Sunday 29 March 2015

Deptford to Woolwich - our changing riverside

Photographer Peter Marshall, who has a lifelong fascination for London's industrial heritage, has just published the fifth in his series of London Docklands books, this one focussing on the riverside between Deptford and Woolwich in the early eighties.

Peter has been taking photos of industrial heritage in London for years, and has recently scanned many of his pictures of the city's former docklands and compiled them into a series of books focussing on different parts of the riverscape.

You can see a preview of the book online, including photos of Convoys Wharf in use, the Master Shipwrights House pre-restoration, and the heavy industry of Deptford power station and the scrap dealers of Stowage and Creek Road.

On his own blog, Peter gives some insight into the technical challenges of scanning old film and the havoc that bugs can wreak on gelatin. There's also another blog entry showing some of the images that didn't get chosen for the book.

This latest book and the others in the series are a great record of the largely-disappeared industrial heritage of east London - and a stark reminder of how rapidly our riverside and docklands have changed in just a few decades. Very little remains and it's only through Peter's picture captions that it's possible to place the vast majority of the locations.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Bike parking in Lewisham - need some near you?

Lewisham Cyclists has shared the following information for anyone who wants to request new bike parking - whether secure on-street parking, if you don't have room inside your own flat for your bike - or new hoops close to shops, a pub or some other place in Lewisham borough where they are needed.

Sheffield stand-type parking

If you want 'Sheffield stand' type parking, for example at your local shopping area, send an email to with the subject line 'Cycle parking request' and a note of the specific location where you would like stands to be installed.

You should receive a response by email indicating when your request is likely to be reviewed for potential implementation.

Bikehangers on Pepys estate

If you are interested in getting a 'Bikehanger' installed in your street to provide secure on-street parking for bikes, please send a request to with 'Bikehanger' in the subject line.

Implementing Bikehangers takes longer than Sheffield stands as there needs to be an identified demand in the general area and prior local consultation is often needed. So if you do want one encourage your neighbours to email as well. There is also a modest annual charge for use of a Bikehanger to cover upkeep and key management.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Deptford Station shop fronts - must try harder

Hot on the heels of my last post praising council planners for the top quality result on the Lord Clyde, I find myself obliged to hand out a few brickbats on something closer to home.

Readers may recall my post last year about the proposed refurbishment of Deptford railway station's arches, questioning the quality of the new shopfronts that were submitted for planning permission. As a listed building in a conservation area - and the first place visitors see when they arrive - it's clear they should set a precedent for quality design on Deptford's high street.

At the time of my previous post, Network Rail started fitting out the historic arches without waiting for the pesky matter of planning permission, and it was not until locals made a right old rumpus that the council stopped contractors from working while due process took place.

New plans were submitted by Network Rail in February, and a report by council planners is recommending them for approval by the planning committee at its meeting next Tuesday.

You would think that after months of consultation with the planning department, Network Rail would have come up with substantial improvements. Unfortunately it seems to be the exact opposite!

Pushing the shop fronts further back into the arch should have enabled an appreciation of the brickwork but this is totally undermined by the redesign of the shop front units into some kind of messy jigsaw puzzle that drains every ounce of joy out of the visual impact.

Quite how Network Rail's 'designers' (having seen those new bridges at New Cross and New Cross Gate I use the term advisedly) and Lewisham's planning officers between them could have devised something so downright ugly and cheap looking is beyond me!

Could a conservation officer really have approved this?

And what was the response of the Amenity Societies Panel, who were presumably asked to comment on it?

I had a read of Network Rail's revised Design & Access Statement accompanying the new planning application; it's very firmly in the camp of 'we did what you told us so you can't say you don't like the result' rather than 'we employed an architect with a good track record in this type of work who was able to create something suited to a listed building in a prominent position'.

As regards the design amendments, the report states: "Network Rail undertook a process of consultation and engagement with Rebecca Lamb, Conservation Officer at Lewisham Council over a period in excess of a year in order to discuss and agree upon the principle of the design, appearance and materials of the development. This process resulted in the submission of these applications. 

A series of amendments were subsequently requested to change the materials and design, moving away from a brushed stainless steel finish and moving more towards a timber effect panelling. Network Rail had reservations about the design, particularly on the use of timber effect panelling, but this was the clear steer provided from the Conservation Officer at the time. 

Since this time, Rebecca Lamb has left the Council and been replaced and with that a different opinion has been provided by Officers on the appropriateness of the agreed design and use of materials. Furthermore, comments were provided through the formal consultation period by parties expressing their concern regarding the design, not least by The Deptford Society."

A shopfront that drains every ounce of joy out of the visual appearance

All very confusing. As far as I'm aware there was no application involving 'a brushed stainless steel finish' but former conservation officer Rebecca Lamb is most definitely being dealt the blame for all the inconvenience and delay caused to Network Rail.

