Saturday 24 June 2017

Outdoor bars proposed for Deptford Market Yard

It took an embarrassingly long time for Deptford Market Yard to reach full completion, and there are still a few kinks that need properly ironing out (parking abuse etc), but overall the end result is pretty pleasing.

The quality of finish on the carriage ramp retail units is pretty good, and the public realm stuff is attractive and seems durable, excepting the flimsy bollards which have almost all been flattened by our local drivers and are currently being replaced. The trees add a very pleasant atmosphere to the yard and soften the somewhat hard edges of the brick, stone, steel and timber that is used throughout the rest of the landscaping. As they mature I think this will only improve.

I like the mix of independent tenants in the retail units, although I do worry how many of them are actually managing to make a living; the promised market has yet to materialise and although the managers of the yard seem to be putting on events now and again, I'm not confident it's enough to generate the footfall to bring sufficient business to these units.

There are also ongoing issues that demonstrate how poor the current management is. The flimsy bollards that were initially installed at each end of the yard were promptly battered and eventually flattened by manoeuvring drivers. Wholesale abuse ensued, and with no parking enforcement the yard rapidly turned into a car park. After weeks of nagging the management company put up parking notices, which has improved the situation somewhat, but the installation of the new bollards seems to be taking an unreasonably long time and there are still some serial parking abusers who are going unchallenged.

But the latest plan by owner U&I plc - to bookend the public spaces with two outdoor bars, one under a posh tarpaulin - seems to be heading in totally the wrong direction. If the planning application that has just been submitted gets the go-ahead, you can kiss goodbye to any opportunity to relax while you eat your sandwiches sitting on the benches in the dappled shade of the trees.

The proposals involve nothing more imaginative than dumping two converted shipping containers down on the new paving, and annexing a large proportion of what is currently public space under a fabric roof connected to the street lights and weighted down with huge water containers. Punters will sit at tables that can be folded away at night for storage, but the roof is intended to stay in place - a permanent temporary arrangement.

Permission for two 'bars' is sought - a large one outside the station and a smaller one down at the other end of the market yard, next to the lower part of the carriage ramp.

The larger one has a capacity of 150. 

The leaves of the trees will not be visible to anyone at ground level - the most visible and significant elements of the landscaping will be annexed to act as supports for a plastic tent to keep the rain off those wanting to indulge in what is essentially middle-class street-drinking. 

As well as being attached to the trees, the roof needs guy ropes to tie it down. The proposal suggests that large water containers will serve this purpose. You know the kind of thing.

The design and access statement which forms part of the planning application also suggests that plants in upcycled oil barrels will be dotted around the bar area, presumably to add a bit of greenery to make up for the greenery that you can no longer see. It proposes that patio heaters - one of the most environmentally-insensitive inventions ever - be used inside the tent. 

It also includes designs for the eight market stalls that will be placed opposite the existing carriage ramp, although this does seem a little like an afterthought. Six 'food trucks' will be parked between these stalls - on the diagram below, which has the high street at the bottom and the station top right, the yellow boxes are the bars, the red boxes the food trucks and the blue boxes the market stalls. 

The bar opposite the station would be placed right in front of one of only two public benches in the market yard, thus cutting public seating by half in one fell swoop. The remaining seat would fall within the bar area so it's unlikely to be available for public use, and even if you do get to sit on it you'll only be looking at a load of people drinking. Not to worry, you can always sit on the picnic tables under the tent - provided you have the money for a drink of course.

You're probably getting the drift that I'm not in support of this proposal. I'll set out a few of the main issues as I see it. 

1. The annexing of the public space. 
It's clear from the diagram above that the proposed bar would take over most of the public space outside the station (and quite a bit of the remainder has already been annexed by the bars and cafes at this end of the ramp). The public realm works very well, it has been refurbished to a high standard with good quality street furniture and it looks good. I often see people sitting on the benches enjoying sandwiches or just hanging out, watching the world go by. It can be, and is, used for events - whether that's dancing or a 'carless car boot sale', or any other temporary use. If a bar under a tent took over the space, this genuine public enjoyment would be lost, and temporary events would only be possible if they fitted in the space and outside the opening hours of the bar.

2. Where are the toilets?
No details have been provided of where the toilets will be - or even if there will be any. There is only one toilet for most of the carriage ramp (Little Nan's and Mousetail each have their own) so where are all these customers going to pee? Deptford already has a problem with public urination, this won't help. Perhaps they are going to dump (pun intended) some ugly Portaloos next to the remaining flower beds. Who needs greenery in any case? 

3. Why is it ok for some people to drink outside and not others?
Street drinking. The anchor got the blame for causing problems down at Deptford Broadway, but the street drinking that used to happen there is now rife in Douglas Square, and still causing problems. Why should that be classified as public nuisance but put the drinkers under a tent and charge them more, and it's a legitimate business. It also neatly leads me into the security issues. What's to stop the 'undesirable' drinkers just bringing their drinks and joining the party? Will they have to put barriers round the seating and have security on the door?

