Tuesday 22 February 2011

Betfred update

'Oh no, not more betting shop stuff' I hear you groan.'Haven't you flogged that particular horse to death with no hope of success in the light of the current licensing laws?'

Well you're right on one count - the licensing laws are of little use to communities trying to protect the viability and diversity of local shopping streets.

Despite vocal opposition, a massive petition and a dozen individual letters of objection, Betfred's application for a gambling licence for the former Halifax building was passed by Lewisham Council's licensing committee. Objectors are offered the right to appeal but in truth there is little point.

'So why are you harping on about it?' I hear you say. 'Put it behind you and get back to moaning about the architectural quality of local developments!'

All in good time my friends. Meanwhile, gather round and listen carefully.

Back in 1974 when the Halifax first moved into 93-95 Deptford High Street, planning permission was granted for the premises to be classified as A2 (bank/building society) use. However this was conditional upon the unit being occupied by a building society. In order for Betfred to be able to occupy the premises, Lewisham's planning department must grant a variation to the classification.

In considering whether to grant this application, the planning department must take note of national and local planning policy. In particular this means Lewisham Council's Unitary Development Plan as well as various national planning policies relating to sustainable development, for one thing.

Chapter 8 of Lewisham's Unitary Development Plan, which basically sets out the guidelines for planning officers to follow when deciding planning applications, classifies Deptford High Street as a 'district town centre' - just one step down from the importance of Catford and Lewisham as major town centres. The south end of it, including the former Halifax building, numbers 93-95, forms the 'core shopping area'.

According to the UDP "The Council will seek to maintain, and where necessary improve, the function, character, vitality and viability of the established shopping hierarchy .... by sustaining and encouraging through a balance of development, regeneration and conservation a diversity of uses appropriate to their function and location and retaining and enhancing each Centre as a focus for retail activity."

The UDP explains the council's reasoning for wanting to restrict non-retail use; "The Major and District Shopping Centres are the largest established concentrations of retail activity in the Borough. Although a wide range of town centre uses are located in them shopping is considered to be their primary function. Hence a change of use to another function, even another service use, must be carefully monitored and controlled. The preservation of the primary retail function within Core Areas is a major planning objective as this is considered the best way to protect the character and role of the Centres."

The national planning guidelines, which Betfred's planning supporting statement helpfully refers to in great detail, are similarly clear on the question of sustainable development, but also require 'that the impact of development on the social fabric of communities is considered and taken into account'; and direct planning authorities to remember that 'a diversity of uses in centres makes an important contribution to their vitality and viability' and to 'take measures to conserve, and where appropriate, enhance, the established character and diversity of their town centres'.

Betfred's argument in favour of its application is almost entirely based on the fact that it will create employment, and 'contribute to the local economy' which is questionnable. It's not unreasonable to surmise that what it contributes to the local economy in salaries will be far less than what it takes back out in the course of its business.

Almost laughably, Betfred also suggests that its application meets the requirement for a diversity of uses. Being rather lost for words here, I'm not even going to attempt to rebuff that one.

Anyway, that's where you lot come in.

Assuming you agree that maintaining diversity (of uses, not just a range of betting shops) and a strong retail function is vital to the continuation of Deptford as a shopping centre, please consider objecting to this application.

The deadline for objections is Wednesday 2 March.

If you do not want to write your own objection letter, there are new petitions being passed around and held at local shops that you can sign. But it's worth remembering that however many people sign a petition - whether 2 or 2,000 - it will be counted as a single objection.

If you really want your objection to count, send a letter.

It's best to write it in your own words, or again, if duplicates are received, the committee may count them as a single objection. However, a group of local campaigners have drafted a sample letter which you can use as the basis for your own objection, which notes some of the salient points you should highlight.

1. include your name and address to prove that you are an 'interested party' - you don't have to live or work on the High Street, if you live locally and shop there your views are still relevant. The planning department will need your contact details to advise you of any hearings or committee meetings where decisions will be taken.

2. include the application reference number DC/11/76362/X

3. say that you live on/have a business on/shop on the high street, and you object strongly to this application

4. tell them why;

- it will undermine the retail function of the shopping area and is contrary to the policies of the council's Unitary Development Plan which relate to Deptford, which is classified as a district shopping centre

- another betting shop will not add to the diversity of businesses on the High Street - in fact it will reduce it by duplicating the type of business that already exists at five other premises in the core shopping area

- there is no evidence to suggest that the premises would be left empty for very long, should the variation not be granted

5. if you want to refer to the specific policies, there is further detail below. But it's not necessary to make your objection valid.

Within the UDP, Deptford High Street is classified as a District Town Centre, and the unit in question, 93-95 Deptford High Street, falls within the core area of this classification.

I draw your attention in particular to policies STC1 and STC4 in the UDP:

The council will seek to maintain, and where necessary improve, the function, character, vitality and viability of the established shopping hierarchy … by sustaining and encouraging through a balance of development, regeneration and conservation a diversity of uses appropriate to their function and location and retaining and enhancing each centre as a focus for retail activity.

