It’s long overdue, but definitive news that Woolwich’s Crossrail station will get built after all is worth celebrating. But neither the Government/TfL announcement, nor Greenwich Council’s news release, carry much detail on just how much this will cost.
The good news is that there shouldn’t be any direct cost to council tax payers. It’s also good to hear that one funding idea that I’d heard about – allocating all the grants TfL gives out for local improvements to Woolwich Crossrail for a number of years – is also not happening. But there’s still a few details which it would be good to get cleared up.
Here’s what we know, and what we don’t know, and some thoughts suggested to me by someone who knows their way around council finances:
a) The cost of fitting out the station has reduced from £100m to £54m. What happened to the other £46m? Does this mean ideas such as building a pedestrian tunnel to Woolwich Arsenal station have been junked?
b) Of this £54m, £5m is coming from the Mayor’s Regeneration Fund.
c) So how much of the remaining £49m is coming from Berkeley Homes? The council’s press release appears to hint that they aren’t paying much – and there’s been no statement from Berkeley to the stock exchange.
d) Greenwich Council’s contribution – and we don’t know how much this is, either – will come from developers, via a community infrastructure levy. Will Berkeley be paying this levy?
e) Community infrastructure levies have to be paid for when developments begin. Is this why so many projects have got under way in the past few months, to escape the levy?
f) Which new developments are going to start between the implementation of the levy and the end of next year? And which developments will have to pay it? Unless there’s a massive levy on a selected few developments, there’s a risk that Greenwich Council will be collecting this money for decades to come – which could lead to a future cash flow problem.
Now the hard work gets under way on commissioning and building the station – but also on making sure public transport links into and out of Woolwich are worth it. In some ways, North Greenwich, served by slow services taking indirect routes, is a template to avoid, despite being overwhelmingly successful. There’s no point crowing that “the whole borough” will benefit if you can’t even get a bus that runs from Eltham to Woolwich via the most direct route. Still, there’s five years to get it right…
2.55pm update: London Reconnections analyses the Woolwich deal.
Woolwich is a step closer to getting on the Crossrail map, as Greenwich Council and Berkeley Homes have now pencilled in a deal on how its station will be paid for.
Transport for London’s board will consider the deal at a meeting this Thursday. Crossrail, due to begin service in 2018, will link Maidenhead and Heathrow Airport in the west with Paddington, the West End, the City, Canary Wharf and Abbey Wood.
Berkeley Homes has already paid £25m for the station box – essentially, the hole in the ground – to be built.
But even though the box was completed in February, a deal between Greenwich, Berkeley Homes, TfL and the Government to find the £100m needed to fit out the the station hadn’t been. Neither TfL nor the Government were willing to add to the costs of Crossrail, while Berkeley had been reluctant to pay any more towards the station, despite the huge profits it is likely to make out of its Royal Arsenal development.
Now TfL board papers reveal:
“Following extensive negotiations a package for the overall capital cost of the works has now been agreed in principle.
“This sees significant contributions from the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Berkeley Homes, supplementing existing TfL and CRL budgets, to meet the overall capital cost of the works.
“The detailed terms of funding agreements with these parties are currently being finalised and are expected to be concluded by the end of June 2013.”
The outline deal follows Greenwich Council granting Berkeley planning permission for 21-storey tower blocks in the Royal Arsenal last month, while its chairman Tony Pidgeley recently joined Boris Johnson on a trip to the Middle East.
The details are currently confidential, and it remains to be seen how Greenwich will raise the funds to pay for its contribution.
With the four-year-old DLR extension to Woolwich nearly overwhelmed by demand, the council will rightly see the deal as a triumph – originally the Crossrail link was to pass under Woolwich without stopping, until lobbying from leader Chris Roberts and MP Nick Raynsford forced a rethink.
But as always, the devil’s in the detail. While Greenwich is sitting on large cash reserves, it is believed the council is unwilling to use those to pay for the station, which could lead to other parts of the borough losing out so Woolwich can gain. Watch this space…
(Thanks to the anonymous tipster who alerted me to this story.)
Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal development is set to get 21-storey tower blocks after Greenwich Council’s planning board backed an application from Berkeley Homes tonight. (Thanks to Eltham North councillor Nigel Fletcher for the tweet from the town hall.)
