Sunday 26 January 2014

Minister recognises the 'incredible importance' of the former Royal Dockyard

Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries, acknowledged Deptford's heritage and the role it could play in bringing 'significant benefits' for local economies and communities. His comment came in response to Joan Ruddock's statement on Wednesday.

Vaizey also confirmed that he expects English Heritage to report to him next month (February) on the listing application for other parts of the former Royal Dockyard. This report was originally not expected to be ready until later in the year, and concerns had been raised over whether it was appropriate for the mayor to make a decision on the planning application when such a major issue had not been resolved.

In Wednesday's exchange in the Commons, the minister made some very encouraging comments as regards the significance of the site and the immensely important role the heritage could play in the long-term success of the redevelopment.

"I have listened with interest to her (Joan Ruddock's) remarks on the historic importance of Convoys Wharf, and I certainly echo everything she said," Vaizey began.

"I am now in the position... of being fully apprised of this heritage jewel sitting at the heart of our great capital city. At a time when London is once again one of the pre-eminent cities in the world, it is worth our recalling that one of the reasons it is so successful is its rich history and heritage.

"It says in my brief that Convoys Wharf is of historic interest - well, that has to be the understatement of the century. It is incredibly important," he emphasised.

Vaizey was clear on the benefits heritage-led regeneration could bring to local people and businesses: "Focusing on heritage creates significant benefits for local economies and communities. It breathes new life into areas; it is essential to the economic and social revival of our towns and cities."

He also confirmed that the report on whether other parts of the site should be given additional protection was due very shortly - during the exchange making it clear that this would happen in February: "I expect English Heritage to report very soon on whether other parts of the site should be scheduled. I can give [Joan Ruddock] an undertaking this evening that I will consider the report the minute it arrives, and take a decision based on its recommendations in short order."

The minister's recognition of ongoing efforts by local residents and volunteers was unexpected, and appreciated; those involved know just how difficult it is to sustain such a campaign long-term while also trying to earn a living and have a social life. The time scale that the Mayor of London is attempting to impose on the decision-making process magnify this pressure significantly, even for the paid professionals who are involved.

Vaizey said: "I should also acknowledge the work of the volunteers and members of the local community who have brought their imagination and passion to bear in supporting the project. We should bear it in mind that they are supporting it not just for the benefit of their own community, but for the benefit for the whole of London and the whole nation."

His commitment to ensuring that the local community was properly involved was also encouraging: "Finally, let me put myself at the right hon. Lady’s disposal. If she needs me to convene a meeting with the developers, with the Greater London Association, or with anyone else whose views she believes are relevant, I stand ready to assist her in any way that she considers suitable."

Backed by the context of ongoing meetings between the GLA, Lewisham planners and representatives of Deptford Is.., the Lenox Project and Sayes Court Garden, we are cautiously encouraged by the minister's words, in particular his support of the community-led proposals.

Such comments suggest that the true significance of this historic site, and the relevance of the projects being proposed by locals, is slowly becoming apparent to a wider audience. We can only hope that the Mayor of London experiences a similar clarity of vision, and that his response will be driven by proper decision-making considerations rather than an attempt to meet a one-size-fits-all timescale.

Read the full exchange on Hansard via this link.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Deptford Dockyard and Sayes Court Garden discussed in Parliament

A press release from our local MP: watch the debate on BBC Parliament via Iplayer here.

Dame Joan Ruddock MP has challenged the government to recognise the unique heritage features of the site of Henry VIII’s naval shipyard, otherwise known as Convoys Wharf, Deptford, the subject of a multimillion pound planning application. 

Joan Ruddock said: ‘This development must be led by its heritage. Convoys Wharf with a foot print equivalent to the Southbank covers the site of Henry VIII’s naval shipyard established in 1513. Archaeological surveys have revealed extensive slipways, the great basin and dry dock, the remains of the Tudor storehouse and the foundations of the great diarist John Evelyn’s 17th Century manor house. 

‘This site is one of London’s best kept secrets and also one of its greatest opportunities.’ 

In an adjournment debate today Joan Ruddock told the minister: ‘We want to create a destination that both honours the past and creates a vision of the future that embraces the vibrant and dynamic community that is Deptford’. 

She said: ‘Two locally developed projects would fulfil that ambition and demand incorporation at this stage of the planning process. Sayes Court Garden would create a 21st century garden at the entrance to the development and an Urban Horticulture Centre. 

Building the Lenox would build a replica of the 17th century wooden warship in the grade II listed Olympia building which covers historic slipways.’ 

Sir Terry Farrell’s master plan for the site puts the Olympia at the heart of the development however the plan, while recognising the projects, fails to place them within their historic context. 

Current owners Hutchison Whampoa have asked the GLA to determine their outline planning application. In the debate tonight Joan Ruddock will be appealing to the heritage minister to back the local vision. 

