More details on Greenwich Line train cuts, and it looks bad

As more details become available it looks as though the Greenwich line will see large service and capacity cuts at the busiest period of the evening rush hour from January. From 5:30pm to 6:30pm, three out of nine trains heading out from central London will be cut – 30 carriages in total. Overall, when looking at the evening peak period of 4-7pm there will be six less trains calling at London Bridge – a total of 50 carriages in all. In addition to the three that are removed there are three that still start from Charing Cross but are unable to stop at London Bridge. These changes are inevitable with Thameslink and London Bridge rebuilding work, but the question must be asked of why mitigating measures have seemingly not been taken.

Southeastern train

To compound the issue, the three trains which are removed from the timetable are those with the biggest capacity, which run at the very busiest period of the evening rush hour. They are trains which currently run at the maximum length of 10 carriages and use the newer ‘class 376′ trains. They may have less seats and more standing areas around the doors, and thus not be too popular, but they do swallow a lot more people. The three to go are the 17:29 from Charing Cross which calls at London Bridge at 17:37, the 17:50 from Charing Cross (London Bridge at 17:58) and 18:12 from Charing Cross (London Bridge at 18:21).

If the remaining six trains from 5:30pm to 6:30pm are all lengthened to a maximum 10 carriages, that will be a boost of 12 carriages on the existing number for those services. But factor in the 30 carriages removed by axing three maximum length trains and that’s a net loss of 18 carriages. If older ‘networker’ trains with lower capacity (due to more seating) are substituted on the remaining six trains for higher capacity newer stock it is still very unlikely that is going to make up for 18 less carriages. But even that is unlikely, as two of the remaining six trains will head to Gravesend where newer, higher capacity, class 376 trains cannot run as they lack toilets. Currently only short distance routes to Dartford can operate without toilets on board.

Those two go to Gravesend and are currently ‘semi fast’ services. From January they will still run past Dartford but will stop at all stations within the M25. Whilst this does mean those at Deptford, Maze Hill, Plumstead, Erith etc gain, it also results in stopping at Woolwich Dockyard. The station is in a deep cutting and whilst every other station has been lengthened to take 12 car trains at a cost of millions, the cost of extending into the tunnels has been deemed prohibitive. Due to this 12 car trains cannot run on these services and so that opportunity to increase capacity is gone.

What could’ve been done?

One option would have been to fit ‘selective door operation’ so only 10 of 12 carriages would see doors open at Woolwich Dockyard. This is common on many trains across the country as well as on the DLR. This has not been done. Southeastern cannot take all the blame here. Network Rail, the Department for Transport and the company who own the trains (the franchise operator merely leases them) should have been looking at this. Something will have to happen with Woolwich Dockyard station long term as the entire network has had much money spent to operate longer trains, and one station is holding it back. It was speculated that the main reason the station was closed during the Olympics was because 12 car trains were supposed to be running in 2012 and couldn’t stop there.

The other issue is that the newer class 376 trains southeastern use can only be a maximum of 5 cars and coupled together make 10 car trains. They were designed and ordered around 10 years ago to run services as 10 cars with less seats and more standing as a cheaper alternative to 12 cars with more seating and less standing. The same capacity but less carriages and comfort. That short term decision for shorter trains has now been superseded with the millions spent on platform lengthening and power upgrades, except at Woolwich Dockyard, but this would not be a problem with SDO which they would have had if ordered to operate as 12 cars. However, now it seems the trains cannot be extended to run as 12 car as the design is 10 years old, so adding extra cars is not possible. When looking at these lines it appears that short-termism and mismanagement have been a mainstay for some time.

Another option would be to receive new 12 carriages trains which would be able to stop at Woolwich Dockyard, with the existing 10 car trains moving elsewhere to areas which have no possibility at all of 12 car running. Southern suburban routes fit the bill. Most other London area franchises are receiving brand new trains right now – Southern, Thameslink, South West Trains and soon First Great Western and East Midlands Trains. Some of these orders have options available for further add-ons. Take up the options, bring the new build trains able to run as 12 cars with SDO to southeastern and the 10 car could move to Southern.

Maintaining capacity across the peak?

So it now looks as if there could well be a major crunch coming. Southeastern have said they will maintain capacity across the whole peak period which is 4 – 7pm. This may be true but if it’s because they extend train lengths from 4 – 5pm (many are only 4 or 5 cars at this time) then that will not make up for severe cuts from 5:30 – 6:30pm, when most people are getting out of work and arriving at stations.

