Saturday 30 November 2013

Want to know the truth about air pollution in Deptford?

As I was writing the title of that post, it struck me that some of you might answer 'no!' to my question, preferring to be happy in your ignorance rather than be faced with the stark facts about what damage local air pollution might be causing you.

That's understandable to some degree, but our corner of SE London is set to experience some very significant increases in traffic in the coming years as a result of the Thames Tunnel construction, a surge in our local population, and the construction traffic associated with building these new developments.

Having independent, irrefutable evidence of the impact this is having on environmental conditions will be vitally important if we are to argue for mitigation or traffic restrictions. Such measurements could also be vital to anyone wanting to judge the accuracy of claims made in environmental impact studies produced by consultants working for major developers. I have frequently questioned the accuracy of transport models created for major developments such as Convoys Wharf, and it is these models that are used to assess the potential environmental impact of a development.

Campaigners against the Silvertown Tunnel in our neighbouring borough of Greenwich carried out an extensive air quality study in the area of the tunnel earlier this year, and published their findings recently. I wrote about the implications for our local area.

These findings revealed shocking levels of pollution already in the area, and raised the question of what would happen if more traffic were to be generated by a new tunnel. Lewisham does measure air quality but on a tiny scale, just four stations in the whole borough - results from these stations can be found here.

Now the campaigners in Greenwich propose to repeat and extend their study, and are keen to get people from Deptford and beyond involved. They are willing to share their experience and enable other groups, campaigners or concerned individuals to access pollution data for their own use.

Tube being installed by Silvertown Tunnel campaigner
Campaigners against the tunnel shaft which Thames Water wants to sink on Crossfields Green have taken on the organisation of the scheme, and are asking for pledges of money and time in order to get a Deptford scheme under way. The cost of each monitoring tube, including the laboratory analysis, is just £7, which seems a very reasonable price to pay for what could be vital information. 

Volunteers are needed to put the tubes up and take them down a month later (they all have to be installed and removed on the same days, the details have to be noted and the locations photographed), and this is planned to happen in early January.

As well as feeding into the case against the Thames Tunnel shaft, the data that is generated will be available for the Silvertown Tunnel campaign, and there's also the opportunity for people to sponsor a tube to measure air quality outside their own homes. Schools may also want to get involved not only to measure the data but also as a project for students.  

Full details of the proposed air quality measuring scheme, the dates for involvement and the contact details for getting involved are available on Don't Dump on Deptford's Heart. 

From art gallery to hotel to serviced apartments

This was brought to my attention earlier in the year, but now posters outside the former art gallery/hotel building of the Seager Distillery confirm the arrival of new 'serviced apartments' next year.

This is the location of the new *ahem* Greenwich Staycity  due to open next May.

You may remember that this (originally rather lovely) building was first earmarked to become an art gallery and six floors of office space; this proposed community/arts and employment use no doubt contributed to lots of warm feelings among the planning committee members who granted permission for it.

Subsequently of course, the developer claimed that there had been 'no interest' in the office space and had been unable to get a tenant for the art gallery, and applied for permission to move the gallery space out of the glorious double-height ground floor space on the A2 to the much pokier and less visible spaces on the Brookmill Road part of the site. This would then enable the developer to convert the building into a 4* 'boutique hotel' for the operator that was interested in leasing it.

Some of us scoffed at the idea that those travelling on a 'boutique hotel' budget would choose a major intersection on one of London's most congested red routes for their stay in our capital city. At last year's Open House event it emerged that the 'boutique hotel' operator had pulled out (if indeed they had ever existed) and the future of the hotel was looking uncertain.

And now the former-art-gallery-former-hotel space will become serviced apartments - essentially private rented accommodation which caters for short stays.

Unfortunately some of us are so cynical that we even suspect this might not be the end of the story.

Serviced apartments is a booming sector of the hospitality industry, according to the website Serviced Apartment News which offers an interesting insight into how the sector works, why it offers a good investment, and the benefits it offers developers. This article in particular reveals how developers are more likely now to retain ownership of private rented developments and team up with operators to let them as serviced apartments. Such units are cheaper to build and fit out than a hotel, and offer 'relatively easy conversion to residential' those in the industry point out.

This kind of statement sets the alarm bells ringing straight away for the cynics.

What's more, to fit out a proposed hotel with serviced-apartments-offering-relatively-easy-conversion-to-residential requires no application for a change in planning use, since serviced apartments come under the same classification as hotels.

The inclusion of a hotel on the site (like the office space that preceded it) had strong potential benefits for the area. People staying in hotels (or working in offices) generally eat and drink locally, use taxis and other local services, and possibly even visit nearby shops - so a reasonable amount of money would be expected to find its way into the local economy - if not Deptford, then Greenwich at least.

With serviced apartments, which include kitchen facilities, this local spend is likely to be much diminished, and with the loss of office space (various applications having already been submitted/withdrawn/refused for the change of use of space in the 'pavilion building' in the middle of the development, also proposed to be office space) the potential benefits for local businesses is further reduced.

Friday 29 November 2013

Upcoming events in Deptford

Lots going on in the next few weeks folks, as Christmas bears down on us like an HGV towards a cycle superhighway.

