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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.