Greenwich’s gasholder needs to go ‘for safety and security’, owner says

Blackwall Tunnel approach
The gasholder has been a local landmark for 130 years

The company which owns the historic East Greenwich gasholder says it needs to demolish the structure for safety and security reasons.

SGN Ltd told Greenwich Council last week that it plans to demolish the structure, which has stood on the Greenwich Peninsula for 130 years.

The council now needs to decide whether SGN should apply for planning permission to take the gasholder down.

In documents submitted to the council, SGN’s agent Firstplan says retaining the decommissioned structure would “represent a significant maintenance expense to SGN, which is considered unreasonable and unjustified given that they no longer serve a purpose”.

“The gasholder also constitutes a significant security and safety liability to SGN,” it adds.

The report also claims removing the structure is “a necessary requirement for any future site development”, and adds there is “significant policy support” for the move.

English Heritage has also stated that the site cannot be listed for five years after SGN asked for a certificate of immunity.

However, in November Greenwich Council planners stated that the gasholder should remain. In a new planning brief for the site, the council said “development should build on the heritage value of the gas holder to enhance the character and distinctiveness of the area”.

Similar structures have been redeveloped around the world to incorporate housing and other uses.

The gasholder, which predates the Blackwall Tunnel, was part of the huge East Greenwich Gas Works, which dominated most of the Greenwich Peninsula until its closure in 1976. There were originally two gasholders, but the adjacent No 2 structure was damaged by an IRA bomb in January 1979 and demolished six years later.

Despite the gasholder’s eventful history – it was also damaged in the 1917 Silvertown explosion and World War II – it was not considered worth listing by English Heritage because it was too similar to an earlier structure on the Old Kent Road, which was also constructed by the South Metropolitan Gas Company.

Indeed, the historic damage to the gasholder may have counted against it, as English Heritage also cites the large number of repairs made to it, while the loss of the surrounding gasworks means it has “lost its context”.

However, Greenwich Council can still place the structure on its own local list of buildings of historic interest.

In October, Lewisham Council placed the gasholders at Bell Green, Sydenham on its local list before refusing an application to demolish them and replace them with an Aldi store. However, in Sydenham, some more remnants of the old gasworks survive close by, such as the Livesey Memorial Hall – named after the South Metropolitan’s chairman George Livesey – and a war memorial.

  • To see more details and comment on SGN’s application, search for reference 17/4068/D1 on Greenwich Council’s planning search. Comments need to be in by 11 January.
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