New Woolwich leisure centre looks set to be approved

Plans to replace the Waterfront in Woolwich with a new leisure centre and almost 500 homes look set to be approved next week at a Planning Board meeting.

The former site of Wilko on General Gordon Square would be replaced with a new pool, ball courts, gym and residential blocks behind.

Housing blocks to rear

One of the more contentious issues is the council scheme includes very little social housing with Greenwich Council linking up with Hill Residential Limited to sell many homes at market rate. Just 51 out of 482 units will be social rent – and that includes replacement for 24 social units on site at Troy Court set to be demolished. That results in a net gain of just 27 social homes out of 482 in total.

Leisure Centre

Greenwich have owned most of the site for some years with long term plans to move swimming pool provision to a new site.

The site sees improvements in some facilities such as a toddler pool while some such as squash courts are reduced in number.

The council opted not to partner with a Housing Association for the project rather than build themselves as part of Greenwich Builds or via their developer Meridian home Start either in full or partly.

Proposed interior

Greenwich have kept the leisure centre design as a relatively low four floors across a large part of the site rather than build truly affordable homes above part of it, with areas to the rear to be built on by a private developer with few truly affordable homes – despite homeless households doubling to 1,600 between 2018 and 2022.

Upon completion the Waterfront site is expected to be sold to a private developer.

Current Woolwich leisure centre

You can read a long post on this site from when plans were submitted in April 2022 here. Today’s will look at the latest and what changes it will bring to numerous services locally.

Stem the tide?

The new leisure centre is an attempt to halt long-term decline in membership numbers at the Waterfront. However, the advent of low cost gyms continues to hamper customer numbers and another low cost gym is opening in Woolwich town centre on the 30 September from Puregym.

Many low cost gyms operate 24 hours a day, though the new centre will close at 10pm. They aim to more than double the number of stations in the fitness suite.

Waterfront saw large decline in members which predates the pandemic

The application mentions 1,098 cycle parking spaces, though the authority have failed to use income from a vast number of developments to link the site to existing cycle lanes from Plumstead which abruptly end, and there’s no plan to link Woolwich town centre to any cycle lane from Charlton.

Planned centre

Last week the authority approved a tower outside Tesco very close to the proposed site. TfL recommended £944,000 be allocated to help create a cycle link. Greenwich Council planners refused and allocated £150,000 – with GLLaB taking £750,000.

Almost the entirety of what currently exists on the site is set to be demolished except part of the Bull pub.

Pub frontage remains

However the GLA have expressed concerns stating “The partial demolition of a locally listed pub would result in harm to its significance”.

Greenwich’s Conservation Officer has concerns with the black façade on Vincent Road of the main building alongside the pub: “The loss of the chimneys and the introduction of a flat roof with railings around, together with the insensitive openings to the ground floor, further diminish the character of the locally listed building and contribute to the substantial harm which is caused by the proposals.”

Woolwich leisure centre plans include hundreds of homes. Just 50 social homes planned including replacement for 24 on site

Transport

Responses by various external bodies to decisions by Greenwich planning officers do not paint a great picture for the authority.

Network Rail state £1 million could be allocated to improve access to Woolwich Arsenal station. Greenwich Council have refused.

They believe the transport report underestimates rail usage: “The applicant’s Transport Assessment suggest that 30% of all public transport trips will be made by National Rail, which equates to a net increase of 801 daily trips.

Potential new entrance on left? Greenwich refusing to assist with funding

Although we feel these projections are conservative, it is still a significant amount of rail trips.”

Southeastern are apparently planning improvements: “Southeastern Railway are currently seeking to improve the connectivity at the station to create a better passenger experience for all passengers travelling from both the DLR and Woolwich Arsenal creating an improved gateway to Woolwich.

However, more funding is required in the region of £1m to deliver the improvements.”

“Given the proximity and impact of this development on Woolwich Arsenal Station, this provides a great opportunity to secure a contribution to provide improvements to Woolwich Arsenal Station.

Woolwich Arsenal railway station’s cramped main entrance

The improvements will provide benefits for both the future residents and the local community and will encourage the uptake in sustainable in line with both national and local policies.”

Greenwich Planners reply: “The requirement for a payment from this scheme towards station improvements has not been justified and therefore a contribution is not being sought.”

The Greater London Authority state “Contributions towards sustainable and active travel are required; and further information on coach parking, disabled persons parking, and construction impacts.”

