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 ..er.. 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.



jonathan callan said...

Well here we have Bozza teling major developers to sell new homes to Londoners first-http://www.standard.co.uk/news/mayor/mayor-sell-our-new-homes-to-londoners-first-not-foreigners-9183996.html

I wonder if he thinks that Londoners and the nations heritage should be similarly offered to Londoners and the nation first?

vesper said...

It's nearly 30 years since we called for the planning brief, for Deptford Power Station, and associated sites, to be changed from light industrial to HOUSING, HOUSING , HOUSING & A HOTEL.

Lewisham Deptford's Labour MP John Silkin backed our plans at inception, as did Frank Barber the Chairman of Governors at Addey & Stanhope School, and Father Diamond of St Paul's C of E

Addey & Stanhope School's Steve Pratt can confirm that Canon Diamond used my poetry to invite HRH the Prince of Wales to the opening of St Paul's Court, and we of course then became active participants in the associated VISION OF BRITAIN debate involving Prince Charles, and his book of the same name:



Dame Joan Ruddock's 'Adjournment Debate' http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/house-of-commons-25844958 completes the democratic involvement begun by the late John Silkin, on behalf of poor Deptford's SOS PEOPLE 999.

If Boris Johnson decides otherwise, then I think he will discover the true meaning of Thames Gateway, City Challenge.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dame, for a great summing up and a very funny video. Will try and get a letter off this weekend! More people should do the same, or at least sign the petition.

Nemo said...

To my knowledge Boris has been to Deptford twice in his mayoralty. The first time we led him into deep water in the Ravensbourne (or was it too much champers with his developer pals the night before?) and nearly drowned him.
The second time it was his "Meet the people tour", ill fated in that we had just heard of the plans for Lewisham Hospital so he got a well deserved drubbing. So, this might be personal for him coupled with his view that the place is full of socialists and poor people !
Still, it does seem small minded even for him, that he's not prepared to give space to celebrate some of London's most important heritage .
I remember his quote on BBC radio when he was chasing votes for his job and was questioned about the threat to affordable homes in London from foreign developers, "There'll be no Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing on my watch".
Some legacy Boris !

vesper said...

I forwarded my comment, posted here on the Deptford Dame blog 12 March 2014 11:20, as an email to the case officer graham.clements@london.gov.uk :

Subject : Mayor of London's 'representation hearing' for Convoys Wharf on 31st of March 2014

Dear Graham Clements

I am aware that Mayor Boris Johnson will shortly make a critical decision concerning the regeneration of Convoys Wharf in Deptford where I was born.

Please could you bring the following forwarded email/Deptford Dame blog comment, to Mayor Johnson's attention, as it contains the 'A Deo et Rege' product of my own professionally qualified, Deptford orientated, Thames Gateway, City Challenge consultancy.

I'm sure that Mayor Johnson will carefully consider what I have written, and that his final decision will reflect such in-depth consideration.

Yours sincerely

Roy Hobson http://www.mixcloud.com/roy-hobson/ aka "Vesper"

ROY HOBSON CInstCES1990, Grad Dipl QS 1981

vesper said...

UPDATE REGARDING : Mayor of London's 'representation hearing' for Convoys Wharf on 31st of March 2014 : DC/13/83358

Dear Graham Clements

I have added the application reference DC/13/83358 to my previous communication that I sent to you on the 12 March 2014.

Also I would like to see an actual restoration of John Evelyn’s seventeenth century masterpiece, Sayes Court Garden, as detailed here http://londonslostgarden.wordpress.com/ .

I hope now that you can respond to this chain of emails that have a direct bearing on the regeneration of Convoys Wharf in Deptford where I was born. Steve Pratt of Addey & Stanhope School can confirm that we actively involved HRH The Prince of Wales in our A Deo et Rege plans for the regeneration of Deptford back in the mid 1980s. It would be a shame if this valuable Thames Gateway, City Challenge, VISION OF BRITAIN link were to be ignored by the Mayor Johnson when he makes his decision regarding Convoys on the 31st March 2014.

Yours sincerely

Roy Hobson http://www.mixcloud.com/roy-hobson/ aka "Vesper"

My address

ROY HOBSON CInstCES1990, Grad Dipl QS 1981

vesper said...


