Southeastern announce awaited service changes

With upheaval across the Southeastern network from January due to London Bridge rebuilding, and large capacity cuts on the Greenwich line, passengers have been waiting to see what changes would be enacted after the changes were given time to bed in. A couple of months have now passed, with many complaints arising in particular of overcrowding being worse on Cannon Street trains rather than those heading to Charing Cross. Changes have just been announced on various services, and you can see what the proposed changes are here.

Most of the alterations centre around services arriving at ‘shoulder-peak’ times. That is just before or after the busiest times, which generally are those services arriving into central London from 07:30 to 09:00 and returning from 17:00 to 18:30. Some big improvements that are occurring at the busiest times are the 17:43 Cannon Street to Barnehurst via Sidcup, which increases from 8 to 10 carriages meaning a 26% capacity rise, and the 06:54 from Strood to Cannon Street via Greenwich which goes from 6 to 8 carriages – a 32% increase.

For every increase comes a cut

However, with Southeastern short of stock and no plans to fix that before December 2017 under the current plans, for every winner there is a loser with many services seeing lengths reduced. Assuming measurement of passengers is correct this should hopefully not see too many inconvenienced. One thing to note though is that some HS1 services were altered last month to better spread capacity after some services were cut from 12 to 6 in January. Many complaints then ensued of standing for long distances and overcrowding, so one service was changed back to 12 carriages. With no slack in the fleet, this meant another 12 car had to become 6. Cue many complaints then arising on that service of overcrowding.

This all means that Southeastern can tinkle around with their fleet for now and buy a bit of time but ultimately they are restricted by a lack of trains. A lack of spare trains also sees many services shortened due to train faults and a lack of substitutes. Only the government through the Department for Transport and the Treasury can fix that by ensuring the franchise gets more trains. Last week they announced the bidding terms for the next Northern Rail franchise. In it they specify almost everything, which shows who calls the shots. This includes many new trains which the DfT have specified, after much lobbying from Northern MPs and business.

The cuts services include some on the Woolwich line leaving central London before 5pm so before the time many get out of work. This shouldn’t be a big problem. They are:

  • 16.34 London Cannon Street to Dartford – 10 becomes 8 and a 19% cut
  • 16.39 London Charing Cross to Gillingham – 10 becomes 8 and a 19% cut
  • 16.54 London Cannon Street to Dartford – stays at 8. Small 2% cut.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these services were only initially lengthened so SE could state that capacity was maintained during the official evening peak time period of 4-7 pm through Woolwich, and to disguise the fact that capacity from 17:30 to 18:30 on the line has taken a big hit. Having those increases before 5 pm helped balance out capacity provided across the entire 4-7 pm period. Of course there is no need for such lengths before 5 pm and they are being reduced. What is needed is 12 carriages from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm where the cuts occurred, and nothing is happening there.

One last thing – Southeastern are one of the last London area franchises that is being lined up to see additional stock, but there was glimmer of hope with 25 extra train units planned to be swapped over from Southern in December 2017. It may now be the case that the DfT will order Southeastern to give up 20 trains to East Midland Trains at the same time. Just a net increase of five trains in almost three years? That’s not good enough.

One reason for this reluctance to provide more could be Southeastern’s relatively higher subsidy levels, in part due to the high fees they must pay Network Rail to use the newly built High Speed line from St Pancras through Stratford, which doesn’t benefit SE London at all. With so many new developments opening in 2015 and 2016 alongside continuing high population growth, five extra units so far in the future will just not cut it.

The changes come into effect from Monday 8th March.

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New ‘housing zones’ announced – 3000 more homes coming soon

Mayor Boris Johnson and Chancellor George Osbourne recently announced nine new housing zones in London, designed to greatly speed up new housing. Of the nine announced, three are in SE London. One of these is designed to push forward the long stalled Surrey Canal triangle site by Millwall’s New Den ground. This will allow a new London Overground station, named ‘New Bermondsey’, to be built there. Passive provision was made when the line was created between Surrey Quays and Queen’s Road Peckham station. Station construction could begin before the end of the year.

