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 http://www.fairviewhopewharf.co.uk/exhibitions.pdf
Website is here http://www.fairviewhopewharf.co.uk/index.html

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.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Tidemill School redevelopment - the numbers don't stack up.

Updated 11 March 2016 with the council's response, see the end of the post. 

Plans for a housing scheme on the site of the former Tidemill School on Frankham Street have been some time coming - it's now ten years since the Deptford regeneration master plan was first drawn up - and the scheme has already been through a series of changes to reach its current incarnation. The Frankham Street development is one of two in the council's romantically-monikered Deptford Southern Housing Sites Project, the other being the former Deptford Green School site on Amersham Vale.

But while this council-owned land was earmarked for mixed tenure development - incorporating private, shared ownership and social rented residential units - the opportunities for it to address the desperate housing need in Lewisham are now threatened by the developer's 'viability' assessment of the site. 

At a committee meeting last July, Lewisham's Mayor & Cabinet agreed to the appropriation of the Tidemill School land for residential development, but the number of social rented and shared ownership housing units that they were expecting to gain from the development has already been undermined by the developer's 'need' to make a 20% profit from the site.

The report which was put to the committee last July claimed that the development would provide 204 new homes, including 53 for social rent, 25 for shared ownership and 126 for sale.

The same report includes details of the Amersham Vale site, which claimed 117 new homes, including 24 for social rent; 15 for shared ownership and 78 for sale.

But take a look at the planning applications and you'll see that this is a far cry from what the developer is actually applying for.

Just six months on from the council signing off the decision to let the site be appropriated, the developer (Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes) not only proposes to up the number of residential units on the Tidemill site, but also to decimate the provision of social/shared ownership homes.

The total number of residential units proposed for the site is UP from 204 to 210.

But social rented is slashed from 53 to 26.
Shared ownership units slashed from 25 to just 8.

Cutting down on these troublesome 'affordable' units clears the way for an extra 50 private units, taking the figures from 126 up to 176. Trebles all round!

The same report includes figures for the Amersham Vale site, which the council suggests will provide 117 new homes - 24 for social rent, 15 shared ownership and 78 for sale. Again, in the developer's planning application the total number has gone up to 120, but the number of social rented units has  been slashed from 24 to just 14, and shared ownership from 15 to 5.

In the case of Tidemill, the developer's viability report claims that even this pitiful level of provision makes the site 'unviable' (i.e. unable to generate the required minimum of 20% profit) but they have 'agreed' to provide these units since the council wants them. How kind.

How can the numbers be so different in just six months? I don't know how the council came to its original tenure mix, but the developer of course has provided a confidential 'viability' report as part of its planning application.

Such viability reports are increasingly controversial, since they are often used to 'prove' that a site is unable to sustain the level of 'affordable' housing that the local authority demands. Last year Greenwich Council was ordered to publish the viability report relating to the Greenwich Peninsula redevelopment. In this case the report had been used to eliminate all 'affordable' housing on the development - Tidemill's developers may be mindful of this judgement in their kind offer to provide a few units as requested by the council.

Plans originally encompassed the two blocks of council houses on Giffin Street, but now instead incorporate a smaller block on Reginald Road. It's not entirely clear why this has changed, although given the pitiful mix of tenure that the proposed development is intending to offer, perhaps the council was afraid of being left with homeless tenants on its hands?

Or maybe they haven't noticed? A report to Lewisham's Housing Select Committee tabled for next week is still quoting the old figures.

This change in the figures for proposed tenure mix over just a few months also invites the question of accountability. The mayor & cabinet made a decision based on figures that might just as well have been conjured out of thin air - but the decision on the planning application will be made by the strategic planning committee. Presumably councillors Damien Egan and Kevin Bonavia, who are members of both, will be asking difficult questions about the numbers when it comes to committee...

Essentially the site, which covers the area bounded by Frankham Street, Reginald Road and New Butt Lane, and also swallows up Frankham St car park (as opposed to the Frankham St parking boulevard) involves the demolition of two buildings, the construction of several new ones, the extension both sideways and upwards of the former Tidemill School, and the obliteration of the former school garden, now known as the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

The potential loss of the latter in particular has sparked a healthy protest and an online petition, and I can understand why people would want to preserve this green space so close to the high street. It has been cared for by a group of volunteers for the last couple of years and is open for public access, courses and other events on a regular basis.

