Sunday 24 January 2021

Proposal for Noah's Ark reconstruction

Draft proposals for the reconstruction of number 229 Deptford High street (the former Noah's Ark pub) have been made public this month for public consultation.  

The move comes more than a year after I initially reported that an attempt to demolish the structure while full-height hoardings were in place was halted when a local resident reported unauthorised activity to the council. 

Since then the building has stood as a semi-derelict and unsightly reminder of the fragile status of Deptford High Street's conservation area designation. 

The site, at the northern junction of the high street with Creek Road, is adjacent to the Grade II listed building 227 Deptford High Street and the former pub building that occupied it - the Noah's Ark - was considered a key 'gateway building' to the conservation area. 

Listed building number 227

After the pub closed, the ground floor was converted to office space and it was used by a firm of solicitors for some years. But subsequently an application was made to divide the existing building up into 11 single-person bedsits/studios with very poor quality accommodation - under permitted development rights as I understand it - and a further application to stick a two-bed apartment on the top in an extension was approved in 2019. 

To say the site has a chequered planning history is an understatement. 

The latest proposals - and it's worth noting they are only proposals, essentially a series of renderings with minimal detail - see an attempt to replicate the structure that was originally torn down, albeit with the addition of a mansard roof. 

View from the high street looking north

According to the website, the ground floor will be brought back into use as two commercial units (not a pub sadly) and the upper floors will provide five residential units of one and two bedroom size. One floor plan is shown on the website but there is no detail of the other four although the website does state that the basement will be retained for use by the commercial units.

The website also notes that the ground floor facade will 'retain and repair any remaining historic fabric' - there's not much of it left by any account, but it seems right that this is the least that the developer could do. 

It's interesting to see on the website that they are sticking with their original story that the building 'became unsafe' during the renovation works and had to be demolished 'for the safety of the public' on the advice of 'structural engineers'. 

Notably the latest version of the story is rather at odds with what actually happened. According to the website the full height hoarding had to be put up 'as part of this emergency work' - locals will recall that the building had been wrapped up for some time and demolition work had been ongoing before the scale of it became apparent. The planners had not been notified of this 'public safety' issue, nor the extent of what was going on behind the hoardings, and once they were aware, issued immediate instructions for it to stop. 

The general public is being invited to comment on the plans via the website - feel free to do so but don't forget that what actually matters is what's in the detail of the planning application. It may or may not align with what you see online. It's all very well to be wooed by some renderings, the developer's statement and one floor plan, but none of it is legally binding till it's on that planning portal - and even then it may be subsequently revised.

One important question remains - what legal action is being taken against those responsible for the destruction of Deptford's heritage?

I'll hazard a guess that there won't be any. It seems to me that the council has traded off the threat of legal action in exchange for cooperation from the developer/owner of the site. I assume they have no appetite for legal action which could be costly and be unlikely to resolve the loss of the building for years. Whether the outcome would have been different had the site been elsewhere in the borough - Blackheath for example - is difficult to say. 

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