Catford deal closed

Lewisham Council has announced the completion of the purchase of the Catford shopping centre:

Lewisham Council has exchanged contracts in a deal that moves the renewal of Catford town centre a major step forward.

The deal will see the ownership of freehold and leasehold interests in and around the Catford Centre transfer from current owners, St Modwen Investments, to a wholly owned company set up by the Council to be called Catford Regeneration Partnership Limited (CRPL).

What next?

It is clear that what the Council wants to do is increase density, that’s what’s stated in the Council’s plan for the area, the shopping centre is a one storey building and this is for planners a huge opportunity. And since Catford is already an urban environment and we must build houses somewhere there’s not much that’s wrong with that, but of course the devil’s in the details.

Catford may not be upmarket, but it’s very lively, all the retail units are let out and working and the place is bustling with activity every day of the week. I believe that this is a richness that must not be squandered.
That area is the heart of Catford and as we know some open heart surgery procedures are a complete success but for the detail that the patient dies.
Do they want to retain Milford Towers? Do they want to scrap it and redo the lot? If so where and how will the residents be decanted? Do they have alternative sites for the shops that today utilize the units at Catford centre? The market?
The continued vitality of Catford must be the centre point of any plan.

Lewisham Centre is a flashing warning about what can happen when Lewisham Council wants to develop big projects and gets something crucial wrong.
Last week’s announcement that what was until recently a functioning shopping parade will be demolished to make way for a little garden is exactly the kind of risk that Catford starts to run with today’s announcement.
That demolition follows neglect, the neglect was caused by a false sense of security that a development would have taken place shortly. And now for quite a while there won’t be a new redeveloped centre and there won’t be the old parade of shops either. Only a “temporary” landscaping. A small fig leaf on a gigantic failure.

Let’s not move on from one failure to the next one.

The plan for Catford must be desirable and realistic, and it must not unnecessarily deteriorate the environment way ahead of the new development taking place.
And transparency is the key to success. As a guarantee that those involved don’t start believing in their own spin, with all the results (or non-results) that we’re now seeing at Lewisham Centre.

Catford is highly improvable and the Council does well to pursue a change. But it doesn’t all start and end at the shopping centre and Milford Towers, let’s not forget of other even worse parts of Catford.
The Plassy Road retail island is one of the worst places to be in-the-world. It’s bad planning on steroids. Is not even an urban environment, it would only make sense on a motorway, and an energetic effort should be made to transform it. I hope that the Council is speaking with all occupiers so that it can be redeveloped. Personally I think that that should be as much a priority as the shopping centre site.

Another big site in Catford is of course the Dogtrack. I opposed the currently planned development as too dense for a cul-de-sac that gives on a nearly constantly gridlocked road. But the objection was not upheld and planning consent was given in October 2008. Now the crisis has put a halt to it, but for how long that? I’d much rather see it used for something else, whether employment, education or wonderful almshouses overlooking Ladywell Fields. How appropriate that use would be for that site? We don’t build sheltered accommodations anymore! We’ll regret that when it’s out time to hit the scrapheap.

But in Catford there is also a trail of neglect that is completely down to TfL that holds up the area by keeping its options open for a re-routing of the South Circular that’s been talked about for years but never implemented, and that’s possibly the largest stumbling block for Catford.
Catford is an important centre and it’s clearly lost its ways. For the shopping centre there’s now a single ownership and that’s a good thing, for the rest there are many heads to knock together and a big job ahead.

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