Friday 30 July 2010

Cabe design reviews: Deptford, Greenwich & Lewisham

The Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment, otherwise known as Cabe, is one of the quangos that is in the sights of the budget-busters at the coalition government. According to reports in the building press it faces a 'radical shake-up' which could involve a merger with English Heritage or something similar.

Anyone not involved in planning, development or architecture probably has no idea what Cabe does, and even those who are might find themselves a little vague on the subject. In fact 'the government's advisor on architecture, urban design and public space' publishes design guides and provides advice for people involved in the planning process from many different backgrounds. Its aims are on the whole benevolent - seeking to improve open spaces in social housing areas, for example, and offering guidance and advice to help raise the quality of large-scale developments in urban areas. It was set up to replace the Royal Fine Art Commission in 1999 and is tasked with providing impartial reviews of major developments, among other things.

The results of design reviews of schemes that are submitted for planning permission are published on Cabe's website - they are fascinating to review, but do lend some credence to the belief that however well-meaning the intentions of the organisation, ultimately it's still a toothless dinosaur. The more community-spirited developers will take note of the conclusions of the review panel, while the ones who don't give a damn will take no notice. Guidelines are only guidelines when push comes to shove, and it's down to the parties involved to request the design review. No point inviting criticism if you don't intend to respond to it.

Here's the comments on a few local schemes - some of which were amended and resubmitted as a result of the design review, some of which stand now as epic fails.

The Old Seager Distillery which I wrote about some months ago, and which is now much taller than in the photographs on the post.

Despite alterations to the original scheme, Cabe was unable to support the application for the 27-storey tower project. What they thought about the revised 26-storey project is not recorded - presumably the previous reviews were so damning that the developers instead decided to trust to Lewisham's planning department, who agreed to the scheme.

More recently the panel has reviewed the revised proposals for the contentious Greenwich Market redevelopment. Not a lot has changed since the original review, and despite welcoming the general aspirations of the redevelopment, Cabe 'still has some concerns about the layout of the market, the scale of the hotel and the detailing of the glazed roof'.

Reassuringly, the Dame finds some of her initial comments about the proposed Wharves redevelopment on Oxestalls Road being echoed in Cabe's review. It seems the application has been revised somewhat since I last commented on it - although sadly not to include a cycle and pedestrian route under Evelyn Street.

Further south in the borough, the design review panel is not particularly impressed by the Loampit Vale proposals - the famous housing development intended to incorporate the swimming pool that will replace Ladywell Pool. "We welcome the changes to the scheme since we last reviewed it," Cabe said,"but we think that our concerns about the typological strategies and the relationships between the different building blocks are not fully resolved." The architects also comment specifically on the viability of including a swimming pool in a residential block.

But to see a demonstration of just how pointless these reviews can be, look no further than the design review of my favourite scheme, Creekside Village. To paraphrase: 'we generally support the idea, but we asked a lot of questions before, none of which have been properly answered. The success of the scheme will depend on the suitability of the materials that are used, the detailed design of the facades and of the landscaping. But we're not going to comment further, we trust the council's planning department and the scheme architects to do the right thing, and we have pointed out our publication that gives some more guidelines on the subject. Amen.' *sound of hands being squirted with anti-bacterial gel*

Deptford round-up

After a short hiatus in blogging brought on by work pressures and travel, the Dame is back in residence for now.

During my absence I've missed various Deptford-related matters, but as they have been covered elsewhere I am not going to repeat them. We are very lucky in Deptford and surrounds to have an active blogging community, past the noses of whom not a lot can get. I link to nearly all of them in the sidebar, but just in case you have been away too, here's what they've been talking about.

Leila contacted local bloggers to raise awareness of the fact that Tidemill School (yes, THAT Tidemill School!) is bidding to convert to an Academy. Perhaps we should not be surprised at this, given that the school has reportedly undergone a massive improvement and perhaps believes this is a way to maintain its elevated status away from local authority intervention. The concern is the speed with which the school wishes to pursue this option - attempting to complete the process by September - and the very minimal consultation that has been carried out.

