Last week I took a walk down Plumstead High Street to see what, if any, improvements were in evidence. Few people have much positive to say about the streetscape of the beleaguered place and it sometimes seems as bad when it comes to the buildings and some businesses that occupy them.
At the same time, Greenwich Council have claimed that there has been some initial results due to them sending out letters to negligent owners threatening legal action through Section 215 powers.
I thought I’d have a close look when passing through and see what works, and what doesn’t.
Firstly, getting off the train gives a very poor first impression of the town at the junction outside. In a positive step, Greenwich Council have painted many of the railings (there’s far too many littering the entire area) but have left some unpainted in spots which somewhat spoils the effect.
Painting railings black is a bit smarter than unpainted steel. A lot of street furniture has also recently been painted black so it does looks slightly smarter now with a uniform look. A cheap and easy way to give areas a bit of a lift.
The paving is a mess though and those ubiquitous wooden bollards havn’t been painted of course, and so don’t match other painted street furniture. Some lean at angles as they lack much in the way of rigidity. Plenty of pointless ones exist.
The sooner this type of expensive wooden bollard is only used in contextual areas (for example near parks) and removed or replaced by those of a more suitable design for streets, the better.
The junction itself by the station is a discordant clash of street clutter along with paving patterns and types. Short cycle lanes seem converge in an island area near the station where there’s few cycle stands. It all looks tokenistic. The path ahead should be more visibly clear and discernible from the spot below:
Fortunately, this will all change soon. Peabody and the Greater London Authority will be funding improvements here as part of the Housing Zone announced recently. Unfortunately, it’s running at least a year behind schedule and no consultation work has occurred on this scheme but a far better first impression should greet newcomers in coming years which the town has long deserved.
The paving choice on the High Street is a big factor in hampering how the area looks and feels. Not just in terms of cleanliness but adopting a fussy design with various types of paving shape, colour and texture. It’s a bit of a mess and the design implementation falls apart where paving setts and slabs meet manhole covers.
On narrow and cramped streets the simpler design the better. Something like this:
First impressions of Plumstead High Street are probably at their worst in this section nearest the station due to poor design and lack of cleaning in the area. There was controversy last year when Greenwich councillor in charge of street cleaning Jackie Smith claimed it was all deep cleaned.
Much did look a lot cleaner after the clean last summer but some stretches seemed to be missed. The area nearest the station was one. It still is dirty throughout, but Greenwich claim it will be deep cleaned again in August. They deserve credit for this, and for promising a regular clean thereafter.
One core issue with the street is just how narrow paving is in many areas. Not an easy one to fix. Narrow the road? Restrict parking? Be radical and make it bus-only?
The other side of the street has much more space at this stretch which offers some welcome relief and is well maintained. Note another pointless bollard here just behind the traffic light signal. It’s easy to see how Greenwich have spent over £122,000 on these the past couple of years alone.
There’s still plenty of buildings in poor condition despite Greenwich Council sending building owners improvement demands many months ago. Tacky signage and banners are stuck up in places.
Note how narrow the paving becomes here. The worst building on the High Street, 64 Plumstead High street, recently saw plans to renovate and convert upper floors to flats approved. Good news but let’s hope work actually begins. Over 10 years ago similar plans were submitted, approved and nothing ever happened to the crumbling frontage.
It took a fight to get Greenwich Council to push for improvements here with Section 215 powers. They initially refused action.
Over the road a fair few buildings still have buddleia growing out, peeling facades and damaged signage.
I did though see perhaps a bit less clutter on the walk.
This road is currently a place to avoid on the whole. Annoying given the potential and space on one side of the road for wider paving and trees in contrast to narrow paving in most areas in the vicinity. Many shops seem vacant. Great potential here for refurbishment.
It’s exactly the kind of project that TfL’s funds from the Local Implantation Plan could help improve. £3.5 million is given every year to Greenwich Council from this fund; some is ringfenced but Greenwich have large amounts of flexibility within the “Corridors, Neighbourhoods and Supporting Measures” element of the fund which other authorities use exactly to revamp High Streets.