Convoy's Wharf, Deptford (GLA reference: D&P0051c / Lewisham reference: DC/13/83358)
Dear Roy Hobson,

Thank you for your representations with respect to proposed development at the Convoys Wharf site in Deptford. The issues you have raised will be taken into account, and your comments (along with all other representations made on the case), will be made available to the Mayor when he comes to consider the case.

I can confirm that the Mayor is mindful of the historic importance of this site, and is committed to securing a well-designed scheme that would deliver benefits for Deptford, as well as for the rest of London. To this end the Mayor has instructed his GLA officers to work closely with Lewisham Council when negotiating on the case - to ensure that local priorities are appropriately considered and addressed as part of the determination of this application.

The Mayor is due to consider the application at a public Representation Hearing in the Chamber at City Hall on 31 March 2014, starting at 16:00. The hearing is open to the public and you are welcome to attend. The Chamber has a capacity of 250 people and the space is fully accessible. A location map for City Hall can be found here: www.london.gov.uk/city-hall/visitor-information/location-map, and more detailed disabled access information is available here: http://legacy.london.gov.uk/gla/city_hall_multimodal_map.pdf.

Further information, including the GLA officer’s planning report and recommendation to the Mayor, is now available to view on the GLA website here: www.london.gov.uk/priorities/planning/public-hearings/convoys-wharf.

Yours sincerely,

Jinder Ubhi

Jinder Ubhi I Business Support Officer I Development & Projects I Development, Enterprise & Environment


T: +44(0) 7983 5893 I E: jinder.ubhi@london.gov.uk

vesper said...

Sent at 11.27 today

Jinder Ubhi
Business Support Officer
Development & Projects
Development, Enterprise & Environment
City Hall
The Queens Walk
London SE1 2AA

Dear Jinder Ubhi

Thank you for your email dated 25th March 2014, which assures me that Mayor Boris Johnson's decision regarding the Convoys Wharf development will take Deptford's historic significance into consideration when deciding the shape, and nature of its future.

I personally have been professionally involved with the Thames Gateway, City Challenge regeneration of Deptford where I was born, since I qualified RICS in 1984, and Mayor Johnson's decision regarding Convoys Wharf must also take into consideration the hermeneutic of continuity that links Deptford's past to its Lewisham present.

For instance the late Father Diamond of St Paul's 'C of E' Deptford involved HRH The Prince of Wales at the request of myself and Addey & Stanhope School, when we were in the process of changing the planning brief for Deptford Power Station and associated sites in the London Borough of Greenwich, with the help of the late John Silkin MP for Deptford. The Prince of Wales later visited Deptford to open St Paul's Court aka our First Premise.

Have the Mayor and his GLA officers involved Prince Charles and Ben Bolgar of the Prince's Foundation before reaching any decisions regarding Convoys Wharf?

Also my own "Jam lucis orto sidere" VISION OF BRITAIN paper titled Deptford Temenos for HRH The Prince of Wales' Institute of Architecture, took me to St James's Palace to discuss architecture with Stephen Couling and Dr Brian Hanson. This work has evolved over the last 30 years to become to become a contemporary art structure titled FARE Temenos which has been presented to the Stephen Lawrence Gallery at the University of Greenwich.

The associated legal case IPCC Reference No : 2013/004376, Police Reference No : MOPAC/12/RH21 has reached a critical juncture that has recently seen the IPCC overrule decisions made by Stephen Greenhalgh the Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime, and for the IPCC to order an investigation into the actions of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe the Met Commissioner of Police.

I look forward to hearing what Mayor Johnson has to say when I attend the Representation Hearing at City Hall on Monday 31st March 2014 at 16.00.

Yours sincerely

Roy Hobson http://www.mixcloud.com/roy-hobson/ aka "Vesper"

ROY HOBSON CInstCES1990, Grad Dipl QS 1981

Anonymous said...

What's annoying is that Hutchinson stand to make a fat profit on the many many private homes that will be built (although i'm sure they'll have to build a lot of social housing too). They say that they are offering the community things would like in return ('sweeteners') - a school, doctors surgeries. But these are only the things that they would be obliged to offer because of the influx in people that their site would bring (if they didn't offer these things the would be leaving deptford with too many ppl for the existing service to cope with). They are not actually offering us anything beyond what they are obliged too. This is insulting considering they could make so much money with this prime riverside spot. What they are offering us is cheap!!