Greenwich Council is to spend tens of millions of pounds on a new housing block in Woolwich to kickstart the redevelopment of the Morris Walk Estate after years of delays.
The developer Lovell, which had warned that it would not make enough profit from the scheme to proceed, is to sell 175 flats on Woolwich Church Street to the council, along with a further 90 planned for the nearby Maryon Road and Grove estate. The deal will cost the council £87.5 million.
The 265 homes – which will now be council homes – will be part of the 1,000 promised for phase two of the Greenwich Builds programme of new council housing.
But just as importantly, Greenwich hopes the deal will finally get work started on the long-stalled redevelopment of Morris Walk, which stretches from Maryon Park in Charlton to Woolwich Church Street. Construction of the council’s block will have to begin by March 2023 to qualify for a City Hall grant.
Greenwich and Lovell signed a deal in 2013, called One Woolwich, to redevelop three estates – Connaught in Woolwich, Morris Walk, and the Maryon Road and Grove estate in Charlton.
The notorious Connaught Estate, which was built in 1970 as 338 council flats, has now been rebuilt and rebranded as the 684-home Trinity Walk development – with just a quarter of the homes going to those on housing waiting lists.
Council documents say that the town hall has had a windfall of “millions of pounds” from Trinity Walk because it is entitled to a share of profits from booming property prices.
But the next phase, transforming the Morris Walk Estate, has been blighted by delays and disagreements between the council and the developer.
Work finished on demolishing Morris Walk – built as 562 council homes between 1964 and 1966 – at the end of 2021.
Its replacement, Trinity Park, will have 766 homes, with flats to the north and an emphasis on family houses further south towards Charlton.
Plans approved last year meant that just under a quarter of the homes – 177 homes – would be available for those on waiting lists, via the housing association PA Housing. Now that number is set to almost double to 352 with the addition of the new council housing. Another 76 would be for shared ownership, leaving 342 for private sale.
Construction was due to start this year. But Lovell said it would not make enough money from the project for it to be viable, while technical difficulties with the site have also been blamed for the hold-up.
Now the council says it will buy 175 homes in one block on Woolwich Church Street, improving the financial picture for Lovell so it will get started – but also boosting its own housing programme. Three ground-floor commercial units are also included in the deal.
However, the deal also means that the council will not have any influence over Lovell’s marketing of the rest of the new-look Morris Walk to private buyers. Lovell will now be able to offload up to 51 homes elsewhere on the new estate as a “bulk sale”, raising the prospect of some homes being sold to international investors rather than local buyers.
The council will also take 90 out of up to 165 planned homes on the Maryon Road and Grove estate when that is redeveloped – although detailed plans are still two or three years away.
The Maryon Road and Grove estate – which was built in the early 1970s as 172 council flats – is still standing, albeit in a dilapidated condition, and is being used for temporary housing.
Half of the new homes planned for the Maryon Road and Grove site – to be rebranded Trinity Rise – will be three or four-bedroom flats or houses. The deal with Lovell is likely to mean about 90 per cent of homes there will be available for those on waiting lists, either through the council or through PA Housing, with the remainder for shared ownership.
Across the two estates, the council will be paying an average of £330,000 per home – which it says is “comparable” to its own Greenwich Builds homes – while Lovell will cover any price increases.
Lovell’s slow progress at Morris Walk has been a source of frustration at Woolwich Town Hall for years. In 2019, Chris Kirby, then the council’s cabinet member for housing, criticised Lovell for its lack of movement at Morris Walk, saying he felt “badly let down” by the company.
He said of the 2013 deal: “If we were writing it now we would design it in a different way, but I’m not here to unpick old agreements.”
The delay turned to farce the following year – during the first coronavirus lockdown – when security services set off explosions on the derelict estate as part of an exercise.
One of the deal’s explicit aims was to increase the number of owner-occupied homes in Woolwich. But the council says this is no longer needed because of the pace of private development in the area.