The other two housing zones are Bexley’s bid for 1300 new homes, initially, at South Thamesmead and Abbey Wood. Peabody have already raised £200m for redevelopment and designs are being drawn up. Greenwich’s bid is for 1512 new homes (again, initially) at Abbey Wood, Thamesmead and Plumstead. The eventual total could be 14000 across the two boroughs. Abbey Wood Crossrail station is a big catalyst for this. This week one of the more visible parts of the work took place – removing the old walkways to the south of the station. Here’s some pics:

Abbey Wood station walkway demolition

The station building on the left probably has a few weeks left at most. The walkways can be seen below. Not many people will mourn their passing in the long term. In the short term it means some lengthy detours.

Abbey Wood walkways Wilton Road

One of the positives to be taken in the brief amount of information released was the mention of better public realm across Abbey Wood, Thamesmead and Plumstead, and it really does bloody need it. A lack of care, effort and focus on these areas has led to many neglected areas. The area in the image above is in line for an upgrade, but only for a few metres from the station entrance here. The £6 million to be spent on public realm improvements around the station is mainly going towards providing better entrances for people arriving from Thamesmead by bus (the bridge area above) or on foot from south Thamesmead rather than people in Abbey Wood. It matches a recent pattern of much investment in Thamesmead and little for Abbey Wood. The area shown below is NOT covered by Crossrail public realm works, which is madness.

Many years waiting for improvments, and still no guarantee

Many years waiting for improvements, and still no guarantee

The main parade of shops has no guaranteed funding despite being the main shopping area for the town and passed by many tourists staying at the holiday camp five minutes away. Many living in Abbey Wood pass this area to reach the station. Greenwich council have recently applied for 300k for the parade of shops, though it’s not confirmed. And that money will only go on shop fronts, not the poor paving and lighting. It’s not hard to envisage far better here – newer paving (outside seating in a few years with decent pubs & places to eat?), improved lighting and perhaps some trees and a cycle lane. The paving is wide enough for it.


The usual parking problems around the station can be seen above, which Greenwich council never seem to act upon. It’s normally much worse on the other side by the new Sainsbury’s and Cross Quarter building sites, where much parking is moronic, selfish and dangerous on narrowed roads due to construction work. No wardens are ever seen as cars are left all day. Bexley council, on the other hand, are ridiculously over the top and sneaky. A middle way would be nice. Behind where that shot was taken is an off-putting alleyway approaching the station.

BT exchange on left. former bus garage to right

BT exchange on left. Former bus garage to right

When trying to work out where the 1,512 new homes on the Greenwich borough side will go (44% of which would affordable) I thought of the BT exchange to the left in the photo above. Greenwich council’s bid mentions working in partnership with Peabody Homes. Peabody have been working with Bexley council since they took over Gallions Homes, but have limited connection with areas in Greenwich council, at least in Abbey Wood and Plumstead. However, it is believed they have purchased the pub directly next to Abbey Wood station, and it includes a sizable beer garden behind. Behind that is the large BT site. A combined site could accommodate many new homes, and a tower looks more than possible on some parts of the site. Greenwich’s planning documents designate it as an area for tall buildings.

Pub site in blue. BT exchange in red

Pub site in blue. BT exchange in red

Even if the BT site is not part of the plans (though surely that land is now VERY valuable) the pub site is sizable. It would also hopefully open up the alleyway to the south.

Abbey Arms next to Abbey Wood station

Abbey Arms next to Abbey Wood station. Future tower here?

One issue has always been the division between the boroughs. If both have Peabody on board that will help. A new Abbey Wood library is being built at Cross Quarter. There’s no word on the fate of the existing library in the VERY neglected Abbey Wood estate. A five minute walk away from the new Abbey Wood library, yet in a different borough, Gallions planned a new library. Not the smartest cross-borough planning.

With Peabody on board now I’m more optimistic. They value decent architecture, as this Guardian article shows. Gallions built some utter rubbish. Unbelievably poor stuff. However, I wish Peabody would keep people a bit more in the loop. Some early ideas were supposed to have been revealed last autumn but so far nothing. Demolition came to a sudden halt, and 18 months later the rump of Tavy Bridge and concrete footbridge remains, in a state of limbo.

Demolition halted when 90% complete. Nothing happened since.

Demolition halted when 90% complete. Nothing’s happened since.

With this new announcement hopefully some actual plans are shown very soon. There’s a ‘Future of London’ summit in early March which Peabody will be attending to talk about Thamesmead. Will plans be publicly released then?