Crosswhatfields blog has the full story and links to a petition, along with a rather craftily-Photoshopped illustration.

Caroline followed up the debate over head-teachers' pay with an alarming story about the methods used to recruit teachers in Deptford in the 1800s. This sparked a bit of digging to uncover the result of the interview.

Just over the boundary in Greenwich borough, Darryl has been having a go at the 'rotten-looking developments' that are strewed along Creek Road like putrifying roadkill. He extracts the urine quite mercilessly from 'Bullshit Mansions' (the Teatro development which describes itself as being 'at the heart of Greenwich’s cultural quarter') before Crosswhatfields weighs in with its own two pennorth.

Naturally I enjoyed reading the banter and bile - everyone knows that I regard the Creek Road carnage as the worst kind of visual offence.

Darryl has also blogged his walk of the route of the old Surrey Canal, much of which passes through Deptford and some of the proposed developments.

Meanwhile up the road in Blackheath, the ever-vigilant Bugle has been keeping up with the ongoing debate over Lewisham Council's proposed library closures, which is also covered by the Blackheath Village Residents Group.

As far as I am aware, there is no similar campaign in New Cross. I suspect the fact that New Cross lacks a central focus (you can't really count Sainsbury's, can you?) makes it much more difficult to generate and sustain community spirit, although I'm sure it does exist in pockets.

Happily the New Cross Local Assembly has just invited your comments on priorities for the area, via its survey at The survey runs till 24th August.

Apparently if you can't do it online you can find the survey at the libraries in Deptford and New Cross. Oh, the irony!

Over at A room of one zone, Marmoset has posted some great pictures and memories of the Dog & Bell in 'the days before Charlie and Eileen'. Personally I find it difficult to believe there ever WAS a time before Charlie and Eileen!

Finally, a review of 'Deptford's finest' Athlete, playing at the Old Royal Naval College. Whether you like their music or not ('accessible pop-rock'? hmm!) it's good to see a name check for the 'ford.

Monday 12 July 2010

Surrey Canal: London's sporting village?

The public consultation season seems to be in full swing. Plans to redevelop the area around Millwall football stadium are the next redevelopment proposals to be wheeled out for public consultation.

When the leaflet plopped through my letterbox today I was rather surprised since it was the first I'd heard about the plans, apart from some rather vague murmurings.

According to the website:
Surrey Canal will be a regional and local centre for sporting excellence. The plans have already been backed by a wide range of sporting organisations and will support young up and coming sportsmen and women as well as providing significant benefits for local people.
Utilising the area's excellent transport connections, and two major stations (South Bermondsey and the planned new Surrey Canal Road station on the East London Line extension) the scheme will also deliver up to 2,700 new homes, 2,000 new jobs, improved connections and open spaces, and new community facilities.
The plans will also provide an improved setting for Millwall Football stadium, as well as providing new community facilities including shops, cafes, restaurants and new public spaces.
These proposals are led by regeneration specialists Renewal and will provide a huge boost to this part of North Lewisham which is identified in Lewisham's 'Core Strategy' as an area for major regeneration.

The website is pretty piss poor as far as information goes - as is Lewisham Council's website. Luckily the fans at Millwall online are on the case, and spotted an article in the Architects Journal.

