Sunday 3 September 2017

Creekside community under threat from 'box park' plans

On the face of it, a planning application to create a pop-up community of shipping containers on 'derelict' land behind the Bird's Nest pub in Deptford might seem a sensible use of an awkward parcel of land.

And if you read the planning documents, you could easily be lulled into thinking that this development offers nothing but benefits to the area.

Unfortunately the entire planning submission goes out of its way to gloss over the fact that this parcel of land is not just derelict industrial waste ground; in fact it is home to a small but long-established community of boat dwellers whose presence is one of the few positive elements highlighted in the conservation area assessment of this part of Creekside.

It's easy for the general public to forget that this community exists - with the yard at 2 Creekside no longer in regular use and most of the land around the waterside either inaccessible or fenced in, it's difficult to get a view of Theatre Arm, as this offshoot of the creek is known.

But it would be a bit remiss of the landowners to forget that they are there, considering that they collect rent on most of the moorings; in terms of the planning documents, the only real acknowledgement of their presence is these couple of renderings, along with a few boat outlines on some of the drawings.

There's a marked absence of any human aspect to the plans that have been submitted, not least in the fact that the impact the development will have on the residents of the creek has been utterly ignored.

The boating community is a diverse and varied one, with residents of all ages living on a wide range of vessels moored along the creek, some of which also directly support businesses. The residents assist each other in practical ways and have a strong and well-established community group, the Friends of Deptford Creek, which supports, represents and protects the human, natural and built environment of the creek. 

On the FODC website you can read Jeannie Seymour's story - her husband Julian Kingston is the longest-established resident on this site, having arrived here 30 years ago, well before the Docklands Light Railway was built. As well as running his welding business from the boat, Julian keeps his restored Saker cannon and Lenox Project trailer on the land next to it, along with half a dozen beehives which provide him with enough local honey to last the year.

And while tarpaulins may not give the best first impression, they can be a sign of good things to come. You can read Mat's story about restoring his broads cruiser Suffolk, his comments giving testimony to the strength of the community that exists.

The way of life these people have chosen may seem unconventional to some, but as Jeannie points out, the main difference is that they are afloat. They have all the same gadgets and facilities as 'normal' households - even a bath! - and they pay council tax and utility charges like everyone else.

Six of them moor on the riverside at 2 Creekside, and over the last 16 years have had to suffer the vagaries and poor management of the site by owner John Cierach (of murky goings-on fame). As this detailed post on Crosswhatfields explains, the murkiness that led to the demise of the Big Red pizza bus (and most likely also the demise of the subsequent tenant Wanderlust) has for years also been inflicted on those who call Theatre Arm home.

So what is the detail of the planning application proposal? 

Essentially the new owners of the land, Artworks Creekside 2 (a consortium between the former owner John Cierach and another company (Stow Projects) whose directors Charlie and William Fulford have history, among other things with box-park pop-ups such as 'Artworks Elephant' on the former Heygate estate in Elephant & Castle) want to stack a load of converted shipping containers up to create Deptford's very own box park. 

The plans include bringing the 'big red' bus behind the Bird's Nest back into use as a restaurant, and are also linked to proposals for number 3 Creekside across the road, now owned by another new company whose directors are the same as 2 Creekside. Make what you will of the fact that two different companies have been created for the purposes of what's being proposed and promoted in all other ways as a single, unified development.

The presence of the DLR restricts what can be built on the land at 2 Creekside, as there is an exclusion zone around the structure, so the plans include mobile 'shepherd's huts' under the viaduct with views across the creek. 

Or to be more precise, with views directly into the living quarters of the boat dwellers. The relative privacy that they currently enjoy will be gone in one fell swoop, with the vista for new tenants valued above any protection for those who already live there. So keen are the developers to boast how they will open up pedestrian access to the creek and provide new views across the water (or the mud for half the day, considering it's still tidal here) that they conveniently gloss over the fact these are people's homes.

