Fears of social cleansing in Greenwich borough have been played down by council leader Danny Thorpe, who says gentrification is “not wanted”.
Hundreds of new homes are planned for the borough and controversial developments such as Rockwell’s Charlton Riverside scheme have sparked campaigns across the area.
Huge towers in Woolwich as well as Rockwell’s proposals for 770 houses concern residents who claim such developments are built for “profit not people”, stealing their sense of community.
Under one controversial project, developer St Modwen and Notting Hill Housing would bulldoze shops and the covered market in Woolwich, replacing them with 700 homes, shops, offices, and a public square.
For that scheme alone, pressure group Speak Out Woolwich has gained more than 300 signatures for a petition against the radical redevelopment.
Thorpe was pressed on the issue of community and social diversity at a question time session on Monday.
‘More than just the buildings’
One resident said: “Local authorities have a responsibility to build communities not just units. How can the council ensure a clear community focus, and ensure a significant low cost housing to ensure genuine social diversity? There is a danger we become a less diverse community.”
The leader said the council was already promoting festivals and events to create community spirit.
Cllr Thorpe said: “It’s a bit more than just the buildings – if you take Woolwich as an example, one of the things we’ve worked really hard on is events and how we bring people physically together.
“In other parts of London I think some new developments have lost a bit of that neighbourliness and saying hello – aside from delivering buildings we have to work much harder to bring people out and create that wider sense of community.”
Greenwich ‘becoming divided’
BBC London journalist and Greenwich resident Asad Ahmad, who was hosting the question session, said he saw Greenwich as becoming divided with places that “have and have not” got a community.
“What we don’t want in Greenwich is gentrification,” Cllr Thorpe said, “We have all seen parts of London that has completely changed by development, it has got out of control.
“That is one of the real challenges when we have development, how we genuinely create places that deliver for people.
“It is a real challenge – but in terms of ‘haves and have nots’, it is a fact now that in London we have more children that went to sleep in poverty than all the children in Scotland and Wales, I wish I had answers to deal with that. That gap between rich and poor is potentially widening.
“We have a job to do as a council to show people where we have secured accommodation with social housing at sites that if you walked there you would not believe is true.”
Greenwich’s deputy leader David Gardner said the council was planning to invest in community centres and libraries as he encouraged residents to feed back on ideas.
Greenwich Council rejected Rockwell’s 770 home plan – with the scheme being compared to Stalingrad – but London mayor Sadiq Khan has since stepped in and will decide next year whether to grant permission.
The council is set to make a decision in January on using powers for the compulsory purchase of buildings in Woolwich to make way for the Spray Street development.
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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