Plans to redevelop part of Woolwich town centre took a big step forward last night after Greenwich Council’s cabinet agreed to start the process of buying scores of shops, homes and businesses for the Woolwich Exchange development.
Councillors nodded through the plans, which – if approved by the government – would enable the town hall to compulsorily purchase properties between Plumstead Road and Spray Street for the new development.
801 homes are planned with five towers of up to 23 storeys, with a cinema, cafes, bars and restaurants. The listed Woolwich Public Market will be retained and revamped as part of the scheme, which is due to be finished in stages between 2027 and 2029.
The scheme led to an outcry when it was first unveiled in 2018, in part because it would mean many small businesses having to move out, many of which are run by and for black and minority ethnic communities. Originally the market – with its distinctive roof – was due to be demolished, but campaigners got it listed.
A revised proposal was approved last May, with councillors voicing worries about the development – despite it being a council-backed scheme. Planning chair Stephen Brain said he had “very, very strong reservations” about the project.
Just 19.7 per cent of the homes will be “affordable” – less than the 35 per cent originally on offer four years ago. The developers – St Modwen and Notting Hill Genesis – said that more private housing was needed to pay for the £30 million cost of keeping the market structure.
But while the scheme had caused uproar four years ago, no members of the public were present to see the cabinet approve the move without comment. Council leader Danny Thorpe was also absent for the last cabinet meeting before elections on May 5.
Speaking at the planning meeting in May, cabinet member Sarah Merrill – who then held the regeneration portfolio – said that the issue of businesses being unhappy with the scheme “largely went away”.
“All the ones we spoke to had contact with the council and they had been offered relocation on the site or a deal – some wanted to close down, some wanted to move away,” she said at the time.
Documents supplied to the cabinet showed that 89 plots of land were affected by the order – including 13 homes – and no freeholders had yet accepted an offer for their properties.
If there are objections to the compulsory purchase order, there could be a public inquiry, with developers hoping to take over the site next summer.
In the meantime, the Public Market is due to host an immersive art show during the summer to held by Woolwich Works and Collective Art, a Hackney-based organisation. A planning application was published earlier this month and a decision is awaited.
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