Thursday 24 March 2016

Hope Wharf redevelopment plans

Hot on the heels of the Sun Wharf proposals comes another housing development on the side of Deptford Creek - in Greenwich this time. The land is currently leased by Bookers, whose discount cash and carry warehouse has been there for longer than I care to remember. But the new rules are; where there is water there must be waterside apartments. so it's time to sweep away the useful things like businesses that are part of the local supply chain and that provide employment to local residents, and replace them with more blocks of flats.

The site is largely hidden from view unless you are on a boat on the creek or visiting Lewisham & Southwark College - it nestles alongside Mumfords Mill and is hidden from the road by that fuggly red and black block of flats on Greenwich High Road.

There's not a great deal of detail about the proposals at this stage, except that they intend to build four blocks on the site, to house 122 units, a mix of 1, 2 and 3 bed apartments including affordable housing for shared ownership and affordable rent.

The towers, from about four storeys to the tallest which looks to be about 14 storeys, step up away from Mumfords Mill, which at least gives this historical landmark a bit of breathing space.

A lot of weight is given to the landscaping along the Creek in the publicity guff. Great that there will be a 'garden walk' for the public to enjoy, if they can be arsed to walk all the way through the development to enjoy a few hundred yards of public access. I'm not knocking the concept, but I suspect it will see little use by the general public given the lack of continuity along the Greenwich side of the water. 

Or how about some moorings along the waterside to encourage visitors by boat to enjoy it? No, thought not. 

Exhibition boards are here
Website is here

Monday 21 March 2016

Copperas Street shenanigans - more council-owned land sales, planning appeals and other tall storeys

This week, Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock and his nine-member cabinet will consider a report from the executive director for resources & regeneration which recommends selling off more council-owned land in Deptford to developers.

If the cabinet agrees to this recommendation in its meeting on Wednesday, the disused depot on Copperas Street will be disposed of to developer Kitewood in exchange for some of the new apartments that Kitewood will build on the site.

The five-page document which recommends this move gives a brief summary of the deal that council officers are proposing; full details of costs and the terms of the agreement are contained in the second part of the report which the cabinet will consider in a closed session at the same meeting.

Council officers have been busy negotiating behind closed doors, it seems, what with this deal and the one for Tidemill representing two significant land sell-offs in Deptford alone. As far as the Tidemill site goes, the agreement was built around an exchange of land for new school/library development at the Lounge, and affordable/social housing on the Tidemill site, the application for which is currently under discussion.
From left along the banks of Deptford Creek: the Laban Centre (1), Thanet Wharf (2) (already owned by Kitewood), Copperas St depot (3) and Greenwich Creekside East (in Greenwich borough, already granted planning permission). The existing Creekside Village East is shown on the north side of Copperas St.
On Copperas St the agreement seems to be that the council will buy the adjacent land (which Kitewood effectively owns) for a nominal sum, then lease both parcels of land back to Kitewood for 999 years, and in return will receive 'a number' of units which the council would then lease on the open market, to generate income.

There are no details as to how many units Kitewood intends to build on the land, or how many the council would receive - whether this information is contained in the secret documents is anybody's guess, I assume at this stage with no planning application submitted, it has to be set out in percentages or something.

Unfortunately if the units the council is set to gain to lease out for its own income stream are calculated as a percentage of the total number of units built on the site, it would presumably be in the council's interest to ensure that as many units as possible are shoe-horned onto this waterside plot.

That would not trouble Kitewood too much, considering that it has already submitted a planning application (in the guise of Creekside Village Developments Ltd, a company which shares directors with Kitewood and which is currently dormant) to construct two blocks of flats on the land it already owns at Thanet Wharf - a mere tiddler of just ten storeys next door to a big daddy of 24 storeys which leers over the creek.

It's reassuring to see that not all developers want to dress their schemes up in the wolf's clothing of caring and sharing mixed tenure; the low-rise block with the view across the sterile wasteland of Creekside Village's public realm is reserved for the 'affordable' housing while apartments in the block with the Creek views and rooftop garden will be sold on the private market. Not so much a poor door as a poor block (although I realise in the context of the 'affordable' tag they will hardly be within reach of the average citizen).