Here's a brief round-up of the stuff that's floated across my radar recently:

Friday 6 - Sunday 8 December
Cockpit Arts open studios in Deptford

Cockpit Arts is having its pre-Christmas open studios event at its Deptford site next weekend - a good opportunity to browse the fabulous work of our local designer-makers, and a great place to pick up hand-crafted gifts. Many of the artists produce small items specially for the open studios event, so even if you are on a low budget you may still be able to find something within your range. It's also great to see the skilled work on show and get the chance to talk to the crafters themselves.

Tickets for Saturday and Sunday (11am-6pm) are £3 but it's free entry on the Friday (11am - 9pm) and free to under-15s all weekend.

Cockpit Arts

Saturday 7 December
Deptford Society, the Lenox Project and Giffin Square Food Fair

The new Deptford Society (sign up to their mailing list here) is hosting its first event in Giffin Square, in collaboration with the monthly Giffin Square Food Fair, the Lenox Project and the Deptford Lounge.

In Giffin Square, as well as the monthly food fair stalls, there will be

  • music from music from local steel drum band Heart of Steel
  • singing in the Deptford Lounge from Tidemill Academy school choir
  • ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ performance art from Something Human, based on Italo Calvino’s classic novel
  • mulled wine for anyone who joins Deptford Society 
  • Father Christmas patrolling the streets with a bag of goodies 
  • a cooking demo outside Codfathers between 11am–2pm 
  • interactive art installations by Chelsea College of Arts students along the high street and in Douglas Square.

Meanwhile the Lenox Project and the recently-formed Deptford Shanty Crew will be hosting various maritime and dockyard-themed events in and around the Deptford Lounge.

The Lenox Project will have its restored Saker cannon on show in Giffin Square, with displays about the history of Deptford's Royal Dockyard in the library, and talks from historians and authors Richard Endsor and SI Martin, happening throughout the day.

The Deptford Shanty Crew will be performing some bawdy sea songs and encouraging the audience to join in!

10am - 4.30pm
Giffin Square and Deptford Lounge

Wednesday 11 December
The Goldsmiths Carol Concert

The Goldsmiths Chamber Choir, conducted by Caroline Lenton Ward, Brass Group and, in the evening, Gospel Choir present a programme of Christmas music, with carols for everyone to enjoy. Complemented by candlelight and traditional Christmas readings, all led by the Reverend Adele Rees. 

All welcome, no need to book, and both events will be followed by mulled wine and mince pies.

Lunchtime: 1pm - 1.45pm 
Evening: 6.30pm - 8pm 

Great Hall, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths, University of London
Full details:

Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 December
The Vintage Christmas & Craft Market

Deptfordwives presents the Vintage Christmas & Craft Market, where 'a beautiful selection of hand crafted products from talented designers' will be on sale at the Albany Theatre in Deptford.

The blurb promises: Wonderful and unique handcrafted Christmas presents including ceramics, vintage choice classy items, silver & gold jewellery, decorations, craft, art keepsakes, beautiful leather work, Deptford 'The Sunshine State' Tee shirts and lots more...

10.30am - 4pm
The Albany Theatre
Douglas Way

Sunday 15 December
New Cross Learning's Christmas Extravaganza

All are welcome to New Cross Learning's annual general meeting at 1pm, after which there will be jazz, a puppet show, appearance of Father Christmas and some christmas films - all events are free of charge.

More information at

Sunday 17 November 2013

Demonstration against the Tideway Tunnel shaft

Campaigners from Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart are inviting people to join them at a demonstration against the Thames Tunnel proposals on Thursday.

There will be a public hearing regarding the siting of one of the shafts for the Thames Tunnel at 8.45am this Thursday at the Ahoy Centre in Borthwick Street.

The campaigners want people to join them at a 'fun and friendly public demonstration to Save our Green!'

The press release says; Last Wednesday planning inspectors were left in no doubt that Deptford residents will suffer three years and a half years of misery if Thames Water’s plans to sink a shaft on Crossfields’ Green for London’s so-called ‘super sewer’ goes ahead.

Campaigners from Don’t Dump on Deptford's Heart gave evidence to the first session of the Planning Inspectorate’s inquiry into the controversial Thames Tideway Tunnel at the America Square Conference Centre.

The campaigners were united in their calls for the shaft to be sunk instead in the Thames at Borthwick Wharf, as originally proposed by Thames Water. The Planning Inspectorate has the power to recommend to the Secretary of State whether the £4.2 billion project goes ahead or not. Their decision is expected in late summer/early autumn 2014. The campaigners’ concerns centre on the Deptford spur of the tunnel.

Thames Water plan to sink a shaft on the green space between St Paul’s Church and St Joseph’s primary school. It will be some 46 meters deep and 17 meters in diameter. Spoil from the shaft and tunnelling work will be removed from site by hundreds of lorries, forcing the closure of the whole of the western carriageway of Deptford Church Street.

They say turning Crossfields Green into a construction site would deeply affect the community, particularly school children. The green is right next to St Joseph’s and Tidemill schools, St Paul’s church, the High Street and hundreds of flats and houses, precisely the kind of areas that Thames Water's own Site Selection Methodology says they would avoid.

