Tuesday 29 December 2009

Brunel's Great Eastern

(National Maritime Museum)

Yesterday's cycle ride which passed the launch site of Brunel's famous Great Eastern ship on the Isle of Dogs reminded me to share one of my favourite paintings with you. Building the Great Leviathan, by William Parrott, shows the construction of the great ship at Millwall Shipyard, with the domes of the Old Royal Naval College in the background.

It's not really the kind of painting I would have on my wall, but it moves me for a number of reasons. I am a great admirer of the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and his life and works continue to fascinate me. The fact that he is so inextricably linked to Deptford and surrounds by his involvement in the Thames Tunnel (through which the East London Line now runs) and the construction of the Great Eastern, pleases me more than I can explain.

Often when I'm gazing out across the River Thames from Millennium Quay, I try to imagine how the view would have been when Brunel's 'great leviathan' was finished and ready for launching, towering over all the buildings that surrounded it. I am sure that if it was there now it would still look impressive, even with all the tall blocks around it.

The painting is usually on display at the National Maritime Museum - you can find out more about the story of the ship at the NMM's website here.


Photographer Robert Howlett documented the construction of the Great Eastern for The Times, and his famous photograph of Brunel in front of a set of enormous chains was part of this work.

If you are interested in finding out more about Brunel, you should take a trip to the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, which is housed in buildings at the top of the shaft from which the Thames Tunnel was driven.

Many books have been written about Brunel; I would recommend two in particular.

LTC Rolt's biography of Brunel has endured several decades; it might not have the glossy photos and diagrams of other publications, but the style and content is excellent.

For great pictures (including a large fold-out print of Parrott's painting) and a stylish design which is nonetheless not compromised by content, try Steven Brindle's excellent hardback book 'Brunel; The man who built the world'.

Monday 28 December 2009

Docklands and Lee Valley

One of the presents I received for my birthday, just before Christmas, was Sustrans' new book Cycling in the UK (now being reprinted thanks to unprecedented demand, I see from the website!). It's an excellent book which gives directions for short sections of some of the UK's national routes (ranging from about 7 to 25 miles in length), along with info on refreshments, things to see, places to hire bikes from, what age/experience the routes are suitable for, how many hills they include, where the nearest train station is, and what routes they link into. There's a section on longer tours and challenge routes, as well as suggestions of the best industrial heritage routes, birdwatching routes, coastal routes and so on. (Incidentally I do take issue with their claim that the latter includes Dover to Folkestone - the worst section of the south coast's part of route 1 in my opinion and one that I would definitely bypass on a future trip!)

However that's all just a roundabout way of saying how lucky we are in Deptford to be close to so many great traffic-free cycle routes. I've written before about the Thames path down to Erith and beyond and the cycling around Surrey Docks. We are also at the start of the Waterlink Way and the Lee Valley route (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can download a free pdf of the route), both of which feature in the book. I've ridden the waterways of East London several times but today I went further north across Hackney and Walthamstow marshes, and into the Lee Valley. It's well worth a trip if you want pleasant, largely traffic-free day out - about 23 miles in total there and back, with plenty to look at and places to stop for coffee and cakes/a nice pint! Do be sure to take a map though, because some parts of the route are badly (if at all) signed.

From the north side of the foot tunnel I take the Thames path along the west side of the Isle of Dogs. It's a little patchy and there's a couple of annoying places where the path runs out unexpectedly, but it's well worth the effort to enjoy the views of the river and to pass the site of the Millwall Docks where Brunel's Great Eastern was built and launched.

Close to the top of the island you will pass an old pier which is usually a great spot for seeing some of our larger sea and wading birds. Today it was providing a resting place for about 20 assorted shags and cormorants, and three herons.

Once you have navigated through the Limehouse Basin to the Regent's Canal, the next few miles to Victoria Park are fairly simple and well-signed. You can either stick to the canal, although this can be busy, or follow the cycle route through Mile End Park, which is rather meandering but more picturesque.

At Victoria Park, turn right and follow the path along its southern border to the east end of the park, then dip back to the bank of the Hertford Union Canal (also known as Duckett's Cut) and follow it to its junction with the River Lee. Once you've crossed the bridge (and marvelled at the new Olympic Stadium, which is just over the fence next to the river) you can either head north up the Lee Valley for a longer ride, or south back towards the Limehouse Basin.

Today I headed north to explore Hackney and Walthamstow marshes along the Lee Navigation.

The route is fairly easy to follow although you need to pay attention at a couple of junctions and mind your head at the very low bridge (5ft headroom!) just before the Lee Valley Marina. There are free maps of some parts of the park that you can download from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority website here.

I made it as far as Markfield Park before stopping for a cup of coffee and cake at the lovely new cafe right next to the shed which houses the restored beam engine.

Heading back down the Lee, go straight on at the junction with the Hertford Union Canal, continuing along the edge of the Olympic site. There's some great graffiti along this stretch, and the buildings are a mixture of decaying warehouses and modern apartments, spattered with some impressive industrial heritage and quirky bridges.

At Bow Bridge the riverside path evaporates and you have to cross the big roundabout at road level. Ignore all the cycle path signs and go straight across at the roundabout as if you are going towards the Blackwall Tunnel, then immediately turn left down a short dead-end road and it will bring you back to the river again.

Three Mills Island with its historical tidal mill sits at the junction of various waterways and rather incongruously opposite a large Tesco's supermarket.
Turn left across the bridge towards the mill and then right between the Lee Navigation and the River Lea, which emerges below the tidal mill as a proper river.

The path runs between the two for half a mile or so to Bow Locks, where you cross a very quirky concrete bridge and then follow the 'pontoon' footpath along the edge of the water into the Limehouse Cut. From here it's a straight run back to the Limehouse Basin.

