Monday, 28 April 2014

New planning powers for councils against betting shops

More than four years since my first post about betting shops on this blog, and finally I read some vaguely good news about changes to planning powers. While the detail has still to be revealed, media reports suggest that planning law will be changed so that betting shops are classified separately to other 'financial' services, and local authorities will be given more power to refuse new betting shops where clustering is a concern.

Even four years ago Deptford High Street had six betting shops, but the subject of my post was the imminent loss of the Deptford Arms pub to Paddy Power. Within a very short time Paddy Power also took over the John Evelyn pub on Evelyn Street and turned that into another branch, presumably for those people incapable of staggering to any of the other three betting shops on the Evelyn triangle.

When the Halifax closed down its branch on Deptford High Street within weeks of Paddy Power's latest licence being granted, I predicted what would happen next; it was only due to a condition imposed when the previous planning application was granted that the planners were able to reject Betfred's attempts to open a branch in the empty unit. They had to reject it twice - Betfred was so determined to have its own branch on a street with so many that despite the first application being rejected, and the decision upheld by the Planning Inspectorate, they submitted a second application which was also rejected by the council and the Planning Inspectorate.

Since then things have gone rather quiet - cynically I suspect it's nothing to do with the success of our campaign, rather the fact that there's been a dearth of shop units with suitable business classifications for the betting shops to target.

As it stands at the moment, betting shops come in the same business classification as banks, building societies and other financial services, so if a bank closes down, the betting shop does not need to apply for any 'change of use' permission to use the same shop unit. Likewise if a pub closes, betting shops can move into those premises at the drop of a hat.

From what I'm reading, betting shops will be given a separate use class and hence will have to apply to convert old banks, pubs etc into new betting shops. And if councils are able to use the argument of 'clustering' of betting shops as a reason to reject an application, so much the better.

Any change to the law can't come soon enough - the Harp of Erin at the bottom of the high street has been closed for some time now, and many locals fear that we will be seeing it reopen as a betting shop before too long.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Paynes & Borthwick and Venice Preserved

With the redevelopment of Paynes & Borthwick wharf, just over the border in Greenwich at the bottom of Watergate Street, another tiny slice of south-east London riverside is opening up to nosey people like myself.

The site has been under redevelopment for a good few years now, and the build itself has been quite slow by modern standards - especially since I first wrote about the construction 18 months ago. There's now about 260 residential properties in new blocks and a tower (44 of them 'affordable' and a number of live/work units), and promised to be a restaurant, art gallery and commercial space behind the retained facade of the old wharf.

I've had a peek at the latter from the riverside, and it's an impressive space with a nice terrace out the front. Easy to imagine people sitting out of an evening drinking and dining (obviously wearing coats apart from in exceptional weather, given that the terrace is north facing). Unforunately the rather remote location of the development, removed from Greenwich and Deptford town centres, and not on any waterfront route (the river is accessible here, but you have to come through the development from the road and there is no through route to anywhere else) makes me think it would have to be an exceptional offer to get enough diners to sustain a large restaurant.

The obligatory landscaping is a bit odd but not entirely unattractive - seems they have opted to create water features in the walls, with plants in huge baskets of gravel. I do hope that these will take, and be regularly maintained, to prevent them becoming unpleasant, stagnant pools with litter floating in them.

News for the mudlarks is mixed - there are now new steel steps providing easier access at the watergate down to the riverside, but of course the bad news is that as a result, the local mudlarking is likely to become less solitary. At the time of my visit access from Watergate Street was closed off, but it's possible to scoot round the front and over the P&B access if you are on friendly terms with the security guards.

If you are keen to experience the new Paynes & Borthwick building up close and personal, you may want to go along to one of the shows of 'Venice Preservd' being put on by the Spectators Guild over the next month or so. It's an 'immersive theatre' production of a play by Thomas Otway which started this week.

It sounds like it will be quite a spectacle - the action starts in Greenwich and promenades along the waterfront to the site where it continues in the wharf building where seats and set are being created from scratch.

Sadly the ticket prices are likely to be out of reach for many locals - they start at £35 full price plus the usual hefty service charge, or £25 if you live in Greenwich or Lewisham boroughs, although you won't see this shown as an option on the main page, just on individual date listings. However if you want to take advantage of the £10 concession ticket - still a lot of money for many - you must 'prove' that you are in debt by bringing along a bailiff's letter, proof of a student loan or overdraft presumably for a stranger to peruse.

I'm not sure who thought that particular idea up but to me it seems overly invasive of privacy. By all means ask for student or OAP identification, or mail to prove you live in the borough, but asking people to prove they are in debt is going a bit far.

I'm not questioning whether the performance merits the ticket price - it sounds like a very involved production and I'm sure it will be a fun night out for those who can afford it - I'm just wondering what it offers to the local community. According to trade press reports the developer has put £100k into the production, which is not to be sneezed at. The Spectators Guild is a not-for-profit organisation, so similarly I'm not questioning the motivation of the people running it, which I am sure are entirely  genuine.

One initiative that is being supported is a scheme to offer young local people theatre training and the opportunity to work on the shows with the intention that a local production company will be created that can be left as a legacy for the area. I'll be interested to see how that pans out in the future and how it fits with the other local theatres and performing arts groups. Such training and work experience will be valuable to those involved, but the difficult part will be keeping such an initiative going when the production company moves on.