The importance of Harrow Manorway

Running between Greenwich and Bexley boroughs is Harrow Manorway. The northern bit is seen above, looking like a motorway, though at least there’s never hold-ups to buses here due to the road width. The announcement reveals that:

“Harrow Manor Way will be changed to a tree lined boulevard with cycleways, new pedestrian routes and a significant enhancement of the street scene, along with improved East / West links”.

Seen below is the southern part of Harrow Manorway on the approach to Abbey Wood station, where it becomes single lane in each direction:

Main route from Thamesmead.

Main route from Thamesmead to Abbey Wood station.

I’ve long argued this improving this road is crucial for wider improvements. As the road is already quite wide it wouldn’t take much to increase the width to install bus lanes, and there’s more than enough space to do this with the grass verges alongside, as well fas or cycle lanes which looks to be happening. Widening does NOT mean you have to install guardrail, wide central reservations and many other dated urban design principles more akin to motorways. As for cycle lanes, hopefully the earlier lane plans have been ditched, which looked to force cyclists down backstreets in Thamesmead’s Tavy Bridge estate and included more busy road crossings than a direct, faster, safer segregated lane directly along this road. I wrote about the cycle lane plans here 18 months ago which shows how slowly things move.

Without alterations to this road, the only link from Thamesmead to Abbey Wood station, buses will be hitting queues brought about by cars entering the forthcoming Sainsbury’s (on the right of the road in the image above), hundreds of new houses beside it plus thousands in the Peabody redevelopment of Tavy Bridge. Add in a new roundabout (work starts next month) and extra traffic lights to be installed and congestion will increase. That’s not even mentioning any extra developments the new housing zones bring forward. The new Sainsbury’s already looks like it will limit the ability to widen the road without more costly engineering work. Though without such work Thamesmead residents could find 20 minutes shaved off train journeys by Crossrail but 20 minutes added to bus trips as much traffic is funneled down single lanes.

London Overground extension

Barking is another of the nine housing zones, and thousands more jobs are planned there. Another reason to connect Abbey Wood with it through an London Overground extension via Thamesmead. A future London Overground link could be built under Harrow Manorway in a cut and cover tunnel given the large expanse of space. The more house building there is, the more expensive and difficult this become without safeguarding.

With 14k extra homes to the south of the Thames the rationale only increases for a new rail line. LO is a far better option than the DLR to Beckton, which would offer far less journey options than Barking, which has District & H&C tube lines, very frequent and fast c2c trains to Essex and central/east London & London Overground to various east, north and west London areas. The DLR at Beckton just heads west, slowly, through quiet housing suburbs to Canning Town, where the DLR from Woolwich already goes, and Crossrail from Abbey Wood will head to nearby Custom House. Beckton to Abbey Wood offers far more not only to locals but easy links for Essex and Kent passengers heading towards London, who can cross the Thames quickly to various other London locations by-passing busier inner London stations.

If housing does line this road, which looks very likely, then retail & commercial space at street level could link Sainsbury’s, the new hotel and library by Abbey Wood station with shops at the new Tavy Bridge. With thousands more homes there would be the demand.

There’s a ton of other questions that these announcements raise, and I’ll be focusing on them in the near future. There are many potential positives to be seen, and I’m glad to see Greenwich council publicly acknowledging the need for big improvements in public spaces, streets, parks etc. Many other councils have stated this firmly when receiving money from the Mayor in the past, whilst Greenwich council have been quiet. Look at previous years LIP funding plans and documents.

Things look better since the change of leader last May. Now we need to see some more badly needed action. Start with the small, easy and cheap things that can be done quickly. There’s enough of them all over Abbey Wood, Thamesmead and Plumstead. Alongside that, continue the work on more extensive and bigger schemes. It shouldn’t be either/or. With all this, I’m optimistic things are finally looking up for this much maligned and neglected area.

Posted in Abbey Wood, Plumstead, Thamesmead, Transport, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

More giant retail sheds for Charlton coming soon (and it’s not Ikea)

The controversial demolition of Sainsbury’s supermarket on Greenwich Peninsula, to be replaced by Ikea, is not the only large superstore coming to the area. Just a couple of hundred metres away lies Brocklebank industrial estate. Greenwich council have just approved demolition and the site will be combined with land next door, which formerly housed a Matalan, to become yet another large out-of-town style retail park.

