Neighbours angry after mystery explosions rock doomed Morris Walk Estate

Morris Walk Estate
The Morris Walk Estate was fenced off last autumn

Residents were left furious after emergency services carried out exercises in the boarded-up Morris Walk Estate on Tuesday evening – but both Greenwich Council and the developer who will rebuild the estate have denied responsibility for the incident.

People who live close to the estate, on the Charlton/Woolwich border, were disturbed by two loud explosions and other noise during the afternoon and evening, with one blast happening at 10.50pm.

Some reported seeing the army on the estate, which is to be knocked down as part of a £269m deal with the developer Lovell, which is also rebuilding the Connaught Estate in Woolwich. The estate was emptied last year and hoardings have been erected ahead of demolition.

Both the council and Lovell have insisted they were not responsible for allowing the exercise to take place on the estate. Neither party can even agree on which emergency services were on the estate, with Lovell insisting the army were not involved but the police and fire brigade were.

The incident came three days after an attack in Reading in which three people died, after which a man was arrested under the Terrorism Act.

Woodland Terrace/ Prospect Vale
Residents in Woodland Terrace, Charlton, back onto the doomed estate

Helen Jakeways, who lives next to the estate, told this website: “The disturbances started yesterday mid-afternoon with a huge bang that sounded like a bomb going off which shook the walls of my house. This was followed by a series of smaller bangs and what sounded like an intermittent stream of fireworks or firecrackers. It took me over an hour to stop my terrified dogs from shaking.

“I was then woken up at 10.50pm to the sound of another huge explosion which shook the house again and resulted in yet more terrified and shaking dogs.

“On all fronts this exercise was absolutely unforgivable, especially given the anxiety and stress many people are experiencing right now. My inboxes have been full of comments from really concerned neighbours today – this shook everyone up round here, especially those who are feeling vulnerable at the moment, and I’m not surprised.”

Another resident, Ed Simmons, said on Twitter: “So the MoD are blowing stuff up on the estate behind our house whilst engaging in urban combat training at 11pm in a derelict estate, 100 metres from my open window. The house shook, the machine gun isn’t so bad in comparison!”

Fenced off Morris Walk
Some work is already taking place behind the hoardings

Greenwich Council said it had not been informed of the exercises on the estate. A spokesperson said: “The council understands that was some activity by the MoD and police which caused some disruption and concern to local residents. The council was unaware this was taking place and had not been notified by Lovell, the council’s developer partner for the redevelopment of this estate.

“The council has made clear to all parties this is unacceptable and is sorry that this has happened causing concern for local residents. The council will carefully review any further requests and in the event permission is given that there is clear communication with residents in advance of any activity being undertaken.”

However, a spokesperson for Lovell said that the police and fire brigade were on site, and it had not allowed the exercises on site either.

A spokesperson for Lovell said: “Following the activities reported on the evening of Tuesday 23 June on the Morris South Estate, Lovell can confirm that no such similar activity will take place after the company takes ownership and control of the land from Monday 29 June.

“Going forward, if Lovell has to conduct any activity which may cause a disturbance outside the agreed construction hours, the company will consult first with local residents to make sure local residents are fully aware.”


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Morris Walk developer Lovell ‘let down’ Greenwich Council, housing chief says

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

Greenwich Council has been “badly let down” by the developer in charge of rebuilding the crumbling Morris Walk Estate, its senior councillor in charge of housing said last night as it approved plans to knock down the 1960s estate.

The council entered into a 12-year deal with Lovell in 2012 to redevelop the Connaught Estate in Woolwich town centre and the Morris Walk and Maryon Road estates, on the Woolwich/Charlton border.

While Lovell has pressed ahead with turning the Connaught – close to the under-construction Crossrail station – into the Trinity Walk development, where 445 of the 689 homes are for private sale, work has not started on Morris Walk or Maryon Road. This is despite the council having spent years moving tenants and leaseholders out.

Now frustrated councillors have agreed to tell Lovell to knock Morris Walk down anyway, to stop the largely deserted estate from being a haven for crime and anti-social behaviour. Demolition had been due to begin in autumn 2018.

‘Build date could not be met’

Chris Kirby, the cabinet member for housing, told the cabinet – the council’s main decision-making body – that the council has been asked for “vacant possession” of the blocks. “When that process had begun, we were informed that the build date could not be met,” he said.

“To say I am disappointed doesn’t cover my feelings towards that. I feel badly let down by Lovell and I have told them in no uncertain terms.”

The agreement was signed off by former leader Chris Roberts and his cabinet, which included current Woolwich Riverside councillors John Fahy and Jackie Smith, whose ward covers the estate.

“If we were writing it now we would design it in a different way, but I’m not here to unpick old agreements,” Kirby said.

“Where we are in is a really difficult negotiation about bringing the build date forward. There’s a huge amount of concern and frustration about the start date – it’s difficult to give a running commentary on a negotiation, but as soon as we have concrete information for residents, we will do.

“We’re looking for that start date to be as soon as possible. We’re working with Lovell, with PA Housing [the housing association involved in the scheme], with police and with residents to mitigate the fallout from where we are.”

‘Not short of a bob or two’

Addressing the cabinet, John Fahy spoke of how Lovell’s parent company, Morgan Sindall, presented to councillors at the Local Government Association conference in Bournemouth last week that it had “£2billion in 2012, and £2 billion in 2019”, “They’re not short of a bob or two,” he said.

Kirby responded: “I just agree with you. Developers are allowed to get away with this kind of activity all around the country and what we need is a radical government that’s going to stop landbanking and restore grants for the building of social homes.”

Council leader Danny Thorpe defended the original deal with Lovell, saying the estates were “exempted” from the Decent Homes Programme, a Blair-era programme to bring social housing up to scratch. “We can’t defend squalor, we want to see a decent standing of housing moving forward, and we will be holding PA Housing to account for their actions as well.”

Councillors also approved a decision to approve compulsory purchase orders on the estate on improved terms, following a government decision involving Southwark Council and the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth. “This is now seen as best practice, which is why it is back before us tonight,” Kirby said.

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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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