The development containing Woolwich’s giant Tesco store has been nominated for the Carbuncle Cup, architecture’s prize for the UK’s worst new building. The whole block has been developed by Spenhill, a subsidiary of the retail giant.
The store, which opened in November 2012, and its associated Woolwich Central housing development have been shortlisted for the prize by architects’ trade journal Building Design.
BD’s Ike Ijeh writes:
Woolwich might have thought that its days as a military outpost were over. Wrong. Somehow what looks like the world’s largest shooting range gained planning permission right in the middle of the town centre, presumably after masquerading as housing above a Tesco supermarket.
Camouflage comes in the way of some truly diabolical cladding and a massing strategy that seems to have been directly inspired by the 1948 Berlin Blockade; we can only hope that residential leases come with free airlift. Tesco may be the world’s third largest retailer but clearly when it comes to this untactical offensive, every little hurts.
“If you approach it from Angelsea Road, it towers above the pub and small shops on Woolwich New Road – this isn’t a development that’s going to be held in much affection outside the town hall and Tesco HQ. Look out for it in next year’s Carbuncle Cup,” I wrote when the store opened 19 months ago.
Greenwich Council were enthusiastic backers of the store when it opened – the authority gained a new civic HQ and library out of the move – yet it’s unclear whether the store has been the shot in the arm that Woolwich town centre needed. Many of the other retail units in the development remain unlet.
Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer announced plans to close its store there.
It’s not the first time the award’s judges have condemned a Greenwich borough development – 2012’s award went to the “disastrously conceived restoration” of the Cutty Sark.
Last year’s prize went to a student block on Caledonian Road, Islington, which features windows facing onto a brick wall. 2010’s award went to the Strata tower at Elephant and Castle, blasted for its “Philishave stylings”.
Skint? Need a few quid for the week’s shopping? Why not send a missive to the council’s propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time, opining on how great it is? Note the voucher can only be spent in Sainsbury’s in Woolwich – mustn’t been seen to be crawling too much to Tesco – so if you were hoping to use the stores in Greenwich, Eltham or Lee Green, then tough.
There are those who think that the council could be doing more to promote small businesses. West Greenwich hardware shop Bert & Betty will be shutting its doors next month, longstanding Greenwich Market games store Compedia packed it in last month, and nearby clothes shop Belle shut on Christmas Eve.
Local councillor Matt Pennycook responded with a typically thoughtful tweet.
He’s right, they do. Unfortunately, the council doesn’t seem to be listening. Here’s the front page of this week’s Greenwich Time.
Indeed, the council helped whip up a retail frenzy by plugging the opening on its Twitter feed. Such a shame it doesn’t do this for non-multinationals, except when the council needs to promote itself. It neatly sums up the gulf between many in the local Labour party and the council leadership which supposedly represents them.
Of course, it hasn’t always been this way – the admirable Greenwich Card scheme was launched in the 1990s and helped pushed trade towards local businesses who were prepared to offer a small discount. So it’s not as if the tools aren’t there. But under the Chris Roberts regime, though, it’s been largely forgotten about.
Under the current leadership, the will just isn’t there. But will the next leader listen? There’ll be scores of small businesses across Greenwich borough who’ll be hoping so.
And lo, the saviour was born. Happy Christmas.
Odd goings-on at a meeting of Greenwich Council last night. It should have been an important night if you live in the riverside part of Charlton, as a long-standing application to build a new Sainsbury’s store on Woolwich Road, on the site of the old Wickes branch, was to have been have been approved or rejected.
In short, Sainsbury’s has run out of space in its Greenwich store, and would like to open a new store half a mile down the road, to the same environmental principles as its 13-year-old current branch.
Marks & Spencer would take up space in the building too, and developer LXB – which has bought up much of the Charlton retail space – has spent a lot of time wooing local residents’ groups and pledging that it’ll bring a bit of life back to the Woolwich Road.
The planning application was submitted in May, and these things are meant to take 13 weeks to come to a decision. In “Royal” Greenwich, this actually took until the penultimate day of November to be scheduled for a decision.
But that wasn’t enough. Four days after Woolwich’s new mega-Tesco opened, on the night of the meeting, Greenwich Council’s planning board decided to delay the Sainsbury’s application even further. But why?
Apparently, a site visit was needed. Even though this is a prominent site, sat between two A-roads, and a visit could have been arranged at any time within the past five months. Also, a “retail impact assessment” was required – but why couldn’t have been done in the five months it took this application to come before the planning board? After all, it’s 13 months since a councillor voiced reservations on he effect this would have on Woolwich.
All of this came as a surprise to the council’s planning officers, but it was to no avail – Sainsbury’s application, submitted in May, was booted well into the long grass.
How did this happen? Well, there was an exchange of scribbled notes, which started with regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland (of foot tunnels fame), and involved council leader Chris Roberts, planning director Steve Pallett and planning chair Ray Walker. And then, mysteriously, the item was struck off the agenda.
Incidentally, across the road from Woolwich Town Hall, and a couple of miles from the Sainsbury’s site, a new mega-Tesco has just opened. Tesco built the council’s new HQ as part of the deal, and council leader Chris Roberts has spoken warmly about the job opportunities the new store has brought.
Wisely, though, as a member of the planning board, Chris Roberts didn’t appear in the photos marking the store’s opening on Monday – leaving that to mayor David Grant, MP Nick Raynsford and Abbey Wood-based Olympian Zoe Smith, with a cheque from Tesco to the council’s charity.
