Charlton Sainsbury’s development – did the community get a raw deal from £1.5m planning cash?

The new superstore store complex looms over housing on Woolwich Road

The new superstore store complex looms over housing on Woolwich Road

The developer behind Sainsbury’s and M&S paid Greenwich Council nearly £1.5 million to help secure planning permission, the Charlton Champion can reveal. But none of this money has been spent in the Charlton area – and promised facilities at the development haven’t materialised.

The firm behind the Charlton Riverside Retail Park, LXP RP (Greenwich 3) Ltd, agreed to pay £1,484,927 to Greenwich Council in Section 106 payments. These are aimed at easing the impact of large construction projects on local communities.

But none of the money has been spent in Charlton – with a chunk of the money going to projects in Woolwich instead.

The Charlton Champion used the Freedom of Information Act to find out what LXB paid Greenwich Council – and how it is being spent.

Making a difference in [insert store name here]

Making a difference in [insert store name here]

So far, £170,685 has been spent. The first £150,000 has gone to “employment and training” – believed to be Greenwich Local Labour and Business, the council’s employment agency, which is largely funded by these payments. GLLaB is due to receive a further £284,613 from this project.

The remaining £20,685 has been spent on a “public safety” contribution – the council’s CCTV control room in Woolwich.

The other sums have been allocated, but not spent. Asked where they would be spent, the council merely said on “schemes within the Royal Borough of Greenwich”.

£303,120 has been earmarked for “town centre management”. This sum won’t be spent in Charlton – instead, it is likely to go to Woolwich, Eltham and/or Greenwich.

A huge motorway-size sign adds to street clutter at Charlton Church Lane

A huge motorway-size sign adds to street clutter at Charlton Church Lane

£209,202 has gone to “public realm” – effectively, making streets look nicer. Again, there’s no pledge to spend this money locally – despite the poor state of the area’s streets (worsened by the huge SUPERSTORE signs that have appeared in recent weeks). A further £217,307 has gone to “environmental health”.

Finally, £300,000 has gone to “bus service enhancements”. Again, it’s not clear quite where this money will be spent. There are currently no plans to enhance bus services in the Charlton area, while Transport for London rejected proposals to extend bus route 202 from Blackheath Standard to serve the new store.

There’s an additional £449,715 too – this is a community infrastructure levy, collected by boroughs on behalf of City Hall to help pay for Crossrail.

So far, so disappointing. But if local groups want to start lobbying for improvements to the area, there’s where the cash is.

It helps to get the small things right...

It helps to get the small things right…

Should residents have expected anything different?

Well, when the plan was first announced, developer LXB held several meetings with local people, who formed the Charlton Riverside Action Group.

Both CRAG’s prime movers have now moved out of the area, but other groups such as the Charlton Society and Charlton Central Residents’ Association also had a hand in these talks – designed to address fears that the complex would add to already-bad traffic congestion in the area..

It appears, though, that these talks they were largely for nothing. Those who took part in the talks believed they were getting…

The proposed exit would have been on long-disused railway land

The proposed exit would have been on long-disused railway land to the left of this photo

A new entrance to Charlton station: One of the proposals to encourage people to travel to the new complex by public transport included opening a new entrance to Charlton station at Troughton Road, nearer the western end of the Kent-bound platform. This plan, however, appears to have stalled.

Bus arrivals information in the store: Residents were told the store would feature boards showing bus times (you’ll see these in North Greenwich bus station and the new Greenwich University building in Stockwell Street). They never materialised. Meanwhile, a new bus stop on Bugsbys Way doesn’t even have a shelter.

Legible London signs installed by Lewisham Council on Blackheath

Legible London signs installed by Lewisham Council on Blackheath

Local signposts: Another plan was to make it easier to walk to the store by installing Legible London signposts in the local area – the black and yellow signs used in Blackheath Village and Woolwich Town Centre. This scheme could have been rolled out to make it easier for visitors to find Charlton House, Charlton Lido, Charlton Athletic and other attractions. Nothing has appeared.

Why does this matter? Well, Charlton’s riverside will soon undergo huge redevelopment – community groups are waiting for a new masterplan to be announced. If local people aren’t getting anything from current developments, what hope is there when the diggers start going in by the river?

It also matters because community groups believed they had a scheme that could have delivered tangible benefits for residents. Instead, those locals haven’t seen any of those benefits – and are suffering from rat-running as cars head down side roads to the new supermarket.

A few weeks ago, this website asked if Charlton needed a regeneration plan. We now that thanks to this development – and others – there is money available, even if only to tidy up the public realm and put some signs up to direct people around. If community groups want to take this seriously, then they should be watching where the cash from these developments go – and making sure SE7 gets more than scraps.

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It’s happening: Charlton’s White Swan all set to sail again…

The White Swan, 15 February 2014

At last, good news for SE7 drinkers…

If the new people in charge are who we think they are, we’re looking forward to the launch night.

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Does Charlton need a regeneration plan?

Charlton Village: Could it be so much more than it currently is?

Charlton Village: Could it be so much more than it currently is?

