Saturday, 29 October 2011

Tidemill Academy/Deptford Lounge delays drag on

As the construction of the public realm works in front of the new Deptford Lounge/Tidemill Academy grind slowly onwards, it's not yet clear when the relocated library will be ready for use. The library in Wavelengths was closed some weeks ago and at the time, Crosswhatfields reported that according to the library staff, it would reopen on Monday 31 October.

However the ground floor of the Deptford Lounge certainly looks pretty empty right now; unless they are planning a 24-hour shelf construction and book stacking exercise I'm not sure how they are going to pull that one off.

The new building was due to be ready for occupation in 'autumn 2011' so I guess there's still time for them to sneak it in before winter officially hits us.

Progress is definitely slow at Tidemill Academy, however. Originally planned to start this academic year in the new building, they are now not expecting to move until after christmas. But according to a story in the Evening Standard yesterday, the academy is planning to shut the school two weeks early in order to carry out the move, leaving parents with the difficulty of organising child care during this period.

The school has organised a playscheme for the two week period, according to the story, but parents will have to pay £100 per week for each child they send there; a shocking amount of money for anyone to have to shell out just two weeks before christmas, never mind the parents of children living in 'one of the most deprived parts of London' as Tidemill's own website describes it.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Convoys in the news

The so-called 'Battle of Convoys Wharf' has been in the news this week, with a two-page article published in the Evening Standard arts section on Wednesday.

In this high-profile article, our old friend Kieran Long came down to south east London again and managed to write an in-depth article about some of the issues relating to the Convoys Wharf redevelopment without once mentioning how dangerous/shabby/difficult to reach this part of the city is. (If you recall, the last time Mr Long ventured this way to take a look at the Waldron Health Centre, he rolled out all the cliches in the book about New Cross. Hopefully he got them all off his chest last time and will prosper with his new-found maturity.)

Bitching aside, the article is worth a read as it's quite an extensive piece for a London-wide paper. Sure, there are lots of omissions - no mention of Sayes Court or Evelyn's influence, and scant detail about the extent of the dockyard remains - and Long's assertion that the 'scale and character of the spaces around the Olympia building will be fine' rings rather hollow without any clarification or back-up, but it's a fine way of raising the profile for the Deptford is campaign, and Long has made a decent effort to engage with the political and philosophical arguments.

In the meantime, here's a cover that I'd very much like to see. This poster appeared at the end of Ffinch St yesterday, I don't know if it's anywhere else but hopefully the artist responsible is willing to spread the love a little more widely around SE8. Give us all something to smile about. (If you click on the photo to make it bigger you can read the speech bubble; Mr Hawkins is saying 'Nothing here mate').

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Convoys Wharf - what are the alternatives?

I have been following the Deptford is.. blog very closely over the past few weeks, where campaigners are not only exposing the poor thinking and lack of imagination behind the current proposals for redevelopment of Convoys Wharf, but are also putting forward alternatives for discussion.

As far as Hutchison Whampoa's planned development above ground goes, there are serious issues with the proposal such as the density and size of the proposed buildings, the associated 'transport planning' (which I have to put in quote marks because quite honestly it is laughable, especially compared with the improvements proposed by the applicants behind the recent Surrey Canal planning application), the continued scaling back of any commitment to providing a feasible working wharf, the pitiful amount of public open space that is being incorporated, and the lack of any kind of attempt to integrate the development with Deptford itself.

When you start to find out about the heritage of the site itself - the royal dockyard established by Henry VIII which saw the construction, fitting out and launch of many, many famous ships through three centuries of maritime development, as well as advances in civil engineering which were reflected in the dockyard structures themselves, and the influence that John Evelyn and his famous gardens at Sayes Court had on the English landscape movement, as well as the formation of the National Trust - it is truly incredible that the proposals seek simply to build over this history for ever.

The Olympia building - a cast iron structure covering two slipways which led into the great basin - must be retained as it is a listed structure, but HW's proposal has the building hemmed in on all sides by tower blocks, and all but cut off from the river, making it impossible to read the significance of the structure in heritage terms.

In fact the slipways beneath the building and the walls of the great basin still survive, they are simply filled in. The slipways which lead into the river are still there; the double dry dock is still there and Deptford is.. fully expects ongoing archaeological investigations to confirm that the huge mast ponds are also still intact.

