Housing and Community Secretary Robert Jenrick popped up in a video yesterday to announce (again) that £17.15 million in funding was to be spent on Woolwich town centre.
Back in April this site covered various projects the money would be spent on including rebuilding Beresford Square, a potential event and music space near the Royal Arsenal gatehouse, a cafe/bar within the Gatehouse alongside improving Powis Street.
Funding comes from the Future High Streets fund. An additional £3.8 million from the Heritage Action Zone fund is to also be spent in the town centre.
As ever with big Woolwich projects – usually announced to great fanfare – the question arises of whether they’ll be maintained. You don’t have to go far in the town to see the last major public realm project – just a decade ago – wasn’t well maintained in places with certain materials unsuitable.
It wasn’t all bad of course, the new General Gordon Square was a vast improvement and well used.
But other parts didn’t fare well, as a post on this site as long ago as 2016 showed.
Street furniture became chipped and scruffy, dirty streets weren’t deep cleaned and a sparking multi-million project became a bit of a mess. Basic things again just weren’t being done.
Let’s hope some engagement occurs on plans to ensure mistakes aren’t made once again.
There’s much to like elsewhere. Beresford Square has always felt like a missed opportunity, and so using the Royal Arsenal Gatehouse as a place to eat and drink is something I’ve suggested for years. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do given close links between owners and Greenwich Council.
It could bring Royal Arsenal residents to Woolwich town centre, offer more life to the square including in the evenings and hopefully offer support to existing market stalls and food outlets like Vib.
Powis Street like much of Woolwich is full of wonderful buildings – though many have removed original ground floor frontages.
It’d also help if owners who neglect buildings are forced to invest. Powers exist to do so, and too many are in poor condition.
This area is now a Conservation Area. That new status was a key factor in a rejection of a 27-floor tower in front of Woolwich Tesco.
Despite the status, existing buildings show little improvement in many areas. Much like not maintaining parts of public realm, allowing business owners to neglect buildings will hamper Woolwich regardless of multi-million pound investment.
The authority privatised town centre enforcement in recent years – with no apparent impact upon some businesses cluttering up the town with junk impeding disabled pedestrians and parents with buggies.
Further consultation on changes should be announced in due course. Hopefully they are actually genuine this time and mistakes of the past are not repeated. A recently constructed public realm project in Abbey Wood shows like repeating some of the same mistakes. Again, those issues were highlighted before it was built – and ignored. A post on that will follow shortly.