Charlton resident Chris Seaden – who is part of the Charlton Parkside Community Hub – has emailed one of Greenwich Council’s cabinet members about the future of the area, and shared it on social media for everyone to see.

I thought I’d reproduce some of his email here to see what you think of what he had to say in his correspondence with culture cabinet member (and Charlton ward councillor) Miranda Williams.

I help run www.cpchub.org . There’s a lot of non-political grass roots community activity going on in SE7 nowadays.

We spoke on Twitter ( I am @mr_chas ). You expressed a desire to hear more of what I had to say.

Charlton retail / leisure / services (and by that I mean the Y shape that is up Charlton Church Lane from the station left into the village, right to Cherry Orchard) needs a proper co-ordinated REGENERATION PLAN.

It has so much potential, but without a defined strategy it isn’t going to happen. Empty shops, dying pubs, Floyd road is not pleasant after dark, I could go on.

If you look at what has happened in Brockley, Honor Oak, Nunhead, Forest Hill and places like that it’s just not happening in Charlton.

I have a degree in urban geography so I am particularly interested in zone 3 regeneration and stuff like that.

Charlton’s big problem is that the station and the village are not in the same place. Were that so it would be a mini Blackheath. An RBG strategy might help bridge the gap. An overarching plan is needed.

Would you like to discuss this?

The council needs to take action before we lose out even more to other local retail/leisure/service nodes and the village dies.

Well, it needed to be said. The curious stagnation of Charlton comes up again and again, but few actually stick their head above the parapet and say something, and even fewer come up with ways to do something about it.

So why is Charlton floundering when other areas are thriving? Slightly trickier transport links are a factor, certainly; council disinterest and grotty public realm in areas outside the Village also contribute, but certainly aren’t the full story. The last thing Charlton needs is to be another Blackheath, and it’s unfair to dump everything at the council’s door.

But let’s stick with this for a minute.

My own thought is that the area’s just waiting for a spark – a destination pub, or a new shop that takes off like a rocket, and then the rest will start to follow. The Bugle/Swan shenanigans of the past week don’t offer much hope at the moment – but things can change quickly, as we have found.

There’s certainly a role for the council in making the area more attractive – not just the conservation area around The Village, but thinking more broadly as Chris says, down to the station and along past Charlton House to Cherry Orchard Estate. But what would that entail? How to convince councillors that this would create jobs rather than increase a few people’s house prices?

Personally speaking, my own priority would be to try to sort out traffic – eliminating backstreet rat-running in residential roads (do we include Charlton Church Lane in this?) and slowing vehicles passing along Charlton Road and The Village, perhaps banning HGVs from the whole B210. Just making the area more liveable should provide a decent nudge, and wouldn’t cost a fortune.

But others have a role to play here, such as the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, which now owns Charlton House and the old summerhouse/ public toilets next door.

And if you live here, you have a role to play too, by making your voice heard. So does Charlton need a boost – and if you think it does, how would you do it?

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Charlton pubwatch: White Swan closes and staff move to the Bugle Horn

The White Swan on Thursday afternoon
The tale of Charlton village’s two pubs has taken another twist, as the staff running the White Swan appear to have decamped to the Bugle Horn, which lost its new management this week after their own bosses declined to pay £30,000 for new cellar equipment.

Concrete barriers appeared outside the Swan this morning and this afternoon a team were moving beer barrels down the Village to the Bugle.

A manager on the scene denied rumours that the Swan was being squatted.

The Swan was recently bought by property firm Mendoza, which specialises in developing flats above pubs. It is currently on the market for £35,000 a year.

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Charlton’s Bugle Horn pub revamp ends after £30,000 cellar bill

Bugle Horn

Plans to revive Charlton Village’s Bugle Horn pub have ground to a halt after the leaseholders declined to pay a £30,000 to repair vital equipment in its cellar.

The pub, which has been put up for sale by Punch Taverns, has been run on a short-term lease for the past six weeks after the departure of its long-serving past management.

New manager Stephen Ruffle had been redecorating the pub’s interior and had embarked on a plan to broaden the old boozer’s appeal.

But the firm that’s leasing the pub has baulked at paying £30,000 to repair ale coolers in the cellar, fearing the the cost would not be recouped over the current lease’s short term.

Today (Tuesday) was due to be the last day under Stephen’s management – plunging the pub’s future back into uncertainty. However, the pub was locked and closed this afternoon, with a cleaner at work inside.

Punch is hoping to sell the pub, a Grade II listed building, for £1.5 million – a hefty price tag for a building that’s going to need substantial work to make it fit for the future.

Like its neighbour the White Swan, the pub was last month declared an Asset of Community Value, meaning any sale would have to be paused for six months to allow community groups time to bid. However, it would take a phenomenal effort for such a bid to raise that sum of money.

White Swan

Despite the Swan’s designation as an ACV, that pub is also in troubled times, after it was sold to developer Mendoza Ltd by Punch Taverns.

Rents have been increased and that pub is also on the market – minus the rooms upstairs – for £35,000 per year.

One thing that could boost the fortunes of both pubs would be for Greenwich Council to place an Article 4 direction on them, preventing any change of use. But despite this being raised repeatedly, this hasn’t been forthcoming.

