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Woolwich

Woolwich continues to struggle as more retailers leave

Today is the tenth anniversary of the DLR extension to Woolwich opening. Lot’s of hope was placed on the new link, and yet a decade on every time it seems Woolwich town centre takes a step forward it then takes one back. A current plethora of closures add to concern about the area.

Firstly, a few weeks ago Starbucks closed. Then Fishyard and Steak restaurant appears to have permanently closed (if wrong happy to correct!) and Peacocks is closing in coming weeks.





Now some of it is no doubt down to national issues, yet closures in Woolwich are nothing new regardless of the national picture.

Looking down Hare Street.

When it comes to Starbucks, like them or loath them, they’re a mainstay of the High Street and if a major town centre (as classified by the GLA) in London can’t sustain them then questions are raised. Once a mainstay of gentrification, they’re now ten-a-penny.

I’ve lived around Woolwich and worked there for most of my life and am well aware of the reputation the area has from many people – young and old, black and white, rich and poor. It ain’t good. Councillors generally won’t admit that but sadly the prevailing view is not the best.

Which is a massive shame as I’m fond of the town though can see the flaws yet think it has massive potential. It was one motivating factor in setting up this site years ago.

It’s why I was so glad to see plans for the town centre to become a conservation zone revealed this week. There’s a huge amount of wonderful buildings that many town centres would kill to have and should be a real asset. Sadly many have gone and still many are likely to go. Some people say so what given how they appear now not how they could appear after renovation. It’s simply repeating past mistakes.

A non market day.

Some positive changes have occurred in recent years including Street Feast in the old covered market as well as Coffee Lounge in the old Woolwich Equitable building plus the pub next door. Artfix is a great gallery/cafe on Powis Street.

Yet the Coffee Lounge suffered endemic problems with crime culminating in the manager being assaulted. They’re complaints often fell on deaf ears.

And permitting out-of-town stores at Charlton has no doubt contributed to the malaise in places. Even a 2012 masterplan continued to hammer nails into Woolwich by encouraging more out-of-town retail sheds in inner London.

Another concern is landowners increasing rents and not assisting existing business. Is there a long term goal of getting some businesses out?

Turnaround?

What could change this situation?

Well, there’s management, or lack thereof and that needs improving. Woolwich still doesn’t have a town centre manager to coordinate projects and funds. That’s unusual for a major town centre. The creative district will see highly paid managers brought in whilst the old part of town misses out.

Public realm near town centre

Council staff focusing on other areas have to manage Woolwich too. No wonder it suffers from a lack of direction.

Very high rents and rates even at apparently “down-at-heel” areas is crippling businesses. High rents do not just affect housing in the UK but commercial space too.

Larger business could pull together to help an area through a Business Improvement District but that would require council support and none seems forthcoming.

Other far more successful areas such as Bexleyheath and Bromley do have Business Improvement District status, and they fund events and improvements in the town centre, provide strategic direction and can lobby for external funds. We know how poor Greenwich Council can be at securing external funds for town centres and public space.

And finally, the old chestnut of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy income could assist but GLLaB swallows most of it. Woolwich town centre gets little.

So much chance of a turnaround soon? The national picture is bleak with a stagnating economy and those high rents and rates.

British Land purchased much of the town centre recently and that’s really the only likely trigger for change – good or bad. We’ll have to see what they have in mind. Sadly I can’t see the local authority doing enough. The DLR was supposed to boost the town. And it is better than a decade ago though from a very low base. Now the hope is Crossrail. Will it be enough?

23 Comments

  1. Jo

    The place is dodgy and those council staff who patrol are hopeless. My last trip had someone literally screaming into a microphone by the DLR with an amp at ridiculous volume. I don’t care what people do as long as not bothering others but what an introduction. The person doing it was winding up people. It’s just full of idiots like that. Had to dodge “characters” down Powis Street as I walked on.

    Woolwich is the one place I always put earphones on maximum before I arrive and I only go if absolutely have to like going dentist. I should change dentists really.

    I’d never visit Woolwich now by choice or take my family. It’s the worst town centre I know in London. Other so-called bad ones like Croydon or Camberwell are much better.

  2. Nick

    The high street is too big. Zone most of it residential and make a new shopping district focused on beresford square and the Arsenal.

    • Ned

      I agree, it’s too sprawling with an oversupply of premises for how high street shopping is headed. Hare Street has been dead for years despite periodic attempts at resuscitation, let it go and bring life back to it by doing something else. Maybe relocate what remains of Beresford Square market along Powis Street too, the density of stalls just isn’t there any more. I’ve never been wild about General Gordon Square either if I’m honest, it just seems to be a magnet for loiterers rather than lingerers.

      To be honest, I never really got over Cuffs closing.