Six new single storey units coming to Charlton, plus acres of tarmac. Wasted land

Six new single storey units coming to Charlton, plus acres of tarmac.

A recently built Wickes store was the first stage. Retailers listed for the next stage are Aldi along with pre-lets exchanged with Next, Primark and HomeSense. That leaves two units to fill.

Charlton aerial map

The sites circled in orange and blue above are to be combined and joined with Wickes, circled in red. Acres of car parking are of course also planned.

This whole thing seems ridiculous. Firstly, there is the demolition of 16 small industrial units which provide work for many. This has been been covered in the local press, and understandably small businesses on the estate were not happy. Greenwich council sold the land to LXB Retail Properties in June 2013. LXB are also the developers behind the giant new Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer being built to the south east of this site (circled in yellow above). Business owners complained the site was sold before any other suitable sites were found for them. For those who had spent years building up trade, in large part based on the location, this is a big blow.

Aside from that, just why is the outdated 1980s thinking of out-of-town retail parks in inner cities still persisting, aided by Greenwich council? They are pretty miserable to visit unless in a car, and traffic is already terrible around there. Add in this site, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer AND Ikea and it will be gridlock. Then there’s the damage to established town centres. On the one hand Greenwich council are trying to prop up Woolwich (without much success as M&S leave and open up a retail barn in Charlton) and on the other seem happy to continue expanding these giant sites which are a huge under-utilisation of land.

Inner cities are not the place for these sites. There’s a strong argument they shouldn’t be permitted anywhere, but certainly not near central London. Greenwich council commissioned a masterplan for Charlton and were happy for the whole area to remain as retail, which means giant superstores and swaths of tarmac. Why not be ambitious and push mixed-use alongside protecting remaining industry where it is thriving? The Sainsbury’s and M&S stores should’ve have substantial housing above. The car park alongside should’ve been multi-storey with land freed up and used more productively. The planning system does not make it easy for councils, and resisting large stores would be tough, but at least use the cards you have to aim for better.

With a dire need for housing, and London’s population increasing quickly to its highest ever level two weeks ago, this short term thinking is nonsensical. The population of Greenwich has risen 11% since the last census in 2011. News just out also shows the pathetic levels of house building in England, with starts dropping 10% in the last quarter of 2014 compared to 2013, which was already a dire year for house building. The country is now building at levels last seen 100 years ago.

London isn’t doing as badly but a large number of new-builds are being sold abroad to investors and left unoccupied, with many not having to pay additional tax to mitigate the effects and generate cash for more house building. In many other developed nations overseas buyers pay higher levels of tax. The UK only applies higher stamp duty towards overseas buyers on very expensive housing.

There’s clearly a huge need for housing and this proposal is just wrong on a range of levels, along with so many developments in Charlton. The Charlton masterplan is already being altered elsewhere, and there are some promising signs that small scale housing could be built on the zone designated for retail only, but it’s a drop in the ocean. It may be only three years old but perhaps its time to rip it up, start again, and permit more housing alongside retail. Then be ambitious with future plans. Sadly it’s too late for many sites in Charlton.


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More Woolwich residential plans for the pile

There’s a number of few smaller developments in Woolwich that I’ve not mentioned before, that are either going up now or are in the pipeline. There are three close together along Artillery Place which total 109 homes. Mulgrave pond (though it’s more like a lake) is ‘hidden’ near here, and a couple of developments look to utilise it. First, there is Cambridge House, which is almost complete:

Artillery Place Woolwich - Hyde perhaps

It’s a development of 49 flats by Bugler and Hyde, which replaced a pretty handsome building, with barely any increase in flats. Why I don’t know. A similar thing happened just along the road 10 years ago when a decent, high density inter-war building was demolished for a pretty awful, tacky block. Here’s what was demolished for Cambridge House:

Cambridge House old

Cambridge House is in the blue box on the map below. The area in yellow contains listed Rushgrove House, which will see a conversion into residential as well as a small number of additional houses built beside. The red area currently contains a car showroom, and plans are in for 52 homes here.

