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.