4. Loss of amenity.
The vast majority of the ground-level landscaping that was created as part of the public benefit from the development will be squandered. Seats will be unusable, plants will have their light blocked and the flower beds will become a litter trap, difficult to access for maintenance, the trees will become tent poles (and most likely leaning poles at the lower level).

5. Noise nuisance.
Residents in the Deptford Project already suffer noise from some of the units under the carriage ramp - speakers get brought outside by some tenants even though their leases prohibit it - and with a large bar in a mostly hard-landscaped area, the noise from drinkers can only add to this. Other local bars such as the Job Centre and Buster Mantis have limits on when outside drinking areas can be used, to limit noise for adjacent residents. Allowing a huge open-air bar in front of a huge residential building would make a mockery of this and could reasonably lead to other bars challenging such restrictions.

The planning application can be found online here

Sunday 18 June 2017

Our air, your health - air pollution in Deptford

How has air quality in Deptford changed in the last 350 years? Scientists from the Centre for Environment & Health, which does research into the health effects of environmental pollutants, are hosting a free event at the Deptford Lounge this Monday.

This will be an evening of interactive activities and talks that will give participants the chance to learn more about how air quality can affect their health.

Find out how you could be breathing cleaner air, and learn how traffic noise and other pollutants might also be having an effect. Scientists from the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment & Health will be on hand to offer expert advice and answer questions. The event is part of the Medical Research Council's second annual Festival of Medical Research.

There will also be several presentations during the evening, including one on air pollution in Deptford from 1661 to the present!

Tea, coffee and soft drinks will be available. The event is free, but the organisers ask anyone wanting to attend to register online.

Deptford anchor consultation

Further to the council report in March which recommended the return of the anchor to Deptford High Street, Lewisham Council has launched a consultation into some aspects of its proposed reinstatement. These include the style and type of textured paving that will be placed around it (to assist the visually-impaired) and whether a plaque should be included, and if so, what this should say.

Current timescale intends the anchor to be back in position in time for Deptford X festival in late September.

The public is invited to respond via the online consultation survey where you can also find background information about the process (downloadable here).

There is also a drop-in session at Deptford Lounge on Tuesday 20 June between 3pm-7pm.

The current documents show the anchor to be somewhat sidelined in the proposed location at the top of the high street; why not have it more central in the streetscape? At the moment it looks like an afterthought.

The online consultation closes on Tuesday 27th June.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

The history and future of Laurie Grove baths

Things are finally happening in the project to remodel the former public baths on Laurie Grove in New Cross, which is due to become the new Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. I wrote about the plans a couple of years ago, since when there has been a bit of a fundraising hiatus; but having been prompted to look it up again I see that according to the Goldsmiths website it is due to open this time next year.

If you want to get a look inside, there's an event tomorrow (Thursday 15th) that involves a look back at the history of the building and its future, combined with a special exhibition of collaborative, site-specific installations and coincides with the opening of the Goldsmiths Fine Art degree shows.

The blurb says:

Join us on June 15th, at the Laurie Grove Baths, home of the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths in New Cross, for an evening dedicated to the slippery inheritances of this historic building. 

This event marks the launch of Urban Water Cultures – a series of collaborative public work, organised and supported by CUCR on the urban sociology of water. Talks by Les Back and Sophie Watson will explore the social significance of water and public baths in the city. It will also celebrate the opening of Slippages – an exhibition of site-specific installations. 

The event coincides with the opening of the Goldsmiths Fine Art degree shows, so there will be a rare opportunity to wander around the baths. Slippages is an exhibition co-curated by the Feminist Methods Masterclass, convened by Nirmal Puwar. It features work by Katerina Athanasopoulou, Yani B, Ama Josephine Budge, Hari Byles, Clare Daly, Chloe Turner, and Santiago Rivas. 

Tickets (which are free) are available here:

Saturday 10 June 2017

Eight-storey block proposed for New Cross site

A planning application for an eight-storey block of flats in New Cross is threatening to overshadow neighbouring houses and threaten the productivity of one of the area's few allotment sites.

Developers have submitted a planning application to build 26 residential units on a scrap of land sandwiched between the end of Royal Naval Place and the railway line. A block of eight storeys will impact daylight and sunlight to the terraced houses on Amersham Grove as well as blocking out a substantial amount of the sunlight that the allotment site currently enjoys.

The proposed development takes up nearly all the space on the site, representing a gross over-development of the land, in my opinion. The council's (independent) design review panel agrees; original proposals were for much higher blocks which have since been reduced, but the panel noted that even with the changes this represents a very dense use of the site.

A cynic might say that that eight storeys was always the plan. Start high so that you can offer 'concessions' and get down to the height you actually were aiming for. Bargaining is a way of life round here.

Unless you've walked down Amersham Vale from New Cross Station towards the Old Police Station, you've probably no idea where this site is.

At the moment it is used for storing haulage vehicles, and I can't imagine it's pleasant for residents of the small houses opposite having these huge trucks swing in and out of the tiny street every morning and evening. The land could arguably be usefully employed for housing, and its proximity to New Cross station makes it ideal for a car-free residential development.