Woolwich devlopment sites

The area in red is 38 Artillery Place. 52 homes are planned here. The render on top is the initial plans, with the final design below. A definite improvement, with a stronger, more defined frame and connection between street level and those above.

38 Artillery Place Woolwich

Aerial plan 38 artillery place

The listed building at Rushgrove House sees conversion and subdivision into a number of flats, with a small row of houses. The site is to the top of the pond below. The car showroom site is to the bottom left.

Aerial render of Mulgrave Pond

Aerial render of Mulgrave Pond

Just along the road is another decent building, which I’m guessing dates from around the 1930s. It has recently been boarded up, and is next to yet more car parking, a petrol station and car showroom, so it would be no surprise to see housing plans pop up for it. This site stretches a fair way back too behind the building.

How long will this last?

How long will this last?

Elsewhere in Woolwich planning is in to convert an office building next to Lidl, opposite the stalled, half-finished, Arsenal hotel. Unlike Lewisham citibank’s conversion, this is a more substantial job.

Next in line for office to resi conversion

Next in line for office to resi conversion

Much of the exterior is re-clad in a variety of grey and additional storeys added. This could end up looking very drab.

Sovereign House Woolwich proposals

Hopefully the wood within each balcony will relieve the grey. Retail is planned at street level. With a hotel opposite (it’ll get there eventually) and high density housing in a few years the commercial units will hopefully not be vacant for too long.

Does anyone know the fate of the former council offices at Riverside House? This looks like another prime conversion to residential candidate.

The road around here has recently been altered and thankfully many of the grim guardrails have gone. Much more of that please Greenwich council. But they’ve retained a wide central reservation. It seems a waste of land – have a narrow reserve instead and you can have wider pavements alongside the road including a segregated cycle lane for a good stretch of road in the reclaimed space made from narrowing the central reservation.

Wide central reservation, stalled hotel scheme on right

Wide central reservation, stalled hotel scheme on right

If you want to cycle along here you’re dicing with buses stopping, pulling in and out, and so many just wont do it. It’s far too dangerous. There’s no right turn section here for a fair distance so the reservation could have been narrowed.

One more question, the fine old Victorian school to the left of the above image was torn down a few years back. Why? There were plans for residential conversion, as seen in many similar old school buildings. This didn’t happen. I’ve never seen any plans for the site since.

Finally, planning is in for 13 new homes at 39 Samuel Street in Woolwich, close to Woolwich Dockyard station. Not much to report here as early days, but it replaces a disused garage site. A good infill scheme of underused land providing much needed housing.

Posted in Uncategorized, Woolwich | 5 Comments

Woolwich listed building demolition scrapped / Lewisham Citibank tower to become 230 new flats

Just a short post with a brief update on a couple of pretty big stories for SE London. Firstly, the plans by Berkeley Homes to demolish ‘ Building 11′ (or the Officers’ house) have been withdrawn. The plans never really made much sense, as I outlined here.

royal square

The idea of demolishing the building for a taxi rank didn’t really hold up. Firstly, is one even needed there? If so, there is still enough space behind the existing building to accommodate it.

In addition, the building wouldn’t be a big barrier to pedestrian flow, and alterations could be made to improve that aspect if needed. Finally, most people leaving the station would not have headed in the direction the building stands. If heading east then walking along Plumstead Road, with it’s new shops and wide paving, would be the preference for most.

The plans have been withdrawn but Berkeley are looking to come back with new ideas. It’s important to remain vigilant and that future plans do the site, and building, justice.

Lewisham Tower 

Thanks to a comment from torontoaddick on a recent post, which alerted me to the proposal to convert the long disused Citibank tower at Lewisham into 230 flats. It has been a back up site for many years to their Canary Wharf office. See here for details and search using reference DC/15/90552

citibank lewishamThe developers hope to start on site in March and finish by April 2016. A document reveals a pair of nesting falcons are on the roof so work must be scheduled around that. Planning rules on office-to-housing conversions were recently relaxed, and in some areas of England a flood of applications have come in. This has happened less so in much of London, so far, but this site is only two minute walk to the DLR and railway station and a prime candidate for such a conversion.

