Monday, 21 April 2014

21 years of urban change in Deptford - free workshop and seminar

Twenty-one years on from the publication of Jess Steele's seminal book Turning the tide: the history of everyday Deptford, Goldsmiths University Centre for Urban and Community Research is hosting a special event to investigate recent regeneration and its impact on Deptford.

The event takes place in the former Deptford Town Hall council chamber (a reason in itself for attending if you have never been inside!) on Friday April 25th

3.30 – 5.30 Seminar: The changing face of “regeneration” in London 
Short initial interventions by: Alison Rooke, Michael Keith, Heidi Seetzen, Rob Imrie, Luna Glucksberg 

5.30 – 6.00 Screenings and sound intervention: Creative Responses to Urban Change in Deptford (food and drinks provided) 

6.00 – 8.00 Workshop: 21 Years of Urban Regeneration in Deptford 
Short provocations by: Ben Gidley, Jess Steele, Jessica Leech, Neil Transpontine, and Joe Montgomery 

Followed by roundtable discussions: 

  • Creative Deptford: arts, culture and regeneration 
  • Housing and neighbourhood 
  • DIY Deptford: regeneration from below? 
  • Convoys Wharf: regeneration or land grab? 
  • The changing face of Deptford: migration, identity, diversity and generation

It's free to attend but registration is required - see the website for more information.

For anyone interested in the history of Deptford, Turning the tide is a must-read - the text is dense and at first glance can seem impenetrable, but the book is thoroughly-researched and packed with fascinating facts about the area. The enduringly melancholic photo of the clock tower from the dockyard's Tudor storehouse being sailed away to Thamesmead in the epilogue reminds the reader that this heist by Greenwich Council, within whose boundaries the dockyard was at the time, happened only eight years before Jess Steele's book came out.  

Friday, 11 April 2014

London Particular gets into empire building

Just to be clear, I have absolutely no objection to local New Cross cafe London Particular building an empire - if it's an empire infused with the same levels of quality that make the cafe's food so desirable, I say 'bring it on!'

It appears that within a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the much-loved London Particular will be flanked by two new ventures; the LP Bar (from the publicity so far, seems to be an airplane-themed cocktail bar)...

..and on the other side, crowd-funded posh chipper Maddy's Fish Bar. At the moment, the latter is under refurbishment and as I walked past the other day I was delighted to notice that at some time in its past, the shop was also inhabited by 'fish caterers'. 

Peter of Deptford High Street website interviewed Maddy earlier this year, you can read his piece here. Admittedly I am with him on the subject of mushy peas, and not too enamoured with Maddy's suggested 'posh' version, but might be willing to overlook it if the curry sauce lives up to the hype. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Deptford & New Cross Free Film Festival

Strictly speaking it's the New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival but as you may have realised, I do like to try a bit of mild subversion from time to time.

That's another story of course; in this case it's the upcoming film festival that is floating my boat, and I have to say that this event just seems to get better. Now in its third year, the festival seems to have expanded into Deptford like never before, with some really interesting venues and some great films on offer.

Who could resist the lure of watching The Hustler in Shades Pool Hall on Deptford High Street (formerly the Mechanics Institute) or cosying up in Gallop to enjoy two nights of film noir?

I'm delighted to see lots of other new Deptford venues including high street shop windows, the market, Deli X and Vinyl among old favourites such as St Nick's Church, Old Tidemill School, the Bird's Nest and the Pizza Bus. The range of films seems to have matured and expanded too, with classics, documentaries and experimental shorts rubbing shoulders with general-release movies such as Bend it Like Beckham, Oh Brother Where Art Thou and locally-made Attack the Block (admire the Heygate Estate blocks, which are currently being demolished, in their full glory).

The festival kicks off on Friday 25th April and runs till 4th May - download the flyer here, or get the full online programme here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Mayor seals the deal for Deptford's high-density future

Very much as expected, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson yesterday granted approval for Hutchison Whampoa's ambitious plans to shoe-horn 3,500 new homes into the former royal dockyard site on the Deptford waterfront.

The entire hearing was filmed and if you have the stamina and love to see our great democracy* in action, you can watch it in its full three-hour-plus glory on the mayor's webcast site  but I wouldn't recommend it. Not sure if it's a Mac thing or my broadband or what, but the quality of picture I get is very poor.

