Sunday 24 March 2013

Freeze leisure centre prices for a year - with your library card!

Just came across this today and since I haven't seen it publicised much at all I thought other locals might  be interested in knowing.

Prices at Lewisham's leisure centres are due to rise on 1 April by 9% but if you have a valid Lewisham library card you can use the Fusion leisure centres at the old rates for a whole year! 

Full details are here - the main points are that your library card must be activated and working by 31 March in order to take advantage, and you must take it with you when you go to the leisure centre.

For some reason it only applies to the facilities managed by Fusion, so if Downham is your local leisure centre it seems you'll be expected to suck up the price rise.

Of course there's a rather sad irony about the fact that with all the library closures in Lewisham you'll probably get more use out of your library card for physical fitness than you will for mental stimulation.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Charlotte Turner Gardens improvements

Deptford's extensive public realm has seen quite a lot of changes in the last few years, with improvements to Fordham Park, Margaret McMillan Park and green spaces on the Pepys estate to name but a few.

Now it's the turn of Charlotte Turner Gardens to get a makeover - this open space north of Creek Road is not in Lewisham, it's just over the border in Greenwich, but it's managed by the Twinkle Park Trust and for all intents and purposes it still counts as Deptford as far as I'm concerned.

(pic courtesy Twinkle Park Trust)
To be entirely honest I've never really explored this green space - evidenced by the fact that I've got no photos of it and have had to lift one from Twinkle Park Trust's new website - and so I was surprised to learn that it has a fitness trail and a Petanque court.

Plans for the improvements were approved at the Trust's recent AGM and they hope to let contracts shortly with completion in time for the summer holidays.

The improvements are quite exciting - I particularly like the idea of planting an orchard and some cherry trees. More of this kind of thing please - perhaps Lewisham Homes should consider planting fruit trees in its many small public green spaces around Evelyn and Pepys?

The main features are as follows:

  • A central grassed area with timber-retained mounds at each end – suitable for ball games and all kinds of play activities. 
  • A tidied and more attractive area between Carrick Mews and Brig Mews, with better views of the park and easier to maintain. 
  • A row of cherry trees, running the entire west edge of the garden, bringing colour in the spring and fruit later in the year. 
  • An orchard of old Kentish variety apples, which will also be ripe for harvesting later in the year. 
  • An improved surface for the existing Petanque court, with a nearby table tennis table, creating a more formal sports area. 
  • A more legible ‘trim trail’, using boulders and timber elements to add to the existing pieces of equipment on the grass next to Gilbert House. 
  • An entirely new Toddler Play Area, in the fenced area at the edge of MacMillan Street.   

You can find out more details and follow progress on the website.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Station clean-up efforts drag on

As many train commuters know, time can pass very slowly. A minute in real time and a minute in railway time can be worlds apart - especially when you are waiting for the train that the indicator says is only a couple of minutes away. 

A similar phenomena seems to have afflicted matters at our local station of late, or perhaps it's just some kind of weird rupture in the space-time continuum or whatever they say on Star Trek. Whatever the cause, time just seems to pass, deadlines come and go, and days turn into weeks and months...

You've heard all about the Deptford station saga, I'll wager - either you've read it here, or on Crosswhatfields, or you've heard people moaning about it on Twitter perhaps.

If it feels like we've been moaning about it for months, that because we have! Not just bloggers, but also a small group of local residents who have been wrangling with South Eastern's 'feedback' system for months, trying to get meaningful responses and promises of action with little success.

Lewisham Council, which paid some of the cost of building the new station, shrugged off its responsibilities to Network Rail, which in turn passed it on to South Eastern Railways, where the buck finally stopped. 

But despite endless complaints from the very people who use the station, it wasn't until we nagged the local press to get involved that any progress was made.

The week after this front page story in the South London Press, Southeastern Railways was suddenly and rapidly galvanised into action. Within days Deptford had three hours of cleaning time allocated every week day - a staff member on loan from Greenwich station twice a day - and there was a commitment for a proper deep clean of the station, to remove some of the ingrained dirt that has built up since the opening, and enable the regular cleaning to have more impact.

An initial commitment to have the deep clean done by the end of February slipped to a 'definite' date of 18th March, which has now slipped to a date of next Monday 25th.

No explanations or apologies have been offered for this lack of action, and we understand that the only reason we can be fairly certain the deep clean will happen next week, is that MP Joan Ruddock (who claimed a lot of the credit for getting the station refurb done in the first place) will be present for the official opening of the station.

Nice to see that Southeastern is pulling out all the stops for our local MP, who I'll bet rarely has cause to take a train from here. Be assured, your local train operator would not make such an effort on behalf of the fare-payers who endure these conditions day after day.

*Update: there is a meeting on Tuesday 24th March in Greenwich about a potential Greenwich-line rail users group. See 853 blog for more info

Monday 4 March 2013

Convoys Wharf 'revised' masterplan - the emperor's new clothes?