With such a speedy conversion don’t expect exterior alterations. Without them full planning permission is not needed, nor other normal responsibilities like section 106 payments. The lack of external changes will no doubt irritate many who hope to see it demolished. It’s far from a looker, but I don’t mind the change. It will be partly obscured from some angles by the towers going up nearby, such as the 24 storey Lewisham Central now rising quickly. Add in a few more towers in coming years, which are needed, and it won’t be so stark on the skyline.

One concern is that it could hold up any redevelopment plans for Lewisham shopping centre. A complete rebuild of that site, with some towers featured, would be a big improvement for  Lewisham if done well. It’s an ideal site for high density to help with London’s housing crisis.

Being so close to the station will mean yet more pressure if it is completed by April 2016. It joins a long list of schemes completing within the next year to 18 months within a mile of the site. It wasn’t too long ago that the DLR completed its three car upgrade project. Will it need extra with many new homes at Lewisham, Greenwich, Isle of Dogs, Canning Town, Stratford and Woolwich all now being built? In fact, just about everywhere is seeing substantial housing plans including the Royal Docks. Thousands of new homes are now going up around Silvertown. And stations such as Cutty Sark already use selective door opening as the platforms are too short for three-car operations.

The train issues have been covered extensively. SE already lack stock with no additional trains currently planned until December 2017. Large schemes at Lewisham, along with nearby sites at Lee and Kidbrooke, will only increase the squeeze.

There was a debate on the issues this week in Parliament. The Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association have covered it here. It’s well worth a read with some snippets like TfL being paid £25m to cover their increased services. It mentions extra stock available at the end of the year but this could be a mistake. Many are going to the north west as part of a flagship project, and like Southeastern, they really do need it. Some are also supposed to go to the Midlands, who again really do need them. I’m not sure any will be free and perhaps the rail minister was mistaken. All of these shortages show the lack of planning, dating back years, from the Department for Transport and the Treasury. Holding up Thameslink train orders for two years to negotiate PFI contracts are a case in point. That could’ve freed up trains to move to SE sooner than December 2017. Labour and the Tories are both to blame for years of bad planning.

The article mentions that Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander spoke, as did Eltham MP Clive Efford. No mention of many other local MPs in London and Kent. With an election coming up it would be worth asking MPs what they did to put pressure on the DfT over the past few years, and asking them (and prospective candidates) what they intend to do regarding DfT and Treasury failings after May’s election. Many will happily bash Southeastern, and many already are, but have less to say about Whitehall departments who ultimately call the shots. That’s where real change and improvement will come from.

Posted in Lewisham, Transport, Uncategorized, Woolwich | 2 Comments

Has Crossrail work revealed a long hidden river?

The long-hidden River Wogebourne, or Wickham Valley Waterway, may have been revealed by Crossrail work happening between Abbey Wood and Plumstead. The river begins in Shooters Hill and snakes its way through Plumstead to Abbey Wood before reaching Thamesmead. Most has been progressively covered over the years and there are now few signs of it running above ground.

Long lost River Wogesbourne / Wickham Valley Waterway?

Long lost River Wogebourne / Wickham Valley Waterway?

Passing by on a train a couple of months back I noticed quite a bit of water in a new ditch being built alongside the line. I assumed it was just run-off from rain, and forgot about it. Recently I read this brilliant article by the e-shootershill blog on the history of the river. I still didn’t put two and two together until passing through again recently and seeing a lot more water for quite a distance alongside the tracks, as shown in the photo above taken by Bexley-is-bonkers. I suddenly remembered the article and that the river led through to the area around the railway line.

Where the stream seems to end looks around the area where some work was being done under the tracks recently. I wonder if it enters a pipe under the tracks here?

The river begins around Shooters Hill near Woodlands farm and the We Anchor in Hope pub. The river passes through Bourne Spring Wood and then heads towards Bostall Woods, before heading roughly parallel to Wickham Lane before heading below ground under Bostall Hill heading down towards what were marshes at Abbey Wood and Thamesmead. The e-shootershill article shows photos of the course in the few sections still above ground at Woodlands Farm and Woodbrook Road. The article states in the sixteenth century:

“W.T. Vincent called it the Plumstead River, and also “An Obsolete River” which had disappeared. He said that it flowed “from the Halfway House, near Crossness Point up the Wickham Lane Valley, a short branch diverging eastward to the point where the abbey of Lessness stood (near Abbey Wood Station), and the other stretching past the eastern foot of Shooters Hill through Well-end (Welling) to Eltham.”  He also mentions that it was connected to the “Great Breache”.

