Friday, 17 July 2015

Convoys Wharf - homes at last!

I've been planning to write a post about all things Convoys Wharf for the last couple of months; events last weekend have finally given me the nudge I needed to actually get on with it.

Having spent years moaning on about how this site should be redeveloped to provide more than just unaffordable and slightly-less-unaffordable housing, I am delighted to report that it's currently providing free housing for a group of travellers who pitched up at the weekend. 

Eleven caravans and their occupants arrived on the site and set themselves up next to one of the big remaining warehouses - this picture on Twitter taken by a resident of Paynes & Borthwick tower on the east side of Convoys Wharf is also a good indication of the scale of the site.

(Photo courtesy @insyncbody)
A day or so later they had relocated to the inside of the warehouse. I guess those doors just swung open in that windy weather we had. 

(Photo courtesy @insyncbody)
The gates on Grove Street are now wide open and the site has officially been declared a home by its current residents.

The guards sit impotently outside, unable to impede anyone from entering or leaving and it seems there will be no change on this for a couple of weeks at least; a new poster stuck on the gates next to the occupants' declaration of residency gives notice of a hearing at Woolwich County Court on 24th July. 

The ticking time-bomb of our capital's housing crisis - which the Mayor of London seems to think will be adequately addressed by allowing developers to build overpriced apartments while shirking any responsibility for housing our low-paid key workers - provides a sobering backdrop to this kind of shenanigans. While some people may prefer to live in caravans, there are an increasing number who are forced to do so out of financial necessity and a lack of options. The number of people living afloat long term is also booming - a few years ago the canals of east London were largely deserted; now they are lined for miles with craft of all shapes, sizes and states of repair which serve as homes for our city's residents. 

I'm sure this is only a minor and temporary thorn in the side of site owner Hutchison Whampoa, but the past 18 months have raised ongoing questions about their intentions for this land.

You may remember that the company demanded the Mayor of London call in the planning application because they were annoyed at Lewisham Council 'taking too long' to consider their proposals. It's a huge site and a very significant piece of land for this borough, being the majority of our waterfront, even before you consider the historical context of the Royal Dockyard, Sayes Court Garden, Pepys and John Evelyn. Hutchison Whampoa's complaint that the council's planners were doing their job thoroughly and carefully says a lot about this developer as an organisation.

So with planning permission granted by the Mayor of London in March last year, and the section 106 agreement finally signed this March, Hutchison Whampoa must be firing on all cylinders, getting mobilised to get moving on this development they've been planning for so long, right?


In the four months since the S106 was signed (and almost 18 months since they received the go-ahead for their outline application) not a single detailed planning application has been lodged with Lewisham's planning department.

You cannot tell me that a developer with the resources of Hutchison Whampoa is unable to work up detailed planning applications in that amount of time. By the volume and extent of their protestations to Boris, you'd think they had the detailed plans all set out and ready to unleash two years ago!

Perhaps HW will try and put the blame on the community projects Sayes Court Garden and The Lenox Project, but the truth is that neither of these schemes is located in the east end of the site, which is scheduled for the first phase works.

In fact I understand that yesterday's planned site visit to Convoys Wharf - on the very first day of the somewhat-controversial feasibility study for the Lenox Project - descended into farce, with the assessor and his team first denied access and then granted it and then eventually denied it again by HW. With the customary lack of manners that reports suggest have been consistent throughout the last couple of years' negotiations, HW staff didn't even bother to attend.

The continued lack of any progress on the site in the face of the demand for intervention, surely begs the question, who's yanking whose chain? Presumably Boris doesn't give a shit that he's been made a fool of over this - he'll be off next year and handing over the reins of (considerable) power.

We, on the other hand, are back to waiting. Good luck to the current residents of the site - at least someone has a home for now.