Woolwich town centre to get £3.8m to smarten up its shopping streets

Invicta sign, Powis Street
The scheme aims to make the most of Woolwich’s heritage

Woolwich’s tatty town centre is to see £3.8m spent on restoring it to its former glory with funds coming from Greenwich Council and a grant from Historic England.

Councillors on the borough’s cabinet, the town hall’s main decision-making body, will approve spending £2.04m next week to top up the £1.76m High Streets Heritage Action Zones money.

Cash will go on improving shopfronts and and a new “cultural and community space” in the town centre, with the specific aim of attracting people who live in Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development, across the road from Powis Street and Hare Street, to visit their local town centre.

Works on the Old Town Hall and former library in Calderwood Street are also planned, according to the grant letter from Historic England.

Despite the huge and continuing investment in the Berkeley Homes development over the road – including the £31m Woolwich Works cultural hub – much of the town centre itself has been neglected over the years, with trees growing out of buildings on Hare Street at one point, and major retailers have abandoned the town.

Rumours long spread that the area was deliberately being left to deteriorate to enable it to be completely redeveloped and some of the area’s historic buildings – such as the old post office, demolished for the Tesco development in the 2000s, and the Royal Oak pub, where Arsenal FC was founded – have been lost in the past 20 years.

The project aims to reverse this decline to create “more attractive high street, that is capable of attracting a diverse range of users”.

“Powis Street and the adjacent squares and spaces will become a social hub that unites the diverse population of the area,” a report to councillors says. The report does not detail which streets will be covered by the scheme.

“By enhancing the environmental quality of the high street and its historic character, the town centre can attract residents from the Royal Arsenal and nearby neighbourhoods. This would help to address the lack of spending capacity to support a diverse retail offer and enhance Woolwich’s competitiveness relative to other town centres.”

The council money will come from Section 106 funds from local developments – money paid by developers to offset their impact on an area – while extra funds from local landowners are also promised.

Much of the town centre is owned by British Land, which bought “the Woolwich Estate” for £103m two years ago. The council is to lease a unit from British Land to “create a heritage and community drop-in centre, which will provide a space to engage with the area’s history and the personal heritage of its residents”.

“Within this space there will be a host of activities, exhibitions and displays drawn from material in the local archives, with an opportunity to meet and talk to the Greenwich archivist,” the report adds.

NatWest Woolwich
The NatWest branch in Powis Street, completed in 1960 as a furniture store, is one of Woolwich’s better-kept high street buildings

“It would also host engagement and participation events as well as opportunities to be used by local community groups for events/meetings. This space will act as a ‘Woolwich Front Room’ by way of a focal point of the project and activities.”

It follows much of Woolwich being declared a conservation area last year.

Last year Greenwich councillors approved revised plans to turn the old Thames Polytechnic Island site into 298 flats, shops and a dance school.

There is also a major redevelopment scheme planned for Mortgramit Square – behind the former Co-op department store on Powis Street – while there also plans for 620 homes in blocks of up to 22 storeys at Macbean Street, on the site of the old Woolwich Polytechnic School. There are also longstanding plans to move the Waterfront Leisure Centre from the end of Hare Street to the site of the current Wilko store on Woolwich New Road, resulting in the loss of council housing at Troy Court and the Bull pub.

Slightly further afield, revised plans are being worked up for the area around Spray Street and the covered market, now known as Woolwich Exchange; while plans for a 27-storey tower in front of the Tesco store were thrown out by a planning inspector in June; the inspector said any development on the site needed to “mask the heinous impact” of the Tesco store.

Councillors will discuss the plans at a meeting next Wednesday.

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