Monday 29 June 2015

The Wharves planning application

A planning application for redevelopment of 'The Wharves' - the land bounded by Grove Street, Dragoon Road, Evelyn St and Oxestalls Rd - was submitted last month and documents are now available online (search here for reference 92295 but beware there are 454 documents, some extremely large and the system seems to fall over now and again).

The applicant Lend Lease has provided smaller versions of some of the documents on its website with a carefully-chosen range of visualisations, but for the full story and detail, you will of course have to suffer the grim trawl through the documents yourself.

As you may recall, outline planning permission for the site was granted back in 2011 - I'd written about the original plans with some enthusiasm (by my standards at least!) considering the plans to reinstate the route of the Surrey Canal as a water feature, the retention of the Victoria pub and the mix of uses on the site, with a new facility being built for tenant Ascot Cabs to retain a relatively large-scale business and employment centre.

Scroll forward a few years - Ascot Cabs presumably got bored of waiting for the developer to get moving on the project, and decided to decamp elsewhere - and new owner Land Lease began consultation on a new application.

Despite the touchy-feely marketing schmooze I was not impressed by their revised plans. Increased housing density, higher blocks, potentially triple the parking spaces and the loss of the water feature and the Victoria pub.

There was another period of 'consultation' and presumably additional negotiation and meetings with Lewisham's planners, and I have to admit to being - while I won't go as far as pleasantly surprised - unexpectedly relieved at the final outcome.

Final proposals - shown with Convoys in the background

Of course I know damn well that the only reason they ramped the towers up to 30 storeys in the interim period was so that when they brought them back down to 24 storeys, in our relief we'd forget all about the fact that they were originally a maximum of 18 storeys.

Nevertheless they've still managed to shoehorn another couple of hundred dwellings (now 1,132) onto the site, by a combination of the two tallest towers having six extra stories dumped on top, and by playing around with the heights of the blocks on the rest of the site. It's not all up though, the lowest buildings have been reduced to three storeys rather than four.

I always have to allow myself a wry smile when I read the blurb that justifies the increase in height of residential blocks (aside from the obvious reason, being to make more money).

For example:
"The significance of the Surrey Canal Way is marked by raising the massing of some of the buildings along its length. The location of these buildings has been chosen to allow the greatest amount of light into the public space of the Surrey Canal Way, and so these are predominantly on the east side of the space. The diversity of building height adds character and interest to the long elevation of the canal, whilst marking it as an important space and route." 

Like any casual observer at ground level would either (1) notice that these blocks were several floors higher or (2) equate that to a situation in which they consider the route to be more significantly marked with buildings of 12 storeys than of 7 storeys.

The application that has been submitted is a 'hybrid' application - as well as covering the outline planning permission for the whole site, it includes detailed design for the first two phases. This is reassuring as it suggests that the work will actually get going when/if permission is granted rather than continuing to lie derelict.

The first phases will be the side facing Grove Street (purple on the plan) and the corner of Evelyn St/Dragoon Way (hatched green). The light green area is the second phase and the red area will not be developed until they have actually managed to buy the land off the current owners!

The other bits of the application that I was happy to see had been reinstated were the intention to retain the Victoria pub on Grove Street - reportedly in a parlous state but still worth saving in my opinion - and the reinstatement of a water feature along the route of the old Surrey Canal.

The pub - which in the scheme that gained planning permission was set to be retained and restored - was potentially going to be demolished by Lend Lease. But it's now being retained and is intended to be brought back into use as a pub.

The water feature had been included in the original scheme but Lend Lease had wanted to ditch it in favour of a 'linear park' (grass, some bushes and seats) claiming all sorts of silly things about unsuitability, danger to children etc etc. One of my favourite bike rides is through Surrey Quays and along the route of the old canal, which has been restored as a shallow water feature with bridges, nesting platforms for water birds, and reeds. I had hoped that Deptford might get something along similar lines.

I'm happy that a water feature has been restored, although it's more footbath than canal, but will still offer some kind of memory of the original purpose of the alignment.

Water feature restored as footbath
Another change that makes sense is that the building adjacent to the old canal bridge on Evelyn Street has been repositioned and its footprint changed from a linear block to a 'y' shape. I continue to hold out hope that some day, the route under the canal bridge on Evelyn Street could be restored as a cycle and pedestrian link, which would make utter sense and provide a safe and easy link across this busy road. With the pedestrian link set to be restored under the Oxestalls Road bridge, this route could make the site properly permeable and would also provide excellent walking and cycling connections towards Canada Water and in the opposite direction to Deptford, New Cross and Surrey Canal Road.