The renderings show how active the river frontage is intended to be - in good weather the occupants of the mobile units will be able to spill out onto the creekside and enjoy the sunshine; the ground-floor units in the main stacks of shipping containers are intended as cafes or restaurants, so these are likely to have customers coming and going throughout the evening. 

The planning application disingenuously states that this development is 'not intended to be positioned as a late night venue', while simultaneously applying for opening hours extending to 11pm every weekday and till 1am on the weekends. With the site open from 8am, there will be no respite for those living on the water.

The boats which are shown on the other side of the creek wall seem to be mere afterthoughts, just there as decoration or in the spirit of accurate representation. It's almost as if Artworks Creekside is keen to be rid of these inconvenient incumbents.

This image from the planning application is probably the clearest indication of the attitude of Artworks Creekside towards its existing tenants. It clearly shows the impact the new units will have on the existing boats - this rendering being created from a photograph taken from the boat Julian uses as his workshop, the edge of which can be seen next to the creek wall. 

The renderings in the application give no indication that the rights of the existing residents (to privacy, to light, to quiet enjoyment and so on) have even been given even the most fleeting consideration.

There's no explanation of how they will get on and off their homes, take delivery of fuel, or continue to securely access utilities such as water, electricity, telephone lines and so on. 

There is no space for any residents to store equipment or park the vehicles by which they make their livings, and nowhere for Julian to relocate his beehives.

In short there is no consideration of how the proposed development could be successfully delivered without severely impacting on the existing residents.

The fact that the boat dwellers did not even receive official notification of the planning application from the council is also worrying - as registered council tax payers with their own letterboxes in the gate, why did they have to find out about the planning application from official notices on lamp-posts on the public highway? As direct 'neighbours' to the development, they should be statutory consultees  if the planning process is correctly followed.

While failures in official planning procedure are of concern, more worrying is the ongoing bullying and intimidation that the new site owners are inflicting on the existing residents, presumably in an attempt to drive them away so that they can progress their plans unhindered. 

Huge proposed hikes in rent, unreasonable demands (such as allowing other boats to moor alongside and giving people access across your own home), repeated threats of expensive court cases, and getting the Port of London Authority involved as a means of further increasing the costs to residents - all these tactics are being employed by Artworks Creekside in their unsavoury efforts to socially cleanse Theatre Arm. 

Without such murky goings on I might have been in favour of a slimmed-down version of this proposal, which if done properly could offer useful space for small businesses. With fewer shipping containers, proper, private moorings with secure access and facilities for existing residents, and restricted hours to provide the boaters with quiet enjoyment of their homes it might work - but with its current backers the whole idea leaves nothing but a nasty taste in my mouth.


Creeksider said...

I understand where you are coming from with the current tenants but I quite like the plans and think it will open up the area to the rest of the community.

Anonymous said...

The plans appear to deliberately and blatantly disregard the house boat dwelling people who have lived there for a long time, developed businesses and contribute to Deptfords community. If the homes they lived in were made of brick would this still seem ok?
The misrepresentation of the impact it would have on these long time locals lives and businesses is underhand.

Unknown said...

Creeksider if you know the area at all and the surrounding deptford area you wouldnt be making that statement. this aggressive gentrification is destroying community life. Also this will clearly have such a negative effect on these people living there, and so your statement comes off sounding inhuman.

Deptford Dame said...

@creeksider I'm afraid I find it hard to accept that opening up the area to the rest of the community justifies driving people out of their homes. Call me old-fashioned but...

Actual Creeksider said...

I too understand where you are coming from creeksider. However, it is strange that someone would leave a comment calling themselves 'Creeksider', but in the actual comment, lthey label actual Creekside tenants as others ('the current tenants') . Indicating this is like the website called Creekside community, which is not actually by or about any actual creeksiders. Instead, as with the 'creek side community' website this is likely a developers reaction to the gathering resistance from Actual Creeksiders. This again shows the level of dishonesty and dubious tactics willing to be used by said developers, if my suspicions are true.