Aside from the concern that the works will cause noise and disruption to pupils, worshippers, residents and businesses, the campaigners are angry that an alternative site at Borthwick Wharf has been ruled out. The reasons for Thames Water’s switch remain unclear. 

Convoys Wharf - localism inaction?

Barely two years after the Localism Act came into being, recent events in Deptford mean you'd be forgiven for wondering what the hell is the point of this particular piece of legislation.

Shall I give you a quick reminder of its main aims? (I lifted this straight off the Local Government Association website if you need more information):

The aim of the act was to devolve more decision making powers from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils. The act covers a wide range of issues related to local public services, with a particularly focus on the general power of competence, community rights, neighbourhood planning and housing. 

The key measures of the act were grouped under four main headings; 
  • new freedoms and flexibilities for local government 
  • new rights and powers for communities and individuals 
  • reform to make the planning system more democratic 
  • more effective reform to ensure decisions about housing are taken locally
In my considered opinion, you'd be right to ask what the point of the Localism Act is, particularly in the light of recent, local events, the implications of which are still unfolding.

In October, Convoys Wharf developer Hutchison Whampoa wrote to the Mayor of London to (somewhat petulantly to be honest, you can read his letter via the Deptford is.. website) demand that the decision on its outline planning application be 'called in' - ie be taken away from the local council and made by the Mayor's office.

Head of Hutchison Whampoa Properties (Europe), Edmond Ho, complained to Boris that his company had been subjected to 'a long pattern of delay and indecision' from Lewisham planners over the last five years, and warned that unless the Mayor took it over, the 'delivery of much needed housing for London' was at risk of further, substantial delay.

The Mayor's planners decided that it was a good idea too, mainly due to the fact that the relationship between the developers and the council's planning department had broken down irrevocably - although they did not elaborate on the reasons for this in their report (available here), and it is a matter of opinion whether this came about because of the 'delay and indecision' that Ho moans about, or whether HW's arrogance and general failure to address any fundamental issues might have played a part.

Let's be clear, this breakdown of the relationship has not come about through a clash of personalities or anything so straightforward - having come into contact with many of the players involved in this process over recent months and years, it is obvious that Hutchison Whampoa's stance is not a welcoming one. People from all sides of the process have remarked on their seeming indifference to any criticism - constructive or otherwise - while some of those working directly for HW have described them as being one of the most difficult clients they have ever had.

HW's arrogance is ably demonstrated by the fact that in his letter in which he demanded that the Mayor call in the application, Edmond Ho claimed that issues raised by English Heritage 'were understood' to have been resolved, and that both the GLA and the Design Review Panel had 'endorsed' the current masterplan. As the details posted on Deptford Is.. make clear, these claims are largely unsubstantiated. In fact I would say Deptford Is.. has been very charitable in its suggestion that Ho was misinformed, or that information was misinterpreted.

Even while writing this post, news reaches me that HW's project manager who has been present at all the public meetings and events for as long as I can remember, is no longer working on the Convoys Wharf development. He may simply have got another job, or been promoted elsewhere, but it's always interesting to speculate on whether other factors are at play, in particular because of the timing of the move.

But to get back the story: the Mayor agreed to call it in and has taken over responsibility for making the final decision on this outline planning application. It is a very unusual step to take before the local authority has made any decision - usually the call-in happens after the decision has been made, and takes place because the Mayor (or the applicant) is not happy with the outcome. To take responsibility away from a local authority which was still trying to work towards acceptance of an application could be seen as premature and inappropriate.

Whether or not Lewisham planners could have reached a position at which they were happy to recommend acceptance of the application is not known, but head of planning John Miller's letter makes it clear that his team had identified the outstanding issues and suggests possible solutions. Personally I don't see anything unreasonable in his assessment of the situation, and while Ho is annoyed that the process has taken so long, to blame the delay entirely on the planners is disingenuous when feedback suggests the slow progress has been compounded by obstructive and unresponsive behaviour on the applicant's part. I'm reminded of the last few minutes of a football match where one team tries to keep the ball out of play just to deny its opponents the chance of any more goals.

'Affordable' housing (pink bits) 
And indeed the GLA report notes that Lewisham is not generally lax when it comes to meeting deadlines for planning decisions, which is another point in its favour - indeed we have been practically ushering acceptance of housing schemes straight in through the door. Over the last two years, Lewisham has approved 135% of its target for new housing, and it is 'almost exactly on the three year average' of 'affordable' housing in the capital (although as other bloggers point out, 'affordable' is little more than a meaningless label these days).

There are several ways this could go for HW (and indeed for Deptford), not all of them necessarily bad, since the higher profile of the case should now mean greater scrutiny by a wider audience. On the whole though, it is worrying that the mayor of London saw fit to bow to such pressure from a developer - one which owns some huge areas of Thames waterfront and is involved with some major developments in the capital. These include the old Lots Road power station in Chelsea, also being designed by Farrell's office although with piddling small towers of max just 37 storeys and seen here being marketed via HW's Hong Kong estate agency.