STC 4 major and district centres - core shopping areas
Within the core shopping areas….the council will strongly resist any change of use involving the loss at ground floor level of Class A1 shops. The following factors will be taken into account when considering exceptions:
(a) whether the proposal harms the overwhelming retail appearance of the shopping frontage, with an over-concentration of non-retail uses (normally 3 non A1 uses together and 70% maintained in A1 use);
(b) whether the proposal will generate a significant number of pedestrian visits; and
(c) whether the proposal uses vacant units (having regard both to their number within the shopping centre as a whole and the core area and the length of time they have been vacant).

The basis for these policies includes the following reasoning:
- The major and district shopping centres are the largest established concentrations of retail activity in the borough. Although a wide range of town centre uses are located in them shopping is considered to be their primary function. Hence a change of use to another function, even another service use, must be carefully monitored and controlled. The preservation of the primary retail function within core areas is a major planning objective as this is considered the best way to protect the character and role of the centres.

The core area of Deptford Town Centre, as defined in the UDP, already has five betting shops – if this application was granted, the total would be six. Moreover, the non-core area of Deptford Town Centre contains a further two betting shops, and the Evelyn Triangle shopping area, which is classified as a local shopping parade and is within half a mile of the core area, contains an additional three betting shops.

Send your objection by email to planning@lewisham.gov.uk or by mail to the planning officer Russell Penn, at the Planning Department, Town Hall, Catford, London SE6 4RU. You can also comment online here.

As a footnote, it's worth remembering that Haringey Council recently won a case against Paddy Power on a similar basis - although they were applying for a change of use, rather than a variation. The case went to appeal and was dismissed by the inspector. Paddy Power's application for costs was also rejected.

And if you needed a further word of encouragement, Paddy Power's applications to make changes to the outside of the former Deptford Arms and to put up new signs have also been refused, both by the council's planning officers, and dismissed at appeal. The changes have already been made of course, so we await with interest to see what happens next.

Friday 18 February 2011

Carnival against cuts Saturday 19th

Disturbing scenes were replicated across the country this week as councils ejected or barred the public from council chambers in order to agree massive cuts to services and rises in costs for those being retained.

As well as recommending the closure of five libraries and the Amersham Early Years Centre, with three other EYCs looking set for the chop too, Lewisham's mayor and cabinet meeting agreed to recommend cuts funding to youth projects and other outreach projects for vulnerable groups, increases in council house rents, school dinner charges, parking permits, pest control charges, meals on wheels and so on. The maximum weekly charge for services for adult social care went from £290 to a massive £395.

Mayor Steve can rest easy though; his election pledge to keep council tax at the same level has been protected. His legacy is intact.

It's also notable that the cabinet did not feel itself sufficiently informed to make cuts to senior pay, although it has recommended a review be set up, so presumably we can look forward to some reports from that in due course. And probably a few more reports, or another review.

In light of all this, you may feel inclined to join in with Lewisham's Carnival Against Cuts tomorrow, at various venues around the borough.

Monday 14 February 2011

Voyagers at the National Maritime Museum

A bit out of the manor, but I thought some Deptfordians might be interested in getting involved with this. After all our historical Royal Dockyard does give us much closer connections to maritime history than those Johnny-come-latelys over the border in Greenwich ;-)

The National Maritime Museum is inviting people to come to the museum on Friday 25 February to contribute to a new video that will be shown in the Voyagers gallery which will be part of the new Sammy Ofer wing which is due to open this summer.

"Voyagers tells the story of Britain and the sea, illustrating the contemporary significance of maritime histories and the personal stories of our island nation."

The museum is inviting you to go along on 25 February and explain what the sea means to you; they will turn it into a 30 second video to be used in the gallery and online. There's a trailer of Tom Cunliffe on the museum website which gives an idea of what your video could be like.

There's more information here about how to book a slot, and how to contact the museum for more details.

Ideally I would like to live by the sea, but the Thames (and to a lesser extent Deptford Creek) is my substitute. I like the fact that it's tidal, so it looks different every time I see it. It has the salty smell of the sea and in the right conditions you even get waves lapping at the shore. I'm not intending to bathe in it though.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Sustainability of Deptford High Street

Tomorrow night Lewisham's licensing committee will consider the application by Betfred for a licence to open a betting shop on Deptford High Street, in the premises of the former Halifax.

If granted, it will be the eighth betting shop on the High Street, five of which are clustered over the space of a few hundred metres.

There are three more betting shops on the Evelyn Triangle, making 11 in total within a few minutes' walk of our town centre. Many people believe we do not need this many bookies; that the ones we already have attract enough disorder and petty crime, and that diversity and sustainability are central to the survival of our high street as a viable shopping district.

Ten people took the time and trouble to write personal objections to the application, and almost 700 have signed a petition against it. But all this strength of feeling and community cohesion will potentially be disregarded.

Although companies such as Betfred and Paddy Power make obvious targets, being the most recent arrivals in our neighbourhood, demonising them is not the answer. We need to look more closely at the law and its implications to try and understand why betting shops are the ones with the upper hand in this situation, and to try and work out how best we could direct our efforts to have this situation reversed.