London Bridge commuters bear the brunt. People leaving from Charing Cross for the Greenwich line (past Charlton) have it less bad with three axed trains, and three that sail past London Bridge to Lewisham. This could well see some London Bridge commuters travel to Lewisham to change onto trains for stations on the Greenwich line past Charlton, or take a DLR back to Greenwich. This increases overcrowding possibilities on trains serving other lines from London Bridge to Lewisham. The three trains that avoid London Bridge are not at the busiest times though so I’m not sure the impact will be too great – they are at services which leave Charing Cross at 16:09, 16:39 and 18:57.

All this also raises the question of how will they be able to cope with disruption if less capacity? As I write this a major junction at Lewisham is unusable after the track split over two weeks ago. It is not due to be finished for another two weeks. Lots of services have been altered due to this, though not on the Greenwich line. In addition there is emergency work on the line to Hayes today. This leads to problems as trains are out of position across the entire network. The trains are timetabled to be used most efficiently, so for example one travels from Dartford to central London, then heads out from central London to Hayes, then back to central and then onto, say, Orpington. This means a problem in one area affects the entire network.

Now surely computer modelling has been carried out you may think. But last month on the other side of London Bridge, Southern services had to be quickly changed after a new timetable was adopted and things did not work out as planned. Those changes were for far less time, and on fewer services, than the southeastern side beginning in January.

New development

And one last thing to add to quite a gloomy post. Development along the line continues apace so is the modelling taking that into account sufficiently? Big developments are going up right now, or imminently, near pretty much every station – Dartford, Slade Green, Erith, Belvedere, Abbey Wood, Woolwich Arsenal, Woolwich Dockyard, Charlton, Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich and Deptford, further adding to the squeeze. I think Plumstead is the only station that isn’t seeing any nearby. Tying in with this and why long term action should’ve been taken to compliment short term measures, Greenwich borough is forecast to have the biggest population increase of any borough in London up to 2031 and the largest drop in local employment, meaning commuting will increase sharply.

The DLR may take a decent amount of additional capacity (though already quite full & the developments at Lewisham & Woolwich will only increase that) but just how much more can be accommodated there by say, 2016? It may be wise for commuters on the Greenwich line to be warned so they can plan changes and look at using the DLR more where possible. Long term changes may be needed. People could change their behaviour during the Olympics which was two weeks at the quietest time of the year. Three years is a whole different story. With this change occurring and know for years it would have made sense to sort out Woolwich Dockyard and adapt trains to cope the next few years.

The rebuilding plans at London Bridge are necessary and should be great when complete. The lack of forward planning is where criticism may have to be directed. on the bright side by 2018 Crossrail will be open and London bridge fully rebuilt. The next 3 years will be difficult and I’m not convinced sufficient action has been taken. On a related note, my next post will look at the many new developments around Greenwich now under contruction.

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Expected Southeastern train delays next year

It’s a little over two months now until major service changes begin for trains serving London Bridge station. Changes are scheduled to start on 22 December when trains to Charing Cross will be unable to stop at London Bridge in the morning rush hour. This becomes permanent at all times from January.

Southeastern have just begun releasing a magazine which reveals expected performance targets in April 2015 (page 17), and it shows a sharp drop from the levels previous to rebuilding beginning. This seems to indicate they expect a difficult start when service changes kick in. The Greenwich line between Deptford and Westcombe Park sees two morning peak services cut along with four evening peak services – almost 20%.  The rest of the Woolwich line has one train running from Charlton to Lewisham.

The targets are broken down for each line. The London to Gillingham via Charlton line has a target of just 74.9% in January which is down from 87.1% in December. This is the biggest drop, and curious as the service runs almost always off-peak and has a lot of padding already built into its timetable. It could be that they expect many people on the Greenwich line to specifically use it in addition to commuters from other lines changing at Lewisham, as passengers can no longer change at London Bridge for trains to Charing Cross, and also some taking the DLR from Greenwich to Lewisham for Charing Cross trains. Lewisham could well be a real pressure point.

London to Dartford via Woolwich Arsenal sees a drop from 88.9% to 81.9%. All lines can be seen below. The big drops only seem to impact lines to Dartford -

Southeastern Targets 2015

The performance targets pick up pretty quickly after January. At first I thought the large drops may in part be due to line closures, but I don’t think that counts, as performance stats only measure trains that are scheduled to run. If that’s the case it must be because a difficult beginning and transition period is predicted. There has also been no word on what sanctions will be taken against southeastern if they miss their targets.

