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. 


  1. The Council had at least 10 years to sort this and did not. Boris will approve and that will be the end of the matter.

  2. Rubbish! There have only been three applications over the past 12 years and during that time the value of the asset has increased for the owners just by letting the site sit there doing nothing.

    The present application only went in in April 2013, with hardly any consultation with anyone in Deptford who will have to live with the consequences of any hurried and ill-considered decision by the Mayor of London.

  3. Even more reason not to vote for Boris!

  4. You could equally say the developer has had 12 years to adjust his plans to better accommodate the locality an the heritage of the site, or select a better architect.

  5. If it was just this site that had dragged on for years I would side with the council and say the developer had dragged their feet, but just look around parts of Creekside - it is full of chained up wasteland with graffiti and weeds sprouting up. I've lived here for 16 years now (that is probably a short while to some here), but I've seen the Greenwich run border completely regenerate. Yes, some of the buildings are not to everybody's taste, but at least Greenwich council are willing to negotiate and allow things to happen. Here on the Lewisham side there seems to be no desire to compromise and we are just left with wasteland. I'm not keen on Boris, but something needed to be done to get things moving and I am happy it has been taken out of the council's hands.

  6. @se8 the GLA's report on the mayoral call-in doesn't back your case I'm afraid - it states that Lewisham has the third highest borough total of approvals for housing in London and that 'the pipeline of planning approvals has been healthy' for the last five years.

    Some of the 'chained up wasteland' has planning permission but the developer has done nothing - look at the Deptford Project for example, it was granted planning permission two years ago and nothing has been built yet. Completion predicted 'mid 2014'

  7. FYI, The Deptford Project has began. Wooden barriers have been erected around Octavious' Street Car park.

    I don't think Deptford would ever get what it wants for a historic perspective unless a charity decided to invest. I'm ok with the towers as I kind of see them as the future, you either have them or pave over the countryside due to increase in population.

    They really need to enhance the 199, bring the 129 to Deptford. A jetty on the riverfront. I also think the developer should not give much in the way of parking to force these people to use the local transport.

    Sadly Lewisham does need to do something with the derelict parcels of land. Even just making them grass fields would be something.

  8. @anon the wooden fences around St Paul's House have been there for some months, it's good to know more is happening on the other side but that's still 2 years from when planning permission was granted.

    The developer does propose a jetty for the riverbus, but even with this (which has no firmly committed date) the PTAL rating of the site barely changes.

    Why should Lewisham spend public money 'improving' privately-owned land just because the developer is sitting on it waiting for the value to go up? I'm sure I'm not the only person who would find such a use of public money grotesque.

  9. Catford Dog track development received planning permission years ago yet works are only just about to start. Given the key location Conways Wharf is I'm not surprised the council want to make sure the development is right for the area not just right for the developers.

  10. I think the reason that developers just sit on land and wait for it to go up is because they need to obtain a certain rate of return. As they are being restricted from building higher and having to include a set proportion of affordable homes, the building work will only commence once the rate of return on the site makes it worthwhile. If you don't want patches of undeveloped land either allow builders to build higher or increase the number of private units to make the site more viable. No developer would willingly sit on commercially viable land if they can get a higher return from development.

  11. Rejects an application they cant make a decision on? doh...

  12. In the long run, I am happy for the council to take their time to make sure they get this right. This space represents a huge opportunity for both Lewisham and London to do something outstanding that will really do the site justice. It's not everyday that you get such a huge chunk of historic Thamesside land to work with. My other concern in any development on this site is transport. An extra riverboat stop or an extra bus will just not suffice.


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