Sunday 22 July 2012

Convoys Wharf public exhibition: Deptford Is.. responds

Last weekend developer Hutchison Whampoa and its masterplanners Terry Farrell & Partners held a public exhibition at the Deptford Lounge to present ideas and proposals for the new planning application it intends to submit for Convoys Wharf later this year.

Many members of Deptford Is.. attended the event and talked to representatives from Hutchison Whampoa, Terry Farrell & Partners, Alan Baxter & Associates, Grontmij and SKM Colin Buchanan, all members of the team that is submitting the masterplan.

Our collated comments are presented here.

Deceptive presentation 

The main materials used to present the architect’s new ideas for the masterplan were a large, detailed ‘groundscape’ model and a series of six very small polystyrene models used to explain the process that the architects had gone through to develop the height and massing of building parcels for the development. No representation of final building height or density was given on the main model, which we feel was misleading and confusing in the extreme.

Few of the people attending the exhibition would be familiar with the concept of a groundscape model, and we question the motivation for using such a means by which to communicate the main message of the exhibition. A two-dimensional plan would have been sufficient to show the proposed layout of the site. Using a groundscape model had the potential to mislead visitors into thinking that the new proposal was for building heights similar to those in the surrounding estates.

The six polystyrene models were devoid of interpretative material, which meant that the only way to understand them was to ask one of the staff who were present. We were also concerned at the way existing parks and green spaces had been flagged up on the groundscape model, even though they do not fall within the boundaries of the development.

We felt that this was disingenuous of the masterplanners, suggesting they are seeking to present their proposals as adding a significant amount of green space to the area, when in fact this is not the case.

Designing from the ground up? 

One of the main messages that came out of Sir Terry Farrell’s presentation in March this year was his commitment that the new masterplan would be created ‘from the ground up’. But this very welcome vision has not been translated into the ideas we saw at the public exhibition.

Aside from some changes to the road layouts, the proposals presented last weekend, in our opinion, offered nothing more than tweaks to the original masterplan which was proposed by Aedas, and which is shown below.

Aedas masterplan
In our opinion, the commitment to design from the ground up should result in a development which fully respects and recognises the former heritage of the site. In this regard, Farrell’s groundscape plan offered only minor changes to the Aedas proposal.

The new plan showed a representation of the former great basin in front of the Olympia building, but it was a trimmed and scaled back water feature with no access to the river and no prospect of any practical use. Views of the Olympia building from the river would be only slightly improved with this change, a minor change considering that the previous arrangement was notable for its severely restricted vista.

The locations of a couple of the dockyard’s slipways were marked as public areas by the addition of labels; the presence of the double dry dock as a landscaped public area remained, as in the former plans, and the edge of Sayes Court Gardens had been extended slightly into the site, with a scaled-back version of John Evelyn’s grove created next to it (see more info below).

Density and massing 

Staff at the exhibition, when questioned, were still referring to the development involving the creation of 3,500 new residential units. They also claimed that final building heights have not yet been established, that this information will be made available in September.

When asked why so many units, the standard answer given (by several representatives) was that this was the figure demanded by Lewisham Council and set out in its Core Strategy. We are advised by Lewisham’s planning department that this is not the case. While the figure does exist in the Core Strategy, the council’s planners are adamant that the site cannot sustainably support such a high density development.

Secondly it is worth noting that the situation has changed markedly since the core strategy was published in 2005. At that time, very little was known about the archaeology of the site – don’t forget it was covered in warehouses and storage units – and it is only in the last two years that the extent of heritage assets remaining has been explored in any detail.

What’s more, the full extent has yet to be confirmed – archaeological excavations only took place at the locations on which the developers intend to build. The extent and condition of the double dry dock has not been confirmed, neither has the full extent of the mast ponds at the west end of the site, under the proposed working wharf.


We were disappointed to note that transport proposals remained identical to those in the previous application. These included a new bus route through the site, ‘enhancements’ to existing bus routes, and the installation of a waterbus jetty.

Improvements to some road junctions are proposed but in all respects, these suggestions are pitiful in relation to the density of the development. With such a high number of properties on the site, even providing parking spaces for just over half these units (1800) will create an unacceptable amount of traffic for local roads.

A representative for the transport consultant said that this was ‘the best that we can do’ for the site.

The Lenox Project 

Our proposal to build a replica of the restoration warship Lenox was represented on the groundscape plan by a little wooden boat and flag. However the masterplanners have suggested that the project should be housed on the working wharf at the west end of the site.