At last summer's public consultation event for the proposed Convoys Wharf redevelopment, we heard that developer Hutchison Whampoa intended to submit its revised, Terry-Farrell-approved outline planning application in September of the same year. We now find ourselves in March, attending another public consultation event, which suggests that pre-application discussions between Lewisham's planning department and the applicant have not been going entirely smoothly.

Timelines aside, what was the offering? What new, radical steps had Farrell proposed to address the well-documented objections and concerns about the former Aedas scheme that ended up being ditched? In essence, very little at first glance - to me it seemed to be a question of the emperor's new clothes, or perhaps even Groundhog Day. The same faces pitched up from HW and its team, the same deceptive model with its 'low rise' representation of what will be huge blocks and overpowering towers was dusted off and displayed prominently in the room, and the same answers to questions about density, massing, transport and so on. 

We are still being told that the developer thinks 3,500 apartments (just 500 of them 'affordable', whatever that means these days) is appropriate on this site. True it's a large site, but just a glance at the proposed density and massing of the buildings should tell you everything you need to know about the kind of environment these high structures will create at ground level. 

But more of that later. Yesterday morning I was feeling rather smug, having finally identified something about the latest proposals that was different to the plans presented last summer. See if you can spot it.

Transport proposals June 2012
Transport proposals March 2013
As Rolf might say; can you see what it is yet? Yes, the previous proposal was for two bus stops (the red blobs) on the site but now there's only one. Not that it will make much difference to be honest, but I guess it will save a few bob for the developers. And the public transport provision will still be woefully inadequate for the residents of the site. 

All joking aside, there is very little difference between the proposals that we saw last summer and the ones that were on show last week - in fact they even wheeled out some of the same pop-up stands at the exhibition. 

In addition to the low-rise model that they created for the last consultation, the architects also provided a much smaller model which actually showed some of the building heights - perhaps in response to criticisms at the last open day? - so it was possible to get a vague idea of the scale of the development.

With this model, the secret is to find an existing building that you are familiar with - the Dog & Bell pub for example, ahem - and try to relate it to the heights of the new buildings. But even with this crude interpretation it is impossible to get a full understanding of the impact these very high and dense buildings will have at ground level.

And that's not forgetting that the developers are not permitted to excavate the site to build underground car parks, so all the parking will be so-called 'podium parking'. This means that the first couple of storeys of a building are made up of car parking spaces, with residential apartments above. It doesn't make for a vibrant streetscape - and the retail units that the developer is planning to create as a facade to these above-ground car parks will be serving a questionable demand. Many empty units grace the streets of SE8 already, in much better locations than Convoys Wharf will offer.

It's depressing to think that we have been raising the same issues for as long as I can remember - and well before that according to people I know who've lived here longer - and yet the only changes we have seen so far are minimal.

When I say 'we' I am not just talking about local people - I'm talking about councillors and other politicians, planners, historical and learned societies, the Greater London Authority in its many guises, the PLA and so on.

And when I talk about changes I mean that the road layout has been rejigged, the height of buildings on the waterfront stepped back slightly (but increased elsewhere), public space has been squeezed from one spot to another, exit and entry points to the site revised, and slight concessions made in one respect while being counterbalanced elsewhere.

It's true that greater weight is now given - at least in writing - to the historical significance of the site, but it's difficult to tell how sincere this is. While posters at the exhibition claimed that the developers had given community-led project Build the Lenox a commitment that they will provide a site for the ship, the group's Facebook page said that they had not received any such commitment.

It's also notable that there is no clear planned use for the listed Olympia Building - the listed slipway covers that Terry Farrell said he would put 'at the heart of the development, both literally and metaphorically' or something. Which is quite handy since the building is already literally at the heart of the site, it's not like they have to move it or anything, so it's pretty much job done on that front. Well done Terry.

The future of the protected wharf at the upstream end of the site is also vague - in every consultation or public exhibition event I've been to it has been regarded rather like some kind of unspeakable illness; mentioned only in a low mumble while mouthing the words 'protected wharf'. There is no understanding of the potential this part of the site has to generate sustainable employment, support local businesses or even create a marine enterprise zone, linking Deptford back to its roots once again.

To the developers it's clearly just an annoying strip of land on the end of the site whose protected status gets in the way of filling it with more houses, and whose possible uses, which could potentially generate noise or dust on the site, are a massive inconvenience. I guess it is foolish to expect any different - after all, developers are only interested in building and selling residential and commercial property. Anything else - be it roads, public realm or working wharves - is just a cost and an inconvenience.

All in all I was singularly unimpressed by this latest round of public consultation, and left wondering what the purpose of it was. The answer is probably that it's another box to tick before the developers submit their application for the site. Planning committee: 'Did you carry out any public consultation?' Developers: 'Yes we had two open days and X number of people came and we got a lot of feedback*'.
(*they all hated it)
Planning committee: 'Oh, very good.'

If you weren't able to get to the consultation and wish to make your views about these proposals heard, I recommend that you send your comments to In fact I recommend you send your comments to that address even if you submitted them at the public exhibition - after all there is no guarantee, particularly if you were not enamoured by Hutchison's plans, that your comments will find their way anywhere except to the shredder.