One of Woolwich’s hidden treasures is set to escape the wrecking ball after it was included in a widened conservation area.
Furlongs garage occupies a large site with plans for it to be entirely flattened.
Passing the site currently from Woolwich High Street presents a pretty sorry site. It doesn’t appear there’s much worth saving at garage dating from 1938-39. The forecourt is of little merit and signage obscures what sits behind.
Yet look beyond the tacky exterior and character shines through – buried beneath an unloved frontage. This image from the 1950s shows how it did look – and perhaps could do again with some love and attention.
Head to other parts of the site via alleys leading off Powis and Hare Streets and a time capsule awaits, with Woolwich’s past lying undisturbed amid cobbled streets.
A developer has been seeking to flatten all this area. In 2018 consultations were underway on a tower – and it wasn’t good. In fact it was awful.
A lumpen mess at best from some angles. It evolved but gained little in the way of grace or elegance.
The garage covers a large area which is why developers eyes up such a substantial plan:
Yet there’s many features here worth keeping. Look at that curved corner treatment and those Crittall windows:
There’s some impressive views and features viewed from passageways such as this link bridge over cobbled streets:
Furlongs also includes a façade on Hare Street with an exterior similar to the former art deco co-op department store a few metres along which is now converted to housing:
The developer behind the plan to flatten all this states there is nothing exceptional about the area. They couldn’t be more wrong. While much of Woolwich’s past has been obliterated, this section remains and is a delight.
It wasn’t that long ago that there were plans to completely level all this area including the co-op.
The Furlongs complex is certainly not in great shape, but a modicum of imagination reveals what could be. It’s dripping in character and could – should – be a major asset to the town.
The report on Woolwich’s Conservation Zone is notable for saying the right things on public realm yet council departments appear to show little to no understanding of borough-wide. While the report is naturally focused on Woolwich town centre, much of what is included applies widely.
They note poor public realm and street clutter, alongside the impact of a dual carriageway severing the town.
However the current design of that dual carriageway was made by Greenwich Council – and then revised by Greenwich Council – in recent years.
Three huge development line the area near the forthcoming Crossrail station a and yet there is no plan to do anything about it.
One has been built (Berkeley Homes’ towers), one has been approved (Woolwich Exchange) and one is on the way (Armourers Court). The authority’s Planning Department is not pushing for any sort of change so far – with designs for the latest plan at Armourers Court showing little improvement with pedestrian space narrowed, no cycling space provided while the road lies untouched with it’s guardrail-lined central reservation.
It’s the same further along near Furlongs. There we have Berkeley’s riverside towers and Callis Yard towers.
Many reports highlight the issues and how they can be rectified, but then it falls to Planning and Highways who do next to nothing.
Councillors themselves stated in a document before the Cabinet:
“It was noted that there had been at least 4 similar reports produced and presented in respect of Woolwich Conservation and improvement in the past, none of which appeared to have been successful in their aims. It was hoped that this position would not be repeated”
A seperate report states:
“More sensitive, better quality, consistent design and removal of superfluous street furniture, such as bollards, signage and road markings would help to improve the conservation area, along with the reinstatement of historic boundary treatments and traditional surfaces.
Public realm improvements could also incorporate parks and green spaces to improve amenity and community health, though these would need to balance with the area’s historic character.
Developer contributions could also be utilised to deliver a better public realm”
They note models and guidance to follow “Public realm improvements should be in line with Historic England’s guidance in ‘Streets for All’, see: www.historicengland.org.uk/publications, the London Plan 2021 and the Mayor’s Healthy Streets Approach.”
It states: “Small changes made over time can have an adverse cumulative impact where piecemeal alterations, neglect, heavy traffic and lack of an overall strategy for the public realm have resulted in disparate and degraded road and footway surfaces and signage”.
However none of this is new, and Greenwich Highways Department routinely ignore modern guidance. As do the Housing and Parks Department in areas under their jurisdiction and as stated, the Planning Department fail when it comes to obtaining money via developer income to enact changes. Community Infrastructure Levy income is a mess with the borough sitting at the foot of London-wide totals, and S106 agreement routinely ignore improved public spaces.
The challenge now is to ensure these words translate into action at the relevant departments and officers – alongside staff on the ground and ensure money comes in.
On the plus side, the widened Conservation Zone will greatly help preserve some of the best aspects of Woolwich, and the oft-blighted town possess a wealth of wonderful buildings and space that can be preserved amid ongoing development.