A planning inspector has given approval for Greenwich Council to buy shops and businesses to make way for the huge Woolwich Exchange regeneration project, which will include a cinema and 801 homes.

Work is due to start next year on the project, which will feature five towers of up to 23 storeys and the refurbishment of the listed Woolwich Public Market, which has been largely disused for four years. 

The council believes that the project – due to be finished in 2033 – will create a link between the affluent Royal Arsenal development to the north and the less well-off traditional town centre. 

A number of businesses contested the order at a public inquiry held at Woolwich Town Hall during February and March, largely claiming that the council had not consulted them properly.

But Jameson Bridgwater , the planning inspector, found that many of the disagreements actually arose from the compensation on offer. “The scheme would substantially contribute to the achievement of the promotion or improvement of the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area, and that these purposes could not be achieved by other means, such as through alternative proposals,” he said.

“The order would interfere with the human rights of the objectors, but I consider that the interference is proportionate and that there is a strong public interest in ensuring that the regeneration of the Woolwich Exchange site takes place.” 

Plumstead Road
Greenwich Council now has the power to compulsorily purchase shops and businesses for the scheme. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

Purchase prices will now have to be set by a tribunal if compensation cannot be agreed, and the council has pledged to help businesses find new homes.

The development spreads from Woolwich New Road and across Parry Place to Burrage Road. Just 14 per cent of the homes on offer will be available to people on the council’s waiting list.

The decision was made in July but was not publicised by the council. It has only emerged in the agenda documents for a meeting next week at which the regeneration of Woolwich will be discussed. 

The development has been controversial from the start, with initial plans to demolish Woolwich Public Market thwarted by campaigners who got the building listed. Revised plans were approved in May 2021, but despite the scheme being a flagship project for their own town hall, councillors were clearly uncomfortable with the height and lack of “affordable” housing. 

Woolwich’s derelict public market will house a cinema, restaurants and shops Credit: The Greenwich Wire

Stephen Brain, the planning chair at the time, said he  “very, very strong reservations” about the plan. Developers said that more private housing was needed to pay for the retention of the market and historic buildings along Woolwich New Road.

One of the developers, St Modwen, pulled out of the project earlier this year. The development is now in the hands of the Notting Hill Genesis housing association, which is also building the Kidbrooke Square development next to the A2.

The project is one of a number that will eventually change the face of Woolwich’s traditional town centre, with tall blocks also going up behind the new leisure centre site and a 15-storey tower due to be built opposite Tesco, along with a number of blocks behind the store. 

In the short term, work has begun this month on a revamp of Beresford Square, the home of Woolwich’s outdoor market, which will also include a new pavilion and the opening up of the Arsenal gatehouse. Work also will start next month on improving Powis Street, the main shopping street.

The projects will be discussed by the regeneration scrutiny panel next Thursday.

Extra hour for Salt Woolwich?: The former Hop Stuff taproom in the Royal Arsenal may be able to open until 1am under plans to be discussed by councillors next week. Salt Woolwich, which took over the bar in 2021, wants to extend its opening hours by one hour throughout the week. Six neighbours have filed objections citing noise and antisocial behaviour, along with a 12-strong petition; however, two other neighbours have cited their support. A decision is set to be made next Wednesday.