Friday, 28 April 2017

Deptford train service levels set to dwindle further

Local transport campaigners are protesting to Southeastern Railway about its failure to honour a commitment to reinstate train services to the frequency the line enjoyed before the Thameslink work at London Bridge began.

The Greenwich Line Users' Group has been examining the proposed timetable changes due to come into force in January next year when trains on this line will finally begin calling at London Bridge station again. According to chair Mike Sparham, despite Southeastern Railway committing to restore services to pre-2015 levels, the service is actually set to be reduced.

When Greenwich line trains resume stopping at London Bridge next January, it will inevitably result in a rise in passenger numbers on these trains, the group believes. But Southeastern has no plans to increase services to address this, and GLUG points out that the Greenwich line absurdly has more frequent off-peak services than it does in peak hours.

"In the height of the evening peak hour, there is one gap in service of 22 minutes (17.28 – 17.50) followed by a further gap in service of 24 minutes (17.50 – 18.14). In the off-peak hours there would be five trains in such a 46-minute period, compared with only three in the peak hour. To add insult to injury, the 17.28 has only six carriages" the letter says.

In 2014, GLUG points out, there were 17 trains leaving London Bridge for Greenwich in the two-hour evening peak from 16.30 to 18.30, with a total of 126 carriages.

In the 2015 timetable, this was reduced to 13 trains and by August 2016 it was reduced even further to just eight trains (from Cannon Street) with only 62 carriages - less than half the number three years ago.

GLUG acknowledges that this decline was accepted as a temporary measure, but stresses that the reasons for the reduction will no longer apply after January.

"In our response on the August 2016 timetable, we sought an assurance that the full peak hour service would be restored...but [proposals suggest] the evening peak service....will still be well below the previous service. There is no increase at all in the morning peak up to London."

The letter repeats a point which is frequently made across this part of southeast London, that the service plans also fail to consider the huge level of development which is under way in the region. Passenger numbers are rising steadily and will continue to do so as the developments planned for Deptford, the Greenwich peninsula and Charlton riverside come to fruition.

However GLUG is well aware that with Southeastern's franchise due to finish at the end of 2018, little is likely to change in the short term.

Speaking of which, the rather bland 'consultation' document about the new franchise is available online if you are interested - consultation open until 23 May. Or maybe you've got some paint to watch dry over the weekend.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Deptford Jack in the Green

Next Monday being the first of May, the Deptford Jack in the Green will be out with the Fowler's Troop on the streets of Deptford and environs.

Traditionally the Jack, musicians and assorted hangers on spend the afternoon visiting half a dozen or so pubs in south east London or sometimes in the City of London, having a drink or two at each one before promenading off to the next one.

The list of pubs and estimated time of arrival (which gets more unreliable the further down the list you go) is usually published ahead of time on the Deptford Jack website - but if you've got no other plans it's probably best to  just pitch up at the Dog & Bell at about midday and tag along.

Arriving at the Ashburnham Arms last May Day

The tradition always takes place strictly on May 1st; since it falls on a bank holiday this year, it's a great opportunity to enjoy this old Deptford custom, albeit one which was revived a few decades ago. It's quite a quirky spectacle too - ten foot of leaves and petals lurching around the streets of the Ashburnham Triangle can be entertaining, especially when accompanied by its costumed, musical and often quite rowdy troop.

The history of the Deptford Jack in the Green is one of a number of May Day traditions covered by Neil Transpontine in his pamphlet May Day in South London, which was published in 2011 and is now available to download from his website

Monday, 17 April 2017

New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival

One of my favourite annual local events starts this Friday when the New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival kicks off at the White Hart in New Cross.

I love the fact that you can see a shedload of films for free; they include old classics and firm favourites; and you can watch them indoor or outdoor, powered by cycles, at unusual venues ranging from bars to churches, cafes, schools and shops, as well as at the oldest, purpose-built housing coop in the UK, 

Hell you can even watch them in our own local cinema!

The programme includes a couple of intriguing director Q&As including one presented by the 'Remakesploitation film club' which is a showing of the documentary Remake Remix Rip-Off which 'tells the bizarre history of Turkish remakes of Hollywood films such as The Exorcist, ET, Rambo, Superman, and Star Trek.' Director Cem Kaya will be coming over from Berlin especially for this event and he will introduce the film and hold a Q&A afterwards.

The documentary 'Sewol' tells the story of the Korean ferry that sank in 2014 killing 304 people, most of them schoolchildren. It is still not known why the ferry sank and why no coordinated rescue attempt was mounted. As the relatives of the victims fight for a thorough and independent investigation, they come against an uncaring government and hostile news media. This documentary film tells the story of the Sewol families: their grief, and their efforts to bring improvements in a nation whose democracy is faltering under a corrupt presidency. There will be a Q&A with director Ok-Hee Jeong afterwards.

