Review reveals uncomfortable truths about £6.5m ‘regeneration’ of Eltham High Street

By | December 30, 2018

When the Mayor of London agreed to provide millions of pounds for Greenwich Council to undertake a ‘major scheme’ to improve Eltham High Street in 2013 Boris Johnson probably thought that there would be clear agreement subsequently that this was money well spent and had drawn more people to the High Street.  Unfortunately the review of the High Street project undertaken last summer and published this December suggests local residents don’t appreciate the work which has been completed and in fact may visit the High Street less as a result of the Council’s project.

While the report published by the Council suggests that “the scheme has delivered on many of the stated objectives” as is reflected by many of the positive outcomes and “approval ratings” explained in the report” the truth is quite different.  There were 1,214 responses to the Council’s Project Evaluation Survey (PES) which Greenwich were forced to conduct by Transport for London (TfL) as a condition of the funding and they contained the following key messages:-

  • 38% of people disagreed with the statement that they were more likely to visit the High Street following the regeneration scheme compared to 21% who agreed (with 41% neutral). This means that the net effect of the Regeneration scheme could well have been to discourage people from visiting Eltham High Street.  More confusingly this is claimed as a success in the Council report (section 5.8 in the report) with a suggestion that those who disagreed with this statement were really neutral.
  • One possible reason for this increasing reluctance might be the perception that the traffic in Eltham seems to have got worse, which is reflected in the 54% of people who disagreed with the statement that traffic conditions had generally improved – only 22.5% agreed with this suggestion. Given a majority of residents agree that the traffic is worse or no better, the Council simply have to respond to this.
  • Worryingly more people disagreed than agreed with the suggestion that they were more likely to walk (389 to 302) or cycle (590 to 93) as a result of the regeneration scheme.
  • If you want to catch a bus to Eltham High Street, you might appreciate the movement of the bus stops, but in fact more people disagreed (444) than agreed (291) with the statement that the bus stops work better than before.
Graph suggesting residents are unlikely to visit the High Street more often after the works.

So the net effect of the Council’s work appears to have been to discourage car drivers from coming to the High Street while at the same time failing to attract those who are likely to use other modes to transport.  Of course Greenwich Council’s anti-car stance plays a huge part in this outcome, with the latest Draft Local Improvement Plan (LiP) aiming to encourage “car-free lifestyles” and implementing measures “which have proven effective in reducing car ownership.”  So while Conservative Councillors have regularly pointed out that reducing parking in Passey Place or on the High Street and raising parking charges in Sainsburys will have an impact we now have many residents repeating these points in response to this survey – I wonder if the Council will listen now?

Graph reflecting residents view that traffic conditions have not improved as a result of the works

Given that two of the most important stated objectives were to Improve access to shops and services’ & ‘Support the local economy and make Eltham a destination of choice’ these outcomes are clearly serious negatives in reaching a conclusion about whether the regeneration has supported the High Street.

Of course, it is not all bad, with suggestions that the trees and street gardens helped make Eltham High Street a more pleasant environment were widely agreed.  In addition, people agreed that a wider pavement was better for pedestrians (although the presence of poorly parked cars in those areas was a problem).  Similarly, as the report notes, we don’t know what impact the opening of the cinema will have on Eltham’s High Street, but this project was outside the remit of the TfL regeneration scheme.

Unfortunately, it seems people don’t think that struggling to park or get off a bus are worth the effort to see the trees so this review is a really worrying statement about the Council’s lack of vision for Eltham High Street and the negative impact its regeneration scheme has had on visitor numbers.

Some other random thoughts

If the comments above reflect an overview of the Council’s failings on this project, there are some specific comments which I hope the Council will respond to as a result of this review.  The ones which stood out to me came from the general comments – things which people wrote which they were not specifically asked about. These general comments are harder to get agreement on as there is no prompt to encourage residents to mention a specific problem, but there seemed to be agreement on the following issues:-

  • The pavement is too light and stains as a result (10% of responses) – this reflects the need for the street cleaner purchased using the project’s funds to be used specifically in Eltham and not shipped round the Borough as was happening in 2018.
  • Problems with parking being poorly defined or illegal parking (around 13% of people mentioned this).
  • Less free parking (9% of responses).
Eltham North Conservative Councillors Charlie Davis and Spencer Drury beside the Eltham sign.

I feel confident that local Conservative Councillors have raised all of these things, but clearly we need to keep the pressure up to make sure that the Council responds to residents comments and helps address the very clear points that have been made about the impact of the regeneration on Eltham’s High Street.

With all High Street’s struggling, Greenwich Council’s peverse anti-car agenda is simply not helpful in Eltham and they need to switch tack to make sure the positive investment in a new cinema helps change the direction of travel which they have contributed to through the botched regeneration of our High Street.

You can read the full report here:

Eltham High Street Evaluation Survey Outcome Report 2018

Blog initially published on Spencer Drury’s Your Councillor website on 30th December 2018

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About Spencer Drury

Spencer was one of the three Councillors for Eltham North Ward between 2002 and 2022. He lost his Council seat in the May 2022 elections and now occasionally contributes to debates on local issues.

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