Berkeley Homes 1, Powis Street 0 as M&S set to return to Woolwich

Marks & Spencer Woolwich, 5 June 2014
20 months after Marks and Spencer revealed it was closing its Woolwich store, it was revealed last week that it’s returning. But not to the traditional town centre.

It’ll be opening a food store by the new Crossrail station – good news for Royal Arsenal developer Berkeley Homes, but not so good for beleagured Powis Street, where a pound store now occupies the store giant’s old site.

Karl Whiteman, Divisional Managing Director at Berkeley Homes, said: “We are delighted to announce that Marks & Spencer will be joining our development in Woolwich, adding to the growing commercial and cultural offer in the area. Royal Arsenal Riverside is becoming a first rate destination for people to live as well as a place where visitors can shop, eat and relax, surrounded by historic buildings and the River Thames.”

Nothing, of course, about the rest of Woolwich. M&S’s arrival entrenches the growing division of Woolwich into two towns – the struggling one south of the A206, with the rich new one rising north of the dual carriageway.

The job of being Greenwich Council leader demands complete loyalty to Berkeley Homes, and Denise Hyland obliges in its press release announcing the move.

Cllr Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “We shared the disappointment of local residents when Marks & Spencer departed Woolwich town centre 18 months ago, and have kept in close contact with the company since then. News that they are to return so soon is a clear sign that they recognise that Woolwich is growing and developing – with the Crossrail link acting as a key driving force in that growth.”

It’s nothing of the sort. If anything, it shows that Woolwich is moving – not east towards Tesco as first envisaged, but north, across the Plumstead Road, leaving everyone else behind. Each evening, commuters scurry out of the DLR through deserted Beresford Market and across the road, without much of a reason to look up and notice the battered old town around them.

Absurd divisions between newcomers and established locals aren’t uncommon in London – try visiting Brixton or Peckham. But the Woolwich of 2016 is even more unsettling because the newer arrivals are tucked behind a big brick wall. Once Crossrail opens, how many will be crossing the A206 at all?

Woolwich borough crest detail

A rare bit of civic pride in Woolwich itself (rather than “Royal Greenwich”) – hidden inside a pub

How to fix it? Hyland herself floated a dramatic solution at a public Q&A held before Christmas – burying the A206 into a tunnel at Beresford Street.

But there appear to be simpler solutions – the rotting covered market could become home to a Lewisham Model Market-style venture (gentrification fears notwithstanding), new traders could be encouraged to diversify the traditional Beresford Square market.

Instead, though, the council seems to be reinforcing the divide, with propaganda weekly Greenwich Time regularly droning on about the “creative quarter” it is trying to create inside the Arsenal, filling the hole left by the failed Firepower museum. (This council press release talks about putting the area “on the map”, but doesn’t name Woolwich until the seventh paragraph.) With old buildings lying empty around Woolwich town centre – and the Woolwich Grand Theatre now rubble – opportunities to bring creative businesses to the area already exist. But they’ve just been ignored.

There’s no help from City Hall, either – there’s no interest from TfL in rezoning Woolwich Arsenal to zones 3/4, despite successful lobbying from Newham to get Stratford and nearby stations shifted to zones 2/3. If an incoming mayor freezes fares, it’ll reduce the scope for a similar move to be done to benefit Woolwich.

There’s also now an opportunity for new thinking on Powis Street itself. Around the time M&S pulled out of Woolwich, most of the freeholds around the town centre were sold by the secretive Powis Street Estates. They are now owned by investment firm Mansford, which promises “refurbishment” and “residential development”. What Mansford does with its estate will be worth watching – and will show if the decline is terminal, or if there’s life in old Woolwich yet.

21 comments

  1. Spring Heeled Jack

    There is a street food market in Covered Market on the last Saturday of each month, but it is poorly organised, with hardly any stalls and a non-existent profile meaning the general public have no knowledge of it.

    It’s a nice idea but doomed to fail.