If you are cycling this route on a weekend it can be very busy with walkers and other cyclists, so don't forget to give a couple of rings on your bell in good time if you are approaching people from behind. If they have to make a concerted effort to enable you to pass, for example if the path is very narrow, it's no effort to say thank you and I find this courtesy always leads to smiles and responses.

The only downside of this route is the need to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the lifts in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. I was pleased to see they were both in operation as I set out, and was sure to check the closing time for my return journey. However no-one saw the need to put up a notice about the south lift being closed mid afternoon for servicing - very frustrating since I'd taken the opportunity to do a bit of shopping on the way back through Canary Wharf and so had to lug both the bike and the shopping up all the steps. Tsk!

Friday 18 December 2009

Plans for part-pedestrianisation of Greenwich town centre

Plans for part-pedestrianisation of Greenwich town centre are bound to have a knock-on effect on people living in Deptford, so it is worth taking the time to read the proposals on the council's website and register your comments.

There is also an exhibition of the proposals at Devonport House in Greenwich this Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 8pm, with traffic engineers in attendance to answer any questions you may wish to raise.

A description of the proposals and the opportunity to download detailed information can be found here. To call it a 'car-free scheme' is rather optimistic and even somewhat scaremongery - the only bits that would be car free would be College Approach and King William Walk. What the council wants to know is what you think should happen to the traffic if these closures are implemented.

One of the options is to create a new one-way system incorporating Norman Road, which would have implications for local drivers if Creek Road and Greenwich High Road also became one-way streets. It would also have implications for the cycle route and pedestrian route between Deptford and Greenwich which crossed Ha'penny Hatch footbridge and leads into Straightsmouth.

Piling at Tidemill School

You might have been wondering what was going on at the site of the new Tidemill School this morning with this strange looking machine - in fact it is the start of installation of the foundations for the building. This machine is used to put piles into the ground before the building can be built.

Piles are effectively underground columns which are used to support buildings, bridges and other civil engineering structures. They stop the building from sinking into the soil, which would otherwise compact with construction of something heavy on top of it. The piles usually extend quite a long way into the ground, right down as far as the bedrock, so that they will bear the weight of the building.

The machine you see here is being used to install what are known as 'continuous flight augur' piles. It's the quietest and most vibration-free method of installing piles, which is why it is usually used in urban areas.

The big 'corkscrew' or augur is driven into the ground to the required depth, and the soil comes up to the surface by the action of the screw. As the augur is removed, concrete is pumped into the bottom of the hole through a void in the shaft of the augur to fill the hole. If you tried to take the augur out before putting the concrete in, the hole would simply collapse because of the ground pressure around it. Once the hole is full of concrete and the augur has been removed, a reinforcement cage is lowered into the hole, to complete the structural system of the pile.

The piling contractor is Miller Piling - you can find more information about the CFA system and this type of machine on their website.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Deptford news snippets

Updates on a few stories I've been following and links to some interesting reading on other local blogs:

Funding for a new station on Surrey Canal Road as part of the East London Line extension looks like it could be in place soon, reports the News Shopper.

Deptford Marmoset posted photos of some interesting holes in the ground on the Tidemill School redevelopment site.

Deptford Film Club has been awarded funding from the New Cross local assembly to cover the costs of film licensing and publicity for the first six months.

Andie has posted some excellent articles about the history of the Surrey Commercial Docks - the latest looking at the history of the ill-fated Surrey Canal.

And finally, don't forget that Oyster prepay is coming to a railway station near you from January 2nd. The intention is to make travel easier and cheaper for those people who don't travel regularly/don't have a season ticket. Whether or not it will, depends very much on your individual circumstances - you can use the single fare finder here to find out how much it's going to cost you. I also recommend that you read Darryl's post which tells you in as simple terms as possible the things that TFL/Southeastern Trains haven't thought necessary to communicate. Make sure you have a clear head when you go over there to read it though.

As an occasional train user myself, I look forward to not having to find change/struggle with Deptford station's frequently-out-of-order ticket machines, but I am very disappointed that off-peak returns using paper tickets are going to be scrapped. I have had a Network Card for years - you pay £20 for a card which is valid for 12 months (now hiked to £25 I notice) - and can get a third off off-peak travel. I suspect this means I have to queue up twice to buy reduced-rate tickets with my card for a return trip to town. So the benefit of using Oyster for peak journeys will be cancelled out by the inconvenience off-peak. *Sigh*

I'm also wondering how long it's going to be till Southeastern Trains intends to upgrade its ticket machines so that you can top up your Oyster card on them (considering the machines in Deptford are relatively new, I suggest it's going to be a long long time).

Friday 11 December 2009

Convoy's wharf redevelopment plans

If you didn't manage to get to the public exhibitions this week, here's a brief description of the plans, timescale and some personal comments on the proposals.

The new owner of the Convoy's Wharf site is Hutchison Whampoa Properties, a developer and investor with roots in Hong Kong but which has built or is working on various property schemes in London, several of them on prestigious riverside sites.

The company's intention is to submit an application to Lewisham Council for outline planning permission in January 2010. A previous scheme was given outline planning permission*, but HW still has to go through the same process again even though its plans are very similar to those submitted before.

Outline planning permission will set in stone some quite fundamental things, such as the positions and maximum heights of buildings, the layout of the roads, the number and type of properties, the number of car parking spaces and so on.

Whatever the developer's plans for the entire site, once/if outline planning permission is granted, the developer will then have to submit detailed planning applications for each phase.

According to the plans on show at the exhibition, they are proposing three towers, the tallest of which will be on the riverfront, with the two shorter ones beside each of the two main roads coming in to the site. You can click on the photo of the model to make it bigger - it's not particularly sharp but gives you idea of the general layout.

This board shows the view from the river, with the tallest tower in the foreground.

As well as the plans for more than 3,500 new flats, the proposal also includes industrial use, which will be based at the most easterly end of the riverfront and is intended to fulfil the requirement that a working wharf be retained on the site.