This being said on the off chance that the above comment was by an actual creeksider and I am incorrect, one would have to ask them if they thought it would be a better option to open the area up to the rest of the community without making life largely unbearable and comfortable to the existing community? As the current plans and modus operandi employed by these dubious developers are alienating the existing community.

Anonymous said...

Box park Deptford, great news. That part of creekside is pretty grubby and is ripe for development. At least this won't involve serious demolition, or change the character of the creek and will service all deptford residents, not a few private boat tenants.

Dame give it a rest. Your starting to sound as if you believe your own publicity after your little run in with U&l plc in June.

Deletante said...

Another pity party lead by Deptford Dame.
If we are going to discuss civil liberties infringements, lets talk about the hand wringers who want public land in Creekside to remain derelict and barred to the general public to protect the privacy of a few boat dwellers. It might have escaped your attention, but Lewisham council has bigger planning concerns for that end of the creek. Just a few doors down lots of new residents are about to call Creekside their home as well and will be paying considerably higher premiums in council tax and property prices for the privilege. Who are you to say they and other locals are less entitled to enjoy a part of Creekside on their doorstep or have a stake in local amenities than boat tenants.

Really DD your petty crusade against the upwardly mobile is nothing short of reverse discrimination. You can bore for England. Change the record.

Peter said...

Great reporting as always Dame

Mentalmapping said...

Christ, when the heart has been ripped out of Deptford, finally, by the loafer-wearing architect tossers and their evident minions, then you'll be crying into your starf*cks on the High Road. Leave it alone and move along, look at Erith, for example, just go.

Anonymous said...

Deletante, well said, I couldn't the have put it better myself.

This is much needed for the area. Seriously it's a shit hole at the moment, and I'm entitled to say that as a local resident for 17 years.

Dame...are you being objective here? I mean, if you live on the creek or have friends living there you really should declare the fact, as you would have to do so in a professional capacity, you know, for integrity's sake? It's called 'disclosure'. I suspect you may be biased...

Madam D said...

The Dame is losing her senses, worried she'll be next to be shipped out, not a bad thing if you ask me. Anyway, whoever gave her that most stupid of accolades, to lord it over SE8, she is so full of nonsense all the time, but then so are panto dames so not a bad label after all. Let her wither away with her little rants.

Boxpark Deptford is a GREAT idea, bring it on!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Firstly let me say that as a newcomer to this area I find that this blog is a very good way to discover hidden aspects of the local life. I usually take what the Dame says with a pinch of salt - but I do applaud her passion for local landmarks (even when it leads to comical overstatements such as her review of Ravenbourne Park as the 8th wonder of the world) and respect her relentless attempts to fend off promoters and bar people like me (i.e. hipsters) from the area (obviously to no avail).

But this time around I get the feeling that she went overboard and turned her combative local blog into a full-on "old neighbours complaint about new things" letterbox. What exactly is your vision for Deptford, Dame?

This part of the creek is a proper dump. I don't particularly trust promoters, but this is a no braine: Anything, literally anything, would be better than what it is right now. So why oppose a project that would open the creek to the public - and whose adverse consequences for the neighbours are not even sure? So you say that boat dwellers are anxious about their privacy and the noise of potential night venues... Are you kidding? Are we supposed not to have all this taken away just because the magical creatures you call boat dwellers want to keep the creek for themselves? Well done, Dame, this piece was so unreasonable that now it makes me wanna side with the dodgy promoters even if it means concreting the whole creek!

Prince of Deptford ;) said...

I do applaud the article posted by DD. If you agree or not, having people write blogs to allow this social debate is a good thing.

I'm Deptford born and raised in the playground where I spent most of my days. Grandfather was a docker blah blah blah. You get the picture!

