The riverfront at Woolwich could become an arts and media hub to rival the Southbank Centre if plans unveiled this week are approved.
The proposals include creating a major new music venue in a former munitions factory, two theatres, rehearsal and studio space, plus new restaurants, shops and offices at the Royal Arsenal.
Greenwich council has pledged to invest more than £40 million to take over a string of historic buildings, including the Royal Military Academy, which opened at the arsenal in 1741 as a training school for young Army officers and was a forerunner of Sandhurst.
The former munitions factory will become a performance venue with seating for more than 4,000 people. A new indoor theatre will seat 450 and there will also be an open-air courtyard theatre. Space will be provided for individual artists to work, and for theatre companies.
The new facilities will measure almost 160,000sq ft in total. “The total useable space is comparable, if not larger, than the creative space provided in the Southbank Centre,” points out Fiona Stones, the council’s assistant director of culture, in a report on the project. Arts Council England is backing the plans, which Joyce Wilson, London area director, describes as “tremendously exciting”.
Once the buildings are renovated, Greenwich intends to set up a trust to run the venues and says it is already negotiating with theatre, dance, music and performance companies keen to be involved, including “a major international immersive theatre company”, the aerial theatre company Tangled Feet, and Protein Dance.
It is hoped that the first theatre productions will begin at Woolwich at the end of next year. “The venues could be operational seven days a week with shows, workshops, classes and leisure activities throughout the day and into the evening,” adds Ms Stones. From next year, travel to and from Woolwich will become easier with the Crossrail station launch.
The council believes the plan will enhance the area and bring hundreds of creative jobs. “For almost 300 years, the Royal Arsenal was a major employer and the backbone of the local economy,” says council leader Denise Hyland. “These exciting plans place the site at the forefront of providing local jobs once more.”
Arts-based regeneration has a proven track record of transforming local property values – as the transformation of Shoreditch and Hoxton proves.
Woolwich is currently one of London’s more affordable neighbourhoods. The average price of homes in the SE18 postcode stands at just under £350,000, according to Rightmove. Penthouses at Royal Arsenal Riverside, the Berkeley Homes development, cost almost £1.7 million, but a budget of £500,000 would buy a three or four-bedroom period house. Expect to pay about £250,000 for a one-bedroom flat.