One other thing to note is that existing stats are already quite unreliable and easy to manipulate. This is done by adding on excessive time at the end of journeys between the penultimate and last stop. The image below shows the excessive time added on from Barnehurst to Crayford which allows lateness to drop below 5 minutes. Under 5 minutes does not count as late in the stats.

CAN - CrayfordIt works the other way too. I’ve noticed over the years checking on phone apps that trains from London Bridge to Charing Cross are timetabled at 8 minutes most of the time, but some are given 10 minutes. The extra two minutes allows some to sneak in under 5 minutes late and show as on time on stats.

As for the promised 12 car trains running by January (already years late) there’s still no word on whether these will run. In addition there is still no confirmation passengers will be able to use the tube or bus to reach Charing Cross, London Bridge or Cannon Street when services are re-directed or unable to stop at London Bridge. This was supposed to be made public in early October.

An intruiging line in that link is this -

“After the Thameslink Programme is complete Plumstead, Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere and Erith will resume running to Charing Cross”

Presumably this means existing fast trains from Gillingham via Lewisham will stop at these stations in future instead of passing through as they do now. This will end fast trains on the line. As they call at Woolwich Dockyard this presumably means all trains on the line will do so in future, and as the station cannot take trains longer than 10 coaches then no trains on the line will be able to run with 12 coaches. This is despite millions being spent extending platforms to take them. Clarification is needed here.

I have suggested in the past moving Woolwich Dockyard station slightly west away from the cutting to open land where Morris Walk estate is. The estate is shortly to be demolished and rebuilt with a greater number of houses, and close by is land earmarked for mass house building in the Charlton masterplan. Funding could come from those developerments and 12 car running achieved.

EDIT : Just seen another particularly good example of southeastern stat manipulation. Giving themselves 10 minutes from Slade Green to Dartford. This takes about 3 minutes. Train arrives at the second to last stop late. Give timetable padding and then it arrives ‘on time’ at final stop. See below -

Woolwich - dartford

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Abbey Wood & Woolwich Crossrail development updates

Having not written for a couple of weeks I thought it’s about time I posted, so here’s a post on developments around the Crossrail stations at Abbey Wood and Woolwich.

Current lines to be moved to left

Current lines to be moved to left

Starting at Abbey Wood and construction at the station is progressing well. It looks like the temporary station will be opening this month, and then the current station will be demolished.

It’s a shame to see the current station, dating from 1987, go in some ways as it’s a good design with a bright and airy concourse, and a distinctive, steeply pitched roof. It’s impressive what British Rail managed to do in 1987 when they were operating on a shoe string budget. It does its job well and with a bit of panache with its striking roof. The station at Woolwich Arsenal, from a similar period, is another distinctive design built at a time when funding was a real challenge.

Having said that, Abbey Wood Crossrail station does look to be a good design, as part of a flagship project. It offers good interchange links with buses. My one concern is that it may be putting so much focus on arrivals from buses and the flyover above the station that it ignores people arriving by foot at street level from the main parade of shops to the south, or people coming from the north, of which there will be many more when Cross Quarter completes along with Peabody’s major scheme a few hundreds metres away. The renders show quite a lot of blank frontages and small entrances.

Temporary station taken 2 weeks ago

Temporary station taken 2 weeks ago

Many of Network Rail’s recent station building designs have been, at best, uninspiring despite being constructed at a time when funding is more plentiful than BR had to play with in their final years.

At many recent station developments, low quality materials, clumsy design and cheap modular parts are the order of the day. Dartford is a recent new build that isn’t befitting such a major station with a cheap, chunky and bloated grey canopy.


The Cross Quarter development close to the station has broken ground, as seen above. The Sainsbury’s is supposed to open by next summer so I expect rapid progression. The road in front will be altered soon and moved closer to the flyover.

Away from there and the streets and public areas in Abbey Wood are still in a terrible, neglected state all over the place. They’re an embarrassment for Greenwich Council and residents. Railings, walls, fences etc are all in a poor state. The council and the leaders may bang on about Crossrail and public realm improvements by the station as a fix-all panacea for Abbey Wood, but the problems go far further than 100 metres either side of the station which is the extent of any improvements planned. The thing is, it wouldn’t even take much money or effort to fix the public realm across the area and there’s money coming in from large scale developments to do it. It just needs the council to actually bother and show some interest. It’s not an exaggeration to say nothing’s been done for 20 years. It feels completely abandoned. I have severe doubts they realise the gift they’ve been given with Crossrail and will not take maximum advantage. Not that it should take a massive project for areas to be maintained and improved.