  2. Joe Fonebone

    A definite uptown / downtown rift is occuring. The area north of the A206 is becoming an enclave. It’s long had its own little Tesco Metro and now it’s getting an M&S Food Hall with a Sainsbury’s also on the way. Doesn’t bode well.

  3. fromthemurkydepths

    If the council succeed in getting the Spray Street site right then connecting the two sides of the town will work better. I believe an announcement on that will be made in the near future.

    Also, building above and around the DLR site is crucial. Nine years after TfL signed a deal with developers not a thing as happened which is disgraceful. It’s an absolutely crucial site linking the old and new. There’s currently a fair few people hanging around the station causing agro and not making it the most welcoming place to arrive. Building above the DLR box to provide housing and shops should help put a stop to that, though there should already be multi-agency work in that area.

    Fully agree about bringing creative business into the town centre. Few are aware that Woolwich has London’s largest artist studio site with second floor studios as they’re tucked up past the ferry. There’s 450 artists there! Some collaborative work with the council to make their presence felt in the town centre would attract people both from the Arsenal site and beyond. A gallery space, some public art etc. Maybe a street art festival to liven up some very tired areas and buildings. A few towns have done similar and gained much in the way of publicity, tourists and livening up drab areas. But it takes creativity and innovation which RBG seem to lack. There’s certainly enough cash coming in from various developments to fund the modest costs.

    Areas I can see such a thing happening are the former Baths area along with Mortgramit Square, with its winding cobbled lanes and hidden areas. But sadly not anytime soon.

    In terms of Mansford and their ownership of many shops on Powis Street, there has been quite a few planning apps recently to convert areas above shops into flats, plus add a storey or two to a few.

  4. Kate

    Let’s make the whole of Woolwich the place to shop as it was when I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s .When the new development went on around General Gordon Square they were talking up plans for new shops and improvements ,nothing is happening except “behind the wall” .Surely the new residents must want shops near them other than the Supermarket food shops ,makes you wonder how long before it becomes a gated community to keep the rest of Woolwich out !

  5. Deborah

    As Murky mentions, the Spray Street development should begin to make a difference – with a cinema mooted along with swivelling the covered market (ideal for a summer evening venue) to face towards Beresford Square to better link the two. As for the traditional shopping areas of Woolwich, two to four of the large chains/department stores are needed to act as lynchpins to lure shoppers in, but with lots of interesting, independent shops and eateries to set the town apart from the usual market town clones. To aid this, the shop facades need to be refurbished and spruced up so that what is left of Henry Hudson Church’s architecture can shine once again And a return to a uniformity of neat shop frontswhich made Powis and Hare Streets look smart.

  6. Jenny T

    I thought the exact same thing when I heard the news. How depressing. Woolwich’s high street has so much potential, I can’t understand why more retail/food and drink businesses don’t invest in it. There are so many empty buildings on Powis Street and Hare Street. If more shops/cafes opened, surely the Arsenal lot would start to venture out into the town centre. I visited the new Guard House restaurant on Friday and was struck by how busy it was. So many Arsenal residents must have been spending their weekends either at home or out of SE18 before it opened!

    The way things are going, I can see it becoming more and more residential until we won’t have a high street at all. Berkeley Homes do not help at all. Their hoardings which have adverts for the Arsenal on include one for “local shopping” which uses a photo of Blackheath Village!

    And what about the “Bathway Quarter” behind the town hall which was supposed to be the artists/creative area?

    If the council can’t get Woolwich right, what hope does that leave for Plumstead High Street?……

  7. fromthemurkydepths

    One thing about the wall as that’s often mentioned – much of it is listed if I recall correctly. To even demolish what they have has been pretty arduous. I’d like to see much more go. Some obscure bits were recently demolished to the left of the main Arsenal entrance for Arsenal Phase 3 buildings. That took a while to be approved and it was a section that is hidden away.

    But when the ground floor retail opens at the base of the towers recently built and the Spray Street site over the road is demolished and rebuilt, the two sides should connect far better. If they can get a cinema at Spray Street, along with restaurants, shops and a new market and housing above then it should be a lively, buzzing area. There wont be a shortage of potential customers with all the people moving into the various Arsenal developments, Armourers towers next door, housing on the Spray Street site itself, housing above the DLR box etc etc. Thousands of potential customers in addition to the vast pent up demand there already is that isn’t catered for.

