The Metro has today reported that the former East Greenwich library has been sold by Greenwich Council to a church group for £1.8 million in 2019.
The article frames the sale as being an example of buildings sold off cheaply. It is a very low sum for such a substantial site, though it should be noted that the building was in dire condition internally, and its Grade II listed status possibly restricts future alterations.
The church group that purchased the building are the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who have seen a fair share of controversy both in the UK and Nigeria.
The BBC reported that the church’s worldwide head in Nigeria has been criticised for sexist messages on social media including “no matter how educated or successful you are, your husband is your head and you must regard him as such at all times” and “don’t marry a girl who is lazy. Don’t marry a girl who cannot cook. She needs to know how to do chores and cook because you cannot afford to be eating out all the time.”
He also drew attention to the church when he stated “Anyone who is not paying his tithe is not going to heaven, full stop”.
In the UK Labour leader Kier Starmer visited and praised a branch of the church, while opponents highlighted how its pastor had opposed laws against discrimination and also same sex marriage.
He later apologised:
I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit. I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) April 5, 2021
The library was in terrible condition when it closed in 2015. Well, to be accurate, it was in a terrible condition at least a decade before with former public areas shut away from view and unsafe. I’d taken a look back to those former public areas which were later used as storage and imminent collapse seemed possible.
It’s no surprised then that it hardly fetched a great sum. Why Greenwich never maintained the building to even a basic level as new builds sprung up all around and brought millions to the authority is a mystery – and certainly harmed them when it came to selling.
The exterior of the site and public realm didn’t help either with enticing buyers. The 1960s flyover divided the local area, and the wider streetscape for decades after was almost designed to be as ugly as possible. It was hardly going to help any sale.
A prospective buyer for leisure use or conversion to housing would have run a mile.
In 2017/18 TfL had given money to improve the local area. Greenwich didn’t do so.
Thus they refused to spend incoming cash they received from new builds and appeared to not spend external cash on the area before the sale in 2019, harming the chance of sizable income.
Not the best financial management.
If the church group now proposes to demolish parts of the structure (and given how bad it is, this is quite possible despite the listed status) it’ll raise many questions over the building and a public asset long neglected.
If some parts of the structure are too far gone to save (I cannot emphasise enough how bad parts are to the rear), could Greenwich have revamped the main frontage and core building while adding housing or other uses and then either retain or sell?
That could at least have brought a decent return on investment for the public good. As it is, it could be they’ve sold it cheaply and much will still come down. The worst of all worlds if so.