Friday 20 July 2012

Convoys Wharf public exhibition

I wonder how many of my readers went to the Convoys Wharf public exhibition in the Deptford Lounge last Saturday or Monday evening? I suspect it wasn't very many of you.

Several hundred read this blog every day and I estimate that barely a third that number came through the door in total during the eight-hour period the plans were on display. To my knowledge there were two posters on display locally - one in the Dog & Bell and the other in the Deptford Project. Neither of these was visible from the high street, and in a brief sweep of the shop windows on Saturday, not a single poster was on show - only a board outside the entrance to the Deptford Lounge. A survey of friends living within a three minute walk of the high street revealed that none had had flyers delivered either by hand or in the post. Apart from posts on blogs such as this one, there has been a marked absence of publicity.

It would be interesting to know from the people who actually made it to the exhibition, where they had heard about it - if you saw any flyers or posters, or just saw something on the internet. Even if you didn't go, it would be good if you could comment on any publicity you may have seen or received.

There was an awful lot of information on display at the exhibition - way too much in my opinion, and quite a lot of it unnecessary - but in fact probably the most important bit of information in the room, and the one that fewest people saw, was the label next to the large model. This label stated that it was a 'groundscape' model - ie lower floors only. No building heights at all, rendering the model incredibly benign, a low-rise development at a human scale and posing little threat to Deptford as we know it.

The label proclaims: 'Convoys Wharf: 3 squares, 3 linked parks and a riverside promenade'.

Not to mention 3,500 new apartments, several high rise towers, shops, hotels and a lot of parking spaces. The three parks it mentions (Pepys Park, Sayes Court Gardens, Twinkle Park) already exist outside the site boundaries; don't be misled into thinking the new development includes new parks, although they seem to have tacked a bit extra onto Sayes Court Gardens and propose to plant trees everywhere, including inside the Olympia Building. Work that one out.

But you wouldn't be misled by the model at all, would you?

Farrell's had clearly spent a lot of money on having this model built - architectural models don't come cheap - but the information it provided could just as easily have been conveyed on a plan, at a fraction of the price. Musing on this only led me to one possible conclusion - that it was a deliberate ploy to confuse or pacify people by the visual suggestion that the development was going to be in scale with its surroundings.

The model was made very green by the presence of large trees on every road, and pretty chips of coloured perspex were dotted everywhere to represent counters in retail units, boats, and other unidentified objects. Cocktail sticks bearing white flag-like labels were stuck all over the place, with touchy-feeling, wording on them, clearly carefully-chosen to appeal: 'local pub' and 'local shop' as opposed to 'pub' or 'wine bar' and 'retail'.

If you are the sort of person who thinks that if the developer or council writes such a thing on a model, it will become reality, then you no doubt see a rosy future for this site. Museums, art galleries, schools, squares and public areas, not to mention the gardens on the old jetty.

But despite the wealth of historical research and the jaunty flags, I found very little changed in the masterplan. Some additions that were welcome at first glance turned out to be less than logical under closer inspection, and nearly all of the previous major sticking points still stuck badly.

Initially I was excited to see that the architects had included the Lenox Project on the masterplan - until I noticed that it had been located in the protected wharf at the west end of the site. Knowing what I do about the Lenox Project, I understand that it needs visitors to sustain it financially - and many of those visitors are expected to be drawn from the tourists who visit maritime Greenwich to the east of Deptford.

I also know that a ship needs launching facilities - slipway or dry dock - and although these are present in spades on the Convoys Wharf site, none exist where the masterplanners have dumped the ship. There's a massive whiff of tokenism about it and suggests that perhaps they just grabbed on to the suggestion as a way of filling up part of the big gaping hole in the working wharf.

Many of the other aspects of the development proposals that made local people unhappy remain unchanged.

The developers still intend to build 'up to' 3,500 units and still maintain that this is because Lewisham Council demands such numbers (a claim which has been flatly denied by Lewisham Council's planning department).

The transport proposals are still at the same pitiful level: 'enhancements' to bus routes along Evelyn Street, a new bus route through the site, and a jetty for the existing river boat service to call at (expensive and only really practical for travelling across the river to Canary Wharf).

Around 1800 car parking spaces are proposed, and this has a number of implications for the development and its neighbouring estates. Firstly the fact that those cars have to get in and out of Convoys Wharf, and local roads are ill-equipped to allow this. Moreover, in excess of 300 spaces are proposed for non-residential use.

Secondly, while the developers may boast that the proportion of parking spaces to residential units is below the allowable level, don't break out the applause and champagne until you've considered what this means. People buying or renting the new apartments are unlikely to sell their cars just because they don't have a parking space. They'll just find somewhere nearby to park it, probably a local road or car park. Most of the estate car parks already require permits, but when residents finally move into the new development, a controlled parking zone will inevitably be required on all streets around the site.

Employment prospects are still restricted to retail or service industries - aside from the Lenox Project, the ever-shrinking protected wharf was eerily bereft of anything except a label saying 'temporary uses'.