The proposal includes funding to provide what is called a 'pocket park' - a term I find immensely depressing. For me it conjures up a vision of a couple of square metres of grass with some dog turds and a rusty bench, cast into shadow by the surrounding buildings for 90% of the day. 

The pocket park proposed by the Tidemill development is in fact just a pimping of the corner plot that acts as a buffer between the flats in Frankham House and the thundering juggernauts of Deptford Church Street. The suggestion that anyone would want to sit here and take in views of the traffic queuing for the junction with the A2 is laughable. The planting might be an improvement but they could probably save a bit of money on benches.

There is also a public space in the development, and a number of new routes will be opened up through the land, but other parts of the site have communal gardens that are reserved for residents only.

Neighbours across the street in Reginald Road, and in Frankham House will have to suffer higher blocks in close proximity, and the density across the site is pretty high.

The old school building is to be retained, but with the caretaker's building at the east side of it demolished, and new extensions added upwards and eastwards. The council block on Reginald Road will be demolished and tenants rehoused on the new site. 

For a detailed assessment of the planning application I recommend the recent post on Crosswhatfields blog, which highlights many of the issues that the proposals raise, as well as the potential impact on the wider area.

Full planning documents are here

Lewisham Council has sent a statement in response to this post, I have reproduced it in full below: 

"The proposed development of the old Tidemill school and Reginald Road is part of our wider approach to the regeneration of Deptford, towards which we have been working for around 10 years. 

The Council is working with developers Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes to deliver these two sites, known collectively as Deptford Southern Housing. 

The Council has already made significant investment to improve local services as part of a strategic approach to Deptford’s regeneration. This has included building the new Tidemill primary school and Deptford Lounge, improvements to Wavelengths and the Frankham Street parking boulevard. 

This up-front investment needs to be funded, in part at least, through land sales from subsequent phases of the wider regeneration programme, including those now proposed in the Deptford Southern Housing project. 

The planning submission from the developer for Deptford Southern Housing is, as legally required by planning policies, based on a financial viability assessment that takes into account (amongst other things) the market value of the land and the number of affordable housing units that can be accommodated by the developer on the payment of that market value. 

When the Council owns the land, as in this case, it can choose, quite separate from the planning process, to negotiate the sale of the land and the volume of affordable housing beyond what is required as part of the planning application. 

We are pleased to report that, using this flexibility, we have reached a legally-binding development agreement with Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes that will deliver significantly more affordable homes than that set out in the planning viability assessment. As a result, the proposed development of the old Tidemill school and Reginald Road will provide 37% affordable housing – the target level that was reported to Mayor and Cabinet in July 2015. 

In total there will be 210 much-needed new homes, including 53 for social rent and 25 for shared ownership. The new development will also include provision of a range of amenity spaces – private, communal and public – including a central green square. 

The proposed development at Amersham Grove will provide 120 new homes, including 24 for social rent and 15 for shared ownership. In addition, the developers are building out the new Charlottenburg Park, which already has planning permission. 

The proposals for each scheme are subject to planning approval that will take into account the normal planning considerations including the scheme viability assessment described above. Planning applications for each were submitted in January 2016 and a formal period of consultation closed on 2 March. The application will now be considered by the Council’s strategic planning committee – the date of this meeting has yet to be set."

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Consultation for Sun Wharf on Creekside

Proposals for the redevelopment of Sun Wharf on Creekside are going on show next week at the Creekside Centre and the Laban Centre. 

As Crosswhatfields reports, this is much earlier than was predicted, with the main occupier of the site, Jones Hire holding a lease until 2022. Maybe they were given an offer they could not refuse, to vacate the site early and make way for the redevelopment.  

The site also encompasses the Deptford home of Cockpit Arts, which according to the flyer, will be relocated into a 'purpose-built facility. Given the density of development that's shown on the flyer, it could be difficult to replicate the conditions they currently enjoy, in particular in terms of natural light.

And Crosswhatfields also asks what is going to happen to the Love Over Gold mural which decorates the wall that faces onto Creekside? 

All good questions which you can put to the developers at the Creekside Centre on Wed 24th Feb from 3.30pm to 7.30pm and at the Laban Centre on Sat 27th Feb from 11.30am to 3pm.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Smashfest UK is back!

After its successful debut last year, Smashfest UK is back in Deptford from 18-20 February. A free festival for all ages, it features comedy shows, music, film, experiments and theatre, it is intended to encourage exploration of science, technology, engineering and maths through art and design.