While the archaeologists claim they have uncovered (and now filled in again) the site of Sayes Court, there is some dispute as to its location, and the jury is still out on this. Nonetheless, no garden archaeology at all has been carried out on the site of his famous gardens, which have been roundly ignored.

Deptford is... is holding a public meeting on 4 November at which the campaigners say they will reveal some of their proposals for an alternative vision of future Deptford.

'Suggestions include building a Restoration warship using a combination of traditional and modern ship-building skills, and recreating the historic garden as an innovative and productive public open space. The ideas put forward in this exhibition focus on activities which encourage collaboration between the existing community and its new residents, helping to meld the development into the vibrant neighbourhood of Deptford.'

Take a look at these websites about the Hermione and Sayes Court Garden to get some inspiration.

While I know that many public bodies and indeed some of our local politicians have expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the current proposals, and are concerned about the impact it will have on the site, there does also seem to be a lot of shrugging of shoulders and some councillors saying that the developers cannot make the figures stack up unless they build at this density.

In fact our very own deputy mayor and chair of the regeneration committee, Alan Smith (Catford South ward), effectively approved the density when he told Estates Gazette back in June that he didn't believe the borough would have any trouble absorbing the 'more than 6,000' new homes that were planned (this is in fact a huge underestimate by my reckoning as it only looks at three developments). He said 'if anything we will be underproviding' and added 'as far as I can make out, the finance is in place and it is getting its figures to stack up'.

Other councillors, in particular some of those who represent the residents in Evelyn ward, the area  most directly impacted by this development, seem unwilling to engage with their electorate about the proposals.

It may be that Lewisham Council is also nervous of a protracted legal battle with HW's lawyers, which might ensue should the development be refused. But let's not forget that this development will have an enduring impact on this part of Lewisham; if the council lets itself be bullied into a hasty or inappropriate decision, we will be living with the ramifications for decades to come.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Mayor calls for planning controls over betting shop boom

Thanks to Ian who alerted me to this press release issued by the Mayor of London a couple of days ago, which gives Deptford's betting shop clusters as an example and highlights the fact that a prevalence of such premises 'could put people off shopping in and visiting those areas altogether'.

The proposals by Boris - that national planning law should be changed so that operators were required to apply for planning permission for each specific premises - would be useful in reducing the instances where betting shops can just open up in former bank or pub premises without having to apply for change of use planning permission (as in the case of Paddy Power at the Deptford Arms). If this change to national policy were made, Boris says he would 'consider' altering the London Plan policy 'to encourage boroughs to identify the kinds of business clusters they believe are beneficial or detrimental to high streets and town centres'.

It's not clear how much weight this would carry for local planners seeking to reject such applications, but it's a start. It's also interesting that with the Mayor of London making it an issue, it is effectively gaining some kind of cross-party support.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has today written to Communities Secretary, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, to call for a change in national planning law to help control the proliferation and clustering of betting shops, which has caused mounting concern in parts of London.

They have grown in number with an increased supply of premises such as vacant banks and pubs that do not require planning permission to be used as a betting shop. Betting firms are attracted to busy high streets and town centres with a ready supply of such premises. This has resulted in clustering in less prosperous areas like Hackney, which has 64 betting shops in the borough, 8 in Mare Street alone, and Deptford with seven betting shops on one street. With less than 10 per cent of Londoners using betting shops the Mayor believes this can negatively impact on the vitality and viability of town centres and the quality of life of those living nearby. High numbers of betting shops with long opening hours increasing concerns about community safety could put people off shopping in and visiting those areas altogether.

The Mayor proposes that betting shop operators wishing to open up a new outlet should be required to apply for planning permission for the chosen premises, which would allow proper consideration to be given to each proposal for a betting shop and its effect on individual centres. If the Government changed planning policy in this way he would consider altering his own London Plan policy to encourage boroughs to identify the kinds of business clusters they believe are beneficial or detrimental to high streets and town centres.

The Mayor said:
"I recognise that betting shops have an important role to play in our culture and provide entertainment to many people. But there is a balance to be struck between having betting shops as a part of the high street retail mix and the negative impact they can have on shoppers and visitors when they start to dominate.

"Requiring operators to obtain planning permission seems a sensible way to achieve the checks and balances needed to ensure our towns remain attractive places to visit, shop and spend time in."