The board voted 3-2 for the plans, which will dramatically change the shape of Woolwich, and the riverside, introducing a series of tower blocks between 14 and 21 stories high, blocking Woolwich town centre off from the river.
The existing Royal Arsenal Gardens park will be to a narrow strip between the towers.
Berkeley’s proposals have been heavily criticised by Arsenal residents and one of the three local councillors, John Fahy, who branded it “wholly inappropriate”.
He added in a video posted to his blog earlier this week: “The whole of Woolwich, and the whole of Greenwich, see the river as important to them. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by high residential blocks that will be there not necessarily for local residents, but those who want to invest from other parts of the world.”
Planning chair Ray Walker (Labour, Eltham West), vice-chair Steve Offord (Labour, Abbey Wood) and cabinet member Sajid Jawaid (Labour, Plumstead) voted for the proposal. Voting against were Hayley Fletcher (Labour, Kidbrooke with Hornfair) and Geoff Brighty (Conservative, Blackheath Westcombe), while Clive Mardner (Labour, Abbey Wood) abstained.
Now Berkeley Homes – the council’s development partner at the former Ferrier Estate, now Kidbrooke Village – have had their way, it will be interesting to see whether the company which is set to gain a handsome profit from tonight’s decision finally comes up with the cash to fit out the Crossrail station at Woolwich, an issue featured here last month.
After paying £25m for the station site to be excavated, so far Berkeley has refused to come up with the £100m for the rest of the station – expecting Transport for London, the Government and Greenwich Council to cough up.
Interestingly, Berkeley chairman Tony Pidgeley joined London mayor (and TfL chair) Boris Johnson on a trip to the Middle East earlier this month, while last month, regeneration councillor Denise Hyland said she was “chipper” about the prospects of the council not having to fund the station.
Intriguingly, an image of the proposed station appeared in the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time in February, bearing the name “ROYAL ARSENAL WOOLWICH” – the name of Berkeley’s development. Previous images have seen the legend “WOOLWICH STATION” above the entrance.
Footnote: If Woolwich finally does get a Crossrail station, it’ll have done better out of Berkeley Homes for transport than Kidbrooke. Greenwich Council has handed over control of the roads through the old Ferrier Estate to Berkeley, which is duly planning, with council approval, to close the roads, forcing the 178 and B16 buses away from the new Kidbrooke Village development.
Residents in the adjoining Brooklands Park estate have been left high and dry by this – but Berkeley Homes is refusing to reverse its decision, instead pressing Transport for London – with Greenwich Council backing – to pay for a turning circle so buses can run up to Brooklands Park and back. (See the second petition document here, and the TfL consultation for more.) So far, though, TfL appears to be trying to call Berkeley’s bluff, and says it is happy to reroute the B16 service “if a suitable turning circle can be provided”.
You might not know it, but the park above’s days are numbered. Opened in 2000, Royal Arsenal Gardens in Woolwich, which sits on the site of the old power station, has always been a temporary park, but since 2008 Berkeley Homes, which is developing the old Royal Arsenal site, has planned to build tower blocks on the site.
It’s currently applying for planning permission for the latest alteration to its plans – which will, if approved, dramatically change the shape of Woolwich, and the riverside. It wants to build a series of tower blocks between 14 and 21 stories high, blocking Woolwich town centre off from the river, and reducing Royal Arsenal Gardens to a narrow strip between the towers.
Berkeley is holding an exhibition of its plans today from 3pm-8pm at Royal Carriage Mews, on Duke of Wellington Avenue in the Arsenal site. You can also view the plans online. It really only seems aimed at current Arsenal residents, though, despite the huge consequences of this scheme. I went along on Saturday and was taken by how confident the Berkeley reps were.
As is the way in the borough of Greenwich, this is hardly brand new news, but few people are really aware of the ramifications of all this – the debate seems to have taken place behind the walls of the Arsenal, and not in the open. Only here could a debate about a scheme to add 10,000 new residents go completely unnoticed in the wider community.