Removing the powers from the local planning authority before any decision had even been taken - and when the borough was working hard to reach a situation where approval could be recommended - strikes me as setting a very dangerous precedent for future schemes, and it creates confusion, particularly with the supposed 'localism' policy of the current government. What's more, while the applicant complained that the process was taking too long, moving the decision making process to a new authority will not speed it up any, most likely the opposite.

In the meantime, some perhaps unintended implications of the call-in have already been seen, with the nationals finally sitting up and taking interest in the story - particularly since it follows hard on the heels of the 'at risk' listing of Deptford Dockyard and Sayes Court Garden by the World Monuments Fund which was quite widely reported, and must have royally pissed off HW.

Private Eye's Piloti has written a large article for the current issue which gives a good, if brief explanation of what is a very complex history.
You can read it via the Deptford Is.. post which announces the launch of the campaign's petition via The petition, which sends emails to the mayor, his planners, the developer and the architects every time someone signs it, has reached more than 900 signatures in just a week.

I'll try to keep the blog updated as the story develops, although for regular information and the inside goss on the story, I recommend following the Deptford Is.. blog and newsletter which has a lot more information.

Sign the petition

Read the Deptford Is.. post about the call-in.

Read what Private Eye had to say - via Deptford Is..

Blogger Andy Worthington's article kicks off by assessing the claim of 'affordable' housing.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Revised footbridge designs for Greenwich Reach/Deptford Creek

New designs for the proposed swing bridge over the mouth of Deptford Creek have been submitted to Greenwich planners, and the design documents are on the planning website. Don't be fooled by the visualisations, however, they are the same as the ones that were posted with the (first revision)  application earlier this year

The pictures I've posted here are taken from the new detailed design planning statement. Galliard Homes - the developer of the New Capital Quay which has to provide the swing bridge as part of its section 106 commitment (although as I explained in my last post, got agreement for some extra floors on top of its existing buildings to 'pay' for the bridge) has now commissioned some proper bridge designers - Flint & Neill - to examine the proposal and ensure it is workable. Despite the fact that it's a small structure, a certain level of experience is required to properly design a cable-stayed swing span bridge. 

The revised design is a lot less flashy but according to those in the know, looks like it might actually work from a structural point of view. The mast height has been lowered, the arrangement of the counterweight has been changed and various details of the design have been adjusted to reduce the amount of future maintenance required. Reading the planning details, it sounds like the initial proposal was, shall we say, unworkable?

One glaring omission from the documents so far is any firm commitment on operation - an issue which is particularly thorny for the Creek's boat dwellers and those who use it for goods deliveries such as Priors.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Campaigners against Silvertown Tunnel reveal shocking air pollution in Greenwich and Deptford

Local campaigners against the Silvertown Tunnel have revealed shocking levels of air pollution in south east London which at some places breach European limits for nitrogen dioxide.

The figures were revealed at a public meeting by a group in Greenwich which is campaigning against plans to build a new road tunnel under the Thames between the Greenwich peninsula and the Royal Docks.

The No To Silvertown Tunnel campaign carried out its own research into air pollution during the summer, attaching tubes to lamp posts to measure the nitrogen dioxide in the air around the A102 Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach, and the A2 Rochester Way Relief Road.

They found pollution levels broke European limits at several points along the route, and argue that a Silvertown Tunnel would funnel more traffic into the two link roads, causing more congestion and pollution in Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Eltham.

As part of their research they discovered that Greenwich Council, which also monitors air quality, had stopped publishing its findings some years ago. They put in a freedom of information request for the details, which as well as backing up the campaigners claims about air quality, reveal that pollution at the end of Deptford Church Street on Creek Road has been breaching European limits for nitrogen dioxide for more than eight years. At times the measured level at this site has reached twice the recommended level of 40µg/m3. The average level that has been measured over the past eight years is one and half times the recommended level (click on the image to see it full size).

Both London mayor Boris Johnson and Greenwich Council support the building of the Silvertown Tunnel, despite the damage it will do to the local area. Other local councils, including Lewisham, Southwark, Hackney and Redbridge are either opposed or have serious reservations.

Transport consultant John Elliott, the Campaign for Better Transport’s Sian Berry, King’s College London air quality expert Dr Ian Mudway and Clean Air London’s Simon Birkett discussed the issue at a public meeting this evening in Greenwich. Campaigners want a full and open debate about the issue, and are unhappy with Greenwich Council's continued support for the scheme.

“The Silvertown Tunnel will blight lives on both sides of the river Thames, but in Greenwich few people seem aware of the consequences of building a new road tunnel, or that there are even plans to build one,” says No to Silvertown Tunnel campaigner Chris Taylor, who took part in the community-based study.

“The A2 and A102 are London’s biggest rat-run – we get no benefit, only pollution and congestion from traffic using the Blackwall Tunnel because they want to avoid tolls at Dartford. “Encouraging more vehicles to use these roads is madness – and will only make matters worse in the long run. We want to start a full and open debate about this issue, one which neither the mayor nor Greenwich Council want to have.”

Monday 7 October 2013

Deptford High Street in classic roadworks cock-up scenario

So, you know the story about how the road has just been repaved and then the bloody electricity board comes along and digs a new hole in it five minutes later, that's an urban myth right? 

