Sunday, 29 October 2017

The scandal of Deptford's empty homes and abandoned public realm

When Lewisham Council spends £4 million annually on providing temporary accommodation, and the borough has one of the highest levels of rough sleepers in London, why are newly-built apartments allowed to stand empty?

And why is the council allowing the same developers to wriggle out of their commitments to improve public realm, plant trees and provide disabled parking spaces?


This development on the corner of New Cross Road and Watson's Street has been finished for more than a year now.

The red brick building which faces onto New Cross Road and the smaller, grey/brown bricked block are part of the same development by Kitewood Estates which created a total of 44 new homes; 35 for private ownership and 9 for social rent. The flats for social rent are located in the lower block on Watson's Street, at the end of the development furthest from New Cross Road - the entrance, or 'poor door', to the social housing is in the extreme left of the picture below.


Not a single one of the private flats, which have separate entrances closer to New Cross Road, is occupied; they have lain empty since the block was finished. 

The entrance to the low-rise flats has a sign propped in the window warning that the properties are protected by a security firm; the corridor leading from the street to the flats on the main road still has protective covering on the floor and several notices in the door warning that entry is forbidden and giving a phone number for deliveries.


The casual passer-by might be forgiven for thinking that the blocks are still under construction - the large retail units at street level have been boarded up since being built, and the patchwork of footpath and public realm on Watson's Street is clearly nowhere near finished.

But the social housing is already occupied and the pavement has been like this for months. Surely this is not how it is supposed to be?

Indeed not - the planning application for the block (which was initially refused by Lewisham Council but which was passed at appeal) gives details of the soft landscaping and public realm improvements that the developer was promising.

You can get a clue from the rendering below, although for the full details it's necessary to go to the drawings.


The plans promise six semi-mature trees (five London Plane trees, and one Tulip Tree) and six Witch Hazel shrubs next to the block, to soften its hard edges no doubt. Three mature trees were removed so that the block could be built.


The soft landscaping was even made one of the conditions when the application was given permission at appeal. 

The inspector's report said:
All planting, seeding or turfing comprised in the landscaping scheme hereby approved shall be carried out in the first planting and seeding seasons following the occupation of the buildings, or the completion of the development, whichever is the sooner. Any trees or plants which within a period of 5 years from the completion of the development die, are removed or become seriously damaged or diseased, shall be replaced in the next planting season with others of similar size and species.

As well as soft landscaping, the plans included the creation of four disabled parking bays (the ground floor flats are designed to be accessible for wheelchairs) and a delivery bay, presumably to service the retail units and/or allow parking for refuse collections.

Instead there is a mish-mash of asphalt, a wave of shabby paving stones that hug the edge of the block for dear life, and remnants of the concrete pavement that dates back long before the building work started. If you're walking down here watch your step, especially if you are old or unsteady on your feet - pity the few new residents who have to negotiate it on a daily basis.


When developers fail to deliver on this kind of commitment, and bugger off leaving the job unfinished, it's down to the council's planning enforcement team to sort it out. Officers have the power to investigate breaches and ensure that developers don't get away with cutting corners.

But Lewisham Council's planning enforcement team had other ideas. After the Deptford Society brought it to their attention last year, an 'investigation' was launched.

A copy of the officer's report, which was issued to the Deptford Society last week when they chased the issue up, came into my possession.

The report makes interesting, if jaw-dropping, reading.

Responsibility for enforcing the construction of disabled parking bays was dismissed with the excuse that "if parking is required to make the scheme acceptable then it would have been specified by the planning inspector as a condition for the development".

As for the public realm the comments confirm they couldn't even be arsed to visit the site:
"The aerial photos shows that the soft landscaping scheme has been substantially implemented; to the extent that the aerial photos only show a minor difference to what was approved as part of the appeal decision. The information gathered as part of the desktop study demonstrates that the conditions have been substantially met, and that any breaches of the planning conditions are only minor in nature."



Allowing a public pavement to be left in this state can only be described as negligent - not to mention a personal injury claim waiting to happen. 

And who are the villains in the piece? Which money-grabbing developer is responsible for leaving newly-built flats empty while housing is in such short supply?

Ironically, while the original development was the work of Kitewood Estates and they are most likely responsible for the unfinished state of the public realm, since July 2016 the entire block has been owned by London & Quadrant Housing Trust, bought at a cost of nearly £15 million. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Cycle superhighway proposals for Creek Road and Evelyn Street

TFL is rolling out plans to expand the cycle superhighway network across this part of London, and is currently consulting on proposals for a new route between Tower Bridge and Greenwich.