The site also includes the Olympia Warehouse, which is protected by a grade II listing. I understand that the listing relates to the internal structure - the external cladding is relatively modern - although I'm not clear as to what it is about the internal structure that makes it worthy of listing. The photo above shows the inside, which is currently full of Lewisham Council bins. Since the building has to be retained, it is proposed that it will become some kind of arts centre or 'cultural hub'. How this will be achieved and maintained is unclear.

For road traffic, two main routes into the site will be provided - one along King Street through the main entrance, and a second one through the disused gates on the corner of Grove Street and Leeway. These two avenues will meet at the approximate centre of the site.

Quite a few people at the exhibition were interested to hear from the representative of transport consultant Colin Buchanan, about how all the cars (2,500 parking spaces, don't forget) were going to get in and out of the site through two very small roads. His answers were not reassuring, relying as they did mainly on some rather spurious assumptions to prove that residents would not be using their cars.

On a more practical level, noises were made about the possibility of reopening the end of Dragoon Road into Evelyn Street, providing bus services into the site, and having a riverbus pier with an increased frequency of boats, and possibly even a direct connection to Canary Wharf. Crossrail is apparently going to solve all the problems with congestion on the trains; earliest opening date I believe is 2015. Personally I feel that the transport plans and the level of car parking provision are the most important and possibly contentious issues the development faces.

The site visit offered an opportunity to see the riverfront, the vast majority of which will be incorporated into the Thames path and offer open access to the river. At the eastern end the working wharf (and the neighbouring Master Shipwright's house which fronts the river) will mean that the path has to divert away from the river for a short distance, but in my opinion all the more convenient for nipping to the Dog & Bell for a restorative pint! The opening up of the river front will be one of the biggest immediate benefits to local residents and we should be pushing for this to take place as early in the process as possible.

One thing I noted at the exhibition was the total lack of signs outside the front gate of the site. I was surprised that they had not exploited such a direct and simple way of engaging with local people. On questioning the marketing folks more closely it was interesting to hear how they had 'publicised' the event, and clear that they need to give this more thought if they are to consult properly.

What they did:
1. Article/advertisement in the News Shopper and/or South London Press. Everyone knows that newsprint sales are in decline - where I used to buy a paper every day I now only buy one on a Saturday. I've never bought either the SLP or the News Shopper - I did used to get the latter free but that was when I lived in Greenwich. I don't think Pepys Estate fits the target demographic for receiving free newspapers.

2. Leaflet drop to local properties. I seriously question the effectiveness of this, given the number of blocks in the area which have security systems on the front doors. I live about five minutes' walk away and did not receive the leaflet, while a nearby resident I spoke to said that one leaflet had been put through the communal doors in her block, each of which led to seven properties. The information about the exhibition was buried in the middle of the leaflet in very small writing.

3. Publicity to local bloggers and websites. Computer ownership and computer literacy in this part of the borough is very low. And much as we like to think it's otherwise, us bloggers reach a very small percentage of the local population.

Some ideas for future consultation:
1. Big, clear notices on the front gates about meetings - possibly even with images of the proposals.
2. Distributing leaflets and invites to local resident associations and/or working with Lewisham Homes to fund a mailing to its tenants. Making the information available in different languages on request.
3. Posters on estate noticeboards, in local shops, community centres and housing offices.

The cynic in me knows that public consultation is largely a box-ticking exercise and developers don't really want to get too many of us involved or we might start asking too many questions, demanding too many changes, organising effective opposition and generally being a bit of a nuisance. However one hopes that they can also see the wider benefits that may come from engaging effectively with the local population.

*in fact outline planning permission was never granted, as one of my commenters has pointed out. Further research has unearthed the following: the size of the scheme meant that it had to be referred to the Greater London Authority as standard procedure. On 25 January 2005 the GLA decided that the application was fine in principle, in strategic terms, but subject to further negotiation on a number of points. These included the percentage of social housing and mix of tenure, safeguarding of the wharf, improvement of transport links, and securing the presence of creative industries on the development. Concerns were raised about the number of parking spaces proposed, although in the earlier proposal this was approximately one space per property - 3,500 - and this was reduced to 2,318 after negotiations. Lewisham Council then resolved to grant planning permission subject to quite extensive conditions and the signing of a Section 106 agreement. But the application was never taken any further and the site was eventually sold. The council's website has a link to the planning documents if you want to read further..

Sunday 6 December 2009

Master shipwright's house, Deptford

I have lots to tell you about the plans for redevelopment of Convoy's Wharf, which I will do later in the week when I have more time. In the meantime if you get chance to pop along to the site on Tuesday the exhibition and staff will be there again from 2pm till 8pm to answer your questions and show you what they are intending to do.

However one thing you won't get the chance to do on Tuesday is tour the site. I took advantage of Saturday's event to join one of the tours, which included viewing the 400m-odd of river frontage which could come back into use with the redevelopment of the site.

At the extreme east end of the site you get a great view of the Master Shipwright's house, which is at the bottom of Watergate Street behind a very high wall and can only be seen from the river. It was built in 1708 by for master shipwright Joseph Allin who, dissatisfied with his existing house, persuaded the Navy Board to pay for a new one. However, Allin overspent on the house and, amidst rumours of corruption, was dismissed in 1715.

As you can see from this picture 'St Albans' Floated out at Deptford, 1747 by John Cleveley, the Elder, Allins house was right next to the dockyard (on the extreme left of the painting) and is very little changed today.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Christine S pork butchers

The latest shop to open on Deptford High Street - bucking the gloomy predictions that followed the arrival of Tescos - is this new butchers. The owner is clearly addressing a perceived gap in the market, opening up a butcher shop that only sells pork on a street where many of the existing establishments do not sell it at all.

Apparently all of the pork sold at Christine S is British, and you can buy every inch of a pig here - literally from its ear to its tail. So if you have a yearning for pigs trotters, need a sow's ear to make a silk purse from, are curious about how much meat you get on a pig's tail, or just want a nice slab of belly pork, this is the place for you.