There are several major problems with this. 

Firstly the fact that if the ship were built in this location it could not be launched in any straightforward or technically-proven manner. This part of the site has no slipway or dock and any boat built here would have to be lifted into the water. In order to do this, the structure of the vessel would have to be adapted to incorporate special lifting points or have extra strengthening built in to allow this to be done safely. It would entail additional analysis and the services of a marine architect, and it would create extra risk for the project as a whole.

If the boat were to be built in a dry dock (such as the one at the east end of the site) or on a slipway (such as the two in the Olympia building) it could be launched in the traditional tried and tested manner, which its original design allowed for.

Secondly the project needs to attract sufficient visitors to be financially viable. We believe that the presence of the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark in Greenwich will aid us greatly in doing so, but we feel strongly that the project needs to be as close to Greenwich as possible in order to make it successful.

Thirdly, we strongly support the creation of a proper working wharf which we believe could offer genuine additional employment opportunities for the area. It would also be appropriate to consider creating a marine enterprise zone on this land, to encourage the establishment of businesses that could not only support the Lenox project, but could benefit from its high profile.

Previous arguments that the remaining dockyard structures were not able to be uncovered because they were at risk of degradation have been dispelled by the archaeological investigations. Duncan Hawkins, who led the archaeological excavation, had no objection to the reopening of the great basin, if it were to be lined.

Several weeks ago, the Lenox Project supplied additional information to Farrell's on request, highlighting these points and also a number of other benefits and considerations material to the project and its proposed site. You can download and read this document here.

Sayes Court Gardens and John Evelyn’s Grove

Landscape architect Grontmij proposed some changes to the previous masterplan with the intention of recognising the significance of John Evelyn and his gardens in the heritage of the site. Apart from a dedicted ‘John Evelyn Centre’ in front of the Olympia building, the focus seems to have been on re-working the existing park (which is outside the boundary of the site).

This park does of course need a little tlc, and the boundary edge will need to be appropriately adapted to feed into the site, but we feel the proposed treatment of the site is facile and not in keeping with the heritage and context.

There were two aspects of the ‘history’ boards which glaringly under-sold the garden: firstly was the claim that although Evelyn's experimental approach and writings on horticulture were influential, the actual layout and design of the gardens was of little significance. Secondly, the importance of the 19th century incarnation of the park was scarcely acknowledged, with no mention of the National Trust or the part the park played in the development of our open spaces on a national scale.

The effects of this mis-information can be seen in the masterplan, which destroys the 19th century layout and creates a nominal ‘grove’, at only two thirds the size of Evelyn's on a different site and orientation to that of the original.

Also of concern was the proposal to relocate some of the residential buildings at the west end of the site; in particular the suggestion that one of the towers may be moved back from the river front to take advantage of views of the park as well as the river. As a consequence, the developer is now planning to build residential blocks on the site of Evelyn’s manor house and over the most important parts of the garden, which is what led to the re-positioning and shrinking of the grove.

Duncan Hawkins confirmed that the manor house represented the most well-preserved remains of domestic architecture on the site, and that it would be desirable to have them exposed - albeit under the protection of a building. We suggest that this would be the most obvious location for the proposed John Evelyn Centre. 

The groundscape plan capitalised on the existing Sayes Court Park, drawing it into the site and extending it up to the Olympia building. Once again we felt that this was potentially deceptive, and made the masterplan seem as though it has a ‘green heart’. However it must be recognised that, at a rough estimate, this masterplan contains negligibly more greenspace than the last, if any. The site of John Evelyn's garden has again been ignored, and this time it has been more extensively built up than before.

Although it did not translate to the plan, in general we believe that the architects support the idea that the development would benefit from ongoing and focused activity. Our various suggestions - the presence of a ship-building project, possible moorings for London’s tall ships in a re-opened great basin, a garden museum and recreated grove, a horticulture school, a sculpture park on the jetty – were acknowledged would be a vital component which would prevent the development becoming a residential ghetto. 

As before, the only employment prospects proposed by the developer were retail and service industries. The working wharf was unoccupied on the plan.

Poor publicity 
We note that the exhibition was very poorly publicised in Deptford itself. There were no posters visible on the high street, and only two members of Deptford Is.. (most of whom live in the target area) received letters or flyers.

Second Wave Youth Arts, the local group which gave a presentation at the open day, received no notification of the public exhibition.

