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.


Richard Elliot said...

I get the impression that you might not like the scheme from your blog post? Do you have some suggestions on what you'd like to see on the site.

Having relatively recently moved (back) to the area I'm not familiar with the planning history and my only knowledge of the site is from running past it occassionally, which with all the big hoardings doesn't give you the best view.

The new Galliard Homes development appears to be very dense (although not particuarly high rise). I'm definitely not championing that development as a model, but do you have any idea of how it compares in density?

Roy Tindle said...

I recall a meeting, back in the News International days, at which we raised questions of transport. We commented that the cars from the new apartments would have little hope of breaking into already overstretched roads, certainly during the rush hours. Lewisham planners told us that this would not be a problem since they would all be using public transport. I ruffled feathers, a little, by asking said planners whether they intended producing a plan. A plan of what, I was asked. Why, a plan of a bus, showing what one looks like and where the doors were situated. Apartment prices were unlikely to attract those who regularly, if ever, used public transport.

Plus ca change: this irresolvable problem remains. There is no spare road capacity for additional buses nor capacity on the rail system.

There are many other problems and, perhaps, the most significant is the supply of drinking water - and even more relevant, the provision of sewerage services.

Simple minded lunacy!

Toby said...

I went along on Saturday too, and was ambivalent about the whole thing to be honest. There's some nice ideas in there but I have to say it's not a patch on the original proposal.

I also saw that original exhibition held in one of the now demolished warehouses on the site and came away excited and optimistic - loved the architecture and a site layout that worked for me at least (I'm in the Foreshore buildings, just upstream, have been for 17-odd years now).

I've not been following too closely but I do recall being flummoxed by the objections to that plan at the time and it seems the result has only been to water down and neuter any sense of ambition. Another potentially forward-looking proposal hamstrung by a bunch of NIMBYs with a history complex as far as I can tell. I may be wrong, but that's how it seemed from a distance.

And, as a sidenote - that 'Build the Lenox' project seems absurd to me. From the website: "…the Lenox project aspires to create jobs, build transferable skills, bring pride to Deptford, and create tourism and identity" …by what, burying our collective heads in the past. Transferrable skills to what? Of what use are those skills to anyone other than restorers and perhaps carpenters? If we're to provide for developing local skills I'd much rather something looking to the future, something fit for the 21st century, not the 18th.

Sorry, went off on one there… ;o)

Deptford Dame said...

@richard the Paynes & Borthwick development is 257 apartments but I don't have the area to hand. You can get a rough idea of how it compares in size by looking at a map. By my reckoning it's way below the density of what's proposed for Convoys, although if I find time I might do a bit more research, it would be a good idea to be able to compare directly. I have no argument with the site being developed for residential use, but would prefer a greater mix of social and private housing and a good range of community facilities, heritage uses and good quality public realm.

@toby was that the Rogers scheme or the Aedas scheme you saw and loved so much? I have not been enamoured by either but I guess it's all subjective - not forgetting of course that it's all outline planning anyway so there's no guarantee the buildings will look anything like the visualisations. At this stage in the game it's all about establishing density, building heights, massing, transport and so on.
Much of the technology proposed for the Lenox project is modern - digitisation of all the existing plans and quantities, creation of a 3d computer model from which files can be generated for CIC routers that will be used to cut all the timber. While the boat is a historical replica, it will be largely built using modern methods.

Toby said...

I think it was the Rogers one. Time will tell I guess how it all pans out. I wasn't particularly disappointed by the new (albeit sketchy) proposals - just a bit, you know… meh!

Thanks for the Lenox detail, I wasn't aware of that, but I'm afraid that only makes it all the more absurd to me. Whilst I find it rather niche I could at least understand a desire to maintain traditional crafts etc. But if it's going to use modern methods why not put the effort into something more meaningful than a tourist attraction? There are already some fabulous historical boats from all sorts of eras you can go and have a look at in various states of repair, why build another?

Part of the pitch as I've seen it is to do with the local historical relevance, the desire to provide jobs and skills to people in the area, provide a beacon for the community etc. — All of which could be done with much more relevance, particularly to the younger contingent, by more forward-looking ideas. I don't have a grand idea to hand but it seems to me given the problems the marine environment faces in the 21st century, and the opportunities it presents for things like transport, aquaculture, power generation, etc - that a proposal that works in some meaningful way to contribute solutions to the contemporary problems (perhaps with a non-commercial focus) would be better.

When Deptford was a thriving Maritime centre it wasn't looking to the past, it was living in the present and looking to the future. I think we'd be doing it a disservice to reduce it to a glorified theme park.

Toby said...

I think I got out of the wrong side of bed this morning.

Julian said...