Rendering of the 24 storey and ten storey blocks proposed for Creekside Village East (back left) with the outlines of the ten and 21 storey blocks already approved for Greenwich Creekside East shown in red. Viewed from a particularly helpful angle that makes the tower with permission look taller than the one in the application.

The density and scale is similar to the scheme already approved for the parcel of land just over the border in Greenwich, which I wrote about some time ago; if it is passed as proposed, then before long Copperas St will start to exhibit some of the worst aspects of the Isle of Dogs sprawl.

Walking through the existing buildings of 'Creekside Village' is already a difficult task when it's windy - add a few more towers to that and any poor soul trying to negotiate the buildings at ground level will be buffeted from one end of the street to the other without mercy.

The two proposed towers on Thanet Wharf with the Laban Centre on the right. 
This tower is big! It's more than 90m tall and even has space for trees on the top!

This planning application has not yet been approved, and with the chance to snap up the council's land in the offing, and discussions also under way to subsume the Laban Centre's car park into the development, in exchange for new facilities for the Laban Centre, it would make sense for Creekside Village Developments Ltd/Kitewood to wait until the negotiations conclude before progressing with its plans.

But this developer isn't taking any chances, and has already gone to appeal over non-determination of its planning application. The case that CVDL puts to the planning inspectorate is that Lewisham Council has been too slow in determining the case, even though the developer accepts that the appeal should be put in abeyance pending the outcome of the land negotiations.

CVDL has suggested that a date for a public inquiry be set for this summer, to allow time for negotiations to be concluded, a new planning application submitted, and presumably the planning department to reach a favourable outcome for the revised scheme.

I can't help thinking that it is a particularly cynical stance for a potential partner to take, rather like someone you are about to get into bed with making an appointment for the following day at the police station, just in case you sexually assault them. If I was to be charitable I would suggest that they were just taking sensible steps to protect their own interests, but unfortunately the particular language and style of the appeal documents (which are posted with the planning application here) do lend them a somewhat menacing tone which makes me very uneasy.

Update: This item was subsequently withdrawn from the meeting agenda.

Friday 18 March 2016

Sun Wharf proposals

Proposals for the development of Sun Wharf were presented a couple of weeks ago at public events in Deptford. This is the site on Creekside that's currently occupied by a huge warehouse rented by Jones Hire, and the former VW garage; it is being proposed for 268 new homes, 'many of which will be delivered as affordable housing' according to the exhibition. No definition of 'many' either as a percentage or actual numbers was offered, so I don't recommend you read too much into that.

It's difficult to tell from the image above, the angle of which has as usual been chosen to minimise the visual impact of the buildings, but the tower in the front right corner of the site is being proposed as 16 storeys, with the other residential blocks seven or eight storeys high. By contrast, the adjacent blocks on Crossfields estate are five storeys maximum. The picture below gives a more honest impression, but no renderings of the impact at ground level have been provided. (You can click on the pictures to see bigger versions).

The plans that were on show also encompass the site currently occupied by Cockpit Arts; having assumed that it was only leased to them I was rather surprised to learn that Cockpit Arts owns the building and is selling up in exchange for a new home on the redeveloped site. 

I assume they will benefit in more ways than just getting a purpose-built home, but there is quite a lot of local concern about what will happen with the Love Over Gold mural that's on the side of the existing building, and which the developers don't seem to have given any thought to as yet.

Personally I'm rather fond of the existing building; aside from its pleasing proportions and plain facade, it has huge windows which must provide invaluable natural light for the occupants, and its position on Creekside makes it prominent and easily accessible.

Developer Bellway is proposing that Cockpit be relocated to a building in middle of the site, next to the railway viaduct. In the renderings it looks quite impressive, but let's not forget that this view is from the middle of the Creek, which is unlikely to be the position of observers. And if you look at the rendering of the proposals for the whole site, which is the first image in this post, you will see that the  Cockpit building is entirely hemmed in much higher blocks (their tops carefully cropped off the image above). 

Bellway has also ambitiously annexed the arches under the railway line as part of its plans. You've got to admire their cheek. I know that Network Rail tends to have a rather unsophisticated and unimaginative approach to use of its railway arches, with good design pretty low in its priorities when fitting them out for rental, but by the same token, they do seem to be quite protective of their domain. The developer admits that its plans to open up the arches for use and to provide improved access are as yet just pipe dreams, we will see how that progresses. 

