Friday, February 2, 2018

Reginald Road & Achilles Street – trying to be heard and seen

At the Birds Nest roundabout
We first noticed this banner at the Birds Nest roundabout on Sunday 28th January, but it was apparently one of five that went up around Deptford on Friday evening.

Protesters were trying to highlight the plight of Council tenants whose homes (and businesses) are due for demolition to make way for new developments planned by Lewisham Council. Publicly owned green space (Tidemill Old Wildlife Garden) will also be lost. The Council defends its policy of demolition on the basis that more social housing can be built in its place as a result of it partnering with private developers who will of course build even more private housing as well. Never mind that the tenants themselves do not want their homes demolished.

On the overpass at Deptford Bridge DLR

Such deals are common across London Labour boroughs, the most controversial being the Heygate and Aylesbury estate regenerations in Southwark where very little social if any housing has been achieved and so many people have been displaced. The most recent controversy is the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) which has resulted in the leader of Haringey Labour resigning after Councillors who supported the plan to go 50/50 with Lend Lease were voted out in local elections to be replaced with new Councillors who opposed the plan.

At Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Reginald Road

We've covered the Tidemill and Reginald Road story quite a lot on this blog, the last post being an overdue report in November on the September planning decision, surely one of the most undemocratic planning meetings in the present administration's history.

We also caught up in November with what is going on at Achilles Street in New Cross – just the other side of the underpass. Tenants and leaseholders as well as businesses are fighting to save their homes, shops and restaurants, while the Council drags its heels on its plans – without giving any indication that they will change them in any way. As with Tidemill (where the publicly funded subsidy for the affordable housing was not secured till the very last minute) such delays are usually due to the Council finding suitable development partners.

Fordham Park end of the New Cross underpass

Fortunately, another writer is keeping us to date with what is going on at Reginald Road and Achilles Street. PHD student Anita Strasser has just posted on her blog Deptford Is Changing. She notes how tenants' mental health is affected when they have no control over their own futures, and how (often family-run) shops and businesses risk losing their livelihoods. The Council refuses to ballot those affected.

Deptford end of the underpass

The banners remind us of how difficult it is for ordinary people's voices to be heard. A recent YouGov poll found that 71% feel they have no control over the important decisions that affect their neighbourhood and local community.

The campaign to bring back the Deptford Anchor is being hailed by some as a triumph of "People Power", but people's lives were not affected or put on hold while the Council took almost five years to capitulate to the campaigner's wishes. Reginald Road tenants have been living in limbo for almost ten years since regeneration plans for Tidemill were first mooted. Tenants and businesses affected by threats of demolition cannot afford the luxury of waiting so long to find out their fate.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Welcome back, Deptford Anchor

The best pic we've seen so far, by CircusFit on Twitter

We haven't written about the Deptford Anchor since 2013 when a campaign began soon after it was removed. A petition was launched in late 2015 by the Deptford Society, which we linked to in our sidebar – but without any help from us the petition attracted hundreds of signatures within a few months.

Another week has gone by since this pic was taken – the installation of a plaque is awaited before the fencing around the site can be removed. 

Campaigners are already planning a celebratory 'sea shanty' procession down the high street this coming Saturday 3rd February, assembling at 12 sharp at Villages Brewery in Resolution Way and setting off soon after noisily singing shanties (song sheets provided) to head down to the anchor for a spirited toast to everyone who helped bring it back. (See the Facebook event). Expect a "salty sea farin' knees-up, all inclusive, home-spun, raucous fun Deptford Shanty Crew celebration".... 

Meanwhile, there are two exhibitions about the anchor in Deptford Does Art at 28 Deptford High Street, close to the anchor site. On the ground floor Deptford Is Forever are showing a 'visual campaign archive', which reveal their links with local community initiatives The Lenox Project and Sayes Court. Both those projects grew out of a previous campaign by Deptford Is to get the massive legacy of the historic Deptford Dockyard recognised in the plans for Convoys Wharf by site owners Hutchison Whampoa – a campaign which this blog covered extensively in 2013 and up until the developer got planning permission from the Mayor of London in 2014. 

