Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Stable pizza coming to Deptford

As the final completion of the Deptford Project carriage ramp drags on, slowed down by Bower Contracting going bust and the carriage ramp planters and paving having to be dug up to address problems with leaks in the new shop units, there's at least some indication that it's going to be worth the wait when it does come.

West Country-based pizza chain The Stable is set to open a restaurant in the new unit at the back of St Paul's House and I am not going to hide the fact that I'm bloody delighted.

I used to love the Big Red pizzas and was gutted when Deptford's only pizza place went down the pan last year. There's a new restaurant there now - Wanderlust - which has a rather different food offering and adds to the choices available in Deptford but I've been missing having somewhere close-at-hand for a regular pizza binge.

The Yellow House in Surrey Quays serves delicious (and humongous) pizzas but it's not quite close enough for a weekly trip and in any case I always behave like such a glutton when I'm there that I have to limit my visits; the refurbished Black Horse pub has good quality pizzas courtesy of Sourdough Saloon but I have a massive issue with the fact that they are served in takeaway boxes, making it a very wasteful option (and it's a shame because the pub's beer is consistently good); there's pizzas available in New Cross at both the Rose and the New Cross House (be warned - at the latter you'll be expected to order pizzas with names like Don't Go Bacon My Heart); and there are several options in Greenwich ranging from long-time staples Pizza Express through the mini-chain Bianco43 to the downright bizarre 'museum pub' the Prince of Greenwich.

I don't mind admitting I've tried them all (except the Rose - no particular reason, probably need to address that in the immediate future!) and while there are some good options, there's always room for another pizza restaurant, especially one that's practically on my doorstep!

So what can we expect from The Stable when it opens?

According to their website, they don't have a standard menu, each restaurant has its own variation 'depending on ingredients available locally' but it's mostly built around pizzas (including vegan and gluten-free options), pies and salads. There's not much you can't get within a short distance from here so it will be interesting to see what options they are offering. Being from the West Country they are also big on cider; hopefully not to the exclusion of other traditional English brews....

They already have a restaurant in Whitechapel, where pizzas range from £8.50 to £13.50 but they do a special £10 meal on Tuesday nights, and you can have a pie for under a tenner too. Many of the ingredients on their Whitechapel menu seem to come from Dorset in any case, so I suspect we'll be getting a very similar offering.

My mouth is watering at the idea of curried goat pie, and pizzas featuring crab and smoked mackerel pizza. I suspect I'll be a mass of indecision on my first visit.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The river Ravensbourne in Brookmill Park

I came across this short film by Elly Hazael (@ehazael) yesterday, and loved it.

The quiet, slow movements and lives of the birds and the gently flowing water of the Ravensbourne as it drifts through Brookmill Park are set against the backdrop of the rattle of the DLR, passing lorries and the detritus of an urban river. It's magical and soothing, with its soundtrack of birdsong and water rippling over stones.

It always fascinates me to see how these shy birds carry on with their lives tucked among such densely-populated parts of the city.

The cycle route between Deptford and Lewisham is shunned by many as it winds back and forth through the park and there's a much quicker, direct route on the road, but for me the chance to catch a glimpse into this kind of gentle scene always outweighs the need to get there quicker.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Deptford Cinema needs your help

The community-run Deptford Cinema (Lewisham borough's only cinema and one run entirely by volunteers) is petitioning Lewisham Council to reconsider its demand that full business rates should be paid on the property in Deptford Broadway.

The petition sets out a long and pretty woeful tale of confusion, misinformation and downright obstruction by the council's business rates department.

The cinema is incorporated as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, yet the council is applying standard business rates bill to it.

The petition explains:
Over the last 6-9 months, we have been in constant communication with Lewisham Council to alleviate this problem via the proper channels of relief, whether it be small business relief or hardship relief, both of which we believe to apply to us. Lewisham Council disagrees. Lewisham Council advised us to become a charity to automatically get the 80% rates relief applicable to charities. 

