The multi-billion pound Spray Street redevelopment scheme Woolwich, promoted by Greenwich Council, has kept long-standing and family business owners up at night fearing for their future. Local Democracy Reporter TOM BULL spoke to some of them.
Traders in and around Spray Street have faced five years of uncertainty over controversial plans to bulldoze the covered market and dozens of small businesses for hundreds of new flats near the station.
The proposals, a joint venture by St Modwen and Notting Hill Genesis, include 742 homes, 6,000 square metres of retail space, a cinema, a nursery, offices, a public square and new public realm.
Its promoters say that with 17,000 people on the council’s housing waiting list, the new homes would go far in helping the housing crisis – but businesses fear they will be driven out by the changing face of the town.
The plans, which were submitted last year, hit a setback when Woolwich Covered Market was awarded a Grade II listing.
The developers are now working to revise their planning application. Meanwhile, lives are on hold. Stuck in limbo, shopkeepers say it will end their businesses if they are moved from the area they have spent their lives in.
‘We’re fed up now’
Sibel Suleyman took over running Arsenal Gate Café in 2003 from her parents, who opened up in 1984.
Mrs Suleyman said: “It’s very unsettling, morale is very low. This has been hanging over our shoulders for a long time now.
“We are just fed up now. We’ve been at rock bottom, this is our livelihood. We’ve just had to sit and wait. Woolwich is losing its identity – we want to invest and update but at the moment our hands are tied. We’ll invest time and money to be told it’s time to go. It feels like we are slowly being pushed out of Woolwich.
“Change can be good, but at the same time, I doubt we will be brought with it. I’ve lost sleep over this. This is all we’ve got.”
Mrs Suleyman said they have had an offer to be relocated to Abbey Wood, but she fears that would mean starting again from scratch.
Woolwich has been earmarked for major changes, accelerated by the imminent arrival of Crossrail.
Most traders say new houses are a must – but fear they won’t be included in the changes.
‘We don’t know where we stand’
Jay Patel, the owner of JB Patel and Sons, said: “It’s been unstable for us. We don’t know where we stand. It’s been like this for the last five years.
“We want to revamp. We can’t do anything – we want to move forward with the times, but we can’t until they make a decision and we know what happens to us. We want to stay where we are – we have been here for 36 years. With Crossrail coming after all these years we want to benefit.
“I have young kids at university, we want to stay here. This is our lives you know? We want to be involved in the future of Woolwich. It’s our kids’ future.”
Two companies, Tree Shepherd and GL Hearn, have been appointed by the council to speak to businesses in the area, but local business owners say it is impossible to escape the uncertainty.
Businesses say they either can’t finance loans to invest in their stores because of the impending developments, or that they can’t muster the strength to put money into a shop they know will eventually be demolished.
One shopkeeper, Ghuldim Mustafa, could only afford to revamp one half of his shop’s floor and, like other traders, said he as no idea what the future holds.
‘It’s playing with people’s health’
Barareh Berenji works at Woolwich Dental Practice with her parents. Sitting in the waiting room of the practice, she said all they can do is literally sit and wait.
“I am so fed up. I look at this waiting room and want to decorate and change and modernise. How can I modernise something like this when we don’t know if we are going to move?
“It’s playing with people’s health. This is a health risk – if you are telling us we are going to move, that will take at least a year to move.
“We have 20,000 active patients – what happens to them if we are moving? We must keep this going and find a new place? This is 21 years of pressure, love and care for the businesses, that should not collapse because a big developer wants to move in.”
A petition was delivered to Greenwich Council a fortnight ago by lobby group Speak Out Woolwich, backed by more than 300 people.
The group has called for the plans to be rejected and rethought because of a lack of social housing and the impact on the 150 small businesses – many of which are black and ethnic minority.
An equalities impact assessment submitted as part of the plans confirms expectations that 173 jobs would be permanently lost as a result of the development.
Council considering relocation options
Sizwe James, Greenwich’s cabinet member for growth and strategic development, said the council was committed to protecting the heritage of Woolwich town centre.
“We are currently consulting on a public realm strategy for Woolwich and recently collected residents’ views for a conservation area in the town centre,” James said.
“We are aware of the make-up of the local businesses within the area and have undertaken an equalities impact assessment which will be updated if we are asked to make a compulsory purchase order.
“We are continually liaising with those affected to discuss relocation requirements and options. Various relocation options will continue to be considered and will be progressed if a planning application is approved.”
A spokesperson for Spray Street Quarter LLP, the developers’ joint venture company, said: “Throughout the planning process, we have worked with local residents and businesses to discuss the regeneration of Spray Street Quarter and understand their views.
“As part of this, we are supporting the council’s work with GL Hearn and Tree Shepherd to build an in-depth understanding of existing occupiers’ needs and to develop options for how their businesses could be relocated locally.
“We were disappointed by the decision to list the former covered market, which forms part of the site. However, we are now working closely with the council to consider options for the future of the area that can deliver much-needed new homes, including affordable housing and jobs in Woolwich.
“Clarifying the options for the future of the site will help us to further engage with those affected by and interested in the plans.”
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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