Tuesday 2 October 2012

Albany sells off its back garden for housing

Do you enjoy sitting out in the garden at the back of the Albany Theatre enjoying a meal or a cup of tea in the sunshine? Perhaps, like me, you often wander along Idonia Street and take pleasure in watching the birds flit among the row of mature trees that stand along the edge of the land bordering Octavius Street.

If so, my advice is to make the most of it.

Last month the Albany finally made public the deal it struck more than a year ago with developer Cathedral Group to sell off this little green oasis for residential use, and announced that plans for the land will be put out for public consultation later this year.

According to the press release on the Albany's website:

The Albany and Cathedral Group have entered into a partnership to kick start an investment and development programme which will secure a vibrant future for the Albany as the leading arts venue and community hub in south east London. 

As we celebrate our 30th anniversary on Douglas Way this year, a lack of capital investment in our building over the previous 30 years has restricted the ability of the Albany to fulfil our potential in delivering a full range of events, activities and community uses. 

As part of the investment programme, a residential development will take place on land to the rear of the theatre, providing necessary finance to help facilitate the development and expansion of our operation, knitting the Albany further into the heart of Deptford. 

The proposed development will fund a programme of major external and internal improvements, ensuring the Albany can continue to innovate and remain a leader in arts provision by creating a new, reinvigorated and sustainable local arts complex with expanded facilities. Plans for the residential development will be brought forward for public consultation in the autumn of this year.

These plans have been in the offing for more than five years now, but apart from a vague mention at the Albany's last AGM and a couple of paragraphs in the accounts and annual report for the 2010/2011 financial year, the Albany has been playing its cards very close to its chest.

As far back as 2007, architectural practice Project Orange was working on potential designs for the site, and at that time the proposals were pretty depressing. Almost the entire area of the site was taken up by residential units, apart from a large extension for the Albany Theatre of course, and a tiny 'garden' between the old and the new units.

The grey building on the right is the carriage ramp development which was given planning permission earlier this year, but which has not yet started construction. The green and yellow blocks behind it are the original proposal, with the Albany to the left for scale.

A plan view shows the existing land at the back of the Albany comprehensively built over.

However since I downloaded these images a year or so ago, it seems there has been something of a revision to plans, with the Project Orange website now showing these renderings of the Albany Housing 'in progress'.

I'm assuming that the dark grey circular shaped things are trees, it seems from the information on the Cathedral Group site that these trees are actually protected, so at least some of them will be retained, and the layout certainly looks a lot more permeable than the previous proposal.

Here the black and white block on the right is the carriage ramp development, the two new blocks - still a considerable height and higher than the flats on Idonia Street - at the rear of the Albany.

It's good that the Albany's management and trustees are planning for the future and that they seem committed to improving and expanding the facilities on the site. But I am sorely disappointed by the path that they have chosen.

The sell-off of this green space right at the very heart of Deptford risks undermining any good the Albany might achieve in securing the future of the theatre, and it seems to me that they have taken the easiest route to getting the cash they need without considering what impact their actions will have on their immediate neighbours and the local community.

Campaigners across the other side of the high street are fighting the temporary loss of green space which is threatened by construction of a shaft for the Thames Tunnel, but it seems to me that the Albany's backdoor tactics are far more insidious and harmful.

The area is already going to change dramatically with the construction of the eight-storey block next to the carriage ramp and redevelopment of St Paul's House on the high street. The loss of even more green space does not signal an improvement to me.


Anonymous said...

I've been living with those bloody trees for the last 20 years. I dunno who put them in originally but the amount of muck and dust is quite horific. Every year you can hardly breath whilst the trees have sex.

Every year my car gets covered in muck from the trees.

The actual area behind the Albany has been largely abandoned as a wasteland of rubbish and litter. I have tried complaining to both the Albany and Lewisham but nothing happens...


Anonymous said...

Further to my last - about those trees and the muck they put out every year - it will certainly be a pity to build on that piece of land. Yet another high rise block slap on the corner will be very oppressive. It is wery noticeable how the road from Church St to Creek Rd has become a dark gloomy avenue due to the new buildings. That enormous abomination by the station, to be built, will dominate the area as will the Albany sell off building.
More importantly what about the parking??? All these schemes are based on the concept that people will want less parking as they will use bicycles and buses. This is SUCH a load of bollocks. In the last few years the world and his wife have bought cheap old cars and parked them on the road along Idonia St. Dozens more arrive every morning for work (Mostly single drivers). Of course Lewisham have not reacted at all to the parking problem, so chaos happens regularly. Every Saturday there are a series of 'hooting' contests with selfish idiots refusing to back up and let others get past. I personally avoid specific areas at certain times as they are to stressfull and agravating.

Andrew Nisbet said...

The problem with these schemes are that they can only be done once and when the Albany next needs a facelift in 10-15 yrs time they will have no resources to fall back on. They really ought to find a way of using this site to produce long term income.

Deptford Dame said...

@andrew that's a very good point. I wonder what their long-term strategy is?

@anon driving f*ckwittery is something that persists across the whole of Deptford and many other parts of London, it is not limited to Idonia St. As to the parking situation, I recall from the planning documents for the Deptford Project that the developers will be paying for a feasibility study into a controlled parking zone for the streets around that area. I suspect they'll find in favour of one. I agree that expecting new residents not to have cars is unreasonable and naive (in fact there will be a few parking spaces for the 'townhouses' that will be in the redeveloped St Paul's building on the high street - the developers argued that these were necessary since no-one would buy the houses otherwise).

Anonymous said...

I thought the Albany had tried being popular and well attended a while back, eg income producing. The management shut it down because of the noise and the hassles...