A £5.2 million project to rejuvenate Plumstead High Street has been branded a “missed opportunity” by one of the area’s councillors.
Greenwich Council said in 2019 that it would use the cash, including money from City Hall, to make the down-at-heel street “safer and more attractive”.
The council is also spending spending millions on helping to turn the nearby old Plumstead power station into a film studio, a project which was also criticised.
But not all the work on the high street has been carried out as promised – and Nas Asghar, who represents the neighbouring Plumstead Common ward, complained that shopfronts that were supposed to be repaired had just been painted over, promised artworks had not appeared and that new paving was of low quality.
Aidan Smith, the cabinet member for regeneration, said that the work had to be cut back because costs had risen since the pandemic began.
Work was meant to cover an area from Griffin Road, near Plumstead station, towards Lakedale Road and White Hart Road. But a visit to the area shows only patchy improvements – such as improvements to a small green space off the high street – with road markings left unfinished and new pavements only covering short stretches of road.
Asghar told a regeneration scrutiny meeting last Tuesday: “An awful lot of money has been spent and things like bits of damage to masonry on shop fronts have just been painted over as opposed to repaired, and so on.
“The quality of the paving that’s been used, it’s already stained. It was put in to match the existing paving, but the existing paving was not the most attractive in the world.”
Feedback from locals was “not 100 per cent positive”, she said.
Smith, who inherited the project when he took over the cabinet role last year, said: “The Plumstead project covered the period of the Covid pandemic and cost inflation. So some of the works had to be descoped, and I think that artwork was one of the things that was descoped due to cost pressure. So they focused on what would make the biggest impact.
“As for the paving, it would look probably a bit odd if we’d expanded the pavements and resurfaced some areas in a different kind of paving to the rest of it. So it’s difficult, but we didn’t have enough funding to repave the whole area.
“As you know, we will be doing street cleaning and jet washing, so hopefully that will help matters.”
But Asghar said that the jet washing had not worked.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the jet washing took place on what’s been referred to as Plumstead plaza, the bit outside Poundland, and it hasn’t taken off dirt and the staining on the new paving,” he said. “I know what you’re saying about having to match it, but the amount of money that’s going on the power station, which is slightly contentious, seems like a real missed opportunity here.
“The high street hasn’t been looked at holistically. It does feel really disjointed and there’s some clutter left. I don’t want to be completely negative about this. Obviously, the planting looks nice , but it’s the quality of the materials that have been used. The overall effect is not what was envisaged.”
Smith said: “I think the problem is the overall funds were not enough to do the whole high street. So I think the bits that we’ve done are good, but there wasn’t enough to do it as a whole coherent project to cover all of the High Street and Lakedale Road.”
It is not the first time the Labour council’s Plumstead project has been criticised by the party’s own councillors. At a meeting of the same scrutiny panel last year questions were raised about the amount spent on consultants for the scheme, as well as the lack of signs directing people to the council’s £16 million Plumstead centre, which opened in February 2020 – something that still has not been rectified.
Asghar also raised doubts about the deal to lease the old Plumstead power station to Mo-Sys, a special effects company currently based at Morden Wharf in Greenwich. Much of the work in Plumstead has gone into revamping White Hart Road, a quiet street leading to the power station.
The council is paying Mo-Sys up to £4.2 million as part of the deal, with much of the cash coming from Berkeley Homes’ nearby Lombard Square development.
Councillors were told that the contract still hadn’t been signed a year after the plans were first announced. Sixteen jobs are to be created, while 16 start–up businesses are due to operate from the site.
“An awful lot of money is going on this power station, which was meant to be for community use,” Asghar said. “And we did say this a year ago. It’s now going to a private company. The employment opportunities there are relatively small.”
Pippa Hack, the council’s assistant director of regeneration, said that a deal was “very close” to being signed. “It’s not a case of just handing over to the private sector and getting nothing in return,” she said.
Jeremy Smalley, the council’s head of property, said that the council needed to bring a private company in as it would “cost millions” to transform the power station on its own, and that as it was in a land zoned for employment use.
“Why were the community presented with a plan that was saying that it was going to be for public use?” Asghar asked. “You are now saying it’s an industrial site, it’s not for public use. The whole rationale for the White Hart Road improvements was to provide a gateway to this new community market, business space, et cetera. And now I’m hearing something completely different.”
Smalley said: “You’re right about the gateway. I remember the conversations in Plumstead about it, but it was always going to be for business use and it would have a community element. So it could, it could be used potentially for a market, it could be used for small business incubation space and so on.”