Moving onto Woolwich and some of the towers above the Woolwich Crossrail box have seen their balconies attached. I find them quite clumsy with the buildings looking far more elegant before they were added. Using a brick effect on them does the building no favours. The concrete core of the building next door has topped out at 20 floors.


Nearby is Stage 5 of the Arsenal development, which is well under construction. This was taken a couple of weeks ago during the tall ships festival -


It follows the same template of most other phases of the Arsenal. Nothing amazing but looks to be of decent quality. Here’s a render of the finished building -

Arsenal Phase 5

Finally, there is the art deco former co-op department store which mercifully was spared demolition due to the economic downturn. It’s now being converted to flats. It’s hard to get any kind of decent shot of the front looking from the street as it’s covered in sheeting so here’s a distance shot which shows how the building is being raised in height.


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Extending London Overground to Thamesmead from Barking?

Transport for London have just begun consultation on plans to extend the London Overground line from Gospel Oak to Barking onwards to Barking Riverside. This would see the line terminate just over the Thames from Thamesmead. George Osbourne signaled his support in the budget back in the spring. The extension can be seen on the dotted orange line below, where it extends from Barking to the north bank of the river.

GOB Map Serious consideration should be given to further extension over the Thames to finally give Thamesmead the station badly needed for years. The regeneration potential it offers is huge. In addition, the greatly expanded transport choices presented would not only benefit Thamesmead, but also the wider area by providing direct links between major transport interchanges north and south of the river.

South of the Thames there would be connections at Abbey Wood with Crossrail and the North Kent Line. An extended LO line heading north to Barking would meet the District Line, Hammersmith & City line, and c2c trains. The c2c line heads west through East London to Fenchurch Street and east to give fast links to Essex. Places like Southend, for example, with its quickly growing airport is just 39 minutes away. The London Overground also offers numerous destinations in East & North London. Abbey Wood to Barking is not far as the crow flies, and the trip between the two would be speedy.

Barking & Dagenham Council Support

An extension across the river is publicly supported by Barking & Dagenham Council. Leader Darren Rodwell has called for an extension to head south from his borough to meet Abbey Wood in Greenwich, offering an interchange with Crossrail as early as 2018.

“I’m confident it will happen,” he said. “We want to link in with Crossrail at the top and the bottom of the borough as well so I hope George Osborne will say something nice to us in autumn.”

“Both the Mayor and the borough are very positive so hopefully if you’ve you got the two elements that really want it, we’ll get a positive outcome.”

Correct me if I’m wrong but I’ve never heard the leadership of Greenwich or Bexley Council publicly calling for this, despite the huge benefits it would bring. It’s not an understatement to say it has the potential to radically change Thamesmead and the perceptions people have of it. The leader of Barking & Dagenham is being smart by getting the Mayor on board, who can exert public pressure. It may not work but what’s the harm in trying? It would be good to see such action from those south of the river. In the little kingdoms of Greenwich and Bexley it seems anathema to form wider campaigns. MPs have been quiet too. There seems to be a real chance here so just why are the various local politicians not grasping it? If the leaders of Greenwich and Bexley joined with the leader of Barking and very publicly called for it, alongside Boris, it may help the chances of approval at TfL and the Department for Transport.

The need for a station

Whilst South Thamesmead is close to the forthcoming Crossrail station at Abbey Wood, it is a different story for North Thamesmead. It’s cut off from Crossrail at Abbey Wood by a dual carriageway, terrible walking and cycling routes, and a major sewer bank running above ground from Plumstead to the sewage works at Crossness. It also has a fair amount of land that can be developed for much needed housing to help with financing any extension, as well as further strengthen future demand and the extensions business case.

LO map 2A tempting option for an extension would be to follow the dual carriageways of Thamesmead to Abbey Wood after rising from a deep tunnel under the Thames. The line in black shown above is the proposed extension as TfL propose. The line in red offers one possibility south of the river. A future north Thamesmead station could have substantial over-station development to help fund construction costs, alongside developments in close proximity which would bring in additional funding.

A line that did run below ground could be constructed using cut and cover tunnels, which is cheaper to construct than deep level lines. An alternative is to run above ground on viaducts following the dual carriageways for much of its route. This method would however be tricky when it reaches the elevated sewer bank and road bridges.

