New Woolwich leisure centre’s glass frontage stokes privacy worries

new Woolwich leisure centre
Illustrations of the new centre show users working out in the fitness studio

Plans for a new leisure centre in Woolwich have hit resistance from Greenwich councillors just weeks after they were submitted for approval – because its glass frontage could put off potential customers.

There are worries that passers-by will be able to see customers exercising through the glass walls – which many councillors say will deter many from using the new facility, which could open in late 2024.

Some councillors fear that many black and ethnic minority residents in particular will be uncomfortable working out next to the glass frontage of the building, on General Gordon Square, and are considering speaking out when the scheme comes to a planning meeting.

Plans for the centre, which is due to replace the existing Waterfront Leisure Centre, were submitted at the end of March.

  • Greenwich Council election 2022: Find candidates, hustings and manifestos
  • The new leisure centre is part of a wider redevelopment which includes 482 homes – 51 of which will be new council housing, while 117 will be for shared ownership. Greenwich Council has teamed up with the developer Hill for the scheme, with the private housing helping to fund the new centre.

    The Tramshed theatre, next door, is already being refurbished.

    New Woolwich leisure centre
    The centre will face General Gordon Square

    Height is also likely to be controversial, with councillors who have looked down their nose at new towers in Lewisham now being asked to back another set of tall buildings in Woolwich – to add to those in the Royal Arsenal and those planned for Woolwich Exchange, around the covered market site. There will be five residential blocks, of between nine and 19 storeys.

    A council block, Troy Court, will be demolished with the loss of 24 bedsits. Shops on Vincent Road will also go. The frontage of the Bull pub will remain with a new outlet built behind. The current building is “in a poor state of repair”, Hill and the council say.

    But it is the leisure centre itself that is proving a sticking point with some of those campaigning to hold their seats at tomorrow’s council election, 853 has been told.

    Aerial view of new Woolwich Leisure Centre scheme
    Part of Woolwich will be transformed by the scheme. The greyed-out blocks represent the Woolwich Exchange development

    It will have a training pool, a leisure pool and 25m main pool on its ground floor, with large glass windows facing out onto Vincent Road and a new community square, although the glazing will be treated with a translucent material to protect swimmers’ privacy. There will also be a soft play facility, a 5-a-side hall and six-court sports hall.

    The multipurpose studio will be on the second floor at the corner of the building, facing out onto Woolwich New Road and General Gordon Square. This will also have glass walls, but without the screens – with illustrations implying that passers-by will be able to see gym users in action.

    “By positioning the studio in the corner and animating the facade with activity the scheme will externalise the activities [sic] and encourage increased participation in sport,” planning documents submitted on behalf of Hill and the council say.

    Speaking rather more plainly, one councillor – who asked to remain anonymous – told 853: “There’s a lot of black and ethnic minority councillors unhappy with the glass walls. A lot of people aren’t going to want people on the street being able to see them exercising. Some councillors are saying they’ll definitely speak up against it.”

    The centre is due to be finished in 2024, with the rest of the development following two years later

    Greenwich Council was unable to comment directly because of rules surrounding election publicity.

    However, a statement prepared on behalf of Labour leader Danny Thorpe and his cabinet said: “’The new leisure centre in Woolwich will be a brilliant addition to the town centre and will be a building for the whole community.

    “The swimming pool will not face onto Woolwich New Road and we are clear that the areas of fitness and swimming will not have glass that enables passing members of the public to see through.

    “We are proud of the work we’ve done over the past four years on a range of equality issues and our equalities charter is now supported by over 250 organisations across the borough, including schools, organisations and business groups.”

    The new leisure centre would free the Waterfront site up for development. A masterplan prepared in 2012 suggested that Hare Street could be extended out to the river with cafes, restaurants, and a public square around the foot tunnel entrance.

    Full details of the new leisure centre development can be seen in its design and access and planning statements, while all documents can be found on the Greenwich Council planning website.

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