TfL seeking cycle lanes in Woolwich town centre. Greenwich not keen to assist despite many new developments in area

TfL then talk about the need for cycle lane improvements beyond the original scope of Cycleway 4 which is set to stop at the Woolwich ferry:

“Whilst these improvements are currently proposed to stop at Woolwich Ferry roundabout, there is an intent to extend the route to Woolwich Town Centre, which, subject to feasibility and design works, would be of benefit to the residents/users of the proposed development and
would improve active travel access.”

No safe cycle space alongside another proposed development. TfL want to change provision in town centre . Greenwich failing to support

Transport for London recommend a £766,862 allocation to cycling provision. Greenwich replied “a minimum of £50,000 has been secured towards towards Cycleway 4.” That’ll pay for about 50 metres at best.

TfL were also clearly talking about improving routes through Woolwich town centre beyond the scope of Cycleway 4 which is set to end at the Woolwich ferry roundabout. Greenwich mention discussions between TfL and applicants – but as it’s Greenwich that agree the Section 106 agreement why are they saying so little or showing any imitative themselves?

Base of new Berkeley towers and car park entrance ensures no space for cycle lane. No funding to improve area for cycling here obtained by Greenwich

You can probably tell where this is going. Yes, GLLaB gains far more than most areas of spend at £492,700.

Greenwich have regularly ignored TfL and a number of their own strategies pretty much every time a large development comes up whether it be improved pedestrian or cycling links – and they have the final say on allocation. See 1,750 homes near Plumstead and 333 homes at former Thamesmead care home. Each time TfL stated they should invest in safer links to nearby shops, bus routes and Plumstead station. Each time Greenwich refused. Somehow Planning Officers seem to do this with impunity.

Greenwich ignored TfL calls to improve this area

The lack of info now from the authority does not bode well for future improvements.

The response to the Planning Department internally from the council’s Transport Department is also revealing. It fails to mention cycle routes in Woolwich town centre, gives no figure for obtaining income for improvements, doesn’t mention ferry services see below on that) nor improving rail access.

Another Greenwich development in Woolwich ensures little space for cycle lane

Still the council continue to talk about a new Transport Strategy, but again appear content not do a great deal to help fund improvements. It can be full of lovely guidance but without funding it’s pointless.

They have one department (Transport) not pushing another who seem completely disinterested (Planning).

What are Cabinet Members and leadership doing about senior officers ignoring outside bodies and their own strategies? It’s not just the Transport Strategy. There’s the Carbon Reduction Plan and Healthy Living strategies in recent years already adopted.

Forward thinking?

Transport for London also mention lack of consideration on links with an adjacent estate:

“A direct connection to the adjoining Armstrong Estate is not being provided as part of the proposed development.

Whilst the constraints on the provision of such a connection are acknowledged, it should be ensured that the scheme allows potential pedestrian and cyclist access to come forward in the future.

Armstrong estate sits beside development

Improvements to the entrance to the Armstrong Estate from Vincent Road are welcomed, which should be secured within a section 278 agreement.”.

Greenwich reply with a less than convincing response to state: “There is a significant level change between the eastern boundary of the site and the Armstrong Estate making access between these difficult.”.

So do little then? It’s only another neglected Greenwich Council estate.

Armstrong Estate in Woolwich.

They continue: “Should a scheme for the Armstrong Estate come forward, the applicants would discuss opportunities to connect the site at ground level.”.

Clearly if they’ve failed to adequately consider links with this development it could greatly hamper improvements in future.

Thames Clippers

The Port of London also aren’t too impressed with elements of the plan:

“Within the submitted Framework Travel Plan and Transport Assessment it is disappointing that the nearby river bus services available approximately an eight minute walk from the proposed development have not been referenced alongside other public transport modes near to the site.

As part of the full Travel Plan information on the nearby riverbus services, including timetables must be included in both the Travel Plan and the proposed Residential and Employee Travel Packs.

Ample space for cycle lane. 801 homes approved on right of image. No cycle lane provision obtained by Greenwich Council

The increased use of this mode of transport must also be promoted alongside other public transport modes in the Travel Plan, which would be in line with Policy 17 of the Mayors Transport Strategy (2018) on the promotion of river services in London.”

Greenwich planners reply simply to say “noted” but no sign they’ll actually act upon it.

You may not know it, but Woolwich also has a Town Centre manager. They seem really engaged with the job with their reply.

Healthcare

The NHS are seeking “a minimum of £702,148 for the provision of health infrastructure as part of the S106 legal agreement and links the costs to the BCIS index”.

The report notes GP surgeries are oversubscribed:

“The GPs have an average list size of 2,099 registered patients which is significantly higher than the NHS recommended average of 1,800 patients per GP. The ES concluded that this is a moderate adverse (significant) effect.”

Overview of leisure centre and housing proposal

However Greenwich Council have opted to ignore the NHS and allocate zero Section 106 income to healthcare.

