Wednesday 27 June 2012

Deptford community cookbook

Have you got any family recipes you want to share? Or can you recommend a special dish that makes the most of the wealth of exotic ingredients Deptford High Street has to offer? 

The Deptford Cookbook Project is looking for recipes from local people, to create a kind of community resource that everyone can contribute to - after all, the one thing that connects us is that we all have to eat.

Niaomh, the woman running the project explains:
"It is with fondness that we have spent the last six months forming and working on the Deptford Cookbook Project, an idea promoting community togetherness. We had our first event in March, held at the Albany with great success. The idea behind the project is essentially, to create something made by the communty for the community.

"Everybody is connected to food and we felt this was a great way to bring people together, the idea of breaking bread is the essence of all culture and tradition. We aim to do this through creating a series of cookbooks that are contributed to by people in various forms. This can be at the event, where we host talks bringing people together, to sharing favourite dishes and memories, collected for the book or online through our website.

"We have the suppost of some local businesses which have also contributed recipes and the project is continuing to expand. We are currently in particlular need of puddings, but all dishes are welcome. Our website will be up and running soon, but we are accepting recipes as from now."

Anyone can send a recipe to add to the cookbook, just include your name along witih clear instructions and ingredients in an Word attachment to

Diary date: Convoys Wharf exhibition

Developer Hutchison Whampoa has announced a 'public exhibition' on Saturday 14th and Monday 16th July at the Deptford Lounge.

The event is an 'exhibition of the emerging masterplan of proposals to regenerate Convoys Wharf'.

Since the open day in March, architect Farrell's has been working with Hutchison Whampoa to develop a new masterplan, which it seems they are intent on doing at breakneck speed.

Friday 22 June 2012

Deptford High Street: putting the record straight

Martin Taylor, son of the former Lewisham councillor Nicholas Taylor who was so badly treated in the first episode of BBC2's Our Secret Streets, has put together a website and leaflet challenging many of the claims put forward in the programme.

These not only relate to Nicholas Taylor's role (or lack of it) in the demolition of Reginald Road and other streets in Deptford, but also to a number of other claims made about the recent history of Deptford, the impact redevelopment had on its population, high street and market, and the implication that Deptford today is 'the poorest it has ever been' and a terrible place to live.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Olympic and Paralympic train travel from Deptford

If you are planning to be in London during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and you use the train from Deptford, it is probably worth checking out the newly-published timetables for the 'special service' that Southeastern trains has in store for you.

Deptford is losing two-thirds of its train services during this period, according to 853 blog which has more information about travel in the area. Pissed off by this? Spare a thought for those who normally use Woolwich Dockyard (closed for the duration), or Maze Hill, which will lose all services to Kent in the morning and all those into town in the afternoon or evening.

I recommend you take a look now to give you time to go out and buy or borrow a bike before train chaos hits.

Friday 15 June 2012

Betfred appeal dismissed: what next for former Halifax?

The Planning Inspectorate's decision to dismiss Betfred's appeal against the council makes interesting reading. You can follow the back story by searching for 'Betfred' on the archives of the blog (search box in the right-hand column) but as might be expected, the inspector has taken all of this into account and sets it all out in his decision document, which you can download from this page.

His main conclusion is:
Overall, I conclude that the balance of likelihood is that the use enabled by the removal of the condition in dispute would give rise to anti-social behaviour and disturbance to local residents and other users of Deptford District Centre; that the fear of crime would be enhanced by an additional betting office in close proximity to 5 others; and that there is a risk of an increase in actual crime.
Such outcomes would broadly conflict with the intentions of criterion (d) of UDP policy STC4. There would also be material conflict with the social component of sustainable development, as set out in the NPPF. However, I have not identified conflict with any part of Policy 6 in the Lewisham local development framework Core Strategy (June 2011), also cited on the Council’s decision notice.

It's perhaps worth noting the inspector's point that the evidence of the harm caused by betting shop clusters has actually increased since Betfred's first application was made, and that he has taken into account the gathering weight of opinion suggesting that multiple betting shops do not benefit high street sustainability.

Joan Ruddock's private members bill to create a separate planning class for betting shops was cited as adding weight to these concerns, as was the Mayor of London's press release calling for something similar.

The inspector says: These matters may be political in origin and the Bill may not pass into law. Notwithstanding this, they suggest to me that local concern over the number of betting offices on Deptford High Street has been of sufficient weight to attract wider attention at the constituency and London levels.

I was also heartened to read that the inspector disregarded Betfred's argument that it would be occupying a unit that would otherwise be left empty. 

Another important change has been the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework in March this year. This has cancelled and taken the place of the national planning policy referred to by the parties. In favour of the proposal, the NPPF gives support to sustainable economic growth, and urges local planning authorities to “look for solutions rather than problems”. Bringing the vacant appeal premises into economic use could contribute in a small way to these ends. However the case has not been made that a betting office use is necessary in order to bring the premises into use: despite the small scale and local nature of many businesses along the High Street and the moderate quality of their premises, I observed only a few vacancies.

