diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 28, 2013

As bleak urban safaris go, few come better than the western edge of the Greenwich peninsula. The wealth of Docklands rises from the other side of the Thames, but there's none of that along here. Not yet. The developers are moving in, and have already demolished almost every trace of the area's industrial past. But for now there's just a riverside footpath of questionable quality underfoot, and hundreds of razed acres ripe for rebirth. Get here soon before someone builds apartment towers everywhere.

Drawdock Road's not easy to find, not unless you've already walked the best part of a mile round the top of the peninsula. Nobody really wants you to walk this way from the bus station, they'd much rather you headed Dome-ward and splurged on entertainment. A redundant road heads west from Millennium Way, its pavements fenced off from the development opportunity behind. At the T-junction turn right above the deep bore of the Blackwall Tunnel, curving past a mushroom-shaped ventilation shaft cover (number 4, if you're counting). And here's where Drawdock Road ramps down into the Thames, should you be stupid enough to drive that far. A "Road Closed" warning sign has appeared - that's new-ish, as is the raised hump presumably added to prevent flooding during especially high tides. The second there's the chance of people paying good money to actually live here, in goes the protection.

To the north the last remains of 2000's outbuildings are being bulldozed. The Living Wall had a good innings, even though most of that time its plant life was dead. Now a hotel is to be added here on the meridian, although I've been reporting the imminent arrival of this hotel for years and nothing's yet happened. Ditto Peninsula Quays. That's the posh name for the wasteland you've just walked through, aka 20 acres of prime residential opportunity. Planning permission is about to be sought and, according to the latest schedule, construction should begin next year.

Peninsula Quays will be a "mixed-use urban village", which is developer-speak for "lots of people living very close together". There'll be 1683 dwellings, so we're told, of which precisely 0% are scheduled to be affordable housing. That's because Docklands is only one stop away on the tube, so this area has been pencilled in as "convenient for affluent Canary Wharf or City workers". Architects drawings show a series of looming crystalline apartment blocks rising from anodyne turf to glass-topped penthouses... and that's just the first phase. Staring through the fence at levelled rubble, it's hard to match the vision to current reality.

A broad path now snakes around the first few riverside corners, with two-way cycle lanes and a separate pedestrian section alongside. It doesn't last. Once past the PQ development the path peters out to become a loose uneven track, much as it has been for years, and all the more characterful for it. The land ahead isn't part of the main peninsula masterplan, and remains home to a messy business that new wealthy residents may not appreciate. Proper ships moor up at the quayside to unload powdery aggregate materials, and these are then scooped up and piled within for processing. The Thames Path still runs straight through the unloading zone, between the moorings and the aggregate works, even though you'd assume health and safety (or security) would have had this open stretch closed down long ago.

If nothing else, it doesn't smell quite so foul round here now most of the former industries have been wiped away. But what used to be an atmospheric continuation past wharves and silos has lost a lot of its bleak character and is now merely bleak. Some local yarnbombers have attempted to brighten things up by dressing a couple of tree trunks with stripy coats - we thank them for that. Concentrate on the waterfowl in the Thames and a handful of budding trees and you can almost make this into a nature walk. But only one of the jetties retains public access - the others are padlocked off - and of those buildings that remain almost all their windows are smashed.

You wouldn't come to the beach at Enderby's Wharf to paddle, not when the foreshore's littered with chunky rusting pipes and shopping trolleys. Greenwich Council were, maybe even are, planning a cruise liner terminal here, but the rusting hulks currently anchored offshore make a mockery of that lofty ambition. They don't make a fine view for the residents of Lovell's Wharf either. This residential development off Banning Street has been 10% complete for years, with thoughtless planning forcing the Thames Path to divert inland. Now the path has reopened, but only with the prospect of more flats being crammed into the site than previously designated. The current lot look grim enough, but one day most of the river's edge from the O2 down to Pelton Road will look the same. Come enjoy the riverside urban safari while you can.

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