Saturday 2 March 2013

Convoys Wharf public exhibition

A public exhibition in Deptford over two days last week presented proposals for the redevelopment of the Convoys Wharf site, on the site of the former Royal Dockyard.

Representatives from Hutchison Whampoa and its team were present to answer questions about the proposals, and there was a new – yet much smaller – model offering a somewhat more accurate representation of the heights of the buildings in relation to those bordering the site.

Fundamental concerns
However Deptford is.. had fundamental concerns about the clarity and legibility of the display material and models on show. Once again the enormous low-level model was used as the central exhibit, with the result that many people came away with from the event unaware of the height and density of the buildings that are proposed. One local resident even mocked-up a block of polystyrene at the scale of the model to demonstrate the height of the larger towers – you can see this in action in a photograph on the Crosswhatfields blog.

The new model gave some indication of building heights

Consultation process
We believe that for a public consultation event to be successful and meaningful, it is of paramount importance that the public understand what is being presented. We also thought it would have been appropriate for someone from Lewisham planners to be present – if only to hear the questions and comments made by visitors, and the explanations that were offered by the developer’s team.

Members of Deptford is.. who visited the exhibition and spoke at length to the staff who were present, gained some encouragement from the fact that visionary projects it has been fostering - in particular Sayes Court Gardens and the Lenox Project - are slowly gaining acceptance. Both of these projects are based on ideas inspired by and relating directly to the rich heritage of the site.

However, many of the objections that we voiced after the public exhibition last year remain unaddressed, in particular those relating to the density and massing of the buildings, and the lack of public transport provision. 

Density and massing
Firstly the density: Hutchison Whampoa is still pushing for 3,500 units, but we believe that the burden of proof lies with them, to demonstrate a viable plan for this size of development. While the new architects may have done some good work on the masterplan, they have proved that it is not possible to build 3,500 units in this space and still have a liveable, sustainable environment. They may have reduced parking spaces from six to around four per ten units, but with this density, that’s still an awful lot of vehicles. The proposed use of podium parking blocks – since the remains of the dockyard prevent them excavating for underground car parks – will contribute to a ‘canyon’-type experience at street level.

Farrells has responded to objections from English Heritage by reducing the heights of the blocks proposed for the waterfront, and those next to the Master Shipwrights House and Watergate Street. But this is at the expense of the centre of the site, where building heights are now much higher and grim-looking chasms are being created.

Olympia shed - at the heart of the site but not the planning
Olympia building
At the middle of the site, there is still no real solution being offered for the Olympia shed. The current suggestion is for some kind of ‘Turbine Hall’ space hosting temporary events and ‘pop-up’ uses. But such a vision for Deptford is ill-conceived – it will never attract the number of visitors that frequent central-London venues such as Covent Garden or Spitalfields. The inevitable result would be an empty, ill-defined space for three weeks out of four. We believe that a coherent plan for the Olympia building should be formulated and agreed before the developer submits any planning application?

Only vague statements have so far been provided to back up the contention that this size of development will not have an adverse impact on local transport. They claim 10% of residents will use the riverboat, and yet state that of all those cars, the majority will not be driven in rush hour. There are no plans to increase capacity at local railway or DLR stations. According to the transport consultant, capacity on local trains will be freed up sufficiently to accommodate the Convoys residents in five years time when Crossrail opens.

Streetscape, affordable housing
No studies of the effect of the buildings on daylight or wind at ground level have yet been carried out. Despite ongoing pressure from the council, only 14% affordable housing is proposed - 500 units out of the 3,500 maximum.

Hutchison Whampoa proposes to create active frontage on all the podium block streets, for retail and leisure for these. We question whether Convoys will be able to sustain this amount and type of active frontage where other local developments have been unable to do so. The developer’s employment strategy is limited to construction, hospitality and retail; we believe there is the need for a proper analysis of what is required not only to service the new development, but in the local area as well.

Improved views
We noted some positive changes in the masterplan, however. The proposal for the route through the site from Sayes Court, up to the Olympia building and out across the (basin) to the river is a notable improvement. A wide avenue, approaching the Olympia building obliquely, will offer a unique view of the Olympia facade, and gives the chance for the cultural and heritage assets to imbue and feed into the rest of the scheme. The crowning glory of this view would be the great basin – a proper dock, not just a shallow water feature – perhaps even with a replica ship at anchor, preparing for her maiden voyage across the Channel?

John Evelyn Centre, Sayes Court Park and the Lenox
The masterplanners have accepted the suggestion that a John Evelyn Centre be created on the site of the former manor house; the existing Sayes Court Park is now shown extending across the boundary of the development to create a slightly larger public park, and a model boat representing the Lenox project was also present on the masterplan, denoting acceptance of what we believe could be a very exciting, visual and sustainable project with a direct link to the site's past. Such community-led ideas can only add to the value of the site, and if they are provided with the right conditions in which to flourish, will enable a truly heritage-inspired redevelopment and understanding of Convoys Wharf, while at the same time contributing to - perhaps even stimulating - the long-term success of cultural activities on the site.

Masterplan showing proposed layout

Meanwhile the report on the archaeology of the former Royal Dockyard site is expected to be published in May this year, and we await English Heritage's review of the site's significance. Last year the Department for Culture, Media & Sport asked English Heritage to review its decision not to schedule the dockyard once the full archaeology report was published. EH based its decision on earlier reports which had been published before the most recent, extensive excavations were carried out, and we know that the condition and extent of dockyard structures remaining on the site are much greater than was previously thought.

Comments will of course be invited during the formal planning process, however we urge readers to consider sending objections NOW to their local councillors, their MP, London Authority Member, the planning department at Lewisham Council and the planning section of the Greater London Authority.

You can find the details of your elected representatives by entering your post code on this site.

Lewisham planning department can be contacted at and the details of the London planning team are here.

If you filled in a comment sheet at the open day, you may wish to ensure that the planners have the opportunity to read your feedback by copying your comments to them directly. You can do this by emailing

We believe the most serious aspects of the application that HW intends to submit, and to which we are absolutely and fundamentally opposed, are the density and massing of the buildings proposed for the site. 

Other reports
Several other local sites and bloggers reported on the open days: Crosswhatfields, Deptford Dame,  and London's Lost Garden for example. All report little progress, and none are in favour of the development plans as they stand at the moment.


  1. Sterile and Meaningless like this Whole
    " Modern Age " summons up those Characterless

    Deptford Royal Dockyard Site is National

  2. I like your post ,now I must complete my research for my paper.