Life in Woolwich won’t be the same again. The new Tesco on Woolwich New Road has just opened its doors for the first time. The motto “Every little helps” now looms over General Gordon Square – but will the rest of the struggling town centre be able to live with its giant new neighbour?

The supermarket is just one part of the huge Woolwich Central development – Greenwich Council’s new Woolwich Centre HQ was the first to open, and flats are being built above Tesco. If you approach it from Angelsea Road, it towers above the pub and small shops on Woolwich New Road – this isn’t a development that’s going to be held in much affection outside the town hall and Tesco HQ. Look out for it in next year’s Carbuncle Cup.

Clearly, though, the new store has created hundreds of new jobs – one reason why the council has cosied up to Tesco, despite criticism of the chain from, um, the Labour Party. It’s been the way Greenwich under leader Chris Roberts has done regeneration, by building up close alliances with selected large companies, and relentlessly promoting their work.

But if Tesco’s arrival at one end of Woolwich town centre kills off competition at the other end, will this backfire? Tesco hasn’t had a full-size supermarket in the borough since the early 1980s, when it pulled out of its dowdy old Eltham store. Since then, it’s transformed itself into the country’s biggest retailer by competing aggressively with all-comers. The new store features an optician, ethnic foods and a health and beauty department – it won’t just be Sainsbury’s in the firing line, and the effects may well be felt far beyond Woolwich.

Some of the volunteers who gave out council newspapers during the Olympics will be brought back to encourage shoppers to venture down Powis Street. You’ll have to be at least 35 to remember Woolwich as a thriving town centre, hammer blows over the decades include the 1980s loss of Cuffs department store, the closure of the Co-Op in the 1990s, the closure of the Arsenal and the relocation of Greenwich University and Morgan Grampian publishing. Exiled to zone 4 in public transport, it’s a tough sell to tempt businesses to replace what’s been lost, and there’s been a lack of innovative thinking in trying to fill these empty buildings. (Why not offer them at low rents to creative industries, which worked in Deptford and is working at Second Floor Arts by the river?)

The extension of the Docklands Light Railway and the revamp of General Gordon Square have been bright spots, and it’s true that Tesco might will encourage people to rediscover a town centre they abandoned years ago. But all this is far from certain – what we do know for sure, though, is that the next year is going to be a crucial one for the future of Woolwich.

20 replies on “Will Tesco save or strangle Woolwich?”

  1. Standing in GG sq yesterday felt like being in some Tesco world. The size of the signage is quite rediculous. But after the signage issues at the new restaurants in front of the Cutty Sark we should have seen that coming.

    Can’t see how the Sainbury’s will survive this really. And when there new mega store opens in Charlton it’s probably a pretty good guess to say it will close.

    As for the high st shops the want to prey that the Tesco draws more people to the area and hopefully apst their stores.

  2. I would question your opinion that offering buildings at low rents to creative industries ‘worked in Deptford’. Several arts projects I worked with over decades once had independently negotiated affordable space there, yes, but before, during and after the heyday of affordable studios Deptford High Street has pretty much thrived without the help of the council or retail chains. From the cultural point of view the latest step in the arty-gentrification process – the number of music pubs being sold to developers – is now having a negative impact, as it is on the local economy.

  3. It will be fascinating to see the impact of the Tesco Extra on the Woolwich economy and personally I welcome the addition of a quality department store to Woolwich.

    I still think there are plenty of stores in Woolwich that could in theory give Tesco a run for its money. For example, Wilkinson’s, Primark, Poundland, Lidl, M&S, Argos and the new TK Max. Even Woolwich market sells fruit and veg cheaper than most supermarkets. What Tesco has is the ability to buy most things at most times (it’s 24hr Mon to Sat!) under one roof with parking to match.

    That said, Iceland and Sainsbury’s must feel very threatened. I do love the staff in the Woolwich Sainsbury’s, so I’ll make an effort to continue to shop there even though the Tesco is slightly closer to where I live. I think the Sainsbury’s store has improved considerably since they refurbished it a year ago, but alas it will never have the floor space of the Tesco. That said, the compact size of the Sainsbury’s could be a boon. If all you’re intending to buy are basic groceries, why traipse over the huge Tesco when you can probably buy the same groceries at Sainsbury’s in less time?