It was far from obsolete, though often more of a trickle than a river. It was still visible in parts of Abbey Wood until the ’70s. The two aerial images below show its course, now entirely covered. Google satellite images clearly show what appear a straight line and gaps between houses on Manton Road where it runs.

River Wogebourne Close up before and after

Greenwich Council commissioned a report in 2011 on strategic flood risks, which can be seen by clicking here. This report refers to it as ‘Butts Canal’ and states that the term ‘Wickham Valley Watercourse’ is used informally, but other sources refer to Butts canal as only applying to its final course once it reaches Thamesmead. The report contains a map showing the water course’s flood extent, which may not match its exact course but shows the general route:

Greenwich Report water course

The railway line runs across the map at the far top. The path of water revealed by Crossrail is along there. I assumed any stream currently ran to the north of the railway line as there’s features and manholes running along there like this –

aw river

AW river 2

Another map in the report does appear to show that the river ran north of the line, instead of south as the new watercourse revealed by Crossrail work.

river map Greenwich flood report 2011

The red line clearly shows it north of the railway line, where it runs next to the line towards Abbey Wood station (now being rebuilt and where large storm drains appeared to be installed recently) before heading north towards Thamesmead. Crossrail referred to it as a stormwater drain in planning documents –

“Wickham Valley Watercourse is a piped stormwater drain which crosses under the Crossrail route between Plumstead and Abbey Wood Stations from south to north. It runs parallel to the railway for several hundred metres before turning northwards towards its outfall in a lake, which feeds through one of the Marsh Dykes to Tripcock Pumping Station”

A Crossrail planning document of the area also shows ‘relocated culvert 615′ north of the line.

Crossrail plan relocated culvert


Crossrail also state:

“It is not classed as a Lost River, although similar in form and history, since it is now the responsibility of the Borough Council and not Thames Water Utilities or the Environment Agency.”

Before extensive drainage works at Thamesmead in the 1960s and ’70s when the lake and canal system was constructed, it would have have presumably ran from Abbey Wood into the marshy ground by the Thames, at the site of the ‘Great Breach’. A Bexley Council report on Southmere lake states:

“This whole area, close to the Thames, used to be swampy ground, known as
Plumstead Marshes. The lake was constructed in the late 1960s at the same time as
the first part of Thamesmead. It was only possible to build housing and roads here
on this swampy ground by doing major drainage works. Now the lake is a crucial part
of the drainage system: it is the head feeder for all the canals in Thamesmead. A
constant flow of water comes into the lake from the south, from a little stream which
rises in Abbey Wood (and travels here underground in a pipe). It leaves by a channel
in the north east corner and flows to the Thames.”

So if this stretch of exposed water is the little known River Wogebourne, or Wickham Valley Waterway, it’s the first time it has been seen in Abbey Wood for many a year. Presumably not for long either, as construction work continues apace along this stretch and this section will be covered over once more.


Posted in Abbey Wood, Plumstead, Transport, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

New Housing Plans for Woolwich – January Update

Woolwich Central new phase 3

Today’s post is a bit of a round-up of things happening around Woolwich. I’ll start with the scheme for new homes on land behind Tesco, as seen above, and move onto smaller developments after. Plans for this were submitted a few months back and I’ve been intending to put something up. Better late than never.

So then, starting with the biggie and Tesco’s development subsidiary Spenhill have plans for the next phase of ‘Woolwich Central’. Planning details are here. This is on the large amount of land to the rear of the superstore recently built, which won ‘carbunkle of the year’ in 2014. The first phase’s design was substantially altered after gaining planning approval, with many elements cut back or altered to the detriment of the building and surrounding streets.

Woolwich Central 2007 plansThis scheme features towers not present in earlier plans from 2007, as seen on the left. Those envisaged a tower in front of where Tesco now stands, in the area that is now grassed in front of the store. The tower plans were awful, so a small victory of sorts. It was far from an elegant design.

