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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Morris Walk Estate: ‘Misleading rumours’ criticised as estate redevelopment delayed

Morris Walk Estate
Much of the Morris Walk Estate is now in a poor condition

Greenwich Council has hit out at “misleading rumours” that a major scheme to redevelop Morris Walk Estate has been delayed for nine years.

The programme, which will see the estate on the border of Woolwich and Charlton knocked down and replaced with new housing, was due to begin this year. Demolition was due to start this autumn. But little has happened so far, and the council and developer Lovell are currently discussing timescales for the scheme, which was first announced five years ago.

Tenants and leaseholders in both the Morris Walk and the adjacent Maryon Road estate have already moved out, and people on the council’s homeless list have moved in on a short-term basis. But many have spent all year waiting for the council to finally move them out so developer Lovell can begin work.

They were due to be moved out by late summer, but have been left in limbo by the unexplained delay to the scheme.

Chris Kirby, the council’s cabinet member for housing, spoke out after it emerged a residents’ group had been told the scheme had been delayed until 2027.

Morris Walk Estate
Morris Walk Estate was built in the mid-1960s in a similar fashion to the ill-fated Ronan Point block in Canning Town

“I am saddened and disappointed that misleading information appears to have been given to local residents,” Cllr Kirby told The Charlton Champion.

“On behalf of the council I would like to apologise to residents who deserve better than to be subjected to gossip and rumour about what is going to happen to their home and their community.

“I also want to reassure residents that the council are in active discussions aimed at ensuring this project remains on course and delivers the homes that local people need.

“As soon as the new timescales for the project are finalised we will be contacting our residents to update them fully.”

Morris Walk, along with neighbouring Maryon Road estate and Woolwich’s Connaught Estate, are being redeveloped by developer Lovell as part of the £269 million Greenwich 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.

Built for the London County Council by Taylor Woodrow Anglian from prefabricated parts in the mid-1960s, the 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. 50 years on, many of the buildings are now in a poor state of repair as they await demolition.

Across the three 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, and that the scheme is at no cost to taxpayers.

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.

Maryon Park friends group minutes
Members of the Maryon Park friends’ group heard about the delay last month

Neighbours of the estates have been hoping to secure improvements to the area as part of the development. While the missed timetable has made it clear to all that there is a delay, the 2027 date emerged in, of all places, the publicly-available minutes of the Friends of Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks’ AGM last month. Maryon Park is adjacent to the Morris Walk Estate.

The minutes note that residents were “shocked to be told by councillors that work on the Morris Walk estate will not now go ahead until 2027. This will presumably have an effect on any plans for the Maryon Park playground, where we will continue to press for improvements and updating”.

Morris Walk Estate
Homeless families are living temporarily on the estate

Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy, whose ward covers the two estates, called upon Lovell to give the land up.

He said: “It is a matter of regret that Lovell seem to have taken a decision not to develop the estates until 2027. Officers continue to engage with them to clarify their intentions.

“300 residents are living in the most appalling conditions and remain an urgent priority. Clearly Lovell have failed to honour their commitment and should relinquish any rights they have in respect of the land in question.

“The council should urgently consider developing the site as part of its commitment to maximise council housing in the borough. Housing demand is a priority and any land available must be used now rather than allowing a developer to land bank for commercial gain.”


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