Here’s what Lewisham Council are doing with their TfL cash:
Plumstead hasn’t seen a penny from the fund to improve the public realm. Greenwich Council still havn’t consulted on what they will do with this years £3.5 million. Almost four months into the calendar year and nothing. This does scream contempt or incompetence. Maybe both.
Councillors with power in this area such as Sizwe James (head of Highways and also in charge of the parking shambles) and Dan Thorpe (Regeneration and in charge of the planning shambles) are nowhere to be heard when it comes to this money and where it is going. Local Councillors such as Matt Morrow, who actually lives in Greenwich Peninsular, do little to interact with residents locally along with local cllrs Angela Cornforth and Rajinder James. All are poor at replying to emails.
Half the paving on the wider stretch of Lakedale Road is privately owned which will hinder work but it’s far from insurmountable. It is exactly the same situation at Wilton Road in Abbey Wood where upgrade work has just occurred. Greenwich Council paid for the work including the privately owned part and offered to clean and insure the entire paving.
The street would be improved and attract business and footfall if:
- The walls were removed,
- High quality, unfussy and durable paving installed across the whole width
- Utilitarian lamp poles removed and replaced with modern replacements
- A row of trees planted along here along with a cycle lane and stands
Businesses would be trading in a far nicer environment and better footfall would result encouraging new ones to open. There’s a huge potential catchment area for businesses with many homes just to the south, but as it stands how many would want to walk to this parade or meet friends, linger and have a coffee?
The money’s there to do it. Not just from TfL but also local developments brought in cash. Greenwich Council sent it to Greenwich Town Centre instead. Let alone not winning funding bids for Plumstead’s public spaces whilst neighbouring boroughs continually have for their town centres, large and small. But when you have departments that forget to submit evidence to planning appeals, lose, and cost taxpayers money in costs what faith that they’re submitting competent bids?
Here’s Abbey Wood’s recently improved shopping parade, with thanks to BexleyisBonkers for the photo, which offers a decent template:
Back to Plumstead High Street, and a building has been demolished by Dadoos revealing a ghost sign.
There are plans for new flats here.
A bit further along the street and more of Greenwich Highways’s patented design handiwork is in evidence. Great work sticking this sign up in the middle of the pavement making life hard for wheelchairs and those with buggies:
Throw in the filthy paving, scuzzy street sign, grit box (still used?), random bollard and it’s a bonanza of how simple things add up to drag the street down. Repeat down a mile long busy High Street and the critical importance of at least rudimentary design knowledge and maintenance is evident.
The whole stretch to the east sees pedestrians penned in by railings making narrow paving even narrower.
Research has shown that many drivers speed up when these are in place as the physical separation gives them a bigger sense of security. Then they meet pedestrians at crossings and danger is increased. It also takes a chunk of space away from pedestrians. There’s a fair gap between the kerb edge and the railings position on the pavement.
So is it better?
The walk along the High Street and Lakedale Road revealed a minimal amount of improvements but a very long way to go. The street is extremely busy and not at all easy to improve but potential does exist, as does funding to do it.
The small stuff such as can be done relatively easily. The sizeable stuff is not without hurdles but has happened elsewhere and will cost, but is very possible should Greenwich Council choose to do so and have capable departments that can handle it.
As we’ve seen, there’s scant evidence of that in a number of areas and councillors seem to blindly support departments rather than question and pressure on behalf of the public they are supposed to represent.
No clear plans for most of the High Street exist. There’s £150,000 vaguely noted for Plumstead from TfL’s £3.5 million pot but nothing concrete or in consultation. It appears a load more road signs will be the sum total after Greenwich have paid consultants.
By the way, cuts have hampered various departments of course. But Greenwich is relatively protected due to very high house building. This provides other income streams such as the New Homes Bonus funding from central government which has seen at least £40 million come in over five years. Last year was the highest yet, at over £13 million. They also saw similar amounts coming in directly from developers.
Another £11.4 million is being spent at the library funded by selling off publicly owned buildings but it’s half a mile away from the action. It shouldn’t be either/or when it comes to that or the High Street. The station will see improvement but a massive void comprising 90% of the High Street will exist in the middle.