Most of the money spent on refurbishing the Woolwich big screen came from developer money earmarked for General Gordon Square 18 years ago, 853 can reveal.
Greenwich Council spent £123,000 on improving the screen, which was installed in 2009 and shows council promos, BBC news bulletins and major sporting and cultural events.
When residents complained on social media that the money could be better spent elsewhere, the council said that the funding “did not impact on council finances”.
However, 853 has discovered that the bulk of the funding came from an agreement signed in 2002 when the council allowed a former office block next to the square to be converted into flats. £100,000 was handed to the council in the early 2000s by the developers of Maritime House, which had housed the University of Greenwich until 2001. The cash was meant for “improvements to General Gordon Square” – but was not spent for nearly two decades.
Other money, which was earmarked for the public realm, came from the redevelopment of the nearby Connaught Estate into 684 homes. The agreement, signed in 2015, allocated £643,966 to public realm improvements “in the vicinity of the development”.
This money comes from Section 106 agreements, which are deals councils sign with developers aimed at mitigating the impact of their schemes on local communities. Greenwich has been criticised for neglecting the public realm while spending large sums on Greenwich Local Labour and Business, a job brokerage and employment advice programme.
Money from Maritime House
Churchill House, on the corner of Greens End and Thomas Street, was built in the early 1960s and was originally occupied by the old Woolwich Council and what was then called Woolwich Polytechnic. When council staff moved out in the late 1970s, what had become Thames Polytechnic took over the whole building. The polytechnic became the University of Greenwich in 1992, and moved there nine years later.
In June 2002, Greenwich Council agreed to allow Churchill House to be converted into 93 flats. The planning agreement shows its age, containing references to the “Woolwich railway tunnel”, a long-junked plan to build a mainline rail connection across to North Woolwich. It also defines “affordable housing” as accommodation for “persons or families on low incomes or in lowest-paid employment” – a definition that has slipped over the years. The building, renamed Maritime House, welcomed its first residents in 2005.
The agreement, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, includes £100,000 “to carry out improvements in General Gordon Square including environmental and security measures in the vicinity of the development”, to be paid in two £50,000 instalments. Greenwich Council said the payments were made in 2004 and 2005.
This money was not spent for nearly 15 years, during which General Gordon Square saw a £6.6m revamp to rip out the tatty 1980s public space and replace it with new lighting, terracing and water features, aided by money from Transport for London and central government.
The money from the Connaught Estate redevelopment comes from an agreement which also covers the rebuilding of the Morris Walk and Maryon Road estates, which has been delayed. It also included £3.5m for the Crossrail station at Woolwich, of which £785,000 has been spent.
As well as the public realm money spent on the big screen, £23,193 was spent on improvements at Kingsman Parade near Woolwich Dockyard station.
‘Much-loved focal point’
A Greenwich Council spokesperson told 853: “The Section 106 for Churchill House (Maritime House) was agreed in 2002 and the funds were received in 2004/05. The Section 106 did not specify a deadline for utilising the funds. The council monitors the amounts held in the account and as proposals are brought forward these are considered and where appropriate allocated.
“The legal agreement sets out that this obligation was for improvements in General Gordon Square, which included but was not limited to spend on environmental and security measures in the vicinity of the development. The refurbished screen has returned to being a much-loved focal point for residents and visitors and is maintained regularly.”
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