As well as creating fully segregated cycle lanes along the entire road, a whole host of other improvements are planned, not just for cyclists but for pedestrians as well. Simplified pedestrian crossings and improvements to public realm are proposed; one bus stop fewer is proposed for the Deptford Park section of the road, and most of those along Evelyn Street are set to be moved one way or another to make spaces between them a bit more even.

The overview map is shown below - there's no detail as yet on the plans for Lower Road, apparently this is still in consultation with Southwark given that the area around Canada Water is due to be heavily redeveloped in the near future.

The plans so far show the segregated cycle lanes crossing from the north side of the road to the south side just before Southwark Park, so that cyclists and motorists will no longer come into conflict on the unpleasant Rotherhithe roundabout. Further along on Evelyn Street they are back on the north side of the road, but as yet there are no suggestions as to where or how this will happen - presumably at one of the junctions that is earmarked for full remodelling.


(Click for a bigger version)

Plans for the bottom end of Deptford High Street are shown below - the current situation top (although this is now slightly out of date with the new, widened pavement already in place) and the proposed segregated lanes on the second image.



The main change to what's there now are restrictions on right turns and the removal of the two pedestrian crossings, which will be combined into one single crossing and brought much closer to the end of the high street.  

Motorists will no longer be able to turn right out of Deptford High Street towards Greenwich, nor will they be able to turn right into DHS from the Greenwich-bound lanes of Evelyn Street, which makes a lot of sense in terms of simplifying the situation for cyclists and pedestrians here. There will also be a ban on right turns out of Watergate Street.

Being a regular cycle commuter I'm firmly in favour of this proposal, and having used the segregated lanes in central London I relish the idea of similar facilities in our local area, making bike travel safer and easier for everyone.

Consultation is open until 19th November and there are plans available in the Deptford Lounge and Canada Water Library throughout the consultation - there's also a consultation event at Deptford Lounge this weekend where TFL staff will be present to answer questions (see below).

The online consultation has links to much more detailed maps of each section of the proposed route.

Consultation events:
Saturday 14 October 11am-3pm, Deptford Lounge 9 Giffin Street, SE8 4RH 
Tuesday 17 October 4-7pm, St Alfege Church Hall, 3 Greenwich Church Street, SE10 9BJ 
Saturday 21 October 11am-3pm, James Wolfe Primary School, 21 Randall Place, SE10 9LA Wednesday 25 October 3pm-7pm, The Finnish Church, 33 Albion Street, SE16 7JG 
Saturday 4 November 11am-3pm. The Finnish Church, 33 Albion Street, SE16 7JG 


Saturday, 23 September 2017

Deptford Cinema patron scheme and volunteers

Deptford is lucky to have its own independent cinema, thanks to its dedicated crew of volunteers who have spent many hours renovating the property on Deptford Broadway and now provide an incredibly varied programme of films and events.

They have plans to make further improvements and have recently launched a patron scheme to try and raise funds to support this work.

You can become a patron for just £25 and as well as getting perks such as a free screening every month for you and a guest, you'll be giving them the means to expand and improve what the cinema does.

They say:
"An overhaul of the cinema's electrical system is the next big thing in our plans. Once complete, it will allow us to be more adventurous with our programming and events, we can push forward with the creation of the darkroom and office space allowing us to start providing film and photography workshops and improve the lighting of the whole space to make it feel that much more homely. 

The shop front hasn't changed since we took over the space and we've great plans to replace the whole thing with a beautiful front with a big double door, seating and illuminated signage. 

Deptford Cinema is for everybody and as such we've plenty of plans to improve accessibility; such as a chairlift for the stairs and a hearing loop for our sound system."

I find it amazing that such a great facility has been created by volunteers and think it's well worth supporting.

As well as inviting people to join its patronage scheme, Deptford Cinema is always looking for new volunteers - if you want to sign up, or just find out more, pop along to the volunteer meeting which takes place every Sunday at 11am.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Creekside community under threat from 'box park' plans

On the face of it, a planning application to create a pop-up community of shipping containers on 'derelict' land behind the Bird's Nest pub in Deptford might seem a sensible use of an awkward parcel of land.

And if you read the planning documents, you could easily be lulled into thinking that this development offers nothing but benefits to the area.

Unfortunately the entire planning submission goes out of its way to gloss over the fact that this parcel of land is not just derelict industrial waste ground; in fact it is home to a small but long-established community of boat dwellers whose presence is one of the few positive elements highlighted in the conservation area assessment of this part of Creekside.

It's easy for the general public to forget that this community exists - with the yard at 2 Creekside no longer in regular use and most of the land around the waterside either inaccessible or fenced in, it's difficult to get a view of Theatre Arm, as this offshoot of the creek is known.