Studio Egret West (SEW) has unveiled ambitious regeneration proposal, including 2,700 new homes and a sports village, for the 12ha area around Millwall FC’s New Den home in South London
Meanwhile it is understood Will Alsop’s dream to build a series of towers on top of and around the football club itself have died and a new architect brought in to look at a more modest re-jig of the 20,000-seat ground.
SEW’s plans, drawn up for developer Renewal and dubbed Surrey Canal - London’s Sporting Village, aim to create a new regional centre of sporting excellence together housing and shops next to the ground, South Bermondsey Station and the planned Surrey Canal Road Station on the East London Line.
Featuring a number of towers - the tallest 26 storeys - the scheme will also improve access to and from the area surrounding the Millwall Football Club stadium, as well as creating new shops, caf├ęs, restaurants and public spaces.
David West, of SEW said: ‘This is a hugely exciting project which will transform an inner city site and deliver a whole host of benefits for the existing communities of North Lewisham.
‘It will also improve connections and linkages, opening up the local area through the introduction of a new park at Bridge House Meadows and high quality public spaces forming a green armature through the site.’
He added: ‘The sporting element will underpin the new community with large scale indoor venues lining Surrey Canal Road and roof top play areas animating the sky line above.’
It is believed other architects will be brought in to work on the ‘piece of city’ which is the same size as the Barbican in the city.
Renewal which has been accumulating land in the North Lewisham area for the last seven years will be holding a public exhibition from 25 to 27 July at the Lewington Centre on the Silwood Estate in Rotherhithe as part of continued pre-application community consultation.

The public consultation will take place at:
The Lewington Centre
9 Eugenia Road
London SE16 2RU

Opening Times:
Sunday 25 July 11am-4pm
Monday 26 July 10am-6pm
Tuesday 27 July 10am-4:30pm

Guardian online visits the Meantime Brewery

Find out all you need to know about brewing 'multi-dimensional' beers in this video about the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich.

Much as the dame enjoys the ales on offer at Meantime Brewery, a recent visit revealed that the staff need a bit of training on how to serve a very busy bar. After waiting 15 minutes with no noticeable advance and no sign that anyone was being served in turn, we cut our losses and went to the Yacht instead.

Friday 9 July 2010

Convoy's wharf revised proposals

If you made it to the Convoy's Wharf public consultation you may well, like myself, have been underwhelmed by the display materials available.

Aside from half a dozen boards made up mostly of the stuff on the website, there was a 3D model that had no labels on it and could only be interpreted in conversation with one of the staff (who were also rather unhelpfully unlabelled!).

A lot of information of interest to local residents (such as the heights of the proposed buildings, the number of car parking spaces, the access to the riverfront, school facilities etc) could only be discovered by asking. In short, the material available was conspicuous by its paucity.

Many people were looking for answers and not shy in demanding them - although due to the limited number of staff available, it was not easy for everyone to get their questions answered. As is usually the case with this kind of public consultation set-up, the more vocal members of the public tended to dominate, even those who regarded it as an opportunity to vent their spleen rather than acquire information.

The plan above has been annotated with some relevant information that I managed to wring out of those present. In addition to the statistics I included on the previous post (and a lot of the information from last year's site visit), the changes I noted were as follows:

1. The 'working wharf' area has been relocated to the west end of the site. This is in order to free up the area where the double dry dock is located, which will be developed into some kind of public area. Don't get too excited - they don't propose to excavate it and reinstate it (apparently this might damage the remains) but they are suggesting creating some kind of landscaping to reflect the significance of the site, along with a small area of park to the south of the Shipwright's Palace. This will have the benefit of enabling as much of the riverfront path to be opened up as possible, and is intended to create a much more sympathetic setting for the Shipwright's Palace.

2. The number of residential properties remains the same - 3,500 proposed, with just 25% of these intended for the 'affordable' market. It's a shamefully low percentage even by the standards of London developments. And of course, affordable is a movable concept depending very much on individual circumstances. It's debatable whether your average Deptford resident currently living in rented accommodation and wanting to buy a home would be able to afford one of the Convoy's Wharf 'affordable' homes. None of which will be in the blocks with the riverside views, I would hazard a cynical guess at. How many of these affordable homes will be suitable for families is yet to be seen.

3. A site for a school has been included in the plan (although with the government's current budget for school building this might be shelved before it even gets to the planning stage!). This has been located right next to Sayes Court Park with the suggestion that a connection through to the park could be included.

