Goodbye Woolwich Waterfront: Demolition coming as replacement leisure centre approved

A replacement leisure centre in Woolwich was approved last night (20 September) alongside 482 homes after a three hour Planning Board meeting at Woolwich Town Hall.

That ensures the end for the Waterfront centre beside the Thames which is set to be demolished for housing. It is, after all, prime riverside land.

Two major developments approved in two weeks.

The project to move facilities has been on the drawing board for around 15 years now and is set to see the relatively modern Viscount House on General Gordon Square demolished.

So it’s out with the 1980s building on site:

Viscount House to be demolished

And in with the new 2020s design:

View from General Gordon Square

But here’s where we hear the potential sound of screeching brakes. Greenwich have taken so long to approve the project after many years of talking that it’s given the green light just in time for construction cost inflation to hit ridiculous levels up to around 30 per cent in just a year.

So if you thought Woolwich Works’ cost increases posed an issue, we might not have seen nothing yet.

Bull pub frontage remains

It’s taken an age to get here which meant the pressure was on to approve it at last night’s meeting. I recall talk of this happening over 15 years ago when I worked in and around the council. I’ve covered it for many a year. Here’s one post from more than five years ago.

Waterfront entrance

In 2017, Greenwich stated building work of the new leisure centre should begin in January 2020 for completion in January 2022…

Replacement delays

Those delays ensure cost levels will be far higher with exponential growth in material cost currently being seen. High construction costs were remarked upon throughout the meeting. Cllr David Gardner even stated the centre must have “god plated taps” given the cost estimate which is someway above other centres in London. Yet it may go well beyond the £80 million mentioned.

That high cost is being used to excuse extremely low levels of council housing despite huge need.

View from near Tesco

The centre will see 482 homes, of which very few are truly affordable despite the council’s sharply increasing issue with homeless households (doubling since 2018 from 750 to 1,600) and a housing waiting list over 20,000. Just 27 additional new council homes are included.

Indeed, in the same week this was approved the latest quarterly financial update of Greenwich Council’s budget shows millions more in budget overruns due to a lack of council homes. We see this every quarter and every year locally.

Many homes but few are social housing

A lack of social housing was raised throughout the meeting. The land is predominantly owned by Greenwich Council yet they chose to partner with a private developer named Hill who of course want their profit margin before any social homes can be factored in. The private developer will gain 17.5 per cent profit margin on private sales and 15 per cent on commercial units.

One wonders therefore why Greenwich therefore didn’t adopt a deal whereby any profit could be reinvested to a greater degree.

Such low numbers of council homes are also despite a large amount of prime riverside land in Woolwich formerly housing the Waterfront car park being sold to Berkeley Homes where six towers are being built in addition the the Waterfront site itself.

Towers under construction on former public land

Greenwich Council also sold Riverside House opposite that site.


Some Cllrs demanded a review of profit margins and subsequent social housing levels after two years. Others seemed to buy into the line that “shared ownership” was affordable. The plan also ignores Greenwich Planning policy which states two thirds of “affordable” homes should be social housing – or London Affordable Rent – and yet is has two-thirds shared-ownership which is often out of bounds for many. It usually entails a mortgage, additional rent and a high service charge.

Cllr David Gardner raised what income levels would be needed, with £50,000-£60,000 typically needed for share ownership. Greenwich planners responded with reference to income bands but gave no number. Gardner pressed further wanting a figure. Queue ruffling of papers from Greenwich planners.

Leisure centre plan in Woolwich town centre. Tesco seen to rear

“I’ll come back to you”.

Shouldn’t this be something they know pretty well?

Cllr Majella Anning was not happy with low levels of social housing. She raised the point that this is already 93 per cent council land.

Cllr Denise Hyland later on stated she would be “popping the corks” if “affordable housing” went above 35 per cent. As things stand affordable housing in the real meaning of the word at the plan is about five per cent. It’ll never go anywhere near 35 per cent – let alone above.

Our old friend the Viability Report came to the rescue on providing many affordable homes.

Let’s not forget though that Greenwich choose to partner with a private company here who will develop homes.

Overall site

With inflation being what it is, the leisure centre cost could sky rocket thus the developer will state they can’t provide more truly affordable housing.

Then again the mix of a recession and high interest rates could see nothing happen for years. Woolwich has already lost Wilko from the town centre via this plan.

