Thursday 28 November 2019

Destruction of the Noah's Ark - an update

Tuesday's shocking revelation that the former Noah's Ark pub, a landmark building at the entrance to Deptford High Street conservation area, had been torn down without permission prompted a swift response from Lewisham Council.

After members of the Deptford Society reported the situation to Lewisham's senior conservation officer Joanna Ecclestone, council staff paid a visit to the site and ordered work to stop immediately.

Ecclestone subsequently wrote to members of the society with the following information, which has been forwarded to me:
We are very grateful to the resident who alerted the Council to this unauthorised demolition on Tuesday. Officers visited the site that same afternoon and stopped work, and the Council is now investigating the planning breach, which is a criminal offence under Section 169D of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and will take robust action.

The existing permissions to convert to residential and change use and add a mansard roof extension are no longer valid as the building no longer exists.  

The planning permissions were granted as 'permitted development' for this particular building. Now that the building no longer exists, these permissions are null and void and new applications will have to be submitted for any new building on the site.  

Perhaps a new pub building (or a reconstructed one) would be apt?

Meanwhile more details have emerged about the ironically-named contractor Build With Confidence Ltd, whose logo and contact information is emblazoned across the covers which were put up around the scaffolding to obscure the illegal works taking place within. 

Companies House information reveals that Build With Confidence went into voluntary liquidation almost two years ago in January 2018. It's impossible to know whether the people actually carrying out the work were employees of Build With Confidence, or whether they had simply appropriated the hoardings and company logos to give their illegal work a veneer of credibility.  

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Deptford landmark torn down under cover of renovation

An unscrupulous developer has overseen the demolition of one of Deptford High Street's most prominent landmarks, under the guise of renovating the facade.

The former Noah's Ark pub, at the north end of Deptford High Street at the junction with Creek Road, had lain empty and untouched for months, despite developer Visionbell Ltd having gained planning permission for residential conversion.

In happier days - Noah's Ark in 2008 (Google streetview)
Now the top two floors of the building, which falls within the Deptford High Street conservation area, have been torn down, after the whole structure was concealed beneath a shroud of scaffolding and plastic wrap. This includes the facade of the building which has been removed almost entirely to ground level.*

Planning permission was granted earlier this year for the developer to put in replacement windows and renovate the facade, as part of a wider scheme to add new residential units at ground floor level, which was approved in 2018, and a two bedroom flat extension on the roof, approved this year.

Scaffolding erected earlier in the year seemed designed for this work, but after being left in place for months, with bags of rubbish piled outside and no sign of work starting, the scaffolding was suddenly removed.

After being left uncovered for a short time, the former pub was once again surrounded by scaffolding, but this time it was fully shrouded in plastic wrap - one might suggest this was to prevent anything from being seen from the outside (although I couldn't possibly comment).

Today local residents were shocked to discover what was actually going on behind the scaffolding, after witnessing skips full of bricks and timbers being removed from the site over a period of days and seeing glimpses of daylight through the building entrance.

Carnage inside the former pub
Although not having served pints for some years, the former pub has long been recognised as a local landmark, and is a gateway building to Deptford High Street's conservation area. It stands right next to the only listed building on the high street (number 227) and being within the conservation area, is legally protected from unauthorised demolition.

As Historic England's website states: Demolition of an unlisted building in a conservation area without planning permission is a criminal offence. 

The defences and penalties are the same as for listed buildings. As with listed buildings, an enforcement notice can be served to rectify any works done without planning permission or work done in breach of a condition on such a consent. Breach of the enforcement notice is itself a further offence committed by the then owner.

(Turns out they weren't willing to wait that long...)

No doubt Visionbell Ltd will claim that the building was unsafe and had to be demolished to prevent it falling down and being a danger to the public (the only acceptable 'defence'). However erection of the full heavy-duty scaffolding and wrapping suggest that this was the intention right from the start. Such extensive temporary works would not be necessary just to put some new windows in.

In its planning application to restore the facade, RRA Architects stated:
The existing building is a disused three storey building covered in posters and adverts. Currently, the facade is run down and does not present a welcoming approach to the High Street. Following the prior approval it is our intention to vastly improve the building. 

I only hope that the council takes immediate action to prevent any more of the building being knocked down, and starts legal action to force the landowner to reinstate it.

*Article updated on 28th November to clarify that the facade has actually been removed too. This was not made entirely clear in the initial blog post, I can only apologise for not meeting my usual standard of clarity; I was fuming when I wrote the post.