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Abbey Wood

Greenwich Council to sell clinic and land beside Crossrail station – losing chance of new homes?

Garages in Abbey Wood

Last week I touched upon plans by Greenwich council to sell land across the borough including the former Woolwich library. This post will expand upon some other proposed land sales and ask whether another chance of providing homes via council developer Meridian Home Start is being thrown out – to the benefit of large private developers?

Four sites in Abbey Wood are specifically mentioned for “disposal” in council plans and this post will specifically look at a former clinic on Eynsham Drive and depot site on Felixstowe Road. The former clinic isn’t labelled as such on the document  and merely “138 Eynsham Drive”. Click here for the NHS page.

Other sites such as former Woolwich library on seperate list

Both plots have been covered before on this site as council land that could be utilised to assist with the housing shortage and benefit the local community.

Courtesy Google. Entrance to shopping parade on Abbey Wood estate. Clinic approach not much better.

It’s hard to imagine these sites would be sold if crucial planning strategies weren’t running years late. One is the “garage site strategy” which is over three years overdue – and is supposed to study how garage sites can be used in a wider context. In 2017 it was running 18 months late. Now it’s over three years:

This was from 2017. Two years on and little changed

And the other is the Site Allocation Strategy plan which is now two years late – and looks at almost all sites borough-wide and again should place areas in a wider context to develop coherent and holistic plans. Without these studies a silo-like process could happen to sales – ironically what a related report warns against:

Two years late

Depot and Crossrail

And so, firstly, the Felixstowe Road depot site – located beside garages which should be in the very late strategy. A couple of years ago I wrote about the possibility of second Crossrail station entrances at Abbey Wood and Woolwich. TfL and Network Rail were not keen at the time due to the possibility of cost overruns on the scheme – as we’ve seen.

Council land near Crossrail station

It would be up to Greenwich Council to push for passive provision which would provide scope to benefit lower Plumstead and Abbey Wood estate in particular – and then provide some or all funding. Network Rail even put in a footbridge at the western end of new platforms which wasn’t in original plans. The modular structure could extend south to council owned land.

The plot Greenwich wish to sell is by a garage site which is immediately next to the western end of new Crossrail platforms. Combine the two and land would be good for housing. Options to develop would be Meridian Home Start, direct building or sell to a private developer (who would make a 20% profit margin on sales).

Building homes directly is still subject to government restrictions – but Meridian Home Start avoid many. According to Centre for London research, housing plans from Greenwich’s developer Meridian are the lowest of any Labour council when compared to needed homes under the London Plan. So, why so reluctant to use it? It has a crucial role to play. Especially if the alternative is selling to a developer for a quick pay day – who then go on to reap a 20% profit margin.

Increased council house building is welcome but still a drop in the ocean. According to London Plan targets for Greenwich borough (around 3,000 homes a year), new council plans will only total between 5-10% of that up to 2022. Far from enough. There’s clearly still a massive need which Meridian Home Start can help provide – and at lower cost than private developers such as Pocket Living. All profits could be reinvested via Meridian Home Start for other homes and community benefit – which in this case is a new station entrance.

Now, how the ratio of tenure is divided will raise contention. Some Meridian homes could be market sale with income cross-subsidising lower-cost homes and funding a second second entrance. Private sales and cross-subsidy is still preferable to a one time sell-off and leaving a private developer to reap the profits whilst the public gain a handful of “affordable” homes after a viability assessment.

The crux of this is lack of ambition – which is hurting the poorest in society. Other London Labour councils are looking to build mid and high density homes through their developers. Greenwich plan low density which will not adequately address shortages and bring wider community benefits that large-scale development can bring.

Going further, and quite controversial perhaps, but if some adjacent homes were CPO’d more homes could be provided. I expect many would scoff but we have a rapidly increasing housing waiting list and homelessness – not to mention rent-related poverty.

Clinic

The second site is slap bang in the middle of Abbey Wood estate and near the main shopping area. It’s a former clinic. I covered it almost a year ago when property guardians were advertised for the site.

The post was speculative – but looked at how to rejuvenate the very tired heart of the 3000-home estate built 60 years ago. Public realm is poor with a heavy air of neglect and some wasted land including crumbling garages (there’s that garage strategy again). Since that post was written the co-op food store located in the shopping parade have given up and left.

Courtesy Google. Clinic is on left.

Knocking down the block that contained the now-empty clinic as well as garages in poor condition to the rear could see a fundamental re-working of the centre, provide more homes and bring income to rejuvenate other nearby areas.

Courtesy Google. Rear of main row of shops

But again, despite almost all the wider site being council land it requires ambition. So the authority appear to just want to sell a redundant clinic  in isolation in a forgotten area. It’ll raise peanuts and bring barely any wider benefits.

The estate has managed to avoid gaining anything from two extremely large housing developments coming to Abbey Wood as most funds were given to employment agency GLLaB. A once in a lifetime possibility of funds has gone. At least use redundant and underutilised land to give a much needed boost to the place. It houses over 5,000 people.

Sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself have Labour in Greenwich given up on providing better environments and quality of life for people on estates like this? I’d love to know how many Labour members and councillors with a bit of money and living comfortably have ever been to this area and seen just what long term neglect of working class, deprived areas looks like. If they lived here would it be so ignored?

There does not appear to be any consideration of using all the ways and means out there: partnering with Housing Associations, using Meridian and possibly building directly alongside. Looking to use any and all ways to help local people and providing new homes and income with all revenue kept internally and reinvested. Borrow on the markets at all-time low interest rates where possible. Again we come back to comparisons to every other Labour Council in Centre for London data. It speaks volumes.

Failing to go big means paying ever higher costs due to a housing shortage. More people in B&Bs. More in temporary accommodation. A longer waiting list.

There’s little apparent ambition and willingness to see what is being done elsewhere – and what can be done here. It’s short term thinking and long term losses. But still they’ll say we got a few quid in the bank in  financial year 2019/20. Great.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. CB

    I think you can safely say that for those decent residents living in Thamesmead (and there are lots of us) we have already come to the conclusion that should this complete mess of a building site we are being made to live in at the moment were nearer to the houses of those making these decisions, it would not have been allowed. Noise and safety risks alone should prevent the current cosmetic work being done on tower blocks whilst residents are still living there. I don’t think pneumatic drilling into reinforced concrete directly into the walls where someone is living is acceptable on any level without the benefit of ear defenders and hard hats (which of course the workers have to wear) and ripping out all windows in established homes is just making residents’ lives unbearable and causing a great deal of stress. Perhaps that’s the plan – get rid of the ‘sitting tenants’ by making their lives hell as we don’t fit into the future paradise being promised for Thamesmead? You cannot blame the contractors as they are just following the plans being made by people who do not live here and have no idea who / where we are.

  2. Jo

    The continuing reluctance to use Meridian Home Start is puzzling to say the least. There’s about half a dozens sites under the organisation’s control but total unit numbers pale into insignificance compared to other many authorities.

    I believe income from these sales will probably go to the Creative District in Woolwich and some council house building – though they could do both council & Meridian with intelligent planning and seeking out funding sources. If it does go to the Creative District then what an awful look – depriving estates for ballet (and I say this as someone who likes ballet).

    Of course no senior person making these decisions lives in a place like that estate or Plumstead High Street. They probably never did in local authorities even in the “glory days” of the 1960s and 1970s but compassion and a desire to help poorer areas was in evidence – and an understanding and belief that places like that deserve dignity and good quality living environments. That’s gone on the whole. Labour in Greenwich are more Tory than most Tories sadly from what I see and hear. Not all of course.

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