I haven't tried it yet since I'm not a big fan of pork, but I'm happy to see that they have eschewed the presentation style favoured by lots of the other local butchers (piling it as high as they can) for a more classic display.

Incidentally if you are wondering how to eat pig's ears or tails, there are plenty of recipes around. Here's one for Jamaican-inspired pig tail stew; or just stew them and then roast them, like so. For ears, the instructions generally seem to be 'boil them for a couple of hours then slice and deep fry them' - after singeing off the hair first, of course. Here's a good guide with a few recipes. In Thailand they don't bother with the deep frying, just boil them in water, soy sauce and sugar, then slice and serve as a snack with a beer.

Pigs trotters are more 'acceptable' in the UK than ears or tails but our indigenous recipes can be a bit dull (boil for a few hours with split peas and veg for example). Hugh has come up with something a bit more exciting but still quite simple, or you can try this recipe - simple but rather long-winded - if you are not up to replicating Marco Pierre White's braised pigs trotters stuffed with chicken mousse, morels and foie gras.

I bet they are all offally nice. (sorry)

Friday 4 December 2009

Creekside Village

With public consultation for the Convoy's Wharf development starting this weekend, it seems a good point at which to consider what can happen during the planning process and perhaps take note of this cautionary tale.

I took these photographs of the construction of Creekside Village West several weeks ago, but have been too downhearted to write about it since. However I think this project serves as a salutary tale of how it doesn't pay to take your eye off the ball, and also shows the importance of demanding renderings at the planning stage which present views of proposed developments in the context of their immediate surroundings.

I've written before about the various ongoing developments in Deptford and its environs. I have not always been kind, but I want it noted that I have no grudge against the construction of new apartments per se. Redevelopment of brownfield land is a sensible policy which can bring derelict land back into use, stimulate regeneration of an area and often provides new housing close to existing facilities. In the case of Deptford there is plenty of old industrial land to spare and I agree that new housing is a good way to use it.

Since taking these photographs, I've been trying to analyse what it is that I dislike so much about this particular development. After all, the Laban excepted, the Creekside Village is surrounded by lacklustre buildings and its location is hardly a heritage hotspot, although in my opinion it should be given special attention considering it's next to Deptford Creek. The other new apartment buildings along Creek Road and elsewhere in Deptford are similarly uninspiring in terms of architecture.

No, the problems with this scheme are multiple.

A. It's huge. Its height is way out of proportion with anything else in the area, even the tower block on the opposite side of the Creek. What you are seeing in construction at the moment is Creekside West, the smaller blocks of the development. Two huge towers form part of the second phase, and there is a tall block at the west end of the Creek Road frontage.

B. It's ugly. Now I realise that this is a rather subjective issue, but I can't help thinking that this big shiny glass box looks more like an office building than a collection of homes.

C. It's not only tall, it's dense. The density of the development was commented on unfavourably during the early part of the planning process by the Mayor of London and Cabe, although it didn't seem to matter so much once the percentage of 'affordable' housing was clarified. What's that? You thought it was just posh apartments for rich city workers? Not a bit of it! Apparently 35% of the units will be affordable, 70% of that social rented.

I find it hard to imagine living in these blocks. Where is my outdoor space? I think those recesses are balconies, but they face north so will not get enough light to grow things or sit in the sun.
What happens if you want to open a window? Even when I lived on the A2 in a noisy flat with no outdoor space there were times when I wanted to feel a breeze, enjoy the first warmth of spring or smell the wet pavements after a summer downpour.

This photo was taken from halfway along Millennium Quay. The blocks are still imposing even from the Thames riverside.

These buildings seem to bear no relation to human scale or living conditions. They tower over the street with their glass facades, looking more like somewhere you go to sit at a computer all day than a place where you would make a home.

They are so close together that neighbours will surely overlook one another and the height of the blocks means that some of the lower windows may never experience direct sunlight, especially during winter months.

At ground level there are public areas which are shown on the renderings in the brochure as having pavement cafes, water features and views over the Thames. With such tall buildings on either side these are likely to suffer a lack of direct sunlight and any wind will be funnelled to ground level (anyone who's been to the public areas in Canary Wharf knows what I'm talking about).

The website has been relaunched since the last time I wrote about this project, but it is still nearly impossible to get a rendering that shows the development in its actual setting (although of course brochures by their very nature are not designed with reality in mind).

If you know the area, the best illustration for showing the scale is this one, and I suggest you click to make it bigger.

Here's the rendering of the Creekside waterfront showing the towers of the east development. The short one on the right is the height of the blocks that are currently being built.

So how did this pitiful situation arise? Surely the residents of Lewisham and Greenwich and the local Deptford creatives were united in their opposition? Surely the councillors on planning committees in our boroughs viewed the renderings and shrunk away in horror? Surely the Mayor of London realised how inappropriate and oppressive the scheme would be?

In the minutes of the Greenwich Planning Board meeting of 31 May 2007 I was surprised to read that representatives of the Laban Centre and Creative Lewisham had supported the scheme. One of the things I had particularly noted about the construction as it progressed was the way it overshadows the Laban Centre completely and encroaches on its architectural presence and landscaping. With its unremarkable and bland architecture I felt sure that the local creatives would be pushing for something a bit more inspiring.

I was surprised, until I read that the east part of the development (not yet started) will include 9,000sqm of space for Trinity Laban, and there will be artists studios and a 'creative quarter' as well, which presumably Creative Lewisham (now Creative Process) will be involved in filling.

The Mayor of London was concerned about the mix of housing - developers can get funding to supply affordable housing since councils don't build their own any more. The Mayor said that the development was too dense and there was not enough affordable housing. By the time he waved it through the issue seems to have been resolved, although from the details of the report I couldn't see much difference other than some new calculations. It seemed that the developer just had to prove that the sums added up and that the cost of remediation had been high, justifying why the scheme couldn't achieve the recommended 50% mix.