In the downstairs gallery at Deptford Does Art is the final year show of (now graduated) MA Landscape Architect student Max Barnes, who was inspired to make work about the Deptford Anchor by visiting tutors at Greenwich University, Bob Bagley & Roo Angel – the founders of Sayes Court. Barnes imagines the anchor being dragged from its storage place on Convoys Wharf back to the high street, gouging out the tarmac as it goes to create a fantastical new environment. The show closes on Sunday 4th Feb so catch it while you can. 

There are also two talks this weekend in the basement gallery where Barnes has created the context for a new take on the redevelopment of Convoys Wharf, aka Deptford Dockyard.
Friday 3rd Feb at 7.30pm The Lenox Project
•  Saturday 4th at 3pm, Sayes Court.  

From what we can glean on the Deptford Is Forever website, various 'artistic' street interventions over the years helped publicise the petition till it reached over 4,000 in November 2016. Deptford Is Forever seem to be the naughty artistic wing of an otherwise respectable Deptford Society. But it seems the Council had started to take notice when the petition hit around 3,300. At least that's the figure mentioned in the Feasibility Study they saw fit to commission a few months after the petition had already hit that figure. 

We also note that the campaigners seemed to spend most of 2017 in delayed and protracted talks with the Council, because although the Mayor had agreed the anchor could return, the Deputy Mayor was very averse to it being installed in a position where it could actually be seen. A little bird tells us Cllr Alan Smith, who now seems to have quite a reputation for exaggerated and ill-founded expertise, also claimed it wasn't even a real anchor, and that the entire area was full of high power cables just waiting to explode on touch. It seems he expounded these fears on the basis that his wife once worked for UK Power Networks (and not because his own administration had a proper and authoritative conversation with the utility operator in question).

But all that is by-the-by now, as last week our bit of ol' iron was finally brought back and re-installed on a generous bed of cobbles – seemingly a bigger area than the visuals shown in the planning submission of July/August 2017. The old anchor (thought to originate in part from the 1860s) has been thoroughly cleaned up and the chain has been welded together, presumably for health and safety reasons. It can no longer be dragged out into the street by a passionately inebriated person as Ben Graville's pic shows here. 

©Ben Graville

There is no longer a plinth for the public to sit on, but it seems the campaigners acknowledged that the plinth could not be returned. The anchor was removed because of the anti-social behaviour of the street drinkers who congregated there in the latter days of its previous existence, so the Council were unlikely to allow it to happen again.

Meanwhile, 28 Deptford High Street is a Council-owned building that was originally part of the regeneration plans that saw the anchor removed in 2013, so it seems fitting that the anchor campaigners have found a temporary home there at the same time as the anchor returns. 

The 2013 street regeneration funding (from the Mayor of London's Outer London fund, not from Lewisham's own coffers) went to refurbishing the flats upstairs at no.28, but seemingly ran out when it came to doing up the shop, which had previously been a much-needed community Law Centre. The shop lay empty until money was found for refurbishment in 2016, then lay empty again until the Council put out a tender in 2017, having changed its planning use from A2 Financial to A1/A3 so that food and drink could be consumed in a retail environment. Unfortunately the refurbishment stopped short of providing a proper kitchen...

Deptford Does Art, who have been placing local artists' work in pubs and other venues in the area for a couple of years, fulfilled Lewisham's brief to provide a commercially viable community hub at No.28 DHS, but they weren't the first winners. Several groups applied, including a consortium of local community projects and activists headed up by the Deptford People Project (who have been providing free food to the homeless for some years). 

No one actually knows who won, but whoever they were, they pulled out, and Deptford Does Art were consequently invited to take on the premises, and do the best they could with a draconian lease, hardly any discount in rent or business rates, as well as no kitchen and no disabled access! They offer craft beers, wine, coffee and speciality teas, as well as vegan cakes and savoury bites, and are open Wed-Sun, 12-10.30pm. Local artists are queuing up to show their work.

Deptford Does Arts's rosta of artists is unlikely to include the kind of contemporary artist who used to show at Hales Gallery and Cafe, which older residents will remember with fondness, as the cafe had such a beautiful back garden; such lovely outdoor spaces are in limited supply both then and now. The gallery downstairs put on shows that Charles Saatchi was known to visit and buy from. 

Who can remember when Hales Gallery got too successful for Deptford? For some landlords on the high street, the continual promise of gentrification wasn't happening soon enough. Hales Gallery, for instance, needed to capitalise on the interest they had in the artists they represented and were desperate to be in a more fashionable location (and a larger space) to continue their ambitions in the international art market. Hales Gallery moved to Shoreditch in 2004.

