Murky Depths

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Greenwich borough, Woolwich

Woolwich Creative District progresses – as tone-deaf hoardings put up

Work is well underway on creating a new £31.6 million Creative District in Woolwich, which is to be branded as Woolwich Works.

Around the site hoardings are in place and some are remarkably tone deaf. There’s one stating how nice it’d be if the homeless could go in for free.

Yet almost within site of this spot is Riverside House; a former council building recently sold to help fund the Creative District instead of all income being used to assist with rapidly increasing homeless problems – or using the building for housing.

Riverside House is just one of a number of sites being sold to bolster Greenwich Council’s General Fund which is being used to fund the project budgeted at £31.59 million with contingency of £11.16 million for Phase 1. Here’s a list of buildings helping to fund the project:

Of course, the children who stated this aren’t to know, but who in the council thought it a good idea to include it on site hoardings?

Riverside house on left. Site sold recently

No sooner had a private buyer purchased Riverside House had they sought to convert to 199 flats through permitted rights. Permitted rights requires no affordable housing provision.

Selling assets for prestige projects is a common theme across the borough. See also the recent sale of a family centre in Plumstead.

Advert for Kinara.

These sales were occurring as homeless numbers increased sharply as shown in a Council report from earlier this year. This covers financial year 2018/19:

Just this week it was revealed that a £2.6 million budget overspend will occur this financial year due to rising homelessness and a lack of homes:

Central Government policies play a large role in the housing crises we now see though local authorities can’t entirely shrug off blame – and there’s examples locally that not all is being done to help alleviate a problem affecting more and more people.

A boost for Woolwich?

This isn’t to say it’s wrong to pursue projects to boost  and assist town centres. The project could bring in many more visitors to the area and thus footfall and income.

Planned space

The issue is how it’s funded. Could the authority have borrowed – either commercially or through the Public Works Loan Board – at extremely low rates to fund a commercial project and thus retained assets to house the homeless instead of sending people as far as Medway – or use all income from property sales to assist with housing?

Coming soon

If so, it would’ve helped to reduce ever-rising costs to taxpayers of placing people in emergency accommodation and private lettings, and provide stability to those in need of homes. They would lose the short term cash boost but gain over a longer period through paying less for expensive private lettings.

Instead of money spent on the Creative District, Greenwich Council could have worked to convert Riverside House for truly affordable housing – rather than sell to a private buyer who immediately sought to convert without any obligation for affordable homes, let alone social housing.

Continual theme

We are continually seeing sell-offs of public buildings and land for short term cash boosts as mid-to-long terms costs rise. Again, central Government doesn’t make things easy for local councils. Unlike the 1980s, councils now retain Right to Buy income but must spend within three years and the amount spent on any project is capped at 30 per cent – so council’s must find other ways to spend including partnering with Housing Associations.

Click to enlarge – far more is spent on buying existing homes rather than building new via Meridian

In Greenwich, much income went towards another option that provides the worst value according to the council themselves – buying market homes at the top of a market cycle – which is also pricing out first time buyers and pushing up house prices.

But they didn’t want that highlighted in Greenwich Info, stating:

Sites across the borough

When it comes to council land not all sites are suitable for retaining. East Greenwich library is listed and in terrible shape, and perhaps no longer economic to retain. But that cannot be said for all buildings. And even if building are to be sold, at least try to gain maximum income.

East Greenwich library

East Greenwich library is in an area neglected for decades. It’s hardly going to help secure a good price.

Beautiful

The argument that Plumstead’s Kinara Building, for example, has been disused for some time is not an argument for failing to seek wider planning designation including residential use before the site is sold thus limiting income from sales.

The tragedy of all this is more people living rough, more people not knowing where they’ll be living next week let alone next year, but hey, at least they’ll be able to know ballet is happening nearby.

Greenwich often retort that 750 council homes will begin by 2022 and some are now underway. But the scale of the challenge is much greater. Much, much more needs to be done and that challenge will not be met through a combination of dire central Government housing policies and local Government failing to use every single tool at their disposal to tackle this crises head on.

 

 

 

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11 Comments

  1. Jo

    Financial management is appalling. Councillors are unable or unwilling to whip departments into shape. Instead of tough questions they defend ineptitude so nothing changes and the poorest suffer.