With no building heights or massing information it was impossible to assess the real impact of the proposed development. Only a series of tiny models made out of polystyrene gave any clue as to what we are going to see at the second 'consultation' in September when a more complete masterplan is intended to be revealed.

The Convoys Wharf website is now back online; they have made a series of little videos which explain the research they carried out before nominally tweaking the previous masterplan.

You can submit comments via the website, although since there's no information about the new masterplan on it as yet, it's difficult to do so if you weren't at the exhibition.

Several members of Deptford Is.. were at the exhibition and a thorough review of the proposals has been published here. I recommend signing up for their mailing list if you want to be kept up to date with what's going on (and be informed about future exhibitions).

In the meantime, I feel a post on 'public consultation; what on earth is it?' coming up.


Brett said...

Thanks for the detailed write up. Unfortunately the minimal changes were expected. I am pleased to see that the Lennox project has been included, albeit token add-on. Hopefully that is the first milestone into getting its space increased. Mentioning the 3 parks is a little cheeky when they don't intend to add more parks.

So what is proposed for the Olympia building? Is there any improvement on the visibility of this from the Thames?

In regards to advertising, I live in Aragon Tower and we had leaflets per apartment with the details of the public exhibition. I couldn't make the times available and was disappointed they could not have just kept it there for a full week to allow word to spread.

Anonymous said...

yes, thanks Dame for the article - I wasn't able to get down there, or, to be honest, I knew it probably wasn't worth it - developers rarely change things beyond the bare minimum once they've got their teeth into something - a bit like staffies really.

Deptford Pudding said...

I went Monday evening. My impression was that it was simply a massive PR offensive skating over anything concrete (pun not intended). I spoke to one of the people from Farrell's (I know it shouldn't matter but he seemed too young to take seriously) about the six models on one of the tables. He explained the evolution of the models, but when I questioned the final model re the sight-lines from the river and whether the Olympia building would be seen, because it couldn't on the model, he just repeated over & over that the model was a 'moment in time' and I shouldn't take it as representing anything else but that 'moment in time'. He added that the riverfront is a hostile environment (news to me I walk my dog there quite a lot, I said it probably would be with 3 huge towers creating a massive wind problem. He insisted that the towers would be built on podiums (I instantly thought of the Elephant and Castle which is being demolished) which would minimise the wind effect at ground level. Another visitor commented that the original plan showed large balconies on the towers that were intended to disrupt the wind pattern, but the new proposals such as they were showed smaller, unusable 'bolt-on' balconies, that wouldn't do anything to disrupt the downdraft, and he also got the 'moment in time' speech. I gave up, as interesting as it is to see old maps, and be told stuff I already know about Deptford's history, I thought we were being bamboozled.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dame
Thanks for your considered reflections on the Convoys Wharf public exhibition - I have similar fears. I live on Millard Rd and we got leaflets sent to our flats about the exhibition. What worries me is that one of the most distinctive things about this area is the sense of airiness, light-ness, expanses of sky and amazing sight lines and these aspects are being eroded. I know that places evolve and welcome the potential for Deptford to change and develop but I feel I have no way of influencing the direction of change. Whilst there are tower blocks in the area, there is also lots of low rise blocks and it feels as if developers are ignoring this just so they can create high density developments. I'm worried that lots of the low rise estates round here are going to feel hemmed in, towered over and diminished by the new projects. I came to the public exhibition and asked a guy from Farrell's about the planned heights of the buildings and he was very unforthcoming. Also there was a total lack of information about what infrastructure for the massive influx of residents this will be created - new schools, public transport etc (more buses routes is not going to solve the already congested roads) I have absolutely no faith that any of the communities concerns will be taken into consideration... if the Oxestalls Road development is anything to go by (where public consultation felt very patchy and targeted to groups within the community that wouldn't be critical; and tower block heights were INCREASED even after objections from a substantial number of residents)... then I think we can assume the Convoy's Wharf developers and Lewisham council will be just as deaf to our concerns this time round too. Public consultation is used to make it 'appear' local residents have agency when in actual fact we have absolutely no power to influence what is happening in Deptford at all.

Alan Robertson said...

Yes I am a resident of Albury street and attended the exhibition on the saturday. I am only aware of one other person in my street who attended, our chair of MAGASTRA had not heard of it. Yes I was not that impressed with the model, particularly the cheap polystyrene buildings. What I found interesting were the historical maps on the walls. I hope that the Lenox will be the centrepiece and not a backwater in the development. It is a fine idea - however my shrewd uncle in Scotland thinks it will not be built! I was grateful for the
free tea and coffee Plus biscuits)! It should be held again with a public meeting. Having seen the disaster of Greenwich Reach (colosal size with no green spaces) we need to be very careful before agreeing to anything this autumn. We have still not defeated this wretched Thames water proposal - a dark cloud hangs over us all until this is beaten!
Alan Robertson

Anonymous said...

Hi, does anyone know if it will be possible to walk along the river front from Foreshore into Convoys Wharf or will it be closed off by the working dock (north side of Convoys Wharf). It would be good if people could walk right along the Thames path and Convoys would feel more connected if this was possible.