So now the tower has moved to the rear, which is likely to rouse opposition from those living nearby as seen before. I presume Tesco will argue that not having a tower on one end means greater density at the other. However, I don’t believe Tesco have ruled out a tower in front of the superstore facing onto General Gordon Square. They could get approval for this then come back with plans for another tower by the square. I’m a bit ambivalent towards that idea – London is in severe need of housing, yet the green space in front of Tesco opens up the area nicely and adds to the square. Tower or no tower there in future, it must be better than the very poor earlier proposal.

938 homes in total

938 homes in total

Woolwich Central New Phase 4The tallest tower is 22 storeys. It’s basically a slab. Dull, chunky, boring, and given what happened with earlier stages it’s hard to get too excited. The exterior looks to have a sizable amount of grey brick. Dreary. The windows and balcony give a strong horizontal emphasis to the exterior. Never a good idea on a 22 storey tower as it just appear stumpy and fat. Well, stumpier than it already is.

You can forget much happening at street level. Dead frontages are all around. Cost-cutting by not placing parking at basement level ensures that. At least the rest of the site has a bit of variety in exterior materials.

With Tesco’s well publicised issues in retail, and their recent announcement that they will not be opening large stores at Bexleyheath and Dartford, it may be tempting to think this will not happen anytime soon. However the proposal is purely for housing and features no retail space. With the housing market in bubble territory they must be tempted to speed up development. Get cracking, include minimal social housing, sell the vast majority of homes to ‘investors’ in Asia, a few-to-buy to let landlords in the UK and even less to people who can actually afford to buy and then occupy (what a quaint concept), then count your money and jobs a good ‘un.

It’s for that reason I would not be surprised if Tesco now come up with mainly residential schemes at their Bexleyheath and Dartford sites. Both are in the centre of their respective towns. A tempting plan would be for some small scale retail at street level, including a Tesco Express and some other units, and then a few stories of housing above.

Connaght Estate Rebuild

To the bottom right of the large aerial render above you can make out the Connaught estate. Demolition begun there in the summer. There’s a few pics showing progress by Chris Mansfield which can be seen here. It also has a great aerial photo of the estate when new in 1970, along with many other historic and contemporary photos of Woolwich, documenting the changes. A history of the estate is on Douglas McCarthy’s site here. Many good photographs of SE London can also be found there.

woolwich connaught 2

684 homes in total will be built on the replacement estate, with 332 in phase one. This is part of the ‘One Woolwich’ scheme I’ve previously written about here. It sees a net loss of ‘affordable’ housing, let alone social housing. Residents will be moving in from 2016.

Elsewhere in Woolwich

There’s a few other schemes on Artillery Place I’ll cover in a future post. Around 120 homes are planned there. A much smaller scheme that has just finished is 12 homes on Wilmount Street near the station. These appear to be more shared ownership rip-offs. As housing is now too expensive for most of the young, the idea is to offer a small percentage of a home (in this case just 30%) and they can pay rent on the rest. That’s all average wages will allow for many, as the house price to average wage ratio is totally out of whack after 15 years of 10-20% annual rises. Great if you bought before 2000. Shit if you didn’t. Average prices used to be 4.5 x single average income. That would make the average house price in SE London around 100k. It’s now about 300k. So you’re 100k now buys 30% of a home (plus rent on the rest) instead of 100%.

Wilmount Street is one of those narrow streets near Wilkinsons. Wilkinson’s itself will be demolished for a new leisure centre, with the existing Waterfront site sold. The narrow, twisty backstreets around there could have so much character, and this area reveals Greenwich council’s historic planning failures. There’s so much post war dross, including a fair bit from the 90s. Almost goes without saying that it’s filthy and full of cheap street cutter. The future leisure centre site plans could be a great moment to revitalise the wider area.

Apparently vacant council land near station

Apparently vacant council land near station

The site above is a case in point. It appears to be disused, having been garages on what looks like council owned land, with a low rise council housing block attached. Located just two minutes away from the rail and DLR station, this should be high density housing. Building close to major public transport sites is a must, though of course the infrastructure must be upgraded alongside.

So as ever at Woolwich there’s a lot going on. All the plans, and particularly Tesco’s plans for 500 new homes and Connaught’s 600, will add a fair bit of infrastructure pressure. It’s important to continue reminding the Government, and Department for Transport, that existing infrastructure plans are unlikely to be good enough for long even with Crossrail coming, let alone the squeeze before it does open in 2018.


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