    Does anyone know how big the ASDA in Charlton is and how it compares to the Tesco in size?

    On a side note, it infuriates me that despite rebuilding General Gordon Square they have allowed the surrounding parade of shops to be let out to loan sharks and betting shops! The grand Equitable House should be host to something grand (I think a bar was mooted at one point?), instead it’s been part let to betting shop! I think town planners need to understand if they want Woolwich’s profile to improve they need to stop sticking betting shops everywhere around the public square! Rant over!

  4. It is too Big and very strange as there are escalators to take you up the shop floor from the main entrance or lifts but no STAIRS ?? lots of bemused shoppers with buggies.and travelators further down the store taking you into the underground car park.yet again car drivers have been given more thought 🙁
    the trolley park is upstairs inside very near the escalators nice little bottle neck there.
    the staff are friendly and helpful.its very bright.
    it does worry me that the locals shops will suffer however I cant see me doing my weekly shop there though.
    I think it is probably bigger than Asda in Charlton
    they do have a sweet Tesco extra on ground floor which offers quite a choice I will probably use that a lot for convenience as I work right next door.
    see you soon sainsbury and marks and spencer

  5. i always shop at sainsburys and i have no intention of going to Tesco’s. I think the only way Sainsbury could suffer is because its quite far away from the main shopping area but the staff are all friendly and helpful and i will continue to go there.

  6. Save.

    Sainsbury’s will survive. It’s a smaller outlet and will still be used heavily for people nipping out for “a thing or two”. Tesco is far too daunting for anything but a big shop. Also, only one person at the check-out during the lunch rush for Tesco vs. 9 “do it yourself” kiosks at Sainsbury’s!? I know where I’ll be getting my sandwiches from. Plus Sainsbury’s does seem to instill a sense of loyalty beyond many other supermakets. Iceland is always packed. It could do with being a bit quieter – and again, its a completely different market.

    One positive for the Tesco, is that it brings sooooo many people to the town centre. I was walking through it late on Monday night, and can honestly say that the sheer volumn of people walking into/out of the supermarket and across the new green area (that looks like an extension of the square with its sharp angles) made me think the word “bustling”.

    Remains to be seen if this will continue beyond the “Ooooh, new!” phase. But I’ll keep a positive mind.

    My only concern will be to see how it interacts with the late night goers after kick-out time at the nearby pubs. Will they go in, grab some more beer and go home… or decide to drink it in the square? The latter would be a shame. The weekend will tell all!

  7. I love the new Tesco. I can get all of my shopping under the same roof. You can get your electrical items, have a beauty treatment, buy some clothes all under the same roof. They don’t charge for parking the car either which is great. When you shop at Sainsburys you have to pay 80p or more to park. I don’t think I will go back to Sainsburys. I am now a Tesco convert. I’ve applied for my Club Card. I done my shopping had a coffee and got the car to drive home. I like the variety and the size of the store I think Woolwich needs this store.

  8. The lack of car park charges will be a hit to the other car parks. Do the council own the one next to Sainsbury’s? If so they will probably have to reduce or eliminate the charges losing a few quid.

    Sainsbury’s will survive for the reasons mentioned. They are on a low rent as who else would move into that site? Unless a developer wants to buy it for redevelopment a low rent will continue to be on offer. Woolwich is also a big place with a large population, as are surrounding areas, and can sustain a few supermarkets.

  9. hello – yes the council own the car park next to Sainsburys. its 80p for the first hour then i think from memory its £1.20 for 1-2 hours and for 2 hours+ its £2.20p. Parking at Tesco is free. So I think a lot of people will pop over there to shop and leave the car for free. Tesco has 2 levels of parking – its huge.

  10. Was it really necessary to knock down both the GPO Sorting and Post Offices and replace them with a desolate open space? Criminal act of architectual vandalism if you ask me. Another part of Woolwich’s history disappears into a skip.

  11. Greg – I echo your point regarding the demolition of the Post Office. I can only assume something will be built there at some stage. I cannot imagine a property development company leaving prime land like that undeveloped for ever.

    The old school at the vacant site near Tesco got the same treatment. It was demolished and now the site has nothing on it. Again I assume it is being demolished so modern buildings as part of the Woolwich Masterplan can be developed quickly.

