Sunday 23 October 2011

Convoys Wharf - what are the alternatives?

I have been following the Deptford is.. blog very closely over the past few weeks, where campaigners are not only exposing the poor thinking and lack of imagination behind the current proposals for redevelopment of Convoys Wharf, but are also putting forward alternatives for discussion.

As far as Hutchison Whampoa's planned development above ground goes, there are serious issues with the proposal such as the density and size of the proposed buildings, the associated 'transport planning' (which I have to put in quote marks because quite honestly it is laughable, especially compared with the improvements proposed by the applicants behind the recent Surrey Canal planning application), the continued scaling back of any commitment to providing a feasible working wharf, the pitiful amount of public open space that is being incorporated, and the lack of any kind of attempt to integrate the development with Deptford itself.

When you start to find out about the heritage of the site itself - the royal dockyard established by Henry VIII which saw the construction, fitting out and launch of many, many famous ships through three centuries of maritime development, as well as advances in civil engineering which were reflected in the dockyard structures themselves, and the influence that John Evelyn and his famous gardens at Sayes Court had on the English landscape movement, as well as the formation of the National Trust - it is truly incredible that the proposals seek simply to build over this history for ever.

The Olympia building - a cast iron structure covering two slipways which led into the great basin - must be retained as it is a listed structure, but HW's proposal has the building hemmed in on all sides by tower blocks, and all but cut off from the river, making it impossible to read the significance of the structure in heritage terms.

In fact the slipways beneath the building and the walls of the great basin still survive, they are simply filled in. The slipways which lead into the river are still there; the double dry dock is still there and Deptford is.. fully expects ongoing archaeological investigations to confirm that the huge mast ponds are also still intact.

While the archaeologists claim they have uncovered (and now filled in again) the site of Sayes Court, there is some dispute as to its location, and the jury is still out on this. Nonetheless, no garden archaeology at all has been carried out on the site of his famous gardens, which have been roundly ignored.

Deptford is... is holding a public meeting on 4 November at which the campaigners say they will reveal some of their proposals for an alternative vision of future Deptford.

'Suggestions include building a Restoration warship using a combination of traditional and modern ship-building skills, and recreating the historic garden as an innovative and productive public open space. The ideas put forward in this exhibition focus on activities which encourage collaboration between the existing community and its new residents, helping to meld the development into the vibrant neighbourhood of Deptford.'

Take a look at these websites about the Hermione and Sayes Court Garden to get some inspiration.

While I know that many public bodies and indeed some of our local politicians have expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the current proposals, and are concerned about the impact it will have on the site, there does also seem to be a lot of shrugging of shoulders and some councillors saying that the developers cannot make the figures stack up unless they build at this density.

In fact our very own deputy mayor and chair of the regeneration committee, Alan Smith (Catford South ward), effectively approved the density when he told Estates Gazette back in June that he didn't believe the borough would have any trouble absorbing the 'more than 6,000' new homes that were planned (this is in fact a huge underestimate by my reckoning as it only looks at three developments). He said 'if anything we will be underproviding' and added 'as far as I can make out, the finance is in place and it is getting its figures to stack up'.

Other councillors, in particular some of those who represent the residents in Evelyn ward, the area  most directly impacted by this development, seem unwilling to engage with their electorate about the proposals.

It may be that Lewisham Council is also nervous of a protracted legal battle with HW's lawyers, which might ensue should the development be refused. But let's not forget that this development will have an enduring impact on this part of Lewisham; if the council lets itself be bullied into a hasty or inappropriate decision, we will be living with the ramifications for decades to come.


Anonymous said...

I'm a bit of a novice at these matters - legally/politically, what options do we have to contest these plans and what are the most effective ways to make our case heard?

Deptford dame said...

@anon there is plenty of information at including a page you can find on the top left which explains how to make an objection. I suggest you join the mailing list too, so you can be kept up to date with what's going on.

Anonymous said...

Excellent summing up of the concerns Dame - it's a pity that this kind of vandalism carried out by the council is part of their 'new labour' policy (ie, privatise everything) that they continue to follow. Labour councillors will be toeing the party line and be under orders not to rock the boat, councillors from other parties can, cynically, say whatever they like, for political gain (as did the greens in the last council) knowing that they are going to be outvoted on the planning committee anyway.

Possibly the only way to stop this atrocity now is a judicial review, (unless National Heritage steps in with great big boots) and even then the issue has to be 'of concern to the whole country' which this certainly has to be judged to be that - it could be the jewel in the crown of the whole Thames if handled properly.

David Porter said...

Very well put. Why on earth aren't the local councillors paying attention?

Anonymous said...

HW is cramming a quart into a pint pot; the same amount of homes as the previous masterplan on to 6.5 less acres (the protected wharf area). I got the distinct impression from HW's Phil Hayden that it is the council that is pushing for the density, possibly to meet targets? There is pressure on councils in the Thames Gateway/Opportunity areas to deliver regen projects. I think, having rubberstamped Oxestalls, Surrey Canal etc, Lewisham Council could afford a bit of reflection time now.

Potentially there are some great stories which will engage the press and the councillors but above all there is a need to engage and involve more local people.

Robert said...

The Alternative is to Protect
the Tudor Foundations and make
the Area a Listed Property of
National Naval Heritage

If a Faithful Replica of King
Henry VIII's Great Storehouse
which was so Sadly Destroyed
could be Rebuilt the Better