Thursday 30 January 2014

Local news round-up

Lots is going on in and around Deptford, as per usual; much more than one blogger alone can cover. Even if that blogger doesn't have a life outside blogging. So here's a brief round-up of all the other stuff you might want to know about that's happening, happened and about to happen in SE8 and around - if you are keen to keep up to date on such stuff, I do recommend you follow our other local bloggers and tweeters, you will get a much broader picture of what's happening.

Thames Tunnel site visit and public hearing
Don't dump on Deptford's heart campaign and Crosswhatfields have both covered two upcoming events which offer the opportunity to protest against the plans to build a tunnel shaft on the green space next to St Paul's Church. The post on Crosswhatfields in particular highlights the impact of traffic from the site - an estimated 140 vehicles per day - and puts it in the context of other developments on Creekside and around, many of which are expected to be in progress at the same time.

(Pic; Don't Dump on Deptford's Heart)
The air pollution monitoring tubes that were put up in January are due to be collected and sent off for analysis next week, so we will expect to see information about existing levels of air pollution in SE8 emerging in the near future.

Convoys Wharf application - in safe hands?
With the planning application for Convoys Wharf now due to be determined by the Mayor of London, it's interesting to hear reports from those involved in the campaigns for community projects Sayes Court Garden and the Lenox Project - both of which are linked to umbrella organisation Deptford Is..

'Heart and lungs'; the alternative vision for Convoys Wharf

I strongly recommend following these websites to keep updated with what's happening with the area's most significant development; indications are that although the mayor's planners seem to be making every effort to resolve the outstanding issues, they are coming up against exactly the same intransigence and lack of imagination that thwarted efforts by our own planners. The mayor originally said he would speed up the decision-making process, suggesting that he would decide in February, but this is looking increasingly unlikely at the moment. The profile of the site has rarely been higher, and as the blogs report, the heritage aspects of the site were raised by local MP Joan Ruddock in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons last week.

Meanwhile the issue of the mayoral call-in, which was exercised again this week on the controversial application for redevelopment of Mount Pleasant Post Office, is discussed in unflattering terms by the Guardian's architecture and design blog. Convoys Wharf gets a mention, but the general thrust of the article is entirely applicable to the situation in SE8.

Deptford Project finally starts construction
My recent post about the second phase of Creekside Village drew comments from the usual moaners about the 'eyesores' of undeveloped land (many of which are just developed into a different type of eyesore) and how the council should 'do something about it'. Naturally I pointed out, in my kindly way, that many of these 'eyesores' of derelict land had already got planning permission, and they only reason they weren't being developed was because the owners were waiting for land values to go up so that they could flog them off to others/make more money out of the residential units!

The Deptford Project is a case in point - it's now nearly two years since planning permission was granted for this site, and it was only this week that there were signs of construction starting; the train carriage was removed and taken to Morden Wharf, another Cathedral-owned site on Greenwich Peninsula, and the obligatory site hoardings were put up around the boundaries. I anticipate the arrival of the usual feel-good photography or local school project decorating aforementioned hoardings.

Other developments in and around Deptford
New hyperlocal site the New Cross blog is doing a great job of keeping an eye on developments west of Deptford, mostly as the name suggests, around New Cross. I haven't had chance to go on there and start slinging in a few comments, but I intend to do so in due course. In the meantime don't let that stop the rest of you - it's great to see someone else focussing on planning, public realm and redevelopment stories in the area, and some of them such as the car park site at the top of Watson Street, and Goldsmiths College redevelopment, are pretty close to home.

If your interest lies east of Deptford, the fertile lands of Greenwich, Charlton and even Woolwich offer some excellent blogs about redevelopment and public realm - in Charlton the proposals for the riverside redevelopment are taxing local campaigners at the moment, not to mention the Silvertown Tunnel. Both schemes seem to have in common dubious claims about the impact on air quality.

And finally..
..on a cheerier note, don't forget the first weekend of the month approaches, which means the Food Fair will be back in Giffin Square on Saturday. It's also Chinese new year and there's no need to go up to Chinatown for the dragon dancers, you will likely see them on and around the high street visiting the many Chinese and Vietnamese shops to offer good luck for the year ahead.

