A forgotten 1930s motor garage in the heart of Woolwich is set to be listed by Greenwich Council, despite objections from developers who want to knock it down and build on the land.
The Furlongs complex, behind Powis Street and Woolwich High Street, has lain largely neglected for many years.
The Bristol-based developer Artisan Real Estate submitted plans to sweep away the old blocks and build towers on the site four years ago. The project ground to a halt after City Hall warned that its “affordable” rent levels were too high.
Now the council proposes to put most of the Furlongs site on the borough’s heritage list as part of new planning guidance for the Woolwich area.
While a local listing does not carry the weight of an Historic England listing, it still has to be considered in local planning applications.
The assessment of Woolwich’s heritage buildings says Furlongs, which includes the multi-storey garage and a showroom on Powis Street, was the “largest and most complete motoring complex in southeast London in the 1930s.”
Built just before World War II, Furlongs is based around Mortgramit Square, an 18th-century route between Powis Street and Hare Street. It is “an example of 1930s Streamline Moderne design for the automotive industry”, the assessment says, adding that it complements the nearby 1930s Granada cinema – now a church – which is Grade II* listed.
It is an “important surviving monument to the newly burgeoning car industry and to Furlongs, a historic Woolwich-based firm since 1812”, it continues. “The three buildings on the site retain original fabric and features which signify the building’s original function.
“The garage in particular retains a series of curved ramps with original curved steel Crittall windows and a north-facing sawtooth roof which maximises natural light to the top floor workshop enabling vehicular inspections. The building is ingeniously designed and orientated at an angle, so that its four-storey bulk is not prominent when seen from Powis Street.”
“The site’s special interest lies in the former showroom on Powis Street, the garage and workshop on Mortgramit Square and the Furlongs signage which survive,” the appraisal says – but the former filling station forecourt, a later addition, is not included in the listing proposal.
The assessment warns that the buildings are in a poor and deteriorating condition.
In 2007 plans were put forward to redevelop the whole site, including the adjacent Co-op department store and shops on Hare Street – as the Woolwich Triangle, but the scheme collapsed with the credit crash.
Artisan Woolwich Ltd – a joint venture between Artisan and the Singapore-based company Manuka Developments Private – bought the Mortgramit Square site in 2017 for £10 million, according to Land Registry records.
The company’s original plans envisaged an 18-storey block set back from Powis Street and a 23-storey tower on Woolwich High Street, including 296 homes. But City Hall said the development would fail London’s planning rules because its “affordable” rents were too expensive – £279/week for a three-bedroom flat, rather than the £161/week London Affordable Rent level.
Companies House records indicate that Artisan is no longer involved in the site, with Manuka taking full control of the developer, now known as Mortgramit Square Limited, last year.
A submission to the council by Purcell, a planning consultancy, and the estate agent Knight Frank, disputed the decision to list the site.
“The significance of Furlongs is very much overstated, and a more balanced assessment should be considered,” it said.
“Furlongs is not a rare and unusual building type in a national or international context. Many such structures went up in the 1930s and many are listed.
“The ‘asset’ is a much-altered, sadly neglected and dilapidated group of buildings of various qualities and dates, no features survive from the interior save windows and doors, although the plan form remains, it was utilitarian from completion.”
While the site was historically significant, the submission said, “we ascribe limited value [to the buildings] and we consider local listing unnecessary”.
The council’s conservation officer defended the listing, saying that Knight Frank and Purcells had taken “a narrow view of what constitutes architectural interest”.
Historic England also supported the listing, pointing out that Peckham Levels, in a former car park off Rye Lane, was an example that the Furlongs garage could follow.
A building next to the Furlongs site, 170-172 Powis Street, is also recommended for listing. Built in 1898 as a doctor’s house and surgery, it is seen as an “unusual example” of its kind, and also contains a double datestone recording the founding of Powis Street in 1798 and its rebuilding a century later. It is currently empty.
Councillors on the cabinet, the town hall’s main decision-making body, are due to approve the guidance and the listings on Wednesday.
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