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Fix the 53: Greenwich councillors turn bus motion into political squabble

A 53 to Lambeth North

Greenwich councillors passed a motion last night calling on Transport for London to restore the 53 bus service to Whitehall – but added digs at Tory mayor Boris Johnson at the same time.

The bus has been running short from Plumstead to Lambeth North since a short-notice “temporary” closure in January to allow for roadworks at Westminster Bridge.

Even though the Westminster works have long been completed, TfL is continuing to curtail services at Lambeth North, insisting the cut is needed because of roadworks at Elephant & Castle and Lewisham.

Following a petition from the Charlton Society, which you can still sign, Conservative leader Matt Hartley proposed a motion calling on the council to demand the route is fully reinstated.

He noted efforts from both parties on the council, plus the Liberal Democrats at City Hall, to get the service restored. “It’s clear to me that Transport for London has got this operational decision wrong,” he said.

But Greenwich’s regeneration and transport cabinet member Danny Thorpe proposed a rival motion, stripping out the credit to the Charlton Society and inserting a dig at the rise in bus fares since Johnson became mayor in 2008.

“A single trip on that bus costs 67 percent more than it did when the mayor of London took office, and now passengers are suffering delays, diversions and curtailments,” he said.

“Residents deserve a mayor who will spend less time insulting black cab drivers and more time delivering benefits for Londoners,” he added, before criticising the Conservatives for reawarding the local rail franchise to Southeastern last year (worth nothing here that Labour awarded Southeastern its first franchise when it was reprivatised in 2006).

Then Plumstead councillor Matt Morrow criticised the Conservatives for bringing the motion, asking why they couldn’t deal with a Tory mayor. “I ask members to have some sympathy for the Conservatives, who find themselves impotent on this issue,” he said.

Woolwich Common councillor David Gardner and Charlton representative Allan MacCarthy stuck to the issue. “This is nothing more than an attack on the working poor who depend on this bus, and on south-east London,” Gardner said, branding the cut “a cheap cost-cutting measure” by TfL.

Responding for the Tories, Eltham South councillor Matt Clare said to laughter, “I can assure Cllr Morrow that we’re not impotent over here”, before criticising the Labour amendment, adding: “This is about getting the bus back to Whitehall. Not about whether you like the current mayor.”

Wrapping up for Labour, Danny Thorpe said there was “no point getting angry about partisan politics”, adding that Hartley could have approached Labour privately to propose a joint motion.

In the end, the Labour motion was passed, calling on TfL to restore the route to Whitehall, but adding: “A single trip on the 53 bus will now cost £1.50, a 67 percent increase than when the Mayor took office in 2008. The curtailment of this route does not represent a fair deal for residents of Greenwich.”

The Charlton Society’s petition can still be signed at Change.org.

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Charlton Sainsbury’s: First look inside the brand new store

Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

Some local blogs do the opening of new pop-up boutique vintage street food cat cafes. In Charlton, we get to do whacking great supermarkets.

Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

16 years ago, Jamie Oliver opened the “eco” Sainsbury’s at east Greenwich. That store closed without ceremony last night, and the supermarket giant has reopened a mile down the road, in a less impressive building.

Today’s opening didn’t have anyone off the telly there, but it did have new local MP Matt Pennycook and Greenwich Council’s regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe on hand for the inevitable photocall for weekly council rag Greenwich Time.

Maybe Danny Thorpe brought up the matter of the store flouting planning rules over its giant signs? Who knows. Doubt you’ll read any of that in Greenwich Time.

Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

With a brief apology for keeping us all waiting, the store opened to the public at the stroke of nine o’clock.

So what’s it like inside? Well, there’s a greater emphasis on homeware, electricals and clothing. And it’s a bit weird walking through a perfectly-stocked supermarket where nobody’s bought anything yet.

Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2014
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

In short, it looks like any other supermarket. What did you expect?

But it’ll be a rude shock for those used to the curved lines and natural daylight of the Greenwich store – likely to be flattened and replaced with an Ikea, although the Swedish furniture giant doesn’t have detailed planning permission yet.

Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

So, how will the new store do? It’ll certainly lose some custom in the short term – Transport for London has refused developer funds to help extend bus route 202 from Blackheath to the new store, and many Greenwich Millennium Village residents may decide it’s a schlep too far.

With the trends towards home delivery and smaller stores, it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out. A wider range of goods may encourage customers to stay longer. It’s worth noting this new store is not a 24-hour branch. And with the newish Sainsbury’s Local on Charlton Church Lane thriving, the chain is clearly hedging its bets.

How the new store fits in with its surroundings is an issue. I’m not sure it stands up to past promises made to local groups. Rat-running and traffic is likely to be a problem. Access isn’t particularly cycle-friendly. And the new pedestrian crossing – which appears to be in the wrong place – has been already been hit by a driver.

Charlton M&S, 24 June 2015

But the next part of the story comes in a couple of weeks – for M&S is opening on 9 July. It’s likely this retail complex will be both a benefit and a burden – just how much of each, we’ll see in the weeks and months to come.

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