But despite his endorsements of Tesco in Woolwich, he was still able to take part in an exchange of notes which resulted in a planning decision about a rival’s store being deferred for a “retail impact assessment”. (Even though one had already been done – see below.)
So, what on earth is going on? Local campaigners in Charlton want to use the Sainsbury’s scheme (and the long-delayed Travelodge, also backed by LXB) as leverage to make the Woolwich Road less of a filthy rat-run and more of a pleasant place to live.
Yet despite months of prevarication, Greenwich Council has kicked it into the long grass, just as a rival’s store opens. What is going on in a council run by a party which, on a national level, brands Tesco “an almighty conglomerate”?
11.45am update: It’s been pointed out to me that a retail impact assessment had already been done – it’s two documents in this enormous bundle here. Council officers, meanwhile, had been working under the belief that the issue would be discussed last night. What is going on?
Life in Woolwich won’t be the same again. The new Tesco on Woolwich New Road has just opened its doors for the first time. The motto “Every little helps” now looms over General Gordon Square – but will the rest of the struggling town centre be able to live with its giant new neighbour?
The supermarket is just one part of the huge Woolwich Central development – Greenwich Council’s new Woolwich Centre HQ was the first to open, and flats are being built above Tesco. If you approach it from Angelsea Road, it towers above the pub and small shops on Woolwich New Road – this isn’t a development that’s going to be held in much affection outside the town hall and Tesco HQ. Look out for it in next year’s Carbuncle Cup.
Clearly, though, the new store has created hundreds of new jobs – one reason why the council has cosied up to Tesco, despite criticism of the chain from, um, the Labour Party. It’s been the way Greenwich under leader Chris Roberts has done regeneration, by building up close alliances with selected large companies, and relentlessly promoting their work.
But if Tesco’s arrival at one end of Woolwich town centre kills off competition at the other end, will this backfire? Tesco hasn’t had a full-size supermarket in the borough since the early 1980s, when it pulled out of its dowdy old Eltham store. Since then, it’s transformed itself into the country’s biggest retailer by competing aggressively with all-comers. The new store features an optician, ethnic foods and a health and beauty department – it won’t just be Sainsbury’s in the firing line, and the effects may well be felt far beyond Woolwich.
Some of the volunteers who gave out council newspapers during the Olympics will be brought back to encourage shoppers to venture down Powis Street. You’ll have to be at least 35 to remember Woolwich as a thriving town centre, hammer blows over the decades include the 1980s loss of Cuffs department store, the closure of the Co-Op in the 1990s, the closure of the Arsenal and the relocation of Greenwich University and Morgan Grampian publishing. Exiled to zone 4 in public transport, it’s a tough sell to tempt businesses to replace what’s been lost, and there’s been a lack of innovative thinking in trying to fill these empty buildings. (Why not offer them at low rents to creative industries, which worked in Deptford and is working at Second Floor Arts by the river?)
The extension of the Docklands Light Railway and the revamp of General Gordon Square have been bright spots, and it’s true that Tesco might will encourage people to rediscover a town centre they abandoned years ago. But all this is far from certain – what we do know for sure, though, is that the next year is going to be a crucial one for the future of Woolwich.
Saturday’s Guardian contained this interesting tale…
Tesco has become “an almighty conglomerate” abusing its unfettered market power to dominate towns at the expense of small retailers, Labour claimed as it called on the government to confront the chain.
The shadow local government minister, Jack Dromey, said: “Tesco want to rule retail, in particular the southern swath of England. It is simply not right that you can have one almighty conglomerate using its market power at the expense of the high street, and other retailers, particularly small struggling retailers.”
He said: “High streets have become like ghost towns with local retailers out of business with dire consequences for communities, the poor, the elderly and those without access to cars. This is a deeply felt issue all over Britain.”
Clearly the memo never reached Woolwich Town Hall. The story came a few days after a rare appearance from local Labour MP Nick Raynsford and a not-so-rare appearance from council leader Chris Roberts in Greenwich Council’s weekly Greenwich Time last week – bigging up a mammoth new Tesco, now under construction in Woolwich along with a housing development.
The 1.4m square feet of modern new development is part of the wider regeneration of Woolwich and will provide an exciting new centrepiece for the town centre. It is being built on the former site of Peggy Middleton House.
The scheme is being developed by mixed-use developer Spenhill, Tesco’s regeneration subsidiary. The 960 new homes will either have one, two or three bedrooms.
The flagship Tesco store will create 400 retail jobs and apprenticeships, with the new smaller shops planned for the site also requiring staff.
So, is Tesco destroying town centres or the saviour of them? Could they make their minds up?
In Tesco’s favour, mind, is that the development has delivered a shiny new council HQ and library, in contrast to the government-backed Hole in East Greenwich fiasco a few miles away, and replacing a number of rotten old admin centres nearby.
Contrary to rumour, I’m told the fancy bit at the top, which lights up after dark, isn’t the leader’s office, but a suite that can be hired out for functions.
Council staff moved in last month, and I’m told some have taken to their new offices with a passion, including a fight between social workers now being having to share their desks instead of having their own allocated spaces. It was quite a punch-up, it seems.
Locals in Woolwich have also apparently been helping themselves to computer equipment from the library, which didn’t have the security tags the books contain.
Any other tales from the new Woolwich Centre would be gratefully received. Perhaps if the council is such good mates with Tesco, it could take some tips from the company on stock control and security…