A council housing block set to be demolished as part of a scheme to build a new leisure centre in Woolwich will be replaced with twice as many council homes, councillors pledged this week.
Troy Court, which has 24 homes, is earmarked to go as part of the plan to build the new centre on the site of the current Wilko store. Wilko is to move out of Woolwich later this year to make way for the centre. The Bull pub and other properties on Vincent Road are also due for demolition.
Residents and campaigners criticised the council for the way the plan to demolish their homes had been carried out, with little consultation on the proposals. Greenwich Council cabinet members insisted they could only begin consultation once they had approved plans to include Troy Court in the scheme.
The new leisure centre, which will replace the 1980s Waterfront Leisure Centre, will include housing to help pay for it, and Wednesday night’s decision allows officers to find an organisation to deliver that housing.
“Until cabinet agrees this course of direction, there is nothing to consult on,” the regeneration cabinet member Sizwe James said moments before they took the decision.
Dismissing calls for a ballot of residents – “this is nowhere near the size which would warrant it” – he said: “I’m convinced the new leisure centre and revived Tramshed will be in the wider public interest. A brand spanking new leisure centre right in the centre of Woolwich will be a catalyst for the regeneration of Woolwich.
“We simply do not have the money to be able to do this without some cross-subsidy from housing. This project will double the number of council homes, which is something we need to remind ourselves of.
“It’s a very good news story for Woolwich, when we speak to the public they are enthused. When the Waterfront first opened when I was a boy it was something it was something that enthused us and we wanted to get involved, we hope this will be similar.”
Fellow cabinet member Jackie Smith claimed there had been “a sequence of events that appear to have been misleading people” – appearing to complain that details of the council’s plans had been leaked before they were officially published.
“It is quite clear that before the cabinet report was even published that detailed questions about what was in that cabinet report before it was even published, but that’s for someone else to look into and not me,” she said.
“Things like that have the habit of making people unnecessarily uneasy, that people misunderstand what’s proposed, and so what people were saying tonight about consultations could not possibly happen until the cabinet decision tonight. We’ve got confidential papers here… I can assure you there will be no loss of social housing. It will be increased greatly, which is why we are putting as much land as possible into the scheme.”
Senior council officer Jeremy Smalley said the council would “like to be able to offer” the right of return to existing residents.
One resident, Brian, who has lived in the block for 22 years, told the cabinet that he had helped maintain the area around it because “the council had shown no interest”.
“Troy Court offers peace, security, and close access to transport and shops – a near perfect place for an independent retirement, The average age [of residents] is 70 years,” he said.
“Troy Court has not been consulted in any way whatsoever.”
Abu Siddiqui, spoke on behalf of a friend of his mother, who lives in the block but can only speak Bengali and has serious health issues. “When this letter was sent to her, she didn’t understand what it was about. She’s created a community for herself in her home, and when she learned about this, she was really worried. She feels she should have been told about this by someone.”
“She asked me to say – and in Bengali this was a lot harsher – how would you feel if this was your home? She feels she is not being respected as a resident,” he added.
John Kenny, a former Greenwich Council officer in the regeneration department, said the council had “failed” in its duties as a landlord by not involving tenants in “a fundamental decision about the future of these people’s homes”.
More video from the meeting, including the council officer’s full presentation, is on this Vimeo playlist.
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