Once Rebecca left - and the tone of the report gives some indication of how the authors felt about her departure (let's say they probably didn't get an invite to her leaving do) - there is no further mention of a conservation officer. Was one involved in the process?

More worryingly the revised design did not go to the Amenity Societies Panel, a group of representatives from around the borough who are given the opportunity to comment on planning applications such as these.

In the report, Network Rail claims it consulted with the Deptford Society. There was indeed a meeting on site - at which no planning officer was present - yet at the meeting, the Network Rail representatives confirmed that they regarded it as an informal chat, not intended to be consultation.

Quite aside from the fact that a cheap-looking, generic shop front design is being recommended for approval for one of Deptford town centre's most historic structures, there are serious concerns about the process that has been followed here.

There is no mention in the officers' report of any input from a conservation officer. Planning policy states that 'consent for works to listed structures will only be given where they relate sensitively to the building's significance and sustain and enhance its significance and integrity'. I strongly challenge whether this requirement has been met.

The report also states that 'officers welcome the simplified approach to the shopfront'. Take a look at the before and after pics again and see whether you agree that the shopfront has indeed been simplified.

The revised plans were only submitted a month ago and there has been no formal consultation period, yet the application is going to committee on Tuesday, recommended for approval. No-one was given the opportunity to comment on these revisions - the officers simply rolled out the report and put it on the committee's agenda.

It's disappointing to say the least - the only hope is that committee members take notice of the poor design and the procedural failings and reject the application in its current form. Passing it would not only damn Deptford's listed building to a mediocre decline, it would send the wrong message to all those local shop owners wanting to 'improve' their shop fronts with this kind of joyless intervention.

Deptford deserves better - will our elected representatives support us on this?

Ask them yourselves if you agree - details of committee members here.

Update: Unfortunately despite a number of last-minute objections and lobbying from local residents, the planning committee followed the recommendation to pass the application. Some conditions were imposed but it seems likely that the final outcome will be pretty uninspiring.  

Wednesday 11 March 2015

The Lord Clyde

The past months I've been watching the refurb of the Lord Clyde, a rather grand old Victorian pub which remains as the only sign of its era in a sea of 70s maisonettes and tower blocks and boxy 80s cul-de-sac housing. It's been a bad couple of weeks for Lewisham pubs so it's nice to have something good to report.

The building was saved in 2012 when the council refused an application to demolish it and the planning inspectorate subsequently upheld this decision after the developer appealed. The appeal was dismissed and the council's decision upheld, largely on the grounds of the heritage value of the building.
In its former state
The first application was to demolish the old pub and build a three-storey block of seven two-bed flats, on the grounds that the pub contributed little to the community. A campaign by the pub landlord, and support from the clubs that used the gym on the first floor to train local youngsters in boxing skills, proved otherwise. Although it was saved from demolition, the boxing gym closed its doors in 2013 and the pub eventually closed too when it was put up for sale.

A revised application approved last year gave permission for construction of an extension on the rear of the building for use as a gym, and conversion of the upper floors into one two-bed and two one-bed flats. The conditions of approval not only required the ground floor to be retained as a pub, but also put conditions on the type of replacement windows to be used and the external refurb.

Having seen the building going through the refurb process I was initially quite disturbed when the signs disappeared - not only the ones at ground floor level, but also the pub name on top of the building. Happily they have now been replaced/replicated in identical form - even the painted 'Home of the world-famous Malony's Fight Factory' has reappeared over the side doors.

The brown ceramic tiles on the pub facade have been cleaned/repaired/replaced and now shine in the sunshine like warm chocolate, and the replacement/refurbed windows give the place a really smart appeal that was sadly lacking before. Having seen the damage that has been caused to the tiles on the facade of the former Deptford Arms by Paddy Power, it's good to know that there is another way.

I spend a lot of time scrutinising reports by Lewisham Council's planning department and/or decisions by the planning committee and more often than not, the process does not end in applause, but credit where credit is due. On this occasion - and judged purely on appearance at this stage - the outcome seems to be a win and is a welcome reminder that objections can occasionally have an impact. The council's planning officers seem to have kept on the ball in ensuring that conditions were met, and that the quality of materials was up to scratch.

I used to feel depressed when I passed this pub - its peeling paint and dirty exterior made it look like a slow death was the only possible end. Now I have a renewed optimism that it could have a future.

Whether or not my optimism will be rewarded remains to be seen - although the planning application was originally submitted in the name of Safeland PLC, presumably the owner in April 2014, the building went up for auction in July 2014, and I don't know what the outcome was (if anyone does, please add in the comments).

The guide price was just £350k, hence the addition of three flats is likely to pay back the buyer's investment in no time, but it will take a determined and imaginative landlord to make a success of a pub on this site, especially considering that the rent/lease will be a lot higher than before. But not impossible in my opinion - let's hope there's someone out there who's up for it.