Greenwich council’s income below expectations this year

Greenwich council are seeing a lot less income than expected this financial year across a variety of areas. The main drop is from parking income. It’s £2.1m below expectations. £1.7m of that is from on-street parking.

on street parking

This is attributed, in part, to the opening of Tesco which offers free parking. In addition off-street parking has seen £427k less income than budgeted. Has the superstore brought more problems than it has solved? It does not seem to have arrested the decline in the High Street. Marks & Spencer have departed and are moving to a giant out-of-town barn in Charlton. All the forthcoming retail sheds in Charlton offer free parking which will further increase the financial pressure, and they cover a massive amount of land. This inefficient increase in land allocated for retail sheds and car parking, during a housing crises, is encouraged in the recent council masterplan for the area. See below for all the areas of free car parking available in a couple of years once Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Brocklebank retail park opens – a huge amount of land wasted close to zone 2 London. Much of this area is a 5-10 minute walk to Charlton & Westcombe park stations.

Areas of free car parking

Areas of surface car parking, not including another retail park to east

With single storey retail barns in blue

Single storey retail in blue

Instead of adopting a long term strategy to increase housing and mixed-use developments in this retail barn heavy area, recent plans have proliferated car-dependent shops at the expense of much needed housing, as well as affecting the future of Woolwich as a destination worth visiting for shopping and will further hamper  parking income.

charlton valley houseOne developer has ignored the masterplan and is proposing housing in this area. It would be a decent addition to the area, and ticks the boxes the masterplan should have offered as a solution for the area. Retail space at street level facing onto Woolwich Road would bring life to this area. Decent density provides a large number of flats without being overbearing. The curved corner offers a decent response to the site. It’s disappointing that Sainsbury’s didn’t follow this model as many of their other London sites look to move to mixed uses including housing.

One other factor that can’t be helping Greenwich’s poor parking income is allowing illegal parking to proliferate unchallenged. Earlier I was in Abbey Wood and passing an area where a controlled parking zone is in operation. I saw, as I almost always do , numerous cars just go off-road to park on paving and grass. I’ve never seen a ticket.

About 8 parked on paving with a van on grass behind

About 8 parked on paving with a van on grass behind

See all the various bollards? More messy street furniture that clearly doesn’t work. That’s 8 cars off-road and a van parked on grass behind. To be honest, cars on the paving is not a big deal here as they’re not blocking pedestrians. But as the council never seems to stop this or ticket then other people realise they can park blocking pavements, or go onto grassed areas like the van behind. These areas are for kids play, and cars and vans turn these areas into muddy areas other a period of time. I saw a couple of other cars on grass in just a 5 minute walk. One visit by parking attendants would spot numerous badly parked cars, dissuade it in future, and bring in income but it never happens. Never have I seen tickets applied to cars badly parked on many walks in this area going back years. Clearly if they did people wouldn’t do it on such a wide level. You may expect a cash strapped department to do so.

As for the various bollards scattered about, a simple consistent row of one simple design at that location or around grassed areas would look better and be effective. I noticed where attempts had been made to stop parking on grass really ugly stainless steel barriers had been used. So the choice at the moment seems to be grassed areas becoming car parks and muddy without enforcement or ugly barriers to stop it? Come on Greenwich council, you can do a hell of a lot better than this.

Greenwich will shortly expand the controlled parking zone here as Crossrail arrives. Even more people will simply park off-road, or head to the new Sainsbury’s superstore two minutes away opening in July, to use the free parking. At least that store has parking below the shop and a small element of housing, albeit no affordable housing. Marginally better than Charlton then, but it wont do much for the housing problem, nor council finances.

Posted in Abbey Wood, Charlton | Leave a comment

Another new masterplan announced for Woolwich

Thomas Street masterplanHot on the heels of Greenwich Council’s rejection of Tesco’s plans for a 22 storey tower behind their Woolwich superstore we see the release of a council commissioned draft ‘Thomas Street masterplan’ from Allies and Morrison. Click here to view the entire 56mb document.

The area covered goes beyond the area refused planning and covers an area of council housing lining Wellington Street as well as area in front of the supermarket, which comprises a patch of grass (which already has outline planning for a tower) and the area of shops around Wetherspoons.