The festival is created around a compelling story; a massive solar storm is forecast which wipes out electrical and electronic infrastructure, throwing the world back to the mechanical age: how will we cope without our phones, tablets and social media? How will we survive as our networks, power, transport, medical and supply chains collapse?

Last year's event involved a biohazard spillage
Taking over the entire Albany theatre, including the performance spaces, cafe and garden, the programme includes a human power station, a geodesic dome full of giant ‘Maths’, comedians, poets and astronomers, human-sized mutant fruit flies, a premier of a new play written for the festival, the interactive Solar Storm Survival Unit, a variety show, electric paint, an Aardman animator, survival village building & survival skills, a pilot virtual reality experience and a Mutant Generation Unit. 

There will also be events running all week at the Deptford Lounge library, including the Smashfest UK planetarium, the Mechanical Mobile Phone Exoskeleton, a code-club, a solar exhibition, an artist's residency and a film programme, all themed around the imminent solar storm.

Over the next decade, the UK is heading for a shortfall of more than 50,000 workers for the science, technology, engineering and maths  sector, but only 15% of students aspire to science careers. In boroughs like Lewisham, the school population comprises almost 75% black and minority ethnic students, yet black students identify even less strongly with science as a career aspiration because of its overwhelmingly white, male, middle class image of science, and the multiple inequalities they face growing up, according to recent studies.

Recent research carried out by the National Science Foundation in their Art of Science Learning project demonstrates that art-based learning of STEM works, and works beyond expectation. Harvey Seifter, head of the NSF funded project and founder of the Art of Science Learning firm says "We found a strong causal relationship between arts-based learning and improved creativity skills and innovation outcomes in adolescents, and between arts-based learning and increased collaborative behavior in adults".

Dr Lindsay Keith, festival director & CEO of Refinery TV said: “Science festivals in the UK tend to cater to people who are already engaged with science, and an audience that tends to be ‘non-diverse’. So we thought – ‘why not bring a festival to the young people of Lewisham?’ “You won’t find lectures or debates at Smashfest UK – we’re about mass entertainment, bums on seats and science by stealth! If it’s not fun, it’s not in the schedule – simple as that.”

Find out more at http://smashfestuk.com

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Folkestone Gardens and Quietway work

I regularly go through Folkestone Gardens and am often saddened by the neglect and abuse this little park suffers.

With gates wide enough to admit cars at two sides of the park, it often fell victim to fly-tipping and I once witnessed a motorist trying to drive a car through the park on the footpath and flying into a rage when a dog-walker challenged him. Eventually the park managers clocked that it might be a good idea to restrict access at these gates, and the problems stopped for a while.

Where once was shrubbery...
Meanwhile the vicious 'pruning' exercised by Glendale last year saw the bushes and trees decimated to a shadow of their former selves, and problems with rough sleepers using wood from the remaining trees to create campfires does not help.

..now is a campsite

As part of the implementation of TFL's new Quietway cycle routes, the council has been able to leverage some funds to make improvements to Folkestone Gardens, and both of these projects are under construction concurrently, albeit at a snail's pace.

A new skateboard park is being built at the east end of the gardens, as part of a scheme that was intended to make much better use of space in what was originally a somewhat sprawling play area. This came out of an initiative by a youth group who successfully applied for a grant of £50k towards improvements to the piss poor skate ramps that were already in the park. The council weighed in with a further £225k from section 106 funds and carried out a consultation exercise about what it proposed for the new 'skate and play' park.  

The consultation document had some plans of how the skate and play park would look.

Unsurprisingly, given the name, and the published plans, local people were expecting that there would be some new 'play' as well as some new 'skate'. Now that the work is almost finished, however, it has become clear that the new 'play' is just the old 'play' in a smaller area. 

Promises of new equipment have not materialised, and it seems that the contractors have just lifted the old play equipment and moved it to the other side of the play area. 

One beacon of hope is that the disused toilet block next to the road has been given planning permission to be refurbished and opened as a cafe. I suspect a new roof may be necessary, but it will be good to have this rotting shell brought back to life.

As far as the 'Quietway' goes, the paths through the park have been made bigger, presumably to accommodate cyclists as well as pedestrians. But they seem oversized to me, especially the huge junction by the old toilet block - I've been using the park for years and the only conflict I've ever witnessed on the footpaths was the aforementioned car driver and dog walker. I think the park would have been better with a bit more grass left intact.