But it would be a bit remiss of the landowners to forget that they are there, considering that they collect rent on most of the moorings; in terms of the planning documents, the only real acknowledgement of their presence is these couple of renderings, along with a few boat outlines on some of the drawings.




There's a marked absence of any human aspect to the plans that have been submitted, not least in the fact that the impact the development will have on the residents of the creek has been utterly ignored.

The boating community is a diverse and varied one, with residents of all ages living on a wide range of vessels moored along the creek, some of which also directly support businesses. The residents assist each other in practical ways and have a strong and well-established community group, the Friends of Deptford Creek, which supports, represents and protects the human, natural and built environment of the creek. 

On the FODC website you can read Jeannie Seymour's story - her husband Julian Kingston is the longest-established resident on this site, having arrived here 30 years ago, well before the Docklands Light Railway was built. As well as running his welding business from the boat, Julian keeps his restored Saker cannon and Lenox Project trailer on the land next to it, along with half a dozen beehives which provide him with enough local honey to last the year.

And while tarpaulins may not give the best first impression, they can be a sign of good things to come. You can read Mat's story about restoring his broads cruiser Suffolk, his comments giving testimony to the strength of the community that exists.

The way of life these people have chosen may seem unconventional to some, but as Jeannie points out, the main difference is that they are afloat. They have all the same gadgets and facilities as 'normal' households - even a bath! - and they pay council tax and utility charges like everyone else.

Six of them moor on the riverside at 2 Creekside, and over the last 16 years have had to suffer the vagaries and poor management of the site by owner John Cierach (of murky goings-on fame). As this detailed post on Crosswhatfields explains, the murkiness that led to the demise of the Big Red pizza bus (and most likely also the demise of the subsequent tenant Wanderlust) has for years also been inflicted on those who call Theatre Arm home.


So what is the detail of the planning application proposal? 

Essentially the new owners of the land, Artworks Creekside 2 (a consortium between the former owner John Cierach and another company (Stow Projects) whose directors Charlie and William Fulford have history, among other things with box-park pop-ups such as 'Artworks Elephant' on the former Heygate estate in Elephant & Castle) want to stack a load of converted shipping containers up to create Deptford's very own box park. 

The plans include bringing the 'big red' bus behind the Bird's Nest back into use as a restaurant, and are also linked to proposals for number 3 Creekside across the road, now owned by another new company whose directors are the same as 2 Creekside. Make what you will of the fact that two different companies have been created for the purposes of what's being proposed and promoted in all other ways as a single, unified development.


The presence of the DLR restricts what can be built on the land at 2 Creekside, as there is an exclusion zone around the structure, so the plans include mobile 'shepherd's huts' under the viaduct with views across the creek. 

Or to be more precise, with views directly into the living quarters of the boat dwellers. The relative privacy that they currently enjoy will be gone in one fell swoop, with the vista for new tenants valued above any protection for those who already live there. So keen are the developers to boast how they will open up pedestrian access to the creek and provide new views across the water (or the mud for half the day, considering it's still tidal here) that they conveniently gloss over the fact these are people's homes.


The renderings show how active the river frontage is intended to be - in good weather the occupants of the mobile units will be able to spill out onto the creekside and enjoy the sunshine; the ground-floor units in the main stacks of shipping containers are intended as cafes or restaurants, so these are likely to have customers coming and going throughout the evening. 

The planning application disingenuously states that this development is 'not intended to be positioned as a late night venue', while simultaneously applying for opening hours extending to 11pm every weekday and till 1am on the weekends. With the site open from 8am, there will be no respite for those living on the water.

The boats which are shown on the other side of the creek wall seem to be mere afterthoughts, just there as decoration or in the spirit of accurate representation. It's almost as if Artworks Creekside is keen to be rid of these inconvenient incumbents.


This image from the planning application is probably the clearest indication of the attitude of Artworks Creekside towards its existing tenants. It clearly shows the impact the new units will have on the existing boats - this rendering being created from a photograph taken from the boat Julian uses as his workshop, the edge of which can be seen next to the creek wall. 

The renderings in the application give no indication that the rights of the existing residents (to privacy, to light, to quiet enjoyment and so on) have even been given even the most fleeting consideration.

There's no explanation of how they will get on and off their homes, take delivery of fuel, or continue to securely access utilities such as water, electricity, telephone lines and so on. 

There is no space for any residents to store equipment or park the vehicles by which they make their livings, and nowhere for Julian to relocate his beehives.

In short there is no consideration of how the proposed development could be successfully delivered without severely impacting on the existing residents.