4. The number of car parking spaces has been reduced slightly compared to the previous number. So instead of 2,500 parking spaces, there will be 2,300 - just less than 2,000 for residents, the rest for visitors. One of the staff pointed out that the car parking areas would be hidden in ground-level parking areas in between the blocks, with landscaped roofs. Hidden or not, they still have to get in and out of the site, and it's still a hell of a lot of cars.

5. The exhibition did have additional information about the archaeological excavations that were carried out - given the significance of the site this should be an important and thorough part of the pre-construction work. A full report will be submitted with the planning application, we were told. At the moment there are brief details on the website.

6. The proposed public square in front of the Olympia warehouse has been split into two smaller areas on advice from an independent reviewer. This is intended to offer more appropriately-sized public spaces and reduce the risk of them becoming desolate, unused areas - a good revision in my opinion. Unfortunately they are still penned in by two huge tower blocks, which I predict will create serious wind-tunnel problems for these public areas in such an exposed location.

7. Ah yes, the building heights. Nothing has changed on these - the proposed construction still consists of three massive tower blocks (highest one about 46 storeys) and a series of blocks which themselves range in height from 4 to 16 storeys. Just to put this in perspective, the monster being built at the Old Seager Distillery is miniscule 26 storeys. Aragon tower on the waterfront is 29 storeys high.

Assuming that the storeys are approximately the same height, the main tower on Convoy's Wharf will be about the height of the Nat West Tower and just a bit lower than Canary Wharf Tower. The true impact that this development is going to have on the homes of the adjoining Pepys estate can only be guessed at by studying the model and assessing the difference in height between the proposed blocks and the existing ones. On the model, the existing blocks are totally overwhelmed by the new blocks. It is not an attractive prospect for those living nearby, either in terms of overshadowing and loss of light, or in terms of privacy.

8. Just one final comment for now. Don't be fooled by all the green space on the plan - much of this is private gardens located on the top of the parking garages between the blocks and will be for residents only.

The application for outline planning permission is expected to be submitted in the next couple of weeks. I hope to bring you further analysis and information once it is available.

If anyone else picked up additional information at the consultation, or if I have missed anything, please feel free to add it in the comments.

Monday 5 July 2010

Convoy's wharf new proposals

As announced last week, the folks from Hutchinson Whampoa are intending to 'consult' publicly about their amended proposals for the huge Convoy's Wharf development site on Friday and Saturday this weekend.

The announcement said that new information would be up on the website shortly, and sure enough I found a few crumbs to peck on when I went to take a look there earlier today.

Here's what the website says:
"Since the public consultation, a number of elements of the initial proposals have been altered to reflect comments made.

The revised proposals, which will be submitted to Lewisham Council in the near future, include:

* Approximately 3,500 new homes, including a range of different tenures – social rented, shared ownership and private
* New public squares and open space
* The opening up of Deptford’s riverside and provision for the continuation of the Thames Path across the entire site
* 19,100 m2 of employment space, which might include offices and research and development space
* 30,600 m2 of leisure space, including a new hotel
* 32,200 m2 of wharf floorspace
* 14,400 m2 of new cultural and community space
* 6,400 m2 of retail space
* 4,520 m2 of restaurants and bars"

I looked back on the previous proposals which I had written about, to compare what had changed. One thing I noticed immediately is that the developers have clearly got cute about keeping the number of parking spaces quiet. I don't expect for a moment that the number of parking spaces has changed, I just think they are omitting to mention it in the hope that we will all forget about it.

I compared the breakdown of proposed land use by area, and came up with the following:

- number of homes remains the same - there's no detail of how many will be 'affordable', social rented etc
- employment space has been slashed from 26,300m2 to 19,100m2
- 'leisure space' has risen from 23,500m2 to 30,600m2, but don't imagine this is extra playing fields or anything; it now includes a hotel
- the amount of cultural space, retail and restaurants/bars all remain more or less the same
- however there is now an additional category - 32,200 m2 of 'wharf floorspace', whatever that means!

