Greenwich Council says it is “hugely disappointed” after its second bid for levelling-up cash to rescue the Winter Garden in Avery Hill Park was rejected by the government.
The council had asked for £6.9 million towards a £11.7 million project to restore the crumbling glasshouse in Eltham, which is the second largest of its kind after Kew Gardens.
But government officials rejected Greenwich’s bid for a second time, 15 months after an earlier application for funds was also thrown out.
The Winter Garden is part of Greenwich University’s old Mansion site, which is being converted into a boys’ school for the Harris academy chain.
The university has agreed to transfer the Winter Garden to the council, along with money to help restore it.
Plans include renovating the glass house buildings and ornate pond conservatory, repurposing and expanding the fernery building to create an events space and replanting and landscaping the Winter Garden itself.
When the first bid, for £4.75m, was rejected in October 2021, the council leader at the time, Danny Thorpe, reacted with anger, saying the decision rejected “a levelling down in Eltham”, while local MP Clive Efford branded the levelling-up project a “Tory slush fund”.
But the new bid had emphasised cross-party and community support for the plans, with high-profile backing from local Conservatives as well as the council’s Labour leadership.
The council struck a more concilliatory tone yesterday when confirming the news. Adel Khaireh, the cabinet member for culture, said: “We are hugely disappointed the government has chosen not to back our bid to restore the Avery Hill Winter Garden to its former glory, through its levelling up fund.
“Our application had huge community and cross-party support from Eltham Town and Avery Hill ward councillors, local MP Clive Efford, the leader of the opposition, the mayor of London, the Friends of Avery Hill Park, the University of Greenwich, the Eltham Society, Greenwich Parks Forum and the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust.
“We will now need to consider our options as to how a way forward can be found.”
The statement was published on social media yesterday after enquiries from 853 as to the fate of the bid.
Greenwich had previously declined to fund the works itself, but may be forced to think again with the Winter Gardens in an increasingly poor condition. The council recently spent £45 million on the Woolwich Works arts hub in the north of the borough, but its commitment to pay for the Woolwich Crossrail station and relatively low income from developers mean it has less room to splash out on major projects.
Lewisham was the only SE London borough to see success in the levelling-up contest, scooping £17 million to revamp Lewisham Market and transform the local library into a cultural and business hub with a rooftop bar.
Among other winners in the capital, Waltham Forest won £19m to restore historic buildings for a cultural quarter in Walthamstow, Hackney won £19m to improve public spaces including its Town Hall Square and to renovate Hackney Central Library, and Haringey won £20m to transform an old secondary school in Tottenham into a community hub including new homes and sports facilities.
However, the process, which saw local councils compete with each other for funds, has come in for criticism, with accusations that the awards favoured areas with Tory MPs. The Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, said it was “another example as to why Whitehall’s bidding and begging-bowl culture is broken”.
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