Greenwich Council’s consultation around a scheme to demolish part of Woolwich town centre and replace it with a new retail, housing and leisure development was criticised by Labour candidates at a hustings meeting on Friday evening.
Developers plan to knock down shops – including scores of businesses run by and for black and ethnic minority communities – and the old Woolwich Public Market and replace them with 742 new homes, shops, offices, a cinema and a new public square as part of a scheme backed by the Labour council.
But the party’s own candidates in the adjacent Woolwich Common ward criticised the proposals at a hustings held by pressure group Speak Out Woolwich at a community centre on the Barnfield Estate in Plumstead.
One candidate, Ivis Williams, said the consultation around the scheme was “not done properly”.
The criticism is a further rebuke to leader Denise Hyland and deputy Danny Thorpe, whose plans for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, have been criticised by candidates across the north of the borough for their potential to increase air pollution in the area.
There have been no hustings held in wards in the south of the borough – where the power in the Greenwich Labour group currently lies – but Labour candidates in the north of the borough have consistently used these events to outline their desire for the council to change. Hustings were held at Woolwich Common, Charlton and Woolwich Riverside over the weekend.
The Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Party candidates did not attend the Woolwich Common hustings, held at the Barnfield Hub, but Ziaur Rahman of the anti-Brexit centrist Renew party did attend, alongside Gardner and Labour newcomers Williams and Anthony Okereke and Williams.
“I think the Spray Street development is a controversial one,” Willams said. “There are so many issues over the way it’s been taken forward. I’m a BME person, I’ve spoken to BME businesses, and the consultation was not done properly.
“The council has done consultation – 300 residents were consulted – but these business owners, according to them they were not consulted. The approach was wrong.”
‘It’s where I buy my yams’
Okereke pointed out his mother in the audience when he said: “I go to Spray Street – it’s where I buy my yams. My mum’s right there, and we go together.
“I think Spray Street is what happens when you don’t necessarily engage. I’ve spoken to everybody who works at Spray Street – I spent some time speaking to people. They welcome the development, but with the condition that they can stay there and be involved in the planning application, the design, and what they’re going to create in Spray Street.
“They want the area to be brought up. It’s about us working with developers so they can create the kind of environment that we want. And I think the businesses around Spray Street haven’t necessarily had that opportunity. When I spoke to people they felt very deflated and they feel it’s going to happen regardless. If I get elected, I want to represent those views.”
Sitting councillor David Gardner, who has already opposed the current development plans, said: “It could be Hong Kong, it could be Toronto – the plans look fantastic, but actually, we need something with Woolwich in it. We need to rethink it, but I think there are lots of good things about the development as well.”
Street Feast ‘too expensive’
Williams was also critical of Street Feast’s recent takeover of the old Woolwich Public Market, saying that locals were being priced out by the operators.
“Yes, we’re seeing footfall, but the feedback is that the food is expensive, so I don’t think it’s a good investment,” she said.
“If it’s going to continue, local business needs to have a presence within that area, otherwise you’ll get a footfall but it won’t be local people coming to buy.”
The Public market was another project pushed by deputy leader Danny Thorpe. Eltham North councillor Linda Bird tweeted fulsome praise for it the following evening.
At Sunday night’s hustings for Woolwich Riverside ward, held at St Thomas’s Church in Charlton, sitting Labour councillor John Fahy defended the Spray Street scheme.
“It’s probably appropriate that we’re in a church this evening because I have a confession to make – I’ve been actively involved in promoting the Spray Street development since day one,” he told the audience.
“I believe it is important we look at redevelopment as an opportunity for developing Woolwich, and it will bring a whole range of opportunities.
“But there are issues around the amount of social housing and the way in which we’ve managed, and will manage, the issue of relocating the organisations that are there.
“We as a council have limited opportunity to develop Woolwich town centre – that’s why it’s important that developing a business district is key to all of that.”
One of the affected businesses is an NHS dentists’ surgery whose operators say they cannot move across into the Royal Arsenal development because Berkeley Homes said it already had a private practice there, an issue raised by Gardner on Friday.
“The NHS dentist is key – they will be rehoused, and will be rehoused sooner rather than later,” Fahy said.
Neighbourhood plan for Woolwich?
Pushed by Speak Out Woolwich’s John Edwards, Jackie Smith said she would consider a neighbourhood plan for Woolwich town centre – a system where communities take a greater role in planning decisions.
