FromTheMurkyDepths

Housing and Development in London

Woolwich

Plumstead and Woolwich estates: neglect and decline

Whilst looking at the £1.2 million road upgrade from Plumstead to Woolwich I passed though the adjacent area of much post-war housing. It was all too evident once again to see very poor maintenance of public spaces and areas, and in particular council managed space in estates. In what is now a depressingly familiar tale, the area was a mess, and this post once again looks at neglect in Greenwich Council housing estates and the failures of various departments in the “Royal borough”.

London (11)

Greenwich Councillors should be angry at how Council Departments have allowed estates to decline this far. Various departments are failing at the most basic tasks. The area on the right in the above image is very unkempt. What impression does it give?

Why not do something with the space? Construct a play area perhaps. At the very least some basic maintenance would be a start. This would open up the area and provide visibility across the area.

Here’s another view from google streetview. It’s so bleak:

polthorne estate

The fencing on the left is broken in multiple places. It’s hard to find any walls and fences that aren’t falling apart in Greenwich managed estates. This spot could however be a Housing Association given it is a lot newer than surrounding buildings. However, the council can still act with such neglect. The area behind the fencing on the left is taken up with car parking, serves little purpose and could come down to open up the area. It’s falling down anyway.

There’s also some car parking behind the bushes on the right in the above photos which could be moved or even reduced. This spot is five minutes from the forthcoming Crossrail station and just around the corner on Perrott Street a ball court was demolished for a car park.

Ball Court

Football area in 2014 from Google Streetview. It now looks like this:

Ball Court 2

There is another ball court nearby but more than one would be welcome. It could be an outdoor gym or basketball court.

And then here’s the overgrown main entrance to the estate from the bus stops on the main road. A lovely welcome home:

Main entrance overgrown

Main entrance overgrown

Walking around reveals that even the most rudimentary design knowledge is absent. Things are installed at random in the cheapest way possible. Nothing is done to create a place people can be proud to call home. And then maintenance just doesn’t seem to happen.

Leaving some of the poorest in conditions so bad is shameful. It’s similar to the abject neglect in west Greenwich just outside the historic core which is surrounded by many new developments bringing Greenwich council millions.

And once again, this all predates cuts by a long time and is in the shadow of multi-million pound development bringing in millions of pounds. It’s a question of priorities. Ensuring some of the poorest and most deprived areas and people live in decent conditions often doesn’t seem to be one. Greenwich Council have to change how they spend money coming into their coffers from big developments to lift up these long-forgotten areas.

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7 Comments

  1. I suspect this is all more complicated than all that. First of all – trust me – it is still better than it was in the mid 1990s and the end of that regime of governments which starved Council housing of cash for anything at all. A lot of work went into estates after that with energetic housing officers and tenant leaders – although much of the investment went into updating the insides of dwellings. I am also not sure of the current rules about spending ‘money from developers’ and far from sure that such money would be allowed to be spent on doing up council estates – need to check that out? Over and beyond all that there is a whole sociology of what has happened on council estates where sales of quality council stock has put it into the hands of speculative landlords who house transients and invest nothing. There is also an end to the idea that municipal housing is for all and that the aspirational energetic people who used to form the leadership of tenant groups have died or moved on and are not replaced. This is all about changes in society – and there is a lot more factors and things which could be said. I know most housing officers do the best they can with limited resources and that there are also organisations out there trying to work on the environment around municipal housing and there have been some successes. They need support and practical help. We can’t go back to the 1970s when estates were well kept, there was money to spend on them and most people who were in need got somewhere to live and got it quickly – but it’s not yet reached the horrors of the 1990s

  2. There’s not really an excuse for not doing the basics. Cutting back weeds and replacing broken fencing and walls. There’s chronic issues with the simple stuff.

    When it comes to s106 and CIL income to improve areas – this has been possible. Many authorities have used it for a long time now. It can be used if it impacts on infrastructure (eg more homes can place pressure on childrens play areas, walking routes etc). There’s more restrictions now as only 4-5 development contributions can be pooled but still, things can be done.

    The blight of right to buy has affected many other councils, but RBG don’t seem to have dealt with it well. What is very revealing is comparing RBGs priorities with Community Infrastructure Levy income from new developments to other authorities. RBG make almost no mention of public realm, parks, public spaces etc in their document and submission to the national inspector. Lewisham devote about 6 pages in their equivalent document. It’s similar with Hackney, Southwark and even Tory boroughs. RBG just don’t seem to see much value in maintaining or creating welcoming community spaces and good upkeep despite the obvious benefits (community pride, increasing and encouraging walking and other health benefits, reducing crime or fear or crime etc etc).

  3. I can only speak from my own experience – and the policy issues you mention were not things I could really ever influence. Estates were in a terrible state in 2000 – as was street cleaning and everything else. It did get better, honest. We used to have residents’ walks round areas with council officers and lists of what needed doing made – and I would chase the officers until the work was done. I wasn’t the only councillor doing that. Council estates had sums of money and residents could decide how it was spent – I also think you need to realise that people’s priorities may be different – I remember more than one estate which just asked for more and more and more ‘security’ fencing, and nothing else. But then it got more and more difficult. There was one very, very effective tenant ‘leader’ who really fought to get things done – until he died. All sorts of things globally began to change and I am not going into all that but its about municipal housing and those that live in them being devalued in the national media – and of course that gets picked up by the residents themselves. We did get some public realm things done – in east Greenwich there were street improvements and of course the Pleasance, but I agree in the scale of what needs doing even the quite large sums spent barely notice. I could go on about this at length – I guess you don’t want all my many long sad stories.

  4. jlb89

    Really interesting read, I’m always shocked at how grotty Greenwich is outside of the core (ie the parts tourists don’t see or spend their money). CIL and S106 contribution monies could easily be devolved into area boards to allocate special funding – this happened at a council I used to work for. 5 area working groups set up, outside groups and internal council projects could apply for grants eg to do up pavements, improve street scenes etc. With direct grant funding cut an excellent way of distributing funds locally. Neglect of parts of Greenwich is shocking. I live in lewisham, at least the borough as a whole is slightly crap unlike Greenwich.

  5. Adam

    I’m currently living in one of those flats. The difference between this area and the Arsenal on the other side of the road is really disconcerting and raises interesting issues for the general community in the area.

    I will say that the car park is probably an improvement over the ball area – the grassy area between the flats is much more suitable for playing and there was a big need for more car parking space.
    Some small play equipment would be fantastic. I put a swing up from a tree and it was in almost constant use from kids over the summer.

    It feels like the recent improvements have been from cycling related projects – the cycle lane on plumstead road, and some nice bike shelters. I think this is TfL money though?

  6. EssKay

    Couple of points.

    Firstly, this kind of neglect is nothing new in Greenwich. It’s not a question of money (we have plenty compared to many other boroughs). It seems to be rooted in a deep seated indifference bordering on dereliction of duty from our local elected representatives and council officials. They seem to be all too ready to jump on the bandwagon for highly visible stuff like the Olympics, Royal Borough status, tourist festivals etc but god forbid that they get their hands dirty with the mundane, day to day business of maintaining or *gasp* improving our public realm space. That apparently needs to be initiated by “tenant groups”. Urban planning is apparently now a self service activity…

    Secondly, a lot of the worst affected estates are now well past their sell by date. They were cheaply built in the post war period and i’m sure never intended to go on as long as they have. We should be seriously looking at the cost of continuing to maintain them vs knocking them down to make way for modern replacements (and no, that doesn’t mean sell the land off cheap to private developers – it means work with some of the more principled housing associations)

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