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. Read more of this post

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All is forgiven, planners: you are now needed more than ever

Huntsman mapped

Good news from the Planning Inspectorate last week,  who turned down a proposal for 131 new homes on the Huntsman site, a disused playing field just off the Cator Estate.

Although everyone accepts the land will end up being developed as housing (its designation as Metropolitan Open Land was lifted some years ago as part of a land-swap to enable the Ferrier estate to be redeveloped as Kidbrooke Village), the proposed development was wrong in many respects. Above all it would have turned its back on the neighbouring Kidbrooke Vision development it was supposed to be part of. As this map shows, all the traffic would have gone onto the Cator Estate’s narrow (and privately-owned) roads to the west, via a dangerous new entry junction on the corner of Manor Way and Brooklands Park.

It is pleasing that for once a planning inspector has agreed with the council and local residents, and refused the scheme on traffic grounds. It was clear at the public enquiry earlier this year that residents across Blackheath, who organised an effective campaign called No to the Huntsman, felt that this was the wrong scheme both for them, and the borough as whole: although the site is about a half-mile south of Blackheath Westcombe ward (whose southern boundary is Blackheath Park) I was contacted by many concerned residents living north of Blackheath Park as well as south. The Planning Inspectorate’s judgement, issued on February 26th, can be read herePhotos July 2008 029

The Huntsman is not the only large planning application causing concern locally. In Kidbrooke Village itself, Berkeley Homes are beginning to consult on a proposal for a 30-storey tower by Kidbrooke station, with a public exhibition being held later this week. The new proposal is much higher than the building heights that Berkeley already have outline permission for. As most of the new development in Kidbrooke Village has so far been top-quality, let’s hope it won’t be ruined now: see here for a discussion on Skyscraper city, an online discussion forum about tall buildings, and here for SE9 magazine’s coverage (it’s on page 18).  Read more of this post

TFL’s Sun-in-the-Sands adverts given the go-ahead

Sun in Sands from north - showing ad position

This is the view that drivers will have from the A102 later this year. Despite objections from local Labour councillors, the Blackheath and Westcombe societies  and the Greenwich Conservation Group, a planning inspector has just allowed Boris Johnson’s Transport for London to put up huge electronic advertising panels, 3m high and 12m wide, on the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout. A mock-up of the north-facing one is shown here, with the south-facing one below.

The plans were turned down by Greenwich Council in 2013 but TFL wouldn’t take no for an answer and appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, which held a hearing on January 7th to consider the appeal. (For previous posts on the story see here and here).

The Planning Inspector’s judgement, published on January 29th, can be read here. The inspector has added some conditions limiting the brightness of the illuminated adverts, ordered that images should change no more frequently than every ten seconds, they the images should not move, and that it should not take more than  a second to change from one image to another. But generally this is a bad day for drivers on the A102, who may well be distracted by flashing adverts, and the roundabout’s neighbours who will now have to live alongside them.Sun in Sands from south - showing ad position

The inspector’s report is a dry read, but tucked away in the text are two intriguing details.

Firstly, the inspector seems to have been swayed by the fact that Transport for London had, funnily enough, not objected to their own planning application:

In reaching this conclusion, I have given considerable weight to the lack of objection to the proposal from the highway authority and to the compliance of the advertisement displays with the guidance adopted by the highway authority in relation to proposals of this nature. Whilst I note that, in this case, the highway authority is also the appellant, the evidence before me indicates that the highway safety assessment of the proposed advertisements is undertaken separately to any commercial assessment of site suitability and is subject to a safety audit. In the light of this lack of objection, whilst I have had careful regard to the concerns of the local planning authority, including those relating to drivers potentially breaking the speed limit, I have not found the evidence presented by the Council in this respect to be compelling and, as such, I am not satisfied that it would be appropriate to find against the proposal for this reason.

Translated into plain English, this means that the planning inspector thinks that TFL are the best-qualified people to judge whether flashing adverts are safe on a road run by, and bringing revenue to, TFL itself. Hmm. Read more of this post

Is IKEA a good idea for Greenwich?

sainsbury-greenwichHow quickly do the architectural innovations of the late Twentieth century become redundant in the Twenty-First! The iconic Sainsbury’s store on Peartree Way, with its partly glazed roof, curved lines and timber cladding, is due to be made redundant once a much larger Sainsbury’s opens down the road off Bugsby’s Way in 2014.

IKEA have now put forward plans to take over the site – and knock down the Sainsbury’s building, which was nominated for the Stirling Prize and won the prestigious RIBA Sustainability Award in 2000. Until now it had been hoped that a new retailer would adapt the building, not demolish it.

Tony Duckworth, one of the Environmental designers of the Sainsbury’s store, predicted last year that the most likely outcome was its demolition (see a blog post from 2012 here). I’m sorry that it seems he has been proved right. Read more of this post

Invicta: a great school deserves a great building

Invicta signInvicta Primary School is a great local success story. It has recently expanded to two forms of entry,  and was judged as “Outstanding” by Ofsted earlier this year. It has just started supporting Bishop John Robinson School in Thamesmead – a huge vote of confidence in the head, Marie Corbett, and the other staff at Invicta. It has a thriving Children’s Centre in its grounds, offering a range of services for under-fives and their parents.

But lnvicta deserves a better building. Its current building dates back to 1952, replacing a Victorian building that was badly damaged by wartime bombing, and this 1950s reconstruction was never intended to be permanent. By and large the building (apart from the addition of some portacabins because of its recent expansion to two forms of entry) is exactly as it was when I was a pupil there in the early 1980s (I am now a governor there, as is Labour candidate Cherry Parker). Its windows and roof have reached the end of their lifespan and the building is simply not fit for purpose. Read more of this post

Seren Park finally gets its gate to Maze Hill Station unlocked

seren park 2013The fiasco of the locked gate between Maze Hill station and Seren Park, the housing development to the south of the station which residents started moving into in 2009, is finally over.

When residents first bought or rented flats at Seren Park, they were promised “direct access” to the station. But thanks to railway bureaucracy and inaction from the developer, the gate remained locked for four years (see here and here for previous posts on the saga) – until now.

Read more of this post

Is it back to the 1990s?

Sitting in Blackheath Halls for the recording of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions two weeks ago, I realised how reminiscent of a recent decade our politics is becoming.

No, not the 1980s (even if Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten, Lord McAlpine and several other 1980s political figures have featured heavily in the news media recently, for a variety of reasons). It is the 1990s that seem to have started replaying.

The John Major Government of 1992-1997, with its limited ambitions, sluggish economic growth, splits over Europe, Hospital closures, by-election disasters, and petty and regressive measures to curb benefit entitlements, seem eerily similar to the current Government’s travails. It is too simplistic to label the current Government Thatcherite – I think Majorite is much more spot-on.

On Any Questions, local Labour party member Jean Bloch (a council candidate in Blackheath Westcombe ward back in 2006) asked one of the best questions of the night – should Government force people to cut their cloth according to their means (a reference to that week’s announcement that benefits may be capped for claimants who have two or more children). Read more of this post