Of course, this all suits developers like Berkeley, largely operating outside public scrutiny. At the exhibition, a flyer was pressed into my hand with details of “how to support the scheme”. Support? Huge tower blocks replacing a park and looming over Woolwich? It’s made my mind up to oppose it. There’s a campaign against it from Royal Arsenal residents – and if you want to join them, your objection needs to be with the council by tomorrow (Tuesday).
Of course, the real interest will be in seeing whether the Labour councillors who make up a majority of the planning board will vote against a scheme from the council’s closest redevelopment partner – Berkeley is also redeveloping the Ferrier Estate as Kidbrooke Village, of course, and joined the council in its Bridge The Gap campaign to build a third Blackwall Tunnel. Council leader Chris Roberts, who sits on the board, bought a home in the Arsenal from Berkeley in 2009. Will he sit this one out?
To further highlight the close links between the council and the scheme, architects Allies and Morrison put together the wider masterplan for Woolwich town centre – which envisages demolishing the Waterfront leisure centre (and opening a new one further into Woolwich) and extending Hare Street to the river – as well as one for the Charlton riverside.
There’s one big elephant in the room, though, which could scupper all of this – Crossrail. The “box” which will contain the station, which Berkeley has paid for, has been finished, and the developer’s rightly making a big song and dance about it, holding an open day and fun run inside the box next Wednesday. It’ll make the money back by building homes on top of the station.
But at present, Berkeley’s not paying for the £100m station to be fitted out – meaning that it could just stand empty when Crossrail opens in 2018.
Without that Crossrail station, the viability of the whole Royal Arsenal project would be put into doubt – so you have to detect a certain amount of bluffing from the developer. Negotiations are ongoing between the government, Greenwich Council, Berkeley and Transport for London on finding the cash.
Ideas have included a levy on local businesses or Greenwich Council, which has well over £100m in cash reserves, borrowing the money on the markets and then taking a proportion of the fares at the new station. So far, though, there has been no joy – and if the station is to open when Crossrail does, work will have to start soon.
A similar situation occurred with the extension of the East London Line to Clapham Junction, when Lewisham Council wanted to see a station at Surrey Canal Road, close to Millwall’s ground, to help kickstart redevelopment there. Despite backing from the mayor, the government refused to cough up and there’s a space where a station should be. The stakes are higher in Woolwich, and nobody wants to see the same situation repeated.
Does the Crossrail conundrum put Berkeley Homes in a prime position to get its tower blocks approved? Would these too tall, too dense blocks end up being the price to pay for securing Woolwich’s stop on the line? A refusal isn’t going to help the case for Berkeley to cough up for Crossrail, after all.
All this is conjecture, of course. Such thoughts are not meant to enter councillors’ minds – but the Olympics proved deadlines can put shotguns to their heads, and the very real consequences of failing to get the station built are inescapable. Unless a rabbit is pulled out of the hat very quickly, you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when the matter comes up in a month or two.
According to today’s Financial Times, bureaucracy is threatening the planned Crossrail station at Woolwich, with Berkeley Homes – the company behind the Royal Arsenal development which is building the station – warning that if it doesn’t start work on the site in six days, the project is doomed.
Officials from the Department for Transport and Transport for London are yet to sign off on the project at Woolwich, which was scheduled to open in 2018, and are instead creating what developers are calling a bureaucratic blockade.
“We’ve been working on this project for four years and we’ve been sitting on the start line since September,” said Rob Perrins, chief executive of Berkeley Group, the construction company, which is developing the new station..
“It’s very frustrating, as this piece of much-needed infrastructure is getting bogged down in a mire of red tape and bureaucracy and we simply won’t be able to build it unless we can start by the beginning of February,” Mr Perrins added.
Berkeley Homes – which is also redeveloping Kidbrooke’s Ferrier Estate – struck a deal with Greenwich Council to fund building the shell of the station if it reduced the “affordable housing” element of the Royal Arsenal from 35% to 25%. In return, Greenwich Council would fund the fitting out of the station, seen as vital if plans to regenerate run-down Woolwich are to succeed.
The government said the issue would be resolved “shortly”.
(Thanks to Brockley Central for the spot.)
