I’ve been meaning to put this post on Morris Walk estate for a while now but a few issues conspired against. Firstly I wanted to visit and take some photos of the site as there’s some serious issues with access and safety.
In addition, it didn’t help that Greenwich Council’s web stream didn’t work on the day the meeting was held, and has only subsequently been uploaded though still plagued by sound dropouts.
So here we are, a week late but a story of some importance.
What we have was a proposal to build 766 new homes on the former Morris Walk estate in Woolwich; an increase from 562 previously standing on site. Social homes are however set to reduce to 167 from around 500.
The plan is part of the wider “One Woolwich” project to replace around 1,064 predominantly council homes at three estates with 1,615 new homes, of which 35 per cent would be “affordable” and of that, even less are council housing.
Despite an overall increase in homes, the corresponding reduction in council homes across three estates is around 1,000 to 368.
That roughly 650 fall in council housing almost matches an increase of 750 homeless households in emergency housing over the past three to four years.
To meet those temporary housing costs Greenwich Council are regularly having to find millions of pounds not included in housing budgets.
The decision last week was taken as news emerged that a shortage of council homes has seen an all-time record high in homeless households funded by Greenwich Council (up annually from 1,340 to 1,528 and from 750 in 2017/18) in emergency overnight and short term housing.
The housing waiting list is at least another 20,000 households.
Outline permission that permitted a large reduction in council housing was given in 2015.
You can view in-depth posts about the plans at Morris Walk here.
Failing to invest
Despite a large reduction in council housing, investment in improved infrastructure is generally absent.
The site is divided down the middle by a railway line. Crossing between the two sides of the estate is not particularly pleasant with a dingy, narrow underpass and 1960s footbridge hundreds of metres away.
Images from the planning application appear to show a new bridge over the line was planned (see middle arrow below) but dropped late on.
That leaves the existing two awkward crossings as the only access points to access shops, public transport and amenities for over 3,000 future residents.
When I was there it was congested and a wheelchair or buggy user would struggle to get down – not helped by railings blocking access to the north given close proximity to the underpass exit:
This gives an impression how cramped it is:
A pretty pathetic £250,000 was allocated to improve access at one existing footbridge quite some distance away, but even that funding proposal was pulled.
The development is bringing financial contributions of at least £7.874million.
£250,000 is simply laughable considering so many homes are coming at a site with major severance. £250,000 is not going to turn a 1960s bridge that isn’t step-free into one usable by all.
Encouraging sustainability? Greenwich again show a lack of action when it comes to spending and encouraging walking, cycling and public transport use.
To add insult, a Greenwich’s Planning Officer blames Network Rail for not upgrading the inappropriate existing bridge with £250,000 Greenwich sought to allocate.
They can hardly be blamed for Greenwich trying to “improve” links on the cheap. Did Greenwich seek a quote for a new bridge in the middle of the site?
If so there’s absolutely no evidence of it.
To his credit Cllr John Fahy did raise the issue of the existing bridge and said he was astonished by Network Rail. NR do themselves little favours most of the time (see recent Angerstein issue) but £250,000 can hardly achieve much (certainly not a new accessible bridge) and pressuring NR is really not aiming at the right target here.
Councillors should be asking why Greenwich Council are not willing to adequately fund a new bridge using other sources of funding – S106, Community Infrastructure Levy and New Homes Bonus to name but three.
Even the £250,000 allocation is now off the table and replaced with just £62,000 for lighting.
Greenwich’s Planning Officer stated “the boat has sailed” on the issue.
Really? Network Rail have announced plans for new lower cost footbridges that can be installed in days.
Even if waiting for trials on a new bridge design to complete was deemed undesirable, passive provision for a bridge would be wise. Or install a structure the likes of which are regularly installed across the UK.
Planning chair Cllr Stephen Brain criticised NR on the Angerstein issue and their cost quotations on that site. The key difference is that Angerstein is not in the vicinity of a development that can help fund improvements as at Morris Walk.
