Friday 31 May 2013

New masterplan documents now online

The planning documents for the revised masterplan for Convoys Wharf are now available online, with the official date for comments set as 1st July 2013. Comments can be submitted right up to the date when the application goes before the strategic planning committee, but you should aim to submit your objection as soon as possible.

You can find the 56 documents on Lewisham's planning website, either by searching under 'convoys' or clicking the link here.

Deptford Is.. evaluating the new proposals and will be publishing our comments on this website over the coming days and weeks. One immediate difference we note is that the heights of the towers (shown above) has increased.

We intend to hold a planning workshop to help people understand the implications and extent of the proposals and give them the opportunity to write a planning objection if they wish to do so.

If you want to be kept up to date with our plans, please join our mailing list by entering your details into the panel in the left-hand column. We will only use your details for this purpose, and you are free to unsubscribe at any time.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Deptford's 'spectacular history'

The full text of Joan Ruddock's introduction at the recent Naval Dockyards Society conference has now been published on her website. We have included our highlights below.

When I was first invited by local Labour party activists to contest the selection to succeed the late John Silkin MP I was a stranger to South East London. My only reference point was Samuel Pepys’ diaries and his oft recorded “went down to Deptford”. .

Looking back it wasn’t a bad connection to have made because although my life has been bound up with all the contemporary issues of the past 25 years a small thread has drawn me repeatedly back to the Dockyards. It was the vicar of St Nicholas Church, Graham Corneck, who first got me interested in the history of the Royal Dockyard. Christopher Marlowe’s bones are reputed to rest in St Nicholas’ churchyard and Graham was an enthusiast for the history of that time.

Deptford has a spectacular history, sadly little appreciated or promoted locally.

It was the decision of News International to close Convoys Wharf - the last remaining working wharf - that got me enthralled with the history of the Royal Dockyard. When the site was due for closure the management invited me to a meeting to explain their plans and assure me that the hundred odd workers were all to be redeployed. I was astounded to see the extent of the site – a footprint equivalent to the whole of the South Bank – yet hidden from public view for decades. My immediate concern was how we, the local people, would regain the site and access to the amazing river frontage. 

Instinctively I knew that development plans would come forward, based on millionaire’s housing and no respect for the site’s extraordinary heritage. I was right – over the next few years, I, the council and local people pressed our case. The first proposals were scrapped, a new master plan was produced but in the end News International abandoned their task and sold to Hutchinson Whampoa in 2008. They equally struggled to find their way. Eventually I insisted on meeting a senior Chinese executive. We had a very tough meeting in which I likened the importance of the Royal Dock Yards' place in British history to that of the Great Wall of China in his. Probably this is the one audience that doesn’t think I exaggerated.

Convoys Wharf when I first visited it was a concrete wasteland with huge sheds dotted randomly on site. One building stood out – the Olympia Warehouse – with its huge ugly façade but superb Victorian vaulted ironwork inside. Fortunately this had been listed and will remain on site but I was appalled to learn that the remains of a Tudor storehouse had been pulled down as late as the 1950s. 

Model of the Tudor storehouse

My basic demands for the redevelopment of Convoys Wharf were complete access to the site for all including the riverfront, a mix of jobs and homes, including affordable homes, recognition and marking of the important heritage and mitigation of the impacts of such a vast development on local roads, transport and services. I knew there would be many objections as there always are but what I didn’t anticipate was the advance of two hugely imaginative projects by local people. 

A group of people led by a local boat builder, Julian Kingston, have put forward a plan to build a replica ship. The project is to build a replica of the Lenox which was the first of the great thirty ship programme of 1677, overseen by Samuel Pepys. The plan is based on the 20 year research programme undertaken by marine historian Richard Endsor which means that it is possible to construct an exact replica. The details of the potential build are fascinating and could employ an army of apprentices. I have never had a particular interest in boats but contemporary paintings record a magnificent war ship that could not fail to inspire. 

The second project is one particularly close to my heart as a former botanist. The Sayes Court project is led by landscape gardener Roo Angell and Bob Bagley. They have researched the origins of John Evelyn’s garden established at Sayes Court in 1653. John Evelyn worked on his designs and experimented with plans over a period of 30 years, making his garden one of the most famous and revolutionary gardens of its time. The remains of his manor house and the site of most of his garden now lie within the boundary of Convoys Wharf. 

The project aims to create a John Evelyn Centre based on the archaeological remains of the ancient manor house and to plant an extensive garden with trees and medicinal herbs. Once again this site could offer the opportunity to combine natural beauty, scientific research and a place of relaxation for local people. 

The site requires a decae-long investment programme

We are looking at a decade-long development programme during which we will need to be vigilant. I won’t be the MP by the time it’s completed but I’m intending to stay involved. This is a part of our heritage too important to miss.

Friday 10 May 2013

Convoys Wharf plans: 'everything that is wrong with our property industry'.

An opinion piece in the property industry weekly Estates Gazette has given an excoriating assessment of the new Farrell masterplan for Convoys Wharf. The column was written by Paula Hirst, head of regeneration at Mazars (and incidentally also one of hopefuls competing to be chosen as prospective parliamentary candidate for the Lewisham Deptford seat).

As the introduction to the article explains, Hirst 'offers her thoughts on a scheme which seems to hark back to the 80s...'

Thursday's London Evening Standard heralded "a £1bn vision to transform Deptford", announcing a new scheme on the Thames-fronted Convoys Wharf site by Sir Terry Farrell. 

With a plan to "turn the rundown riverside neighbourhood into a thriving 'Shoreditch of south London'", the scheme proposals are to include 3,500 homes, shops, restaurants and a primary school, alongside three new parks. Oh, and three high-rise towers of up to 48 storeys (yes, you did read that right), with luxury apartments at the top. 