I mean nobody could be as daft as to forget to put the ducts in for the new lighting columns - after all, lights surely don't need an electricity supply?

Because that level of cock-headedness is surely reserved for dim individuals who don't know their arses from their elbows?


I guess there's a very slim chance that it might happen on a £2 million project - which with that level of spending will surely be planned and managed by experienced professionals? - but it would only occur if for some utterly spectacularly moronic reason the lighting columns were being installed by one company working to its own schedule, and the highway resurfacing was being done by another company. And that they didn't talk to one another, even though they were working cheek by jowl.

What kind of idiotic system would that be? No-one could be that stupid of course.

It would not only be disruptive and embarrassing, it would be a complete waste of money if the lighting contractor put the lighting columns in with no ducts, and the paving contractor paved right up to the lighting columns, and then they had to take up all the new paving again just to put the ducts in so that the lights could be plugged into the electric, and the paving contractor had to lay the paving again, getting paid to do the same work twice.

Nah, of course it's just an urban myth. It couldn't happen here.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Deptford X kicks off with a flourish

Deptford's annual arts fest Deptford X kicked off with a dramatic flourish on Saturday morning at 11am when Giffin Square hosted possibly the greatest density of people in its refurbished history.

A banner almost the length of the square was unrolled, and groups of volunteers, including festival lead artist Bob & Roberta Smith, were given five minutes to colour in one of the letters which spelled out the festival's theme 'Art makes people powerful'.

Elsewhere the cult of the missing anchor was a strong theme with a funeral wreath in the window of Ralph's greengrocers, stencilled anchors appearing along the high street and near Deptford X galleries, and t-shirts on sale from artists plying their wares through the market.

Deptford is Forever , a collective of artists and local shops, has appropriated the sailor's tattoo and the anchor symbol and built around them a series of interventions and 'giveaway' art works in the form of printed paper bags that independent shops and market traders are using instead of the ubiquitous blue plastic bags.

I hear that there's a special anchor-related event planned for next Saturday - make sure you're in the high street round about midday if you want to witness the spectacle.

Down the road in Gallop, Noemi Lakmaier methodically paints shoes blue for her work The Observer Effect. She has 500 pairs of second-hand shoes to paint, transforming them into 'unwearable art objects'.

The festival continues to next Sunday, ending with the traditional art quiz in the Dog & Bell. For more details of the galleries, installations, events and workshops visit

Friday 27 September 2013

'Food court' relaunches as Giffin Square Food Fair

I was beset by a strange feeling of deja vu when I opened an email from Lewisham Council the other day, announcing the launch of the Giffin Square Food Fair on Saturday 5 October.

'On the first Saturday of every month shoppers can sample a mouth-watering array of street food and drink from local chefs, bakers and traders including: jerk chicken wraps and fish cakes from The Jerk and In a Pikkle, deli-style breads and pastries from Elvira’s Secret Pantry and freshly squeezed natural fruit juices and smoothies from That Natural Stuff. In addition to hot food and drink, there’ll be music, entertainment and a seating area at the monthly event which runs from 10am–4pm on the first Saturday of the month. '

You must remember the Deptford 'food court'? (yup, still using the inverted commas, still hate the name). Started off with about a dozen food stalls, some rickety benches and live music in Douglas Square in the summer; traders dwindled and was down to a couple of hardy stall-holders after barely a couple of months. I wouldn't exactly say it was launched with any great fanfare, the lack of consistent, ongoing marketing being one of the major things that caused it to fail.

I believe the 'food court' was one of the ideas put forward when Lewisham won money from the Mayor's Outer London for regeneration of the High Street and market. (I also note from that post that some of it was earmarked for recruitment of a town centre renewal manager - anyone heard who he or she is? They are not very visible!).

So a load of stalls were set up in Douglas Square, a few posters were circulated to local bloggers, and that was it. No signs or directions to the 'food court', no flyers being handed out to people passing along the high street on market day, no posters in shop windows or on lamp posts, no Facebook page or Twitter account. No wonder the stall holders gave up and buggered off.

I'm happy to see that the idea has been revived, and made into a once a month event which does make a lot more sense. Putting it on Giffin Street 'beneath the famous his ‘n’ hers mural in the heart of Deptford town centre' is also a good idea. It will give the 'food fair' its own identity and will make it much more visible rather than being shoe-horned between the stalls of the second hand market.

Although this revival was heralded as an initiative by Lewisham Council, I suspect there has been significant input by local traders such as In a Pikkle, who showed more marketing nous than all our 'professional' advisers put together. I know that they were very disappointed by the failure of the initial venture - let's hope that the relaunched version fares better.

Perhaps Lewisham Council should also ask for its money back from whoever was paid to launch the first one.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Deptford Pearls

Following on from my last 'Deptford Tourist Board' post*, here's a short film about the recent refurbishment of the His 'n' hers mural in Giffin Square, uploaded by Tamistry. Alternatively watch it on You Tube at

Many familiar Deptford faces in here, if you don't know them then you need to start using your local shops and market more!


*Normal service will be resumed shortly, don't think I'm getting soft in my old age.