The fact that the boat dwellers did not even receive official notification of the planning application from the council is also worrying - as registered council tax payers with their own letterboxes in the gate, why did they have to find out about the planning application from official notices on lamp-posts on the public highway? As direct 'neighbours' to the development, they should be statutory consultees  if the planning process is correctly followed.

While failures in official planning procedure are of concern, more worrying is the ongoing bullying and intimidation that the new site owners are inflicting on the existing residents, presumably in an attempt to drive them away so that they can progress their plans unhindered. 

Huge proposed hikes in rent, unreasonable demands (such as allowing other boats to moor alongside and giving people access across your own home), repeated threats of expensive court cases, and getting the Port of London Authority involved as a means of further increasing the costs to residents - all these tactics are being employed by Artworks Creekside in their unsavoury efforts to socially cleanse Theatre Arm. 

Without such murky goings on I might have been in favour of a slimmed-down version of this proposal, which if done properly could offer useful space for small businesses. With fewer shipping containers, proper, private moorings with secure access and facilities for existing residents, and restricted hours to provide the boaters with quiet enjoyment of their homes it might work - but with its current backers the whole idea leaves nothing but a nasty taste in my mouth.



Friday, 11 August 2017

Battle of Lewisham - 40th anniversary

The most famous brawl in the recent history of south east London will be commemorated this weekend in and around Deptford and New Cross.

On 13 August 1977, the National Front planned a march from New Cross to Lewisham against a background of ongoing racial tension in the area. The situation had been fuelled by dawn raids in the area earlier that year in which 21 young black people had been arrested, with the police claiming that they had been responsible for 90% of street crime in south London over the preceding six months.
Subsequent demonstrations in defence of the accused had been attacked by the National Front and race relations were at a low point.

A number of anti-fascist and anti-racist groups organised an opposition rally, assembling some 5,000 people in Ladywell Fields before deploying to try and stop the National Front demonstration.


Crowds gather on Clifton Rise (photo by Chris Swartz)

Initial efforts to stop the march were unsuccessful, with several thousand police playing a contentious part in accompanying the estimated 500 National Front members on their route, and the two sides ended up coming into contact on Lewisham High Street, where violent clashes ensued for more than an hour between the two sides as well as the police. Riot shields and batons were used for the first time on the British mainland.

In the end the NF abandoned their march and the protestors claimed victory, although there were conflicting opinions on whether the opposition had been successful in winning wider public support at the time. Ultimately it has become a symbol of community solidarity against racism and a badge for SE London to wear proudly.

There is plenty of fascinating material online about the clashes, including eye witness accounts and newspaper reports.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary, Goldsmiths has organised a series of walks, talks and shows culminating in a community festival on Sunday 13th at the Albany.

There's an exhibition of photographs on show at Goldsmiths until the end of the month, a maroon plaque commemorating the event will be unveiled on Clifton Rise on Sunday between 12 and 1pm, and a gig at the Albany on Sunday night.

See the website for full details of events.

Cafe Royal Books has also published a book of photographs which are available here.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Deptford Community Pride - this Saturday

First in what's intended to be an annual event, this weekend sees Deptford LGBTIQ Community Pride 2017 being launched in Deptford Market Yard.



There's an afternoon of workshops, stalls in the yard and a programme of entertainment in the evening - and it's all free to attend!

The organisers write:
"The event will consist of empowering workshops, inspiring activist stalls and amazing performances and DJs. Our compere for the day is the sasssy Kevin Le Grande: not only is she a 6 foot tall gorgeous leggy blonde, she is also a Queer cabaret and performance artist. Using speech, song and dance to discuss politics and share stories for comedic affect, she has performed in venues all over the country. We are excited to have her as our compere for the entire day. She’s sick, she’s tired and she has something to say!"

 Workshop listings:
 • Jai's Wutian Martial Arts Institute London – LGBTIQ Self-Defence class (2pm - 3pm)
 • 'Exploring Identity workshop' with Intersex activist and human-rights campaigner Valentino Chienmortx (3pm - 4pm) 
• 'Customise a T-shirt workshop' with non-binary artist Ruby Barclay (3-4pm)
 • 'Beginners workshop on Screenprinting' with Queer printmaker Hannah Toehill (4pm - 5pm)
 • 'Self-care workshop' with transgender woman and mental-health nurse Sami Hillyer (4pm - 5pm)
 • 'Knitflex and Chill'- knitting and stress-relief focused workshop with queer feminist activist Georgia Little (5pm - 6pm)
 • 'Sober Space' - workshop and conversation around the safeness and accesibility of London's support services (this workshop is a strictly alcohol-free zone) (5pm - 6pm)