The level of energy needed to run such a large development and how sustainable it would be was also questioned, but again it was just a case of the developer having to put something in writing, or commit to exploring alternatives, so that everyone could tick the appropriate box.

Transport for London was worried about the impact the development could have on public transport in the area. What's the solution? Perhaps reduce the number of units to reduce the impact? Oh, a cheque for £250,000 towards the three-car DLR upgrade, £15,000 towards a study into bus priorities on Creek Road and £30,000 towards bus stop upgrades? That'll do nicely thanks! Throw in £500,000 towards a new footbridge over the Creek? Sorted!

CABE expressed concerns about the density and size of the scheme, particularly the high blocks. But after expressing concern, it decided that the local authorities were perfectly capable of resolving the matter themselves and everyone ticked another box.

Concerns about the height and size of the development, its appearance and potential overshadowing were raised by nearby residents, but these were dismissed with comments that they would not experience overshadowing in the summer, and that they should have known about plans to build the tower which had been approved some time ago. The World Heritage committee representative questioned the height of the buildings but this was also dismissed.

One of the reasons this development made it through to approval with very little difficulty, in my opinion, has to be its location. The first phase falls entirely within Greenwich Council boundaries, yet in a remote corner which is barely known about, let alone cared about by the majority of the borough's electorate.

The second phase straddles the boundary, with two of the buildings in Lewisham and the rest in Greenwich. This corner of Lewisham is similarly quite remote and little cared for by most of the borough. It is far enough from Greenwich town centre and World Heritage zone to prevent the conservationists getting worked up about it, yet close enough that it can be marketed as being in Greenwich. Although local residents protested, they were unable to drum up additional support that might have carried some weight - Greenwich being too remote and their heritage organisations disinterested, the Lewisham groups having already been persuaded of the benefits of the scheme by whatever means.

Being on this side of the Creek presumably also offered the opportunity to tap into regeneration grants or at least take advantage of some degree of flexibility in the planning process.

What's more, this position between the two boroughs blurs the responsibilities and creates the opportunity for each side to blame the other for unpopular decisions.

I do hope that proposals for Convoy's Wharf will undergo full and thorough scrutiny - for a start I know that there are strong residents associations in Pepys and Evelyn estates which should be able to offer support for locals, but the rest remains to be seen.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Deptford Update

Last week I spent a couple of hours at the Deptford Update exhibition in the APT Gallery on Creekside.

Although the exhibition was due to close last Sunday, it has been extended for the coming weekend. If you are at all interested in forthcoming public realm plans for this area, I recommend a visit. There is a lot of information there, although you need to pay attention to work out what is real and what is just fantasy - the exhibition not only includes information about planned improvements, but also several student proposals for projects ranging from fascinating to fanciful.

Be aware that the exhibition only covers public realm projects - that is streetscapes, parks and public spaces - and you won't find information about any of the residential and mixed use developments earmarked for Creekside or Convoy's Wharf, except as shapes on the large map that was created for the exhibition.

But you will find information about plans to improve Admiralty Square in Pepys estate, Pepys Park, Grove Square Gardens, Margaret McMillan Park, Fordham Underpass, Fordham Park and phase two of the Kender Triangle, all of which according to the map are 'due on site in 2010'. I'll be writing about some of these in the coming weeks.

According to the map, Deptford Station is also 'due on site March 2010'! I wonder if Joan knows about this?

There is also a fascinating collection of books about Deptford past and present, architecture, landscaping and so on, all of which are available for browsing. I even got offered a cup of coffee and a biscuit when I visited.

So if you want to know more how things are going to change over the coming months and years - at least in your local public spaces - pop along to the exhibition during the weekend while you've still got the opportunity. Believe me, it's much easier than trying to get information out of the council or your local MP!

Vintage posters on sale/Dire Straits plaque unveiling

Vintage posters from events at the Albany during the 1970s and 1980s are on sale in the Albany cafe for the next month, by means of a silent auction. The posters were designed by Colin 'Bo' Bodium...who coincidentally (or perhaps not coincidentally!) was at the unveiling of the Dire Straits plaque today!

Check out Bo's myspace page for the photos of the unveiling, and some pictures of the posters!

Bidders have until 19th December to place their bid by posting it into the box next to the poster.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Dire Straits plaque - update

Thanks to commenter El Blog De Ju on the previous post for pointing me to this wonderful photo, which shows Dire Straits performing in the gardens on Crossfields Estate, with what is now Cockpit Arts in the background (and where the Love Over Gold mural is). (Please note that this photo is not my copyright, it is posted here)

According to the official Mark Knopfler site
"On Thursday 3rd December, Mark and John Illsley will be attending a short ceremony in Deptford, London, to unveil a blue plaque on the site of the first Dire Straits performance back in 1977. The award, presented by PRS for music, is part of a national campaign in the UK to highlight areas where significant musical events have taken place. The plaque will be fixed to Farrer House in Church Street, Deptford and unveiled at 11.30 am. "

Here's a sneak preview:
(you may use this image but please link to my blog)

And the site of the gig as it looks today:

Sadly I have to be at work on Thursday. If anyone else can get there for the unveiling, do send me a photo!

New mural on Frankham Street

The Royal George at Deptford by John Cleverley the elder was the winning design chosen for the new mural as part of the Frankham Street regeneration by Lewisham Council.

It was quite difficult for me to get a good photo when I went to see it the other day, since the finish is quite shiny, and there are cars and bags of rubbish to contend with.

I recommend a personal visit for the best viewing - it's rather impressive!

On closer inspection it seems that they've reversed the picture - I wonder if that was deliberate?

Crafts and arts this weekend

Don't forget this weekend both Creekside Artists and Cockpit Arts will be hosting open studios, so it's a great time to pop along to Creekside and pick up a few christmas gifts.