Putting the question of whether London needs two Shoreditches to one side for a moment, reading this article I wondered whether we had somehow been transported back in time to the 1980s where no-one really seemed to know what regeneration meant. It was an era where shiny glossy buildings would somehow "transform" an area through real estate development, although whether for better or worse would be highly dependent on exactly where you sat on the income spectrum. 

Well, Deptford is not the London Docklands, and this is not the 1980s. Deptford has some of the highest density housing in the country. Convoys Wharf backs onto an area with more people living in one place than live in many small towns. There are already quite a lot of residential towers on the skyline. And there has been no access to the river for 13 years for local people. 

Yes, local people would very much like to be able to have some more open space, more parks would be welcome, a view and the ability to sit by the river would be enjoyed by many. That's why the development of Convoys Wharf is important and a long time overdue. 

And there is a local, Londonwide, and national housing shortage, so a few more homes on a site that big would be important. But a high-density scheme that's pretending to be Canary Wharf mark two? Difficult to see what this might bring to local people. 

Farrell is not wrong when he says that there are lots of creative people living in Deptford. It's already a thriving hub of creative industries, in no small part due to the successful regeneration schemes already undertaken. 

But it's hard to see how three new luxury giant tower blocks of gleaming steel and glass will be of much benefit to that industry. It's hard to imagine how 3,500 homes won't create intense additional stress on existing infrastructure. It's hard to envisage how such towers will be of benefit to anyone locally at all, in fact, unless you count creating a massive shadow over their balconies and gardens a benefit. No, didn't think so. 

Deptford, located in South East London in the borough of Lewisham, contains high amounts of social housing, and is within the 10% most deprived areas in the country. Successful regeneration schemes understand the context they are in, seek to integrate within the area, and provide facilities and amenities which open up new opportunities for local people. 

They don't seek to create an island of wealth separated from and adjacent to existing areas, which local people don't feel welcome in, cannot afford, and in all likelihood will have limited access to physically. 

In developing a scheme that faces Canary Wharf rather than its hinterland, Farrell appears to be giving local people a clear sign that this is not for them. But then Farrell is quite used to this. One only needs to look at the controversial Earls Court scheme to see that existing communities are considered pretty marginal if not totally inconsequential, to development plans. 

Where on earth the money is going to come from for a £1bn scheme in this day and age is anyone's guess, but no doubt someone has heard the money bells ringing, knowing there is an almost clear 40-acre site with prime river frontage. 

But let's stop for a minute before anyone decides that somehow giving local people access to the river by sticking huge residential towers on their doorstep is regeneration, or that somehow or other they will benefit or be grateful. This is pure real estate development, and represents everything that is wrong with our property industry. 

What Deptford needs is not more high-density housing in an area of existing high density, putting more pressure on existing infrastructure. What's needed is more open space, free to enjoy access to the river, and new employment opportunities that go way beyond construction. 

Opening up Convoys Wharf once again to local people is a must. But let's do it right. Let's invest in our communities, not take from them. Let's regenerate areas, not just develop them. And above all, let's value the amazing spirit of the people of Deptford by developing a scheme with the community for the community; one that harnesses that spirit and enables it to thrive.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Convoys Wharf revised masterplan in the news

Convoys Wharf was the focus of several articles in local papers and the architectural press this week, after Hutchison Whampoa and Terry Farrell briefed the press on the new masterplan for the site, the planning application for which is due to be submitted shortly.

At the time of writing, the documents had not yet been made available, but we are assuming that the masterplan that will be submitted is the one that has been shown at previous public open days, which we wrote about on this blog. When the documents are available we will publish our own assessment.

Much of the coverage has been largely cut-and-pasting from the press release, which was presumably sent out by Hutchison Whampoa. 

However the architectural magazine Building Design was critical of the new masterplan, with the magazine's executive editor Ellis Woodman using his leader column to back up some of the issues raised by Deptford Is..   

"Since its closure as a site of industry in 2000, Convoys Wharf in Deptford has proved one of London’s most intractable development conundrums. Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners and Aedas have previously drawn up plans for the 16ha Thames-side site and now Terry Farrell’s office has submitted a third proposal. 

Sadly, it remains no less persuasive than its predecessors. 

The fundamental problem is the developers’ determination to create 3,500 new homes on a site 10km from the centre of London that lacks a tube stop. That is a particular problem given how few of this luxury riverside development’s 9,000 residents will be employed close to home. Deptford is, after all, one of the poorest wards in one of the poorest boroughs in London. 

Quite what the development gives back to the community is also hard to fathom. Once an area providing local employment, it is to be replaced by a dormitory village that lacks the transport network to support it. Instead, what’s needed is a development that recognises the obligations it owes the community."

The Evening Standard, whose architecture critic Kieran Long wrote insightfully about the project in 2011, went to the other extreme, focussing on Terry Farrell's quote that his masterplan was capable of turning Deptford into 'the Shoreditch of south London'. Deptford Is.. finds this concept hard to grasp, and questions the basis of such an assertion.

Leaving aside the question of whether local residents want to live in a 'new Shoreditch', the notion that building a high-density residential development in an area of deprivation will turn one place into another is out of touch with reality. Terry Farrell was supposedly brought in to re-imagine the masterplan and connect it with the site's heritage, using a 'ground-up' approach that respected the history of Deptford and used it to inform a revised proposal. Farrell also said that the development would attract a more affluent class of resident to Deptford. That much is clear, since the prices of apartments are likely to be well above the means of most people living here already, but there is little indication of how this will have a positive impact on Deptford.