A new future for Royal Greenwich: town-centre revamp and 10,000 new riverside homes
With its post-Olympics glow and recently conferred Royal Borough status, the gracious old naval town of Greenwich is sailing forward at full speed. Already a Unesco World Heritage Site — thanks to Maritime Greenwich having “the finest and most dramatically sited architectural and landscape assembly in the British Isles” — the historic centre is in for a major upgrade, starting with the medieval market square in the heart of the town and the prized Georgian buildings both residential and retail.
“We are polishing the silver,”says Hugh Player, director of Greenwich Hospital, the ancient Crown charity established in 1694, that is spearheading the changes.
It is unusual for one organisation to have complete ownership of a town centre — an entire conservation quarter with numerous listed buildings — and the charity is wielding its power as freeholder to cherry-pick independent retailers and give them the much-loved “Marylebone High Street” look, turning floors above shops into homes.
“The Olympics opened people’s eyes to the splendours of Greenwich. There are more visitors and more people looking to live here than ever,” adds Player, recently of St Martin-in-the-Fields parish, where as chief executive he masterminded the renewal of the Trafalgar Square church.
Mayor Boris Johnson has designated Greenwich one of London’s main “opportunity areas” and is promoting mixed-use development either side of the town centre between Deptford and Greenwich Peninsula, site of the 02 venue, where up to 10,000 homes are earmarked. Planners have also given the green light to a cruise liner terminal and housing complex at Enderby’s Wharf.
Tycoons are also targeting Greenwich. Lady Rona Delves Broughton, 72, a colourful socialite and the first woman to become a Lloyd’s Name, has rescued a derelict art deco police section house, transformed it into a smart new Mercure hotel, and is embarking on residential projects.
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Greenwich town centre revamp
The town centre improvements focus on a large island site, the area’s main commercial hub, ringed by a one-way traffic system. An earlier proposal to completely redevelop the covered market square has been ditched. Instead, it is being upgraded with a new roof, portico entrance, lighting and cobblestones. Some of the 130 market traders are moving into newly designed shop premises. A Jamie’s Italian in Nelson Road is the first of the new-style restaurants.
For many years, a pedestrian tunnel was the only quick route between Greenwich and Isle of Dogs. Opened in 1902, the tunnel replaced an unreliable ferry service and allowed dockers living south of the river to reach the shipyards. Though a convenient enough stroll under the Thames, it was hardly a modern commuter link. Only when the DLR arrived in the Nineties, followed by the Jubilee line extension, did bankers land in the area, snapping up elegant Georgian houses bordering the park or settling in nearby Regency Blackheath.
It is a fine place to live, cheaper than equivalent inner suburbs such as Highgate in the north or Richmond in the west (east London has no direct comparison). Other buyers are now discovering an area that offers homes of all shapes and sizes, ages and prices — from swish riverside apartments to cobbled mews cottages, from Victorian terraces to contemporary-design townhouses.
A shiny new district: Greenwich Peninsula
For those who want to be part of a showpiece new neighbourhood, there is 190-acre Greenwich Peninsula, the size of Mayfair and Belgravia combined, being transformed into a shiny new district — up to 10,000 new homes, 3.5 million square feet of business and retail space, 50 acres of parkland and nature reserves and 1.6 miles of riverfront — all 20 minutes by Tube from the West End.
Quintain, the landowner, has unveiled the first two schemes — 1,604-home Peninsula Quays and 1,266-home Peninsula Riverside. Visit greenwichpeninsula.co.uk. These homes are likely to command up to £1,000 a square foot, a new price record for Greenwich.
Apartments are for sale at a development alongside Greenwich Yacht Club. Designed by leading architect Jestico and Whiles, the flats have full-height glazing and are grouped around landscaped courtyards. Priced from £250,000 to £750,000, completion is due in spring 2014. Call 020 8305 2712 or visit gmv.gb.com.
When approached by road, the Peninsula looks uninviting and isolated because of the still-visible industrial legacy and the busy Blackwall Tunnel approach road. Eyesores will take some years to be eliminated, but Trafalgar Road, the main vehicle route out of Greenwich, is smartening up. Galleries, gastropubs and delis are opening, while former Greenwich District Hospital is being redeveloped by Hadley Mace into Greenwich Square — an eco-friendly scheme of 645 homes.
For many years, much of the so-called Thames Path east of the town centre has been inaccessible because of depots and disused wharves. However, a 12-acre waterfront scheme which stalled during the banking crisis is back on track. Called Lovell’s Wharf, the development sits on a prominent bend of the river, and has the bright green laser marking the Meridian Line from the Royal Observatory cutting through the site. Call Jones Lang LaSalle on 020 8090 0276.
A new waterside village beside the Cutty Sark
New Capital Quay is a “waterside village” being built in a former dock basin moments from Cutty Sark. When complete next year, the development will have 636 homes across 11 blocks, including a landmark tower, plus townhouses. Prices from £295,000. Call Galliard Homes on 020 7620 1500.
A development corridor has opened up to the west along Greenwich High Road. This patch is worth exploring. Coming soon is The Movement, a funky mixed scheme of 181 apartments, student accommodation, crèche, boutique hotel and workspaces for start-up businesses. Visit cathedralgroup.com.
Mercure London Greenwich hotel
When her developer went bust five years ago, businesswoman Lady Rona Delves Broughton, 72, whose main interests are in insurance and finance, decided to take on her Greenwich project herself. “Either I lost my money or I took over. I was way out of my comfort zone ,” she says.
The widow of Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton — whose father Sir Jock was acquitted of murdering his wife’s lover, the Earl of Erroll, in Kenya’s notorious Happy Valley murder case in the Forties, on which the film White Mischief was based — she became an underwriter at Lloyd’s in 1976 after her husband took her to Ascot and she asked who owned the Rolls-Royces parked near the stands.
The Ashburnham conservation area is where handsome Victorian terrace houses cost from about £800,000 — and where Lady Rona wanted to build. The derelict art deco building she had bought was earmarked for conversion to a hotel.
“I knew nothing about hotels and had been to Greenwich only once before, and that was on a boat trip. Fortunately, planners welcomed the hotel proposal. And I have since discovered what an amazing place Greenwich is. We employed 160 people during construction and there are 50 permanent staff in the hotel now, so some good has come out of it.”
The four-star Mercure London Greenwich hotel in Catherine Grove has 145 rooms. Lady Rona Delves Broughton has now bought a terrace of derelict houses backing on to the hotel and secured permission for a new development of in-character townhouses, taking some of the land to increase the size of the hotel car park. “It has all been done on the most gigantic bank loan. The sad thing is that we couldn’t open in time for the Olympics.”