Five neighbourhood forums – the bodies which can draw up these plans – have been set up in neighbouring Lewisham. There is only one in Greenwich – the Lee Neighbourhood Forum, which is shared with Lewisham, and covers an area from Hither Green station to Kidbrooke Park Road.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat candidate for Woolwich Riverside Ramesh Perera-Delcort said he would favour a business improvement district – -a body paid for by a levy on firms in the area – being set up in Woolwich. These are already in operation at the Blue in Bermondsey as well as in Bromley and Sidcup town centres, as well as in areas such as the West End, South Bank and Brixton.
Planning committee questioned again
The role of Hyland and Thorpe on the council’s Planning Board was raised at both Woolwich hustings and the Charlton hustings on Saturday. No other London borough has its council leader on its main planning committee – but this has been a feature of Greenwich politics since 2007.
In Woolwich Common, David Gardner, Ivis Williams and Anthony Okerere said cabinet members should not be on the committee.
In Woolwich Riverside, John Fahy, Dominic Mbang and Jackie Smith agreed.
While in Charlton, Gary Parker said a leader or deputy leader on the planning board “leaves you open to potentially being compromised, blurring the distinction between the [council’s] planning function and being a member of the executive”. “If I was in that position, I wouldn’t be on it, but that is for them to decide.”
A resident at Woolwich Riverside also brought up former Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts’ role as deputy chairman of Cratus Communications, which has acted for developers of controversial schemes at Victoria Way and Anchor & Hope Lane in Charlton. “I suppose ex-leaders of councils have to earn a living,” John Fahy said.
Fahy conceded that the council needed to up its game on communicating with residents.
“We’ve learned lessons through the campaign, and the message is, we have to do better,” he said.
“We have to connect more with the community, and we have to be a representative voice for the community, whatever that might be. And we also need to ensure we engage more actively in the things we want to do – nobody should be left behind, we need to take everybody forward in this difficult economic climate.”
Labour candidates at Woolwich Common and Charlton also spoke out against the London City Cruise Port not using on-shore power for ships docked there, adding to the revolt against the current plans put in place by Thorpe and Hyland, who also sat on the committee which approved the terminal.
But at Woolwich Riverside, Jackie Smith said revoking planning permission would be difficult, but suggested that a new owner of the site – which is currently up for sale – may wish to obtain new planning permission.
“I’m not sure that just saying ‘on-shore power’ will just be the answer to the problem, there are other issues such as the noise and the vehicles that will need to access the site, these will need to be considered in any new planning application,” she said.
“It does need to be dealt with and it depends on what the new owner of the site wishes to do.”
‘No complaints’ about public realm
With several reliable sources indicating a change in council leader is likely after the next election, the hustings have provided a chance for Labour councillors and candidates to set out their stalls and demands for the forthcoming internal leadership election, as well as to set out their stances to the public.
But despite Labour candidates across the weekend conceding to problems in the way their council had acted in key areas, one sign of complacency stuck out over the weekend’s hustings.
Asked by a member of the public about poor public realm in the area while money was being spent on smartening up Eltham, Smith said she had not received any complaints about the state of streets and other facilities in the borough – suggesting she has not read From The Murky Depths, at the very least.
Despite standing three councillors in Woolwich Riverside, the Green Party did not take part in the hustings, held by the Charlton Parkside Community Hub and the Benefice of Charlton. The Lib Dems only sent one of their three candidates, Ramesh Perera-Delcourt. Tomas Thurogood-Hyde and Chris Van Roon took part from the Conservatives, with third candidate Thomas Spiller absent to look after his family’s new baby.
Woolwich Common candidates: Keith Crowhurst (Green), Simon Gallie (Conservative), David Gardner (Labour), Matthew Glinsman (Lib Dem), Patricia Hills (Conservative), Anthony Okereke (Labour), Ziaur Rahman (Renew), Matthew Rose (Lib Dem), Martin Simons (Lib Dem), Jan Wainwright (Conservative), Ivis Williams (Labour)
Woolwich Riverside candidates: Keiran Bradley (Liberal Democrat), Caolan Byrne (Green), John Fahy (Labour), Leonie Fleischmann (Green), Sam Heffernan (Green), Dominic Mbang (Labour), Andrew Newton (Lib Dem), Ramesh Perera-Delcourt (Lib Dem), Marius Prystua (Duma Polska), Jackie Smith (Labour), Thomas Spiller (Conservative), Tomas Thurogood-Hyde (Conservative), Chris Van Roon (Conservative)
Polls are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday 3 May,
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