It will be a great improvement to have better surfacing in the tunnel between the park and Gosterwood Street, which has always been a bit of a gloomy route at night and prone to fly-tipping. Let's hope that there will be lighting too, which might deter some of this abuse.

I was disappointed to read in Lewisham Cyclists response to the plans for the quiet way that in Folkestone Gardens they made a plea for 'significant vegetation clearance around the route to make it more visible, particularly on corners'. Well they certainly got that.

I found this comment particularly unnecessary because there are two routes through the park; the one with the vegetation, blind corners and absolutely no lighting, and another one with very little in the way of blind corners, and which is lit by the street lights at night. In the summer I tend to take the former, in the winter I take the latter. They both lead to the same place. There is also a perfectly reasonable, direct alternative on the road for anyone who feels uncomfortable using the park when it's dark.

It does beg the question of whether it's a park or a cycle route with some greenery. I would like to see them co-existing happily, but the recent changes seem to be putting more emphasis on cycle access than on the green environment, wildlife and somewhere that can be quietly enjoyed by all.

As an aside, and with reference to my post about the high street rat-running problems, the initial plans for the quietway included a road closure at the junction of Childers St and Rolt St, but this was vetoed by local people who didn't want to have their driving routes impacted. I thought it was a great idea and suspect if it had gone ahead we wouldn't now be faced with the continued problem of rat-running on the high street! 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Lewisham Council scraps plans for 3G pitch in Deptford Park

The recent consultation by Lewisham Council over plans to build an all-weather football pitch in Deptford Park did not go down well with local residents and park users.

In fact it created sufficient opposition to galvanise said residents into forming a group called Deptford Folk: Friends of Folkestone Gardens & Deptford Park.

They are today celebrating their first major victory, with the council announcing that it does not intend to proceed with the plans for the football pitch as a result of the opposition.

The council said: 

'A number of objections were raised during the consultation which all essentially focused on the disproportionate impact that a project of this nature would have on a relatively small Victorian park. As such it has been decided not to proceed with the Deptford Park project and consider other sites to deliver much needed facilities across the borough.'

Hopefully this will give the new organisation a boost and help them to grow and gain more local support. Personally I'm delighted there's a new group focussed on this part of Deptford - I've not visited Deptford Park much but I regularly go through Folkestone Gardens and am often saddened by the neglect and abuse this little park suffers. Of which more later.

In the meantime for anyone who wants to get involved with Deptford Folk, they are holding their first AGM on Saturday 13th February at Deptford Park Playclub.

More information on the websiteFacebook page and Twitter account.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Consultation on proposed Deptford High Street improvements

Lewisham Council is consulting on proposed improvements to the north end of Deptford High Street, being in possession of some funds from Transport for London to tart it up a bit. Which is music to my ears, given I've been banging on about its unloved state for some years now.

The intention is to improve the street for pedestrians and cyclists, which would make a huge difference to those who use it on a regular basis. There's some good stuff in here, but I'm don't believe the proposals go far enough, and in one respect, they miss the target completely.

Yes it's already a 20mph zone!
The overwhelming threat to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists on Deptford High Street is the traffic - not just the volume of traffic that uses it, but the way that traffic behaves.

Bowling along: a popular rat run with all sizes of vehicles

In the morning rush hour, from 6am or earlier, great convoys of vehicles bowl down Giffin Street and Deptford High Street seeking to escape the traffic jams of Deptford Church Street and Evelyn Street. As the shops start to open and vehicles begin parking along the high street, delivering goods to businesses or building sites, speeds are tempered but space is restricted and the pavements are seen as fair game by drivers.

Woe betide any pedestrians strolling unsuspectingly along those sections which don't have bollards - they are likely to find themselves face to face with scaffolding lorries, tipper trucks, white vans and even mopeds who mount the pavement and drive along it to pass traffic coming the other way, with no regard at all for anyone walking past.

If you live or work in Deptford, or use the high street regularly, you'll be totally familiar with this.

Unfortunately it seems that the people devising the scheme, or those advising them, have no idea about traffic in Deptford.

For example, where is it going and how does it behave?

Naturally in the morning rush-hour, the traffic is all London-bound, following rat-runs in an effort to cut the drive time. But the measures proposed by TFL/The Project Centre/Lewisham Council suggest that someone hasn't done their homework.