Thomas Street buildingsThe good news is that the attractive, locally-listed row of buildings at 1-5 Thomas Street is deemed an asset worth keeping. It’s a small reminder of how many buildings in the area used to look before numerous mass redevelopment schemes demolished much of the town centre. These buildings show how a big transformation can be achieved with some modest yet faithful facade improvements and high quality public realm and paving, allowing the buildings to take centre stage with less street clutter to detract from the environment. Though the opportunity to attach street lights to the buildings wasn’t taken recently leaving ungainly poles.

wellington street shop paradeThe Wetherspoons building is also likely to remain under these draft plans. The small row of buildings on Wellington Street by Wetherspoons is though in line for the chop. Not a great loss. Low rise and not providing needed housing. The plans see a 4-5 level residential building facing the street, which rises in height away from the road.

Woolwich ouline consentPreliminary Spenhill plans were awarded outline planning permission, and are shown to the left. The greater density of recently refused plans are clear to see when comparing to this model, but with outline planning already given for a 16 storey tower a precedent has been set for height in the area.

The masterplan also envisages the demolition of homes and flats in the Ogilby buildings at the top of Wellington Street, replaced with 87 flats.

The road junction here is seen as not very pedestrian friendly. The plan advocates the removal of guardrails and street clutter, as happened on General Gordon Square to great effect. It’s bizarre that Greenwich Council still installs so much across the borough at a cost of thousands unlike many authorities Thomas Street public realmwho have removed much of it. Greenwich always install the cheapest possible too. The junction by Waitrose in Greenwich is a prime example. The extensive railings detract from the street scene and cause hassle for pedestrians forced to take indirect walks. I was there last week. Pedestrians, including me, were walking in the road to cross during heavy traffic as the barriers prevented easy crossing. Nearby council managed walls and masonry at the entrance to the council estate were continuing to fall apart. The top of a wall had fallen off, and not fixed since I first saw it 6 months ago. But why fix that and maintain public spaces when you can spend a few grand making life frustrating for pedestrians? Greenwich council departments have some very odd priorities, and Councillors aren’t scrutinising them anywhere near enough.

Woolwich pocket parkBack to the masterplan, and a ‘pocket park’ is proposed to compensate for the loss of greenery in front of the supermarket. The new park would be located to the south west of the site, at the end of Love Lane.

 

Love Lane will be the main route through the site. On the subject of Greenwich Council’s bizarre management of public space, I recently noticed they’ve stuck up two street signs at the entrance to Love Lane in the area to the front of Tesco. One against the wall is enough. It’s a barely used lane in a pedestrian area. The other sign is pretty incongruous and more unneeded clutter. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but another example of poor understanding of how to do street design.

Thomas Street masterplan heights

Indicative building heights

The recent refusal of Spenhill’s plans have caused a bump in the road. I’d expect a re-worked scheme cutting a few storeys off the 20 storey tower. With a bigger site area a comprehensive re-working of future Spenhill phases would make more sense rather than some small alterations to that flawed scheme.

Elsewhere in Woolwich the large area of land above and around the Woolwich DLR station, now vacant for six years after the station opened, is a scandalous waste of land in a time of massive housing shortages. It’s a prime example of why plans to charge developers a levy a set time after purchasing land, and after securing planning permission, is essential. Developers would soon build, or sell on to someone who would, if punitive fines for land banking were adopted.

Building on that site would also help link the old and new areas of Woolwich alongside the Spray Street redevelopment which includes the indoor market. Connecting the two areas of Woolwich, with more people moving into the town centre, would increase the viability of retail sites and local pubs. As it is, stores like Marks and Spencer continue to leave. A 99p store is to take over soon which sums up its decline. Greenwich council continues to permit inappropriate and wasteful out-of-town retail at Charlton in its recently adopted masterplan, instead of retaining successful industry and developing much needed housing plans for that area. One masterplan seems conflicted with another.

Posted in Uncategorized, Woolwich | Leave a comment

Tesco’s 22 storey Woolwich tower plan rejected

Woolwich central new phase 2

A surprising decision has seen Greenwich Council block Tesco’s plans for a large residential development on land adjacent to the Tesco superstore in Woolwich. Tesco, through its developement subsiduary Spenhill, were seeking approval for up to 550 flats.

You can imagine Councillors recalling the barrage of terrible press the town and council received from the earlier stage of this development as they turned it down. The first stages won the ‘carbunkle cup’ for worst building of the year and saw it featured heavily across national media.

Woolwich Central Phase 4This wasn’t much better. I’m in favour of tall buildings in London and UK cities. They’re desperately needed to provide the homes needed, and to enable greater density in the centre of cities and around major transport nodes.

