Greenwich Council will tonight hold a Planning Board meeting to decide whether to approve plans for a new library and leisure centre at a cost of at least £11.2 million. A new cafe will be included.
Plans for the site have been revised since initially being revealed. The council formally wanted to demolish almost all the building except the facade which was to have a chunk cut out for a “glazed spine”.
English Heritage listed the Carnegie-funded library almost to the day those plans were revealed. So now they’re revised and the front is fortunately retained along with much of the front half of the existing building.
Investment is of course welcome in Plumstead though this plan has not been without controversy. Questions have been raised as to whether this plan is good value and whether it will really benefit most of Plumstead High Street.
Greenwich Council claim it will. Well it will offer some new facilities but it’s a reasonable distance from the bulk of shops. It’s not slap-bang in the centre and any trickle-down effects to the heart of the High Street and Lakedale Road are far from obvious. Between it and most shops are a petrol station and housing.
It seems an odd place to start much-needed work in improving Plumstead High Street, but it does conform to their top-down methodology and oft-seen lack of ideas over the importance of public realm in attracting shoppers, helping business and encouraging more people to walk and leave the car behind.
An example of this that is continually raised is TfL awarding Greenwich Council £150,000 to spend this year on the High Street though the Local Implementation Plan. Despite promises of consulting residents on any plans nothing has been revealed or consulted upon.
Improving lower Plumstead and the High Street with public realm improvements where most shops are located would have more resonance and appeal in increasing footfall to the High Street. A fraction of £11.2 million could work wonders.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see that areas such as Lakedale Road have great potential as hubs for the community.
Closing the old centre
The former leisure centre behind the library on Speranza Street closed quite abruptly 18 months ago. Cost estimates to renovate were around £1 million which is substantially cheaper than this scheme, which will offer less space than what it replaces, and the difference in cost would’ve allowed work on other parts of the High Street.
The funding for this scheme has also raised eyebrows. It’s being funded entirely in-house by Greenwich Council without securing any external funding as often happens in other local authorities schemes.
So Greenwich residents are on the hook for all costs. To pay for it they are selling off local assets. These include buildings such as the former leisure centre site and the Kinara Building nearby which an external report, the Plumstead Urban Framework (remember that? What’s it achieved?) recommended be retained for community use.
It may seem churlish to criticise much needed investment in Plumstead. There’s much to like in these plans. But it does raise old questions about how and where they focus time and money and whether they understand the importance of improving town centres and public realm.
Will a nice new library and leisure centre (albeit smaller) that is separate from most shops the main priority to help the rest of the town? Was selling off local community buildings the right way to fund it?
Also before the Greenwich Planning Board tonight are plans to demolish and rebuild Aldi in Thamesmead and a small uplift in homes planned for new blocks on Greenwich Peninsula.
Any help in supporting the site would be much appreciated. You can donate from £1 here at Patreon.com/TheMurkyDepths