The report continues: “The Greenwich CCG has provided detailed comments following review of both the submitted Health Impacts Assessment and Socio-Economic section of the ES and highlight that the ES and the Health Impact Assessment both conclude that there will be an adverse impact on health infrastructure and health services.”

There’s instead vague mention of allocating CIL income – but Greenwich have made an utter mess of that fund for years. There’s also *no* figure given whatsoever from that source. It would appear GLLaB is more important than healthcare, education, rail services and healthy living.

Greenwich’s defence for no money for healthcare is “In this instance, the scheme is proposing a new state of the art Leisure Centre which in turn promotes health and wellbeing alongside promoting walking and cycling.”

That’s despite allocating almost nothing to cycling and pedestrian improvements and far below what TfL sought.

Approval?

One key factor here is that this is Greenwich’s own plan in partnership with a private developer, so whether the Planning Board raise much fuss and question what is presented will be interesting.

Dedicated cycle lane from Plumstead simply stops near new builds. Hundreds of new homes to be built on college site on left of this image. Again little allocated for active travel link to Cycleway 4

In addition, as I covered last week the council’s Planning Department have made a mess of recent administration and failed to ensure IT systems connected with GLA systems. One fund that could have assisted is the Community Infrastructure Levy – but they’ve made mistakes there by firstly failing to collect much income and sit last in London – then allocated four per cent of total income for planning administration when five per cent was possible. That one per cent could equal a number of staff given CIL income is potentially in the millions each year.

This now means development in the borough faces a greater presumption of approval. Indeed, cllrs mentioned this with the Tesco development last week. Less than good proposals may be approved when normally greater scrutiny would be given as the Planning Department have made a number of prior mistakes. And the same Planning Department is still ignoring various authorities in improving services and local areas from major developments.

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J 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.

11 thoughts on “New Woolwich leisure centre looks set to be approved

  • Something is deeply, deeply wrong with Greenwich Planning Department and those that lead it.

    Always money for the same old areas eh. Even placing those above healthcare. How low is that?

    I see no sign of change within the new leadership or Cabinet as we’ve seen the same thing at a number of large-scale projects coming before planning committee.
    Money somehow filters back to the same areas *cough GLLAB* while key apparent goals such as transport are ignored.

    It’s almost a parody. Ignore rail, all bit ignore cycling and pedestrians, ignore healthcare but shovel money to the usual suspects.

    Rotten borough.

    Reply
  • You never mentioned education so I had a look through to see about that. No money allocated in that direction either.

    This is one weird “Labour” council who ignore public transport, health and education when the opportunity presents itself whether Section 106 or maximising development gain via the Community Infrastructure Levy. Who is calling the shots? How can they have so much power to ignore areas/outlets crying out for money. Gllab is some powerful entity with friends in the right places isn’t it. Sure, jobs and training is laudable but at the expense of pretty much everything else?

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  • If you’ve worked with many authorities across London over 15+ years as I have none of this surprises you given Royal Greenwich were – and still are it appears – down there amonsgt the worst when it came to skills in various areas, if not the worst in some. They’re not good to work with.

    It’s an odd brew of insularity, arrogance, ineptness and all-round ignorance from many senior officers. Political leadership has been weak for some time and they can be hoodwinked easily. This transpires into often lacking the fainstest clue of how to enact change as they revert to what they’ve done for many years. Try to show evidence of postive change in parts of London? Good luck. They go off on their own little way and repeat the same mistakes again.

    Helping external agencies like Network Rail and TfL doesn’t come easy when they think they know best, yet clearly do not to anyone who isn’t a parochial insider with minimal knowledge of the modern world. In return those agencies would rather avoid the borough.

    A truly desperate place in terms of institional competance and one that requires urgent sustantial reform. But they all seem happy in their little club.

    Reply
  • I wonder whether any of these proposed developments (this one, Woolwich exchange, Central phases 3 & 4) will actually get built any time soon. There’s probably a serious recession incoming, the price of construction materials is far higher than it has been and property prices, especially the prices of flats seem likely to be at least slightly lower in the coming few years.

    I would like to see them built. Won’t having council tax payers in these properties do more in the long term for Greenwich than developer subsidies? Isn’t it wise to try to attract these developments to Greenwich when they might go elsewhere?

    I wonder whether developers will just sit on these sites once permission is granted. What are your thoughts on this?

    Reply
  • It’s shouldn’t be either/or with development-related income. Many authorities secure substantial sums early on via S106 and CIL for capital projects such as a new railway station entrance as NR plan or cycle routes. Council tax then provides long-term income for day-to-day spend.