Meanwhile anyone want to start a sweepstake as to how long it will be before our new 'West Greenwich' neighbours start complaining about having an SE8 postcode?

Monday, 21 April 2014

21 years of urban change in Deptford - free workshop and seminar

Twenty-one years on from the publication of Jess Steele's seminal book Turning the tide: the history of everyday Deptford, Goldsmiths University Centre for Urban and Community Research is hosting a special event to investigate recent regeneration and its impact on Deptford.

The event takes place in the former Deptford Town Hall council chamber (a reason in itself for attending if you have never been inside!) on Friday April 25th

3.30 – 5.30 Seminar: The changing face of “regeneration” in London 
Short initial interventions by: Alison Rooke, Michael Keith, Heidi Seetzen, Rob Imrie, Luna Glucksberg 

5.30 – 6.00 Screenings and sound intervention: Creative Responses to Urban Change in Deptford (food and drinks provided) 

6.00 – 8.00 Workshop: 21 Years of Urban Regeneration in Deptford 
Short provocations by: Ben Gidley, Jess Steele, Jessica Leech, Neil Transpontine, and Joe Montgomery 

Followed by roundtable discussions: 

  • Creative Deptford: arts, culture and regeneration 
  • Housing and neighbourhood 
  • DIY Deptford: regeneration from below? 
  • Convoys Wharf: regeneration or land grab? 
  • The changing face of Deptford: migration, identity, diversity and generation

It's free to attend but registration is required - see the website for more information.

For anyone interested in the history of Deptford, Turning the tide is a must-read - the text is dense and at first glance can seem impenetrable, but the book is thoroughly-researched and packed with fascinating facts about the area. The enduringly melancholic photo of the clock tower from the dockyard's Tudor storehouse being sailed away to Thamesmead in the epilogue reminds the reader that this heist by Greenwich Council, within whose boundaries the dockyard was at the time, happened only eight years before Jess Steele's book came out.  

Friday, 11 April 2014

London Particular gets into empire building

Just to be clear, I have absolutely no objection to local New Cross cafe London Particular building an empire - if it's an empire infused with the same levels of quality that make the cafe's food so desirable, I say 'bring it on!'

It appears that within a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the much-loved London Particular will be flanked by two new ventures; the LP Bar (from the publicity so far, seems to be an airplane-themed cocktail bar)...

..and on the other side, crowd-funded posh chipper Maddy's Fish Bar. At the moment, the latter is under refurbishment and as I walked past the other day I was delighted to notice that at some time in its past, the shop was also inhabited by 'fish caterers'. 

Peter of Deptford High Street website interviewed Maddy earlier this year, you can read his piece here. Admittedly I am with him on the subject of mushy peas, and not too enamoured with Maddy's suggested 'posh' version, but might be willing to overlook it if the curry sauce lives up to the hype. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Deptford & New Cross Free Film Festival

Strictly speaking it's the New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival but as you may have realised, I do like to try a bit of mild subversion from time to time.

That's another story of course; in this case it's the upcoming film festival that is floating my boat, and I have to say that this event just seems to get better. Now in its third year, the festival seems to have expanded into Deptford like never before, with some really interesting venues and some great films on offer.

Who could resist the lure of watching The Hustler in Shades Pool Hall on Deptford High Street (formerly the Mechanics Institute) or cosying up in Gallop to enjoy two nights of film noir?

I'm delighted to see lots of other new Deptford venues including high street shop windows, the market, Deli X and Vinyl among old favourites such as St Nick's Church, Old Tidemill School, the Bird's Nest and the Pizza Bus. The range of films seems to have matured and expanded too, with classics, documentaries and experimental shorts rubbing shoulders with general-release movies such as Bend it Like Beckham, Oh Brother Where Art Thou and locally-made Attack the Block (admire the Heygate Estate blocks, which are currently being demolished, in their full glory).

The festival kicks off on Friday 25th April and runs till 4th May - download the flyer here, or get the full online programme here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Mayor seals the deal for Deptford's high-density future

Very much as expected, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson yesterday granted approval for Hutchison Whampoa's ambitious plans to shoe-horn 3,500 new homes into the former royal dockyard site on the Deptford waterfront.

The entire hearing was filmed and if you have the stamina and love to see our great democracy* in action, you can watch it in its full three-hour-plus glory on the mayor's webcast site  but I wouldn't recommend it. Not sure if it's a Mac thing or my broadband or what, but the quality of picture I get is very poor.

Being a consummate politician, Boris makes a great play of listening carefully to all the objections (yes, even Dave Fleming!) and he does ask a lot of questions, but there are some quite obvious moments where he fails to pursue the investigation to its natural end, raising suspicions that it is mostly for show. He'd already decided, I think we all know that.

Even his 'decision' to incorporate two further conditions into the approval, purporting to support the community-led Lenox Project and Sayes Court Garden CIC, strike me as nothing more than a bit of good news with which to gloss over the approval of a development with tall towers, high density housing, appalling public transport connections and too many car parking spaces.

Architect Terry Farrell also attended the hearing - having not been seen since the famous 'build from the  ground-up' pledge on the first open day - and fresh from his unveiling of the Farrell Review which he worked on for the government. Conflict of interest? Can't think what you mean!

*I use the term ironically of course. One man with the power to make a decision which will irrevocably change the lives of many, and not in a good way.