Creekside Artists is open on Friday 6.30pm to 9.30pm for the private view, then on the weekend 11.30 till 6pm both days.

Cockpit Arts is open on Friday from 11 till 9pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 11 till 6pm. It's free entry on the Friday, £3 on the weekend. There will also be a cafe run by Feast Your Eyes, the team behind the Laban cafe and the Deptford Deli. Expect great coffee...!

Friday 27 November 2009

An update from your local MP

This morning I was delighted to receive a personal letter from Joan Ruddock MP.

Sorry, let me start that again.

This morning I was delighted to receive a personalised letter from Joan Ruddock MP.

Joan wrote to myself and the geezer to appraise us of all she's been doing for Deptford, just in case we should need encouragement to vote for her or her party in next year's election. (I assumed the latter bit myself).

Now, I've been accused of being a bit of a cynic in the past, even by my own parents, but let's analyse Joan's letter and find out what she has to say.

1. She's been working on the redevelopment of Deptford Station. Very hard. With lots of people. Including railway heritage experts. And has been doing for several years.

Yes Joan, I know that. You replied to an inquiry from me about the station more than 18 months ago, and basically told me not to be a scaremonger, and reassured me that plans were progressing. Pretty much the same thing as the latest letter.

2. She loves the Railway Carriage cafe. She loves it so much that she's actually forgotten its official name and is so busy loving it and being cheered by forthcoming christmas celebrations around the High Street that she can't remember why she brought the whole thing up, except to prove that she did walk down the High Street once a few months ago.

3. While she's on the subject, building work on the station is now going to start 'next year' following on from the work on Tidemill School. Most reassuring. Yawn. Haven't we heard this before?

4. But there's still a lot of unemployment in Deptford and she is working to try and keep the Job Centre on the High Street.

5. She is working with the police and council to try and counteract anti-social behaviour, and get a more permanent solution to the street drinking problem.

6. She wants your ideas so that she can do some more working. Please send them.

7. And if you've got a vote to spare, she'll have that too.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Plaque in Deptford for Dire Straits' first gig

Lifted from the News Shopper:

A BLOCK of flats in Deptford will be commemorated as the site where rock band Dire Straits first performed together.

The Performing Rights Society, which champions the nation’s songwriters, composers and music publishers, has announced the site on the Crossfield Estate in Deptford Church Street, will have a plaque unveiled there next Thursday.

It is rumoured the band will attend the ceremony.

Times for the unveiling have not yet been decided.

The event is part of the organisation's Heritage Award scheme which celebrates the first performances of the UK’s leading bands.

PRS Chairman Ellis Rich said: “Celebrating this country’s musical heritage is a great thing to do and these plaques will be springing up all over the country.

"The UK has given the world some fantastic songwriters and performers which enrich our lives and provide the music we love.

"I’m proud that their humble musical beginnings will now be marked for all to see.”

Just as long as they don't have to move the flying ducks ;-)

Convoy's wharf public exhibition

Convoy's Wharf is probably the biggest housing and redevelopment scheme to hit Deptford since the construction of the Pepys and Evelyn estates. The developers are holding a public exhibition on 5 and 8 December on the site (see below).

In 2005 Lewisham Council’s Strategic Planning Committee granted outline planning permission for an application by News International to redevelop the site for 450,000 sq metres of floor space, including approximately 3,500 new homes, 73,000 sq metres of employment space and major new cultural, creative and community facilities.

Just read that again in context, thinking about Creekside Village, currently towering over Creek Road, which has 801 apartments. The new development will have approximately 3,500. Granted it will be over a larger area, but the towers are likely to be as high, if not higher, and there will be more of them.

The rather bland renderings that the developers are using show extensively landscaped streets, but the scale of the structures is still visible if you peer through the greenery.

Hutchinson Whampoa says its proposal will be 'broadly in line' with the previous submission. It includes the following data:
* Approximately 3,500 new homes
* 26,300 m2 of employment space
* 23,500 m2 of leisure space
* 14,400 m2 of new cultural and community space
* 6,300 m2 of retail space
* 4,600 m2 of restaurants and bars
* 2,318 car parking spaces

Read the last one carefully. Consider how all these cars will get to and from the site.

I guess the purpose of the exhibition is to inform rather than consult - not being familiar with planning law I don't know the legal status of 'outline' planning permission, what level of detail it covers, etc etc and don't have time right now to educate myself, although I intend to try and do so in the coming weeks. If you want to read the previous documents and the strategic planning committee's decision, the documents are online here.

The first opportunity to start asking questions and finding out more is the public exhibition.

Saturday 5 December 10am-4pm
Tuesday 8 December 2pm-8pm

The exhibition will be in Convoys Wharf Warehouse 7 - access via the main entrance, at the bottom of New King Street.

On 5 December there will also be walking tours of the site, starting at 12 and 2pm.

The press release from developer Hutchinson Whampoa reads as follows:
Hutchison Whampoa have announced plans to move forward with the regeneration of Convoys Wharf, a key site for regeneration in the London Borough of Lewisham. The plans will see this largely vacant and underused brownfield site in Deptford brought back to life.
Previously used by News International to import paper, Lewisham Council resolved to grant planning permission in 2005 for the regeneration of the site with a large mixed-use development, comprising new homes, employment space, and new community facilities.
Hutchison Whampoa, the new owners of the site, are now looking to move forward with amendments to the existing proposals for Convoys Wharf, bringing considerable investment to the Thames Gateway and opening up a major part of Deptford’s riverside to the local community and the wider public, thus generating significant employment and major benefits to the local community and economy.
It is intended that consultation with the local community will take place over the next few weeks, before any amendments to the existing application are submitted to Lewisham Council by early December 2009.
Raymond Chow, the Managing Director of the Property Group of Hutchison Whampoa, announcing the intention to move forward with the development of Convoys Wharf, said:
“This is a hugely exciting project for Lewisham and the wider Thames Gateway area. We are looking forward to working with Lewisham Council, the GLA, and the local community to understand their aspirations for Convoys Wharf and how we can create a fantastic new future for this historic London location.”

