Threatened building to left of Crossrail station box
Threatened building to left of Crossrail station box where cars shown turning

Royal Arsenal developer Berkeley Homes is proposing the demolition of a Grade 2 listed building on the site dating from 1739, which faces the square where the Dial Arch pub resides. In its place they are proposing a new square and car drop off point beside the forthcoming Crossrail station.

There is a consultation about this coming up at the end of this week to ask just what the justification is. The dates are:

FRIDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2014: 3PM-7PM

SATURDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2014: 10AM-4PM

VENUE: GREENWICH HERITAGE CENTRE, ARTILLERY SQUARE, ROYAL ARSENAL, WOOLWICH SE18 4DX

arsenal squareThe building, known poetically as ‘Building 11’ (see plans on left) and sometimes as the ‘Officers’ House’, is currently surrounded by sheeting. Berkeley propose demolishing it to open up the space, which they have named ‘Royal Arsenal Square’. The opened space would create another square to the north east just off Dial Arch square.

A dated shot from English Heritage
A dated shot from English Heritage

The image above is taken from English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ page here. The site dates it as from 1717 but this appears to be a mistake as it contradicts English Heritage’s comprehensive history of the Arsenal site which can be seen here. Details of this specific building are from page 25 on. The latest condition of the building is listed as ‘C – Slow decay; no solution agreed’. It states:

‘The Royal Arsenal site is owned by Berkeley Homes who are progressing repairs. A masterplan for the whole site has been approved by the Local Authority. The building is protected by sheeted scaffold and a temporary roof, but there is much timber decay to the interior.’

DSCF4637Clearly it doesn’t look too great in the above shot. But imagine it cleaned up, with ground floor space offering shops/galleries/pubs/restaurants etc bringing greater life to the squares, with residential above. Far better than a turning circle for cars.

Uninspiring Crossrail station box
Uninspiring Crossrail station box

As an aside, just how bland is the side of the station box? An early render showing the side of the station with the threatened building is below:

Ground floor offering commercial space facing new square?
Ground floor offering commercial space facing new square?

The space that exists with the Building 11 would still be big enough for a small drop off-point for select users (if absolutely essential) while retaining the building, which could offer amenities on the ground floor/first floor levels facing this square with careful alterations.

Possible reason for demolition

I’ve not had the time this weekend to look into the issues as deeply as I’d hoped so this post will just put down some initial thoughts, plus I thought it best to stick up a post to alert people as soon as possible before the consultation begins.

Firstly, if the reason is for a large drop off area, just how wise is that here as it will soon become chocked with cars and taxis from miles around. This will badly affect the ambience of the existing square plus any new space created. People enjoy the Dial Arch and green space because it seems like an oasis from busy Woolwich. A car park next to it is not ideal.

Structural damage?

There have been rumours that structural support may have been affected by Crossrail work. Firstly, is there insurance to cover any damage? Also, Crossrail may be liable and have to contribute if they have damaged the building in any way. Given the lengths Crossrail have gone to in order to protect buildings it will be interesting to see what they have to say, if this is given as a reason to demolish. The site above states known issues. The council and English Heritage will want to look into how long these have been known and exactly what work has been undertaken there. Secondly, what can be done now.

Forgive my cynicism, but I’ve heard similar arguments before that have later proved to be false. Also in Woolwich there is the suburb art deco former co-op building. Before 2008, the owners were planning to demolish it to be replaced with a car park. The reason given? You guessed it – it was structurally unsound and must come down. Funny how after the 2008 crash occurred and halted the plans, the building was then seen as salvageable and is now being converted into flats which will be completed soon.

Looking at plans it seems as though the Crossrail station footprint does not intrude onto the threatened building site, so that’s not a valid excuse. If Berkeley offer pedestrian movement as a reason then that would be ridiculous. People could still move from Dial Arch square to the new square via a short detour around the north of the building. You don’t demolish listed buildings to knock off a few metres walk. But anyway, this render below seems to show a gap between the threatened building and station thus through paths existing to north and south.

A gap between station and 'Building 11' shown. Plus gap to north of building
A gap between station and ‘Building 11’ shown. Plus gap to north of building

New square – new car park?

Outdoor market became a car park days after expensive paving laid
Outdoor market became a car park days after expensive paving laid

The rest of the proposed square, aside from the car drop-off point, looks to be a large vacant space. If Greenwich council have any role in maintaining it then we’ll no doubt see many cars driving off the road and parking on the expensive new paving whilst ‘waiting’.

The photo above was taken JUST after millions of new paving was laid at Woolwich’s Beresford Square. You can see the work wasn’t even finished before it became a car park. This happened a fair few days I passed and I never saw any enforcement. If there was any it wasn’t widespread enough to deter people. There were often far more cars than pictured, as well as heavier vehicles placing weight on the new paving, which was far from cheap to install. Not very smart.

Future car park?
Future car park?

Though I never saw it, similar story’s emerged of parking on the expensive new paving at the public space by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. If Greenwich couldn’t be arsed to enforce rules at a world heritage site then little chance elsewhere.

I don’t get why Greenwich allow parking everywhere and anywhere, seemingly at complete odds to its overzealous neighbour Bexley Council. Parking on grassed areas, playing areas and on pavements blocking the disabled and prams all seem fair game. If anything is ever done it is simply sticking up rubbish quality bollards and railings and cluttering up places instead of just fining.

A market?

One possible use for the new square and the vacant space could be a market, but just how enticing is such a prospect next to cars and inevitable queues of cars? Plus, there’s already the outdoor market and threatened indoor market two minutes walk away. But without one what else would the large expanse be legitimately used for?

The consultation is this Friday and Saturday. I’m very busy at the moment but I will look into this a bit more, time permitting, and hopefully add some more information. I’m finding it very hard to see justification so far.

Even if the building is falling apart with no hope of rescuing there’s many questions to be asked, and if the worst case scenario is true and independently verified, much of the facade could be retained with the interior fundamentally rebuilt to provide retail, bars etc with flats above, bringing life to both squares.

Once again here’s the details:

FRIDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2014: 3PM-7PM

SATURDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2014: 10AM-4PM

VENUE: GREENWICH HERITAGE CENTRE, ARTILLERY SQUARE, ROYAL ARSENAL, WOOLWICH SE18 4DX

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