As well as skirting around the issue of transport, the new statement on the website also puts heavy emphasis on the riverside access and public squares that the site says it will provide - and which was in the original plans in any case.

A quick glance at the new masterplan shows that the warehouses on the bottom right next to the eastern boundary of the site, which open day visitors were told were being kept to provide industrial space and the obligatory 'working wharf' have now been replaced by what looks suspiciously like...more luxury riverside apartments!

However I do admit to be being somewhat intrigued by the elongated brown and green area nestled between these apartments and the site boundary, the position of which seems to correspond to the place where the double dry dock is believed to be located, according to the Shipwright's Palace blog.

Watch this space for more info after the weekend.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Lewisham council proposed cuts in public services

A post on the Blackheath Bugle has highlighted plans by Lewisham Council to save money by closing five of its smaller libraries. The Bugle is concerned because one of the libraries proposed to be closed is Blackheath - but New Cross library is also on the threatened list along with Sydenham, Crofton Park and Grove Park.

The document which contains this proposal is part of a very long report detailing the £32 million potential savings it has identified for the next three years. It will be discussed at the Public Accounts Committee meeting on 13 July, and you can read the full details here.

The appendices which contain the nitty gritty are very long and somewhat tedious to read, but I recommend at least having a flick through if you are a regular user of any particular support system provided by the council - meals on wheels, social care for children, support for vulnerable adults etc. The proposed cuts are fairly wide ranging, and not surprisingly include substantial job losses - from outsourcing of work such as transport design and not recruiting for empty posts, to direct redundancies.

For those not directly impacted, one of the most obvious results of the proposed cuts looks likely to be dirtier streets - something Deptford could certainly do without!

As well as ceasing night-time collections of trade waste and waste from flats above shops in high streets and shopping centres, the council will cease use of 'night brooms' - heavy duty cleaning machines that are used at quiet times to clean along the central reservation and so on - and will stop spraying weeds on pavements and streets. Instead of the latter, street sweepers will be expected to pull the weeds up by hand. Several other cleaning machine types will also be taken off the streets and Sunday morning sweeping/street litter recycling will also be ceased.

Also under the 'environmental' umbrella, the council is proposing to close ALL the borough's automated toilets - so Deptford would be left without an out-of-hours public convenience, despite having just had two shiny new toilets installed in Giffin Square.

Additionally there will be a charge introduced for new wheelie bins - if yours gets stolen will have to pay £20 for a new one. Or just put your rubbish on the street of course, adding to the general impression of grot in the borough.

Along with a reduction in quality of our streets, the spaces which we go to relax are also being targeted. The borough's parks investment programme set to be cut by a third every year for the next three years.

New design mathematics

Sunday morning without any firm plans for the day + fiddling about with Blogger = new blog design.

Please feel free to comment for better or worse - there's a few things that niggle me about it but I'm loathe to spend too much time fiddling!

Deptford birds: Ring-necked parakeet

It seems the borders of Deptford have finally been breached by the Ring-Necked Parakeet, Britain's only naturalised parrot which has been common in much of south-east London for years.

While I've heard and observed them regularly on walks in other pars of Lewisham and Greenwich boroughs, I've never seen them in Deptford before. The last few weeks I've heard their raucous cries frequently from my balcony and it seems that a group of them has taken up residence nearby; presumably the continued expansion of their SE London population means them having to find new territories.

Opinion is split on ring-necked parakeets - some people love the idea of having tropical birds in their back gardens, others (me included) find their squawking cries rather grating. They perch in the high branches of trees and it's not easy to see them except in flight, so it's difficult to decide whether their plummage is sufficiently exotic to excuse all the screeching! That being said, many of our native birds cannot sing for toffee either, and some have just as annoying cries such as the magpie that I can currently hear squawking in the trees nearby.

However there are also genuine concerns about their potential impact on Britain's native species, particularly woodpeckers, starlings and nuthatches with whom the parakeets compete for nesting holes. No detrimental impact has yet been established, but the RSPB is keeping a watching brief on the situation.