COMMENT: Last November, we reported how a coalition of groups had come together to call for the widening of pavements in Greenwich town centre. With council elections on their way, they are stepping up their call. MAUREEN O’MARA, who is stepping down as one of the area’s Labour councillors, explains what the campaign is about.
Greenwich town centre is home to one of the UK’s 30 world heritage sites: Maritime Greenwich.
As local businesses and local people, we want to make visiting and living in Greenwich town centre a better and more enjoyable experience.
The Maritime Greenwich world heritage site is described by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as being of “outstanding universal value”. It is reckoned to be the “finest and most dramatically sited architectural and landscape ensemble on the British Isles”.
Unesco tells us that it is the local authority – Greenwich Council – that has responsibility for the care and management of the world heritage site along with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The world heritage site includes our town centre.
It is the jewel in our borough. Before the pandemic, its worldwide status attracted over eight million visitors a year. Those visitors are now coming back and we welcome them. Just as importantly, our world heritage site is also home to hundreds of people living in houses and flats.
Currently there are two initiatives going on around the town centre – discussions around establishing a Business Improvement District and secondly how to stimulate a more attractive day and night-time economy that will encourage visitors, as well as locals, to stay longer in the town.
Importantly, we need to make sure that these initiatives go hand in hand with a concentration on improvements to the public realm that benefit locals as well as visitors.
Let’s face it – our town centre could and should look a lot better. It is the gateway to the rest of our world heritage site and it needs to look as good as the fine buildings of the area and our beautiful royal park.
We need cleaner streets, quality street furniture and the removal of unnecessary street clutter, better-looking shop fronts and a Cutty Sark Gardens that is more welcoming to visitors as well as the hundreds of people living in the adjacent Meridian Estate. We need a council management plan that brings together all those departments that play a part in the town centre – planning, highways and street cleaning – with a town-based manager with the clout to get things done.
Town centre partners – the famous covered market traders and the Greenwich Society – have come together with support from Greenwich Hospital, the UK’s leading naval charity, which was founded in our town back in 1694 to look after naval pensioners. It is now the town centre’s premier business stakeholder.
They have formed an alliance for the first time to back a new initiative calling for a fresh focus on our town centre.
Traffic chokes Greenwich town centre – everyone complains about it. There has long been a discussion about pedestrianising the whole area, but past attempts to do this have met with near-wholesale opposition once people appreciate that displaced traffic will go down their streets.
Some readers may remember the 2010-11 council attempt which was scrapped after it attracted nil support. There seems little prospect of full pedestrianisation for now.
Urgent action is needed now to improve the town’s environment. Greenwich Council needs to look to the future and focus on delivering an improvement that will make a difference.
That is what local people and local businesses are telling the council. We, as locals, say now is the time to move on to new ideas.
So what can we do ?
Our town is characterised by what are, generally, narrow street pavements. They are so narrow that in the height of the summer months, when visitor numbers are at their height, people are forced out onto the roadway and into the way of traffic.
This is not a pleasant experience for visitors or locals. It is also dangerous. So let us get something done!
We present our first practical proposal – pavement widening in the town centre on certain streets – College Approach and King William Walk.
A key first concern was the need to discuss this with the covered market traders. Meetings with them produced their solution for time-restricted loading bays as part of the new widened pavements.
Streetscape experts at Atkins Engineering have provided us – at no cost to anyone – draft costings for the project.
We are ready to present those draft costings to the council leader after the May election. Pavement widening would not stop traffic travelling through our town centre, though it would slow it down and make it safer for all. Bus stops would remain where they are now.
Pavement widening will provide a more pleasant and safer environment for visitors and local people. Wider pavements would provide an opportunity for local cafes and restaurants to place tables and chairs outside, thus attracting customers to stay longer.
A better, safer, walking environment would make sense for all of us who live in and work in our town centre.
Our proposals on pavement widening will be much easier to implement than pedestrianisation and are a more workable and moderate approach to improving the town centre.
We are busy explaining our initiative to other partners and hope they will add their powerful voices to our campaign to make the town centre a better place to live and work. We will be seeking a meeting with the council leadership after the local elections on May 5, where we will present our proposals.
If you would like further information about what we are doing please look at the Greenwich Society website – greenwichsociety.org.uk.
MAUREEN O’MARA was first elected to Greenwich Council in 1982 and has represented Greenwich West since 2002.
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