Sunday, 25 March 2012

Convoys Wharf open day

Glorious spring sunshine surely boosted the turnout at Hutchison Whampoa's 'community consultation day' yesterday, which saw a (guestimate) 150 people in attendance.

I went on the first site tour along with a lot of other people - it was not always easy to hear archaeologist Duncan Hawkins' explanations of the various structures we were seeing below ground - even when I managed to get to the front of the crowd there were a few groups of people who seemed to have just come along for a chat with their mates.

All the same the site tour was very interesting, emphasising once again the extent of heritage that is present here and the history of the former dockyard.

Much of the archaeology that was visible on the previous tour has since been infilled, with excavations now continuing in the great basin in front of the Olympia buildings, and the slipways at the northern end of the site.

The impact of relatively recent (1980s) construction work on the site was demonstrated by the presence of large concrete slabs and beams cutting across the top of parts of the old slipways and dock wall structures. Only a few decades ago the archaeology of such sites was woefully neglected, with archaeologists having little more than a watching brief, and contractors often simply digging out inconvenient bits of archaeology or infilling them with concrete before the remains could be spotted.

Although the site tour was interesting, the main event from my point of view was the community presentations, which took place in a marquee that had been erected specially for this purpose. The number of visitors clearly outstripped the organisers' expectations too, with a good many people having to stand for the duration of the presentations - a couple of hours in total. The fact that they stayed throughout this underlined their enthusiasm. 

It was encouraging to attend a presentation where local people and groups were the focus of the event, not an afterthought added on as a placatory measure.

It was also encouraging to see that Hutchison Whampoa had wheeled out top brass both from its own organisation (Edmund Ho, managing director of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd gave the introductory welcome) and from its consultants, including of course Sir Terry Farrell who was there with the intention of listening to the presentations from community groups ahead of reviewing the masterplan for the site. Staff from other consultants such as Alan Baxter and BPTW were also present, although I didn't see anyone bearing a badge with Aedas on it. Funny that.

Local MP Joan Ruddock was also present, having been involved in putting the developers in contact with some of the community groups, and advising on the format of the day. In her intro she acknowledged that she had not always been HW's biggest fan (and still did not proclaim any allegiance) but said that she was encouraged by the fact that this event was being held, and hoped that it marked the start of a process of meaningful engagement with the community.

It seemed they couldn't quite get underway without allowing Sir Terry Farrell to talk for a while about his architectural portfolio. His first design (and arguably his best) was for the ventilation shafts for the Blackwall Tunnel which are now Grade II listed. After that it was downhill all the way to such post-modern horrors as the MI6 Building and Embankment Place - in my opinion two of the ugliest buildings in London.

Once Farrell had told us he was ready to listen, but not until he'd showed us quite a few of the projects he's working on, we eventually got onto the community presentations. The first was from the Second Wave Youth Arts organisation, and was all the more poignant for the fact that the young cyclist who had been killed in a hit and run accident on Deptford Church Street the previous day had been involved with the group and was known by the young people who were giving the presentation.

The presenters were aged from 15 to 21 and all were involved with the organisation in one way or another; each spoke of what their nightmare scenario would be for the site, whether it would be segregation, alienation or just a feeling of not being involved with the creation of this new neighbourhood on their doorstep, in particular any facilities designed with them in mind. When old people try to design things for young people without consultation, one of the group said, they inevitably get it wrong. They all conveyed a very obvious passion for and pride in Deptford, as well as a strong desire to create something positive for future generations. Any masterplanner ignoring this wealth of local knowledge and strength of feeling would have to be crazy. 

The second part of the community group presentation focussed on three projects which fall under the remit of the local organisation 'Deptford Is..'. William Richards, one of the owners of the Master Shipwrights House, introduced the proposals, all three of which are strongly influenced by the heritage of the site, by saying that these ideas were achievable, and pointing to examples where similar schemes had already been successful. He also acknowledged that local residents would be crazy to resist the redevelopment of such a rich and valuable site, but that they were mainly concerned with creating something meaningful and enduring. 

Author Richard Endsor and local boat builder Julian Kingston spoke about the proposal to build a replica of the restoration warship Lenox, and use this to create tourism (especially with the National Maritime Museum so close by), to support local apprenticeships and education, and to offer a direct link to the history of the King's Yard. Richard even presented Edmund Ho with a copy of his book about the ship, which struck me as a hugely diplomatic gesture!

The second presentation, by architect Renato Benedetti, left most of the audience mystified as to why he was talking about bridges (and his bridge designs in particular). He presented about 8 of his bridge designs, most of which were only competition entries, before bringing his talk to an abrupt end as members of the audience began to fidget and mutter. A separate conversation enlightened me as to the purpose of the bridges - the idea would be to have seven bridges along the waterfront, either marking or crossing over the remains of the structures that would have originally connected the docks and slipways to the river. Disappointingly this aspect of the project was lost in what was essentially a showcase for Benedetti's (mostly unbuilt) bridges. 