Stalls (2pm - 6pm)  • Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants • Movement for Justice • South East London Sisters Uncut • The UK Lesbian and Gay immigration group • Sexual Avengers • The Outside Project • Cat Sims zines and more

Performers (7pm - 10.30pm)
Spoken word & live music: • Damien Arness Dalton • SJ Soulist • Alana Francis • Danielle Adomah • Charmpit DJs: • Lady Miss Ikea • Resis'dance • BBZ (individual timings TBC)

All donations raised from the event will be evenly split between:

The Outside Project: The outside project is currently fundraising to create the UK's first LGBTQI+ winter shelter. (https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/TheOutsideProject)

The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group: The UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) is a charity that promotes equality and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people who seek asylum in the UK. (https://uklgig.org.uk/)

Facebook listing here https://www.facebook.com/events/487023428305222/
2-10.30pm
Deptford Market Yard

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Gin and beer..

..not in the same glass I presume, but you never know. Might start a new trend.

That's the moniker of a new bar planning to set up in Resolution Way, which looks like it could soon  become the golden (quarter) mile of Deptford pub crawling if this trend continues. 


Gin & Beer (https://twitter.com/GinandBeerltd) is setting up shop in number 2 arch, right next door to Buster Mantis, and will apparently specialise in Belgian beers ('all styles including Trappist, new wave craft, lambic and sours') and a huge variety of gins too - about a hundred different ones. That's quite a night out.

There's still a way to go yet as they have only just applied for planning permission to convert the arch, but they have said in a News Shopper interview that they are planning to open in the next couple of months.

I wonder if they are paying attention to the recent issues next door?

The licensees of Buster Mantis were summoned to a hearing recently by the licensing committee, after ongoing problems with residents whose properties overlook Resolution Way. The bar is licensed until 2am at the weekends and residents complained about noise from music playing inside the bar, and the noise of customers leaving the bar in the early hours of the morning.

Although the licensing committee did not decide to reduce the opening hours of the bar, Buster Mantis was ordered to install double glazing to the two units, as well as fitting a 'noise limiter' inside to try and reduce the nuisance caused to neighbours by the music.

This is not going to help with the noise caused by customers leaving the bar in the early hours, which I imagine is amplified by the narrow street and tall buildings that run along both sides, and the impact of more boozers opening along here is only going to add to this. On the other hand, maybe the presence of more bars will enable multiple business owners to work together to minimise the impact by encouraging people to disperse quickly and quietly when they leave.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Community meeting about Arklow Road ball court

A community meeting is being held this Thursday for people who are interested in campaigning to save the ball court on Arklow Road. 


Lewisham Council recently announced plans to build a new development of temporary housing on the site, but some residents have raised concerns about the loss of play facilities in the area, and want the council to consider renovating it instead.

The meeting is Thursday 20th July at 7pm at the Olivet Baptist Church, opposite the ball court.

Tidemill Garden celebrates its 20th birthday

This weekend the Tidemill Wildlife Garden is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a family open day including games, story-telling, free veggie food provided by the Deptford People Project, a pop-up bar by Little Nan's and bands including The Ukadelix, Cre8ive Choir, Tom Moody, the Inheritors and Rhiannon & the Nightmare.

It takes place on Saturday 22nd July, running from 4pm till 11pm, and will include a community drum circle, a show by the Magic Book Theatre, a treasure hunt and coconut shy/human fruit machine. 



If you can't make it this weekend, why not pop in another Saturday, it's open to the public every weekend (details here). If the council has its way you won't have much longer to enjoy this lovely green space...

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Sayes Court Gardens is fundraising!

Sayes Court Garden CIC is fundraising on Spacehive to support its plans to establish a community and outdoor classroom in Sayes Court Park at the top of Grove Street.

Once three times the size, Sayes Court will in time reclaim its lost land and leap the fence into the Convoys Wharf development, being one of two community-led projects that successfully lobbied for space on the site - the other being the Lenox Project. 

They say: "Before that happens, Sayes Court Park will be the community-led testing ground where we imagine and plan what that future will look like. Together we'll transform this neglected park into a source of pride for Deptford and a destination for London. This legacy is an invitation to test, grow and transform a part of the city, making better places to live. Through collaborative workshops, events and a reinstated pavilion, Sayes Court will become a centre for the community once again."

The CIC is looking to raise £40k for a number of initiatives which are detailed on the Spacehive site. Pledges will only be taken if the project reaches its target, so if you want to support these ambitious plans, please pledge, share and help them to raise their profile.