The NPPF says that planning policies and decisions “should aim to achieve places which promote [among other things] safe and accessible environments where crime and disorder, and the fear of crime, do not undermine quality of life or community cohesion”.
While the proposal might secure a small economic benefit, I consider that this would be outweighed by the significant social harm with respect to anti-social behaviour, crime or disturbance, as identified by myself and the previous Inspector.

The inspector says he has no reason to believe that Betfred is not a responsible operator of betting offices, as it states in the application. However he questions whether this can be translated into practical actions:

Any permission goes with the land and occupancy and management styles could change in the future. Also, the appellant’s Statement refers to “a number of conditions” imposed on the Gambling Act licence of February 2011, and the company’s NPPF Statement maintains that conditions can be appropriately attached to the grant of planning permission “just as they have been to the licence already approved by the same local authority”. However, although this is now the second planning appeal since that licence was given, I have not seen any wording for specific conditions that has been made available for formal consideration and consultation. 

With Betfred now at the end of the second appeal process for this property,  and no closer to getting the result it wants, I wonder where they will go next? The only avenue for further appeal is to take the matter to the High Court, which would be risky for Betfred not just from a financial point of view.

The grounds on which the inspector has made the decision - the potential for increased anti-social behaviour and crime - risks turning any challenge to the judgement from a small-scale local issue into a potential test case for the industry at large. If Betfred was to lose an appeal in the high court, it would have implications for similar cases around the country.

While this is a fantastic outcome for Deptford High Street, and a significant decision which councils and opponents to similar cases can use in their defence, let's not forget that if this property had been classified as A2 use in the current sense (laughingly 'financial and professional services') no planning permission would have been necessary.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Betfred: appeal dismissed!

Breaking news; the Planning Inspectorate has dismissed Betfred's appeal against Lewisham Council's refusal to grant a planning change that would allow them to open a new bookies on Deptford High Street!

It's a convoluted tale and I'll be posting details of the decision when I am back from my travels, but essentially the inspector supports our efforts to prevent the ongoing rise in crime and anti-social behaviour on the high street.

For now I just want to say one thing: POWER TO THE PEOPLE! (for once)

Friday 8 June 2012

BBC2's Secret History of Our Streets

I was a day behind everyone else on this, having other commitments the day that the programme aired. But I tuned in to a lot of the discussion on Twitter and the comments on various blogs - both local and national - and finally got chance to watch the first programme in the series, which focused on Deptford High Street, last night.

The programme prompted more questions in me than it answered; it's very difficult to be dispassionate when the place that you live, and love, is under such intense scrutiny. Even my mum, who lives a long way from London, sent me a text to ask if I was watching it. It felt a bit like having your scruffiest smalls hanging on a washing line for all to see.

To try and review Secret History of Our Streets as objectively as possible, I felt it necessary to establish what the programme makers were hoping to achieve, and then assess how close they had got to doing so.

In an interview with Broadcast magazine, director Joseph Bullman explains:
"We wanted these films to be a Who Do You Think You Are? for a street – but without the celebrities. We were determined that the people of each street would tell their own story, collectively, for themselves. A people’s history of a single street, which – we hoped – would tap into the great social forces that had shaped a nation."

On the evidence of the first programme, Bullman seems to have failed spectacularly. This was not the history of Deptford High Street, it was the history of Reginald Road. It was not told by the people of the street, it was told by several members of one family and a couple of others, along with an unfortunate ex-councillor who ended up being heaped with blame for the decisions of his predecessors. And it does not 'tap into the great social forces that shaped a nation', it highlights the effect of slum clearance and the construction of housing estates. While it's possible the remaining programmes in the series may offer something more enlightening,  the strongest programme in a series is usually chosen as the first, so don't hold your breath.

The idea was to start with Charles Booth's poverty maps from the 1890s, which classified London's streets by their inhabitants, and assess how these streets had changed since then. Deptford High Street was regarded as extremely prosperous at the time, 'the Oxford Street of South London' and every single property was classified in the second highest bracket by Booth. His criteria for this rating was "Lower middle class. Shopkeepers and small employers, clerks and subordinate professional men. A hardworking sober, energetic class." Adjoining streets were given a range of classifications, from respectable to criminal.

Today, says Bullman, Deptford High Street is "one of the poorest shopping streets in the country; a rough-and-ready collection of Georgian and Victorian buildings marooned amid a sea of 1970s blocks". There's no indication of how the high street's rating has been calculated, which does rather undermine the argument from the start.

Indeed it has a lot of pound shops and businesses selling cheap food - the 'Bent can shop' whose proprietor John Price featured large in the programme being one of them - and an unhealthy number of bookies, but it is still a thriving high street and market. Many families are making a living from their businesses - whether they be the 'traditional' white working classes, or the Asian, Afro-Caribbean and Vietnamese families who now form a significant part of Deptford's population.

