At last summer's public consultation event for the proposed Convoys Wharf redevelopment, we heard that developer Hutchison Whampoa intended to submit its revised, Terry-Farrell-approved outline planning application in September of the same year. We now find ourselves in March, attending another public consultation event, which suggests that pre-application discussions between Lewisham's planning department and the applicant have not been going entirely smoothly.
Timelines aside, what was the offering? What new, radical steps had Farrell proposed to address the well-documented objections and concerns about the former Aedas scheme that ended up being ditched? In essence, very little at first glance - to me it seemed to be a question of the emperor's new clothes, or perhaps even Groundhog Day. The same faces pitched up from HW and its team, the same deceptive model with its 'low rise' representation of what will be huge blocks and overpowering towers was dusted off and displayed prominently in the room, and the same answers to questions about density, massing, transport and so on.
We are still being told that the developer thinks 3,500 apartments (just 500 of them 'affordable', whatever that means these days) is appropriate on this site. True it's a large site, but just a glance at the proposed density and massing of the buildings should tell you everything you need to know about the kind of environment these high structures will create at ground level.
But more of that later. Yesterday morning I was feeling rather smug, having finally identified something about the latest proposals that was different to the plans presented last summer. See if you can spot it.
|Transport proposals June 2012|
|Transport proposals March 2013|
As Rolf might say; can you see what it is yet? Yes, the previous proposal was for two bus stops (the red blobs) on the site but now there's only one. Not that it will make much difference to be honest, but I guess it will save a few bob for the developers. And the public transport provision will still be woefully inadequate for the residents of the site.
All joking aside, there is very little difference between the proposals that we saw last summer and the ones that were on show last week - in fact they even wheeled out some of the same pop-up stands at the exhibition.
In addition to the low-rise model that they created for the last consultation, the architects also provided a much smaller model which actually showed some of the building heights - perhaps in response to criticisms at the last open day? - so it was possible to get a vague idea of the scale of the development.
With this model, the secret is to find an existing building that you are familiar with - the Dog & Bell pub for example, ahem - and try to relate it to the heights of the new buildings. But even with this crude interpretation it is impossible to get a full understanding of the impact these very high and dense buildings will have at ground level.
And that's not forgetting that the developers are not permitted to excavate the site to build underground car parks, so all the parking will be so-called 'podium parking'. This means that the first couple of storeys of a building are made up of car parking spaces, with residential apartments above. It doesn't make for a vibrant streetscape - and the retail units that the developer is planning to create as a facade to these above-ground car parks will be serving a questionable demand. Many empty units grace the streets of SE8 already, in much better locations than Convoys Wharf will offer.
It's depressing to think that we have been raising the same issues for as long as I can remember - and well before that according to people I know who've lived here longer - and yet the only changes we have seen so far are minimal.
When I say 'we' I am not just talking about local people - I'm talking about councillors and other politicians, planners, historical and learned societies, the Greater London Authority in its many guises, the PLA and so on.
And when I talk about changes I mean that the road layout has been rejigged, the height of buildings on the waterfront stepped back slightly (but increased elsewhere), public space has been squeezed from one spot to another, exit and entry points to the site revised, and slight concessions made in one respect while being counterbalanced elsewhere.
It's true that greater weight is now given - at least in writing - to the historical significance of the site, but it's difficult to tell how sincere this is. While posters at the exhibition claimed that the developers had given community-led project Build the Lenox a commitment that they will provide a site for the ship, the group's Facebook page said that they had not received any such commitment.
It's also notable that there is no clear planned use for the listed Olympia Building - the listed slipway covers that Terry Farrell said he would put 'at the heart of the development, both literally and metaphorically' or something. Which is quite handy since the building is already literally at the heart of the site, it's not like they have to move it or anything, so it's pretty much job done on that front. Well done Terry.
The future of the protected wharf at the upstream end of the site is also vague - in every consultation or public exhibition event I've been to it has been regarded rather like some kind of unspeakable illness; mentioned only in a low mumble while mouthing the words 'protected wharf'. There is no understanding of the potential this part of the site has to generate sustainable employment, support local businesses or even create a marine enterprise zone, linking Deptford back to its roots once again.
To the developers it's clearly just an annoying strip of land on the end of the site whose protected status gets in the way of filling it with more houses, and whose possible uses, which could potentially generate noise or dust on the site, are a massive inconvenience. I guess it is foolish to expect any different - after all, developers are only interested in building and selling residential and commercial property. Anything else - be it roads, public realm or working wharves - is just a cost and an inconvenience.
All in all I was singularly unimpressed by this latest round of public consultation, and left wondering what the purpose of it was. The answer is probably that it's another box to tick before the developers submit their application for the site. Planning committee: 'Did you carry out any public consultation?' Developers: 'Yes we had two open days and X number of people came and we got a lot of feedback*'.
(*they all hated it)
Planning committee: 'Oh, very good.'