So the 2017 Tall Ships Regatta is over and the vessels are sailing off to the North Sea. How was it for you? It all seems to have gone well from the little I saw – you may be able to say more.
If you pay council tax in Greenwich borough, you’ve a direct interest in whether or not it was a success – it costs the council £2 million. They’ll have to have shifted a lot of £5 programmes to make that back. Local Tories have long grumbled that the event should be making money and it should be more heavily sponsored. Indeed, the list of sponsors did look like a roll-call of usual suspects – the developers and hotel firms that benefit from “brand Royal Greenwich”. You could have had your firm’s name all over the riverside walk for £19,000 plus VAT.
But for the council leadership this is an investment in local businesses – a good old-fashioned Labour intervention in the economy, like building a cinema in Eltham. (This argument never stretches to Blackheath fireworks, mind.)
The trouble with this kind of one-off event is that it’s hard to quantify any benefit. There’ll no doubt be a report within a few weeks that indicates the local economy benefitted by squillions, so there’ll be lots of back-slapping. Whether or not this is really the case will be harder to tell. That said, it certainly reinforces Greenwich’s position as one of the very few real tourist draws outside central London.
But it’s also meant to draw people to Woolwich, too. And this is a more difficult sell. Indeed, local business there weren’t impressed with 2014’s event, something this website reported on last year.
Essentially, because it takes place on the riverside, it benefits the businesses in Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development, and does nothing for those in the traditional town centre. A few plans were set out to fix this, including “a joined up event management plan that links the main town centre with the Arsenal Riverside Festival site”, “integrated way finding and high street dressing to link the town centre to the Arsenal Festival site”, and “animation of Beresford Square, Powis St and General Gordon Square”.
A draft business engagement report suggested the council should “host (non-competing) stalls and attractions in General Gordon Square and Powis Street to encourage footfall and dwell time in the main town centre”.
Except that there was – as far as I could tell – nothing outside the Royal Arsenal. I had a quick look in Woolwich on Saturday and – a few bits of bunting aside – it seemed to be a normal day. Nothing happening in General Gordon Square or Beresford Square, just the odd performer in fancy dress avoiding the costly food and drink in the Arsenal. General Gordon Square, with its big screen (pictured above on Saturday), was its usual mildly depressing self.
Instead, all the effort seemed to have gone into social media. Here, cabinet member Sizwe James pleads with us that if we visit the Earl of Chatham pub, his captors will set him free.
Woolwich being a hub for tall ships could be a brilliant thing – but the benefit seems to be flowing towards one particular developer rather than the town as a whole.
Now, I may have missed something – and if you saw a choir of Jack Russells performing sea shanties in front of the big screen, please use the comments box below – but by neglecting the traditional town centre again, I can’t help thinking the council has unwittingly made the divide between Woolwich town centre and the Royal Arsenal that little bit wider.
Anyway, the best place to watch Easter Sunday’s Parade of Sail wasn’t Greenwich, it wasn’t Woolwich, it was the Thames Barrier. If the tall ships return – and I’m sure they will – make a note for next time.
11pm update: Greenwich Council deputy leader Danny Thorpe says “loads happened” in Woolwich town centre “and all over the borough”. I’ve added an image of the report which made recommendations for Woolwich.
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?
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.
There’s an interesting feature in this week’s Economist about Berkeley Homes, the developer which had a great influence on Greenwich Council during the Chris Roberts years.
It’s not just interesting because it features “a local blogger” commenting on the former Dear Leader, who’s still in close contact with the council leadership, and his ownership of a Berkeley home on the Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich. It also features the revelation that Boris Johnson was given a £500 ceremonial trowel by Berkeley’s chairman, Tony Pidgeley, last summer. (He was also given a glass paperweight in October.) Johnson is, of course, responsible for strategic planning approval for developments such as the Arsenal (which is GLA land) and Kidbrooke Village. (Mind you, at least you can find Johnson’s gifts and hospitality on the City Hall website – try having a look for the equivalent on the Greenwich site.)
It’s not just Berkeley, it’s not just Greenwich, it’s not just Boris Johnson. Developers’ demands are weighing heavily on many London boroughs, but some are more eager to be associated with them than others. And Berkeley’s particularly good at gaining influence, especially as Pidgeley is also president of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (chair: Chris Roberts’ friend Mark Adams) which has been pushing heavily for the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge. Indeed, this written answer from Johnson to London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon acknowledges the link between Berkeley and the LCCI.
Next month’s tall ships boondoggle will also feature another example of a developer wielding financial power – Barratt Homes, which is currently letting historic Enderby House rot away, is sponsoring the event and has its name on banners in Greenwich town centre. “Festival supporters” include Berkeley, Cathedral Group (Silvertown Tunnel supporter and Morden Wharf developer) and Knight Dragon (Greenwich Peninsula developer). Lots of lovely hospitality, no doubt.