Specifically she will ask the Minister to activate an emergency listing/scheduling procedure based on the available archaeology. This would ensure that Hutchison Whampoa and the GLA proceeded with the full knowledge of the heritage protections on the site and how this should influence design and construction decisions. 

‘Convoys Wharf sits alongside the Greenwich World Heritage site of the Royal Palaces, the National Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark. Hutchison Whampoa have a unique opportunity to create a development with heritage at its heart and for Deptford and its dockyards to once again become a jewel in London’s crown.’

Saturday 18 January 2014

Council recommends rejection of Convoys Wharf application

This week Lewisham Council's strategic planning committee recommended that the Mayor of London reject the outline planning application for Convoys Wharf in its current form.

The council is a statutory consultee in the planning process now that the Mayor of London has called in the application; with many years' experience of considering applications for the site, it's reasonable to conclude that Lewisham planners are also a major source of advice to the GLA about the application.

During this week's meeting, the committee considered - and agreed - a report by the council's planners recommending that the application in its current form should not be approved. The committee also made some amendments to the recommendations to further strengthen the case against certain aspects of the application, and added another clause about the handling of construction waste and material deliveries, and other potential nuisance from construction.

The report explains the site's planning history and in its recommendations, raises issues relating to the proposed scheme that in the council's opinion need further resolution before planning permission should be granted.

The committee was first addressed by local MP Dame Joan Ruddock, who highlighted many of the issues that were raised in the report; in common with many of the other presenters she noted that she had been responding to redevelopment proposals for this site for more than a decade, although the current application was only submitted in April 2013. Representatives of local groups such as the Lenox Project, Sayes Court Garden, Pepys Community Forum and other interested parties were allowed to speak, before the committee deliberated its decision.

The council's report details the responses to the initial application that were received (p23 onwards) including statutory consultees such as English Heritage, TFL and the Environment Agency, as well as local organisations such as the Pepys Community Forum, Greenwich Society, the Greenwich Conservation Group and other interested parties including London City Airport and the Port of London Authority.

The final section of the report (p44 onwards) sets out the main planning considerations and the council's position; many of these comments are then drawn through into the final recommendations. We have reported the main ones below, in the order they appear in the report.

Principle of redevelopment
The report is clear that the council supports the principle of the redevelopment, but raises questions about the development strategy for the site, and the interpretation and acknowledgement of the site's history in the masterplan. 'Certain aspects of the proposed development.. are considered unacceptable in their current form'. 

Safeguarded wharf
The lack of any proposed use for the safeguarded wharf (on the northern boundary of the site) introduces an uncertainty regarding is use, in particular given the proximity of public space and residential properties. The formal process of reducing the protected wharf area also needs clarification.

Employment space
The council wants a commitment to cultural uses (for example the range of projects set out in the Cultural Strategy) secured through the Section 106 agreement for the site; considers that uses across the site should be secured and the non-residential space and employment use be maximised. The report also highlights the Lenox Project as 'an important employment opportunity..with a clear link to the site's history' and recommends that the GLA should actively promote its incorporation into the site.

The lack of affordable housing that the development is offering was raised by many of the objectors, and discussed by councillors as a major issue. Although the application claims 15% of the units will be 'affordable', only 6-7% of these will be for social rent, and in fact one speaker pointed out that when assessed against Lewisham Council's definition of affordability, this falls to zero. The council report questions the robustness of the viability calculations the developer has used to assess what percentage of units should be affordable, and wants it to be reassessed. The committee also wanted a mechanism to allow periodic reassessments during the development period. The report also raises questions about whether the daylight/sunlight impact of the development has been properly assessed.

In a number of key locations, the layout fails to respond appropriately or in a meaningful way to the heritage assets on the site.

The setting of the Olympia Building does not reflect its importance to the site; the council wants the heights of the buildings which surround it to be reduced to a general height of ten storeys. In particular, the two buildings which frame the view from the Olympia Building to the river (P02 and P03) need amending to improve this visual connection. In addition the blocks next to the Master Shipwrights House should be reduced in height to respect this historic building; according to the report this request has already been made to the developer. Another area of concern is Sayes Court Garden and the site of John Evelyn's house, which are also not adequately reflected in the masterplan. The layout should be reassessed and a 'green link' between Sayes Court Garden and the site of the house should be established. The masterplan should also identify a dedicated space to allow for the construction of the Lenox.

Scale and massing
Acceptable building heights need to be fixed at this stage, and the council's report states that the proposed reduction in heights could be accommodated without reducing the overall quantum of development.

Transport, access and movement
The report questions the robustness of the transport assessment for the site, in particular the impact of the development on highway traffic, which it claims has been understated. The suggestion that the full investigation of this could be left until after the application is determined 'raises serious concerns'.

Social infrastructure
The section 106 agreement is planned to include provision of a primary school on the site, but the council also wants a contribution to secondary school provision for the borough. At the meeting the committee also requested that this recommendation be strengthened to cover other social infrastructure such as GP provision.