    The new waterfront plan is available online now:
    If you type “waterfrontmasterplan” into google it doesn’t come up which is strange. I personally have no objections to more development, even if it is all Apartment blocks. Each drawing is chocka with life milling around. My experience of the Royal Arsenal as it stands when I visit (with the exception of the Dial Arch) is the exact opposite, ala 28 days later. Indeed there is something anti-community about tower blocks

  12. I agree with Darryl that its a good idea to court businesses with cheap rents as the high street is dead apart from some second hand, betting stores and ones with plastic clothing.
    There is a danger for businesses that customers will venture somewhere else but with a cheap rent in the first year such businesses might feel less of a pressure.

    If the Sainsbury’s can not compete is is down to its horrendous management that lets customers wait, its often broken tills and its inattentive staff.

    This management can not even make sure their store is stocked properly and ensure the quality of their produce.
    Their meat and vegetables is often in no state to be sold at the price advertised.

    They can compete if they play their cards right and present themselves better.
    After all they do get a lot of customers that live in their proximity.
    It is true that customers from Charlton will stop buying their, especially once their big store opens.

    If the council plans to make Woolwich more appealing there is a need for better quality clothing stores, restaurants and pubs.

    I love my flat in Woolwich and we just moved here but I will not stay here as it is grey and miserable.
    The people don’t look after their borough and they don’t seem to enjoy it either.

    The children are in need if a playground. Teenagers should get a basketball court or a skate park maybe even promoted by Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s.

    I don’t understand why the council is not promoting the plans of putting on shows at the old Cinema.
    There is a need for entertainment, for purpose, if this area is to flourish with new people moving to the area.

    I am not surprised that a lot of the small shops have gone as their owners don’t seem to promote nor care about presenting their stock in a appealing way.

    I do fear that a lot of the people which are currently calling Woolwich their home will soon be priced out of this area with more and more privately owned flats being built.

  13. I tried our new tesco superstore for the first time today and was massively disappointed! Almost every product I picked up had a best before date of today the 4th December and I don’t think I saw one dated later than the 12th! These were products that you’d regard as fresh goods, milk, bread, meat etc.
    I was shocked to say the least, bearing in mind that I intended this to be my weekly shop, I would have to thrown away most of my uneaten purchases by next Monday.
    Maybe because its new, and they haven’t sorted out the stock rotation yet, or maybe that’s just Tesco?
    (never shopped there before) but I’ll be sticking with sainburys for now!

  14. Why all the negative comments? This is a massive improvement over the shabby collection of ’60s sheds it replaces – just remember Fad’s on the corner and the winos in the main square and all the other tat, and shudder. ‘Carbuncle’ forsooth!
    The (free) parking is excellent, with ample space for bicycles – the first time I’ve seen this in a supermarket anywhere in the UK.
    The staff – all locals I think – are all very friendly and helpful.
    There is a wide range of goods (what’s all this fuss about sell by dates??) including lots of interesting Ethnic foodstuffs, electronic and clothing goodies (and dirt cheap Laphroaig quarter cask).
    As for the worries of the other local shops and stores, just look at what’s happened in Stratford where the Westfield Centre has significantly boosted trade in the whole area. Sainsburys may well go, but so what? They are going to vastly expand their Greenwich peninsula outlet soon.

  15. It would be a very sad day indeed if Sainsburys in Woolwich closed. Sainsburys are miles above Tesco for quality & customer service!. I started working in Woolwich just as work on the new Tesco started and knew what to expect as I live in Thornton Heath and have had to ‘put up’ with shopping at my local Tesco for over 20 years! Close to ‘out of date’ food and poor manners from till staff are just 2 of the annoying attributes of Tesco staff. Perhaps Tesco could learn from Sainsbury’s staff who are well mannered and extremely polite. However, I do not completely blame Tesco’s staff for their outlook as it appears they are not treated with the greatest respect by Tesco management!

    Without doubt the food in Sainsbury’s is far better quality (especially the prepared meals and sandwiches).

    I do wonder why Sainsbury’s did not grab the opportunity to build on the space of the Tesco store? Without doubt it was a mistake to allow Tesco to monopolise the town!

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