Wilko forced to leave

If nothing happens it’ll be a testament to years of talk compounding losing one of the town centre’s’ biggest retailers.

The options don’t look great, with either long term stagnation due to inflation being so high or very few affordable homes in a housing crises.

That’s not great when the Council’s Cabinet will read once again this week of issues with a lack of council housing:

“Main areas of overspend are Emergency Overnight Accommodation £1.2m, Homelessness Prevention (supporting residents in the private sector) £1.4m, Private Temporary Accommodation Leasing £0.4m and Council Owned Temporary Accommodation Properties £0.1m (which includes debt charges and repair costs). All of these costs are driven by increasing numbers of families presenting to the authority as homeless or at risk of homelessness”.

At one point a Greenwich Officer stated building a social housing estate would present £350m of debt, as if an entirely council estate or the proposed minimal amounts were the only two options.

He then defended shared ownership quoting the Trinity Walk development (see 2:23hrs here). One issue there as I covered in 2021; shared ownership homes didn’t sell to locals as they were too expensive. That was in 2021. That was also part of an ongoing project which saw around 750 council homes lost.


Cllr Pat Greenwell talked about “cycles moving everywhere”. Not likely with Greenwich ignoring TfL requests for funding to improve links to planned cycle routes the other side of Woolwich ferry. TfL suggested Greenwich use £700k for improving cycle links for those reaching the centre and residents. Greenwich went with just £50k.

Major barrier to cycling from Woolwich town centre and future cycle lanes

Greenwell also mentioned a lack of detail from TfL despite this bring a borough report which showed Greenwich had ignored a number of TfL suggestions. Out of TfL and Greenwich Council, it’s not the latter who’d you would think were based nearby.

I’ve no idea why so many Greenwich councillors are happy to pass the blame to external agencies though Greenwich Highways and Transport must be very persuasive in deflecting responsibility.  It’s an application going through the borough and the applicant draw up a travel plan and the borough council are the ones leading on funding allocation. And they are the ones ignoring numerous suggestions.

Woolwich Arsenal railway station

Greenwich also declined to help fund access improvements to Woolwich Arsenal station. I suppose that was also Network Rail’s fault.

TfL had raised concerns about coaches parked and blocking buses. Greenwich disregarded those concerns. Let’s see who is right down the line. Cllr Greenwell asked about this but it appeared she hadn’t read the main report as this was clearly stated.

Greenwich’s planner (at around the hour mark) stated that TfL has an aspiration to extend cycleway 4. And an aspiration is what it will remain for many years when the Planning Department allocate such meagre sums to transport.

Woolwich ferry roundabout is not appealing for most to cycle

Greenwich’s planner stated it would happen as developments come along and “we need contributions from various developments to get that started” though Greenwich planners have all but ignored funding town centre cycling improvements to any great degree time and time again. Lord knows I’ve been covering enough.

Numerous Woolwich town centre developments have come along in recent years. Woolwich Exchange, the Royal Arsenal site, the Catholic Club development, Premier Inn, Woolwich Island Site, sites around Tesco and this one. You name it, they’ve not done it.

It was amusing to see a Greenwich Officer state we need to encourage healthy living, when they ignore measures to encourage active travel time and again.

Greenwich declined funding new bridge in Woolwich so this will be main pedestrian and cycling link between major new estate

We see it at the leisure centre plan, saw it last week around Tesco, we saw it at two major developments in Thamesmead last year and see Woolwich’s Morris Walk rebuild to name just a few.

All about the healthy living – but we won’t fund improvements here as suggested by TfL

What we in effect have again is Greenwich stating TfL should do it and we won’t assist funding it. Not our job guv.

Traffic clogged ferry roundabout

Cllr Masie Cottell raised the issue of NHS concerns. The NHS stated GPs were oversubscribed and sought £700k in Section 106 income to assist. Greenwich decided to allocate no money for healthcare while they gave their job brokerage firm GLLaB £450k.

Viability said no money for health we are told. But money for GLLaB is there. Never in doubt that.

The Greenwich planning manager mentioned Community Infrastructure Levy funding but we know Greenwich have made a royal mess of that, and as of this moment have zero CIL money to spend.