What is sorely needed at the new Morris Walk is a new, safe, accessible bridge in the centre of the site connecting each side of the major development.
Many, many smaller developments all over the UK see new footbridges. How have Greenwich failed so badly here?
I see no evidence they pushed for a serious solution but instead proposed a token amount.
I’ve been covering Greenwich’s lamentable record on pedestrian safety and accessibility for years and I’m still astonished how bad they are.
If Greenwich are giving so much public land to private developers (to profit) those same developers could at least fund some infrastructure.
You can’t rebuild a large estate either side of a railway line, add in hundreds more homes and then expect NR to fund all or most of a new bridge. They will rightfully say to use income obtained from developers to assist. And that doesn’t mean a paltry £250,000.
Now that’s gone down even further to just £62,000. This was painted as a good thing as more money for play space, as the design didn’t include sufficient areas for children. It still doesn’t as some funds will be spent in nearby parks to compensate.
Failure of any ambition
What would have been ambitious here is a new Woolwich Dockyard station moved a few hundred metres west and closer to the 8,000 homes planned at Charlton Riverside. With the estate demolished it’s a clean slate. It would remove the 10-car platform limit at the existing station.
What should have been the bare minimum was new and better links over the railway line.
What Greenwich have achieved is £62,000 for lighting and minor work. What words express how bad that is?
This is all happening in the shadow of Woolwich Works which Greenwich Council themselves are spending tens of millions of pounds upon.
Now it shouldn’t be either/or when it comes to arts or housing or infrastructure, but it’s striking that the same council that can fund that (and we await to see how much the budget overruns) then states it cannot provide safe access for all on a new estate – when there is already a mass reduction in truly affordable housing on public land to the benefit of private developer Lovell.
In contrast to poor accessibility for pedestrians reaching and traversing this site, there is a lot of parking – over 400 spaces.
Cllr Gary Dillon raised why this was.
Greenwich’s Council Officer responded to state it’s because there’s no controlled parking zone in the area.
Greenwich Council’s leader had previously denied there was any loss of social housing in the “One Woolwich” project when head of regeneration:
In reality, a substantial reduction is seen.
Social housing is down from 1,000 to 368 at three estates.
He stated “just to be clear this is about decent, affordable new homes for residents”.
They’ll just be fewer decent, affordable homes.
The video of the meeting failed to show exactly who voted to approve plans but approved they were.
The vote was split into north and south elements of the site. At the end of the last vote for the northern half, Chair Cllr Stephen Brain approved and stated it was “unanimous”.
Not one councillor that I could see asked Council Officers why it was that after discussions with Lovell Homes the council had allocated such a small sum to improve links across the track, which in effect impacts disabled and vulnerable people the most, though all residents will see wholly inadequate connections.
Having visited the site again this week, the bridge is poor and the underpass not fit for purpose.
For many new residents it won’t feel safe and wont be used. Bring on the increased car use.
The whole development badly required a new pedestrian crossing over the tracks in the middle of the site. That should have been the bare minimum requirement here with 3,000 residents moving in.
That no one raised that in the meeting, and then failed to ask why the authority sought to spend such low amounts on improving the situation is hard to explain, but sadly an issue we see again and again.
Viewing the meeting it was a case of blaming others (Network Rail) rather than look inwards.
Now with sound dropping out quite a bit maybe some did, but I didn’t see or hear it.
Note how just £250,000 was also the amount allocated for improved links between 1,500 homes in Morden Wharf and improving links to Greenwich Peninsula last month.
Another area in dire need of improvement.
It’s the same old failures. Greenwich Planners do little for improved pedestrian links and councillors rarely question.
They also whipped through the northern half of the site plan in no time. No questions on issues such as why the design ignores a possible cycle lane running along Woolwich Road and leaves such narrow pavement space.
Failing to do so could mean either/or when it comes to bus and cycle lanes in future along this spot.
Obvious questions to people who live and know the area go unasked.