Royal Arsenal Gardens, 16 February 2013

You might not know it, but the park above’s days are numbered. Opened in 2000, Royal Arsenal Gardens in Woolwich, which sits on the site of the old power station, has always been a temporary park, but since 2008 Berkeley Homes, which is developing the old Royal Arsenal site, has planned to build tower blocks on the site.

It’s currently applying for planning permission for the latest alteration to its plans – which will, if approved, dramatically change the shape of Woolwich, and the riverside. It wants to build a series of tower blocks between 14 and 21 stories high, blocking Woolwich town centre off from the river, and reducing Royal Arsenal Gardens to a narrow strip between the towers.

Royal Arsenal scheme

Berkeley is holding an exhibition of its plans today from 3pm-8pm at Royal Carriage Mews, on Duke of Wellington Avenue in the Arsenal site. You can also view the plans online. It really only seems aimed at current Arsenal residents, though, despite the huge consequences of this scheme. I went along on Saturday and was taken by how confident the Berkeley reps were.

As is the way in the borough of Greenwich, this is hardly brand new news, but few people are really aware of the ramifications of all this – the debate seems to have taken place behind the walls of the Arsenal, and not in the open. Only here could a debate about a scheme to add 10,000 new residents go completely unnoticed in the wider community.

Of course, this all suits developers like Berkeley, largely operating outside public scrutiny. At the exhibition, a flyer was pressed into my hand with details of “how to support the scheme”. Support? Huge tower blocks replacing a park and looming over Woolwich? It’s made my mind up to oppose it. There’s a campaign against it from Royal Arsenal residents – and if you want to join them, your objection needs to be with the council by tomorrow (Tuesday).

Land Registry entries

Of course, the real interest will be in seeing whether the Labour councillors who make up a majority of the planning board will vote against a scheme from the council’s closest redevelopment partner – Berkeley is also redeveloping the Ferrier Estate as Kidbrooke Village, of course, and joined the council in its Bridge The Gap campaign to build a third Blackwall Tunnel. Council leader Chris Roberts, who sits on the board, bought a home in the Arsenal from Berkeley in 2009. Will he sit this one out?

To further highlight the close links between the council and the scheme, architects Allies and Morrison put together the wider masterplan for Woolwich town centre – which envisages demolishing the Waterfront leisure centre (and opening a new one further into Woolwich) and extending Hare Street to the river – as well as one for the Charlton riverside.

There’s one big elephant in the room, though, which could scupper all of this – Crossrail. The “box” which will contain the station, which Berkeley has paid for, has been finished, and the developer’s rightly making a big song and dance about it, holding an open day and fun run inside the box next Wednesday. It’ll make the money back by building homes on top of the station.

But at present, Berkeley’s not paying for the £100m station to be fitted out – meaning that it could just stand empty when Crossrail opens in 2018.

Crossrail site, Woolwich

Without that Crossrail station, the viability of the whole Royal Arsenal project would be put into doubt – so you have to detect a certain amount of bluffing from the developer. Negotiations are ongoing between the government, Greenwich Council, Berkeley and Transport for London on finding the cash.

Ideas have included a levy on local businesses or Greenwich Council, which has well over £100m in cash reserves, borrowing the money on the markets and then taking a proportion of the fares at the new station. So far, though, there has been no joy – and if the station is to open when Crossrail does, work will have to start soon.

A similar situation occurred with the extension of the East London Line to Clapham Junction, when Lewisham Council wanted to see a station at Surrey Canal Road, close to Millwall’s ground, to help kickstart redevelopment there. Despite backing from the mayor, the government refused to cough up and there’s a space where a station should be. The stakes are higher in Woolwich, and nobody wants to see the same situation repeated.

Does the Crossrail conundrum put Berkeley Homes in a prime position to get its tower blocks approved? Would these too tall, too dense blocks end up being the price to pay for securing Woolwich’s stop on the line? A refusal isn’t going to help the case for Berkeley to cough up for Crossrail, after all.

All this is conjecture, of course. Such thoughts are not meant to enter councillors’ minds – but the Olympics proved deadlines can put shotguns to their heads, and the very real consequences of failing to get the station built are inescapable. Unless a rabbit is pulled out of the hat very quickly, you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when the matter comes up in a month or two.

To see the plans, visit To see neighbours’ objections, go to More at From The Murky Depths.