  8. Emma

    I think you’re being a tiny bit unfair. Whilst I agree that there is a divide between the two parts of the town personally I think that ‘Old Woolwich’ has been improving over the last few years, albeit slowly. I certainly shop there far more regularly nowadays than I did four or five years ago. There is in particular some great food to be had (Kailash Momo, Blue Nile, The Woolwich and whatever An is now called now it’s moved around the corner), and there are a couple of new shops on Hare Street. They aren’t terribly swanky but they are certainly an improvement on hoardings. Since the Woolwich opened I have hardly felt the need to go over to the ‘other’ side, apart from the occasional visit to the Cornerstone Cafe.

    Having said this I agree with the commenters above that LBG should be making more of the artistic community that exists in the area.

  9. David Cook

    Hi Folks, I grew up in Plumstead in the 1960’s – I left London and moved to North West England in 1989 when I was 28. Although I have been ‘away’ I have visited Central London fairly regularly since leaving and I have visited Plumstead & Woolwich a handful of times and most recently in July 2015. Woolwich was never an attractive town. An Industrial and Millitary mixture has shaped this town since the 18th century. For myself, as an outsider looking in, I have seen what looks like real improvements such as the Woolwich Centre, Greens End, DLR Station and ….the old Royal Arsenal site or shall we call it ‘Berkeleyville’ ?
    I was walking through Beresford market and I saw a market trader there at his stall (fruit & veg – not the financial sort) and i remembered him being there from the 1970’s ! – What changes he must have seen to the place over the years ? Powis Street is a depressing state of affairs – and a really sad sight to see the old M&S converted to a Pound shop. Woolwich is extremely polarized nowadays with young and relatively affluent professionals residing in their thames-side apartments – with absolutely no need or desire to walk across the ‘square’ into the town. The arrival of Crossrail will further polarize the place I fear !

  10. kleon

    At this point, positive news from Woolwich is more likely to come from the Arsenal. I’m confident though that Woolwich town centre will follow in due time. A while ago I was quite annoyed about Berkeley advertizing the Arsenal as “Royal Arsenal Riverside” in the “Royal Borough of Greenwich”, avoiding the word Woolwich at all times. But let’s be honest, Woolwich had sunk very deep. For many people in London it still is a tainted word. It’s crucial for Woolwich that the Arsenal is a huge success. Remember, they’re only half way, it could still fail. Okay, some new residents will stay in their ghetto – so be it, that’s their choice. Others will cross the road. We need them to spend their money in our town. I’m happy for anything positive happening either side of the A206.

  11. Neil

    Kleon is right, “Royal Arsenal Riverside” and the Crossrail are catalysts for change in the area as a whole. The Crossrail will encourage more development in the area, bring in new people and new prosperity. The Berkeley Homes development will satisfy most of this demand in the short-term, but beyond that the Crossrail will encourage new building and new investment to the area both sides of the road. A rise in the area regardless of which side of the road it’s on should be supported and embraced.

  12. Larry Poulton

    This is a subject close to my heart and one that never fails to get me angry. I recently watched an old b/w video on Youtube about Woolwich in the 60’s, a time I remember vaguely as I was a child in Woolwich at that time. The place was bustling an the market was varied and entertaining. I feel that over the years, Woolwich has become a backwater. The market is a sham, a pale reflection of what it was and more importantly, what it could be again if handled properly. I believe the 99p store now in the old M&S is closing, not surprising as Poundland bought the 99p chain and doesn’t need two outlets in such a small high street. The prevalence of phone shops and betting shops just seem to be idiomatic of todays high street but none the less makes the eyes sore.