The Albany is also launching its Yam Yam food festival which kicks off with Chinese-themed day on Saturday and runs for six weeks with pop-up restaurants, cooking workshops, culinary tours and other food-related events.

Friday 17 January 2014

Lewisham strategic planning committee 'rejects' Convoys application

Last night Lewisham Council's strategic planning committee voted unanimously to 'reject' Hutchison Whampoa's outline planning application for Convoys Wharf. They accepted a substantial report compiled by the council's planning department which highlights some serious issues with the application that have still not been resolved, and agreed that as it stands, the application should be rejected.

Why the inverted commas? Although the committee unanimously agreed with the planners' report to reject the application, the fact that Boris Johnson last October called the decision in means that he is now the only person with the legal power to determine the application.

But this is not just a bog-standard redevelopment of a bit of derelict land, it's a massive scheme that has the potential to obliterate the history and heritage of Deptford. Whether or not you consider Farrell's 'new masterplan' to be any improvement on the previous Aedas scheme, it is still saddled with major obstacles to creation of anything ground-breaking; the demand for high density development, the inappropriate massing of buildings, the paucity of public transport infrastructure and the restricted highway access to the site which will cause serious problems for the level of car parking provision they propose.

That's before we even come to the proposed use of the listed Olympia Shed, the 'heart' of the development, in Terry Farrell's words, although it is currently without a beat. Yet none of Hutchison's huge team of highly-experienced, well-paid professionals seem to have the imagination or expertise to resuscitate it.  

Although Boris now has all the power, he has absolutely none of the intelligence - naturally I'm using 'intelligence' here in the MI5 sense of the word, I couldn't possibly comment on any other meaning.

Neither do his planners, hence Lewisham's planning officers, who have been dealing with applications for Convoys Wharf and been in meetings with its owners over many years, are acting as advisers to the Mayor's team. The fact that Boris is exerting immense political pressure to get a determination of the application before the end of February is not particularly helpful to anyone involved, I would imagine. As well as being advisers, the council is a statutory consultee in the process,

So it's particularly interesting to read the report that the strategic planning committee approved last night - and this report (with a number of amendments that actually strengthen its recommendations) will be the council's submission to the GLA. Many of the issues that the report raises are the same ones that were highlighted by Lewisham's head of planning John Miller, in his letter just prior to Hutchison Whampoa's demand that the Mayor call in the application last year.

There are two main recommendations, I have cut and pasted below (due to time constraints I haven't interpreted or amended, apologies for all the Unnecessary Capital Letters. Emphasis is mine):

Recommendation A:
Members are recommended to resolve that the Mayor of London be advised that the Council: 

Supports the principle of mixed use development of the site in accordance with Policy SSA2 of the Core Strategy 

Considers that in its current form the application should not be approved and that amendments should be secured prior to determination in relation to the following matters: 

1. Scale, Massing and Relationship with Historic Buildings and Spaces 
Reducing the scale and massing of selected development parcels as outlined in the report to achieve an acceptable urban scale and an appropriate relationship of new buildings with historic buildings and spaces, in particular in relation to the Olympia Building, former Master Shipwrights House and site of John Evelyn’s House. 

2. Sayes Court Garden and The Lenox 
The approach to Sayes Court fails to link the site of the Gardens with the remains of Sayes Court House. The opportunity to link these two historically significant spaces should be fully explored. The Lenox preferred building location is either within the Double Dry Dock or Olympia Warehouse These options need to be explored further, as does the future use of the Olympia Warehouse and an agreement reached on the deliverability of the double dry dock or Olympia Warehouse as options for constructing the Lenox. 

3. Building in the Scope for Design Flexibility, Evolution and Innovation 
The Design Guidelines should either be significantly streamlined to identify what is essential (mandatory) in terms of providing guidance for reserved matters applications and what is too specific/constraining, or should become ‘for information’ only. 