20 replies on “The Crossrail conundrum towering over Woolwich”

  1. I might consider opposing this were the funding for the station already committed. On balance though, I’d much rather have a Crossrail station than a small park. The fit out is supposed to cost £75m and I can’t see any reason why Berkeley would want to chip in for any significant portion of this without planning for something fairly vast. Being sandwiched between the main road and the river, these towers shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the general feel of the town (it doesn’t look like they’ll be visible from Powis Street or Beresford Sq for example) unlike the Woolwich Central development which involved knocking down some of the last Victorian frontage on General Gordon Square. I would have thought most people within walking distance of the Crossrail station box, however much they might dislike the idea of apartment blocks, will prefer the idea of being able to get to the West End in 20 minutes.

  2. Berkeley also need to remeber they will be using the promise of Crossrail as a selling point for the apartments. And no Crossrail will reduce the overal sale price.

  3. The developers always said this park would be temporary and they should be congratulated for not just leaving an ugly boarded plot of mud there for several years instead (see ‘Heart of East Greenwich’!).

  4. 20 minutes, to central London! New residents will shop,eat, work and play in the West End. So the new development will become one big dormitory with no connection to a dying town next door.

  5. Would be interesting to see how Woolwich would actually look in terms of tower blocks and green areas (without the excess of trees shown above) when all is said and done.

  6. It will only become a dormitory if there is no provision for restaurants, pubs, live music venues etc and rents and rates are too high. Much of the rest of London (and every other UK city) has decent venues for live music, varied pubs, restaurants, offering just about every type of food, theatres etc in close proximity to most residents. South East London, particularly past Greenwich, has hardly any of these and it can take an age to get to them. Greenwich is also not exactly stuffed with great pubs, live music, restaurants etc though it does have a couple of each, yet still a few miles from Woolwich. Seeing a gig can mean a trek to Brixton, Islington etc. I accept though that the chances of a good live music venue in SE are slim right now but I don’t buy that people would only want to go out in central London. Most people like good and varied pubs, shops, restaurants within walking distance of their home to pop to when they want to.

    Sadly these developments rarely have enough provision, and high rents leave boarded up retail sites and usually a solitary tesco express. As well as sufficient and affordable sites Section 60 money could be used to redevelop victorian shop fronts nearby (as seen in Leyton, the High Street 2012 scheme in Whitechapel, Hackney and a few other places) and very low rates offered to encourage business start ups. The problem in much of London is that a couple of people in their 20s with a good idea have almost no chance of starting a bar or restaurant as costs are so high unlike other UK cities.

    Also the masterplan does envisage linking the riverside to the town by turning the dual carriageway to a shared space and the extension of Hare Street to the riverside.

  7. I’m reminded of a chum’s comment about where he lived. “I don’t live in Croydon, I just sleep there.”

    With the faff over the pub at Equitable House, I wonder if the council’s saturation policies would kibosh anyone else who wanted to start somewhere new?

  8. It would probably take a bit of a fight and skills of persuasion but I believe that slowly some decent places will establish themselves. The Antic pub problem should hopefully alert some councillors, police, and council officers to the fact that lumping all pubs as one isn’t wise and to be fair I think the vast majority realise that.

    As for the towers themselves I don’t have a problem with high density in zones 1-4, providing they are in the right area which these would be – near a major new rail station and next to the river with boat services and a cycle path, and the towers would afford many residents a great view. With the severe housing shortage this kind of site is ideal for high density. It is essential they are of a good design though, and not overly dense, with sufficient public access along the riverside and a good cycle path. Only an inept developer would not plan for shops, bars, restaurants facing the river so a decent public space should be a given. However we have seen otherwise quite often. As it is set back from much of the rest of Woolwich height isn’t such a problem, but the sheer number in close proximity.

  9. This is madness! There is no sensible reason why we shouldn’t have a park and a crossrail station – this was the plan in 2005. Berkeley Homes are trying to hold the council to ransom. Are their friends in the council trying to stitch up our heritage before losing their seats as some kind of revenge? The river is not the private province of the rich.

  10. I’m in two minds about this. First of all I want Berkeley Homes to have sufficient financial incentive to complete the Crossrail station in absence of an agreement to fit out the box between the other parties. Secondly, the width of the river frontage open to the public is the same as before and I’ve never been a big fan of the existing park… always felt a little unkempt and unsafe. I’m making a big presumption that the new park gardens will look as good as the upkeep of the Royal Arsenal grounds and that there is sufficient policing of it. So although there will be some pretty large towers being built, hopefully these will be of a high enough quality where it looks pretty good from the river and town centre and we might get some waterfront restaurants / bars. Given that this is how the rest of the river has developed out West then being relatively similar may help attract more folk to Woolwich which can only help the place develop further with good restaurants / leisure facilities etc?

    if Crossrail doesn’t get completed then I am concerned about the pressure that 10K more residents will have on the road and public transport network.