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Surrey Canal station/Surrey Canal redevelopment

Last week Lewisham Council's strategic planning committee agreed to grant planning permission for the massive redevelopment of the land surrounding Millwall Stadium, known simply as Surrey Canal (subheading: London's Sporting Village).

Developer Renewal is planning a large-scale redevelopment of the site, which intends to deliver some 2,400 new homes, as well as new sporting facilities, retail units, cafes and restaurants and 'business incubation and creative space' whatever that means. It's difficult to work out from a brief trawl through the site, what will happen to the businesses that are located in the Surrey Canal triangle. Perhaps they will simply disappear as if they were in the Bermuda triangle...?!

Among all the doom and gloom of Deptford's ongoing redevelopment battles, it's good to see something positive emerge from a planning application. The area will finally get a much-needed link into London's overground system, with Renewal committing to top up the funding needed to build a new station at the site.

The planning documents state:
Renewal has confirmed that in the new Surrey Canal Road Rail Station they will bridge the funding gap to ensure its delivery at the outset of the development, improving accessibility to the local area in the early stages of development.

I can only assume that they must have read my comment back in May ("Surrey Canal Station, which would be right next to the site and has been proposed as part of the second phase of the East London Line extension, needs extra funding before it can be built. With this in mind I would expect the site developer to top up the pot so that its construction can be assured.") and have clearly acted upon my instructions ;-)

Joking aside, for once it makes perfect sense. I only found out very recently that TFL had actually agreed to include a 'station box' in its designs for the new line at this location. Construction work is well advanced already, and now when I pass it on my daily cycle commute, I'll no longer experience huge feelings of futility and anger against the world at the stupidity of such a missed opportunity!

Renewal's Surrey Canal website provides a couple of images for us to muse on, although how accurate they are it's hard to know - this is only outline planning permission after all. I'm sure there will be a lot of local people getting excited at the sight of the corner of that logo peeking out from behind the sculpture, although the rendering of the station - and in particular the colour scheme - does seem to have been put together by someone having a bad acid trip.

New Betfred planning application 93-95 Deptford High Street

When Betfred appealed against Lewisham Council's decision to reject its application for 93-95 Deptford High Street earlier this year, the Planning Inspectorate in fact allowed Betfred's appeal but placed certain conditions on it.

If you remember, the former Halifax premises was allocated to A2 use, with the condition that it was only occupied by a building society. Betfred applied to widen this to the full, current A2 use, a crazy classification for 'financial use' which puts banks and building societies in the same class as betting shops.

When the council rejected this application, Betfred appealed it. The Planning Inspectorate allowed the appeal, but with the proviso that the premises should NOT be occupied by a betting shop. In his conclusion the inspector said that if another betting shop were to open, "It would be likely to give rise to anti-social behaviour and disturbance to local residents and users of the town centre. There is also a risk of an increase in crime. As a result use of the High Street would become less safe and pleasant."

Betfred has now submitted another planning application to again extend the usage class to full A2 use, supporting its application with the defence that it was unfair of the inspector to penalise Betfred for a situation that already exists. Naturally this deliberate misinterpretation of the inspector's decision is simply an attempt to say 'they are all doing it, why can't we?' and invoke fairness of competition etc as a way of forcing the issue.

Of course the inspector has nothing against Betfred per se. As befits his job responsibilities, he simply took an holistic view of the planning case, and considered the impact that allowing this application would have on Deptford High Street, the people who live and work there, those who own the businesses, those who use the shops and cafes, and those who pass through Deptford.

The inspector used evidence from local residents and business owners, and from the police, licensing officers and so on, to reach his conclusion that the opening of another betting shop would not be beneficial to the safety of the high street, to the level of crime, or to the street's long term viability. In fact he went further than that, he said that it was likely to have a negative impact based on past evidence.

All the betting shops already established on Deptford High Street claim that they adhere to the appropriate legislation and security measures that they are required to observe. It's more than likely that they do. However it is undeniable that since Paddy Power opened its establishment at the former Deptford Arms, right opposite Ladbrokes and within yards of William Hill, creating a critical mass of betting shops, the high street has become a less safe and pleasant place to walk along.

So please, if you agree that we don't need any more betting shops, send your objections to the planners. The application is number DC/11/78506/X (click to link direct to it) and objections should be sent as soon as possible.