Thamesmead Dual carriagewayUnlike much of the rest of London, Thamesmead has plenty of spare land which would help lower the cost of construction. The road network is rarely busy, as it was built for a population that has still yet to be reached – mainly due to a lack of infrastructure. As such there are roads like Carlyle Road above. During construction one half of the road could be closed, the other made two-way to minimise disruption, and a tunnel dug below, tracks laid and then covered over using the cut and cover method before the other side of the road reopens.

There’s many run down areas in North Thamesmead that could see both redevelopment and greater housing density, and a new rail line would enhance that potential.

station location

The final stretch south to Abbey Wood, past the road bridges, dual carriageways and sewer bank, again has plentiful land to construct a cut and cover tunnel whilst allowing the road to remain open throughout.

Harrow Manorway

Travel options from much of Thamesmead would switch from slow, meandering buses to a five minute dash on the Overground to Crossrail and the North Kent line at Abbey Wood. Heading north it would take 10 minutes to get to the many options at Barking.

Due to some laissez faire 1980s and 1990s planning, much of north Thamesmead is a bit of a mess of various cul-de-sacs, dead ends, and winding roads which can make using local buses a bit of a crawl. The town also lacks any sort of heart. The 1980s town centre was a decent effort that utlisised the canal running through, with a small parade of shops around, a pub, and a supermarket that integrated with the smaller shops and square. This was one of the very few examples of utilising the canals and lakes that run across much of Thamesmead.

Subsequent expansion of that area was along the lines of the out-of-town retail barn method. Massive car parks, drive-thru Mcdonalds and huge, soulless retails sheds. The whole place is extremely uninspiring and completely ignores the lake next to the site. The entrance to Safeway (now Morrisons) was located far away from the old centre. As such the formative attempts at creating a heart stalled and then declined. Those in charge also didn’t help with symbolic moves such as concreting over a water feature which saw water cascading down to the canal below.

How to fund?

Thamesmead needs a centre, and London needs many new homes. A new station at North Thamesmead station could greatly help with both. A large-scale, mixed-used development above and around a new station would directly help with the costs of extension. Wider developments spurred on by the scheme would bring in further funds. There could be provision for a large amount of retail and public uses at street level. Thamesmead lacks a lot of things most towns take for granted – cinemas, bars, pubs, restaurants, various retailers, banks etc. They could be provided in just such a development around a new station.

In terms of wider developments away from the station site, there is undeveloped sites such as Tripcock Point which has long stalled plans for up to 3500 homes. There’s also some poorly designed estates that could benefit from alterations or rebuilding. The last stage built from the original Thamesmead masterplan was the Moorings estate. It is far more basic in design than earlier stages due to cost cutting, and lacks much architectural value. The later stages also use land inefficiently with things like excessive on-street parking. Redevelopment plans should include these areas. The shot below shows a shopping parade in this area and close to the dual carriageway seen above. Not great is it, but with a station nearby the potential is obvious.

Shopping centre

If redeveloped it could offer far more – new housing, more retail, better public areas, and the canal made into a feature to be enjoyed. It seems a tall order now, but with fast links to many forms of transport this could sustain a comprehensive development and greater housing density.

Previous Plans

Many schemes have been proposed for river crossings at Thamesmead and associated schemes over at least 50 years. There were plans for the Jubilee Line to terminate at Thamesmead with an extension from Charing Cross in the 1960s & ’70s. It didn’t open until 1999 and the terminal ended up at Stratford.

Masterplans for the original Thamesmead development also showed a road tunnel crossing the Thames. By the 1980s and early 1990s this had become a road bridge. This plan was abandoned after heavy opposition as it would have passed through Oxleas Woods.

After cancellation the plans for a Thames Gateway Bridge arose. Various public transport options were mooted. The Greenwich Waterfront Transit line from Abbey Wood to North Greenwich via Thamesmead which would have met another route which crossed the river on the Thames Gateway Bridge. Downgrades eventually led to glorified bus routes that had as many downsides as benefits, before the whole thing was scrapped along with the bridge plans in 2009.

Best option?

With new plans for a bridge at Thamesmead in limbo, and little action looking likely soon, this could well be the most plausible scenario for Thamesmead to get its long awaited and much needed railway line. Greenwich Council belatedly supported the call to re-zone Woolwich Arsenal from zone 3 to zone 2/3. Yet has done nothing to push a London Overground extension over the Thames to aid the deprived north of the borough. It’s the same with Bexley Council. Not even a public push for a feasibility study. There’s quite a few reasons that SE London probably has the worst public transport in London, and the reticence of local politicians is a big part of it.