They were not only ahead of the game, they had also benefitted from all the public funds going into the area. As a member of Shaftesbury Christian Centre (aka Bear Church), Hales owner Paul Maslin took advantage of grants and charity exemptions. Then he sold No.30 to Jennings the bookmaker who immediately sold it on to Corals, which precipitated a free-for-all for bookies wanting to take over the high street and a campaign we ran in 2011 against Betfred. Paul Maslin is one three Councillors for New Cross Ward (covering the area in question). 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Demolition Deptford #4 : Number One Creekside

Another long overdue post...

Back in September, Bluecroft Property (now 'Bluecroft Creekside') held a little-publicised consultation on their plans for Number One Creekside. Attendees could admire a lovely wooden model of their neighbourhood but could only express shock and dismay at the balsa wood representation of the building that Bluecroft intend to construct on the corner of Creekside where it meets Deptford Church Street opposite the Birds Nest.

In a previous post we wrote about how Lewisham Council gifted the developer a strip of green publicly-owned land that runs alongside Deptford Church Street in exchange for a lease on some commercial space in the new building to be run as creative workspace or artists' studios.

Yes, in order to build this monstrosity, we're to lose at least ten mature trees, which help to mitigate the pollution at this stretch of Deptford Church Street, where pollution readings at the roundabout have been as high as 62microns when the EU limit is 40. That is why we're including it in the 'Demolition Deptford' series – it's wanton vandalism of Deptford's green lungs and it's in addition to the 70+ trees that will be lost at Tidemill across the road. As usual it's green space versus housing and employment.

Apart from 'at least 1200sqm of ground floor workspace', the scheme proposes 55-60 new homes. Nothing on the exhibition boards mentioned affordable housing.

The oddly shaped building is made up of two towers joined together by a lower middle area, described as "preserving views between the two and forming a sculpted townscape proposition above a three-storey podium with shared amenity space connecting the two". This indicates that the entire site would have been one huge structure, but for the necessity to "preserve the view" – presumably of St Paul's Cathedral so that it's visible from Point Hill in Greenwich. (That is the usual reason for holes in buildings – such as the one in the ugly Creekside Village building on Creek Road, no doubt masquerading as a 'sculpted townscape').

The gap certainly doesn't seem to be designed to save any sunlight for Frankham House residents as it doesn't line up. Nope, their morning light will be gone, and all their other light removed by the Tidemill development. We'll have to wait for the daylight/sunlight studies in the planning application to see the impact on other residential buildings next to the site, but Cremer and Wilshaw residents will be affected by the building works, Cremer's south facing windows will lose their light and be overlooked, as will the allotments next to Cremer, and the top of Creekside will be impassable during construction.

View from the east – big gap doesn't help Frankham House behind it

As is the case with other monstrosities in the area, the design draws on "the rugged buildings of the industrial mills which remain around Deptford Creek". Actually there is only one mill building remaining  and that's Mumford's Mill on Greenwich High Road. It used to be much needed creative workspace before it was turned into flats, but it's good that the building was preserved for posterity. Yet God knows why dark satanic mills should continue to be referenced – it's hardly appropriate for the 21st century, but planning departments seem to encourage it, using historical precedent to justify developers' profiteering towers blocks, which now seem obliged to have a pitched roof on top.

The area in the 1940s (that's the Bird's Nest in the middle)

Illustration of Hope Wharf, currently going up in Greenwich High Road and overshadowing
Deptford Creek
Number One Creekside encroaching on Deptford Church Street

The north tower next to Cremer House appears to have seven storeys – two taller than Cremer – but we were told the design is still being worked on, and the strangely shaped roof spaces are likely to accommodate another two to three floors of (pent) housing. The southerly tower has nine storeys, with another two/three to be accommodated in the roof area – so potentially 12 storeys towering over the Bird's Nest and Frankham House. The owner of the Bird's Nest was reported as coming away from the consultation in tears. Apart from the nightmare of two to three years of building works, once built, sensitive new residents will most likely make sure this noisy pub is closed down.

Both the developer and Lewisham Planning obviously envisage this carbuncle as a signature building for Deptford Church Street. Coupled with the plans for Tidemill (six storeys to go up opposite this 12 storey tower), the streetscape here is going to change dramatically.

