Christmas trees for sale on the corner of Greenwich High Road and Roan Street.
APOLOGIES for delaying last week's column until this week - I have been waiting, so far in vain, for news of the Olympics planning application (promised by "late November" - only one day left, guys!) and the closure of the foot tunnel (supposed to be discussed by the council's cabinet on 17 November - but the meeting was cancelled).
I'll post a new column as soon as I have anything concrete to tell you on either subject - probably later this week - but while we wait, let's talk conservation areas. There are six in SE10 and the Greenwich borough parts of SE3 - and the council has been reviewing five of them: West Greenwich, Greenwich Park, East Greenwich, Blackheath and Blackheath Park. The sixth, Ashburnham Triangle, was done last year but I will include that too, for completeness. The reviews also consider whether any more buildings should be listed or locally listed.
Greenwich Council reviews always cause small a ping on my sonar - is the agenda to sneak through something we might not like? In this case, however, there appears to be little cause for alarm. The proposals from the six reviews are as follows:
- Listing about 25 buildings, all in Ashburnham Triangle; see below for the full list.
- Locally listing about 200 buildings, including the Greenwich Power Station, the Pavilion tea-house in the Park and most of the Span estates in Blackheath. See below for the full list.
- In West Greenwich, reducing the boundaries of the conservation area to take out flats "of no special merit" around Dutton Street and Winforton Street. Adding two Victorian schools, St Alfege with St Peters (in Creek Road) and James Wolfe (Randall Place). Possibly adding the cabaret club in Creek Road.
- In East Greenwich, extending the conservation area to include the whole of Trafalgar Road from Christ Church to the Royal Naval College, including all of Old Woolwich Road.
- In Ashburnham Triangle, small extensions on the fringes the conservation area. (No changes proposed to the boundaries of the other three.)
All buildings in conservation areas are subject to extra planning controls - on, for instance, the placement of satellite dishes and the size of extensions allowed, fences, walls and railings. West Greenwich, East Greenwich and the Ashburnham Triangle (though not the other three) are "Article 4" conservation areas with enhanced protection where nearly all external alterations, including re-roofing and new windows and doors, need planning permission.
Listed buildings have statutory protection - that is, it is a criminal offence to change them (inside or out) without special listed building consent. Locally listed buildings have no special extra protection - they are just buildings the council thinks are nice. Having your house on the local list might increase its value, though.
The buildings proposed for listing (in alphabetical order by street) are:
Blackheath Road: 53-75 (odd numbers)
Greenwich High Road: 21, 24, 26, 28, 133, 133a, 135
Greenwich South Street: 80-98 (even numbers)
The buildings proposed for local listing (in alphabetical order by street) are
Ashburnham Place: 18-27 (odd)
Corvette Square: all
Greenwich Park: Pavilion Tea House
Greenwich Park Street: Former Post Office sorting office
Greenwich Power Station and coal jetty
Hardy Cottages: all
Kidbrooke Park Road: 11-29 (odd)
Maze Hill: 75-81, 89-93 (odd)
Orlop Street: all
Point Hill: 29-35 (odd)
Randall Place: All houses on north side
Roan Street: 33-47 (odd)
Shooters Hill Road: 63-103 (odd)
Straightsmouth: Lovibonds Brewery Warehouse
Trafalgar Road: 177
Wellington Grove: St Ursula's School
Plus most of the Span estates in Blackheath Park, including The Plantation, Corner Green, The Keep, The Lane and The Hall except 1-27 Foxes Dale and 51-63 The Hall.
It's also nice to see how the Greenwich Park conservation area appraisal waxes lyrical about the park's "sense of continuity and timelessness" that "acts as an oasis for visitors... hugely significant for historical, cultural and ecological reasons." The Olympics'll soon put a stop to all that nonsense, eh!
PS - Nice to see the Mercury and News Shopper following up another one of our stories - on Chris Roberts' moonlight flit to a safer ward - for the second time in two weeks, though again sadly without acknowledgement. You read it here first...
A man in his 20s has died after a stabbing in Greenwich Church Street in the early hours of Sunday morning. Police were called to the scene of an incident at just gone 2am where they found a critically injured man. He was taken to hospital but sadly died later from his knife wounds.
A suspect - described as mixed race and about 5ft10 - was seen running down St Alfege Passage towards Roan Street.
Update: The victim of this crime has been named as 25 year old Paul Martin from Blackheath.
Update 02/04/09: 27 year old Michael Bowden from Bermondsey has been charged with Paul's murder and put on remand by Greenwich Magistrates.