Friday 6 September 2013

Come and see Deptford's highs and lows in Open House

One of my favourite weekends of the year will be with us in just over fortnight - Open House London, the time when London's grand buildings, architectural follies, private homes and quirky corners are open to the public.

I do love a good snoop around people's houses - something worth remembering if you ever invite me in, although I will always respect your privacy by not actually divulging what I find ;-) - so this is an event that really appeals to me. And whatever you want to say about the opportunity to examine the architectural detailing or admire the historic fabric of a building, I'm damn sure a lot of you love snooping too, you're just too polite to admit it.

So what will there be to see in Deptford? 

There's enough to keep you busy for a whole day in Deptford, and if you aren't from round these parts, I reckon you'll get a good introduction to our neighbourhood by coming down on Saturday 21st September.

Start with a trip to the top of the Seager Distillery Tower - a building which it's definitely preferable to be in looking out, rather than the other way round. I went up it last year and the views are stunning - you can orient yourself with views north to the river, following the route of the Creek, or look south towards the rest of the borough. Be warned space is limited at the top of the tower and you may have to queue.

Once you've descended, you may wish to head over to Deptford New Town where you'll find the pocket-sized Connearn Studio in Friendly Street. I've not been to this one, and from the picture on the website it looks like it won't keep you amused for long - but the walk is a pleasant one, especially if you go through the park and pass by the Stephen Lawrence Centre. Just try and ignore the ugly block of houses they built next to it (replacing the ugly houses that were there before). You can come back along Brookmill Road past Mereton Mansions, or go the other way to pass Wellbeloved's butchers on the bottom of Tanner's Hill, in a row of Deptford's oldest buildings. 

From there I would recommend a wander down our fabulous high street and through the market (not forgetting the huge second-hand stalls outside the Albany) to Tidemill Academy and the Deptford Lounge, to dig out the substance behind the bling. You might want to linger in the library for a while, browse a few books or have a coffee.

If you like your coffee super-charged, be sure to stop off at the Waiting Room to get your caffeine fix, and a falafel wrap or veggie burger with super hot sauce to keep up you sustained for the afternoon. Any visiting vegans will be happy to discover this place, which serves vegan-friendly fare without making a fuss about it.

Alternatively if the Waiting Room is too crowded - or you want something a bit more substantial for your lunch - Deli X a few doors down is another great option. If you want to eat on the move, or it's too nice to go indoors, I recommend filling up on fresh salt-cod fishcakes or souse from In a Pikkle or try the jerk chicken with rice and peas from the neighbouring stall. Both are in Douglas Square in the middle of the market. 

From here, keep walking towards the river for two more very interesting Open House experiences. Convoys Wharf site is well worth a visit just to get an idea of its vast scale and the glorious riverside vistas it has kept to itself all these years. 

You're too late to see any of the remaining underground structures - they are still there but covered up for now - but you will be able to venture inside the Olympia boat-building shed with its distinctive curved roof and lovely internal iron structure.

According to the Open House listing, there will be displays showing Hutchison Whampoa's redevelopment proposals. It's more than possible they will wheel out the famous groundscape model of the scheme although perhaps they'll also show the little polystyrene blocks (above) which are supposed to show the building density and heights.

Right next door to the site is the historic Master Shipwrights House, which will be open to the public on both days - a rare chance to see this beautiful building. I visited a few years ago during Open House and was mightily impressed - you can read about it here. Normally this house is only visible when glimpsed from the river on a Thames Clipper - don't miss the chance to explore behind the big steel gates.

What's more, I've got it on good authority that there's going to be some very interesting events taking place here over the course of the weekend - of which, stay tuned for more details in due course.

While you are down Watergate Street, it's well worth popping into the Dog & Bell for a pint or two of the best-kept (and by far the cheapest) ale in Deptford. Have a game of bar billiards or sit out in the garden at the back - it's a real old-fashioned boozer of the best kind. 

If you're visiting from outside the 'ford, do take the opportunity to explore our lovely little corner of SE London to the full. Every one of these is only a stone's throw from the high street.

Deptford Creek - tide half in, half out. Look out for herons and swans, or watch the DLR trains rattling over the bridge.

St Paul's, Deptford - a Baroque beauty with a bit of guerrilla gardening on the adjoining green space. The grass circle marks the size of the access shaft that Thames Water wants to dig for its supersewer.

The Laban Centre on Creekside was designed by Herzog & de Meuron and won the Stirling Prize for architecture in 2003. Sadly it's not part of Open House London, which is a shame. But they do have monthly architecture tours you can book at £12 a head  - and it has a very pleasant garden if you want to picnic.

Finally, if St Nick's church in Deptford Green is open, it's worth taking a look inside at the Grinling Gibbons woodcarvings. But even if you can't get inside, you might want to walk past just to look at the famous skull & crossbones sculptures atop the two gateposts.

Other eating and drinking highlights close by are the rotis at Chaconia, grilled pork noodles or banh mi at Panda Panda, cocktails out of teacups with cheese straws in the living room of the painfully hip Little Nan's Bar, a wide range of ales and reliably top-quality dinners at the Royal Albert, and if you are prepared to walk that bit further, there's the small-but-perfectly-formed London Particular, another place for great quality grub, top coffee and fantastic cakes.

