From The Murky Depths

Housing and Development in London

Greenwich, Greenwich borough

How substantial funds are available to transform areas: Example No 1 – Precision in Greenwich

Precision development in Greenwich

Last month I covered how large sums of money received by Greenwich Council from large housing developments have been spent, or havn’t in many cases.

They have £37 million unspent with £174 million incoming. One example of unspent money is Sainsbury’s in Charlton which brought in £500,000 for public realm improvements four years ago and is still sitting in accounts.

Section 106 income, which property developers pay to local authorities to mitigate the impact of new developments, isn’t exactly a sexy crowd-pleaser of a subject.

Yet its potential to improve areas is huge and crucial for the health and well-being of areas.

Precision in Greenwich

Today I’ll be highlighting one such example, and there’s many.

A 272-home development in Greenwich is currently in the finishing stages of construction at the former Alcatel site on Christchurch Way. It’s next to Enderby Wharf (which brought in a whole bunch of separate funding) as well as River Gardens.

The Alcatel site development was approved on 16th October 2014. Newly released figures show it will bring in around £2.3 million to council coffers.

  • Cultural Strategy £ 43,015
  • Education £ 382,579
  • Emergency Services £ 99,509
  • Employment £ 204,857
  • Env. Monitoring £ 27,314
  • Health £ 327,025
  • Local Community £ 179,266
  • Mon. & Compliance £ 52,308
  • Open Space £ 433,541
  • Public Safety £ 35,846
  • Sport General £ 428,697
  • Transport General £ 65,316
  • Waste Management £ 27,200

The only amount spent so far are sums allocated for employment, which often seems to the case when looking through figures. Other pots lie empty for years yet the employment element is quickly spent.

The sum for employment has gone to the council’s employment agency GLLaB. A worthy scheme, though it does often replicate what other job agencies are already doing and seems to take very large sums of S106 income at the expense of others.

GLLaB is worthy of a post on its own in future.

Enderby Wharf in foreground with Precision peeking out behind

Out of £2.3 million from Precision, nothing at all has been allocated for public realm, aka local street improvements.

It seems a very odd omission if the authority wish to improve numbers of people walking locally and reducing traffic. But it’s not atypical in the area.

£433k is allocated for Open Space, £179k for Local Community and £65k for Transport, which could possibly be used to improve local streets. But will they?

And as I’ve often covered, boy do local streets need the investment.

Head along just one road from the development to Blackwall Lane and streets are in very poor shape. Just a few hundred yards away.

Image courtesy Google

These are the streets new residents will take to walk to the o2 to catch a film, or a concert, or reach North Greenwich tube station.

Image courtesy Google

The environment is almost entirely ugly and intimidating. Lighting is poor. The area is unkempt.  Crossings aren’t good and there’s much street clutter and obstacles on paving.

Image courtesy google

Nearby is another narrow path and crossing:

Image courtesy Google. Yep, this actually is a crossing.

The whole area could do with a bit of money spent to encourage walking and cycling. This kind of design is not helping to get people out of cars, reduce pollution or improve public health.

Just 10-20% of that £2.3 million income would achieve a lot here.

For years some believed TfL were in charge of the majority of these streets. It turned out Greenwich Highways Department are actually in control of almost all of the area.

Another argument for minimal action is that onerous maintenance should not result from any work. Yet most changes in street design would mean no additional long term costs. In some cases less as street furniture and signage is reduced.

Some Greenwich staff and councillors have also often stated Section 106 income can only be spent in the immediate vicinity of a development. This is also not the case as other authorities show.

Elsewhere they do it differently

Things are a bit different in other authorities which highlights flawed arguments against improvements in Greenwich borough.

Labour-controlled Southwark Council have been placing Section 106 income and associated spending in the public domain for years whilst Greenwich have only done so once forced by law.

One scheme in Southwark discussed by councillors just this month is a plan “to release £726,810.37 from S106 agreements listed in the report, in order to deliver highway improvements to Lower Road“.

Lower Road runs past Surrey Quays shopping centre. The plan is for:

  • Creating a new high street linking the Canada Water Basin with Lower Road and strengthening existing retail provision in Lower Road.
  • Undertaking public realm improvements on Lower Road to improve the retail environment.
  • Improving pedestrian and cycle links between Hawkstone Road, Surrey Quays station and the shopping centre.
  • Reinforcing the viability of the shopping parade by making sure that no more than two units in any one section of the frontage are used as hot food takeaways.