    Many years ago I worked in the Arsenal and I still find it weird to walk around there today as there seem to be as few people in evidence now as there were then. Its touted as “ a stunning new neighbourhood” and Berkely even goes as far as: “WOOLWICH IS A VIBRANT AND THRIVING DESTINATION SET ON THE RIVER THAMES. BOASTING ONE OF THE OLDEST MARKETS IN SOUTH LONDON, THE NEWLY-REOPENED WOOLWICH GRAND THEATRE, AS WELL AS LEADING HIGH-STREET NAMES” Putting aside that the Market is a joke, that the Grand Theatre has just been demolished and that the High Street names doesn’t now include M&S, I find the use of the word “thriving” bordering on misrepresentation. There is a divide and at present I can only see it getting wider. The Arsenal is becoming a self contained village within Woolwich. There is nothing to tempt the residents out into the town centre and indeed, the majority seem to walk too and from the DLR oblivious to the town centre. I believe that the forthcoming development leading down to the river will include retail units at street level and this will like become a high street for the residents of the Arsenal.

    I am not sure I have the answers but I would like to see the Market and Indoor Market revamped. As others have said, we have one of the largest artist communities on our doorstep and it seem criminal not to capitalise on that. I would love to see a market to rival Greenwich Market in terms of food and crafts. We have the Tramshed, an historic place that seems to go unnoticed in the main. Totally run down and underused sites,like that around Spray Street, should be developed as they ar more central to the town. The empty DLR site should be utilised. I have said it before but Woolwich has a lot of history and when I walk down a high street like Rochester, with all its old buildings facades preserved where used as shops, I wonder why Woolwich can’t make more of an effort. That sense of history has been lost.

    Im tired now. I see so much waste, bad planning and lack of vision that I easily descend into a rant and it takes its toll on my sanity.

  13. The Hebridean

    The great A206 divide is happening throughout the borough as plans to develop the riverside corridor gather momentum. In Charlton the official council line is that Riverside will stitch together the area between the Dockyard and the Peninsula, although responses to the Masterplan consultation suggest that residents favoured linking Riverside with the rest of Charlton south of the A206. It looks as if the strategy is to create a parallel town all along the Thames and not to integrate.

  14. Aaron Fernandes

    Berkeley’s development of the Royal Arsenal is a very welcoming one! Due to the sky high prices of its properties they do attract professionals with high disposable income, plus Crossrail will only cement the growth of Woolwich. I personally think the Royal Arsenal is able to attract what it can due to the nature of the development being upmarket which has the pulling power for these shops/businesses to come in and open up.

    Woolwich’s main town centre however is a different story, the shops currently there seem to reflect what can survive in the area. I wouldn’t expect anything upmarket to open on Powis Street due to the nature that it probably won’t get many customers as the current shops seem to cater for a much lower price point. You will get some residents who love all the stuff happening at the Royal Arsenal with the shops, restaurant/pub, cafe etc but then you will get some who detest the prices in those upmarket establishments. Then you will get people who want those upmarket kind of businesses on Powis Street yet there has to be a market for them to survive in and so far Royal Arsenal seems to be the front-runner for that catalyst.

    Not to write off the main town centre, but the since the Royal Arsenal is in essence like an enclave over the dual carriage road (as said by many too), it is concentrated with expensive properties, so those residents have money to spend. Hopefully one day that can translate to Powis Street too, rather than concentrated within the Arsenal!

    Though for now the shops that are in Woolwich town centre seem to be ones which aren’t exactly mid/high end so there’s no chance that we’ll see one opening up soon, those kind of businesses have to have confidence in Woolwich as an area with enough demand and has the environment/money for one to open up and survive in.

    RBG should be doing more with enticing new businesses in, we already have a highly saturated street of fast food, salon/hairdressers and gambling places which aren’t desirable.

  15. David Cook

    Aaron is correct in his analysis of Woolwich and its ‘double’ identity. When the new M&S food shop opens adjacent to the Crossrail station, it will be interesting to know what demographic of clientele will use this facility on a regular basis ?One thing is certain, the developer (M&S or the franchisee) would have based their calculations of business viability on a healthy flow of commuters and local upwardly mobile professionals. In terms of a ‘trickle-down’ prosperity effect from the arrival of Crossrail (and proposed Royal Arsenal developments) to the rest of the town remains to be seen ?