However there’s some important conditions, particularly in the UK to convince the public, where post-war planning, design and construction gave tall buildings such a bad reputation. They need to be in suitable locations. There’s many areas in Woolwich that are, but this isn’t one of them. Locating towers in clusters is ideal yet this is next to low rise buildings. Towers need to be good design. Goes without saying really but if you’re going to make an impression then make it positive, not this tedious block. Again, this seems to fail, seeing as it’s an uninspiring, oppressive grey slab. Despite dwarfing nearby areas it appears pretty stumpy given its girth, with little in the way of elegance. Like the supermarket before it, street level saw a lot of dead frontage. Lastly, it needed to include social housing. It didn’t.

God-awful earlier stage

God-awful earlier stage

And that’s before any post-approval alterations, which did so much to ruin the side of the supermarket facing onto shops and the church on Woolwich New Road.

I doubt this is the last they’ll hear from Tesco. There’s also the atrocious tower they planned to build directly next to General Gordon Square on the patch of grass in front of the supermarket. That plan hasn’t gone away.

Away from this part of town, and the half-empty retail area to the west by Travelodge, the art-deco Co-op and the Waterfront has seen a Powis Street estates sell up to Mansfield Pension Fund. According to council documents

“Mansford Pension Fund have recently acquired a significant interest in this part of the Town Centre from Powis Street Estates. Woolwich has become one of their key and largest assets and they are looking to actively own and manage their sites in partnership with the Council, including the potential to improve the appearance of their units, as well as the public realm and general shopping environment. They are also interested in acquiring further sites, particularly along Powis Street to fill in “ownership gaps”.

 

There’s a lot of potential around there with much of it unrealised.

Finally, Greenwich Council have decided to take Eric Pickles order to stop publishing their weekly propaganda newspaper to a Judicial Review. It is the only Labour council in the country to print a weekly paper at large expense. This will cost taxpayers even more money than is wasted on publishing and distributing a newspaper that exists to big up those in charge. It’s not as if much of Greenwich’s public realm is a crumbling mess is it? But why fix that why you can splash large sums on favourable PR? It’s a nonsense. Who reads the puff pieces about ‘royal’ this and that believing it anyway, and even if some gullible people do buy into it their bubble is soon burst when the step outside and see the state of many places, looking like this:

Usual Greenwich Borough public realm maintenance. Really, this is common!

Usual Greenwich Borough public realm maintenance. Really, this is common!

A mess

A mess

Royal borough? Forget the rubbish and look at the crumbling bricks and masonry. Streets and public spaces are in a crap state in every corner of the borough, along with 95% of street furniture. I’m often travelling to areas all over London and can honestly compare to many other boroughs, and really, Greenwich are terrible at this.

Save the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on weekly PR waffle and fix the state of the place. Greenwich council have the money. They just choose not to spend it on improving public areas and streets to create decent places to live. This all says so much about what the leadership and councillors seem to value most.

Posted in Uncategorized, Woolwich | 3 Comments

Abbey Wood wins £300k. Plumstead Doesn’t.

Greenwich Council recently bid to improve three High Streets across the borough. Two have been successful – Abbey Wood and Eltham – whilst Plumstead missed out, seeing not a penny from two very modest £20k bids despite Plumstead crying out for some investment and suffering years of neglect. In total, Abbey Wood is to receive £300k and New Eltham will see £15.5k. The Abbey Wood bid is alongside Bexley Council.

007Under previous leader Chris Roberts, Greenwich Council missed out on many potential large sums of money to improve areas. Numerous funds were available from outside sources and yet time and time again Greenwich council didn’t receive any. For example, areas badly hit by the riots saw millions pour in, except areas in Greenwich. Were the bids poor? Were they even bidding? Were they pursuing some misplaced isolationist DIY attitude and concerned with protecting their ‘image’, despite many areas of the borough having a terrible image with many locals and visitors?

Since Roberts left things seem to have picked up. In the past few months Abbey Wood saw £6m awarded from Crossrail for public realm improvements around the station, though this was always on the cards as every station will see improvements. Unfortunately this bid ‘forgot’ to include the main shopping area in Abbey Wood directly next to the station, despite years of neglect and a promise for MANY years that improvements would come ‘soon’ with Crossrail. A pretty incredible oversight and you can’t help but wonder just what the councils were playing at. The £6m improvements are mainly on areas benefiting those walking or taking the bus from Thamesmead, not Abbey Wood residents.

This 300k Abbey Wood pot includes:

“physical improvements to public spaces and buildings along Wilton Road, adjacent to Abbey Wood station, coupled with support for local businesses, are being used to revitalise this small high street, futureproof it for the arrival of Crossrail, and support major housing growth planned for the immediate area. The project includes tailored business support for existing traders, exploring potential for a local street market and improvements to shop and building frontages.”