Compare and contrast with the lack of improvements at Bugsby’s Way and Woolwich Road in Charlton despite large income from surrounding developments.

Or no money going into improving links between Peninsula new-builds and shops in east Greenwich to improve custom and the vitality of the area.

Three other similar schemes were discussed in Southwark just this month alongside £13 million investment in schools. I’ve heard some in Greenwich state that investment in schools explains poor streets. It’s not either/or.

Community Infrastructure Levy

Section 106 has been the main source of income from large developments for many years. The Community Infrastructure Levy has now usurped it, though large developments will still bring in S106 income alongside.

Recent law changes mean that Community Infrastructure Levy income can also now be viewed by the public when a development is proposed.

Through this we can see that a plan for 771 homes in Charlton will bring in £3.6 million in CIL payments with more millions from S106 incoming when that’s finalised.

Now the public can see the sums of money related to new-builds this post will be the first of an ongoing series. I’ll delve into documents to find just how much is coming in, where it’s been allocated and whether long-neglected estates, parks, streets and public areas benefit or are again overlooked.

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6 Comments

  1. Mary Mills

    You know some people, if they get a one off windfall like this, win the lottery or whatever – they go straight out and buy a posh car, lots of drinks, parties, cruises and – hey – its all gone. And they will never have it again. Is that what you would do?? Or would you think about it and how it could be used to provide for the future??

    • fromthemurkydepths

      If someone does not spend a lottery win within a set period it’s not lost forever. Greenwich have been sitting on income for so long they will lose it as time limits apply.

      Better streets that are well designed do not incur any extra long-term costs than existing streets. Improving a crossing doesn’t mean spending more in time than on an existing poorly designed crossing.

      Secondly, a local authority serving the public is not the same as an individual. Better streets to encourage walking is hardly buying a Ferrari. There’s a pay off is lower health and social care costs.

      Are you saying that Southwark Council are wrong to invest this money to improve shopping areas (which brings in more businesses and income to authorities) as well as create cycle lanes?

    • Michael

      Mary, your analogy is a nonsensical one. As mentioned earlier, an individual with a windfall/lottery win will, apart from maybe family and friends, only serve themselves with a fancy car etc. A local authority should use the funds it receives to serve the public. Greenwich Council, with the S106 and CIL money they have been receiving over the years, are clearly not doing that.

      All you have to do is look around the streets in Greenwich and see for yourself how poor they are: Woolwich Road either side of and within the roundabout, Plumstead, the housing estates in and around Abbey Wood, and the streets in Woolwich that are not a part of the Royal Arsenal development. Much of this has been covered in this excellent website and is proof that there is a perception that Greenwich Council is doing very little to nothing in many areas. I hope voters will bear this in mind come the local elections this May.

  2. fromthemurkydepths

    One more thought – if there were modest increases in maintenance costs due to improved crossings, street design, cycle lanes etc (which is by no means certain and increased business rate income could plug it anyway) then another source of income to mitigate is parking revenue which must be reinvested in transport.

    But the £10 million budget hole in parking income due to chronic mismanagement hampers that.

    http://www.fromthemurkydepths.co.uk/2017/08/24/the-number-of-greenwich-council-traffic-wardens-revealed-explaining-problems/

  3. Rob

    Mary – surely improving our local towns is providing for the future in a whole range of ways?

    There’s nothing to suggest doing so is anyway more of a one time blowout than the other spends listed.

    If it were no authority would be improving their local environment yet they are in almost every corner of London whether Corbynite left wing or the most conservative Tory councils.

    Greenwich is notorious for poor urban realm in design and planning circles.

    It’s simply that Greenwich Council have chosen to not spend money in this area. And sadly many residents now have very low views of the condition of their local towns which has corrosive effects on communities.

  4. GWEST

    Mary does have a point in that you have to be careful what you spend it on. It is soo easy to spend all this money on patching stuff up () without achieving real change. 9/10 times this involves planting some tree, adding a bench and some boulders here or there

    Real improvement to me would be a comprehensive way of shielding from the noise and pollution of the busy road, plus an additional crossing mainly for pedestrians exactly near the alcatel/morder/enderby area

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