The image above demonstrates the improved access to the site that will be provided if the arches are opened up - something that would be a welcome benefit to any redevelopment here as long as it is not gated. Creekside access, which the council has tried to ensure is built into all the redevelopments along this side of the water, should provide new public realm and walkways, and new views along the  Creek.

However the proposals shown at the exhibition were just for residential, commercial space and 'affordable' artists studios (presumably 'affordable' by the same definition as used for housing?), with no permanent employment space on offer. The loss of Jones Hire is going to be a real blow for the area, and I see nothing here to replace it. If Cockpit Arts sells up and allows itself to be absorbed into the development, lets hope it does not find itself at the mercy of the developer in future, with escalating maintenance charges that it has no control over, and the consequent financial impact on its tenants.

Friday 4 March 2016

Tidemill School redevelopment - the numbers don't stack up.

Updated 11 March 2016 with the council's response, see the end of the post. 

Plans for a housing scheme on the site of the former Tidemill School on Frankham Street have been some time coming - it's now ten years since the Deptford regeneration master plan was first drawn up - and the scheme has already been through a series of changes to reach its current incarnation. The Frankham Street development is one of two in the council's romantically-monikered Deptford Southern Housing Sites Project, the other being the former Deptford Green School site on Amersham Vale.

But while this council-owned land was earmarked for mixed tenure development - incorporating private, shared ownership and social rented residential units - the opportunities for it to address the desperate housing need in Lewisham are now threatened by the developer's 'viability' assessment of the site. 

At a committee meeting last July, Lewisham's Mayor & Cabinet agreed to the appropriation of the Tidemill School land for residential development, but the number of social rented and shared ownership housing units that they were expecting to gain from the development has already been undermined by the developer's 'need' to make a 20% profit from the site.

The report which was put to the committee last July claimed that the development would provide 204 new homes, including 53 for social rent, 25 for shared ownership and 126 for sale.

The same report includes details of the Amersham Vale site, which claimed 117 new homes, including 24 for social rent; 15 for shared ownership and 78 for sale.

But take a look at the planning applications and you'll see that this is a far cry from what the developer is actually applying for.

Just six months on from the council signing off the decision to let the site be appropriated, the developer (Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes) not only proposes to up the number of residential units on the Tidemill site, but also to decimate the provision of social/shared ownership homes.

The total number of residential units proposed for the site is UP from 204 to 210.

But social rented is slashed from 53 to 26.
Shared ownership units slashed from 25 to just 8.

Cutting down on these troublesome 'affordable' units clears the way for an extra 50 private units, taking the figures from 126 up to 176. Trebles all round!

The same report includes figures for the Amersham Vale site, which the council suggests will provide 117 new homes - 24 for social rent, 15 shared ownership and 78 for sale. Again, in the developer's planning application the total number has gone up to 120, but the number of social rented units has  been slashed from 24 to just 14, and shared ownership from 15 to 5.

In the case of Tidemill, the developer's viability report claims that even this pitiful level of provision makes the site 'unviable' (i.e. unable to generate the required minimum of 20% profit) but they have 'agreed' to provide these units since the council wants them. How kind.

How can the numbers be so different in just six months? I don't know how the council came to its original tenure mix, but the developer of course has provided a confidential 'viability' report as part of its planning application.

Such viability reports are increasingly controversial, since they are often used to 'prove' that a site is unable to sustain the level of 'affordable' housing that the local authority demands. Last year Greenwich Council was ordered to publish the viability report relating to the Greenwich Peninsula redevelopment. In this case the report had been used to eliminate all 'affordable' housing on the development - Tidemill's developers may be mindful of this judgement in their kind offer to provide a few units as requested by the council.

Plans originally encompassed the two blocks of council houses on Giffin Street, but now instead incorporate a smaller block on Reginald Road. It's not entirely clear why this has changed, although given the pitiful mix of tenure that the proposed development is intending to offer, perhaps the council was afraid of being left with homeless tenants on its hands?

Or maybe they haven't noticed? A report to Lewisham's Housing Select Committee tabled for next week is still quoting the old figures.