@Toby, As director of the Lenox project and a local boatbuilder I find your comments helpful, if somewhat depressing as it means that we are not getting the message across as we'd hoped. For any venture to succeed there is the harsh reality of profitability, no-one gives you something for nothing. Cultural tourism is the fastest way to financial independence for the project.
If I had free rein then I would probably build the entire ship by original methods. Those skills too are transferrable, there is a massive demand for skilled historic craftsmen and women. How much better then if we can translate more than half the construction process into modern technologies? Deptford kids need all the chances they can get. Despite what you may think this project is completely relevant to todays population of Deptford too. Strong evidence has been uncovered by historians that the dockyard of the 17th century was a pretty multinational affair, it seems less changes than we think.
As to challenges to the young (and anyone who still loves life) .Before launching there are a myriad problems to solve, for example, where and how are we to hide motor propulsion? We can't go to sea without it. How do we balance all other modern requirements of a ship at sea with historical accuracy and research ? You accuse us of just looking back when we're already looking at flexible photovoltaics woven into her sails as our motors will be electric amongst a host of other high technology details.
Lenox comes from a period in history that no other replica ship covers. What I hope is that if we can get this remote and single-minded developer to give us the space we need (at the moment he's only paying lip-service I fear) our "tourist attraction" will kick-start what I hope will become a Marine Enterprise Zone attracting a cluster of marine based industries. After all, the largest concentration of luxury boat owners work just across the water from the site ! With a little imagination from LB Lewisham such as favourable rate deals for marine industries this could happen pretty rapidly.What better use for the protected wharf area?
Meanwhile, the skills base built up by the construction of the Lenox and the restoration of the historic Great Double Dry Dock will provide the perfect environment for the care and restoration of the other vessels you mention.
I agree with you that the present proposals are pretty vile, but that's because they lack a human scale. Hopefully projects like ours and the Sayes Court project will go some way to changing this.
Our contact details are on the website, you are welcome to get involved.

Toby said...

Thanks for chipping in Julian, there is much in what you say I find laudable and I'm sure your assessment of financial viability is spot on. But I find the underlying concept to lack imagination (sorry!). I have nothing against building replica ships, it's not that the endeavour is uninteresting it's that it seems to me to be entirely the wrong thing to focus on in the context of the Convoys regeneration.

I find it odd that your definition of relevance to today's population comes down to a multinational past. This may show some continuity, but what's relevant to today is modern robotic automation, computer technology, the knowledge economy, etc. - it seems something that focusses on these things would be much more relevant to more people, the skills more widely transferrable. I'm sure there are jobs in the maintenance and restoration of the existing maritime heritage but with the best will in the world this can only be described as niche and of interest to the few. While the high tech details you mention are nice ideas they all seem to make even more of a mockery of the historic design they'd inhabit.

I've been trying to think of a project that fits more with what I'm getting at and it seems to me the Bloodhound SSC (1000mph car) would be one example. While I think a gas-guzzling environmentally unsound car is the wrong choice of subject entirely, what I like is the focus on maintaining an engineering heritage not by recreating a steam engine, or a 19th century workhouse - but by applying the _spirit_ of that heritage in a modern context to inspire the next generation. If the Double Dry Dock was used all those years ago to recreate Roman galleys or Viking longships I could maybe see the relevance of the Lenox, but it wasn't - they were building the latest stuff, and it seems to me that aspect of the heritage is the part worth celebrating since without it we'd likely not be discussing Deptford's marine history at all.

Is there not something equally forward looking from the marine perspective that might be more in this spirit we could focus on for Convoys? Advanced composite hull designs, racing yachts, sail powered shipping research, aquaculture, robotic/drone vessels, peripheral technologies… all these things seem to me to offer a more long-term sustainable way to maintain a marine relevance and a symbolic project that embodied these sorts of things would be something I could really get behind. The Marine Enterprise Zone you mention is intriguing, but private enterprise lacks the public facing nature that is one of the aspects I do like of the Lenox proposals.

To be honest I'm not entirely sold on the need to maintain 'historical relevance' anyway. I don't see why it follows that because an area has a history doing one thing that it is important to maintain that indefinitely. The past isn't going anywhere, and while I personally find the area's more recent industrial history endlessly fascinating I don't need to see it recreated or rebuilt - to me knowledge of the history is what's interesting and a mockup of that past seems false. If it turns out that Deptford is now about something new and different than maritime endeavours (and having lived here for a fair while now, it seems to be peripheral at best) then vive la change!

That said, vive la difference too - I'm sure that if the project gets off the ground I'd be dropping round snapping pictures with the rest of them. Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Heritage tourism is an industry worth £12.4bn a year to the UK and taking into account indirect economic benefit heritage tourism is responsible for £21bn of UK GDP annually.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Richard mean the Galliard development Capitol Quay, not P&B Wharf?

Anonymous said...

i think the wooden boat plan will sink as wont work as a business as not enough people will visit it......but maybe it will secure other sources of funding? but as a local source of repeat entertainment to people that live in the area its very boring indeed unless you have a

Anonymous said...

To prove the commercial, employment and cultural success of the Lenox Project, take a look at what the French have done with the Hermione at Rochfort Dockyard, launched last year, after transforming the feel and fortunes of a post industrial town.
To the nay-sayers, take a trip to France and see what has already been done. Or stick around here and watch the project grow with attendant builders, computer operators, carvers, engineers, volunteers, tourists, restaurants, shops, hotels, marketeers,.........and proud Deptford men, women and children!
We are talking about a project that casts MAGIC into the society along with transformation and economic sense.

Anonymous said...

To prove the commercial, employment and cultural success of the Lenox Project, take a look at what the French have done with the Hermione at Rochfort Dockyard, launched last year, after transforming the feel and fortunes of a post industrial town.
To the nay-sayers, take a trip to France and see what has already been done. Or stick around here and watch the project grow with attendant builders, computer operators, carvers, engineers, volunteers, tourists, restaurants, shops, hotels, marketeers,.........and proud Deptford men, women and children!
We are talking about a project that casts MAGIC into the society along with transformation and economic sense.

thamesfacing said...

Thanks for a detailed account of the consultation. It is deeply depressing that there are no significant changes to the scheme. I can't understand why the scheme does not celebrate the heritage of the area more. The scheme is in danger of being just another ubiquitous riverside apartments scheme.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait till this project sees the light of day. Much needed development and regeneration. I work in the area and many people I speak to support this.