Unfortunately it seems that initial attempts by Green Party representatives over in Ladywell to have these concerns addressed through the Sustainable Communities Act have been rebuffed somewhat. Sue reports on how the government thinks that local authorities already have sufficient powers to prevent clustering of betting shops, and is going to help them to apply these powers. If that's really the case, then get a bloody move on, I say!

The other Sue over on Crosswhatfields has written about her attempts to find out why none of the statutory authorities seems to have objected to this licence application, given the extent of petty crime, anti-social behaviour and general disorder that swirls around the existing premises. Except it's not the right kind of disorder, she found out in a rather Kafka-esque telephone call with the local Met licensing officer.

The posts might be long, and they do get a bit sweary in the middle, but they are well worth reading to get some idea of the extent to which the law really is an ass. You will feel the pain and understand the reasons for the ranting, and will probably feel like doing the same yourself when you've read them.

Monday 7 February 2011

Let's all hang together

'A shop with a difference in an area where theatre and community were once one'.

A new shop on New Cross Road promises something a little bit different, offering not only hand-picked second-hand clothes and accessories, but also cheap exhibition space downstairs (£12.50 per day, three days minimum) and poetry & music on Friday nights starting this week. Art lessons and life drawing classes are also being offered at a very reasonable rate.

'Let's all hang together' is a great name with its mixed-up connotations of solidarity versus execution, and the shop is well worth a browse. The shop is a venture by Art Saves Lives which is run by Dean Stalham and Jaine Laine of the Deptford Living Archive; in the window are old black and white photographs from the archive, blown up and framed, a snapshot of the past.

Inside you can find hand-picked good quality second-hand clothes; don't come here for the cheap stuff, if you have the stamina to root through the stalls in Douglas Way you will find similar stuff for a fraction of the price, but it will be a godsend for folks who are cash-rich(er) and stamina-poor.

The items on sale - including lots of shoes and handbags and a rather alarming mountain of day-glo-painted 'rave' T-shirts - are just a part of the offering. Every Friday from this week they are offering The Friday Lip - poetry and live music with a resident DJ who will be playing an eclectic mix of original vinyls from 10pm till 1am. Entry is £2 and there is a cheap bar and 'exquisite nibbles'.

Deptford Lounge and Giffin Square

...generally looking pretty uninspiring right now!

With some of the hoarding removed, the east end of the Tidemill School/Deptford Lounge building is revealed, but it's difficult to work out what it's going to look like since I guess they still have to add the cladding. I am assuming that the big gap in the middle of the top floor is going to be fully glazed, which is why it has no walls right now.

As Sue so movingly commented a couple of posts back, the wonky pergola and the rest of the shabby street furniture is gone from Giffin Square. The only remaining item being the loos, with their own little pathway of paving stones wending through the fences. Hopefully we will be seeing improvements very soon!

Sunday 6 February 2011

Chinese new year in Deptford

No need to go up to Chinatown to experience the fun of Chinese new year celebrations - Deptford High Street is a great place to see the traditional lion dance performed by a local Vietnamese dance troop.

The lion is believed to bring good luck to the shops and businesses it enters; owners hang fruit or vegetables (traditionally greens such as lettuce - the Chinese word for lettuce is very similar to the word for fortune) above the door with a red envelope attached containing money. The lion approaches and performs the act of 'plucking the greens' then spits out the leaves (hopefully) into the shape of an auspicious character while hanging on to the red envelope which is a gift for the dance troupe.

We caught up with them on Saturday afternoon in front of the White Swan; the drums and cymbals which accompany the dance make it an almost hypnotic experience. The troop still had quite a few other businesses to visit - however they seem to have anticipated a busy day and had a pair of spare legs for the lion on hand.

Saturday 5 February 2011

New Cross library occupation

Well, it's after 5pm, and this doesn't look like a ... on Twitpic

Twitpic by @bitoclass

Some of the protesters at the New Cross Library read-in have decided to occupy the library and try to stay there until midday tomorrow. You can follow the action with @bitoclass and @wiilassie on Twitter, or #savelibraries #newcross. Or get down there and join them of course!

Updated: read the full story here. As of 9am Sunday morning the library is still occupied.

Resolution Way social housing

The fact that the new Tidemill School/Deptford Lounge development includes social housing had completely passed me by until the apartment block began rising over the parapet of Deptford Station.  But it was not until the cladding started to be applied that the true horror of these residential units began to unfold.

When the project got the go-ahead all the attention was focussed on the Deptford Lounge building, which everyone naturally assumed would be the most visible bit of the scheme, and indeed it will be from the town centre.

From the north end of Deptford, however, the new flats are omnipresent, and over the last couple of weeks, since the battleship grey cladding with daffodil-yellow accents has been put into place, the facade has loomed aggressively over the railway viaduct like big grey hand putting two fingers up at St Paul's Church.

While I realise that the grey weather is not helping, and the unfinished cladding is making it look even more tatty, I can't help thinking that this is one of the least inspiring - I would even go so far as to say ugly - buildings to be erected in Deptford for some time. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time you'll realise this is quite a statement!