For something a bit more lighthearted you could try the singalong Sister Act 2 at Little Nan's, or The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert which is being shown at the Brookmill pub and is followed by a disco, what else?

If your bike needs fixing, take it along to Folkestone Gardens on Friday 28th April from 6pm onwards where Lewisham Cyclists will be holding a 'Dr Bike' drop in repair session before the bike-powered showing of Breaking Away starts at 8pm.

It's not all film screenings - on Saturday 29th there's an 'iphonography masterclass' for young people and launch of the 'My Lewisham' challenge at Somerville adventure playground. The masterclass is a ticketed event (although tickets are still free) so booking is essential.

All films are free, it's first come first served, and the festival is run entirely by volunteers - so please give them your whole-hearted support!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Temporary housing scheme proposed for Deptford

Lewisham Council has put forward a proposal to build 31 temporary homes on a disused playground in Deptford, using a similar scheme of modular construction to that which was trialled in Ladywell.

An update on the council's new homes programme, which is being presented at the council's housing select committee next week suggests that the Deptford scheme would build on the lessons learned from Place/Ladywell and could provide a mix of two and three-bed housing units for people in 'acute housing need' - i.e. currently housed by the council in temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfast. There are 1,800 'households' currently in this situation in Lewisham alone.

At this stage details are outline - a feasibility study has been completed and the next phase will require additional funding from the council so that officers can commission the full design and planning process. The council is hoping to apply for GLA innovation funding to pay for the construction, which is estimated at around £6.5 million. The scheme might also incorporate community and/or commercial space on the ground floor.

The proposal involves modular construction of housing using prefabricated units that are made off site and are designed to stack together. They can subsequently be dismantled and moved elsewhere if necessary, but according to the council report, the intention is to apply for planning permission for the site to be permanently used for temporary accommodation.

The site is currently occupied by a games court which was used by Deptford Green School when it was in its former location, just across the road. Since the school relocated and got new sports facilities, the court has not been maintained and is in a poor state. The gates are being left unlocked to prevent kids scaling the fence to get in. Whatever its condition, the loss of recreation space is something that needs addressing - the report suggests that improvements could be made to the games courts on Evelyn Green, which is very close by.

I went along to have a look at the site and was surprised to find three mature and exotic trees along the strip of land next to the court along Arklow Road. My eye was caught by the beautiful and dramatic flowers on this tree, which I found out via Twitter is a Sophora, probably a type of Kowhai - the Maori name for this species of native New Zealand tree. 

Alongside is a huge eucalyptus with incredibly pungent leaves and another rather less distinctive tree that also looks as if it might be an exotic species. I have no idea how these trees came to be planted on this piece of land - if anyone has any information, please leave a comment as I would love to know!

I note that some trees are shown on the rendering above, but as I know all too well this could just be 'indicative', so I'll be looking keenly at the details of the planning application to check that they are going to be retained.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Report backs the return of the anchor to Deptford High Street

A report into the feasibility of returning the anchor to Deptford High Street has recommended it be returned to the south end of the high street.

The report by consultant BDP was commissioned by the council following continued pressure from Deptford residents and local groups, and the 'Give us back our bloomin' anchor!' petition by Deptford Is Forever/Deptford Society which attracted more than 4,000 signatures.

The cost of returning the anchor - which is currently being stored in a shed in Convoys Wharf - is estimated by the report to be approximately £24k. This would include cleaning the anchor (which  since being put in 'secure' storage now has graffiti on it ) and creating an area of contrasting paving around it to prevent visually-impaired people from walking into it.

The BDP report considers other options for relocating the anchor, including Giffin Square, but concludes that the south end of the high street is the most feasible.

The report comes before the mayor and cabinet meeting next Wednesday. Council officers have recommended agreement to the return of the anchor; they also suggest that crowd funding be used to raise at least some of the cost of doing so.

Monday, 13 March 2017

28 Deptford High Street - no time to lose!

Three years on from the initial proposal that 28 Deptford High Street (the former Law Centre) should be refurbished and made available for 'community use', prospective tenants are being given just a few weeks to put forward business plans and bid to take over the space.

The funding which has been used to refurbish the shop has come via a rather convoluted route from the Outer London Fund money that was awarded for improvements to the south end of the high street five years ago.

Although the high street refurbishment works and repaving were finished some years back, the cost of the work was less than had originally been predicted, and the council applied to redirect the remaining GLA grant money for other uses in Deptford, rather than having to hand it back.

The first proposal was to fund the relocation of the train carriage cafe which was removed when work on the Deptford Project carriage ramp began. (If the train carriage cafe is before your time, just keep your eyes peeled and you'll be sure to see it mentioned in some developer's Deptford-is-so-cool puff piece within a few weeks...)