Plan of the site showing y-shaped block in bottom left corner
Rendering of the y-shaped block which is intended to house retail, offices and cafes
Evelyn St is over the wall on the right; the Y-building on the left
Public realm (The Yard) around the Y-building
The renderings of the main blocks are pretty muted and quite calming (although I do think the balconies shown on the renders below seem awfully over-done and very ugly from below, which is after all where most people see them from)

Rearing blocks over Dragoon Road
View from Pepys Park across Grove St
As is the norm with developers renderings, they don't tend to show neighbouring properties in any great detail, if at all, since they want to eliminate any real idea of scale. On the picture above you can just about see the two/three-storey houses along the east edge of Pepys Park on Leeway on the bottom left if you click to enlarge the picture. 

As usual the plans also make the development look very green - but although there's a lot of green space shown, the vast majority of this is provided as 'semi-private' space. That means podium parks built at second or third floor level on top of the private residents parking, and only accessible to residents. At street level you'll be looking at buildings. 

The purple bits are all the 'semi-private' (residents-only) parks
If you want to know how it's going to impact on the surrounding views, I've picked out a few of the images that the developer is obliged to create, but that tend to get buried among the planning documents. They have to represent not only their own development, but also any others nearby that are being taken forward (in this case, the most obvious is Convoys Wharf, which is shown on the some of the river views).

View from Grove Street with Riverside Youth Club in the centre
View from Deptford Park
View along Evelyn Street
View from Grove Street near Sayes Court Park
View across Pepys Park now
View across Pepys Park after phase one
View across Pepys Park with whole development shown
View from the north side of the river showing Convoys Wharf towers - the proposed Wharves development is behind it outlined in colour
View from Greenwich foreshore showing Convoys Wharf towers
Overall I will be happy to see this plot of land being developed - for years it has been the site of some quite heavy industrial stuff, not necessarily a bad thing per se, but many of the breaker yards were appalling neighbours and caused ongoing problems with parking, traffic and danger to pedestrians on Grove Street, not to mention the noise, dust and pollution.

It's a shame the other more responsible employers no longer remain although presumably the developer expects them to be replaced by retail jobs, offices etc.

As with so many developments now, the biggest scandal is the very poor ratio of anything approaching 'affordable' housing, not to mention the 'viability' conditions that underwrite everything that's proposed by the developer. In this case the developer is proposing up to 237 units, which is about 21% - while this might be better than other developments nearby, such as Convoys Wharf, there's still time for it to be revised downwards over the period of the work, as it's all conditional on the 'subject to viability' clause.

Here's how it works:
  • Each council has a set target for 'affordable' homes which is worked out depending on its own particular circumstances (in Lewisham's case this is 50% 'affordable' with 70% social/affordable rent and 30% 'intermediate')
  • Developer submits a confidential viability report which almost inevitably claims that it 'can't afford' to provide the target number on this site.
  • Developer proposes a lower number of units.
  • Council generally has to agree.
This excellent article by Oliver Wainwright in the Guardian last week takes a look at the arguments that developers use to back up their case - in figures that are rarely seen by anyone except council officers and those councillors who sit on planning committees (and not always the latter). 

It's in the developers' interest to make a generous estimation of their costs, while being cautious on  the sale value of the properties (or omitting to account for rising sale values over the period of the build, which could be up to 10 years or more). The figures often build in a healthy profit margin for the developer of up to 25%. As Wainwright points out, these are all perfectly legal. 
In some cases the viability figures are challenged - not always by the councils, sometimes it's left to pressure groups or individuals to do so - and after a number of high-profile cases it seems that councils are now starting to investigate ways in which they can force developers to increase the percentage of 'affordable' units they include. 

You don't have to read far into the article to see a familiar name - Lend Lease, the developer of the Wharves, is also behind the Heygate estate's transformation into 'Elephant Park'. While much of the sorry story relating to Heygate seems to be down to the council's ineptitude/lack of due diligence, the article examines whether the figures in the developer's viability statement stack up to anything of substance. It makes an interesting read, not least in the context of the potential for the Wharves. 

Friday 26 June 2015

Laurie Grove Baths planning application

At last! A planning application to get excited about! 

Goldsmith's College has submitted a planning application for conversion of the old water tanks and service areas of the listed Laurie Grove Baths into a new gallery space.  The initial plans were revealed last year, and the design by Assemble Studio and Alan Baxter & Associates has just been submitted to Lewisham Council. 

The Grade II listed building is currently used by the college as studio space - the application includes the history of the baths, which date from 1898, and some old photos of them in use as well as photographs showing how they are being used today. I've never been in the building and it's great to see that many of the old features still survive, such as this gorgeous tiling. 