There was no figure given for any future funds via that outlet from the planning manager. The planning chair Cllr Gary Dillon interjected to state the NHS give funds based on population. Which is true, but given pressures already existing would health be a better recipient than GLLaB receiving large amounts once again?

Courtesy @royal_greenwich

Much like Network Rail seeking assistance with rail access (their request was ignored with this application) or TfL with active travel (mostly ignored here and in many recent applications) external bodies may fund most spending but with cuts they cannot fund all. Time and again GLLaB take much of what is on offer.

There’s also the issue of whether outside organisations will bother to work with Greenwich when they are snubbed so regularly.

Leisure centres

While some Cllrs were waxing lyrical about a new leisure centre but it did cross my mind – and playing devil’s advocate here – will it actually be well used?

The Greenwich Centre for example has struggled with membership numbers for many years. Waterfront has too been on long term decline. Low cost gyms appear to have wide appeal and are impacting heavily upon council gyms being cheaper and offering longer hours.

Could this new centre be a white elephant at the expense of needed housing – or at least way too big an offering for what people want today?


As I’ve recently covered, a new Pure Gym is also opening in just over a week in Woolwich town centre which will do nothing to help the Plumstead Centre and Woolwich Waterfront.

Greenwich do have their favourite projects but they can at times seem out of step with what people want in the modern world. Better, GLL and GLLaB are always high up there when it comes to money being available.

As I say, this is merely speculating. But when their centres are expensive, often pretty dirty and quite limited in hours, why use them?

And when that too means so little affordable housing, no improvements for rail and little for active travel and losing shops such as Wilko that acted as a draw to the town, is this the right answer on this site at this very moment? Sure, build homes on the big car park, but after 15 years is this really the best that could be achieved?

Needless to say it was passed. It was never really in doubt given how long the council have taken to reach this point, but whether it goes much further anytime soon remains to be seen.







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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.

    5 thoughts on “Goodbye Woolwich Waterfront: Demolition coming as replacement leisure centre approved

    • Let’s hope they’ve got the predictions right for visitors and done a better job than they did for the Greenwich Centre, Plumstead Centre and Woolwich Works. They bodged them all up when it came to construction costs and visitor numbers. I fear the worst. It’s not a good track record.

      I fundamentally don’t understand why they’re giving public land to the private developer to make a substantial profit from each apartment sold then claiming no money to build more council homes? Can anyone explain? It seems financially mad.

      As for the need for a leisure centre in Woolwich I’m ambivalent now. As a gym goer and occasional swimmer I will continue to use the cheaper private gyms as Better are too expensive and would happily swim every now and again in Greenwich or Lewisham even if its a bit further. A pool near me in Woolwich is nice but I’m not sure so important now with a short train ride on the DLR, Elizabeth line or Overground talking me to many places quickly. I’d probably rather see decent housing for local people and good amenities.

    • Thank you for this report, depressing as it is. The Waterfront leisurecentre will not see necessary upgrades with the uncertainty when it‘ll be closed for good hanging over it. Waterfront was also the place for many lical residents from neighbouring boroughs to take their kids for swimming. Budget gyms never have swimming pools, nor fun pools with slides etc.

    • I loved the Waterfront and being able to see the Thames from the pool. I don’t agree a new pool shouldn’t be built and I’m torn but it does have the sense that it’s taken so long they’re using yesterday’s (well, 10 years ago) model for development today.

      If they can use Meridian for various sites why not here? They can use Greenwich Builds at various sites but not here. Not at all? Did ALL the residential element had to go to a private developer who keep a large profit margin and then some scraps for social housing?

    • with so many people screaming ‘what about social housing?’, including those with ‘badges of office’ …. no one is ACTIVELY making sure social housing is increasing or even at a decent level are they? ……. and so called ‘affordable rent’ ISN’T actually affordable ….. public land being given to developers to make huge profits …. so many people financially gaining at the poor’s expense …. about time that behaviour stopped

    • Losing Wilko was a blow. Probably more enticing than a pool. Let’s be honest this lot couldnt make a loaf of bread in twenty bakeries. Greenwich keep showing they havnt a clue what people want. Look all over London at thriving towns. Woolwich lags behind as the council havnt the faintest idea. It’s a dump they can’t manage at all and have failed fore many years. Even the most mundane business that is all over the city doesnt want to move in.

      Mock out the failed council managers and maybe it will be better.


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