It’s not just on tall ships where developers and councillors can get together. Earlier this summer Cathedral’s chief executive Richard Upton popped up at the unveiling of a tree dedicated to Vice Admiral Hardy at Devonport House, Greenwich, alongside Greenwich leader Denise Hyland and Lewisham’s deputy mayor Alan Smith. Cathedral owns Devonport House, alongside the Movement development by Greenwich station and the Deptford Project across the borough boundary. Naturally, it got a warm write-up in Greenwich Time.
So it’s worth keeping an eye on little things like this. As developers become more powerful, and with councils often unable to build their own housing, do we have representatives that can resist these charm offensives and fight for a good deal for us all?
Incidentally, the picture above is that of an ad for the latest phase of the Royal Arsenal – effectively, the flats that’ll pay for Berkeley’s contribution to the Crossrail station there. Note the little back-scratch for the mayor in the shape of a New Routemaster cruising along Beresford Street – in reality, it’s highly unlikely that the Roastmaster will ever make it to SE18.
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.
The propaganda battle from City Hall and Greenwich Council over the Silvertown Tunnel has gone up a notch again, after the Transport for London consultation reported, surprise, surprise, “continued support for new river crossings in east London“.
Of course, a dodgy survey proves very little. You can offer children a year’s supply of sweets and they’ll take it, but if you warn them their teeth will fall out you might get a different response. In a similar way, you can tell people building a new road will make their journeys easier and they’ll believe it – particularly if you don’t tell them the evidence proves building new roads simply generates more traffic, add to existing high levels of pollution, and will simply add to congestion elsewhere.
Indeed, the leading question which kicked off the consultation gives the game away – “how many times a week do you cross the river by road?” 32% of Greenwich borough residents who answered the consultation said they crossed it four or more times each week – which strikes me as unrepresentatively high.
That said, the 373-strong petition against Silvertown features heavily in the round-up of responses to the consultation, though oddly doesn’t feature in TfL’s report to the mayor – a beautiful example of officials telling their bosses just what they wat to hear. There’s no mention of Greenwich’s Bridge The Gap campaign, an attempt to rig the consultation, except in quotations from the Silvertown petition.
What is striking, though, is Greenwich Council’s desperation to see this crock built – despite anger within the Labour party which supposedly controls it – with leader Chris Roberts declaring: “We stand ready to assist Transport for London in the work necessary to bring these crossings to the next stage of development.”
Greenwich’s neighbours, though, aren’t so excited. Here’s the views of other boroughs, as taken from the consultation.
Barking and Dagenham Council expressed “serious reservations regarding the current proposals. The Council remain concerned that Silvertown tunnel will draw additional vehicles and ‘clog up the local road network’”.
Southwark Council were “concerned that they may be potentially negative traffic impacts from the Silvertown tunnel” and “cannot support the current proposals.”
Lewisham Council:”has concerns that traffic impacts will result from Silvertown tunnel, particularly on the A2 and South Circular, and requests details of modelling of any proposed mitigation measures. ”
Hackney Council were “concerned about the potential highway impacts of increased traffic on the approaches to the Silvertown tunnel”
Redbridge Council “raised concerns with how the Silvertown tunnel’s northbound connected with the existing highway network.”
All the above are Labour councils, except Redbridge, which is run by a Tory/Lib Dem coalition.
These fears would impact the most on Greenwich itself, yet they are barely mentioned in Greenwich’s full response. Even Newham’s support for Silvertown was “subject to concerns over additional traffic impacts in the borough and in particular, around Canning Town and Royal Docks”. No such caveats in Greenwich’s response.
Indeed, if you look at the businesses that line up in favour of Silvertown, the you can see just who’s really influencing Greenwich Council’s line.
Berkeley Homes Ltd – “Strongly supports new crossings at Silvertown and Gallions Reach.” (Greenwich Council’s development partners at Kidbrooke Village, Royal Arsenal developers)
Cathedral Group – “Fully supports the proposed Silvertown tunnel.” (Property developer which owns Morden Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula).
AEG – “Strongly supports Silvertown tunnel which will provide a much needed relief to the area, support AEG’s next development phases on the Greenwich Peninsula and stimulate growth.” (Owner of the O2.)
Quintain – “Strongly supports the proposals, in particular for the Silvertown tunnel.” (Greenwich Peninsula developer whose projects include the socially-cleansed Peninsula Quays site.)
A further report will come from TfL this summer, so expect our elected representatives to be issuing more propaganda and campaigning on behalf of
the people of Greenwich property developers.
But there’ll also be more from the No To Silvertown Tunnel campaign – if you want to get involved, feel free to drop me a line. Watch this space…
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.