Woolwich Exchange: ‘Affordable’ housing drops in new covered market redevelopment

Woolwich Exchange CGI
The developers’ vision for Plumstead Road

Updated story: New proposals to redevelop the area around Woolwich Public Market have been submitted to Greenwich Council – with a sharp drop in the number of “affordable” homes in the scheme to help pay for the retention of the historic market.

Developer St Modwen and housing association Notting Hill Genesis plan to build 801 homes along with a new cinema, cafes, bars and restaurants in the block between Plumstead Road and Spray Street.

But according to the developers, just 19.7 per cent of the homes at the council-backed Woolwich Exchange project will be “affordable”, compared with 35 per cent when the scheme was first submitted in 2018. The original plans were withdrawn before a decision was made.

Street Feast walked out of Woolwich Public Market in 2019

Out of the 801 homes in the scheme, 158 will be “affordable”. Of these, 112 homes will be available at London Affordable Rent with 46 for shared ownership. London Affordable Rent is about half market rents – more than Greenwich Council rents, which are among the lowest social rents in London.

Woolwich Exchange render
An overview of the new development. The faded blocks in the background are part of Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal (See more detail)

The development also includes two towers of 23 storeys, and blocks of 15, 17 and 18 storeys.

A spokesperson for the developers told 853 this morning that the drop in “affordable” housing was to cover a £30 million bill for retaining the covered market, retaining and refurbishing buildings on Woolwich New Road, and meeting new City Hall energy and sustainability demands.

Woolwich New Road
The proposals include retaining buildings on Woolwich New Road
Woolwich New Road render
The developers’ new plans for Woolwich New Road

Once known as the Spray Street Quarter, the first iteration of the project caused an outcry for proposing the mass demolition of shops and workspace mostly belonging to black and ethnic minority businesses. It also proposed to demolish the covered market building, which opened in 1936 and is unique because of its German design, more commonly found in military buildings.

The first plans – which included 742 homes – were abandoned after English Heritage agreed to list the market, which has sat empty since Street Feast walked out of holding a street food market there in 2019.

Now the plans include retaining the market, as well as some buildings on Woolwich New Road. The developers say they will “reimagine the space and open it up for the whole community to enjoy”. They add that Picturehouse has confirmed its commitment to open a cinema – the first in Woolwich for over 20 years – while the new homes will “provide space to live and work”.

Just over a year ago, Greenwich councillors reluctantly approved a scheme for 298 flats in the Island Site formerly occupied by the University of Greenwich, which also plans to keep a number of historic buildings. That had an even lower proportion of “affordable” homes – 32 for social rent, 38 for shared ownership – but councillors’ hands were tied as permission had already been granted for an earlier version of the scheme in 2017, and City Hall had negotiated a small increase on “affordable” housing levels.

If Woolwich Exchange is approved, many of the existing buildings will have to be compulsorily purchased, and all occupiers will have to leave during construction, which is not due to begin until 2023. “Businesses currently based on the site have been engaged in detailed dialogue about the plans and their relocation over the past few years, and this will continue as the plans progress through the planning process,” a spokesperson said.

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