The proposals are to put a restriction at the end of Deptford High Street 'to reduce rat-running' and 'create a new public space'. It might do the latter but it sure as hell ain't going to do the former! 
It's clear to anyone who has spent even half an hour observing traffic movements on the north end of high street that the vast majority of vehicles are rat-running down Edward Street, not Evelyn Street. 
They follow the well-worn route along Edward Street and Sanford Street to Surrey Canal Road, where they either turn right to take Trundleys Road towards Surrey Quays/Rotherhithe Tunnel or left towards Ilderton Road and on to the backroads of Bermondsey. 

To eliminate rat-running, any one-way restriction should be on Edward Street or on the high street south of this junction, but this will still only resolve the problem when traffic is in one direction.

(Although of course there's always the possibility that a one-way restriction will be treated with the same contempt as motorists treat the one-way restriction at the end of Crossfields Street.)

A public space would be good though. Can anyone think what kind of iconic monument or sculpture we might put there to celebrate Deptford's incredible history? (Click here for a hint if you can't guess).

(Click to see full size)

The sketch shows potential improvements in front of St Paul's Church, which would be welcome as it's a very uninspiring bit of public realm at the moment; the suggestion that 'unnecessary street furniture' would be removed to unclutter the pavements is also a welcome one.

I was a little confused by the the flyer which is provided on the consultation page, because it includes two sets of objectives, some of which are the same and some of which are different. I've tried to distill them into the objectives, and the means of achieving them

The objectives of the scheme are:
  • Make the street more pedestrian friendly and encourage cycling and walking
  • Encourage a less cluttered and safer feel 
  • Enhance and conserve the historic character of the street 
  • Improve accessibility
  • Support the introduction of a borough-wide 20mph speed limit, reducing vehicle speeds and improving safety at junctions. 
  • Control parking and loading in designated bays
  • Provide a safe, attractive and direct route between the river and the High Street 
Here's how they intend to do it:
  • Improve footways to make them wider using quality paving materials and provide level crossing areas at junctions
  • Remove unnecessary street furniture
  • Connect with proposed crossing improvements at the junction with Evelyn Street 
  • Assist the local economy by improving power facilities for the Saturday Market between Giffin St and the station
  • Retain 30 minute parking provision and provide parking improvements for Blue Badge holders
  • Extend the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) along the whole street 
  • Introduce a new taxi rank below the railway bridge to serve the High Street and Deptford Station 
  • Improve lighting under the railway bridge
  • Provide level crossing areas at junctions
The objectives are all well and good, but some of the measures seem contradictory; I'm not sure if there is room to widen the pavements AND retain designated parking bays without blocking the road - certainly in the stretch to the north of the railway bridge, in front of the Waiting Room, Johnny's DIY and Bearspace Gallery etc. This is already the section where pavement rally driving is rife, and lowering kerbs like they have done at the south end is only going to make that worse.

Pavements are for tipper trucks, apparently.
The two ends of the high street are totally different in their traffic patterns and usage - the south end is one-way along its whole length, has a market on it three days a week, and is not really a direct or convenient route for highway traffic. The north end is a major commuter rat run, and combines this with a large volume of pedestrian traffic going to and from the station and the two schools. I strongly believe that a different approach is needed if there are to be any significant improvements for pedestrians and cyclists.

Enhancing and conserving the historic character of the street is going to take a lot more than just some new paving stones - for a start the council's planning enforcement team needs to get to work on all those UPVC replacement windows and oversize illuminated signs that keep sprouting up without planning permission.

I'm not sure how I feel about a taxi rank at the station - it's not something that I'm likely to use as I'm within easy walking distance of the station, and in any case there are at least half a dozen bus routes within a few minutes' walk. I guess there will only be taxis on the rank if there's a demand, but it will mean taking regular parking bays out of use for something that might not be required.

Enhanced lighting under the bridge, on the other hand, will be a great improvement.

The prospect of enduring another year or so of roadworks and disruption, with only minimal improvements, is not a pleasant one. I do hope that feedback will enable a more effective approach to be developed so that the benefits can be felt.

The council is holding a drop-in session in the Deptford Lounge foyer between 3pm and 7.30pm on 3rd February where you can speak to the project consultants, Project Centre, and the Lewisham Council team about the project, and presumably give your comments.