Plans to revitalise Woolwich town centre have been submitted to the Royal Borough of Greenwich for approval. The proposals, developed through engagement with local people and market traders, seek to improve the layout of the town’s central market square, Beresford Square, and its main high street, Powis Street, once described as the ‘Ramblas’ of Woolwich.
Set on the Thames and home to the Royal Arsenal munitions, where 120,000 people once worked, Woolwich benefitted handsomely from Britain’s military and industrial might. Its grand 18th and 19th century architecture reflect the status the town once held. The Grade II Gatehouse on Beresford Square is the last remnant of the former Royal Arsenal entrance. The Royal Arsenal itself is now an extensive and expanding mixed-use development, which includes the new Elizabeth Line station entrance.
Beresford Square has been home to the town’s market for 400 years. The market now dominates the central area, leaving little room for anything else to happen in the space. The Square is all hard and dark granite with little planting, and very few places to sit and socialise. Its sloping topography restricts use for activities and overall, it lacks a distinctive identity.
The new vision for Beresford Square will create a flexible civic space that is airy and open, but also more intimate and better defined by planting and terraced seating. It will be designed to support a year-round programme of community activity and celebrations. A playful water feature will animate the space, when not otherwise being used for events and installations.
A priority is to improve the quality of key gateways into the Square, by responding to natural desire lines, reworking levels, reducing clutter, reorganising transport stops and opening up the central archway of the Gatehouse to create a sense of arrival and a direct connection to the Elizabeth Line station entrance.
Level changes rediscover the ‘high pavement’ that existed in the Square in the 1800s. This will accommodate a reshaped, linear market, which is the preferred option for current stallholders. The design will capitalise on footfall, raise the market’s profile and free up space for socialising, alfresco dining, and an inviting new central walk-through garden. A ribbon of planting and trees will create a strong, green northern edge, and planting will be integrated into seating terraces on the east and western edges making Beresford significantly greener. Elegant lighting columns will make the centre feel safe and support a livelier night-time economy.
Although well-structured and mostly car-free during the day, Powis Street is crying out for a major revamp and to be decluttered. Materials on Powis Street are dated, and the public realm is dominated by bollards, advertising, and under-used seating. The new plans will unify materiality and encourage easy and convenient movement for pedestrians. All bollards will be removed and there will be more opportunities to sit under the shade of existing trees. The council is also considering extending the period of pedestrianisation to stimulate the evening economy.
The proposals have been developed through a comprehensive engagement process, online and in-person. If approved, the plans will help Woolwich take advantage of the newly improved connections to Thamesmead and central London, via the Elizabeth Line. Nearly £21 million has been secured in funding from Government and Historic England.