Thamesmead needs a big boost and a river crossing would give it that. London also has a huge housing crises. Thamesmead can provide thousands of new homes but it needs the infrastructure to do it. A enhanced bus route or two is never going to be enough. Alternative options such as the DLR from Beckton to Thamesmead are likely to take far longer and offer much more limited connections north of the Thames, and be worse for those living north of the river too.

The public consultation is available by clicking here


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Poor Woolwich suffers again

Woolwich Tesco side 5Tesco’s much derided Woolwich Central development has been awarded the title of  Carbuncle of the Year. The unfortunate lump beat off some stiff competition to claim the trophy from architectural magazine Building Design. It is the second time in three years that a building in Greenwich borough has won – the previous being the iffy Cutty Sark refurbishment and glass bulge it developed at its base. This have given the poor place another avalanche of bad publicity across the national media.

Bath uniTo be fair I don’t actually think it should have won. The shortlist had some buildings that appeared even more dire, such as the Bath University building as seen on the left. Stratford’s new student tower does much to damage its regeneration. Trinity Square in Gateshead, another Tesco (current profits of £2.6 billion a year) development, is dire with the cheapest possible materials. The housing blocks above the shops are a real lowlight of anything thats gone up nationwide in many years, and worse than the blocks above the retail part of Woolwich. It’s an incohesive, disjointed blotch on the area going by the photos.

However, I’m only going by photographs (though they’re damning of the other schemes). Photographs aren’t always the best indicator , particularly of scale and context. And that is one major failing of the Tesco development, labelled “oppressive, defensive, arrogant and inept” by judges. It’s ok from the front, but the side is a horror show of cheap trespa cladding (the stuff that looks like plastic).

Just what you need to improve a blighted town

Just what you need to improve a blighted town

Not content with such cheap cladding, the architects (or perhaps cost-cutters tasked with aiding the project) then choose to clad much of the side in a dreary shade of grey. Windows are barely visible. Perhaps this utter mess on the side is an attempt to hide a paucity of windows, and natural light for the inhabitants. Pretty much everything on the side of the building is abysmal. The relationship with the street is woeful. Tesco had promised in 2007 this would have an active frontage. Shops were included in earlier plans but dropped. Replaced with, well, nothing. The street frontage is dead.



The doors leading to the housing units look like they’d be more at home on a cell at Belmarsh than on a major town centre scheme intended to regenerate a town in desperate need. Directly over the road is Pugin’s St Peter’s Church which deserves better than to face this.

According to a great post from former Greenwich Councilor Alex Grant, chair of the Planning Board when the building was given permission, many alterations were made post-planning approval. But even the original proposals would’ve stunk out the place. Where were the Greenwich council officials before it got to that stage? The process of discussion with developers at preliminary stages need big improvements.

So what’s positive? Well, the front isn’t too bad with curtain wall glazing. The giant Tesco logo ‘every little helps’ is tacky though. I’m surprised they went with it – it doesn’t make them look good. It’s more in keeping with the branding of the now defunct Kwik Save. The green space outside is nice and the building works well with General Gordon square. There’s a nice feeling of spaciousness. In a place that’s overcrowded like Woolwich, that is appreciated. People are seen enjoying the space below

Woolwich tesco front grassBut even that is a lucky break. The square was originally to have a tower. One that looked atrocious. It appeared to feature grey, plastic like cladding with narrow horizontal bands of windows. It was far from elegant or graceful. Also, notice how the dreary shades on the side of what was built appeared a light shade in this rendering – similar to the tower. If the tower went ahead at the same time it may well have had a similar colour scheme. To my mind, if it had gone up then the development would have risen above other contenders like the terrible Bath Uni building and won hands down. They could have given the award to it for the next 5 years too as not much would risk displacing it.

Original proposal

Original proposal

The Tower replaced a Victorian Post Office building. The blog post by former Councillor Alex Grant contains a pretty damning paragraph -

“In practice, most members of the planning board were very relaxed about the demolition of the Post Office and the promise of an “iconic” tall building in its place, and outline planning consent was granted in January 2007 with no councillors voting against. I had tried to argue for its retention, but the prospect of a tall building in place of the Post Office was actively welcomed: “Build it high and build it quick” was the verdict of one of my Labour colleagues.”

Build it high and build it quick. Sod the design quality. Do it fast and hope for the best. Sums up the council in recent decades when it comes to architecture, public realm and street design. Even good schemes like General Gordon Square facing Tesco wasn’t funded or designed by Greenwich council.

