Tall ships came and went along Greenwich borough’s riverside over the weekend. Woolwich and Greenwich saw the brunt of action as expected, though a few things happened at Eltham. There’s been a fair bit of comment about how Woolwich’s town centre seems to have missed out on much action.

I enjoyed my time in Greenwich. It was packed and the event appeared to be massively helping local businesses. Though Greenwich Tories criticise the event I have no objection to the general idea; an event which brings people together, supports local businesses and also hopefully provides a longer term impact in terms of repeat visitors.

I did raise my eyes at Greenwich Councillor Sizwe James popping up on Twitter proclaiming how it helps High Streets. It certainly seems to, but he is charge of £3.5 million from TfL that could, and should, work wonders on boosting forgotten or neglected shopping parades across the borough as it does in other London boroughs. But for years TfL’s millions have done little in this area due to Greenwich Council and once again there’s no word at all on using it to improve local shopping parades.

There certainly are issues with the festival. I passed through Woolwich on the way to the DLR at around 8pm over the weekend. Based upon this admittedly limited experience, there was no impact in the town centre. A major town centre on a Bank Holiday weekend with a major festival happening should be buzzing. There was no life except the usual hostile environment around the station.

If people do feel like making a repeat visit based upon Tall Ships then the atmosphere around the station at night is enough to put some off. Other councillors such as Dan Thorpe, deputy leader and cabinet member for transport and regeneration was also on Twitter bigging up Woolwich but it’s the bread and butter problems that persist and need addressing.

There’s good things to do in Woolwich and those options are increasing with recent additions such as artFIX. The Woolwich Equitable pub is fantastic. But first impressions count and they aren’t good at that time of night – festival or not. Seeing the state of it makes it clear why many prefer not to leave the Arsenal site.

Over in Greenwich

Whilst in Greenwich I had another look at many new-builds under construction, and as usual passed council blocks in the middle of it all that are maintained by Greenwich Council’s Housing Department. They were generally as bad as ever. More in a bit.

The concrete core of Bellway’s River Gardens has shot up. This is the penultimate block in this development on the south west of the Peninsula. Bellway Homes recently received approval to bump up the number of flats.

Concrete core on left

The next block will look very similar to the block recently completed. This development is one of the poorer efforts in the area. It’s too bloated with floors 2-9 having excessive prominence above feeble street-level frontages, plus it’s pretty drab with extensive use of grey cladding. Earlier stages partly used timbre which faded to a stained and weathered grey within a year or two which looks pretty cheap.

Next to it is Barratts Enderby Wharf with its striking turquoise and orange blocks. The penultimate block is now rising. Behind is the tower element of Precision by Telford Homes. This will have green cladding.

Enderby block on left with precision tower to the right

Over to the west near the Creek is another large development; here’s Essential Living’s tower by the Creek:

A bit further east is the oft-mentioned Thornham Street Estate. One surrounded by new builds. Sorry if this is a bit groundhog day but it’s an example of ongoing neglect which has reached the point of being dangerous and one likely to cost taxpayers dear.

Land around the tower base wasn’t as awful as it’d been on prior occasions. They’ve trimmed the foliage near the entrance but it’s still pretty awful on the whole. Just about every wall has broken bricks. I’ve said it before – this neglect is asking for litigation.

There’s loose bricks at head and waist height of children. It’ll take one to mess around and pull a brick out and that’s an injury and thousands of pounds of Greenwich taxpayers money in claims. And Greenwich council have been told about it.

The photos don’t do a good job conveying how bad it really is. Broken walls and fences are a common theme in areas managed by Greenwich’s Housing Department. They do not appear to employ anybody who can fix these issues. Greenwich Councillor Averil Lekau is in charge of public housing and surrounding land managed by the Housing Department.

The exterior of the tower also seems to be looking worse with stains increasingly evident.

Stained exterior. Entrance area in front is poor condition

As I’ve said before, despite this block being surrounded by a ridiculous amount of new builds that’ve brought millions to Greenwich Council in the form of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy payments, not one penny has gone on improving an area where some of the poorest Greenwich residents live. At least in the past decade.

Behind where the above photo was taken is New Capital Quay, to the left is The Gramercy, to the right is Caledonian Wharf and then Essential Living’s tower. A five minute walk down Norman Road brings us to the Movement development and a few new hotels.

These would have brought in much, much income to Greenwich Council and it’s not unreasonable to expect some to be used to improve the condition of public space around public housing. This would happen in many boroughs across London.

Gramercy development

And that is one criticism of Tall Ships. If Greenwich Council didn’t have one of the most hopeless Housing Departments when it comes to maintaining public space then they’d be less questions about spending such sums on a festival just a stone’s throw away. They’re just so poor on the basics. Cross the Creek and look at the landscaping, parks, greenery and general appearance of Crossfield’s estate. It’s so far above what Greenwich Council manage.

There’s serious and chronic structural problems in some departments. Councillors and Scrutiny Panels are failing to hold them to account. People living at Crossfields over in Lewisham borough can take pride in the place. Live in dignity. Not be ashamed to welcome visitors to their block.

Presumably this doesn’t occur, or matter, to Greenwich Councillors or staff if they’re happy to allow places to degrade so far? The money’s there to improve poorer areas despite the endless wailing about cuts.

It’s a Labour council ignoring this problem. Happy to take the developer dollar but not to use it to improve the housing of some of the poorest in the borough.

At The Gramercy development adjacent to Thornham Street Estate, Up the Creek comedy club have occupied a unit. No other units appear to have anything imminent.

It’s a small thing but why not attach street lighting to buildings here? It’s been made much easier over the past year under regulation changes. Doing so reduces obstacles on paving, and if it became the default standard procedure borough-wide it would reduce costs further down the line. When street work needs to be carried out, or cycles lane installed in certain area, street lighting poles will be less of an issue.

Back to the Tall Ships event, and all in all the weekend seemed a success. It does a lot of good. But if Greenwich keep getting the basics so wrong in so many departments they can’t expect to get away without questions. How much staff time is taken by Tall Ships to the detriment of other issues?

Are staff distracted from working on improving these crumbling estates, or Plumstead’s rotten High Street or any other number of serious issues by being engaged in this event for months beforehand? The festival is no panacea to these problems. I doubt it’ll help the ruling Labour council electorally in just over a years time if systemic failures aren’t addressed. When they rub up against each other so starkly questions of competence and priorities will linger.

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