Greenwich Council set to finally approve Morris Walk Estate demolition

Morris Walk Estate
Morris Walk Estate was constructed in the late 1960s

Greenwich Council’s cabinet is poised to approve the demolition of Morris Walk Estate next week – a year after the next stage of the redevelopment of three estates in Woolwich was due to begin.

Morris Walk, on the Woolwich/Charlton border, along with neighbouring Maryon Road estate and Woolwich’s Connaught Estate, are being redeveloped by developer Lovell as part of the £269 million council-backed One Woolwich scheme, agreed under former leader Chris Roberts. The Connaught has already been demolished and the Trinity Walk development has risen in its place.

Remaining tenants and leaseholders have been left in limbo by delays to the scheme, with Greenwich Council denying last year that the project had been delayed until 2027. Demolition had been due to start in autumn 2018.

Papers to go before the cabinet next Wednesday recommend approving the demolition of the estate. However, there is still no date set for new buildings to be erected on the site, with the cabinet report stating “without this instruction, the site would remain derelict and subject to flytipping and antisocial behaviour activities with concerns of security and health and safety”. The cabinet is the council’s main decision-making body, made up of councillors picked by its leader Danny Thorpe.

The redevelopment of the estates had originally been billed as being at no cost to taxpayers. But there has been frustration within the council at the slow pace of the project. Greenwich is exercising an option to underwrite Lovell’s costs of £14.3 million to knock the estate down.

Legal advice states that there is only a “remote risk” of Lovell’s development not going ahead, noting that if Lovell did walk away, the council could develop housing on the site itself or sell the land for profit. “The risk is that the demolition takes place and the developer walks away,” a note states. “[Greenwich is] required to pay the costs of the demolition. However, if the site is clear [the council has] a saleable asset in terms of a fully demolished site, along with outline planning.”

Morris Walk Estate
Many of the Morris Walk buildings are now in a poor state of repair

There is also a second set of papers reconfirming a compulsory purchase order on the estate, with improved terms for leaseholders who are being bought out, who will now be given help to buy a home worth up to £550,000 within the borough of Greenwich.

This follows a ruling against Southwark Council in 2016 when the Westminster government refused to sign off the compulsory purchase of homes on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, where it was judged that Southwark had not offered enough money for leaseholders to buy a new home in the area. There are 24 leaseholders left on Morris Walk and Maryon Grove, with 91 council tenants.

Built for the London County Council by Taylor Woodrow Anglian from prefabricated parts in the mid-1960s, Morris Walk’s construction can be seen in some shots in the cult film Blow-Up, which featured scenes shot in and near Maryon Park. It was built in a similar fashion to the ill-fated Ronan Point tower across the Thames in Canning Town, which partially collapsed in 1968 after a gas explosion, killing four people. Morris Walk’s gas supply was removed soon after. Half a century on, many of the buildings are now in a poor state of repair as they await demolition.

Across the Connaught, Morris Walk and Maryon Road estates, 1,064 homes originally built for council rent will be replaced by 1,500 homes with 35% as “affordable”, a catch-all for a range of tenures from shared ownership, through proportions of market rent to social rent. Of the total number of homes, Greenwich Council says 25% will be for social rent. A topping-out ceremony took place at phase 3 of the Trinity Walk development on the Connaught site last week. Despite Greenwich Council’s press release boasting that 239 of the 684 homes – 35% – would be “affordable”, only 25% of the homes are for social rent, with a further 10% available through shared ownership schemes, according to papers filed in 2014.

The scheme follows the demolition of the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, which had 1,910 council homes when completed in 1972, and its replacement with Berkeley Homes’ Kidbrooke Village development, which will have 738 homes at social rents when finished, along with a further 787 “affordable” homes.

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