But the height of the block and density of the development should surely be questioned by planners? Even the housing development planned for Amersham Vale is only five storeys high, and if this proposal ('Hereford Place') is approved, the size and visual impact of the block would be completely out of scale and context in this location.

Residents on Amersham Vale (shown on the right of the picture above) will lose daylight and sunlight to their gardens and properties if this development goes ahead.  Allotment holders are also voicing concerns that their plots will be completely overshadowed by the new building, which is on the west side of the allotments. The waiting lists for Lewisham's few remaining allotment sites are famously long - eight or nine years is the current waiting time apparently. Allowing developments that make plots unviable is surely not a good idea?

In my opinion the council should be making efforts to improve facilities that support healthy lifestyles - growing your own food promotes healthy eating, not to mention the physical exercise and mental health improvements that come from maintaining an allotment. They offer social contact for plot holders and strengthen community links, not to mention creating natural habitats for birds, insects, bees and so on.

Objections and comments can be submitted to - the planning application is here

Friday 9 June 2017

Local consultation on 'Place/Deptford'

Late notice of a rather poorly-publicised consultation event being hosted by Lewisham Council about the proposed construction of a temporary housing site on a corner site of Edward Street/Arklow Road where the disused ball court currently stands.

I wrote about this proposal a couple of months back when it was first announced; tomorrow there will be a public consultation at Charlottenburg Park on Amersham Grove, which is just across the road from the site.

The council is inviting feedback on the proposal and asking for ideas of how the proposed community space might be used. 

If you've not yet had a wander down to see this bit of new public realm, might be a good opportunity to do so.

Saturday 10 June
Charlottenburg Park, Amersham Grove, SE14 6LH

Sun Wharf revisited

I didn't make it to the 'consultation' event for this Creekside development which took was held last month, but I've been taking a look at the information that the developer put on show and which is now available on the website. It's still not a planning application as such, but I guess we can expect one to be made pretty soon, given that this is the second public event and that's probably more than enough to tick the required boxes.

I wrote about this development at the time of the last consultation, when the building heights were proposed as being seven storeys to 16 storeys high.

Scroll on a year and the revised plans (below) show that the heights proposed range from 'one to two storeys' to 'nine to seventeen storeys' although the information provided on the exhibition boards seems rather deliberately vague, and for some reason (no doubt to justify the height of the main tower) includes the blocks on Kent Wharf next door.

It's not easy to distinguish the difference in heights from the diagram above - if they'd chosen different colours rather than different hues of blue to differentiate the buildings, it would have been a lot easier, and of course the cynic in me thinks that was probably the reason behind the choice. And having one category ranging across potentially eight storeys, in particular since it only applies to two buildings, one of which is not even part of the development, muddies the water even more. 

Who are the 'communications' experts who put together these public consultation events? Since they are being paid by the developers, I shouldn't really be surprised that they seem more adept at creating smokescreens than at communicating basic facts to the general public.

What's all this about, for example? Why would the public care about how you intend to label the different parts of your development? What is a 'Victorian' wharf building in any case? What characteristics does it have and is it anything more than a vague aspiration at this point? Looking at the first image in the post there's nothing distinctly different about these buildings that I can see, frankly this diagram is irrelevant.

But I digress. Here's a few renderings from the 'information' boards for anyone else who missed it.

View from the Greenwich side of the creek, with the railway viaduct shown on the left hand side. Original plans were to open up routes through the railway viaduct, and although that's not explicit in the new details, the renderings suggest that it's still part of the masterplan.

Full east elevation - the white buildings on the right are Kent Wharf; an idea of the tower height on the left can be gained from the presence of the railway viaduct on the far left.

Above is a view from within the development itself, looking south towards the railway viaduct (on a street parallel to Creekside).

Oh look, green spaces! But not for the general public, only for the residents. These will be at 'podium' level, between the housing blocks. 

The renderings include an (almost) separate building for Cockpit Arts, whose current home on Creekside will be demolished to accommodate the development. I assume that they negotiating hard for favourable terms on the final scheme - having an independent building which ensures Cockpit Arts can continue its existing work in Deptford is essential. Presumably they are also in discussions to ensure that any impact on their designer-makers during the rebuild and relocation is minimised.

Of course it's all aspirational at this stage, but I was particularly taken by the level of aspiration needed to envisage the 'wonderful sunny aspect' that this new public realm is expected to have. 
The developers say that they are going to create a new public space 'in the proximity of the historic Normandy Dock inlet' which will have a cafe and outdoor seating. 

Looks quite attractive on the rendering, but in reality it is an east-facing strip of land which will only get direct sunshine for a short time in the morning, being overshadowed by the railway viaduct on the south side. Even its morning light could be threatened if/when Greenwich agrees to develop the land on the other side of the creek, no doubt with more of the high-density type of blocks that are already built on sections of the waterfront that have already been developed. And at the bottom of a seventeen-storey block it's likely to be pretty breezy.