Readers may recall my post last year about the proposed refurbishment of Deptford railway station's arches, questioning the quality of the new shopfronts that were submitted for planning permission. As a listed building in a conservation area - and the first place visitors see when they arrive - it's clear they should set a precedent for quality design on Deptford's high street.
At the time of my previous post, Network Rail started fitting out the historic arches without waiting for the pesky matter of planning permission, and it was not until locals made a right old rumpus that the council stopped contractors from working while due process took place.
New plans were submitted by Network Rail in February, and a report by council planners is recommending them for approval by the planning committee at its meeting next Tuesday.
You would think that after months of consultation with the planning department, Network Rail would have come up with substantial improvements. Unfortunately it seems to be the exact opposite!
Pushing the shop fronts further back into the arch should have enabled an appreciation of the brickwork but this is totally undermined by the redesign of the shop front units into some kind of messy jigsaw puzzle that drains every ounce of joy out of the visual impact.
Could a conservation officer really have approved this?
And what was the response of the Amenity Societies Panel, who were presumably asked to comment on it?
I had a read of Network Rail's revised Design & Access Statement accompanying the new planning application; it's very firmly in the camp of 'we did what you told us so you can't say you don't like the result' rather than 'we employed an architect with a good track record in this type of work who was able to create something suited to a listed building in a prominent position'.
As regards the design amendments, the report states: "Network Rail undertook a process of consultation and engagement with Rebecca Lamb, Conservation Officer at Lewisham Council over a period in excess of a year in order to discuss and agree upon the principle of the design, appearance and materials of the development. This process resulted in the submission of these applications.
A series of amendments were subsequently requested to change the materials and design, moving away from a brushed stainless steel finish and moving more towards a timber effect panelling. Network Rail had reservations about the design, particularly on the use of timber effect panelling, but this was the clear steer provided from the Conservation Officer at the time.
Since this time, Rebecca Lamb has left the Council and been replaced and with that a different opinion has been provided by Officers on the appropriateness of the agreed design and use of materials. Furthermore, comments were provided through the formal consultation period by parties expressing their concern regarding the design, not least by The Deptford Society."
|A shopfront that drains every ounce of joy out of the visual appearance|
All very confusing. As far as I'm aware there was no application involving 'a brushed stainless steel finish' but former conservation officer Rebecca Lamb is most definitely being dealt the blame for all the inconvenience and delay caused to Network Rail.
Once Rebecca left - and the tone of the report gives some indication of how the authors felt about her departure (let's say they probably didn't get an invite to her leaving do) - there is no further mention of a conservation officer. Was one involved in the process?
More worryingly the revised design did not go to the Amenity Societies Panel, a group of representatives from around the borough who are given the opportunity to comment on planning applications such as these.
In the report, Network Rail claims it consulted with the Deptford Society. There was indeed a meeting on site - at which no planning officer was present - yet at the meeting, the Network Rail representatives confirmed that they regarded it as an informal chat, not intended to be consultation.
Quite aside from the fact that a cheap-looking, generic shop front design is being recommended for approval for one of Deptford town centre's most historic structures, there are serious concerns about the process that has been followed here.
There is no mention in the officers' report of any input from a conservation officer. Planning policy states that 'consent for works to listed structures will only be given where they relate sensitively to the building's significance and sustain and enhance its significance and integrity'. I strongly challenge whether this requirement has been met.
The report also states that 'officers welcome the simplified approach to the shopfront'. Take a look at the before and after pics again and see whether you agree that the shopfront has indeed been simplified.
The revised plans were only submitted a month ago and there has been no formal consultation period, yet the application is going to committee on Tuesday, recommended for approval. No-one was given the opportunity to comment on these revisions - the officers simply rolled out the report and put it on the committee's agenda.
It's disappointing to say the least - the only hope is that committee members take notice of the poor design and the procedural failings and reject the application in its current form. Passing it would not only damn Deptford's listed building to a mediocre decline, it would send the wrong message to all those local shop owners wanting to 'improve' their shop fronts with this kind of joyless intervention.
Deptford deserves better - will our elected representatives support us on this?
Ask them yourselves if you agree - details of committee members here.
Update: Unfortunately despite a number of last-minute objections and lobbying from local residents, the planning committee followed the recommendation to pass the application. Some conditions were imposed but it seems likely that the final outcome will be pretty uninspiring.