Greenwich Council backs 300-home scheme to transform Woolwich’s old polytechnic buildings

Island Site scheme
The site as seen from General Gordon Square. The former bank on the corner (currently a bookies) and Earl of Chatham pub are not part of the scheme.

Plans to transform the old Greenwich University block in Woolwich town centre with 300 new homes were backed unanimously by Greenwich Council’s main planning committee last night – but the proposals immediately ran into criticism for not including enough “affordable” housing.

The “Island Site” – which includes the original 1880s Woolwich Polytechnic building – will be turned into housing with space for leisure and entertainment, a dance school, shops, restaurants and offices.

Most of the homes will be one- or two-bedroom flats, with 29 three-bedroom flats and 4 with four bedrooms. But just 40 of the 300 homes will be “affordable” – either for shared ownership or a proportion of market rent – with just 18 of those for social rent.

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook criticised the lack of social housing on Twitter, calling it “simply not good enough”.

He later added: “Hope the Planning Board at least attached conditions to their approval to provide for a robust review mechanism.”

The number of “affordable” homes will be reviewed when 75% of the dwellings are completed, the meeting was told. It was also told an independent viability assessment had actually increased the number of “affordable” homes from 32 to 40.

Wellington Street
The proposed development as viewed from Wellington Street

Many of the older buildings on the site – including the original Grade II-listed polytechnic building, gymnasium and Rotunda, which faces the northern end of Calderwood Street – will be retained, while Victorian buildings on Wellington Street – some of which have been boarded up for many years – will keep their frontages.

Thames Polytechnic
The Island Business Centre – still bearing logos that are 25 years out of date – will be demolished

Much of the block has been out of use since Greenwich University moved to the Old Royal Naval College in 2002. Its 1964 block on Wellington Street – now the Island Business Centre, but still sporting long-outdated Thames Polytechnic logos – will be demolished, with public walkways opened up within the site.

The meeting was also told that Greenwich Council’s Design Review Panel had secured a number of big changes to the scheme, including making the two tall blocks – of nine and 10 storeys high – less prominent.

Woolwich Island Site scheme

Strikingly, for such a pivotal scheme with potential to transform part of the borough’s main town centre, there were very few questions asked by councillors, and just one member of the public spoke – an objector concerned about the lack of family homes in the development.

Blackheath Westcombe Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty praised the scheme, saying it “opens up the site in a way that is very welcome”.

All eight councillors eligible to vote backed the scheme, with council leader Denise Hyland -who also sits on the planning board – arriving too late to vote.

  • While the Woolwich scheme came in for criticism, another scheme with even less “affordable” housing was passed by the planning board last night.

    The Cross Quarter development at Harrow Manor Way, Abbey Wood, just next to the border with Bexley borough, is due to have 245 homes, of which just 24 will be available at 70% of market rent, with none at social rent.

    The development, which is set across 21- and 12-storey towers, also includes “flexible commercial space” including retail. It passed by six votes to two.

  • A third development, of 37 council houses near Charlton Village, was also approved last night.
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