Environmental impact assessment
The report questions the adequacy of the applicant's Environmental Impact Assessment and whether it complies with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations. It warns that 'any permission could be at risk of legal challenge on such grounds'

The recommendations that the committee approved are on pages 66 and 67 of the report - amendments agreed at the meeting strengthen them further and an additional recommendation relating to a construction code of practice was added.

The official line from GLA officers is still that a decision is intended to be made in February.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Update on the GLA's consideration of Convoys Wharf planning application

With signs that a decision on the Convoys Wharf planning application may be made within the next two months, Deptford Is... hopes supporters can find the time to write to the Mayor of London with objections, and to spread the word about our petition. We also need people to write letters to the press and keep up the pressure on the Mayor to make the right decision for Deptford.

Community-led heritage schemes Sayes Court Garden and the Lenox Project have been working hard to try and ensure that the outcome does not eliminate any opportunities for our projects to be successfully incorporated.

December 2013

Just before Christmas, Joan Ruddock MP arranged a meeting with Deputy Mayor of London Sir Edward Lister and the GLA planners to present the case for the Lenox Project and Sayes Court Garden.

The two projects combined forces to lobby for a strong heritage focus at the centre of the site, advancing the idea that ship building would be the 'heart' and the garden the 'lungs' of Deptford's Royal Dockyard, and introducing a central cultural theme that the current masterplan completely lacks.

This involved the Lenox Project agreeing a compromise to push for its second preferred option for the siting of the ship's construction – in the Olympia Shed. The present application has no real vision for the Olympia Shed, and the developer has been adamantly against the use of Lenox's first choice, the Double Dry Dock where the original ship was built.

Using the Olympia Shed to build the Lenox would require the re-opening or reconstruction of the Great Basin in order to launch her, which would result in this space becoming a functioning marine space rather than the tiny shallow mirror pool presently proposed. Such an idea is supported in principle by English Heritage and would involve no alteration to current building layout.

Sayes Court Garden's proposals called for the archaeological remains of John Evelyn's Manor House, currently to be housed within a giant residential block, to stand alone in a new building which would become the John Evelyn Centre (for horticultural study) and be surrounded by gardens. This would become part of a sweep of open space joining the Olympia Shed with what remains of Sayes Court Garden outside the site. This proposal would involve changes to the proposed residential block and for the school to be relocated elsewhere within the site.

Both projects were encouraged by Sir Edward Lister's responses and felt the meeting had been positive. It also seemed as though the planners would be taking their time to arrive at a satisfactory decision and not rushing to fulfil the Mayor's promise to decide on the application before the end of February 2014.

January 2014

Post Christmas, we have learned from Lewisham planners that the GLA seem now to only really be seeking changes to the masterplan that are possible within the original deadline of February, and none of these address the specific requests made by the projects. In fact, quite the contrary.

Instead, GLA planners are asking Hutchison Whampoa to consider moving the proposed primary school (P17) into block P16, to integrate it more into the site as a whole. It would then function as a community space along the lines of the Deptford Lounge, to be shared with the community outside of school hours.

However, the land vacated by the school is not to be given to Sayes Court Garden but instead remain the property of the school and, like the school, only made available for community use outside of school hours.

The Sayes Court Garden team is encouraged that the GLA has asked HW to make revisions to this part of the masterplan, but this needs to be more thoroughly examined, with the full involvement and consultation of the project and its partners, in order that it can realise its full potential.

As they stand, the proposals would make it impossible for Sayes Court Garden to achieve its full potential, particularly in terms of eduation, involvement of national partners and tourism.

With regard to the Lenox Project, it would appear that the GLA planners are giving credence to claims by HW that the slipways under the Olympia structure are not capable of bearing the load of the Lenox under construction. This assumption has not been substantiated by a structural or geotechnical engineer, independent or otherwise.

In addition, HW claims that the reinstatement of the basin poses a 'high archaeological risk'. Although the GLA has asked HW to investigate whether this can be resolved, it seems that the planners are ready to discount this option without imposing sufficiently rigorous scrutiny or commissioning any kind of independent assessment of the claims.

English Heritage supports in principle the idea of using the Olympia Shed and the Great Basin for construction of the Lenox; such support demonstrates it is worth conducting a full survey and we would not be able to accept HW's claims unless this had been done.

Worst of all, the planners have asked HW to produce a new assessment of how the Lenox could be constructed on the protected wharf. This is highly disappointing news since Sir Edward Lister had stated at the pre-Christmas meeting that any decisions about the protected wharf would take "considerably longer than determination of the rest of the site, quite possibly years". The Lenox Project has argued many times that the protected wharf is totally unworkable, not least because HW intends to use it during construction, and the project would not be viable in this location.

Read the Lenox Project's response to this disappointing news on the website.