Some Councillors seem to shrug off local criticism of developments and the widespread terrible public realm seen in most of the borough. The fact the borough is regularly getting a pasting in national media should wake them up to the fact the issues are real. When local people and visitors say how poor some new developments are, along with terrible public realm (new and existing), it’s coming from people who visit other parts of the country and see just how unfavourably much of Greenwich borough compares, away from Greenwich town centre.

This approach that Councillors take to design quality is shown below, which refers to an earlier tower proposal to the one above -

“In 2006 CABE said that this tower “would not meet these test of CABE/English Heritage guidance” and that the council should not give it planning consent without more detail: in other words it was simply not good enough. CABE added that the “local authority cannot afford to consent a tall building that is not of the highest quality. It would be better not to have a tall building on the this site than one that does not represent the renewal of Woolwich”: advice that the council did not follow when it approved outline plans for the tower in January 2007.”

Fortunately Tesco didn’t proceed with either tower proposal but the possibility remains. It’s prime land and they may not leave it as a nice green area for too long. The curious thing about the image above is that the entrance to the store looks to be hidden. Wedged behind that turd of a tower. But what’s next to it – a translucent box where an attractive parade of buildings now stands. The buildings are in great condition, unlike many other wonderful buildings in Woolwich. But don’t think that makes them safe. They could go, and an entrance to the superstore created where they stand.

How long will these survive?

How long will these survive?

That is a wonderful parade of buildings. Beautiful ground floor frontages too and an insight of Woolwich as it was. But this is Greenwich Council after all. They have permitted demolition of things like this many times before. They just don’t seem to value the many assets Woolwich has. They were happy to see the art deco co-op demolished before the credit crunch reprieved it. That building was ‘beyond saving’ and structurally unsound apparently. Now it’s being refurbished to become flats. The latest is the former cinema next to the town hall, recently the Woolwich Grand, for which demolition was recently approved. An austere building, it would look great with some art deco signage to remind of its former use, as the current users intended.

Greenwich Council approved for demolition

Greenwich Council approved for demolition

So Woolwich now has a new blot on its landscape. Yet there appears to be no improvement to the town centre. Marks & Spencer have recently announced they are leaving after many decades and departing their handsome and under-appreciated building in the town centre. What will happen to that now, and all its original features and detailing? Greenwich clearly find the departure of M&S from Woolwich embarrassing, and are pushing the laughable line that Woolwich may get an M&S food store at some future point in time, to make up for it, which just smacks of desperation. So might every other town in London at some indeterminate point in time. It means nothing now.

M&S were one of the last quality retailers to remain (albeit in a outlet store) and are also opening in a retail warehouse in Charlton, which is a factor in this. They are moving to an out-of-town retail park in an inner city location, and away from the major town centre in the borough. Another planning failure by the council is encouraging that part of Charlton to remain as a suburban retail landscape of giant retail sheds and swaths of tarmac, and indeed expand. An incredible waste of land when London has the fastest population growth in a hundred years alongside the lowest number of homes built for decades. Greenwich is projected to have the fastest population growth in London too.

A fundamental reappraisal of that part of Charlton is needed long term, with greater housing levels to meet the desperate need. This should be done with mixed-use developments and attempts to create something akin to a high street by the large retail units, which retailers will not simply abandon given it is an efficient use of space. This will not be at all easy, and will take many years, but is needed. Woolwich has declined to such an extent that preventing M&S leaving is tough, but it wouldn’t be so bad if they were at least moving to a development that provided more than just large car parks and single storey units.

But even if any Charlton development was mixed use, the council may just permit another blight on the landscape for future award nominations. At this rate, Greenwich are winning the award so much they might be given a life time achievement soon.

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New Lewisham Developments – Part 2

Following on from my recent post looking at the big developments now going up in Lewisham, here is part two. These are generally smaller in scale, with most now under construction.

Riverdale House


This is Riverdale House from Galliard Homes, which will contain 137 flats. Completion is scheduled to be in Autumn 2015. It is just off Molesworth Street, next to the Ravensbourne river and opposite Lewisham shopping centre. It’s a refurbishment of an interesting office block dating from 1980-81. The plans seem to retain details from that era, such as the same type of brick extending from the main building to the front wall, staircase, and slope from street to wall. It’s good to see these kept.