    I want to support Labour locally but can’t as such a mess. Labour MPs also should do more to question the council instead of supporting them. But tribalism comes first above those in need. They all go on about how great council are for building a few homes. Whoop de do. It’s a drop in the ocean.

    Between Tories in Westminster and Labour Greenwich in Woolwich town hall is there much hope for housing solutions? The Lib Dems did nothing in power. Sad times all round. All we can hope is some decent Labour Councillors (and Tories perhaps) fight for real reform internally. I’m not confident.

  2. Charles Calthrop

    I find that the poor only get underfoot when I’m on my way to see progressive Woolwich ballet. Perhaps I’ll throw them half my falafel bao while I summon a constable…

  3. Chris

    How about erecting a heated temporary structure in the borough and give the homeless somewhere to go. Existing options are too limited.

    • Jo

      That costs money. We have a Creative District to fund!

    • Charles Calthrop

      That’s the last thing Greenwich wants: in their mind the beginning of a shanty town and a step away from their efforts to endlessly gentrify the Borough. The acquisition of housing in Kent to offload the waged/lower-salaried or those in need of assistance are in keeping with the desire of most modern metropoles: you’re most welcome if you can afford it here. The homeless may be safely ignored, lacking any substantial political or financial powerbase. Given the solid Labour entrenchment within the Council, the mainstream press would have a field day portraying it as a permanent transient camp. The thought of a homeless haven would drive away all those precious investors

  4. Paul SuperUnknown

    Everything you’ve pointed out demonstrates just how out of touch the Council is with what is happening to the people of this Burrough!
    They do not understand the true costs that Homelessness has upon the people of this Burrough, and are ignorant of how to lessen the burden has upon the Taxpayers. It’s a great example of continuing to ignore the problem until it becomes too much of a burden, and consumes all of the budget. This is where we are headed.

  5. Pip

    Somehow I can’t help feeling this is all just another vanity scheme. I’ve never known a local council to successfully design a purpose built ‘creative district’ – it’s all a bit like a Potemkin village. Real creative districts arise spontaneously, and start with artistic workspace in run-down and end of life buildings in marginal areas for £4 a square foot. There was actually just the start of a real creative district in the old Siemens complex in Charlton before this was designated for yet more high-rise riverside housing. The gunners levered £12m out of the heritage lottery fund on the basis of 180,000 visitors a year but didn’t even achieve 10% of that. Where is the scrutiny to ensure the designed-in organisations for the new Woolwich Potemkin village are viable without vast public subsidy?

    • fromthemurkydepths

      Agree about organic growth at most real creative districts though they have secured some great tenants and it will have a huge catchment area when Crossrail finally opens.

      The big question as you raise is will it be enough – and will it be too niche?

      I’m a fan of the idea, though less how it appears to be funded – which could be said for many projects. It doesn’t appear a smart use of squeezed funds given the options out there. Is it just lazy thinking and action to sell things off without much thought for the long term, which then causes big problems down the line?

      Also agree about Charlton – I’ve wrote a few posts over the years about RBG using the talent there in Woolwich town centre. Never acted upon to any real degree by the authority. Street art, events, engagement and so much more could have been attempted – at least on a bigger scale.

  6. Niall P T O'Connor

    There’s also now a serious lack of public transport to cope with all the new flats being built. It’s getting hard to get on a train at Greenwich in the mornings, and London Bridge station seems to struggle already. Maybe stop building new flats until this is somehow addressed?

  7. Ashley

    For far to long this Borough as squandered millions of much needed cash on wasteful projects/companies. All by the mismanagement Labour Party. You would of thought the likes of Riverside House once owed by the council could of easily been converted into 1-2 bed room apartments for homelessness and to combat the ever growing housing list. But no, they would rather sell it off as well as other potential council owned sites. Isn’t it time for Change!

    Not just this, how about rejuvenate our tired neglected PublicRealm? its cluttered with unsightly wooden decaying bollards, they should be ripped up less clutter is better. New paving layed! New roads and trees to bring up the areas of neglect for starters. Not forgetting a workable process to combat illegal parking to bring in more revenues and more investment into this Royal Borough.

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