The website is here, and there is a feedback page if you can't make it to the exhibition.

Quite aside from the architecture, some things to consider are that this site occupies a large part of Deptford's riverfront. It is a great opportunity to give residents greater access to the river, to open up new vistas and green space, and to improve the Thames path for walkers and cyclists. It should not be just an opportunity to see how high you can stack your real estate and how many flats you can market as having a river view.

Transport is a major consideration and one which I know many locals are concerned about - not just how our overstretched rail line and DLR are going to cope with this increased population, but also the fact that the developers are intending to provide a huge number of car parking spaces.

The developers claim they will be creating 1000 jobs during construction and 2000 in the finished development. What kind of jobs will these be? Will HW be supporting any apprenticeship or training schemes so that locals will be able to compete for these jobs?

The site has one listed building, the Olympia Warehouse, which will be retained and redeveloped as a 'cultural and community hub'. Being the site of the first Royal Dockyard it also of immense historical importance.

The website for Convoy's Wharf includes a page showing the companies involved in the project, so you can see what kind of projects they regard as demonstrating their best practice.

Over the coming months I'll be following this closely and will report back regularly.

Monday 23 November 2009

Deptford station: the greenest in London?

It's easy to knock Deptford Station - no doubt it was a grand sight in its heyday, when the carriage ramp was in use and daytrippers came from far and wide to visit one of the city's first suburban railway stations.

These days we are (still!) awaiting the start of the grand station refurbishment and reconstruction, which has been in the pipeline ever since the Dame washed up in this manor (and probably even before then!). But it's good to see that in the interim, the powers that be have decided that the station should try to adopt a more environmentally-sensitive image.

So I ask, is Deptford the greenest station in London?

Admire the green roof.

Marvel at the water feature.

Enjoy the sensitive landscaping (repeated at intervals around the station buildings, arches and bridge)

Incidentally most of the greenery is Buddleia, which is great for attracting butterflies. Let's hope that the damage it does to the structure of the station is made up for by the boost to butterfly habitat. Or perhaps this is an extreme and very long-term environmentally-friendly way of demolishing the building?

Monday 16 November 2009

Cosi filming at St Paul's church?

News on the grapevine that there will be filming in St Paul's church tomorrow for Cosi, I presume it is this romcom starring Richard E Grant and Sarah Brightman. I don't know whether either of them will be present though.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Stephen Lawrence Centre

The lovely glass which forms the main facade of the Stephen Lawrence Centre on Brookmill Road has finally been replaced. A large part of it was smashed shortly after the centre opened, and it has been boarded up for some time.

The glass was designed by artist Chris Ofili which explains why it has taken so long to replace. It adds a lovely texture to the facade of the building and nicely offsets the rest of the cladding, which is rather utilitarian. However I do think that the glass is best seen at night, when the lighting inside the foyer makes the patterns stand out so much more. Photographs such as the cover picture in the Blueprint article, which you can see here, show the interior lit and patterned beautifully in sunny weather.

If you click on my photo to enlarge it you can see some detail of the pattern.

I do wish that the Centre would interact a bit more with its immediate community - I would love to get the chance to see inside the building, and perhaps even to use it for a night class or something. There's an interesting short film on the centre's website about some of the courses they run for children, but I can't help wanting to be more involved and to contribute in some way.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Deptford film club

Are you an avid film-goer? Do you get sick of traipsing to Greenwich, Surrey Quays or Canary Wharf to see a film? Bored of getting the DVDs from the bottom of your list on Lovefilm?

A couple of Deptford residents are hoping to set up a film club in the area which would show something a bit different to the standard fayre: 'classic films, world cinema, art films, that sort of thing'.

It would be 'a Deptford version of Bethnal Green's Close Up but less austere' they say.

And they want to know if you are interested in the idea, and what sort of films you would like to see!

Visit the blog here, or go straight to the online survey here.

The first screening is intended to take place in December or January, although venue and film are yet to be decided. Get along to the survey and have your say!

Convoy's wharf

Building magazine has a story about the planned redevelopment of Convoy's Wharf. Revised plans are expected to be submitted for planning permission soon, and the developer says that it intends to start consulting with local people in the next few weeks.

The Dame has already been contacted by the PR firm working for the developers, and hopes to bring further details in due course.

Meanwhile if you are a member of any local community groups or residents associations in the area, make sure that you get the chance to have your say. As soon as I know more I will post to the blog.

Progress report

Watch out over the coming weeks and months as I keep you updated with progress on the new Tidemill School. Demolition is now all but finished, the site is enclosed, and the ground level at the front part of the site is graded and ready for action. A couple of mounds of concrete remain to be crushed and (presumably) recycled as aggregate or fill.

I do hope that the contractors find a better solution to total closure of the footpath on the north side of Giffin Street. It's not always easy to cross the street and use the other side, especially in the rush hour when cars race down the High Street, which serves as a rat run at this time of the morning.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Interface review

Deptford's burgeoning art scene gets some attention in this review in Interface.

Galleries such as Bearspace, Gallop, SE8 and APT are praised for their 'lack of pompousness' (eek, sack the sub!) as well as the fact that they do not limit themselves purely to selling art.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Appeal for witnesses: stabbing in Douglas Way

A serious disturbance in Douglas Way last night led to two people being stabbed - a 41 year old man and a 16 year old boy. The man received life-threatening injuries and is in hospital.

Police are appealing for witnesses to the disturbance, which apparently involved a large group of youths.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Giffin Square demolition

Local resident Phoenix has sent me a link to some short You Tube videos of yesterday's demolition of the old Access Point building in Giffin Square. It's interesting to see how quickly the demolition machine bites away at the walls of the building, and the sounds of the 'tearing' of the bricks are almost eerie.