Few retail units are empty - usually those undergoing change or reconstruction. Even John Price seems to have gone up in the world - he may be running a small scale version of Lidl, selling bent cans out of boxes, but from what I understood of the programme, his family previously traded from a market stall. We weren't told whether he owned the building or not. The fortunes of other local businesses - rag trader Chris Carey for example - have improved immensely, whether by luck or judgement we don't know. She may still trade on the market but she drives a sports car and lives in a mansion in Essex so things can't be that bad. Even the signs of the early stages of gentrification (gentrification being the main indicator that the media uses to measure the status of an area, it seems) - coffee shops, cafes, delicatessens - are here.  
I have visited whole towns which I would consider 'poorer' than Deptford, many having lost their shopping streets due to a combination of out of town developments and recession. 

I'm not denying that Deptford does not suffer immense deprivation; it is visible daily and borne out consistently by statistics. The circumstances which created this situation are complex; they would be difficult to convey in a series of programmes, let alone just one.

I believe the programme makers set themselves far too wide a brief, too immense a task, and a year into the research process, were unwilling to reconsider the scope of the series. Linking the programme to the Booth maps was a mistake; to do the job properly would have involved covering 120 years of history, over a period involving huge social and economic upheaval and spanning two world wars and their consequences. All in 60 minutes.

'Letting people tell their story' is all very well but ultimately the director chooses what will be used and how it will be put together. He chooses who to interview, which footage to use and how to cut it, the archive material, the narrative, the sound track and so on. According to Bullman, Price didn't want to tell his story in the first place and had to be persuaded, so from the very beginning the programme makers are very clearly in command of 'the people's story'.

Many other things irked me about the programme. Although I enjoyed seeing the Price family cine-camera footage and following this very personal story to its sad conclusion, I was disappointed that much of the general archive footage - of living conditions, demolition and reconstruction etc - was uncaptioned. I would have been particularly interested to know how much of this was actually in Deptford or nearby, or whether it was stock footage. On a couple of occasions the voice-over hinted that we were looking at a particular street, but I was sceptical as to how true this actually was, except where I could recognise the streets. At least twice they used contemporary footage which had been edited into a sepia, shaky-camera style, to make it look like archive film.

I was also unhappy about the treatment of Nicholas Taylor, the ex-councillor who ended up being hung out to dry for decisions in which he played very little part. His willingness to participate in the programme - and his attempts to explain what was going on at the time, often expressing the opinions others held that he clearly did not share - seems to have been cynically exploited by the director who set him up as the fall guy for the whole slum clearance programme.   

The lesson is, if you really want to learn about the history of Deptford, at least up to the early nineties, don't rely on a 60 minute TV programme. I recommend an excellent book by Jess Steele called 'Turning the Tide: the history of everyday Deptford' which can be bought on Amazon very cheaply. Extensively and thoroughly researched - and as the recent post on Crosswhatfields points out, also including the 'revelation' that was at the heart of the secret streets programme - not only is it a highly-regarded piece of work, it is also eminently readable.

As for finding out the secrets of the high street, why not get out there and talk to people? You'd be surprised at what's going on among the bent tins and fish heads - Deptford High Street is far richer than you could ever imagine.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Waldron Health Centre public realm - still a fail!

Although I've been posting recently about successful public realm works and local parks such as Fordham and Twinkle Park, unfortunately not everything in the garden is quite so green.

It's now more than two years since the Waldron Health Centre opened, at which time I posted about the landscaping fail in front of the building.

While slagging off the poor quality of the landscaping that had been completed, I optimistically suggested that the unfinished bit - perhaps a car park, I thought - would be tidied up and finished off in due course.

In fact it seems that the land on the corner was intended to be used for construction of a four/five storey residential block - presumably part of the deal for the developer building the health centre - but there's no plans available online from the 2003 application, so I can't provide any renders of the proposal. But here's what it looks like at the moment, having steadily turned into a grubby rubbish dump over the last few years.

The miserable trees in the square and the uninspiring landscaping in which they are situated were incorporated in the plan as 'compensation' for the loss of half a dozen mature London Plane trees which were chopped down in order for the new health centre to be built.

Sadly not only are we still waiting to see this corner completed, but several of the trees that were planted are now either dead or struggling to survive. Clearly they have been dumped in the ground and left, with no maintenance being carried out and no concern for whether they live or die. The tree pits serve as little more than rubbish catchers and/or dog toilets. I challenge anyone to claim that these trees can offer suitable recompense for the mature ones that were lost, even those that manage to reach maturity.

It's truly depressing to come across such piss-poor public space like an unattractive wart right in the middle of the 'Kender to the Creek' walking and cycling route that the council has put so much effort into improving. This is certainly one area that the planning enforcement team should be focusing its attention onto.