52-54 Thurston Road


Thurston RoadFamily Mosaic are behind this development, on an awkward site between two converging rail lines. It appears very budget. Small square windows and grey panels on walkways, as just about seen above through a train window. Just because it’s facing a rail line doesn’t necessitate such small windows and poor detailing. It doesn’t look too promising at all sadly.

There will be 62 DSCF4163units in total. Above left is a render showing the frontage facing Thurston Road. It’s not much better than the rear, and if the quality of materials in evidence on the section facing the railway line are replicated at the front this will be one ugly development.

Sherwood Court

Sherwood court

This proposal is directly next to the development above, and opposite Thurston Central. It’s decent for student accommodation (damning with faint praise I know), though the dark brick may appear a bit gloomy and overbearing. The stripes of yellow are intended to relieve this. The proportions are good, and the double height street frontage is welcome. Many have complained of lack of amenities for all the new builds. Those ground floor units look like they could accommodate some shops, pubs, bars etc, and with this being student housing it may be easier to get late licenses at the end away from the social housing block and next to the new bus stand. A decent place shouldn’t struggle for custom.

142 student housing units are planned with 410 bed spaces in total. Unlike the others, this has not yet commenced.

Premier Inn Hotel

premier inn lewisham

This is a 60 room hotel located on a small site by the (soon to be removed) roundabout outside the station, and is next to the railway line from Blackheath. It is almost complete.

All these new developments close to the station will not only result in more rail capacity needed for additional commuters, but also an eventual rebuilding of Lewisham station. There have been suggestions for many years that rebuilding Lewisham station is needed, but the complexity of the job seems to bring a shudder to Network Rail, both in terms of cost and also the difficulty in carrying out the work. With more and more development around the station, large scale rebuilding is increasinly difficult. Perhaps the proposed Bakerloo line extension from Elephant & Castle will be the trigger to finally get the ball rolling.

One possible way to help finance maybe over-site development. Is there scope for a tall development where the DLR’s blue shed roof is? TfL are short of cash and have made noises about over-site developments to gain revenue, either by selling the land or building themselves and then letting out. This is common in many countries but the UK has been slow to adopt it.

In the short term an entrance to the north facing Tesco is a must. Currently people entering or exiting the station and heading north are forced on a lengthy detour. There was an exit to the north but this was closed recently under spurious safety reasons. A petition has recently been set up to reopen this gate and provide an easier exit. It would also divide entrants and exits to the station and move some users away from the main entrance. This would lessen congestion, which will become more evident as additional commuters use the main entrance, coming from new developments to the south.

No doubt Southeastern do not want to open the gate as they fear losing revenue, which is fair enough. So the obvious solution is to have a staffed entrance and exit with barriers. If they deem that to be too expensive it could be a gate line observed by CCTV. This happens on quite a few London Overground stations since they took over Southern stations. Perhaps this kind of proactive approach will only ever come about if and when TfL take over southeastern’s metro routes.

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Crossrail & London Bridge Rebuild

Crossrail work continues this weekend between Abbey Wood and Woolwich with another closure of the line from Plumstead to Dartford, with dozens of workers on the line. One reason for the closure is that the east bound track between Plumstead and Abbey Wood has been re-positioned to the south by a metre or two. It now follows the re-aligned London bound track, which was moved a month or two back. It’s not too easy to make out below in this phone picon my clapped out mobile, which doesn’t have a decent zoom.

Crossrail track & bridge work

Crossrail track & bridge work

In the foreground the foundations have been laid for the replacement footbridge. Another footbridge around half a mile closer to Plumstead at Church Manorway has had its main span installed, after work had to be halted on a previous weekend closure.

It’s just behind the bridge foundation that the tracks curve to the left. This is to allow space to install two Crossrail tracks to the right. Other big jobs coming up are to build the temporary station at Abbey Wood and then demolish the existing buildings. There’s also some houses to demolish around Abbey Wood station including the two closest to the platforms seen below

Abbey Wood houses demolitionThe houses have been completely gutted since this image was taken and the road fenced off. Demolition looks to be very imminent.

Another big infrastructure project in London currently in full swing is Thameslink. At London Bridge station major work has been taking place over the past week on completing platform building. This has resulted in a complete closure of the station for all trains on the side of the station served by Southern. This is a precursor to platform closures on the Southeastern and First Capital Connect platforms.

It’s impressive just how much has been achieved during the closure. Passing by the site on the train shows a mammoth amount of work going on, with a huge amount of workers involved in installing new bridges, tracks, station platforms and buildings.

DSCF4237DSCF4238Work on these particular schemes should be complete tonight and the lines reopen tomorrow.

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