Being a consummate politician, Boris makes a great play of listening carefully to all the objections (yes, even Dave Fleming!) and he does ask a lot of questions, but there are some quite obvious moments where he fails to pursue the investigation to its natural end, raising suspicions that it is mostly for show. He'd already decided, I think we all know that.

Even his 'decision' to incorporate two further conditions into the approval, purporting to support the community-led Lenox Project and Sayes Court Garden CIC, strike me as nothing more than a bit of good news with which to gloss over the approval of a development with tall towers, high density housing, appalling public transport connections and too many car parking spaces.

Architect Terry Farrell also attended the hearing - having not been seen since the famous 'build from the  ground-up' pledge on the first open day - and fresh from his unveiling of the Farrell Review which he worked on for the government. Conflict of interest? Can't think what you mean!

*I use the term ironically of course. One man with the power to make a decision which will irrevocably change the lives of many, and not in a good way.

Monday, 31 March 2014

New 'saloon bar' Job Centre due to open soon

It's been a long time coming (intially slated for opening in time for last christmas!) but there's finally some progress on our new high street pub.

The 'Job Centre' (those with relatively short memories will know it actually was a job centre only a few years back, before the authorities saw fit to force our local job-seekers to spend more money travelling to Catford to sign on) is now planned to open in early May.

For some reason it took Antic a long time to eject the squatters who moved in after Utrophia moved out, but work is now going on and I'm looking forward to checking out the new local in the very near future.

I have it on good authority that a former manager of the Royal Albert will be taking it on; great news as it's someone whose pub-managing abilities I rate highly.

I'll admit to being slightly perturbed by the description of it as a 'saloon bar' - not really because of the Wild West connotations (we're used to those in Deptford!) but maybe because I think the high street just needs a good solid boozer.

Not sure quite why they chose this terminology - anyone in the know, please feel free to add it in the comments, I'm sure many of you will be keen to make uneducated guesses too!

Friday, 28 March 2014

GLA recommends approval of Convoys Wharf application

The GLA's officers have recommended that the Mayor of London approve Hutchison Whampoa's plans to redevelop Convoys Wharf in Deptford - the ultimate decision will be made by our city's esteemed (ahem) mayor either at the end of, or within five days of, next Monday's hearing.

The recommendation for approval is not really unexpected given that the GLA seems to be all about housing these days, and very little else, and of course it is only a recommendation; since the decision is to be made by a single individual he is free to ignore the recommendation if he wishes, although he would have to have very good reasons as the developer would be sure to challenge a refusal.

But there are plenty of reasons to refuse this application, many of them were previously pointed out by the GLA itself, and it's disappointing that GLA officers don't seem to have made much progress in resolving all the issues they highlighted when they reviewed the previous scheme in 2011. As far as I can see, little has changed since then and the latest report seems to confirm this no matter how much of a positive spin the planners seek to put on it.

The report into the application, which justifies the decision, is 120 pages long, so you'd better get started reading it if you want to have it all fully read and digested by next week's bunfight at City Hall.

Should you have a few minutes to spare after reading that tome, you may wish to read the report put together by Lewisham Council for the strategic planning committee earlier this week, which suggests that all is not as rosy as the GLA suggests in its recommendation for approval.

Anyone can go to the hearing - anyone who doesn't have to go to work, that is, since it's being held at 4pm on a weekday - and if you want to attend, you can find the full details on the website.

A number of objectors have asked for a slot in the schedule, including representatives of the two community projects - the Lenox Project and Sayes Court Garden - along with Malcolm Cadman from Pepys Community Forum and Ray Woolford from local political party People Before Profit (and local estate agent Housemartins). People Before Profit are asking for volunteers to dress up as pirates for a demo at the hearing, so it looks like being a colourful event.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Convoy's Wharf redevelopment; is the end nigh?

The mayoral call-in of the planning application for the redevelopment of Convoys Wharf is set to reach its climax - or some might say its nadir - at the end of this month, with news that the Mayor of London will hold his 'representation hearing' on 31st of March.

As you may remember, the scheme was called in by Boris Johnson at the behest of developer Hutchison Whampoa, after HW sent a moany letter complaining that Lewisham Council was being awkward and slow in making a decision about the site.

Shops in a shed?

With Lewisham Council originally claiming it would make its decision at the end of February, the mayoral call-in has certainly not made the process any quicker. In that case, the only assumption I can draw is that HW believes the application will get a more favourable decision from Boris.