    If only the Council could give conditional planning permission on the basis that a station is fitted out!

  11. It’s also important to bear in mind that not all of those 10,000 new residents will use Crossrail to commute into town. Many – perhaps most – will use the overground to London Bridge or DLR to Canary Wharf and all points north.

    There’s no way that the overground can take another several thousand passengers at peak times. But are the Council and Berkeley Homes considering the impact on existing infrastructure?

    Now would be the time to be negotiating with TfL and Southeastern for added capacity, but (at least as far as I’m aware) this isn’t happening. And it’s all of us who have to squeeze into packed trains further west who will have to suffer…

  12. Is there any reason the Council can’t make planning permission conditional on the basis of a s106 agreement that Berkeley fit-out the station?

    I know that under the new community infrastructure levy regime s106 agreements are supposed to be for site specific mitigation but I would have thought that the station would fall into that category (even if it is just off-site)?

  13. At the end of the day this will almost inevitably end up like the development on the west side of the entrance to Deptford Creek. I have friends who have a buy-to-let there.
    Superb views of the Thames and the Creek and that’s it. Utterly lacking in character, at the mercy of your neighbours noisewise (or rather their tenants) and totally out of touch with local community.

  14. Less than 20% of the development is planned to be affordable housing. Berkeley Homes said that the proportion of this across the wider Arsenal area would amount to 35%.

  15. Franklin – this wont be going ahead ready until 2018. There’s a few stages of the Arsenal plan with detailed planning granted to go ahead before this. As for transport capacity – by 2018 12 car trains can run on the southeastern North Kent line, and London Bridge station rebuilding will be complete. There will be 9 through platforms instead of 6, decreasing delays on the approach and speeding up journeys. I don’t think most will choose the overground even with those improvements as crossrail will mean much quicker journeys to Canary Wharf than the DLR and to Central London (Liverpool St, Bond Street, Paddington) than Southeastern then the tube.

    Chris – you’ve nailed the problems with how many new developments don’t work in the UK and London particularly – a lack of amenities and most flats bought by buy to letters, many by Asian investors and let out (more than 50% is usually sold in SE Asia particularly Singapore, Malaysia, China etc). Often the flats are let to people who don’t particularly have an attachment or care about the place. That’s a problem with housing in the UK and not a reason not to build but to alter how we build. Your friends have bought to let. How many people would like to buy but can’t afford it and are forced into renting places like that, living a transient existence of 12 months here, then having to move to 12 months elsewhere and unable to settle and commit to their locality? It’s a hell of a lot.

  16. At the end of the day it is the property company that runs things. The council is a mere stepping stone on the way to a profit. The locals are an irritating inconvenience.

    My friends (Hong Kong) wouldn’t live in the flat they bought in Deptford if you paid them. The flats are overpriced for what they are, the walls are thin, the rooms are small and, as I said before, the community spirit zero. But they make good money from the rent.

    These flats aren’t for the owners to live in and I fear the development at Woolwich will be the same.

  17. I went to visit the exhibition when it was held last year at the RA. Whilst I do have a slight concern over the height of the towers being proposed, I don’t see the issue with them being built and the extension to the development westwards. The park itself will remain in a reduced form, but it’s hardly popular at the moment anyway. Even on a warm sunny summers day there are barely a couple of dozen people there. As for the view, the view to the river will be obscured if you’re coming down Woolwich High Street in a car or bus (it’s not a busy pedestrian thoroughfare) but I don’t see that as an issue and the view of North Woolwich is hardly picturesque anyway! The Waterfront Leisure Centre is far more of a hindrance to the view as that obscures the view of the river from the top of Hare Street.

    I for one would be very disappointed if Crossrail didn’t come to Woolwich and I think it would be a big blow to the whole area’s development.

    As for Chris Roberts. I really don’t see why he, or anyone else for that matter, should be disallowed from being a decision maker because they own a property (like many others in Greenwich) in the affected area. I’d much rather see councillors investing their personal money (in an open and transparent way of course) in the developments they commission then not at all.

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