This wasn't immediately undertaken due to various factors, such as the ongoing relief applications, third-party advice that CIC was the correct form for the organisation and support from Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, whom, over this period, has twice stepped in to support the cinema - by putting a 6 month hold on Deptford Cinema's rates status. 

When all our relief applications had failed, with no solid explanation why, and apparently, with no appeal process available, converting to a charity became our only option, one that would reduce future rates by 80% but would not solve the unfair and unpayable historical bill. 

Then we received a letter, the best letter we could hope for, from the Business Rates Manager at Lewisham Council. If we converted to a charity, the council would retroactively apply the statutory 80% charity relief to our existing account. 

With volunteers now spending their time working towards the organisation becoming a charity; Lewisham Council then told us over the phone that the letter was a mistake and they would not be honouring this promise. 

Back to square one... But worse: the Council wants Deptford Cinema to pay the outstanding business rates (£5,400) over three months and the rates for 2016/2017 in one payment (£6,897). Both of which will bankrupt and destroy a community asset.

Three volunteers therefore arranged a meeting with the head of business rates of Lewisham Council. We took our extensive business plan, showing the continued growth and sustainability of a young local project which is still not finished, and two proposals for payment: 

  • In light of the letter promising 80% relief, would it be possible to have 50% relief? It will still stifle the growth of the project, but it could be manageable...
  • ..if not, instead of a reduction and instead of three instalments, could we extend over a longer period such as 32 months. 

First, just so you know, there weren't enough seats at the meeting, so one of our volunteers, a 61 year-old retiree had to kneel for the duration of the meeting with the council, with no offer to fetch him a chair from elsewhere. Second, no interest was taken in the materials we'd brought to the meeting and both of our suggested proposals were rejected. Third, that letter I mentioned with the promise of 80% relief, the council tried to keep hold of it at the meeting. 

At no point have we tried to avoid paying our rates. Instead, we've tried to work with the Council to solve the problem and ask them to recognise Deptford Cinema for what it is, a charity in all but legal status. We are now faced with a deadline for payment, after which the Council will send round the bailiffs and destroy a project run by the community in Lewisham, for the community in Lewisham. 

It's a pretty embarrassing story for the council and it sounds as if launching a petition is the last thing that Deptford Cinema wants to do, but the council has left them stuck between a rock and a hard place. So much for supporting creativity and the arts in Deptford.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

(More) Traffic chaos ahoy for Deptford and surrounds

It seems that the lifting bridge on Creek Road is in need of 'urgent repairs' and Greenwich Council has said it will be closed for three days from 31 May.

That's not going to be welcome news for those who already spent most of this evening stuck in the SE London gridlock or waiting for buses that never showed up.

Not three overnights, or a series of short weekend closures, but three full days. In the week. With lane restrictions currently in place on Deptford Church Street, Edward St still closed to traffic in one direction and the general fuckwittery of Deptford High Street a given, it does seem as if drivers and bus passengers are looking at a week of supreme inconvenience.

The bridge had to be shut without notice last September due to problems with the locking mechanism that connects the two bridge decks when they are lowered, and the closure caused chaos for travellers in the area. The eastbound bus lane is currently coned off, restricting the traffic loading on the north side of the bridge.

Either the problem wasn't fixed properly last year or there's something else wrong - and it does lead to the question of whether the Royal Borough is investing sufficient maintenance funding in looking after this vital piece of infrastructure.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

More coffee coming to Deptford

If they were betting shops we'd be petitioning the council about clustering. But they are coffee shops and we're set to get even more, so prepare for hyper-caffeination Deptford!

Contrary to rumours that have been circulating for some time, Deptford's obligatory station coffee shop is not going to be a Costa after all, but small south-east London chain Mouse Tail that is branching out south east from uber-hip Borough High Street and Whitechapel to take up residence here.

From south to north I count the following among those doing 'proper' coffee:
- Vinyl (ok not quite on the high street but almost)
- London Velo
- The Amber Tree (not really in the same league coffee wise)
- The Waiting Room
- Deli X

There's also cafes in the Deptford Lounge and the Albany, you can swing round to the Greenhouse at the top of Watson St for an excellent brew, and don't forget the Dungarees coffee van on market days. But it seems we just can't get enough...

