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The Mysterious Case Of Royal Woolwich Arsenal’s Building 11

November 30, 2014

UPDATE: Today’s great news (January 29) is that Berkeley Homes has withdrawn its application to demolish Building 11. I don’t have any details but the trusty Mark Chandler is on the case. If you don’t already follow him on twitter, he’s @Mark_Chandler. The burning question, of course, is now what? I hope Berkeley doesn’t opt out and simply leave the building there to rot (as was suggested to me; see my original article below). That course of action (or lack thereof) would make so little sense: for Crossrail, for Woolwich, for Berkeley’s brand. Come what may, let’s keep the pressure up on the developers to deliver a plan that works.

 

ORIGINAL POST: I must admit, right at the start, that Berkeley Homes’ proposal for the square outside Woolwich Arsenal Crossrail has confused me. I’ve asked some questions, but I’m not sure I’ve asked the right ones. I’m not armed with all the facts.

I’m not sure if I have any of the facts.

On Saturday, I had a gander at the display that Berkeley had set up in the Greenwich Heritage Centre. The developer’s main aim was to explain to the public exactly why, compared to all other possible solutions, the demolition of eighteenth-century Building 11 is the best and apparently only way to go.

Building 11. On the naughty step for stifling other buildings and getting in the way of taxis.

Building 11. On the naughty step for stifling other buildings and getting in the way of taxis. Copyright: English Heritage Archive.

Berkeley wants to tear down the building, which is currently festooned with scaffolding, and replace it with a turning circle for taxis.

There were several polite young men on hand to answer questions. So I asked some questions. First, why does the taxi rank have to be smack bang exactly where Building 11 is? Why can’t it be behind it or near it, so Building 11 forms an attractive barrier between the drop-off zone and the current Dial Arch Square? The answer was that the taxis have to be visible and accessible from Crossrail’s only entrance/exit. But surely, I pondered aloud, taxis would still be perfectly easy to see if they were just to the east of Building 11. We’re talking mere metres here. No. Apparently they would not be quite visible or accessible enough. And the change in ground level would make it difficult for the less able-bodied.

Cue confused thoughts, fomenting, burbling. Change in ground level? Why not build a ramp? Not visible enough? How about a nice sign that says TAXIS, with a helpful arrow? It’s a train station. Train stations typically have signs, with arrows pointing to where stuff is.

So I ask, straight out, is it the money? Is the building so far gone that Berkeley can no longer afford to restore it? I have read elsewhere, including in the Survey of London’s book on Woolwich, that restoration was always the intention. Indeed, a while back Berkeley removed Building 11’s interior bits (original fireplaces and other decorative fittings) and safely stored them off site, surely to return them in the future. At this juncture, I go on a bit about all the wonderful work Berkeley has done around the Arsenal. Knocking heritage buildings down is not Berkeley’s MO, we know that.

No, says the man, that’s not it at all. Money is not a problem. The money is there.

So the building’s main crime (I think I have this right) is that it’s in the only spot, on the whole Arsenal, that taxis could possibly turn around in after dropping people at the station. Really? Really…

At this stage, I start gesticulating at one of the boards, pointing out all the spots where I would put a taxi rank if I were designing the square.

But we’re getting nowhere, so I respectfully bow out of the conversation and look at some of the other boards. The one that grabs my attention offers another reason that Building 11 should go: that the currently unused sheds in the middle distance (formerly the Royal Carriage Factory) are being “stifled by” it. In Berkeley’s proposals, the sheds are clearly visible from Dial Arch Square and look enticingly like they might contain cafes and bars and cool shops and perhaps an artisan food market. At some stage.

So Building 11 is “stifling” the sheds? For the last two-and-a-half centuries? Stifling? What does that even mean?

I circle back to Building 11’s allegedly parlous state. The Berkeley chap explains that, at most, about 65% of the building could be saved. That’s not bad, I respond brightly. Save what can be saved, and sympathetically insert some contemporary additions. (In my mind, I’m imagining something like the new entrance to Borough Market.) Ah no, he says, that would compromise the building’s integrity, wouldn’t it.

Come again? And razing it to the ground does not?

I leave confused, clutching one of the feedback forms. Fundamentally, I don’t understand why Building 11 is being threatened and why there is no alternative proposal for its rejuvenation. Indeed, one the Berkeley men told me that if the building is saved from demolition (possibly by English Heritage stepping in), it could sit there in a state of advanced dereliction for years to come. I picture it as a stubborn and increasingly obvious eyesore, slowly decaying while Woolwich improves around it.

Perhaps you, dear reader, will understand it all much better than me. Please do take a look at the proposal and let Berkeley know what you think.

The contact details are info@royalarsenalsquare.co.uk or 020 7323 3544. The pretty pictures are at www.royalarsenalsquare.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. Hi, are you aware that the future of Building 11 is up for debate again? A bunch of us RA residents are trying to stop it by submitting objections to the proposals on the greenwich council website. We could use a hand! They’re also planning on building a new high rise ON TOP of Building 10. A Grade 2 listed warehouse….

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