I tend not to cover developments in Bexley borough too often. However, a sizable development has been going up the past couple of years, and a recent trip to Belvedere has revealed that a great deal is now complete, with the latter stages having apparently sped up. The impact is already being felt at Belvedere station on the Woolwich & Greenwich line: usage is up 11.4% on the year.

402 homes here in total
402 homes in total
Housing located on 'imperial gateway'. Other areas to see industry
Housing located on ‘imperial gateway’. Other areas to see industry

The development is called ‘Belvedere Park’, and is just over the border from Thamesmead in an awkward patch of land, surrounded by major roads on two sides. It comprises 402 homes, a new pub/restaurant by Marstons plus a 52 bed Travelodge was approved earlier this year. There are also currently plans for two fast food places. Despite the dual carriageways, Belvedere station is just 5-10 minutes walk away, and doesn’t involve crossing them.

None of it is particularly architecturally inspiring, but the pub provides an option for people in the wider area, and the area badly needed it. The blocks of flats are straight from page number one of the average, volume house builders textbook. Boxy, tacked on balconies, a bit of brick and a bit of render to break up the facades, and flat roofed.

A close look seems to show many aren't occupied yet
A close look seems to show many aren’t occupied yet

There are retail units on the ground floor but none appeared to be taken up. It could be that they aren’t ready yet, as many flats appeared to be in the final stages of construction. Whether they are occupied makes the difference in such a development. With them there’s a bit of life and the blocks appearance broken up with street frontages. Without them, the area can appear pretty windswept and lifeless, with dull blank walls at street level. Aside from the blocks, and separate hotel plans are extremely basic. Cheap materials and those meagre, small, cost-saving square windows so often seen on budget hotels.

The pub was doing a good trade, and there was a fair bit of outside seating which was well used. The food was decent and the place is definitely an asset to the area. Being a Marston’s pub it looked like they had a decent range of beer. Carvery’s seem to be one of the main selling points.

Site history

I scrolled back on google streetview to view the recent history of the area. This part of the world is where built-up London begins to meet Kent, and marshes and large industrial estates increasingly predominate the further east you travel. Google streetview shows just how much it’d changed. The development is located on what was a pretty rural area, apparently used by nothing but grazing horses, as this 2008 streetview shows:

Belvedere Park pre-development

Some will lament the loss of greenery. I take the view that housing in London is now so badly needed that sites within the M25 such as this, located five minutes from a railway station with frequent trains to central London in 30 minutes, must have some very compelling reasons not to be developed. This wasn’t agricultural land, and the horses can be accommodated in a large expanse of protected land only a couple of hundred metres away. As far as I could work out it wasn’t previously accessible to the public, but I’m no expert on this part of the world and some locals will no doubt have other ideas.

Elsewhere in Belvedere

To the south of the railway line there’s also scope for much needed housing in coming years. Areas beside the station are either unused or contain low rise buildings. A Tesco Express recently closed, as it failed to compete with the large Asda that opened a year of two back. The Tesco was in a single storey shopping parade just two minutes from the station. A prime site for increased housing density.

Two minutes from station. Underused land.
Two minutes from station. Underused land.

To the rear of the parade it’s the same. There’s a quite extensive patch of fenced-off greenery there, directly beside the platforms. It could well be Network Rail owned land.

Sizable patch of land behind fence on left to platforms
Sizable patch of land behind fence on left to platforms

Taken as a whole, this area could see a couple of hundred homes built, along with a more appealing station entrance better integrated in the area. If some of the land is owned by Network Rail, it would add a lengthy list of station sites that could provide housing but are currently underused. They have an important role in helping to alleviate London’s housing shortage. Along with TfL, it seems the possibilities are far from being realised. Many DLR and Jubilee Line stations still lack over-station developments, years after opening. As I often point out, it’s now six years since Woolwich Arsenal DLR station opened, and even stage 1 of plans above the station have yet to begin.

Directly next to a high frequency railway line. Build housing!
Directly next to a high frequency railway line. Build housing!

Also in the area of Belevdere station, and I’ve not even mentioned the Asda and B&Q site. Though no doubt popular, it’s another huge retail shed and car park that wastes swaths of land yet is located very close to a station. It gets more of a pass some some (*cough* Charlton *cough*) as the site was developed around 10 years ago (originally solely as B&Q) when the planning system was amenable to retail parks, and population growth and housing problems were not as acute. I’m being pretty fair though, as even 10 years ago this was hardly ideal. Even placing parking on two levels would’ve freed up space for housing. Perhaps that should’ve been insisted upon when Asda took on a large expanse a couple of years ago. Click here for an aerial view.

With some imagination, sites like these by the station, have a crucial role in helping halt the failure to build enough new homes, and it wouldn’t require anyone to be displaced. The shopping parade would also greatly benefit from additional customers. I asked a local Bexley councillor about it, and whilst he was keen to see a masterplan drawn up for the area, those in charge at Bexley seemed to dragging their feet. But some of the land appears to belong to them, so alongside Network Rail it’s possible that redevelopment and increasing density could generate some much needed revenue. Any raised revenue could even allow the locally threatened splash park to stay open?

Erith

One station along the line is Erith, and there’s a multitude of development there. Firstly, we have Erith Quarry, where 514 homes are planned. Stage 1 will see 86 homes and a 630 place school by 2017. There’s also the former Bexley College site where Barratts are building 192 homes, and Erith Park, which is a huge scheme on the site of Larner Road estate. The town centre is also seeing a number of developments. When combined, Erith is witnessing building levels not seen in a very long time, and it has all been a bit under the radar, for me at least. Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich, an Erith based blog, has been doing a great job of recording progress. I hope to do a post covering all these in a bit more depth in the near future.

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