Tuesday, 3 May 2016


A couple of months back developer Anthology, which is building 'Deptford Foundry' on Arklow Road, launched a rather cringeworthy campaign under the hashtag #deptfordnotdalston.

The marketing blurb urged Twitter users to 'join in the conversation and tell us why you think Deptford is causing other newly established areas to quake in their boots, dripping with talent, creatives and authenticity, what’s not to love. Share your thoughts and ideas with us through our social media channels and let’s get this south east postcode trending.'

Anthology's project director Ben Allen kicked off the debate with his top five, which I've included below: I can't argue with the first four (even though I'd say the Amersham is more New Cross than Deptford and I still shudder to recall their dreadful toilets) but had to laugh at the blatant estate agent marketeering of the fifth.

1. The Waiting Room: A vegetarian and vegan cafĂ© with excellent coffee and a ‘free library’ where you can re-home one of the multitude of books as long as you promise to donate another book on your next visit 

2. Wunderlust: A new venture near Deptford Creek from street food experts Fleisch Mob who has opened an Austrian fusion restaurant with some really interesting food 

3. Amersham Arms: A really good club/pub which hosts a range of artists from international DJs to the best comedians on the circuit 

4. Art Hub: Interesting gallery on Creekside that hosts the best work from local artists 

5. Great location with new and improved transport links with affordability of property 

I suspect Anthology have got something of an uphill struggle selling this development, sandwiched as it is on a triangle of land between two railway lines and sufficiently far from Greenwich that there's no way they can claim to be anywhere near the royal borough.

The fact that they are putting a lot of effort into making Deptford as hip as they can (they were behind the heavily-promoted 'win a weekend in Deptford' competition in the Evening Standard) bears this out.

So I imagine there will be a few bollockings handed out in WC2 this week after a dozen or so signs went up along the route from Deptford station to Anthology's 'Deptford Foundry' marketing suite, which is set to launch this month.

Every single one of the signs has Deptford spelled incorrectly - and as if misspelling your adoptive town isn't bad enough, the irony is that it has been renamed Debtford by the unfortunate, illiterate sign writers.

Clearly no-one bothered to check them either.

Longer-term blow-ins may remember that in 2011 as part of the Deptford X festival, artist Adam Vass created a new pub sign for the Birds Nest which featured the coat of arms of 'Debtford' above the golden balls of the pawnbroker's symbol. Crosswhatfields included a photo of it in this post 

Maybe Anthology could claim the gaffe was deliberate, tapping in to the Deptford Zeitgeist in their inimitable fashion? After all 'we wholeheartedly believe that Deptford is indeed a cut above the rest' as they say on their #DeptfordnotDalston blog post.

Update: credit where it's due, they did manage to sort it incredibly quickly, so much so that I thought this morning maybe it was all just a bad dream...?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

New hotel for Deptford High St

wrote about the 'public consultation' on plans to build a new hotel next to Deptford Station last year. At the time it was simply a flyer and a couple of renderings, but now that a planning application has been submitted, I have been spending some time looking at the proposals in detail. If approved, the new hotel will frame the newly-created Deptford Project/Market Yard and the entrance to Deptford Station, so it seems salient to consider it a time when the public realm is finally about to come into use.

The application is for the demolition of the existing building which contains a number of flats and two shop units, along with a church hall at the rear, and replace it with a six storey hotel block of 70 bedrooms, including a new church hall (the freehold of the land belongs to the church next door). 

In the picture above, you can see the block of flats to be demolished on the left, the church roof in the background right in the middle of the picture, and the church hall in the foreground. New flower beds have been built along the existing wall and trees planted in the public space - from a distance (peeking through the hoardings) it's looking like the work done as part of the Deptford Project development will create the high quality finish they promised, at least as far as the paving is concerned. 

