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Woolwich Central, retail and housing

Tesco's biggest ever development, a mixed-use scheme featuring superstore and housing

Woolwich Central is the biggest Tesco development ever built. The £250m scheme features an 84,000 sq ft Tesco store, Europe’s largest, with a 259-home community above that.

As a key piece in the jigsaw for Woolwich’s regeneration, the goal of the development was to bring new jobs and a new, mixed community to the town centre.

BELOW: How Willmott Dixon's delivered Woolwich Central.

The scheme includes two levels of car parking, a basement energy centre, and above that the store, plus six residential blocks of varying heights rising up to 17 storeys.

The project also included £3 million of infrastructure and community improvements.

“Willmott Dixon understood our philosophy and we understood theirs. If we had not adopted a partnering approach, we would not have achieved the set objective and met all the stakeholders’ expectations. To deliver a project of that size in the timescale and within budget is something we can all be proud of.”

Shane Worth, project manager,

Spen Hill (Tesco development arm)

Challenges and innovations

The pace of this project was the biggest challenge. From getting designs signed off to co-ordinating the huge numbers of deliveries and ensuring every one of the specialist packages remained on programme; all these activities required ongoing communication and very tight control from the delivery team.

One significant technical challenge was how to transfer the loads from the residential blocks through the store space to the foundations below, without introducing hefty columns which would disrupt the floor area and limit retail space. In response, the project team developed an unusual structural solution: composite 550mm square columns with reinforced concrete encasing steel columns.

Constrained site

Like many city centre sites, Woolwich Central is tight – limited to its footprint – which brings logistical challenges. But on this job, the issue was magnified by the fact that the 259 apartments were being built 20m up above a live supermarket with no access other than by hoist.

One of the design challenges was how to avoid service pipes penetrating through the roof of the Tesco store. The solution was to have a secondary slab above the main load transfer slab at podium level, like a false floor, in order to provide a void to distribute services to the apartment blocks.

However, the secondary slab was designed for light in-service loads and therefore could not hold heavy plant. This meant a complex scaffolding system was required in order to carry out works above that level.

Sustainablility and low carbon

There were five dimensions to consider when planning the design and delivery in order to optimise its impact on the environment: embodied carbon; disruption
to the local community during construction; spending locally; energy in use; and living standards for the residents.

A lean design was at the heart of limiting materials and hence embodied carbon and lorry movements. Material from the demolition was all re-used; the Thanet sands on which the building is constructed were treated so that the ground could be used for the foundations; and extensive post tensioning was used to reduce the dimensions of members in the concrete frame.

Our team worked hard to employ local people and source materials locally. Around 35% of its workforce lived within a 15 mile radius, many of them within five miles. It achieved Very Good under BREEAM Retail 2006, with rainwater harvesting supplying its toilets.


  • 80,000 sq ft superstore for Tesco's development arm Spen Hill
  • 17 storeys high - Tesco's largest ever development
  • 259 one- to three-bedroom apartments over the retail area




The Heights, Building One

KT13 0NY

Tel: 01932 584700