London Analogue Festival launches in Deptford

The first London Analogue festival is being held in Deptford and New Cross this weekend - it's a two-day festival celebrating analogue photography, film and sound art

The press release says: "In an era when digital technologies are ubiquitous, the first London Analogue Festival will celebrate the beauty, power, and aesthetics that come from analogue technologies. On Saturday the 7th and Sunday 9th of September 2013, the festival will draw together international artists for a weekend of live performances, talks, and exhibitions in South East London.

A diverse range of analogue moving images, photography and sound art will be showcased. Encouraging participation, the LAF will offer workshops, discussions, and networking opportunities. These and door prizes will be offered in collaboration with festival partners, including Lomography, Silverprint, The Impossible Project, Moo Cards, and Room 66."

The festival has a Facebook page from which I lifted this photo of them setting up the venue in Deptford Town Hall - worth a visit if you can make it down there Saturday or Sunday.

There's a full programme on the website with some interesting-looking events in the former town hall, the Amersham Arms and the Old Police Station.

Best of all - it's totally free of charge!

Saturday 10 August 2013

Convoys Wharf revised masterplan planning application

The revised planning application for the Convoys Wharf masterplan (ref DC/13/83358, link here) consists of more than 50 files, some extremely large in size. Just to download them all from the planning portal takes a significant amount of time; but do you have to read them in order to formulate your response?

If you want the quick answer, it's no. The good news is you don't have to read them all. The most important part of the planning application is this sentence:

All matters reserved other than access and the siting and massing of three tall buildings.

Which in layman's terms means that no matter how many pretty pictures are in the planning documents, however detailed they seem, there is ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEE that the final development will bear any resemblance to them. This is not a detailed planning application, it's an outline planning application.

The renderings are merely 'indicative' of what might be built, so don't be surprised if what ends up on your doorstep is nothing like the pictures.

So if you are writing an objection to the application*, don't bother focussing on the fact that you don't like the cladding on the towers, or you think that there should be more lavender in the planting of the jetty garden, it's not about that at this stage, it's just about how many square metres of development can be shoehorned onto a sensitive, historical, riverside site. (*the 'nominal' date for comments has long gone, but comments can be submitted right up to the date that the application goes to committee, so there's still plenty of time).

If the planning application gains approval, the only things that councillors will be approving are the maximum density of the development, the access routes into the site, and the positions and heights of the three tall buildings (currently two 38-storey towers and one 48-storey tower).

They are shown on the diagram below, which also shows the proposed phasing (yellow first phase, green second and blue third). This is one of the few 3D images in the application that show the whole development.

Do note how the green expanses of Pepys Park, Twinkle Park and Sayes Court Gardens have been included, presumably because there's precious little green space on the site itself and it looks bad without; note also how the angle from which the digital model is viewed has been carefully chosen so that the two 38-storey towers blend into the surrounding blocks. At risk of repeating an old favourite from previous planning application assessments ad infinitum, there's no other blocks or buildings around the site, even in outline, to show relative heights of the buildings in context.

So that's the quick answer, but you didn't think I'd let it lie there, did you?

I've covered some - but by no means all - of the main issues below, and am planning a couple more posts once I've recovered from the effort of this one!

Back to the planning documents; there's a fascinating host of information in the hundreds - perhaps thousands - of pages, should you choose to read them all. Having waded through a considerable number, I can certainly confirm that the staff of new masterplanner Farrells, appointed after the previous Aedas scheme failed to set anyone's pulse racing, have worked hard for the fee, at the very least in terms of research and report writing.

A huge amount of effort has been put into uncovering the history of the site and its surroundings. But considering the fact that the last masterplan was scrapped because it failed to adequately reflect the internationally-important heritage of this riverside site - the former Deptford Royal Dockyard - I'm not sure the latest incarnation really does any better. In fact you'd be foolish to expect this increased knowledge and understanding of the site to be reflected in any meaningful improvement.

The Aedas masterplan was purely and simply an architect's vision driven by a developer's bottom line. Roads and building arrangements bore little relation to the buildings remaining below ground, neither did they hold any memory of the site's history, and the arrangement of buildings was just a case of cramming as many as possible on the site, with as many river views as could be shoe-horned in.

The pesky Olympia Building in the centre of the site was just something to be built around, and part of the problem with the Aedas masterplan was the extent to which the residential buildings cut off the connection between the boat-building shed, the buried basin, and the river. Without its connection to the river, the presence of the Olympia Building lost all meaning.

In the new masterplan, Farrells took a bold step; they committed to 'put the Olympia Building at the heart of the development'. Which made me laugh really, it sounded so ambitious and earth-shattering. As if they were going to jack it off its supports, put it on huge self-propelled modular transporters, and wheel it somewhere so that it was right at the centre of the site.

There's no need to do that of course, it's already pretty much literally at the heart of the site. But apparently if you draw a big red heart shape around it on an exhibition board, you immediately elevate its status in your masterplan.

