Following hot on the heels of a planning application to rebuild Beresford Square in Woolwich comes the linked – but separate – application for major works on Powis Street.
For over a century it’s been the main thoroughfare and shopping area in Woolwich. For many decades it had a road running through, with plans to pedestrianise seen as early as the 1960s.
Eventually the area was pedestrianised in the 1980s. Some remnants remain but much of it was replaced in the 1990s, with the 1980s work being seen as too cluttered with various raised planters and seats obstructing shoppers.
The 1990s upgrade generally remains today though many details were lost as maintenance proved either too difficult or presumably expensive – such as lighting installed around the base of trees lining the street.
Both schemes also clearly made sure it was to be used as a road at certain times, with materials and street furniture clearly differentiating “road” and paving space despite it being pedestrianised for much of the day.
The new application from LDA Design highlights the amount of clutter.
“Currently the hard landscape materials are dated and damaged and the public realm is dominated by bollards, digital advertising boards and under utilised seating. There is huge potential to de-clutter the space”.
One really quite odd statement is “Powis Street did not originally have street bollards. We understand their placement was a reaction following the poll tax riots”.
Greenwich Highways have never missed a trick in decades installing more street clutter, but even that seems ludicrous.
The 1980s upgrade didn’t last for many years given the amount of impediments to movement it presented with red brick planters.
There is a danger of that being repeated again now, with plans stating they seek to “provide a series of anchors / locations to dwell along the street and areas”.
Powis Street isn’t that wide for a shopping street with high footfall. Think of the Broadway in Bexleyheath for example in comparison.
It already presents numerous pinch points and obstacles making browsing shops more difficult than need be, and that’s with limited major retailers.
If it does gain further popular retailers and restaurants as the authority hopes alongside greater footfall – think of thousands more local residents – shouldn’t permeability be a major consideration?
The application states: “By narrowing the ‘vehicular’ zone down to a consistent 3.7m further pedestrian/ planting/ seating space can be gained” yet during most of the day the road space isn’t in use anyway.
Adding more features or making the “road” less stark doesn’t magic up more usable pedestrian space.
Some aspirations sound good but may be less so in practice including “Utilising subtle variation in paving colours at each side road intersection with Powis Street, these spaces can then read as an informal neighbourhood square – one that could be activated (during pedestrian hours) with a coffee cart, or used for small scale events and on-street performances.”
Many areas of landscaping and seating prevent many units offering outside seating in future.
Some street furniture originally proposed on both sides of the street have been removed, but extensive amounts remain.
The application nates previous feedback: “The overwhelming response from stakeholders and the public was that we replaced clutter, with new clutter”.
Given high levels of footfall squeezing shoppers into narrows areas it could still replicate the mistakes of 1980s pedestrianisation.
As seen above, a hefty chunk of usable space on a relatively narrow pedestrianised street is taken.
This could be a challenge with current levels of shoppers, but as stated there’s big changes coming that will increase footfall.
One obvious factor I’ve covered before is that a major new pedestrianised link at Murray’s Yard will feed into Powis Street.
In years to come this will be a link for thousands of residents from a number of developments to the High Street and public transport including Woolwich Arsenal DLR station.
Development within the Beresford Street site will also offer shops and an attracting for those coming from Powis Street.
So they’ll be high levels of footfall to-and-fro along Murray’s Yard meeting an area of limited pedestrian space on Powis Street according to plans now submitted.
However, the application makes little mention of this forthcoming major development.
The image below shows Murray’s Yard linking to any new development and Beresford Street alongside proposed new squares.
It’s similar at MacBean Street with limited pedestrian space at major junctions for pedestrian flow.
One welcome change is removing barriers with less obstructive measures for pedestrians.
With landscaping there’s again the issue of whether it’ll be maintained. we know other parts of Woolwich weren’t in the last major upgrade and then removed.
We know in Abbey Wood the £6 million upgrade hasn’t been maintained mere months after trains begun.
With maintenance often so poor, materials and design are key.
Images in the Design and Access Statement show what is proposed.
Larger areas of seating and landscaping can be seen here:
I can actually see Greenwich making an effort to keep this presentable – at least in the first couple of years – but will that be at the expense of already tired areas of the borough?
What we have in Woolwich is a proposal that looks great on paper but may well struggle to accommodate existing levels of pedestrians given substantial levels of obstacles proposed.
Factor in increased footfall and major developments feeding into Powis Street and in future it’s possible we’ll be talking of changes in another decade – or less.
In the meantime the chance of an evening economy developing look limited as the design hampers many units placing outdoor seating.
If they do, that’ll limit usable space yet further.
It’ll pass. These things always do. It’s not as if no one warned about the Abbey Wood design, for example, which has quickly come to pass. But there we are.
Plans can be viewed here.