When occupants move in to the arches under the former carriage ramp, not to mention the restaurants that are promised for the main building and the back of St Paul's House and the 'artisan' market that is planned, the new public realm could be quite attractive.

It's a shame then that the proposed hotel will contribute nothing to this new streetscape.

The front of the hotel will dominate the existing parade of buildings and will overshadow the church - this rendering which is used on the front of the design & access statement is somewhat misleading. The viewpoint seems to be approximately floor level in front of the bar at the Job Centre, no doubt specifically chosen as being the only angle from which the top floors are not visible.

The proposal is to replace the building with a 70-bed hotel and a new church hall; six of these hotel rooms will be in the basement with no natural light at all, to enable the church hall to occupy the rear half of the ground floor, sandwiched between the hotel reception and the bin store. 

The only relationship that the building would have to the public realm around it would be a floor to ceiling glass facade at the ground floor on Deptford High Street. It would have no active frontage to the new forecourt leading into Deptford station, and its only relationship to the market yard at the rear would be when the lorry turned up to empty the bins. 

If approved, this would be a massive missed opportunity to continue the work that has been put into creating a pleasant environment alongside the refurbished carriage ramp. 

I commented previously on my utter disbelief that there was any need or business case for a 'boutique' hotel on Deptford High Street - especially given the large number of hotel rooms available within half a mile of Deptford Station.

Perhaps it would be wise to consider a similar case just a stone's throw away - the former Walpole pub on New Cross Road. A planning application to tear down this pub, which had some rather lovely interior tiling and other historical features, and replace it with a 60-bed hotel with a swimming pool was approved in 2010.

Nothing happened for several years until January 2013 when the pub suddenly closed and the owners announced that it was 'unsafe' and had to be demolished immediately. 

Shortly afterwards a change to the original application was granted permission; this would have seen the proposed swimming pool ditched and six more hotel rooms added.

By September 2013 the site owner had changed tack again, and began discussions with the council over a new planning application for an 81-bed student hall. But the proposed density was considered too high, and there were concerns over space standards in the design, so when the planning application was eventually submitted in 2014, and the application approved, it was for a 58-bed student accommodation block.

That wasn't the end of the story, however - it was third time lucky when the developer decided to go for another planning application, this time for an 87-bed 'specialist' student accommodation block. 

In this case 'specialist' means a mix of studio apartments and 'clusters'. Some of them the type of units that could quite easily be converted for private ownership perhaps? You would have to overlook the fact that there are no set standards for student accommodation, so some of the rooms might be a little pokey. But hey, there's a housing crisis on...

The application for this development, which represented a significantly increased density and higher buildings, was approved last summer. 

Almost a year from the latest approval, and three years since the pub was knocked down, the unsightly gap in the New Cross Road facade persists.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Hope Wharf redevelopment plans

Hot on the heels of the Sun Wharf proposals comes another housing development on the side of Deptford Creek - in Greenwich this time. The land is currently leased by Bookers, whose discount cash and carry warehouse has been there for longer than I care to remember. But the new rules are; where there is water there must be waterside apartments. so it's time to sweep away the useful things like businesses that are part of the local supply chain and that provide employment to local residents, and replace them with more blocks of flats.

The site is largely hidden from view unless you are on a boat on the creek or visiting Lewisham & Southwark College - it nestles alongside Mumfords Mill and is hidden from the road by that fuggly red and black block of flats on Greenwich High Road.

There's not a great deal of detail about the proposals at this stage, except that they intend to build four blocks on the site, to house 122 units, a mix of 1, 2 and 3 bed apartments including affordable housing for shared ownership and affordable rent.

The towers, from about four storeys to the tallest which looks to be about 14 storeys, step up away from Mumfords Mill, which at least gives this historical landmark a bit of breathing space.

A lot of weight is given to the landscaping along the Creek in the publicity guff. Great that there will be a 'garden walk' for the public to enjoy, if they can be arsed to walk all the way through the development to enjoy a few hundred yards of public access. I'm not knocking the concept, but I suspect it will see little use by the general public given the lack of continuity along the Greenwich side of the water. 

