With the Deptford Lounge and Tidemill School now open, anticipation is high for the completion of the public realm works in Giffin Square. As we await the final paving blocks being laid and the seating being installed, we look forward to enjoying this new landscape in its final form.
But it seems these expectations are premature, with a new development about to begin construction on the north side of the square, bringing further disruption and mess to our newly-pristine square. Unfortunately, should the planning application that is currently being considered be approved, it will also create an uninspiring, mean and ugly facade to what should be one of the most impressive public spaces in Deptford.
The site of this development - a three-storey block with retail/restaurant units at ground level and one-bedroom and studio flats above - is the land at the back of the Deptford Seafood Centre at number 104 on the high street.
In theory I support the development of this site - having additional retail units on Giffin Square will potentially increase footfall on the square and along with the Deptford Lounge will give it a bit more life. Having residential units overlooking the square will also improve security for those using it at night, by however small an amount.
Brown and Pletts, the architect commissioned for the initial design, made a pretty good job of creating something interesting and lively on what's a rather difficult site.
Some thought did go into this design, as you can see from the original planning application here. The potential loss of light for the gardens of the adjacent high street properties (even though they are currently unused) was partially addressed by including a gap between the two main buildings to allow light to penetrate and reduce the impact somewhat.
Windows on the rear of the building, which potentially overlook adjoining gardens and properties, were designed as narrow slots with frosted glass, to allow light into the flats but prevent overlooking and loss of privacy for neighbours. And with the main windows of the flats on a south-facing wall, consideration was given to the potential problem of solar gain. To minimise the problem for residents, balconies were designed to be inset, with wooden louvre screens for shading.
The rendering above shows a visually-interesting facade with different sized windows, louvred screens and recessed balconies. The height of the block fits nicely to the lower roof line of the existing building on the right - now part of Tidemill School.
In fact the initial planning application, which was made in 2008, was turned down by Lewisham Council on the grounds that they considered it represented over-development of the site, that it would harm the mature tree in Giffin Square, and that it would overshadow and enclose the rear gardens in the neighbouring properties.
But on appeal, permission was granted by the planning inspectorate. The inspector said that although the building would have an impact on the neighbouring properties, it would not be unacceptable, and the development would serve a wider public benefit in terms of improving Giffin Square. The design would be 'interesting, pleasing and ambitious', and 'would add to the vibrancy, character and visual qualities of this locality' the inspector said. 'The choice of materials, colour and fenestration would add visual excitement and I believe a local landmark, albeit of relatively modest scale in the wider scene, would be created'.
Had the developer then gone ahead and built the scheme as proposed, you might well not be reading this.
Unfortunately the developer decided to employ a different (dare I suggest cheaper?) architectural practice to 'value engineer' (translated as 'save money on') the original design, with a new planning application now submitted for the details of the development.
Out went the range of different windows, recessed balconies and wooden louvres, to be replaced by two rows of regimented, bog-standard aluminium-framed french windows with those ugly and pointless 'Juliet' balconies slapped on top of them like lipstick on a gorilla.
Just in case you can't imagine what this would look like, the architect has helpfully (surely not proudly?) include a picture in the application as an example. See, I told you it was vile.
In such a prominent location - and next to Deptford's most high-profile public building/new development - the council must surely insist on high quality detailing and finishes? With so much public money having been spent on building Tidemill School and the Deptford Lounge, and on improving the public realm in Giffin Square, high design standards must be maintained for this and future developments.
If you feel the same way, please do write to the planning department to tell them; quote application DC/11/78353/X and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as you can.