In reality, it hasn't been elevated at all - as you can see from the diagram below, which shows the Olympia Building in the appropriately pink 'heart' of the site, its connection to the river is still funnelled meanly between two lines of buildings. There may be a 'mirror pond' proposed in front of the building, which is supposed to reflect (sorry!) the link between the shed and the river, but anyone looking at the site from outside - whether from the river itself, from the opposite bank or from the new riverside walkway, will struggle to see the listed structure.

In his comment on the new masterplan, English Heritage historic buildings and areas adviser Richard Parish makes a point of referring to this 'narrow, glimpsed view' which he said 'fails to make the best opportunity of this prominent and centrally-located heritage asset'.

EH acknowledges that the extent of the visual connection to the river has varied since the building was constructed, but as Parish writes pointedly: 'the current proposal would appear to historically represent the most restricted view'.

The buildings that line the route of this 'narrow glimpsed view', incidentally, are 14 storeys and 10 storeys high. The other 'indicative' heights are shown on this diagram.

Which brings me to density. 

Essentially the density being demanded from this site is the biggest stumbling block facing any masterplanner. Given the reluctance of the developer to agree to any reduction in this figure, the most a masterplanner can do is juggle the sizes, heights and positions of the buildings around the best they possibly can within the other constraints of the site. And clearly, from the results we have seen so far, there simply is not enough room on the site for this much development.  

And of course ultimately it's the density of the development - the number of apartments, retail units, restaurants, businesses, hotels and so on - that directly influences the other impacts of the development. The number of people needing to get on and off the site each day to go to work; the number of drivers needing to park vehicles; the number of commuters needing to catch a train or bus; the number of service vehicles needing to deliver supplies or remove waste, the amount of electricity and water the development needs, the number of school places, medical services and leisure facilities required etc etc. 

Transport is a particular sticking point for this site; its public transport accessibility level is very poor and there's little that the developer can do to improve this. Hutchison Whampoa is proposing to build a new stop for the Thames Clipper riverboat, which is all very well if everyone on the site works at Canary Wharf and doesn't need to do anything else on the way to work like taking kids to school. Other than that, a bus will be diverted through the site - or possibly a new route created, which might be an idea since even the developer's outdated figures suggest nearly 500 people from the site will want to catch a bus during the 8am-9am peak period. A mere 260 will catch the train in the same hourly period, so nothing to worry about there.*

(*get yourself a bike)

The table above and the transport assessment in the application is analysed more thoroughly over on the Deptford Is.. blog, which also addresses potential issues with parking. 

The other thing that Farrells seems to have gone to town on in terms of its 'placemaking' efforts is naming every inch of the site with a maritime, shipbuilding or similar reference. Raleigh River Gardens, Basin Place, Royal Navy Square, Tudor Rise, Old Officer's Row, Royal Caroline Square and so on. I'd be more than happy to support street names with a real link to the history of the site, but from the plans it looks as if this is as far as proposals to acknowledge the site's heritage goes.

I did wonder whether the towers should be given maritime-inspired names - perhaps Sea View for the 48 storey tower? I'm sure you'll be able to see the North Sea on a clear day.

Sea View? 

I've still got things to say about the protected wharf and the heritage-led regeneration projects such as Sayes Court Gardens and the Lenox Project; both of the latter seem to have gained some ground but are still little more than erasable pencil lines in the empty bits of the site that Hutchison is struggling to fill.

As far as the images, renderings and plans in the documents go - the whole communication side of things, which HW hasn't been too hot on thus far - if I had the time and inclination I'm pretty sure I could write a thesis on this. As it is, I might try and find time for a separate post some time soon.

In the meantime I'll merely make a few observations.

On the positive side, at least they seem to have stopped representing the 'podium' gardens (ie those above street level with private access for residents only) as green spaces on the plans. They are shown on the plan below in white. I haven't checked every plan exhaustively, but it's good to see it's at least not standard.

Of course they still include the green spaces around the site on every plan, rendering, image etc. At first glance it makes the plan look very green, but when you give it proper consideration, it merely emphasises the paucity of green space within the site itself and the extent of green space around it - pretty much all of which is publicly accessible.

There are plenty of renderings within the planning documents; all 'indicative' of course although they do show the height and positions of the main towers, so do have a certain value. If you can pick the conveniently-grey buildings out from the grey clouds of course - funny how on this rendering they have chosen grey for the highest buildings and white for the lower ones, with the result that the viewer's eyes are immediately drawn to the lower ones.

The main planning document with the rendered images can be accessed via this link - it's a big file so may take some time to download depending on your internet connection.

Meanwhile I leave you with further renderings of the proposed streetscape* from carefully-chosen perspectives. (*terms and conditions apply)

View from Twinkle Park

Glimpsed view of the Olympia Building; whatever's in the shed* is proving popular! (*still a mystery)

The river front with 'jetty park'; you'll need freakishly long legs to dip your feet in btw.
There's links to further reading below for anyone who wants to give the application serious consideration and offer informed feedback and valid debate in the comment section.

I'm sure the rest of you will just empty your brains there in the usual fashion.

My comment on the public exhibition earlier this year
Convoys Wharf open day and Farrell's 'listening' process

Deptford Is... initial overview of the application
Comment from Estates Gazette about the masterplan (by former Lewisham-Deptford Labour candidate hopeful)
Deptford Is.. response from English Heritage