The option of redeploying the train carriage in Douglas Way next to the Albany was explored, but this fell through and the money was subsequently redirected to 28 Deptford High Street.

The building is owned by Lewisham Council and has been closed for umpteen years now. As well as bringing the ground floor shop unit back into use, the council proposed to convert the upper floors into self-contained flats that could be rented out.

The shop would be let at a peppercorn rent for a set number of years to a tenant who would 'continue the work to animate the high street through a programme of changing offers in the shop'.

That plan was originally mooted in 2014. Since then, the shop has lain empty, despite being advertised for rent in 2015. Enquiries by local artists wanting to use it to display their work during Deptford X were thwarted by council red tape and demands for unreasonable rent, suggesting that the desire to 'animate the high street' was not a serious one.

Fast forward to 2017 and all of a sudden there's a sense of urgency with the council looking for 'social entrepreneurs, community and cultural organisations' to take on a short-term lease in the shop.

Potential bidders are being given just a month to draft and submit expressions of interest - although you don't even get to see inside the shop until ten days before the deadline, and viewings are by appointment on two specific days only.

There's a lot of work to do for the first phase, including business plan, budget, details of tenant team staff, etc and if you get shortlisted, you'll be expected to have your detailed submission ready within 12 days of being notified. There is an unholy urgency going on to get someone in there that belies the past three years' sloth. I very much doubt that community or cultural organisations have the resources to come up with detailed submissions that meet these criteria at the drop of a hat, often being staffed by volunteers who do it in their spare time. Even social entrepreneurs may struggle if they are small organisations that already have a full workload - and will they want to take on another commitment in any case?

It's down to the bidder to suggest what rent they are prepared to pay, so business plans will need to be realistic and thoroughly researched rather than 'back of the fag packet' style.

The expression of interest form states that the council is not looking simply at income - they aren't necessarily going for highest bid. But it's questionable whether they will get a the range of offers they would like, if they are wedded to such a short timescale.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Artist sought for Tideway commission in Deptford

Updated: Don't give up the day job just yet, it seems someone's for the high jump as the first application form significantly overstated the artist's fee. The commission has now been announced on the Tideway Tunnel site with the correct file linked, stating the much more modest artist's fee of £27k. 

A widely-publicised call for artists to design hoardings to go around the Thames Tideway work site on Crossfields Street in Deptford was issued last year. The chosen artist for the commission, submissions for which closed last month, will be working with pupils from St Joseph's RC primary school, which is right next to the site.

But it seems that Tideway is also looking to commission a much more significant piece of work for the site, which will be permanent and could include seating and other public realm improvements, as well as sculptural elements.

The commission is one of a number which are intended to be installed across the whole tideway route, as set out in Tideway's public arts strategy.

According to the invitation:
"The project will enhance an existing public open space adjacent to St Paul’s Church in the centre of Deptford. Key objectives of the public art programme and central to this commission will be to:

  •  Enhance the high quality public spaces and experience of the river for Londoners and visitors 
  •  Stimulate a new sense of pride in and new perception of the tidal River Thames and the wealth of opportunities that it provides 

Proposals and designs are expected to engage audiences in different ways; creating pleasure, celebrating people or places, being provocative, engaging audiences in new ways of experiencing or thinking about a place. 

We welcome applications from artists working in all disciplines, though given the nature of commissions we require prior experience of working at scale and in three dimensions. We especially encourage applications from artists who are based in London Borough of Lewisham or with a good knowledge of the Deptford area."

The only place I was able to find the invitation for the commission, the total fee for which is £47k, was on the website of Lewisham Education Arts Network. There does not seem to be any wider publicity of this commission, a fact I found very odd considering the size of the commission and its significance to Deptford.

Deadline for applications is 2 April 2017 so potential bidders need to get their skates on.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Old Tidemill Garden: Support a better deal for Deptford

If' you're wondering why the redevelopment of the former Tidemill School on Frankham Street still hasn't started yet, you can find out more this Saturday.

The Old Tidemill Garden will be open and will be hosting 'Stand up and support a better deal for Deptford' in collaboration with the campaigners who have been battling against the council and its developers for several years now to try and get a better outcome from the redevelopment of the site. Members of the campaign group will be in the Deptford Lounge from 11am to 3pm to explain the issues and the current situation.

Concerns focus mainly on the demolition of existing social housing, lack of clarity over the 'affordable' element of the new development, the impact on residents in Frankham House and Princess Louise Building, including loss of light, and the loss of green space, mainly the community garden.

