The failure of Greenwich’s New Capital Quay riverside units

The sun’s out, there’s people milling around the Thames path at Greenwich and yet alongside is a whole bunch of empty retail and commercial units at New Capital Quay in Greenwich How can this be?

It’s been a few years now since New Capital Quay opened in Greenwich. Since then only a fraction of unit alongside the river have been taken on. This is a prime riverside spot and there’s no shortage of people passing on most days what with a large Waitrose round the corner and the recent installation of a footbridge over the Thames.

Decent footfall but all units empty

Unfortunately only a few units are occupied since completion four years ago. There’s the Fuller’s pub called the Sail Loft. A few shops and a gym too. But this should be a bustling spot given the location and large increase in local residents and tourists.

To see how it’s done correctly there’s great example in Bristol named Wapping Wharf. This opened around the same time and is similarly near to many other pubs and restaurants and by a river, yet all units have been taken on, there’s many  independents and a great range. Oh, and it’s very popular.

All units seemed occupied and were extremely busy. The contrast with Greenwich is pretty stark, and it’s a great shame Greenwich isn’t like this. There’s not exactly a large number of good music venues in Greenwich, and for a major town the restaurant choice isn’t that good. Plenty of scope for interesting places.

So what’s gone wrong? Here’s a glossy sales ad before opening in 2013.

It seems many Greenwich developments are half empty at best. The Movement is the same by Greenwich station. River Islands is the same.

The Bristol development has worked as developers made a conscious choice to encourage independent business instead of the same chains. If those chains don’t appear, and rents are too high, empty units are the result.

And it’s worked for developers in Bristol. They’ve had full units, a buzzing area, strong demand for units meaning a box park type space has been created not once but twice, and the developers have secured coverage on the BBC.

Great spot. Empty unit

Maybe the big developers don’t care about all that. As long as they make their (large) 20% profit margins and sales then who cares if it improves the town, or if rents are too high for independents to give things a try.

As nice as a Fullers pub is it’s not the most exciting thing. Cheaper rent would permit more interesting pubs – perhaps one with varied live music and events.

As it is, after four years the area is far behind what it could be.



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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

    15 thoughts on “The failure of Greenwich’s New Capital Quay riverside units

    • The bridge is over the mouth of the Ravensbourne, not the Thames. If it were the Thames, it would be pretty spectacular. It’s a good bridge, though.

    • @Alan, it’s called the Deptford Creek at this point if we’re gonna be purist

      I agree, it’s tragic. As someone living in the development I’ve asked for clarification many times. Latest is that they were supposedly all near completion; However they’ve said this so many times these claims don’t hold much value.

      Of course at least Waitrose, the sail loft and Costa are nice, but they utterly failed on the rest. The sales people are not helping, I once inquired but didn’t get much reply.

      I remember Galliards claimed wanting independents in there at the beginning. (Also there was gonna be a nice museum, medical unit and the pictures show mooring places for boats). Common feedback is the units are not the right size for independents to wanna move in. But obviously price is the biggest issue.

      I just don’t get from the developers perspective why it is more profitable to instead of dropping in price leave them empty for what is now almost 4 years.

    • Gwest – IIRC the plaque on the bridge says The Ravensbourne?

    • Er, by bridge I mean the road bridge. Apologies.

      • Chris, according to google maps up to deptford bridge station, the main tidal part. But of course people might have different definitions.

    • Simple answer. Developers only get permission to build (and sometimes taller) if they include office & retail which is of little short-term value. So they reluctantly include these spaces and then put rents sky high to ensure no-one uses them, (although they probably subsidise Waitrose to attract buyers). Then, if there is no ‘take-up’ of these, which there won’t be due to rent, they have permission after 5 years to convert to flats which gives them a massive wad of immediate cash. When all sold they stop subsidy to Waitrose and they move out pushing the area into a decline.
      It’s really awful for local communities.

      • This is interesting, but in view of how many retail units remain empty in these new builds why are councils insisting on this option. Just build flats from the ground up.

        The last time I walked that part of the riverfront, the little boutique furnishing shop had finally closed.

    • Isn’t the usual plan to price the retail units to stay empty – then claim no one is interested + turn them in to more flats + sell them?

      Isnt the point of mandating retail units in the original planning consent, because people in the new-builds will need some shops and their demand will dictate which shops survive. Also the right local shops can help build communities and make an area safer by more people being around.

      I cant see a museum really adding much for the people who live there.

      Mind you, the number of empty retail in Greenwich is terrible. I guess rates have something to do with this?

    • I have called many times so I can rent a small part for my business but no response. I think they are looking for fat cows.

    • Depressing to hear if that is the strategy.

      Indeed also in the city center shops don’t seem to last very long, probably also too expensive.

      BTW prices for anyone interested (when I asked a while ago, might be outdated):
      Rents are £25 psf on Ground and £15 psf on Mezzanine.
      Prices to purchase are £400 psf on Ground and £275 psf on Mezzanine.

    • 120 Blackwall lane. Turned retail units into very ugly flats. I am pretty sure that if the current design was put in for planning, it would be rejected.
      Blackwall Lane really could do with some shops. A mandate for retail units in a new build should not be changeable. The onus should be on the free holder to get a tenant. And I dont mind my council tax being used in reducing initial business rates in order to encourage population of vacant shops (no bookies please). The businesses then can build up a client base + we all win.

      The planning application for change of use stated there has been a bit of advertising by board and in a ‘usual place’, but there was not much interest, with lack of footfall being one of the issues…. However think in 3 years time when Peninsula is more build and there is 15000 properties being build.
      Planning application: 17/2003/F
      (interesting the planning application doesn’t say approved but the conversion is done!!)

      • The problem with a lot of these new builds is that they have been plonked down in relatively poor areas. There is room for only one Waitrose, and the immediate vicinity has the shops that the established community can afford. Further the growth in retail parks means that retailers can clump together in a dedicated space with plenty of parking. Forget retail space and provide accommodation from the ground up.

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