Greenwich Town Centre Plans
Gillie Bexson – Property Portfolio Manager, Greenwich Hospital
“Greenwich Hospital Plans in the Town Centre”
- a presentation to the Greenwich Society Annual General Meeting 2013.
Gillie Bexson offered her assessment of the Hospital’s plans by establishing the context of its work within its charitable objectives, describing the Greenwich estate, explaining the Hospital’s vision, how it hoped to achieve that vision and the nature of the collaboration that would be required in the process.
Greenwich Hospital is an ancient Crown charity providing support (including annuities, sheltered housing and education) to serving and retired personnel of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and their dependants. It was established in 1694 for the following purpose
“The reliefe and support of seamen serving on board the shipps or vessells belonging to the Navy Royall who by reason of Age, Wounds or other disabilities shall be uncapable of further service at sea and being unable to maintain themselves. And for the Sustentation of the Widows and the Maintenance and Education of the Children of seamen happening to be slain or disabled. Also for the further reliefe and Encouragement of seamen and Improvement of Navigation.”
The Hospital supports 26,000 people through 20 charities, 3 sheltered housing schemes and a Naval Care Home. It also supports a faculty at the University of Greenwich and students at Trinity/Laban. Plans are also on-going for the establishments of apprenticeships, the retraining of injured service men and women and business start-up assistance. There is no public money involved in any of the Hospital’s investments - which are in Greenwich, the rural estates (8,000 acres in Suffolk, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear – a total of 15 farms with many residential cottages), two properties in central London and in equities.
The Property Portfolio provides an income stream from its assets to enable the Hospital to meet its charity commitments. These properties have been in ownership for three hundred years and the Hospital has a duty to maintain its value and income for the future. In order to do so, the Hospital will manage its holdings to the best advantage, invest for long term growth and improvement of Hospital properties and consolidate the core estate - acquiring premises within it or adjoining it where there is benefit to the core. There are very few town centres in single ownership and this makes Greenwich almost unique.
Following the decision to drop permanently the previous market regeneration plan, the Hospital has embarked on a series of projects to enhance and improve its buildings - to refine, not purify, the town centre and it is the Hospital’s intention to implement a series of strategies to enhance this thriving retail and residential community including the investment in and commitment to improving retail and residential accommodation, the public realm and the market. Greenwich Hospital’s vision for the town centre is not to change it, but to improve and enhance it where it holds the freehold. In doing so it aims to enhance the character of the World Heritage Site, of which it forms a part.
Historically the buildings have been let as a whole on long leases to retailers who have used the upper floors for storage, staff accommodation and it is unfortunate but true that they have not been looked after well. The Hospital is now taking back buildings whenever possible and working hard to provide modern retail and restaurant accommodation at the ground floor, returning the upper floors to residential use.
Greenwich Hospital aims to work collaboratively, with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and other stakeholders, to undertake a long-term strategic investment programme that will refine Greenwich Town Centre’s historic assets and enhance their contribution to the local economy. The Hospital would like to work as a partner in everything in which it invests in Greenwich generally and meets regularly with the senior members of Greenwich Council in a number of forums (enjoying support at a high level even if there are some challenges in dealings with conservation officers) and with Nick Raynsford MP twice yearly.
The Hospital has been accused of failing to care for its assets, but it is responsible for all the fine buildings in the town and has no intention of destroying them, only refurbishing them for modern and future use with the adaptations necessary for 21st century occupation. In order to deliver this vision, the Hospital aims to be an active Landlord, to offer responsible stewardship of the historic environment, to consult, engage in planning, providing a development framework strategy and deploy an integrated approach to servicing. Specific plans are to : -
- Conserve Greenwich’s urban village character through a proactive commitment to the protection and enhancement of its built heritage.
- Improve the appearance of the Hospital’s buildings by investing in the external fabric of the retail and residential frontages.
- Deliver buildings that respond to the character and quality of the area with a commitment to architectural excellence and the business needs of the 21st Century.
- Create prime accommodation to attract strong covenant and high quality restaurateurs and retailers.
- Continue to mix uses by taking back upper floors wherever possible and return them to residential use.
- Enhance and improve the historic market place and maintain its significance in the context of Greenwich’s history.
Many retailers have been “Grown in Greenwich” and the Hospital aspires to continue that tradition with new market traders. However, the current retail tenant mix has evolved over a number of years and the quality requires improvement as opportunities arise. The specification of the market area requires substantial upgrading in order to attract high quality designer-makers to the market. The public realm and access require upgrading to attract visitors of all ages. The Hospital will work with its retailers and traders to market the town centre through the web site and by hosting events for charity bringing in an ever-wider audience to the town centre.
Greenwich Market Vision
The Hospital’s plan focuses on the creation of a flexible food market with publically accessible open space, seating, hard and soft landscaping to reduce the number of food stalls in the existing market space at weekends, thereby reducing congestion in the historic Portico. It is proposed that this will be accommodated in the area known as Fry’s Court. A new covering for the market roof using the existing historic structure (which will have improved daylight, lighting, event specific lighting and ventilation capabilities) is planned as is the restoration and relaying of the cobbles on the market floor, improve access for all ages as well as improving the drainage and power for stall holders. The brief itself includes: -
- Creation of an attractive destination at the heart of Greenwich town centre
- Retention of the historic character of the market
- Restoration and reuse the original structure of the market roof
- Improvement of the public realm
- Improvement of the range of potential uses – Antiques & Crafts market, food market and event space, for example
- Reconfiguration of the service areas, aiding efficiency
The Hospital will continue its dialogue with Nick Raynsford MP, with the Council’s Planning and Conservation Officers. It will provide Council member briefings, pre-application meetings and ensure consultation with key stakeholders – like the Greenwich Society.
Although there is no town centre master plan, the Hospital has a continual investment programme and a coordinated construction timetable. Through consultation with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the local community the Hospital also hopes to minimise disruption and maintain its commitment.