Friday 9 October 2015

Siemens Woolwich site - what is happening now!

Thanks to the Siemens Engineering Society we have an update - extracted from their new booklet - about what is happening on their old Woolwich site from the perspective of the Society.  Thanks to Brian Middlemiss who wrote and published the following piece (very slightly edited). Copies of the original are deposited at the Greenwich Heritage Centre

"Our old Woolwich Works is now known as The Westminster Industrial Estate.
Members of the Siemens Engineering Society wanted a memorial  to Siemens Brothers on the site of the old Woolwich Works. The site was owned and managed by The Co-operative Insurance Society and an industrial sculpture was suggested to link the past and the present. A sculptress produced a model based on a Motor Uniselector mounted on two cable drums". 
Brian Middlemiss continues with what happened next:

"The project went into a six month delay due to the popularity of the Sculptress following her London exhibition. However we were shocked to learn in October 2005 that the CIS had sold its entire Property Portfolio to AXA Real Estate  ....our project became a watching brief with updates every six months.
AXA slowly developed their own plans for the site and put an architect's scheme in place which involved liaison with Greenwich Council, refurbishment and re-use (leasing) some of the original Siemens buildings and a residential aspect. This was a significant investment, interest had been expressed in the historical aspects of the site, but everything depended on the success of the AXA plans and the market demand for refurbished warehouse/workshop accommodation.
The economic downturn in 2008 resulted in little progress being made. AXA confmned in April 2009 that a feasibility study for buildings 64 and 61 C (the old IR Building) had been completed with a projected expenditure of £3 .5m to refurbish them. However due the economic climate  and little demand the refurbishment project was mothballed. AtOctober 2009 there was no  meaningful progress, the plans still not being viable. AXA continued to manage the existing  tenants in the Victorian buildings and had been able to do some smalllettings in the buildings,  but in their existing condition. There was some progress on the more traditional warehouse  buildings, they had substantially refurbished four warehouse units along Warspite Road.
Again there was little progress over the next six months to April 2010. However one avenue of  interest was received from film companies who wanted to use the buildings and surrounds for  filming adverts, pop videos and movies. It was hoped this may provide some short term income  and an agreement was signed with a location company. As a point of interest the film "Blow  Up" was partly filmed in Maryon Park opposite the Woolwich Works.
There were no major changes on the estate, with no redevelopment or refurbishment plans for the multi-story warehouse buildings to report in October 2010. AXA had however just completed a major refurbishment of 150 Yate1y Street, which included full redecoration and a new roof and had let this unit to an importer of electricity generators from China. This area was where our staff canteen once stood. There had also been numerous film and stills photography enquiries and a couple of shoots had taken place; a pop video and a magazine shoot.
A significant change had taken place by April 2011. The London Borough (LB) of Greenwich had announced the potential for expansion of residential development along the Thames frontage over a 20 year time frame.
In early September 2011 I received an enquiry from Andrew Williamson of Mott MacDonald. The LB of Greenwich now planned to build a University Technical College (UTC) on our old site ana Mott MacDonald were the Project Managers. They needed to know more about the Siemens works and in particular the south western corner marked up on a map provided. With Bill Philpott's help we put together a quite detailed reply which provided some background; the nature of the business conducted on the site and specifically on the south western corner, known to ,us  as the Auto-Rack Wiring Shop G53.
I had also mentioned in my reply that we kept a watching brief on the site in the long term hope that one day some sort of memorial or plaque would be put in place on the site to reflect the 100+ years occupancy by Siemens Brothers. Mr Williamson much appreciated our detailed and fascinating overview of the Siemens works which was very helpful to him, he was also especially fascinated by the industrial history. The proposed UTC would have specialisms in engineering and construction and was linked to industrial sponsors. He suggested that this link , may be of interest to the UTC and he forwarded our comments to the College. I seized the opportunity and sent another email which detailed the very close links and long association  between Siemens Brothers, the Engineering Society and Lewisham College [the old SELTEC] now a part of the University of Greenwich, one of the sponsors of the new UTC. As events later transpired, this proved to be a significant piece of information.
By Oct 2011 the proposal that the LB of Greenwich planned to build a UTC on our old site had been formally announced. In February 2012 the LB of Greenwich produced their long term strategy report for "Charlton Riverside" all 54 pages of it, which I made available to members at our April 2012 meeting. The proposal to build a UTC on our old site had been agreed and the south western corner of the site had been sold to the LB of Greenwich. They had also purchased the former Victorian school, next to our old site, at the time this school was known as Holborn College.
By October 2012 the Holborn College building had been restored as a primary school and had reopened in September 2012. The land on the south western corner of our site, sold to the LB of'Greenwich, was now being redeveloped for use as a UTC and it was intended that it would open in September 2013. So after many years it was all happening on our old site, with the exception that the situation regarding the old Victorian multi-storey buildings remained unchanged.
At our April 2013 meeting I was able to report that the UTC development was progressing on schedule with the planned opening in September 2013. Events had also moved forward with regard to the older multi-storey buildings. AXA were carrying out an exercise of cleaning the vacant buildings including the removal of asbestos and de-contamination further to pigeon infestation. Increased interest was being received (predominately from house builders and developers) in the buildings due to the longer term plans for the Charlton Riverside area. AXA had also now sold 50 Bowater Road to the adjoining owner, who was planning to refurbish the  building and expand their business of letting small suites to artists and small creative businesses. At our final meeting in October 2013 I reported that the Greenwich UTC was virtually complete and that the College was enrolling its first students. The building was to be formally opened on
24 October 2013, this proved to be a significant event for the Society - more later. The multi- storey buildings were still undergoing the cleaning and asbestos removal process which was due to be completed in January 2014
. There was still interest in the multi-storey buildings for residential use, however, Greenwich Council were now unsure as to whether they want to allow this use on the estate and it may be that they allocate the area as strategic industrial land in the next local plan. This would fix the use for the next 15 years. AXA, not surprisingly, were trying to resist this as the buildings were not really a viable commercial proposition in the current use as not many modem occupiers want to be located above ground floor.
There is clearly a sense of irony that our old site could be allocated as strategic industrial land, back where it all started well over 100 years ago.

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