Johnson has spent a lot of time in the last year spouting on about London's severe lack of housing, using this as his excuse for calling-in numerous contentious developments and saying that only foreign investment can solve this problem. It's true, there is a severe lack of housing in London, but it's mainly social housing that is required, properties that public sector workers and those on the minimum wage can rent in order to allow them to live nearer to their workplaces. What interest do foreign investors have in assisting us to meet these needs, when the financial return on such investment cannot match what they would make from private housing?

Despite the disapproval from multiple quarters that his decision to call in the Convoys Wharf application generated, the mayor seems to have no intention of reconsidering his meddlesome ways. In fact it seems to have spurred him on to even more widespread planning-application kleptomania. In December he called in the City Forum planning application for City Road which Islington Council had said it was minded to refuse, and in January he called in an application by the Royal Mail for its Mount Pleasant site, straddling Islington and Camden boroughs, before the two local authorities had chance to make a decision (sound familiar?).

The former (almost 1,000 apartments in buildings ranging from 7 to 42 storeys, a hotel, office space and retail) was refused by Islington because it didn't have enough 'affordable' housing, it would result in a loss of employment space on a site allocated for employment use (sound familiar?), too much car parking provision, too many studio flats of sub-standard quality, and too little attention to minimising carbon emissions.

The Mount Pleasant proposal - to build 683 flats along with shops, restaurants etc on part of the land of the mail sorting office - was called in at the behest of the landowner, Royal Mail. Sound familiar? This also met with strong criticism and the mayor's perceived abuse of power in this regard was criticised by the London Assembly earlier this month.

With Johnson's megalomaniac tendencies no longer even thinly disguised, I suspect we cannot really expect the floppy-haired one to make a considered and level-headed decision, even on a matter that has implications of national and international significance.

So what can we expect in the redevelopment of the site? When Sir Terry Farrell (a member of the London Mayor's 'design advisory group') came to Deptford two years ago to speak at the much-touted 'open day' - shortly after site owner Hutchison Whampoa withdrew its appalling Aedas-designed proposals for the dockyard - he gave a commitment to develop a new masterplan 'from the ground up'.

He promised to take inspiration from the rich heritage of the site; the ships that were built and launched there, the technology that was tested and developed there, the historic significance of the site in the development of the British Navy, not to mention the many stories great and small, the personal histories and the grand gestures that give the site its incredible past.

Putting the Olympia Building 'at the heart' of the development
Fine words, and an inspiring vision; sadly not one that was ever fulfilled.

Heart and lungs - a much more sustainable vision

The architects had a fine time researching the history of the site and coming up with storyboards galore tracing every nook and cranny of the Olympia Building, every lump of mud excavated from the docks and every seed scattered in John Evelyn's gardens. But from the storyboards to the planning documents, the spirit of adventure and the 'ground-up' masterplan got lost - or in my more charitable moments I like to think that the architects did a fine job but their creativity was crushed by the mighty and unforgiving hand of the master.

I won't go through all my objections again - you can read them in some detail here, alternatively you can ask an obvious question in the comments and risk ridicule - but suffice it to say that in my opinion, very little has changed.

An article in Building Design magazine last month had developer Hutchison Whampoa claiming to have made 'significant concessions' following a meeting with the GLA

“We have made further revisions to our masterplan to address issues raised by local groups,” a spokesman for the developer said. 

"By moving the school, creating new space for a John Evelyn horticultural centre, lowering the height of a building on the boundary adjacent to the listed Shipwright’s House and offering the wharf site for the Lenox project, we have made significant concessions.” He added: “We believe the way is now clear for the mayor of London to determine our application, hopefully by the end of March.”

These claims are at odds with the experiences of the local groups. Yes, the school has been moved and a space made for the horticultural centre, but the developer is unwilling to consider a further amendment that those promoting Sayes Court Garden claim will realistically make the centre viable. This could be done without losing floorspace in the building, but the developer has shut down any further discussion on the matter.

The Lenox Project has fared even less well - the only 'offer' of a presence on the site being a verbal suggestion that the GLA might contribute to the cost of building a dry dock on the protected wharf at the west end of the site. I laughed so hard when I heard this I did actually spit my tea out. HW and the GLA consider it a better use of money to spend several million digging a NEW dock in which to build a ship, rather than using one of the OLD ones that already exist below ground, or the slipways in the Olympia Building! Classic!