4. Transport Issues 
The site has a relatively low level of public transport accessibility and it is essential that car parking is minimised and the opportunity to provide access to public transport, pedestrian and cycle links are maximised. This includes the widening of New King Street to allow for two-way bus movement and improved pedestrian and cycle access and the re-design of the New King Street/Evelyn Street/Deptford High Street junction to provide a direct single all-red phased pedestrian crossing. 

5. Community Benefits 
Securing appropriate social infrastructure and the maximum possible amount of affordable housing to meet the needs of new residents. There is an identified need for investment in affordable housing and a range of community infrastructure projects directly attributable to the impact of the new development including the need for a new primary school, jobs and training and open space. A number of questions remain about the applicants' assumptions on costs and future values in their viability statement, changes to which could support additional S106 payments and affordable housing. The Council considers that to ensure policy compliance and safeguard amenity, and in addition to any conditions and planning obligations that are imposed or agreed, the following are matters on which clarification and appropriate commitment is required from the applicant prior to determination of the application. The GLA must also satisfy itself that it has the relevant information on which to determine the application. 

6. Clarifications, Commitments and Procedural Compliance 
Operation of the wharf. Process and timing of reducing the area of the safeguarded wharf. Retail floorspace impacts. Housing mix. Transport Assessment modelling. Car parking management. School capacity. Delivery of projects set out in the Cultural Strategy. Mechanism to ensure a mix of uses is secured across the site. Lifetime Homes Standard, wheelchair and housing design standards. Decentralised energy network connection. CfSH Level 4 and BREEAM ‘Excellent'. Environmental Impact Assessment and Flood Risk Assessment Recommendation 

Recommendation (B) 
Authorise the Head of Planning to continue to negotiate with the GLA and the applicant to secure the amendments highlighted in this report and to present a further report to the Mayor at the representations hearing ahead of determination of the application, updating the Council’s position in the light of those negotiations.

The Convoys Wharf application now has a dedicated page on the GLA website for those who wish to bookmark it. 

Sunday 12 January 2014

Creekside Village urban sprawl

After a year or so of respite, signs are that our beloved Creekside Village will soon begin to undergo an element of urban sprawl. Whether it is going to be renamed Creekside Town or Creekside Village-And-Large-Housing-Estate remains to be seen, but at least one parcel of the still-derelict land on the other side of Copperas Street bordering Deptford Creek itself has now been sold to another developer.

The Creekside Village development was originally intended to be about twice the size of what it is today. But while the completed section that towers over Creek Road is in Greenwich borough, the land of the remaining part of the development (Creekside Village East) straddled between Greenwich and Lewisham. In 2007 developer Ampurius Nu Homes Investments was granted permission for redevelopment of the land at the east end of the site in Greenwich, but the application for the Lewisham side has never been approved.

The developer went bust and the land was put on the market last year in four parcels; news is now in that purchaser Essential Living ('specialist developer of homes for the private rented sector') has bought the eastern parcel of land and intends to submit a new planning application for construction of a 17-storey tower next to the Creek.

The apartments will be 'investment grade quality' and other meaningless buzzwords: this bit lifted straight from the press release I don't doubt:
Built to investment grade quality, it will feature a host of on-site amenities, as part of Essential Living’s ambition to transform renting into a lifestyle choice, rather than a stopgap to ownership.

View from Deptford Creek lifting bridge

My previous unflattering remarks about Creekside Village have more than once prompted angry responses from residents, but I have no hesitation in repeating them. I feel this architecture has no place in this location (nor in fact do I think it is appropriate for residential buildings, although I realise that's an even more subjective point); its overbearing glass and steel facade totally dwarfs the streetscape on Creek Road and makes it an even more unpleasant place to walk along.

Yes, the development has some elements of public space - the mean little flower beds and water feature on Copperas Street, for example - but it serves its neighbours and community very badly in this respect and the height and mass of the blocks does nothing to break up the monotonous and windy environment to a more human scale.

The 'canyonisation' of the Creek continues
I am told that there's a strong and active community among the residents, which is at least a positive thing. Not knowing how the internal layout works or how the building is managed, it's difficult to say whether this community spirit is influenced by the building itself, or just a reflection on the community-mindedness of those who live there. I strongly suspect it's the latter, as with any residential block.