London Reconnections brings news of a debate in parliament last week about Crossrail – and, more pertinently, the chances of Crossrail coming to Woolwich. At the moment, Crossrail is due to run from Maidenhead and Heathrow Airport in the west, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
The station at Woolwich was a late addition in March 2007, after a great deal of campaigning from the likes of Greenwich Council (proving that its Great Projects obsession is not always a bad thing) after funds had been promised by Berkeley Homes, which is developing the Royal Arsenal site where the station would be. It’s worth bearing in mind that this would be a separate station from Woolwich Arsenal, on the north side of Beresford Street/Plumstead Road; clearly, any property developer with interests in land close to a fast, frequent rail link to Canary Wharf, the City, West End and Heathrow is in line to hit the jackpot.
But to accumulate you need to speculate, and it seems Berkeley’s run out of cash with which to splash out. It’s been hit by the downturn, and is one of a number of developers hit by the new coalition government’s plans to slash public spending. (Indeed, Berkeley’s plans to redevelop the old Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke now look under the cosh, despite the bulldozers already having moved into the grim blocks.)
Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford, who played a big role in getting Crossrail to stop at Woolwich, asked whether the government would ensure Woolwich was still included in the scheme. Transport minister Theresa Villiers’ response was not hopeful:
The plans to include a station at Woolwich have always depended on contributions from the developers who stand to benefit most from it. That was the case when the last Government took the decision to add the station to the Crossrail Act, and it remains the case under the new Government. It is abundantly clear that the debt crisis left by Labour has placed intense pressure on the public finances, so we cannot default to a position where a shortfall in the promised private sector funding for the station simply pushes up the costs for the taxpayer.
Indeed, there was no commitment even to ensure the Abbey Wood branch remained in the scheme. During the election, I spoke to a Conservative who was spitting blood over Boris Johnson’s cancellation of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit scheme. A second transport cancellation in the Abbey Wood/Thamesmead area wouldn’t exactly reflect well on that party. Indeed, true blue Bexley Council, which once had a modest campaign to see these improvements extended further into its area, called Jump on Board! campaign (website now deleted, although you’ll find its original press release here). Potential mayoral candidates, take note.
Pressed further by Mr Raynsford, who stressed he was not looking for further public contributions to the scheme, Ms Villiers replied:
I know that Greenwich council is actively engaged in the issues that we have discussed this evening. It is now important for all of us who care about Crossrail to assess thoroughly the possible alternative funding sources that could be available between the interested parties if Berkeley Homes does not step up to the plate and deliver what it promised. Therefore, while I cannot promise additional funding from the Department and the taxpayer, we do stand ready to try to help the interested parties find a solution to enable Woolwich station to go ahead. The right hon. Gentleman can have my absolute assurance on that.
But where would that money come from? Has anyone else got a few hundred million pounds handy? Of course, while a new railway station at Woolwich would cost a fortune, so does subsidising Woolwich in its current status as a run-down tip. Hopefully, wise heads will prevail and Crossrail will stay.
Interestingly, the government might not have been in this fix if it’d chosen an alternative route for Crossrail – although my own corner of SE London would be looking very different for it. The present Abbey Wood Crossrail branch runs via Canary Wharf and the Royal Docks (using some of the old North London Line and stopping at Custom House), before coming across the river at the Royal Arsenal. However, the other option on the table was to run via Canary Wharf, then across the river to join up with the mainline at Charlton. It was certainly cheaper – a Greenwich Council document from 2002 estimated it’d be £700m cheaper, Building magazine in 2003 put the saving at £400m. Greenwich Council mounted a big campaign in favour of the Charlton option, only to see the Royal Docks win out – with even Ken Livingstone admitting “the Treasury has gone for the high-cost route into the Thames Gateway”.
Part of the thinking behind this was that the Royal Docks still needs a lot of work (and a bit of track would come free when the North Woolwich rail line closed), another part was to keep the Crossrail service efficient by keeping it off the knackered south-east London rail network and solely on its shiny new tracks (if you’ve caught the new London Overground south of New Cross Gate, you’ll see how it can get hit by delays as soon as it joins the old Southern Region). But while things have certainly changed since then (a public inquiry is yet to report back on a new housing development off Victoria Way, the Greenwich peninsula is much more developed now), I wonder if reviving the Charlton scheme could be Crossrail’s saviour?
(See also: Dave Hill, Brockley Central.)