New pools and library at Greenwich Square on schedule to open in spring 2015

Greenwich Square - CGI

Along with other councillors I visited the development site at the bottom of Vanbrugh Hill – Greenwich Square – last week to see the new swimming pools and library being built there along with a new health centre, shops and 645 new homes.

Like many developments that were conceived before the financial crash – plans were first drawn up for the site in 2006 and submitted to the council in 2007 – this one has been a long time coming. The development was given planning consent in 2008 but stalled when the developer First Base walked away in 2010, and after the incoming Government cut funds for affordable housing on the site it was difficult to make the development viable. But the plans were then modified, a new development consortium (Hadley Mace) was brought in in 2012 and work finally started on site later that year.Greenwich Square cgi

The good news is that the scheme has been kept alive with only minor changes to Make Architects‘ original plans, and 150 of the new homes will be available to local people at genuinely affordable rents (not Boris Johnson’s definition of “affordable” – 80% of market rents). Make are a great architectural practice founded in 2004 by Ken Shuttleworth, who had formerly been a partner at Norman Foster’s firm, and I am glad their design has not been dumbed down.

Local people could be forgiven for having forgotten the promise of the Greenwich Centre – a new library and leisure centre on the site, to replace East Greenwich Library and the Arches: the scheme has not been well publicised beyond its immediate neighbours so far.

New swimming pool at Greenwich SquareBut work is now progressing rapidly and the new public building going up on the corner of Vanbrugh hill and Woolwich Road, containing the library, leisure centre and a council “contact centre” alongside a new public square, has been topped out. While there is some affection for the Arches and East Greenwich Library, I hope the new building can prove that public services can be as well-built in the twenty-first century as in the twentieth, and be easier to maintain and adapt to future demands.

Elsewhere on the site the first 36 housing units – affordable homes to rent through L&Q housing association – are almost completed and are being handed over in April. A small Sainsbury’s on the site will open in July. A gym, dance studio, 25-metre Fitness poll, a 20-metre learning pool, creche and an 820 square metre library – three times bigger than the current East Greenwich Library – should be handed over to the council in November 2014 and open by the end of March 2015. A new NHS health centre, which will replace the Vanbrugh Health centre operating at the southern end of the site, will also open upstairs from the library next spring, and all the housing on the site should be completed by 2018.

Unlike many PFI developments, the council will have control of these buildings through a 999 year lease, and a seat on the management company that will own the freehold of the site.

Swimming pools under construction at Greenwich Square

The council now needs to seek appropriate new uses for the (locally listed) Arches building and the East Greenwich library building (which is statutorily listed), which will be replaced in spring 2015 by these new facilities. I would be keen to hear local people’s thoughts about how they should find a sustainable future (Blackheath Library on Old Dover Road, which was refurbished and had its opening hours extended in 2010, won’t be affected).

Deep within the site we were shown the two new pools under construction – the larger one is under a wooden hoarding but the smaller children’s pool is beginning to look like somewhere you could swim in (the steps into it are already in place). It is already just possible to imagine what the pools will look like when they are open (compare the computer-generated image above with the photo of the same part of site under construction below). The new library will be upstairs, in a prominent position right on the crossroads of Vanbrugh Hill and Woolwich Road.

Greenwich Square - new block facing Woolwich RoadThe development is now known as Greenwich Square, having previously been called the “Heart of East Greenwich”, but for most long-standing local residents it is, and always will be, the Old Hospital Site. The Greenwich District Hospital (GDH for short) stood on the site from 1971 until it was replaced by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 2001, and the unloved concrete hospital building was knocked down in 2005.

Until 2001 the site had been in institutional or medical use for more than 160 years: in 1840 the Greenwich and Deptford workhouse was built there, and from the 1870s the workhouse acquired an  infirmary and eventually became St Alfege Hospital (the Greenwich Phantom’s history of the GDH can be found here, and the Lost Hospital’s history of the site here, and there are some photos and elevations of the Victorian buildings here). Before 1840 the site was open land and the new homes under construction are the first ones ever to be built on the site.

The old hospital site had stood empty for too long and people living in East Greenwich and Westcombe Park have had a long wait for Greenwich Square, but I hope that it will all worth waiting for and we will all be impressed when the new facilities open. The computer-generated images of the new public facilities certainly look fantastic.


9 Responses to New pools and library at Greenwich Square on schedule to open in spring 2015

  1. Neil Clasper says:

    It’s a real shame that the pool isn’t going to be a proper depth. A missed opportunity (for a borough that should be demonstrating Olympic legacy!)

  2. Alex Grant says:

    Thanks for your comment Neil. I am aware of concerns that the new pools being built at the Greenwich Centre does not have deeper ends, but in fact the shallow depth does mean its use by children (and adults) who are learning to swim can be maximised: an important Olympic legacy I am sure you will agree. There are pools for people wanting to lean to dive at Charlton Lido, Woolwich, and Eltham, and I think Thamesmere Leisure Centre’s pool also has a deep end.

    • Lesley Bryant says:

      No diving at Woolwich – not too sure about Thamesmead. Greenwich Royal Club swimmers will be unique in that they turn up for galas and have to start in the water! None of them will be able to dive. Still, no doubt a lot of money will be made when the Arches is sold off for housing

  3. Pingback: After 16 years as a Labour councillor in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, Alex Grant says thank you and goodbye | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

  4. John says:

    Being a member of the now very run down Arches Leisure Centre I think it strange that there has been no mention of its imminent closure publicly. With its closure pending is this the reason the minimum amount of money has been spent on the infrastructure such as toilets, showers, changing rooms, etc? I assume the investment made in the gym equipment will simply be moved to the new gym? Inorder for current members to plan for the future do you think it would be useful to start advertising the fact The Arches will be closing soon and what type of membership will be available at the new site?

  5. Kerry says:

    When will the new gym open at Greenwich Square? And what memberships will it offer? Will it be a Better Gym as per Arches?

  6. jenny jones says:

    Will there be a sauna at the new wast greenwich leisure centre?

  7. J says:

    Does anyone have any idea when/if the Arches will be moved to the new space? I keep reading on sites and reports about this that it should have been ready to go at the end of 2014…early 2015…end of March 2015….I’m looking at my calender which reads the 25th of May and as far as I know, it’s not up and ready to go at all.

    Anyone know when it opens to the rest of us?

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