Woolwich town centre’s forgotten west end: Major changes on the way

With Woolwich in a constant state of flux and change, major changes could be coming to the overlooked and underused western end of the town centre near the Woolwich ferry.

Last week’s decision to extend Woolwich’s conservation area to areas west of the town centre will help retain one of Woolwich’s hidden gems in that part of town, and one thing of interest that stood out is proposals for future development at the Powis Street car park beside Travelodge.

Car park cheap but rarely busy

It may seem a no-brainer for a large, surface level car park to become mixed-use bringing residents and greater footfall to that end of town, but as recently as last year a key Greenwich planning document for future development sites didn’t include it.

Courtesy Google. Large expanse of tarmac

That now appears to be changing, and ties in with a large number of other changes in that end of town.

Extract from council report

British Land stated a council report had been “Confusing suggesting it makes a contribution as an open space, but it fails to have regard to the sites contribution towards lack of townscape definition in this area.”

Greenwich Council planners responded: “Text has been amended in 4.0 to indicate that development has the potential to reintegrate the townscape and contribute positively to the Areas significance.”

Cafe sits at junction of Hare Street and Woolwich High Street

That opens the way for regeneration, and if Woolwich can retain Mortgramit Square with sensitive changes alongside development of the Powis Street car park with contextual development beside the now-listed Travelodge, this end of town will become a desirable area to visit, shop and live with plentiful assets already in place.

Timewarp

For as long as I can recall, Hare Street and the western end of Powis Street have been ghost towns. Memories of heading to the old Coronet cinema meant heading down deserted, downtrodden streets. The cinema unsurprisingly struggled with footfall and after hanging on far longer than expected, closed its door around the Millennium.

Former cinema near Mast Quay blocks

 

The area is now – and has been for decades – a far cry from the bustling street it once was:

Hare Street in 1920

Hare Street formerly led directly to the Woolwich ferry, and views down the street would offered a glimpse towards the Thames and over to cranes at the Royal Docks.

The ferry terminal moved 20 metres west in the 1960s and road changes severed the river from the town centre. The Royal Arsenal gradually shrunk and river views ceased when Waterfront leisure centre built across the space. The Waterfront originally kept access through the site towards the river – but that didn’t last long before it was shut. It also helped maroon the foot tunnel.

And so the western end of the town centres began to become a ghost town. As I covered in the post on Mortgrammit Square, this part of town is a timewarp little changed in decades.

Apparent 1950s light attached to building.

Cobbled streets and 1930s industrial buildings drip with character. This end of town sees some of the last remnants of Woolwich’s 1980s pedestrianisation. When changes were made in the 1990s, it wasn’t deemed worthwhile to change and so red brick planters once widespread now live on in very few places.

Raised 1980s red brick planters and paving setts remain. This covered the entirely of the town centre at one point

Not much changed in terms of retail offerings for many years along Hare Street. A plan to demolish many fine buildings including the art deco co op were thankfully thwarted in the late 2000s. The building was converted to housing, and Travelodge moved in over the road.

With the cinema seeing a new lease of life as a church and avoiding demolition which befell many former art deco cinemas, other gems remain such as the 1937 Granada cinema, which was also converted to a church. While the Odeon went for swooping, streamlined art deco, the Granada went for gothic. It’s incredible interior can be seen here.

Granada on right. Odeon on left

It could have been so different, and this area retaining two interwar cinemas and the art deco co-op is a wonderful success that was far from guaranteed 20 years ago.

Other changes have been ongoing, with Callis Yard – a former council depot – redeveloped.

Hare Street

Landowners have also been restoring buildings along Hare Street in recent years.

Hare Street in 2018. Building now renovated

More units are occupied on Hare Street and the western end of Powis Street – excluding those where landowners have deliberately closed for a somewhat hideous redevelopment now under threat due to Conservation Zone status.

Shops evicted from buildings on right

Businesses such as highly rated Hitachi Sushi have moved in which is gaining extremely positive reviews.

Mortgramit Square proposal would demolish much of the areas character

A steady trickle of plans have also gone in to convert upper floors to residential and revamp exteriors.

Hare Street building renovated in recent years

Other buildings in the western end of the town remain in a state of disrepair. Numerous plans by Antic has yet to see any movement here:

Long neglected.

While changes have caused some improvements, other major housing developments are now well underway. Mast Quay’s final two towers were delayed for 15 years (another impact of the late 2000s credit crunch) but are now visible over a wide area.

New homes beside ferry at Mast Quay

It should help bring more life to that end of town, as will four more Berkeley Homes’ towers. Two are complete, two are rising and the final two see detailed plans now being submitted.

Berkeley Homes’ towers

Public realm is still a major let down in this area even after much money spent. This is post change on Woolwich High Street – which is barely any different to pre-change:

New developments to west of town centre. Callis Yard on left, Berkeley tower opposite and Mast Quay visible to rear

To encourage new residents to visit the town centre, this needs major improvement.

Also in this area is Riverside House, which has a proposal for conversion to 250 flats. The first attempt didn’t go very far, but new owners are trying again. It’s currently temporary art studios.

Riverside house

Another view of severance caused by vehicle-dominated streets:

Third tower rising to left of Woolwich High Street

One development which has been refused but is extremely likely to pass soon (with revisions) is Beresford Street and MacBean Street.

Housing plan on Beresford Street

The above render also shows other Berkeley housing plans contained in the Arsenal masterplan.

In addition £3.8 million is due to be spent on Woolwich town centre via the Heritage Action Zone, and £17.2m from the Future High Streets fund. We don’t yet know exactly what areas they will cover.

Both funds should cover the western end of the town and alongside amyriad of mixed-use development should give a real shot in the arm to western sections of Woolwich town centre.

Powis Street

In a way I’ll miss the melancholic and desolate areas but a thriving, buzzing area of town providing housing, leisure and jobs will be a massive boost. With planning strategies now offering hope of retaining the best of what exists, we may see a transformed part of London taking shape in the next decade.

As a private renter with a young family, the cost of living is extremely high.

Support me and the site via Paypal here which allows me to focus time on researching and writing posts alongside taking photographs to document changes. Adverts are far from enough to cover living costs.

Another option is via my Patreon account by clicking here

I also have a Facebook page for the site here

Thank you

John Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

3 thoughts on “Woolwich town centre’s forgotten west end: Major changes on the way

  • March 11, 2022 at 11:11 pm
    Permalink

    This area of the Town Centre to the bottom of Powis Street and Hare Street is in need of regeneration. So any improvements will be very welcomed.

    Reply
  • March 12, 2022 at 9:27 am
    Permalink

    I am pleased the the west end of Woolwich Town Centre is to be included in the conservation area. This end of Woolwich retains some nice older buildings with historical value which shows how Woolwich Town Centre used to be many many years ago. Like the upper floors to buildings on Hare Street.

    I do like the idea of mixed use buildings in Town Centres providing commercial/retail space with homes built above. To provide much needed housing.

    Reply
  • March 12, 2022 at 12:55 pm
    Permalink

    Looking forward to seeing how the changes will improve this area of Woolwich Town Centre which is in need of regeneration to bring footfall back to this area of the Town Centre.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.