From The Murky Depths

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Abbey Wood

Anyone seen a missing library and nursery? What’s happened to developer income in Abbey Wood?

Now abandoned new library site

Back in 2015 Sainsbury’s moved into a nice spanking new supermarket in Abbey Wood. Alongside the superstore a mini block of flats was also built with commercial units below.

When it was built locals not also benefited from a new shop but also the promise of some new amenities.

As part of the Section 106 agreement back in 2013/14 (where money is given to the local authority from a developer) £75,000 was to be spent on a new library (listed as Local Community spending) and £250,000 on a new nursery, with another £250,000 for education.

Most income has now been received and yet there’s no new library or nursery on site – getting on for five years after agreement.

View of the site from new Crossrail station

The square outside Sainsburys where the library was to be located lacks much of a buzz given the units are boarded up.

Moving the library was an odd choice for spending income. The existing Abbey Wood library is in the heart of the 3000-home Abbey Wood estate on its main shopping parade.

Given that Bexley Council plan a library down the road from the Sainsbury’s site it’s probably a good thing Greenwich havn’t opened another just to duplicate services and force many estate residents on a further walk to access a local library.

New Thamesmead library

Yet the money is allocated and the units still lay empty.

Greenwich have received it but not spent it. And at this rate it’ll have to be returned given it has not been used – a deadline applies on spending Section 106 money from developers.

If no new library is forthcoming, which makes sense, then the £75,000 could be spent elsewhere in Abbey Wood. It’s not hard to find areas it could do much good.

As for the £250,000 for the nursery – who knows?

It’s another example of poor use of income from developers that should be improving towns across the borough.

And even when money is spent getting information on how and where is hardly easy.

For years the authority did not routinely disclose how and where they were spending these funds, in contrast to most councils. Given they are sitting on tens of millions it was a pretty huge barrier to transparency and democracy.

No information

These are big sums. £34 million is in accounts unspent. At least £174 million is incoming. And its growing ever bigger with each new development proposed.

Even now, after being forced by law, they put out a threadbare document containing vast sums with little or no detail whatsoever.

Even £250,000 for a nursery out of the £34 million total unspent is not to be sniffed at. What’s it gone towards? Nothing is listed on documents.

How this lack of transparency and oversight can go on year after year and not change says much about the leadership within the council.

At the end of the day it’s often the poorest areas suffering. Abbey Wood, and particularly its estate, prop up lists of deprivation and social problems as well as having poor quality public spaces and public health.

So much could be improved but simply isn’t as money lies unspent in accounts.

How its done in other boroughs

It doesn’t have to be this way. Labour Southwark Council routinely discuss at public meetings how Section 106 income will be spent. Just last week Labour Ealing Council were discussing at a meeting how they will be spending some S106 funds.

For my sins I keep tabs on what’s going on across Greenwich borough and what councillors are discussing in meetings. The huge sums of Section 106 (and now Community Infrastructure Levy) income is NEVER discussed in public.

In much of London this information has long been in the public domain and publicly discussed at meetings or local ward get togethers.

Greenwich Council do not hold monthly local ward meetings, as Labour Lewisham do, or Labour Ealing, to give just two examples.

Greenwich Council hold “Better Together” meetings irregularly where the agenda is tightly controlled and Section 106 income is rarely if ever discussed.

Or they hold housing meetings for council tenants. Quite a limited scope there. What about private renters, homeowners, or discussing other issues aside from housing? Section 106 is not on the agenda there either.

Other council’s ward meetings have details online of agendas and minutes taken with dedicated officers for each ward to feedback ideas from local people and act as point of contact.

The “Better Together” meetings do little of that. It’s often a tightly controlled show where local councillors answer questions from prospective candidates amongst the “public”, at least recently in Plumstead.

And so little information is in public, little decisions are taken in public and the public have very little influence on where spending is going, or not, given much lies in accounts instead of assisting local areas. And this is tens of millions of pounds.

Who will change that? With local elections in May this year what parties will open up and truly engage with local people?

A follow up post will look at some very tentative steps to engage from Greenwich, but the sums are absolutely tiny and come with some pretty strict restrictions.

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4 Comments

  1. JR

    Well done on reporting this and other stories. Each post though makes me ashamed we live in such a safe seat borough, the ‘leadership’ could really do with a wake up call that residents are unhappy. As you point out, where can they do this if they’re not hosting meetings?

    As you show in other posts, Charlton is crying out for better pedestrian facilities yet at this rate the developers’ money tree is going to die of neglect. All that free money for us rate payers, is going to be returned, an irresponsible waste of resources.

    • fromthemurkydepths

      Thanks. Its the same with TfL money. Almost 20 years of that and little to show. Now TfL are broke and a real chance it could be axed next year.

    • fromthemurkydepths

      Being a safe borough means it has to come from within, but even many younger cllrs seem conservative and afraid to push change. Lewisham is very safe Labour yet there is younger members that are more forward thinking. Far from perfect but they have moved with the times and have half a clue how to improve parks, streets etc. In Greenwich too much old thinking from both Cllrs and Department management stuck in the past.

  2. Ari

    The council leader represents Abbey Wood! How can this happen? Give the estate some cash and investment it bloody needs it!

    Stuff for kids, a nice park, shops improved to start.

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