This space does not form part of the current application - it is the buildings at the back of the pools, which formerly housed the water tank and service areas, that will be stripped out and converted into new gallery, performance and public space. 

A number of new gallery spaces will be created, including one in the old water tank, and the building will be opened up to provide a double-height project space at the centre. The bare brick and retention of the steel water tank walls and original pipework will help retain its industrial feel and link to its original purpose. There will be a series of basement spaces suitable for video works or performance.

According to the application: The central gallery is a tall and generous room space which is naturally lit with a central lantern. The ceiling of exposed trusses make it suitable for hanging work. This space is visually connected to the new corner gallery, which is lit with a clerestory window. You then move through to the darker, powerful space of the existing tank, where a new roof with one-sided clerestory has been added to improve the volume and light quality of the space. In the final tank the existing temporary roof will be removed. This is the culmination of a sequence of top lit spaces, progressing from dimly lit basement, to the new insertions, finally to a raised courtyard open to the sky. A new secondary staircase creates a parallel dynamic at the other end on the building. Visitors emerge on the first floor landing which creates access both to the curator’s office and to a bridge which leads into the Lantern Gallery. 

Corrugated cement board coloured turquoise to complement the tiling inside the building will be used on some parts of the exterior.

The intention is to open out the buildings at the back, creating a new entrance to the gallery space and connecting it to the rest of Goldsmith's. Access will be via a cobbled bridleway along the side of the baths.

I'm really rather looking forward to seeing this built!

Friday 5 June 2015

Deptford Broadway improvements: TFL consultation reports

TFL has published a report into its consultation on proposed improvements to Deptford Broadway junction.

The proposals were heavily criticised by Lewisham Cyclists who pointed out that not only did changes do little to improve conditions for cyclists, in some cases they made it more dangerous.

According to TFL, the following changes have been made to the scheme:

  • Deptford Broadway (eastbound) – the advisory cycle lane will be upgraded to a mandatory lane on the approach to the signals, beyond the left turn slip road into Deptford Church Street. However after further review of the design, the advisory cycle lane across the left turn slip will be retained. In addition to this, the footway will be built out up to the loading/parking bay on the slip road by extending the footway kerb line. This narrows the entrance into the slip road which in turn will slow down motorists when crossing the advisory cycle lane. A coloured surface on the slip road as far as the raised uncontrolled pedestrian crossing will also be provided so that to motorists it does not ‘read’ as a conventional part of the carriageway. 
  • Deptford Bridge (westbound) and Deptford Church Street (southbound) – The advisory cycle lanes will be upgraded to mandatory lanes on the approach to the signals. 
  • Deptford Bridge (eastbound) – The build-out (‘bulge’) at the toucan crossing just west of the DLR Bridge will be reduced to widen the carriageway and the existing bus lay-by modified in order to accommodate two traffic lanes and a 1.5m advisory cycle lane. This will provide a safer passage for cyclists along this section of the road.
  • Additional cycle logos will be provided where necessary for motorists’ awareness.
They are minor changes that are some improvement on what was offered; I rarely use the junction on my bike, so I will be interested to see what Lewisham Cyclists have to say about it.

As a pedestrian I'm disappointed that they are not taking the opportunity to bring the crossing on the eastern side of the junction up to the junction itself. Apparently this was because it would have a negative impact on the flow of traffic, which is TFL's main priority. I have to say I find this difficult to believe - it's not like they were putting a crossing in where none existed already, it would simply have meant relocating it by 30m or something. 

The report does not include an updated junction plan, so I've reproduced the one from the original consultation below. 

According to TFL the works are intended to be carried out 'between June and November 2015'. Not sure if that means it's going to take six months, or if it will be carried out within that period.

UPDATED 26 JUNE: The works have now started, so watch out for traffic chaos on the Broadway.

Monday 1 June 2015

Brockley street art festival

Late to the party on this one - I managed to miss it in my previous post about the Brockley Max festival, which is probably because I wouldn't immediately associate Brockley with street art.

That's just my ignorance of course - I always think of leafy green avenues with expanses of Victorian mansions when I think of Brockley, but like most of London it's much more than that.

I do love a bit of street art so more than likely I'll be trying to take a spin round some of these venues on my bike later in the week - although the great thing about street art is that it will still be there in a couple of weeks' time if I can't get to see it actually being created.

There's a live map on the website as well as profiles of all the artists.

Photo by of the new Bob mural by @TheLewishamWay
There's also a series of events including a talk by craft graffiti artist Deadly Knitshade on Tuesday 2 June at the Brockley Brewery, and an exploration of the art and politics of the 80s and 90s with The Artful Dodger at the Hill Station.