Or how about some moorings along the waterside to encourage visitors by boat to enjoy it? No, thought not. 

Exhibition boards are here
Website is here

Monday, 21 March 2016

Copperas Street shenanigans - more council-owned land sales, planning appeals and other tall storeys

This week, Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock and his nine-member cabinet will consider a report from the executive director for resources & regeneration which recommends selling off more council-owned land in Deptford to developers.

If the cabinet agrees to this recommendation in its meeting on Wednesday, the disused depot on Copperas Street will be disposed of to developer Kitewood in exchange for some of the new apartments that Kitewood will build on the site.

The five-page document which recommends this move gives a brief summary of the deal that council officers are proposing; full details of costs and the terms of the agreement are contained in the second part of the report which the cabinet will consider in a closed session at the same meeting.

Council officers have been busy negotiating behind closed doors, it seems, what with this deal and the one for Tidemill representing two significant land sell-offs in Deptford alone. As far as the Tidemill site goes, the agreement was built around an exchange of land for new school/library development at the Lounge, and affordable/social housing on the Tidemill site, the application for which is currently under discussion.
From left along the banks of Deptford Creek: the Laban Centre (1), Thanet Wharf (2) (already owned by Kitewood), Copperas St depot (3) and Greenwich Creekside East (in Greenwich borough, already granted planning permission). The existing Creekside Village East is shown on the north side of Copperas St.
On Copperas St the agreement seems to be that the council will buy the adjacent land (which Kitewood effectively owns) for a nominal sum, then lease both parcels of land back to Kitewood for 999 years, and in return will receive 'a number' of units which the council would then lease on the open market, to generate income.

There are no details as to how many units Kitewood intends to build on the land, or how many the council would receive - whether this information is contained in the secret documents is anybody's guess, I assume at this stage with no planning application submitted, it has to be set out in percentages or something.

Unfortunately if the units the council is set to gain to lease out for its own income stream are calculated as a percentage of the total number of units built on the site, it would presumably be in the council's interest to ensure that as many units as possible are shoe-horned onto this waterside plot.

That would not trouble Kitewood too much, considering that it has already submitted a planning application (in the guise of Creekside Village Developments Ltd, a company which shares directors with Kitewood and which is currently dormant) to construct two blocks of flats on the land it already owns at Thanet Wharf - a mere tiddler of just ten storeys next door to a big daddy of 24 storeys which leers over the creek.

It's reassuring to see that not all developers want to dress their schemes up in the wolf's clothing of caring and sharing mixed tenure; the low-rise block with the view across the sterile wasteland of Creekside Village's public realm is reserved for the 'affordable' housing while apartments in the block with the Creek views and rooftop garden will be sold on the private market. Not so much a poor door as a poor block (although I realise in the context of the 'affordable' tag they will hardly be within reach of the average citizen).

Rendering of the 24 storey and ten storey blocks proposed for Creekside Village East (back left) with the outlines of the ten and 21 storey blocks already approved for Greenwich Creekside East shown in red. Viewed from a particularly helpful angle that makes the tower with permission look taller than the one in the application.

The density and scale is similar to the scheme already approved for the parcel of land just over the border in Greenwich, which I wrote about some time ago; if it is passed as proposed, then before long Copperas St will start to exhibit some of the worst aspects of the Isle of Dogs sprawl.

Walking through the existing buildings of 'Creekside Village' is already a difficult task when it's windy - add a few more towers to that and any poor soul trying to negotiate the buildings at ground level will be buffeted from one end of the street to the other without mercy.

The two proposed towers on Thanet Wharf with the Laban Centre on the right. 
This tower is big! It's more than 90m tall and even has space for trees on the top!

This planning application has not yet been approved, and with the chance to snap up the council's land in the offing, and discussions also under way to subsume the Laban Centre's car park into the development, in exchange for new facilities for the Laban Centre, it would make sense for Creekside Village Developments Ltd/Kitewood to wait until the negotiations conclude before progressing with its plans.