    Developments such as housing will not go elsewhere if CIL for example is increased from near-bottom in London. The demand for new homes and population growth is too high.

    It is however a good bet some won’t be built for many years when housing in the UK is based upon unrealistic annual growth. Annual construction material inflation is vast right now at around 26 per cent and interest rates are only going one way. The Fed are looking at another 1 per cent rise and the ECB just increased by 0.75 per cent. Canada for example is now seeing prices crash and US mortgage rates are rising quickly. That doesn’t present a picture which is likely to see all three proceed but that will happen all over London.

    The worst case scenario is that then causes stagnation after viable business vacate. We’ve already seen Wilko leave Woolwich a couple of years ago for the leisure centre project to the detriment of the town centre.

    All three sites have also been on the drawing board for 10-15 years now and made extremely slow progress. The leisure centre site was being planned in the mid 2000s. Woolwich Exchange is a decade at least and Central phases since the mid 2000s too. There’s been a lack of strategic will in Woolwich and even now we see a lack of much forward thinking in how they allocate income. Add in the DLR sites still being stagnant and it’s cost Woolwich big.

    Reply
  • 500 new homes phaha. More like 27 new homes. Selling the Waterfront space for more flats no one on a normal wage in Greenwich borough can afford.

    Reply
  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, very interesting <:-)

    Reply
  • How does GLLaB manage to absorb so much money? I’m not entirely sure I understand their role properly.

    What measures are there of GLLaB’s effectiveness or VfM?

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  • That housing total for council homes is pitiful. Let me get this right this is council land and they also will gain a windfall from selling off the waterfront site and can only stump up 27 homes!

    Shameful and disgusting. So far removed from those struggling. Total joke

    Scrap the leisure centre. Build council homes on site and shops and do up Waterfront. Everyone wins. This looks like a bung to Hill developments whoever they are? All very dodgy

    Reply
  • It seems that lots of organisations have asked RBGC to allocate them money to do various things and RBGC has declined. It looks bad, but I have to ask – why should RBGC pay for these things?
    Network rail predicts an increase of 860 trips per day and asked for £1m to improve access – why should RBGC pay for this? It sounds like Network rail is going to be raking it in in new fare income, so it seems fair that they should fund the upgrades themselves. If a trip is £3, that’s an extra £950k in annual income for NR.
    The same applies to the NHS. Primary healthcare isn’t the responsibility of local authorities – it sits with the NHS trust and Whitehall, and is paid for out of general taxation. With a thousand new homes adding thousands of new taxpayers to the area, why shouldn’t the Trust/Whitehall stump up the cash to increase/improve GP services?
    RBGC does not get away with it entirely though. The neglect of the transport improvements is inexplicable – this sits squarely with RBGC’s remit and they should be raked over hot coals for not taking what money is available to them.
    And finally, while I love this article and the commitment to holding those in power accountable, I really think we need a single-minded focus on one thing – what on Earth is GLLab and why the hell does it get so much money? Where is the money going? It seems to be an ad portal for vacancies with the odd careers talk – how can it cost this much money to run and is it even necessary? It smells so badly of embezzlement and scandal. RBG councillors really need to clearly explain what they are doing with this money.

    Reply
  • It’s the norm in most authorities that are seeing large developments – and related income – to use a portion to contribute to a wide range of community facilities. NR would, for example, be funding the majority of any Woolwich Arsenal scheme and be asking for some assistance – particularly as the Treasury are cutting their budget yet thousands more residents will be moving into close proximity to the station.

    If we look at cycle hire, Southwark have just allocated £1m in S106 to expand. That’s in addition to TfL funding.

    Ideally local funding wouldn’t be needed for various projects but the Treasury seek to reduce funds in a wide range of areas so if change is to occur, development income is a useful tool. The Treasury will also often say we won’t give anything unless you can contribute at a local level. S106 is only going to help at the margins but can unlock bigger projects.

    NR wouldn’t take any income from each passenger journey given the current structure of the railways. That may change in a few years but no one really knows what form GBR will take. Their role is currently infrastructure enhancements.

    With the NHS its again a case of there isn’t adequate income from the central Govt for current pressures. I’ve just been reading a Lewisham & Woolwich NHS Trust report and they are seeking funds for certain improvements but do not have the full resource to do so. It’s capital spend where an amount of local income can assist.

    If Greenwich hadn’t made such a huge mess of CIL income there in recent years would be less need for S106 to boot.

    As for GLLaB all councils have similar but few allocate such a large percentage of income to their equivalents. It does conduct training too as well as advertise roles and act as a broker – but yes it swallows so much compared to other areas that are supposed to be important but are ignored.

    Reply

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