  3. Gary

    I have in my lifetime lived north south east and west, I settled in Woolwich 14 years ago, I love the area. I have seen comments about dodgy people, my response to that is where in a metropolitan City is free of dodgy people ? Improvements would be great . The only problem we have is Greenwich Council, my experience with the council doesn’t give me any confidence of improvements anytime soon.

    • HK

      Sure, every area hase it’s dodgy people, but Woolwich has more than it’s fair share!
      I have been brought up all my life in the Greenwich Borough – first Plumstead to Charlton, then Blackheath (not the nice part unfortunately), and the change over the last 30-odd years has not been for the better.

  4. Joseph

    Sad that fish yard have closed already, been a few times and thought the food and service was great

  5. Damatol

    Woolwich is alright remember doing a property survey in secondary school woolwich has more units then lewisham or bexleyheath. Even on sundays its busy got to be the high rents and business rates cause in closures

  6. Lieve Reckers

    Interesting article, I strongly support your blog. But please have a look at your apostrophes! “Lot’s of hope” and “They’re complaints” – surely those errors could be avoided. Sorry to pick nits, your writing is otherwise very good.

  7. Plumstead Resident

    When I walked by Peacocks a few weeks ago it said it was closing down subject to landlord negotiations. Starbucks also closed down because of a breakdown in negotiations over the rent. The crazy thing is that both Peacocks and Starbucks were popular. The few times I visited Peacocks I ended-up leaving because the till queues were just too long!

    You’re right to call out the preacher trolls that frequent Powis Street to just cause trouble. The sooner they are ASBO’d off the better!

  8. kieron

    I hear the Mini showroom on the high street is closing too. It seems to be two steps forward – three steps back for Woolwich half the time.

  9. James

    To be fair the picture down Powis Street is old. The bug closed shop in the centre of the image has now been turned into quite a nice restaurant.

  10. Kit

    I have lived in greenwich Borough all my life and i rember the market used to be packed all the time. Its a shame that it has changed so much but people always give woolwich a bad reputation. There is worss places than woolwich and woolwich just needs help from the council

  11. Charles Calthrop

    The conservation status should have been granted a decade ago or not at all. Old Woolwich is perceived as appealing to an unprofitable demographic that is no longer wooed in London . Landlords don’t want to miss out on the profits that they see ‘everybody else is making’ and would rather keep the place empty in the hopes of a higher rent.

    Developers would prefer to create larger mixed-use schemes from scratch. Working within the confines of existing buildings may not be profitable and if the rent is too high no chain will see it as a profitable endeavour. I suspect more units will lie empty as landlords wait for the results of Brexit to be made clearer.

    I remember Woolwich in the early 90s when every third shop was either a charity store or bargain VHS (Zodiac and the pub opposite) for many years. I suspect this will be the fate of Old Woolwich as they try to squeeze out the last of the ethnic grocers, phone spares and hair & wig stores that hold on alongside the real stalwarts Greggs, McDonald’s and Card Factory

  12. I have heard that the new landlords of much of Powis Street are forcing people out. So they forced out Starbucks so they can bring in independent/up market coffee shops. And they are forcing out Peacocks as it’s seen as a discount retailer and we already have ‘premium’ discount retaillers like Primark and TKMaxx.

    If they are forcing these companies out and they WILL renovate units and find new tenants then that will be great. I remain hopeful of that. If they are forcing them out (buy spiking rents) and have no plan for what to do next, it will be a disaster.

    • HK

      I hope your right Chris about the landlords bringing in more independents and a better mix of shops!
      The choice of shops (a real choice!) is not great for up and coming professionals/aspirational types – far too many discount shops, phone repair shops etc with really poor units/presentation.

      To be fair, it’s not just a problem with Woolwich, Greenwich town centre is facing a similar problem or poor choice of shops. Far too many places for food but, little other retail shops etc.

      Also, just look at the road/paving in the first pic! Awful!!!
      Whoever is signing off the work need sacking!

      • Plumstead Resident

        They have actually just finished relaying the road, so it looks pretty decent now.

        The Starbucks has been closed for a month and I haven’t see anyone refurbishing the unit. If a successful established cafe like Starbucks can’t justify paying higher rents how is anyone else supposed to?!

  13. Graham

    Sadly Woolwich Town Centre has been left to go in decline by Greenwich Council for many many years now. Many people say they feel to scared now to walk around Woolwich now so avoid the area and go else where for their shopping. A lot say the feel very comfortable due a lot of the people which hang around the area.

    Woolwich used to be a thriving Town Centre and the market was always busy. Sadly i cannot see Woolwich Town Centre as a main shopping area improving anytime soon, Sadly I think it will just fall in to further decline.Unless major investment is put in to the Town Centre to improve the retail areas and give the area a real face lift. We also need to tackle a lot of the anti social behaviour issues that also blight the area.

  14. Dee

    I have to reiterate what HK said ‘re the up and coming professionals. They have bought the new flats but there are no decent shops for them to spend their money therefore creating no extra income for the Council. When the flats were decided the shops should have followed.

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