All change in Eltham Town Centre… But does Labour care?

By | April 3, 2024

Twice a week my morning routine involves dropping our daughter to nursery. We leave our home by Eltham Station and walk to the nursery on the other side of Eltham town centre via Orangery Lane and the High Street.

On my way home, I usually pop into one of Eltham’s many independent coffee shops and drop a coffee in to my mum who runs a charity shop on the High Street. So far nothing exciting, but as we walked up to the High Street this morning, I was struck by the fact the backdrop to our routine would be significantly altered in the coming months and years.

Last week, with little fanfare, two long-running sagas of planning applications were approved at Greenwich Planning Board. The first scheme is the much-needed redevelopment of the disused Stacks site on Messeter Place with approval given to a mixed-use development, where homes and commercial units are delivered on the same development, including 36-flats. This decision is very much welcome as it will bring a site blighted by anti-social behaviour back into use whilst providing much needed housing in the heart of Eltham.

The second was for a 35-bedroom hotel, flats and accompanying commercial unit on Orangery Lane. The first iteration of this scheme was brought forward shortly after my election as a local councillor in 2016. In the intervening eight years it has changed significantly and in every way, from design to density, for the better something I lobbied for throughout the planning process to try and ensure a scheme was brought forward that complimented the Orangery and the surrounding area.

During those eight years, there was a brief spell where the site was put up for sale as covid threw the future viability of a hotel into doubt. At the time, in my role as Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the Council, I encouraged Greenwich to purchase the site as it neighbours the Council’s own Greenwich Builds development where 40 homes are due to be delivered.

The Council, partly due to price and partly lack of ambition, decided not to proceed with the purchase and the opportunity to deliver a significant section of their masterplan for Eltham Town Centre in the form of Orangery Square was missed.

This lack of ambition is at the heart of the question mark hanging over the future of our town centre. The two schemes mentioned above are very much welcome, but have happened in the face of inaction and indifference towards Eltham from the ruling Labour Party. Just a stone’s throw away from Orangery Lane, sits the now vacant site where Eltham Police Station once stood. The Police Station is now a distant memory with the developer who owns the site looking for short-term rental opportunities.

Late last year, I wrote to the developer and it became clear that they had no plans to develop the site in the near future, instead speculating that the neighbouring BT site may become available in 15 years time. Rather than working with the developer to realise their vision of Eltham, our Labour-run Council has allowed the site to be land banked in the middle of a housing crisis. A site with enormous potential to enhance our town centre is now going to waste.

And if we look at the Eltham Town Centre Masterplan 12 years on and compare it to our town centre, beyond some initial progress made using funding from the former Conservative Mayor of London, there are many missed opportunities and a public realm that after some improvement has been left to decay. Reading the Masterplan back now, there is a strategic vision that, whilst you may not agree with all of it, is ambitious for the future of Eltham.

Unfortunately, successive Labour administrations have lacked that vision for our town centre, too focused on vanity projects such as Woolwich Works in the north of Greenwich borough. Over £45 million has been funnelled by the Council just into Woolwich Works, £25 million received from central Government through an application to the Future High Street Fund, and funding secured for a Woolwich town centre specific police team. In the same time, Eltham’s MP has failed to lead any effort for funding for our local area, and the little progress made on improving our public realm in previous years has been allowed to decline due to lack of maintenance, with broken benches and stained pavement commonplace along the High Street.

Labour’s lack of a sensible plan isn’t limited to the decaying public realm and failure to deliver their masterplan.Speak to businesses on the High Street and they won’t just cite the lack of a strategic vision for Eltham as a reason for reluctance to expand operations or take on new commercial premises. The Labour Party has also proactively taken decisions to hamper the future prosperity of Eltham. Last year, the Council introduced emission-based parking charges which mean visitors to the town centre will now be paying £2 an hour to park in the Orangery Lane car park. Since these changes were brought in, I am yet to see the car park full.

Or take the sorry state of the former tram sheds by McDonalds. In 2022, I asked the then Cabinet Member whether the Council had a plan for bringing the tram sheds back into use and was told that there would be news following an imminent review of the Council estate. Two years later and there is still no news as the tram sheds continue to fall further into disrepair.

And what has our Labour MP had to say about the state of our town centre? Has he held his Council colleagues to account and pushed for more investment as we’ve seen in Woolwich? Has he lobbied businesses to persuade them to come to Eltham and act as anchor tenants for our High Street? Has he fought the regressive policies brought in by Labour-run Greenwich Council? No, but he got some very professional publicity photos for Small Business Saturday shot by the Council’s photographer (at the cost of the Council taxpayer).

Our town centre and businesses cannot afford more years of Labour inaction. Changing shopping habits and covid have accelerated the change on high streets across the country, and without a plan for Eltham town centre we risk losing our high street forever.

That’s why as your MP, I promise on day one to:

  • Engage with businesses by starting a town centre business forum to encourage investment and give businesses a voice.
  • Lobby for a return of Eltham Lights Up to drive footfall on the High Street and boost the local economy.
  • Work with developers to ensure that new mixed-use developments deliver regeneration to our town centre as well as much needed housing.
  • Campaign in Parliament for real business rate reform to help power the recovery of our high streets.

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