  16. Shivanee

    I’m afraid one of the really big problems that Woolwich has is the sorts of people who hang around Woolwich town centre at night and around the DLR. Seeing PCSOs walking around moving people on on a Tuesday night is not a great first impression, particularly if you are a woman walking alone (as I noted when looking at a flat in the evening). Its easy to jibe at people who earn a bit more but there are too many reasons for them not to cross the road. It can feel intimidating and unsafe and I say that as someone who spent years living in Haringey!

    The Arsenal is getting a bit overpriced as well given its zone 4 (£1.8m flats?). Berkeley is getting greedy but there are plenty of other well connected places, Stratford, Canning Town etc. Without a primary school onsite, there could be longterm issues with residents’ staying power – don’t forget Charlton is getting overground, Kidbrooke Village is full of amenities and next to Blackheath and the Peninsula will still only be one stop from crossrail. All these areas have green space which the Arsenal is really lacking (Section 106?). I hope Woolwich improves but as fromthemurkydepths says, it will require a real creativity. It may be that nearby Charlton ends up the greatest beneficiary.

  17. PC

    There are a lot of people migrating to Woolwich to benefit from the property prices outside of the riverside development & the accessibility of the forthcoming Crossrail link within it.

    It is hoped that the required trickle down effect will come from them & that their influence (as they filter in & out as opposed to out & in) will be key to the steady improvement of Woolwich town.

  18. davidandersoncook

    PC
    I’m afraid your notion of a ‘trickle down or trickle up’ effect for Woolwich’s improvement is fanciful. I grew up in Plumstead and Woolwich in the 1970’s/80’s and the phenomenon of development of thames-side warehouses (into apartments) in the early 1980’s was key to the future residential development of docklands in general. What we are actually seeing is a ‘trickle-down’ effect where relatively affluent professionals and ‘city’ workers who cannot afford Canary Wharf prices are choosing to live a bit further down-river in more affordable but still desirable apartments. These upwardly mobile (sorry to regurgitate this saying) people are ‘self-contained’ within their ‘gated’ developments, with on-site food shops and handy transport links. I doubt very much that their hard earned cash will cross the A206 and benefit the wider Woolwich town centre. I hate to be blunt, but what we are seeing, right before our eyes, is a divided and ‘ghetto-ised’ Woolwich that has changed enormously over the last 30 or so years. A change for the better ? depends who you ask !

  19. PC

    Yes, there’s definitely been a lot of that going on and if I know who the many companies within Berkeley Group appeal to I’m sure it will continue.

    I’m more interested in the people moving to the area to benefit from Crossrail who are upwardly mobile but can’t afford the ridiculous prices within the RA.

    People like me who, though no stranger to Woolwich over the years, now own an actual house here which I am slowly & steadily improving as, like Woolwich it has been neglected over the years.

    And from what I can see in the streets around me, I’m not alone.

    Whether they’re owner occupiers like myself or investors who knows but the amount of refurb I see going on is telling.

    A similar thing happened with the arrival of the DLR & it’s no surprise the lady I bought my house from landed in Woolwich only a year before its opening.

    But for all it’s fantastic connections the DLR isn’t a patch on Crossrail as a transport link.

    And it’s not just a 10 minute walk from where the station will be either, look at the Plumstead pantry for example.

    And then there are the renters, previously tenants on the riverside development, who the area to their hearts but couldn’t buy Berkeley, either first or second hand, so who migrated inward to the Tesco flats.

    Look I may be guilty of being a hopeless optimist here & it’s not going to happen anywhere near overnight but I think it is very definitely happening & will continue to do so.

  20. Ken Welsby

    Like PC I am being optimistic. On a recent longer-than-usual car ride through the “uphill” parts of Woolwich (trying to avoid town centre congestion) it was interesting to see how many houses showed signs of improvement and renovation. Roofs repaired, new doors & windows, exterior walls repaired / treated. So regeneration is extending south of the town centre, which has to be a positive sign.