I wrote about the development last year; since that time the council claims that it has been working with campaigners to get a better deal for the community. The proposals came before the council's strategic planning committee last December and the committee agreed to defer a decision for the following reasons;

1. for clarification of impacts on neighbouring properties, particularly Frankham House and Princess Louise Building, in respect of daylight and boundary treatments;
2. for re-consideration of the way the proposed open spaces and communal areas would be run, managed and shared in order to compensate for the loss of the former school garden, particularly with regard to their use by children;
3. for justification of the demolition of Reginald House and details on the terms of re- location of residents of Reginald House; and
4. for the net contribution to affordable housing to be clarified.

What has happened since? From what I hear on the grapevine, very little.

The garden is open from 11am to 3pm, via the Reginald Road entrance. If you've not been in before, it's worth a visit and you can help clear and tidy the garden. Tools and gloves provided.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

New Deptford eateries: Dirty Apron

Despite my initial objection to the name, over the few months that Dirty Apron has been open in Deptford Market Yard I've come to love this small but almost perfectly-formed little cafe.

I've visited a few times now, eaten brunch, lunch and dinner, and even dropped in for a takeaway sandwich. The food has never disappointed. 

There's only a few tables so it can be very cosy at times, and although they do their best to address the occasional unexplained draughtiness with fan heaters, it does sometimes suffer from unpredictability in terms of the ambient temperature. 

The evening menu changes on a very regular - perhaps even daily? - basis, which I find pleasing as it means you can go back frequently and always be surprised by something different. There are options for both meat eaters and veggies, and if there's nothing vegan listed, they are happy to whip something up on demand.

They serve a staunch range of breakfasts and brunches including the good old bacon or egg bap, alongside fancier breakfast bap options that add things like avocado, parmesan omelette and chilli jam. There's varieties on the 'full English', not to mention a mean-looking kedgeree, and quite a few fruity/porridge/toast options for those wanting something a bit lighter.

Prices are reasonable for the quality of the food on offer. Some of the specials I've taken advantage of include £5 for coffee and a breakfast bap/ £5 for soup and sandwich. They have already hosted quite a few themed evenings including a vegan night and a Burns Night Supper, with Mussel Mondays (moules frites and a beer for £12) looking set to be a regular thing once a month.

Beer from Deptford's own local Villages Brewery is on sale, and there's a suitably short but varied wine list too. 

With such a tiny kitchen it can sometimes take a while for food to be served, especially if you are unlucky enough to pitch up right behind a large group. But it's great food and it's freshly prepared, so give yourself enough time to be able to enjoy it, is my tip. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Smart benches in Deptford

The good news; you can now charge your phone for free!

The bad news; you have to sit right next to the traffic while you do so.

Lewisham is one of two boroughs chosen to pilot 'smart benches' which are intended to offer free phone charging, free wifi and the opportunity to find out about local air quality as well as somewhere to sit.

One of the new benches has landed on Brookmill Road, right next to Broadway Fields, so being a nosey bugger, I went along to have a look. 

First impression - not somewhere I'd naturally chose to sit for an extended time while charging my phone, especially at rush hour when traffic backs right up to this point from the lights on the A2. 

That being said, it is right next to a bus stop so might be handy when you've got a long wait.

The panel on the bench offers two ready-installed charging leads which while not particularly flimsy are bound to be a target for vandalism. One has an Apple-type charger plug but my phone did not recognise the device so I wasn't able to use it (not a massive surprise if I'm honest). 

However if you happen to be carrying a USB charging lead with you (I wasn't) there are USB ports on the panel that you can plug straight into, and they also offer wireless charging.

The power comes from solar panels on the totem and according to the bench manufacturer, Strawberry Energy, the design includes batteries so that energy can be stored for days when there is no sunshine (most of the last few!) and at night. 

Wifi access requires creation of an account etc, which would be ok if you were planning to use the free wifi regularly but for a one-off I decided to pass.  

There's also a Strawberry App that allows you to access the information about air quality, noise, temperature which is gathered by sensors in the bench. 

It was obviously as a result of a bit of lateral thinking that the manufacturers came up with the idea that you would be able to donate to Cancer Research via the benches (ah I see now from the press release that it was all about launching in time for World Cancer Day on 4 Feb).

Apparently you can do so by 'simply' tapping your contactless payment card on the bench. I didn't see any kind of hardware on the bench that would enable you to authorise such a payment, so I'm a bit confused about how that is supposed to work. Probably best not to have your wallet in your back pocket when you sit down. 

According to the website there's also some of the benches on Lewisham High Street and one on New Cross Road at the top of Clifton Rise. 

It's something of a double-edged sword. From the point of view of collecting air quality data I can see the logic of putting these benches right next to busy roads, but I'm not sure how attractive that will make them to people wanting to sit for a more than a few minutes to charge their phones.