I for one will not mourn the passing of this dull little shed and look forward to seeing the new school and library rise from the ashes.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Camra pickle festival, Dog & Bell

Noticing that someone had come to the website after googling 'deptford pickle festival' reminded me that the annual Camra pickle festival at the Dog & Bell is fast approaching.

A quick check of the SE London Camra diary revealed that the date of this year's pickle festival is Saturday 28 November, starting at 7pm.

Bring along your home-made pickles, chutneys, breads, jams and even your photography, art or craft, and have them judged by a random selection of real-ale fans, chutney obsessives, bemused onlookers and other hangers-on.

Everyone in the pub gets to try the various nibbles, and to cast their votes. It's a fun evening, a great opportunity to visit the Dog & Bell on Prince Street if you have never been there before, and maybe meet some fellow Deptfordians.

Saturday 24 October 2009

Mayflower pub, Rotherhithe

The geezer and I don't normally cast our net so far afield for nights out, but we were in the Rotherhithe area already and decided to try out the Mayflower for something to eat. I thought I would share our experience with you, and perhaps save you the effort of making the trip.

I've cycled past the place many a time on the Thames cycle path and have always thought it looks like a fabulous pub with loads of character and great potential. It's right on the river in the historic cobbled streets of Rotherhithe and although it's penned in by modern flats, it has a great location.

It was a Friday night so the place was fairly busy with diners, but we managed to find a table close to the fire. There was a very pleasant ambience and although the drinks were a little pricey (£6.75 for a very acceptable pint of Greene King IPA and a pint of lager) I was hopeful that the food would be good.

Although the inside is rather 'olde-world' in style, it has been decorated by someone who feels the need to paint witty quotes about alcohol and being drunk all around the walls. The menu is on a chalk board, but don't be fooled - it's not today's specials, it's presumably so that they don't have to reprint the menus every time the prices rise (although oddly they do also have printed menus).

On the wall behind the bar was a notice reminding us, courtesy of the Drink Aware campaign, that alternating a glass of wine with a glass of water was a good way to moderate one's alcohol intake. Right next to that was a notice courtesy of the landlord announcing that only bottled water was available in this establishment, and patrons were not allowed to drink their own bottled water either. In fact the pub was somewhat awash with notices, signs, orders and instructions for every eventuality.

So we ordered our dinner. The menu is predominantly fish and seafood, with a range of steaks and a few other meaty and veggie options. When told that there was no cod for the cod,chips and mushy peas that I wanted (I could have haddock instead but it didn't come with mushy peas, the manager told me, in a voice that suggested he would find it impolite for me to enquire as to the reason) I decided to have the fresh dressed crab with salad and new potatoes.

The geezer went for fish pie which oddly came with a choice of either salad or chips (just in case you didn't already have enough potato on top of it, presumably). The "Mayflower signature dish" of shepherd's pie could also be served with chips, I noticed, whereas the "Scottish mussels" (their speech marks) did not. Even at £13 a portion.

Oh yes, the prices. The food is expensive. On a first visit you are not to know whether it is overpriced or not, at least not until you've eaten the meal. The Mayflower's food most certainly is.

We may be in London, but if I'm paying £13 for a crab salad I expect it to be exceptional. In terms of quality it was acceptable - the crab was ok, the salad was fresh and plentiful and the potatoes came in a pool of butter - but an upper price tag of £10 would have been a more reasonable level.

Likewise, the geezer's fish pie was fine, but nothing more. And it was £12.

The service was a weird mixture of uber-unctuous and unhelpful. I was particularly amused/exasperated that even when you are paying restaurant prices, you are expected to fetch your own cutlery and condiments from the sideboard next to the door.

Needless to say, we won't be going back to the Mayflower. However (annoyingly) as we left we did see a rather nice looking place just around the corner called Simplicity, which we intend to sample in the near future, so watch this space.

In the meantime, if you are up in that area I recommend instead the Yellow House Bar & Restaurant at Surrey Quays (review coming soon) and/or Banzi's vietnamese restaurant (ditto).

Wednesday 21 October 2009

St Paul's Sinfonia - new season of concerts

The new season of St Paul's Sinfonia concerts kicked off last Friday - full listing for the coming months is here.

I've been to a couple of these concerts and it's a very pleasant way to spend Friday evening - although I recommend a few big woolly jumpers and some nice warm socks, especially for the winter season. A welcome chance to see inside the church and take your time to admire its Italianate Baroque splendour and rich acoustic - for a sneek peak take a look at this UB40 video which was filmed in the church, and flagged up by Transpontine a little while ago.

Next concert is on Friday 20 November at 7.30pm and the programme is as follows:
Beethoven - Ecossaise and Military March
Haydn - Symphony No. 100 'Military'
Hummel - Trumpet Concerto
Prokofiev - Symphony No. 1 'Classical'

Tickets are £10 or £8 for concessions - get them on the door from 7pm.

Monday 19 October 2009

Battery recycling/energy monitors

If, like me, you feel a bit silly going to Landmann Way with a handful of household batteries, or have to make a special trip Across the Border to Greenwich to drop your batteries into a recycling box, fret no more!

A post on the Green Ladywell blog alerted me to the fact that Lewisham Council is to put battery recycling boxes in its libraries after teaming up with Battery Back.

The Battery Back site is worth a look if you want to know where the old batteries go, and also if you live outside Lewisham it provides a map showing the nearest collection points to your postcode.

Our household is trying to gradually move across to rechargeable batteries. We are slowly getting there but not helped by the fact that the other day I accidentally disposed of some rechargeable batteries :-(

While you're down the library and thinking green thoughts, you might also want to take advantage of the council's scheme for lending 'smart meter' energy monitors. You can borrow them from the library, much like a library book and also free of charge. Use them to see what kind of energy each of your appliances is using, and to work out where you can save the most energy/money.