How would you spend £6.5m on Eltham High Street?

When Boris Johnson as Mayor of London decided to award Greenwich Council more than £5m to revamp Eltham High Street, many of us thought that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to really upgrade and support the main shopping centre in the south of our Borough.  With out of town shopping centres like Bluewater or free parking outside superstores in the north of the Borough, Eltham High Street clearly needed a boost and these funds (which were subsequently increased to £6m with £0.5m from the Council’s TfL funds) should have been our lifeline.


So with the work now almost complete (there is a little more to do once the cinema is finished) it seems the appropriate time to look at how Greenwich Council actually spent the money.  The figures which have been passed to me by the Council Officers in charge of the scheme are as follows:-


Item Cost (000s) Item Cost (000s)
Kerbs and Footways including excavation 2,890 Drainage – road gullies, pipework and ducting 150
Carriageway resurfacing and surface treatments 670 Bus Shelters 110
East and West Extensions works 650 Site clearance – remove from site paving, kerbs, ironwork, guardrailing,  etc 90
Consultants Fees for design and supervision 640 Landscaping 50
RGB Fees 250 Legible London Signing 40
TfL signals 250 Phone Kiosks 40
Street furniture 220 Scheme Shop in Well Hall Road 40
Passey Place works 210 Street cleansing machine and maintenance kit 25
Street Lighting 200 Total 6,525


Now the bulk of the scheme has clearly been spent on relaying the pavement, although unfortunately this was supposed to be kept clean using a newly purchased street cleaning machine (see last item) which has now been sent off to Plumstead and other areas of the Borough.


Moving beyond the paving, £640,000 on consultants seems a lot, but may well be reasonable for a scheme of this size.  It is fair to say (as Deputy Leader of the Council Cllr Danny Thorpe did at a recent Eltham Stakholder Forum which my fellow Eltham North Cllr Charlie Davis and I attended) that a lot of consultation was undertaken before the scheme started and Conservative Councillors including my colleague Matt Clare (Eltham South) secured involvement of several local Eltham Residents associations in consultation meetings. The result of the consultation was that most people agreed with the plans as initially laid out (although personally I am absolutely sure that the initial plan was for a roundabout and not lights at the junction with Footscray Road).


Having said that, given that the Council claims to have contributed £1m to this scheme, charging it a quarter of a million pounds in fees is a bit cheeky.  In fact it is worth repeating that £650,000 of the Council’s £1m was actually alternative funds from the Mayor’s Transport for London and £120,000 was for Greenwich Council’s Officers’ time – so they actually only contributed  £320,500, of which they got £250,000 back in charges to the scheme.  So the actual contribution from Greenwich Council was only £70,500 – substantially less than the £600,000 they are planning on spending on restoring some public toilets on Plumstead Common.


Eltham North Conservative Councillors Charlie Davis and Spencer Drury beside the Eltham sign.

Which brings me to my concluding question – was this a good use of taxpayers money?  I think it is clear that this scheme has produced some real improvements to Eltham High Street and it does look cleaner with a larger pedestrianised area on Passey Place.  I really do like the benches with names on (many of whom are even from Eltham) and the lit up Eltham sign makes me chuckle every time I see it, but has the £6m provided by Boris Johnson as Mayor of London really achieved the goal of providing a base for our town centre to thrive into the future?  This massive, unlikely to be repeated investment has polished Eltham, but it will be a waste of money without a proper strategy to support the shops, a plan for the space in front of the Orangery or a realisation that free parking everywhere else combined with rises in parking charges in Eltham is pushing shoppers away.  Greenwich Council was happy to spend someone else’s money without really thinking what it was trying to achieve and I think this has been a wasted opportunity to provide a firm foundation for our High Street as we look to the future.


Oh and just to finish, how has the Council found £600,000 for a set of toilets on Plumstead Common while it has consistently claimed it does not have the money to sort out the deserted ones on Eltham High Street? (As ever 853 has just beaten me to the toilets story, but you can see Darryl’s in depth review of the Slade toilets on his website).