What shall we do with the Olympia Building?
Don't be confused by the motives here. The land at the west end of the site - the 'wharf site' - cannot currently be used by the developer for building flats. Its 'protected' status is supposed to mean that it can only be used for certain wharf-related purposes such as trans-shipment of materials or goods, and this protection is supposed to ensure continued use of the Thames. Happily for HW, there is a clause in the contract such that if the business on the protected wharf fails or ceases to operate after five years, its protected status will lapse and the developer can build flats on the land! Trebles all round!

Naturally in these circumstances, offering some (useless) land on which to build the ship, and subsequently requiring it to sail off into the sunset, leaving the last bit of land vacant for more riverside apartments would dovetail nicely with the developer's intentions of wringing every last drop of profit from the site.

The 'protected' wharf is the empty bit at the top of the site - and sadly only 'protected' for a few years.
So HW's claim of 'significant concessions' is spurious at best, and any suggestion that they have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into negotiations with local stakeholders is met with derision. Trying to get any kind of face to face meeting with the developer has been nigh-on impossible, according to representatives of the Lenox Project, even with the stalwart support of local MP Joan Ruddock. On several occasions dates have been pencilled in at HW's behest, awaiting confirmation which never came.

And a meeting with culture minister Ed Vaizey, which was intended to bring the two sides together, was scuppered by the developer pulling out the same day. Vaizey did actually give the campaigners a hearing, under pressure, but without both sides present, it was impossible to actually make any progress.

Whether or not the tireless work by local campaigners at Deptford Is.. and its associated projects will cut any ice with the Mayor remains to be seen.

But one thing is certain; if Hutchison Whampoa's proposals for the site are approved as they stand, we can wave goodbye to any meaningful legacy of the former Royal Dockyard, its state-of-the-art shipbuilding technology, maritime heritage and links to the River Thames. And attempts to resurrect the spirit of John Evelyn's Sayes Court Gardens and establish a modern centre for urban horticulture will wither away.

Meanwhile I leave the last words to Samuel Pepys, speaking at the Master Shipwrights House on behalf of The Lenox Project during Open House weekend last September.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The ghosts of the deep ford

Deptford old and new, and its historic figures, are the stars of this short film by Willi Richards which was made in 2005 and has at last been made available online. Ferranti's power station, Evelyn's gardens, the McMillan sisters and their nursery, Christopher Marlowe and of course Peter the Great all recount stories of their time in Deptford, while walking its 21st century streets in Vadum Profundum (Deep Ford).

Even since it was made there have been significant changes - I shudder when I remember the old exit from the train station, even if it was much quicker to use! The grounds of the Master Shipwrights House look terribly bare in their pre-landscaped state, although over the wall in Convoys Wharf nothing has changed as yet.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Deptford decades

I was sent a link to this lovely film by Katharine, who writes:

Last year I ran an HLF project 'Deptford Decades' with older people from the older community in Deptford, Tidemill Academy and Deptford Green School with the Bear church. The kids from both schools interviewed the older people, who came from DAGE and Cinnamon court in Edward street, about their memories of Deptford and SE London in the 1940s and 1950s. From these memories, the kids choreographed dances which were performed at a tea-dance in Deptford Lounge. As part of the project we made a film, recording the older people telling their stories.

Residents of Deptford tell their stories from Deptford Decades on Vimeo.

It's only had a few plays so far, but I think it deserves many more, it's a lovely little bit of social history that even features a neighbour of mine.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Sing a song of Deptford

Here's a couple of annoyingly catchy ditties - one about Deptford High Street and the other about our own local hipster hangout Little Nan's Bar - that have come to my notice recently. Thanks to Colin* for the former (*name changed to protect him from the wrath of those subsequently infected by the ear worm).

In this one, the Reverend Casy (featuring Jassah - not the same as the one from the Archers I don't think..) sings about Deptford High Street, over a film shot on the high street last year, which has a few familiar faces popping up here and there.

Reverend Casy has a page on Facebook if you want to know more.

Meanwhile Little Nan's Bar has also got in on the act, as any self-respecting hipster hangout should do, with the launch of a song of the same name by 'New Cross crooner' Rhiannon the Nightmare, filmed in aforementioned cocktail corner and also featuring a few faces I am familiar with, mentioning no names. Here's the link to Rhiannon's Facebook page. 

No need to thank me.