Despite the fact that there are many empty units at street level and on the first floor of the blocks, there are vague signs that this situation could improve in the near future. Conversations on Twitter last year suggested that a new deli and cafe would soon open in one of the shop units, although I haven't seen any further signs of this.

In the meantime a planning application was recently submitted to Greenwich Council to provide a space in the block on the corner of Creekside and Creek Road for the Galleon Theatre Company. You may recall that this small but thriving organisation was displaced in a rather unpleasant fashion from the Greenwich Playhouse in favour of backpacker accommodation last year.

Before you get all misty-eyed thinking it's a heart-warming tale of the Creekside Village developer offering to provide cultural space out of the goodness of its heart, let me just point out that this application is a result of the Section 106 agreement for the site development that originally included affordable cultural space (previously intended to be an extension for the Laban Centre). All that's happening here is the developer is attempting to fulfil its legal obligations, although hopefully we will see the benefit of it in due course.

'Inspired by dance' apparently
I sincerely hope that the developer continues to find tenants for these empty units, it might do something to alleviate the grim walk along Creek Road.

Unfortunately the news that the new landowner wants to build rental flats specifically for investors will do nothing to improve the community of the 'village'. Unless existing residents keep a close eye on the application, I suspect that Greenwich Council will simply wave it through as they have done in the past. The images I've posted are from the previous planning application - although a new application will be submitted, I suspect the architecture will remain 'inspired by dance' and it will be simply a case of redesigning the internal layout to incorporate the 'on-site amenities' which are essential for 'lifestyle choice'.

The original proposal did at least provide public access to the Creek, and I'll be trying to keep an eye on it to ensure that this is retained, although how pleasant it will be to sit at the base of a 17-storey sheer glass facade remains to be seen.

Friday 3 January 2014

Artist's studio by De Rijke Marsh Morgan

The majority of new developments in Deptford tend to be largely untroubled by any quality architectural intervention. Of course some of our buildings such as the Laban Centre and Deptford Lounge/Tidemill Academy could be argued to be the exception to this rule, but you only have to glance as far as most of Creek Road (in particular the abhorrent Creekside Village), the Seager Distillery, Resolution Way studios and Paynes & Borthwick Wharf to get my drift. Convoys Wharf and other forthcoming developments show no sign of bucking this trend.

But scattered among the detritus that the planners allow to be washed up on the shores of our conservation zone, there's occasionally something to provoke discussion and debate. The latest addition could well prove to be the Marmite of local architecture.

A new artist's studio, designed by De Rijke Marsh Morgan Architects, has just been revealed at the southern end of Comet Street. I suspect its form and function will provoke much discussion, although its location means it may not be seen by a very large audience - you really do have to seek it out.

Its unusual purpose - an artist's studio and nothing more - and appearance - a big asymmetric black box with enormous north-facing roof light and no other windows, looking for all the world like it has just been beamed down into the grubby backstreets of Deptford - mark it out as something a bit different from the multi-coloured cheap-and-not-at-all-cheerful blocks that are springing up in every other space around here. Whether it's different in a good way or not will be open to debate.

The structure is distinctive on a number of levels - firstly it must be some time since Deptford played host to an artist with sufficient income to enable them to commission and build a new building which will serve only as a studio.

The north-facing rooflight is created using the same material as forms the roof of the Eden Project - a special polymer known as Texlon, formed into thin 'cushions' which can be inflated to create a larger area of unsupported roof than with normal glazing or cladding material.

Its asymmetric form includes a lower corner on the north west, intended to minimise the loss of daylight experienced by its neighbour, one of the four terraced houses remaining on Speedwell Street. As well as its odd shape, the building's black cladding and lack of any other windows give it a distinctly other-worldly appearance. Black may prove to be an unfortunate choice of colour, given the number of large birds around here - in particular the herring gull that can often be seen begging for scraps outside the high street fish shops. The fourth photo shows the result of a direct hit by one of our feathered friends, let's hope the cladding is self-cleaning.