Strangely, the developer's architects also predict a completely new road environment, as they have drawn Deptford Church Street not as a dual carriageway, but as a two-lane road without a central reservation.

View from the north, showing the 5-storey Castell and Cremer Houses on the left

Oh, they said, that's because Lewisham have plans for the road.

Bluecroft had intended to submit a planning application this Autumn and hoped to commence work on the site in summer 2018. Nothing in planning yet, but if they're anything like other developers, they'll submit over Christmas and New Year when everyone's too busy to notice.

Demolition Deptford #3 : Achilles Street

In May 2016, Lewisham Council unveiled its plans to redevelop the Achilles Street area. The Council is proposing to demolish all of the homes and local businesses in order to build high rise, high density housing in partnership with private developers.

Residents of the existing low-rise housing in Achilles Street have got together with the other residents and businesses affected by the re-development proposals to oppose the plans. You can follow their story on the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign website, or see their Facebook page.

Lewisham's proposals can be found here. The options originally presented to residents in the preceding months can be found on page 7. However, the only option now being considered is demolition.

Retain current estate – this would cause no disruption to residents and businesses but would not create any new homes:

Infill & refurbishment – much less disruption, with up to 25 new homes:

Redevelopmentdemolition of all homes and businesses (except The Venue) to build "at least double the number of council homes, other 'affordable housing' and 'quality' student homes" (numbers unspecified):

Funny how any social housing next to a park is seen as ripe for redevelopment. Naturally the scheme includes a tower block that will afford wonderful views across Fordham Park and central London which will undoubtedly be private.

The other 7-storey blocks next to the park are claimed to also have these views, though the drawings show them only having views of each other. Existing residents will have no choice about where they'll be rehoused – it will be in the 7 storey block on the road at the far end of the park, with a lovely view of the railway.

Obviously, campaigners would prefer the 'infill and refurbishment' option, but argue that Lewisham has not spent any money on working up costs and plans for that option.

They say the existing 87 council homes (the Council says there are only 55) are structurally sound and meet the Council's 'Decent Homes' standard, but are suffering from 'managed decline' through a failure of Lewisham Homes to spend on maintenance, repairs and pest control (the Council insists the buildings attract vermin because they're old). The lack of spending on maintenance became highly apparent after a recent FoI request revealed that income for 4 blocks in the last 6 years in rent and service charges totalled £2,601,009, but in the same period only £238,899 has been spent on repairs and maintenance.

Campaigners have drawn up a Fact Sheet to make their case. They argue that the Council's plan to destroy homes, livelihoods and the local community will do nothing to address the shortage of council housing in Lewisham because the vast majority of the new homes (currently estimated to be between 350 to 450) will be private, for sale and rent at market rates. In other words the ratio of social housing to private dwellings in the borough will actually decrease as more of the latter are being built. See the Council's response to the Fact Sheet here.

After several delays (creating enormous insecurity for residents and businesses), the plans are to be presented to Mayor & Cabinet on November 15th.

Demolition Deptford #2 : events on November 5th & 12th

Bonfire Night Event
Sunday 5th November, 4–8pm
Old Tidemill Garden. FREE

For those interested in the ongoing campaign to save Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and 2-30a Reginald Road (the block of flats next to it), there's an opportunity to enjoy an evening in the garden while it still exists. There'll be food and hot beverages available. Bring along an instrument and/or songs to share for a musical jam around the campfire.

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham Benefit
Sunday 12th November, 6–11pm
Bird's Nest pub. FREE

Since the Tidemill application went through, the Old Tidemill Garden volunteers have been joining up with other campaigners in the area. This event brings them all together in a fundraiser, with the organisers (The Four Fathers) identifying the most pressing issues as:
– Planned destruction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and 2-30a Reginald Road
– Proposed destruction of social housing and shops around Achilles Street in New Cross
– Proposed destruction of green space to build high rise development at No.1 Creekside
– Proposed clearing of boat dwellers on Creek at No.2 Creekside to make way for 'box park' and later development.

On the bill:
Potent Whisper - razor-sharp political spoken word artist
The Four Fathers - militant rock and roots reggae
The Commie Faggots - theatrical singalong politics
Asher Baker - Southwark-based rapper
The Wiz-RD - teenage beatbox poet
Ukadelix - local ukulele group