I personally can take or leave a box park in Deptford. It's been done now with Brixton, The Elephant and even Croydon. It is ashame the boat dwellers can't be accommodated and the land also open to a wider audience. Something even better than some container city from a Mad Max film.

Growing up Deptford was nothing short of shit. So I unapologetically welcome a certain level of gentrification (or whatever you want to call it). I think the Dame does too. But to disregard local residents is a shame. Saying that, I do hope the boat residents of Creekside have a plane B.

B.O.D said...

This particular developer seriously cannot be trusted (read the older articles both on DD and crosswhatfields blog) - and this boxpark vision is problematic because of the complex site. The boat dwellers have the right to object as much as any other locals but in this instance, they are clearly being deliberately side-lined by the proposal because those behind it do not have the skills or creativity to come up with something that works for everyone.

Each proposal has to be judged alone on merits and failures and while this site is certainly ripe for redevelopment (it IS a mess) this scheme wilfully glosses over the issues to promote some trendy utopian vision, which we all know is what sells in today’s London. If carried out in its current form it could either be a damp squib or a really cynical and cruel market driven pile of poop, which would be a real shame for this corner of Deptford that needs some proper TLC. The Dame is right to be critical of all applications - the council treat many of them with far more respect than they deserve and its great that locals can have the chance to explore and understand potential failings before they get waived through. Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine that the community of houseboats have enjoyed living alongside the squalor of 2 Creekside for the last 16 years of the present incumbent’s ownership, and he still is the controlling shareholder. I suspect that their fear is that this has two possible outcomes. It could go the way of his previous schemes where anyone involved ends up out of pocket or burnt and the squalor remains, or this time around as his new friends seem particularly practiced in the dark arts, their lives are made so intolerable that they have no alternative but to go.
Apparently some have been there for 30 years ! That seems quite a commitment to me, they must have an affection for the place. Talking to one of them, they would like to see the restricted land under the railway as a linear park, even part of the Waterlink Way along with a little bit of service area for the boats, as opposed to a cluster of "Shepherd's huts" they don’t seem to be anti public access to me, just anti having their lives torn apart for a temporary scheme where all the profits leave the area until the applicant has permission for some luxury tower and all the “Hipsters” are booted out.

Boat-Dweller said...

I am one of the many members of the houseboat community of Deptford Creek, and have been for almost ten years now. I've seen this yard change from light industrial and storage uses, to it's current state of complete dereliction. I understand and appreciate that it's time for a change, and something that benefits Deptford as a whole would be an excellent usage of this space.

But does this have to come at the cost of destroying an established community? The boats of those on Deptford Creek have nowhere to go. They are too big for the Canals, and there are no other moorings available for boats this size. This development looks like it might make our lives their unbearable. The "viewing areas" will directly overlook our decks, removing our privacy. Our feeling of safety will be gone, as we will have to walk through groups of drunken bar & restaurant patrons to get home, and we will have to deal with music scant feet away from our homes until 11pm at the earliest every night.

This is not a development that is happening across the road from us, down the way or just close enough to disturb. This is happening literally on our doorsteps. We could reach from our homes and touch the Shepherding Huts.

None of us on the boats are against progress, none of us want this yard to remain in the disgusting state that the current landlord has put it in. We just want to be considered. We want to be treated like human beings. People whose rights matter, whose right to peaceably enjoy our long term homes is as important as any other. Currently we are not mentioned in any of the planning proposals, we are not written about in the acoustic report, we are not mentioned in the health and safety proposals, we are completely ignored.

We are being treated currently as second class citizens. But we have nowhere else to go. If our way of life here comes to an end, we all lose everything.

Anonymous said...

Boat dweller... not sure what you've seen but you are misinformed. Have a look at the 'design and access state,pment' on the planning portal. There's many mentions of the boats. They're certainly not ignored!

Jonathan said...