If you objected to the last application, feel free to dig out your previous letter and just amend the date and planning application number before sending it in (in the comments Bill suggests that it would be better to amend any previous objection, starting your letter along the lines of 'in my objection dated XXX I said (and here quote your previous objection in full) and reiterating that the same concerns apply now). It is worth reading the covering letter from the applicant (click here to download) if you want to ensure that you are directly addressing the points that they raise.

The full text of the inspector's judgement can be read on Deptford Misc here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Deli X

It's hard not to admire the confidence of someone opening a new deli and cafe on Deptford High Street at the height of a recession. With lots of new apartments springing up in Creekside and elsewhere, as well as many more to come, it may be canny business sense but I'm still not entirely convinced that Deptford has the market to support such a venture. All the same, I wish Deli X the best of luck with their new venture.

The two women running the new business have had the premises altered to remove the partition between the front and back of the former Bear Cafe, and extend the counter to make the shop area larger. This means it's much less cramped in the front part (and consequently less daunting to enter) and a whole lot lighter in the cafe area at the back.

The front area is a shop-cum-cafe counter; there are shelves and fridges full of posh pasta, continental groceries, organic butter and Neal's Yard cheeses, as well as a selection of fruit, vegetables and herbs for sale. The type of goods - and the accompanying prices, it has to be said - are strongly reminiscent of the Deptford Deli (RIP).

The cafe area is furnished with a rather random selection of sofas, chairs, enormous, huge wooden desks which look rather like office surplus, and coffee tables. In the back yard there are folding chairs and tables if you are lucky enough to catch the sunshine there, and I guess to accommodate smokers. Most of the dining chairs are upholstered in a very vibrant fabric which is fun when seen in isolation but does seem rather incongruous in the company of the wishy washy blue upholstery of the pair of sofas on the raised area of the cafe.

So far the food menu is limited, offering (very tasty) quiches - meat and veggie options - with fresh salad; cheese platters, or homemade pizzas on focaccia bread for example. Prices are under a fiver for the quiche and salad, which is good value for what you get. However it would be even better if they offered a larger portion for a couple of quid more, to accommodate those like myself who have larger appetites/suffer insatiable greed when faced with good food. I understand the menu is under development, and am eager to see what else they will serve. There is a suggestions book on the counter if you have particular groceries you seek to purchase.

In the cafe they are serving top quality brand Monmouth Coffee - going head to head with the Waiting Room's Union Coffee - but initial experience suggests their baristas need to up their game a bit. My 'cappuccino' was more akin to a latte, and although the hint of coffee was a very pleasant hint, it was all but drowned by hot milk.*

However I did get the impression that the young staff were in training when I had my coffee last Saturday; I'll be going back in due course to check if progress has been made. My fundamental requirements - good quality food at reasonable prices - have been satisfied and I look forward to future visits.

Crosswhatfields has also reviewed Deli X. Deli X has a facebook page here.

*updated: a takeout cappuccino I had a few days later was excellent, perfect strength level and good balance of milk to froth

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Blossoming together

New cafes are popping up around Deptford as if it was going out of fashion - with 'Deli X' having just opened where the Bear Cafe used to be, I thought I'd better first write about Blossoming Together, a new 'craft cafe' and art gallery which opened a few weeks ago at the bottom of Tanner's Hill, in the premises of the former Deptford Deli.

The owner Cinzia Callegari has replaced the long deli counter with a small dresser on which a range of delicious looking cakes are displayed in glass cake stands. She serves daily lunch specials containing produce from her allotment, and also runs craft courses in the cafe where you can learn how to make pocket books, needle felting or pegloom weaving, or even find out about wholesome foods for children.

I dropped in a couple of times recently during Deptford X, and was welcomed warmly both times. Cinzia's coffee is excellent - I would venture it's almost as good as the coffee served at the Waiting Room (they set the standard in flavour as far as I'm concerned) but edges closer by the fact that it's served with homemade biscotti and you can enjoy the peaceful surrounds of the little square outside - and sunshine if you are lucky!

I also sampled one of the magnificent cakes on offer - perhaps a little pricey at £3.50 but extremely tasty - and tried out a cup of tea, served in one of her lovely vintage teapots and made with loose leaf. It prompted fond memories of the vintage
teacups that Deptford Properly used to favour...

Blossoming Together