I had a look round the Greenwich Square development (formerly the Heart of East Greenwich scheme, before that Greenwich District Hospital) last week – well, I had a look at the exhibition, anyway.
To be honest, once you’ve seen one exhibition for a new housing development, you’ve seen them all, and this didn’t feel much different, down to the Zero 7 soundtrack playing on a TV in a show flat. And, yeah, the website‘s a horror – “perfectly positioned between Greenwich Village [sic] and the Greenwich Peninsula, Greenwich Square’s location provides the best of both worlds”. Pass the bucket.
But this is what developers do. And the exhibition, in its office on Vanburgh Hill, does at least give the chance to get an idea of just what’s going to happen to the hospital site.
The shell of the first building is already looming over Woolwich Road, and the rest of it is looking equally… big. The new council leisure centre (to replace the Arches), library (to replace East Greenwich Library), health centre (to replace what’s left of the hospital building) and council service centre (like the ones in Woolwich and Eltham) will sit on the central square from which the development gets its name, while there’ll be a good number of retail units too. Full details of what’s planned are here.
Indeed, work’s under way now on excavating the basement for the gym – although you can only see that work from high up.
To be honest, the developers could come in and press crisp fivers into everyone’s hands and still find this a tough sell to jaded locals. Planning permission for this was given years ago, so the appearance of the huge shell on Woolwich Road has come a bit of a rude shock.
Pair that off with the fact that east Greenwich has already been battered by some spectacularly poor developments – often with retail units that have simply never been used – and it’s easy to be cynical. Doubly so when you remember the council’s commissioned a swimming pool that’s smaller than the one it’ll replace at the Arches, insisting serious swimmers can schlep to Eltham instead (or rather, use Lewisham’s new Glass Mill pool).
But what struck me is just how much this scheme is likely to change east Greenwich, possibly shifting its centre of gravity slightly east. My biggest fear – will the new retail units work when shops on Trafalgar Road already struggle? Six hundred new homes would suggest they’ll do alright – but there could be big changes fanning out through east Greenwich over the coming years. Better to be warned than not – but then many people are still unaware the council plans to sell off the Arches and the old library.
Hopefully, the developers will be wise to this, and talk to (and listen to) local people, and not confuse this with “talking to the council”. With the development including several new buildings and one new street, perhaps asking people for names would be a start. I don’t know whether “Greenwich Square” is fixed as a name, but come on, even “Vanburgh Square” would be better for the development at the foot of Vanburgh Hill.
With the Greenwich Wharf scheme wiping out wharf names such as Piper’s, Granite and Lovell’s, it’d be nice to see east Greenwich’s heritage recognised somewhere before it all goes. So if you had the chance to name four new blocks of homes and a street, what would you call them?