, the Comer Homes Group ignored its request,” it said and all existing tenants will be required to find alternative accommodation.
The council said it was “an unsettling time” for tenants who have already taken up residence in the scheme. However, it said Comer Homes “in its role as private landlord is responsible for looking after the welfare of its own tenants”.
Greenwich council has served Comer Homes with an enforcement notice, which the company has 28 days to appeal.
The notice applies to 194 apartments across three blocks that comprise the second phase of the scheme. It does not apply to three existing lower-rise developments that have already been developed.
A British Virgin Islands-controlled company called Mast Quay Developments originally secured permission for the scheme in 2012 before collapsing into administration. Comer Homes subsequently bought the development land and in 2020 secured a €40 million senior debt facility from Investec to fund the development of the final phase.
Local Labour Party councillor Ann-Marie Cousins said the decision to order Comer Homes to tear down the two blocks was “unprecedented” but warranted given the “magnitude of the number of significant deviations” from the planning permission that were uncovered.
“The developer has had plenty of opportunities to apply for planning permission to vary what they had permission to build before they carried out the work, instead of applying after they had already done it,” she said in a statement.
“For example, since starting work on site in 2015 they have had many years to engage with us regarding the amendments they claim it was necessary to make, due to changes in building regulations, yet there was no contact or application made, and an attempt was only made retrospectively as a consequence of the enforcement investigation.”
Both Brian and Luke Comer are listed as directors of Comer Homes Group Ltd in UK companies office documents. The company is dormant, according to recent filings.