Finally landscape architect Roo Angel and Bobby Bagley spoke about the proposal to recreate Sayes Court Garden, the footprint of which overlaps the site and includes the existing Sayes Court Park on Grove Street. Again this idea had many different advantages - from offering apprenticeships and training in a huge range of professions, and linking to the heritage of the site and the famous diarist John Evelyn, to providing local people and new residents with the physical and mental health benefits that gardens can bring.

With the formal presentations concluded, members of the audience were invited to comment, question and participate, which about half a dozen people did. Aside from a couple of people who just seemed to want to moan, most of the speakers offered constructive ideas and pleas for engagement with specific members of the community on specific topics. 

Creating a workable and useful link on the west end of the site to Twinkle Park and Greenwich borough was one such suggestion; incorporating safeguards to ensure that our many local, independent businesses are able to survive was another. The issue of education provision was mentioned, as was the spectre of traffic gridlock and public transport overcrowding. Although many of these are the responsibility of the council itself, there's no denying that the impact will be directly linked to whatever density of units HW decides to incorporate into its masterplan. 

Proceedings drew to a close after a couple of hours, with Joan Ruddock summing up briefly and the audience learning that the event had been filmed in its entirety and would be used by Farrell and his crew to inform their review process.

Watch this space, I would say. Naturally my cynicism as to the extent to which developers want to 'engage' with the local community is still alive and well, and ultimately I'm sure they would prefer to make their money without having to undertake such bothersome procedures. Let's hope that the widespread condemnation of the Aedas scheme has been noted by those at the top of the chain - this event is a pretty strong sign that it has - and that HW is imaginative enough to understand the benefits that proper community involvement can offer to all sides.

Footnote: As far as I am aware, not one of the Evelyn ward local councillors attended the event. If anyone knows different, please add it in the comments as I am very keen to find out whether our elected representatives (other than Joan) really give a toss about the most significant change that their constituency is going to see in decades.


Anonymous said...

I thank you for reporting this event. I was impressed by the numbers attending the tour and that there were not enough spaces in the marquee to accommodate everyone. Sadly we were unable to attend the subsequent presentations although we have been following the developments closely through your blog and others, especially Deptford Is. If HW and the council are serious about this they have more than proof of community involvement and interest in the site. The excavations present a unique opportunity for a multi-national corporation and a renowned architect to demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility, whatever that may be!

Deptford Pudding said...

Thank you for a brilliant report. I'm afraid though we stayed till the end we flagged in the heat (!), having to stand for hours. I initially refused their Danish pastries (bribery) but in the end was seduced by the sarnies.
Overall I left hopeful of some good coming from the meeting, but I thought it was disingenuous of the archeologist to keep emphasising the damage done in the 80s by development, when the proposed 3 towers and the rest would comprehensively destroy forever the remains of the dockyard. He said the walls we were shown that'd been excavated were leaning because they'd been built on a marsh, how can 46 storey towers be built on a marsh?

Deptford dame said...

@deptford pudding well they would not be destroyed, just built over. The piles would be very carefully positioned so that they didn't damage anything...even if no-one was ever going to see it again. Totally illogical.

shipwrightspalace said...

Density's have a point here. The density of piling required amongst the high density of dockyard structures (archaeology to some) will have an irreversible detrimental impact assessed as severe in CgMs's own archaeological reports and SARM. This severe negative impact has to do with the reduction of the water table causing a drying out of the timber piling that forms the substructures to a majority of surving structures such as Rennie's 1814 basin, slipway timbers, dry dock land ties and so on. This damage could also extend to severe damage to the Master Shipwrights House and Offices which are the earliest surviving examples of these types of dockyard buildings in the country. Quite simply the density of apartements requested by the developer in the area of the borough's highest density of heritage assets is inappropriate and unachievable.

Anonymous said...

Dear Shipwrightspalace, since you did not manage to sell your property for the many millions you were seeking then perhaps HW could take it off you as part of the heritage element, a Disney offering shall we say...everything has its price after all, including councils and their subjects.

M @ Millennium Quay said...

Brilliant report - thanks Deptford Dame. I enjoyed your Tweets on the day too.

Re Evelyn Ward Councillors - I can report a sighting of Sam Owolabi-Oluyole. It was just as I was leaving at the end of the presentations; he was going on the afternoon site tour.

I said hi to him (I've worked with him in a previous life - I don't think he recognised me).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting with all the detail you have done. We would have loved to attend but unexpected family commitments prevented us from doing so.