But this developer isn't taking any chances, and has already gone to appeal over non-determination of its planning application. The case that CVDL puts to the planning inspectorate is that Lewisham Council has been too slow in determining the case, even though the developer accepts that the appeal should be put in abeyance pending the outcome of the land negotiations.

CVDL has suggested that a date for a public inquiry be set for this summer, to allow time for negotiations to be concluded, a new planning application submitted, and presumably the planning department to reach a favourable outcome for the revised scheme.

I can't help thinking that it is a particularly cynical stance for a potential partner to take, rather like someone you are about to get into bed with making an appointment for the following day at the police station, just in case you sexually assault them. If I was to be charitable I would suggest that they were just taking sensible steps to protect their own interests, but unfortunately the particular language and style of the appeal documents (which are posted with the planning application here) do lend them a somewhat menacing tone which makes me very uneasy.

Update: This item was subsequently withdrawn from the meeting agenda.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Sun Wharf proposals

Proposals for the development of Sun Wharf were presented a couple of weeks ago at public events in Deptford. This is the site on Creekside that's currently occupied by a huge warehouse rented by Jones Hire, and the former VW garage; it is being proposed for 268 new homes, 'many of which will be delivered as affordable housing' according to the exhibition. No definition of 'many' either as a percentage or actual numbers was offered, so I don't recommend you read too much into that.

It's difficult to tell from the image above, the angle of which has as usual been chosen to minimise the visual impact of the buildings, but the tower in the front right corner of the site is being proposed as 16 storeys, with the other residential blocks seven or eight storeys high. By contrast, the adjacent blocks on Crossfields estate are five storeys maximum. The picture below gives a more honest impression, but no renderings of the impact at ground level have been provided. (You can click on the pictures to see bigger versions).

The plans that were on show also encompass the site currently occupied by Cockpit Arts; having assumed that it was only leased to them I was rather surprised to learn that Cockpit Arts owns the building and is selling up in exchange for a new home on the redeveloped site. 

I assume they will benefit in more ways than just getting a purpose-built home, but there is quite a lot of local concern about what will happen with the Love Over Gold mural that's on the side of the existing building, and which the developers don't seem to have given any thought to as yet.

Personally I'm rather fond of the existing building; aside from its pleasing proportions and plain facade, it has huge windows which must provide invaluable natural light for the occupants, and its position on Creekside makes it prominent and easily accessible.

Developer Bellway is proposing that Cockpit be relocated to a building in middle of the site, next to the railway viaduct. In the renderings it looks quite impressive, but let's not forget that this view is from the middle of the Creek, which is unlikely to be the position of observers. And if you look at the rendering of the proposals for the whole site, which is the first image in this post, you will see that the  Cockpit building is entirely hemmed in much higher blocks (their tops carefully cropped off the image above). 

Bellway has also ambitiously annexed the arches under the railway line as part of its plans. You've got to admire their cheek. I know that Network Rail tends to have a rather unsophisticated and unimaginative approach to use of its railway arches, with good design pretty low in its priorities when fitting them out for rental, but by the same token, they do seem to be quite protective of their domain. The developer admits that its plans to open up the arches for use and to provide improved access are as yet just pipe dreams, we will see how that progresses. 

The image above demonstrates the improved access to the site that will be provided if the arches are opened up - something that would be a welcome benefit to any redevelopment here as long as it is not gated. Creekside access, which the council has tried to ensure is built into all the redevelopments along this side of the water, should provide new public realm and walkways, and new views along the  Creek.

However the proposals shown at the exhibition were just for residential, commercial space and 'affordable' artists studios (presumably 'affordable' by the same definition as used for housing?), with no permanent employment space on offer. The loss of Jones Hire is going to be a real blow for the area, and I see nothing here to replace it. If Cockpit Arts sells up and allows itself to be absorbed into the development, lets hope it does not find itself at the mercy of the developer in future, with escalating maintenance charges that it has no control over, and the consequent financial impact on its tenants.