Building more houses tops the new year priority list despite the “inevitable controversies” new developments bring, Greenwich Council’s leader has said.
Shooters Hill councillor Danny Thorpe was elected leader in May last year, and ahead of completing his first full year at the helm of Woolwich Town Hall he has spoken about what is on his agenda for 2019.
Like much of the rest of the capital, finding a way to manage the housing crisis is set to be a big issue, but he says plans to boost Woolwich town centre and work closer with the NHS are also afoot, along with the controversial opening of east Greenwich’s Ikea.
“Housing is a big one,”Thorpe said, “We are working on how much we can borrow to build the amount of houses we want to deliver.”
Greenwich Council was given £32m by City Hall last year to build new homes, a move that came shortly before it was announced the borrowing cap would be lifted.
There are currently 17,000 people on the council’s housing waiting list, and there are over 800 homeless households in Greenwich – the most in a decade.
Plans are in the works to build more than 700 council homes in the borough over the next four years.
“We are looking at loads of sites,” Thorpe said, “Inevitably there will be controversies.
“People agree that there needs to be more housing but don’t want it here – but it’s going to be about going out and making the argument for it.”
Bid to boost Woolwich town centre
Away from housing the leader revealed the council is preparing to make a bid for government cash available to revitalise high streets.
Last year the government announced the Future High Streets fund, a £675m pot of cash for councils to apply for.
“Woolwich would be the front-runner for that based on the criteria published by the government,” Thorpe said.
“We will be working with British Land who have come into a lot of ownership in Woolwich, to shape a sort of new masterplan and a new vision for, I guess, the town.”
Woolwich is set to benefit from the much-anticipated opening of Crossrail, months after its original opening date. Thorpe said the council will be working closely with partners to be ready for the opening, with the super-crossing – which will make it easier to cross Plumstead Road – being “pretty much done”.
‘More of a role for councils’ in health
Another issue on the agenda is evaluating the council’s role in the health services. It comes the same week as the Prime Minister unveiled a flagship NHS plan for the next 10 years, which is hoped will save half a million lives.
“Yesterday we had the announcement about the NHS plan and we really need to be working through what that means,” Thorpe said.
“It feels to me that there is going to be more of a role for councils – there’s a lot of talk now about us as commissioners. It’s about healthcare devolution.
“For example, at the hospital, what services do people want to see delivered in the community and what can our role be in that, in our buildings.”
Ikea ‘doing all the right things’
Thorpe also confirmed the new Ikea store will have a ‘soft’ opening on 7 February.
The leader said there were no plans for a “big event” seen in previous stores that can cause disruption.
Thorpe said: “It’s very much a soft opening and adjusting to the area. Ikea are doing all the right things, for example staff have to travel in on public transport or bikes, there’s no parking for them.” (853 note: Ikea’s travel plan agreed with the council says all staff not working unsocial hours should be using “sustainable forms of transport” after five years.)
Enforcement and tackling parking issues is also a priority for 2019, with the council working on ways to solve problems in Plumstead.
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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