This change in the figures for proposed tenure mix over just a few months also invites the question of accountability. The mayor & cabinet made a decision based on figures that might just as well have been conjured out of thin air - but the decision on the planning application will be made by the strategic planning committee. Presumably councillors Damien Egan and Kevin Bonavia, who are members of both, will be asking difficult questions about the numbers when it comes to committee...

Essentially the site, which covers the area bounded by Frankham Street, Reginald Road and New Butt Lane, and also swallows up Frankham St car park (as opposed to the Frankham St parking boulevard) involves the demolition of two buildings, the construction of several new ones, the extension both sideways and upwards of the former Tidemill School, and the obliteration of the former school garden, now known as the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

The potential loss of the latter in particular has sparked a healthy protest and an online petition, and I can understand why people would want to preserve this green space so close to the high street. It has been cared for by a group of volunteers for the last couple of years and is open for public access, courses and other events on a regular basis.

The proposal includes funding to provide what is called a 'pocket park' - a term I find immensely depressing. For me it conjures up a vision of a couple of square metres of grass with some dog turds and a rusty bench, cast into shadow by the surrounding buildings for 90% of the day. 

The pocket park proposed by the Tidemill development is in fact just a pimping of the corner plot that acts as a buffer between the flats in Frankham House and the thundering juggernauts of Deptford Church Street. The suggestion that anyone would want to sit here and take in views of the traffic queuing for the junction with the A2 is laughable. The planting might be an improvement but they could probably save a bit of money on benches.

There is also a public space in the development, and a number of new routes will be opened up through the land, but other parts of the site have communal gardens that are reserved for residents only.

Neighbours across the street in Reginald Road, and in Frankham House will have to suffer higher blocks in close proximity, and the density across the site is pretty high.

The old school building is to be retained, but with the caretaker's building at the east side of it demolished, and new extensions added upwards and eastwards. The council block on Reginald Road will be demolished and tenants rehoused on the new site. 

For a detailed assessment of the planning application I recommend the recent post on Crosswhatfields blog, which highlights many of the issues that the proposals raise, as well as the potential impact on the wider area.

Full planning documents are here

Lewisham Council has sent a statement in response to this post, I have reproduced it in full below: 

"The proposed development of the old Tidemill school and Reginald Road is part of our wider approach to the regeneration of Deptford, towards which we have been working for around 10 years. 

The Council is working with developers Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes to deliver these two sites, known collectively as Deptford Southern Housing. 

The Council has already made significant investment to improve local services as part of a strategic approach to Deptford’s regeneration. This has included building the new Tidemill primary school and Deptford Lounge, improvements to Wavelengths and the Frankham Street parking boulevard. 

This up-front investment needs to be funded, in part at least, through land sales from subsequent phases of the wider regeneration programme, including those now proposed in the Deptford Southern Housing project. 

The planning submission from the developer for Deptford Southern Housing is, as legally required by planning policies, based on a financial viability assessment that takes into account (amongst other things) the market value of the land and the number of affordable housing units that can be accommodated by the developer on the payment of that market value. 

When the Council owns the land, as in this case, it can choose, quite separate from the planning process, to negotiate the sale of the land and the volume of affordable housing beyond what is required as part of the planning application. 

We are pleased to report that, using this flexibility, we have reached a legally-binding development agreement with Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes that will deliver significantly more affordable homes than that set out in the planning viability assessment. As a result, the proposed development of the old Tidemill school and Reginald Road will provide 37% affordable housing – the target level that was reported to Mayor and Cabinet in July 2015. 

In total there will be 210 much-needed new homes, including 53 for social rent and 25 for shared ownership. The new development will also include provision of a range of amenity spaces – private, communal and public – including a central green square. 

The proposed development at Amersham Grove will provide 120 new homes, including 24 for social rent and 15 for shared ownership. In addition, the developers are building out the new Charlottenburg Park, which already has planning permission. 

The proposals for each scheme are subject to planning approval that will take into account the normal planning considerations including the scheme viability assessment described above. Planning applications for each were submitted in January 2016 and a formal period of consultation closed on 2 March. The application will now be considered by the Council’s strategic planning committee – the date of this meeting has yet to be set."