JUST as it was once traditional to report on the first cuckoo of spring, some of Britain's indefatigable estate agents have recently been claiming to hear the early chirp of returning buyers. "It is...clear that parts of the market are perhaps beginning to bottom out...Our members are starting to see enquries increase again, as people begin to believe they can find a bargain," says Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents. Last month, the NAEA professed to discern "finally...glimmers of hope," with autumn figures "not as bad as expected" and a rise in the percentage of first-time buyers in the market.
Away from the world of glimmers and expectations, however, the actual figures remain resolutely bad. This week, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors reported that property transactions were at their lowest level since they started counting in 1978 - with London the hardest hit. According to the Halifax, UK prices fell by 15.9 per cent during 2008.
The borough of Greenwich took a smaller hit - 4.1 per cent down in the year to November, according to the Land Registry, and with actually a small rise in November itself. The number of transactions is now so small, however, that this last figure needs to be treated with considerable caution. Figures for SE10 alone show an annual reduction of almost 20 per cent - though the sample here is even smaller, and more fluctuating, and the figures even less certain.
So I thought I'd ask around myself to see whether any of the optimistic noises are matched by the reality of a better 2009. In one place, it seemed, they were. "We're actually doing very well this year," said Tony Usher, of King Sturge, formerly James Johnston. "Last weekend was incredibly busy. We've seen a pickup in applicants and viewers and we've had more investment buyers in the last 14 days than in the whole of the last year, roughly. We've tied up numerous sales, in Greenwich and Blackheath, and we're about to deliver leaflets asking for more properties."
Asked how many sales "numerous" meant, Mr Usher became rather more coy, declining even to discuss whether it meant single or double figures. He wasn't allowed to tell me, he said, but promised someone would call me back, which they didn't.
In all the other estate agents I asked, the only part of King Sturge's good tidings they recognised was a rise in enquiries. "It's better than it was before Christmas, which is something," said Doug Norris of John Payne, probably the most important local agent and someone who can usually be trusted to tell it roughly as it is. "The number of viewings has increased substantially from almost next to nothing in the first three weeks of December. In the 15 days [since Christmas] we've been open we've arranged about 90 viewings at this branch. It has produced offers, some of which will go somewhere and some of which won't."
Mr Norris admitted, however, that the Greenwich branch of John Payne had not sold a single property since the first week of December and only 25 in the last six months - compared with a figure of about 15-20 a month at the 2007 peak. Two houses in West Greenwich are likely to be sold soon - on one of them, in Roan Street, there are three offers. Discounts on already depressed asking prices are around the 5 to per 10 per cent mark. "Buyers are still driving prices down and making random offers," says Norris. "Vendors are coming to terms with [the falling market] now. Their expectation levels have come down and we can talk about prices sensibly."
The trajectory is clear in the prices on local agents' websites. A pretty three-storey end-of-terrace "needing upgrading" in King George Street, the heart of Greenwich's nicest neighbourhood - the kind of house that might have fetched around £700,000 at the peak - came to the market at £599,995, is now down to £550,000 and is on the verge of finding a buyer at around the £500,000 mark.
A house in Peyton Place, nearby, started off, many months ago, at £710,000 and is still on the John Payne site, now at £599,995, with no offers shown. Many other properties have been for sale for over a year. And prices continue to be cut: a house "needing complete modernisation" in Calvert Road, East Greenwich, on at £395,000, is about to be reduced to £345,000 (the one next door sold last year for £475,000.) "I can't be bullish about the market," says Norris. "Not by any shape or form have we turned the corner."
John Payne handles mainly period property, catering in many cases to established buyers with equity. At Oliver Bond, an agency with many of Greenwich's large stock of new-build flats and a first-timer clientele, the picture is even worse. "Transactions of Victorian semis are going through with reductions of 10 to 15 per cent, but the newbuilds are being crucified," says Bond's Ryan Vella. "Valuers are predicting in some cases 40-45 per cent less than last year's value. We are amazed at the level of enquiries, but we're doing viewings but no offers. Once a purchase becomes a serious possibility, the buyers find out how difficult it is. The crucifying valuations combined with the difficulties getting mortgages are slowly killing us."
Vella has, in fact, sold four properties already this year, although he says they are really hangovers from last year with buyers grimly perservering through all the difficulties. In the last six months, including those four, Oliver Bond has sold just eight properties. As with the other agents, rentals are keeping the shop going.
"I can't for a moment believe that anyone is rushed off their feet selling," he says. "Anyone who tells you different is insane."
It's easy to see why the NAEA is so keen to claim a bottoming out. No-one wants to buy a home for more than it will be worth in a few months' time. No-one wants to buy a home that will immediately lose some of its value or (if a first-time buyer) put them into negative equity. The market, here and elsewhere, won't recover until people feel that prices have reached their floor.
But on this evidence, that may not have happened yet.