@ Anonymous 8 September 2017 at 11:33

The developer cares little or nothing at all about anything other than maximising his return. He's been full of washed up ideas ever since he arrived. He starts things and then they all, bar non, collapse into failure. Still, why should he be bothered? His equity continues to increase.

He should do the decent thing and look after the rights and amenities of his tenants.

Fat chance.

Boat-Dweller said...

"Boat dweller... not sure what you've seen but you are misinformed. Have a look at the 'design and access state,pment' on the planning portal. There's many mentions of the boats. They're certainly not ignored!"

I've read every single one of these documents, many times. You are correct in that the "Design and Access Statement" says that there are boats there. That is it. Our existence is acknowledged, and then glossed over immediately. Nowhere does it take our needs into consideration, nowhere does it mention how they expect the new development to interact with our homes, nowhere has there been an assessment of how this development will impact our lives.

If we were truly not being ignored, would our existence not be mentioned on the "Acoustic Report", which deals with how the development might cause noise disturbance to nearby dwellings? Would we not be mentioned in the "Construction Health and Safety Plan" which governs access to our homes during the build?

As mentioned before, none of us are against progress, and none of us want the yard to remain in its current sullen state. We want to be able to quietly enjoy our homes in privacy, just like everyone else. Without being mentioned in the Acoustic Report, or Construction Plan, we have no guarantee that we will be able to continue living as we do.

We just want to be considered.

Anonymous said...

Accumulated rights, acoustic reports, health and safety construction plans, and needs being taken into account.

And I was thinking these guys were going for the romantic idea of back to basic, self-reliance and maverick lifestyle by living in in the wild.

Anyway, I do feel sympathy for the dwellers, but as much as any other tenant being driven out by their landlord who's selling up. It sucks but hey.

Anonymous said...

Yet another NIMBY article from the Dame, snore....

Build the box park, Deptford needs it.

Anonymous said...

Reading the comments - why did these people decide to live on those boats in the first place? They're opportunists and surely one reason has to be because they're mobile (and probably cheaper back in the day).

They expected to move on at some point. Perhaps that time is now, unless they're adamant to prevent the development and opening up of this part of the creek?

Nothing ever lasts for ever, as Ian McCulloch sang...

crosswhatfields said...

Stick the Box Park in the new Market Yard and see how the residents there like it. There seem to be a lot of comments by Artworks trolls on here – the ones that say Deptford needs a Box Park. It does not. Or at least it does not need one at three storeys and this dense.

The area is designated as an Employment Zone and not as Leisure industry, which is what Artworks want to do – night-time food pop-ups like Lewisham Model Market except EVERY NIGHT, with very little trade during the day.

The yard is an eye-sore because the owner John Cierach made it so. His chaotic shenanigans are well-known around these parts, and now his sorry arse is being saved by Artworks, the guys who ruined Camden Town and partner with the likes of development giants Lend Lease.

The yard could be a functioning employment space – in containers if you like, although the rents will be extortionate. But it does not need to be a Party Zone and all that that implies for the existing residents. It also should not mean a x3 rent hike for the houseboats for what is merely pedestrian access.

Contrary to what one Artworks troll has said here, the word 'boat' is mentioned only twice in the whole Design & Access statement, and then only in relation to the heritage of the site. There is no doubt that Artworks want to get rid of the existing tenants and are using bully boy tactics. Anyone who thinks local people should be made homeless by this Party Zone scheme needs their head examining (e.g. all the Artworks trolls on this thread).

Anonymous said...

The Artworks Elephant is a pop-up boxpark on the site of what was a public space and a playground on the edge of the Heygate Estate. Writer Dan Hancox called it a ‘shiny bauble’ to distract from the ‘social cleansing’ of the area (2014). Shipping containers on community land circumnavigate planning processes. Others wanted allotments, a pond, sports facilities, etc. They got a haven for sales office for global developer Lend Lease.
(next stop, the Creekside)