It’s hard to see how £300k will do all that. Though simple things would cost a pittance to do and never needed a bid to achieve. This includes removing the disused sign poles along the road along with the old phone box and putting in some half-decent street furniture. The street lights are poor, cheap and not good enough for a shopping parade.

Abbey Wood village

I would like to see trees along the wide paving (well, cheap tarmac in parts) yet instead there’s a bizarre suggestion of a market. There’s not the footfall. A better spot would be the other side of the new station where renders show a big new expanse of paving in a quiet area (where a big chunk of the £6m is going instead of Abbey Wood’s main shopping parade).

Market here along with cycle parking on 'dead' space?

Market here along with cycle parking on ‘dead’ space?

There’s a large expanse here with a couple of raised planters. It’s mostly dead space. Why not remove the raised planters and hold any market there, if there is to be any? It would draw people from the Sainsbury’s which is going up just behind this view. The view turning 180 degrees around can be seen below:

abbey-wood cross quarter

A segregated cycle lane is shown. Hopefully this extends all the way directly along Harrow Manorway reaching the bridge across to north Thamesmead. There is mention of cycle lanes in the recent housing zones announcement. The question is what happens to the lane when it reaches the area by the station? The large expanse of paving close to the station could also accommodate a number of secure cycle racks. What’s currently planned is just new paving and nothing else. Given how people park there, and how Greenwich council seem to never enforce restrictions, the new paving will become a car park on day one.

On the subject of parking, shops on the parade to see 300k complain that Bexley council are extremely overzealous, which they are, and yet Greenwich council do nothing to stop people double parking, blocking roads and taking spaces for hours at a time and more.

Bexley-is-bonkers have covered the award here. He highlights how Bexley Council clean their side of the road daily. Greenwich’s is a mess and rarely cleaned. His latest post shows how Bexleyheath’s multi-million pound work on town centre streets has seen the road surface, comprising of small paving setts, falling apart within a year leaving messy areas of tarmac. Guess where some the £6m, that isn’t going on Abbey Wood’s shopping area, is going towards? Yep, putting the same expensive paving on the flyover road surface by the new station as seen at Bexleyheath. It’s a major bus stop and if they do that then the road surface will break under the weight. They’ve a couple of years to sort that out.

The mention of shop fronts is good but they aren’t that bad along there. Helping retailers is a good step but really what can you advise a kebab shop to do? The parade currently has the usual dreary London high street mix of estate agents, bookies, takeaways and barbers. The only pub is shutting in a week. There’s some decent shops but I’m not sure what ‘advice’ you can give most. If they improve the physical environment thoroughly along the street then people, including tourists to the nearby camping site, may stop instead of rushing through. If it had been done years ago there may already be better things to visit.

In time, the small parade of shops could form part of a larger link. To the north there is Sainsbury’s superstore which is due to open at the end of July (This tweet wasn’t sent to me – I spotted it on twitter)

Sainsbury's opening date

Further north are sites which could see thousands of new houses as part of the new housing zones. It’s not inconceivable to envisage a High Street appearing along Harrow Manorway in coming decades.

AW village

Areas in red are commercial space, both existing and forthcoming. The area top right is part of Peabody’s plans, and exact layouts are unknown. If the areas in blue are redeveloped in future years and include commercial space, it could form an almost continuous shopping area. It’s a long way off but with thousands of new homes planned around there who knows?

So the, the 300k is a decent start after the inexcusable oversight of not including Abbey Wood shops in the £6m Crossrail public realm improvement plan. Hopefully both boroughs can work together and are up to the task. It’s a small sum and some immediate improvements can be made for a very modest cost, which didn’t even need a bid, just simple maintenance and effort. Still, they’ve got the money so no excuses for at least the quick wins to be done. I hope they don’t blow most of it on consultations for a market in the wrong place leaving the road as drab as it is now.

Plumstead needs some TLC too on its High Street. It’s a great shame even 40k couldn’t be won this time. However, a more pro-active council should hopefully win some bids soon. In the meantime some routine cleaning wouldn’t go amiss there, and there’s money to be used such as the discretionary 100k element of the millions the Mayor & GLA gives each year in Local Implementation Plans. A major scheme can be drawn up alongside. Will it be? Currently major scheme bids are coming for Eltham and then Greenwich. Does Greenwich need yet more millions when some places are in a far worse state? The past doesn’t bode well and this is a test of any real change under the new leadership.

Posted in Abbey Wood, Plumstead, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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.

007

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 | 7 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.

 

Posted in Charlton, Transport, Uncategorized | 2 Comments