A final wish

We respectfully urge the custodian of the site, Mr Li Ka Shing, to further apply the sentiment on his charitable foundation's website; "Every country possesses a unique history and culture formed over thousands of years. We believe that the preservation of historical monuments and cultural relics helps us define the past and points the way to the future."

This sentiment is very much at the heart of our proposals for the Convoys Wharf site.

Further information 

A series of videos made by PR company Hard Hat were shown at the event, you can see them online here.

Visit the Convoys Wharf website.

Submit your comments

The developers have said that they will be holding a second public exhibition in September, at which they will present their proposed masterplan before submitting it for planning permission.


  1. It's a pity that the brutal reality of bringing in Farrell is that it is no more than a cheap (depending on how much Farrell is paid) publicity stunt.

    These developers aren't concerned about the area, or the people who live in that area, they are only concerned about getting planning permission and part of that process is that they've gone through a 'consultation process'. The that process is shallow and meaningless is not a planning concern and also not one in which permission will be refused.

    The developers lobby of parliament is so strong that they will get their way at some point. The residents lobby is weak, and even with the often one-sided help of local MPs (Ruddock will always take the New Labour way and side with the developers, but she will, also, use the situation to do a bit of pro-community PR on behalf of herself)

    Cynical? Yes, I suppose it is...

  2. Indeed

    Far Better to give Deptford back it's Heart
    by the Restoration of the Dockyard as Deptford
    Royal Dockyard Site something which Honour's
    the Past and gives something for the Present and
    Future More than the Characterless Monstrosities
    of Modern Architecture

    Deptford Royal Dockyard Site is Worth Preserving
    and Saving

  3. welcome to our world :S (the world of soon-to-be-fantastically-regenerated southwark) - it's good to see that residents around london/the country are, unlike their local authorities, not taking any old nonsense the developers need to get their money back. check out elephant amenity network website ( for some of the comments on the latest offerings from lend lease

  4. lili - thanks for the 'elephant' link, but we (lewisham residents) have been subject to regeneration for years as well - it's heartwarming to watch towerblocks go up (in central Lewisham) that will be unfit for purpose in a handful of years...

  5. Monolithic blocks served by monolithic routes are an alien imposition on a site where the most enduring legacy is the medieval ways through the site within a "walled city" context. The opportunity also exists here for the site's rich history of building typology to inform new buildings as well as new buildings responding to specific sites such as the twin slipways and mast pond. This current proposal achieves neither and therefore despite Sir Terry Farrell's public declaration with promises of a "bottom up scheme" the claim of a profound re-thinking from the Aedas proposal remains hollow.

  6. Please find below a copy of a message sent to Future City. The Future City representatives at the consultation listened attentively to my concerns about the proposals and asked me to follow this up by writing an email to them. I did so on the 22nd July 2012. And I have received no reply whatsoever.

    Dear Sir/ Madam,
    Following my conversation with your representatives at the Convoys Wharf Consultation last weekend I am writing as requested to suggest that you push for an architectural competition for the development of this site.
    I am a local resident and an Architect.
    It is extremely important that the right Architects are selected for this competition and also that the right judges are selected so that it is democratic and that the best proposal is built, i.e. not Architect and judges should not be selected by Farell’s or the developer.

    I suggest the following Architects should be considered:

    Sergison Bates Architects(Top quality UK Architect with international experience and ideal medium density residential experience)
    Tony Fretton Architects (Top quality UK Architect with international experience)
    Davud Chipperfield Architects (top quality UK Architect with international experience))
    Patrick Lynch Archiitects (best UK young Architect)
    Peter Zumthoir Architects( one of the best Architects in the world without doubt)
    Herzog & de Meuron Architects (they did the Laban Centre in Deptford- very successful)

    It is extremely important that the selected Architect are encouraged to produce medium/ large scale architectural models so that the local public can properly assess/ appreciate the proposals.


    Gary Arnold ARCHITECT 075 9 591 6171

  7. Ive just recieved a reply to my message above. The reply was from Hardhat who are the Public Relations people looking after Hutchinson. They simply told me that they would forward my message to Hutchison. Very kond of them considering the message was intended for them in the first place.
    When Hardhat told me they were they were handlg the PR for Hutchison what else was there to say but

    'Both yourselves and your client(s) would be well advised that it would be much better for their PR to select higher quality Architects and to engage in democratic and transparent selection processes in regards to big developments outside of China'.


  8. does anyone know what these peasants are doing regarding getting their crap designs passed by lewsiham planning department?