The Meridian South development in Hither Green was born under good auspices. Laying perfectly across the Greenwich Meridian line, it retains some of the features of the Hither Green Hospital that stood there before, a local architectural gem designed by Edwin T. Hall, also architect of Liberty department store.
To potential buyers Meridian South presented itself very well, and in fact it turned out a very nice place to live, it also has a beautiful central piazza, graced by a well kept green and truly landmark clock-tower. The piazza was supposed to host the bustling commercial heart of the development, making a peaceful place also a convenient one for shopping.
Unfortunately as the years passed all the commercial units remained empty and the settlers became familiar with the boarded up commercial spaces.
The problem of that place has been clear to me for a long time, and it’s one of planning, those business units enjoy no passing trade whatsoever. The development is rather enclosed, and although it’s not a gated community its design makes no effort to invite people from outside in, this is of benefit to the peace and quiet of the residents but it does not invite potential shoppers either.
Much emphasis is given by architect and planners to the “permeability” of a development. I think it’s fair to say that in this occasion that concept made it through only in part, but not enough to help trade in the development, but it’s a common feature of planning offices of Labour authorities to care more about housing targets than anything else, in fact not much of the original hospital would have remained if a local residents’ campaign wouldn’t have made that point effectively by involving CABE and ultimately forcing the planning department to protect at least some of the beautiful buildings of the former hospital as well as the precious mature trees thought to have been planted by a former superintendent and that protected by the hospital walls grew very well indeed (including a very rare Indian Bean tree considered the largest in the Country).
Quite obviously the development should have been planned differently, either by improving its permeability so that those units would have received increased footfall (but this would have obviously made the whole development less “nice and quiet”, a major selling point in its own right), or by placing the commercial units to the outside of the development altogether, either on Hither Green Lane or George Lane and adding commercial space to the existing shopping parade.
What it’s done instead is to add a whole new shopping precinct to Hither Green in competition with the two existing ones (Hither Green Lane and Springbank Road) that although not as nice enjoy a great deal of passing trade. And were you to open a business, where would you put it? Where it’s nicer or where it’s more likely to succeed?
But at the time this problem was not flagged up and all those that bought there were told that shops would have opened all around the piazza and in the biggest unit there would have been a gym.
In time only one shop opened, a Tesco Metro, and alone in the desert it remained for a long time, until last week, when the indoor minigolf opened!
When first word spread that an indoor Minigolf was going to open where a gym was expected instead many hearts sunk, and understandably too, but now it is here, and it’s a good one, and optimistically it may herald a new era for Meridian South.
Because whether you like it or not a good indoor Minigolf course is also a “destination”, and to an extent it may indeed put Hither Green “on the map”. It’s all down to marketing now, but among enthusiasts the word has already spread and in the first review of the course by someone in the know who travelled from Luton to play it we hear that:
“The course is the first full size Swedish Felt Minigolf Course that I know of in the UK.”
There you have it, Hither Green is now to Minigolf what Twickenham is to Rugby. We said it jokingly but it’s true. This is the gold standard of Minigolf, and it’s the only one of its kind in Britain.
And it’s not something that you buy off the shelf, as the owner says in his message to the minigolfing community:
My name is Nick, and I’m the manager of the course in Meridan South. I have spent the last 5 years designing and building the course, and then fitting out the unit. It had to be a Swedish felt run, as that’s what I used to play on back home when I was a kid (yes, I’m Swedish). I’m not too familiar with the lingo, but when you talk about A- or B- course I assume that it’s the size you refer to. It’s built according to the measurments for a competition course, the lanes being 90 cm wide, the greens 210 x210 and the holes 10.5 cm.
I have just recently managed to make contact with the BMCA, and of course I’d love to hold comps eventually, but may need a bit of help in organizing them.
So what next? Maybe a cafe. In fact rumours want that a cafe is in negotiation to open in another one of the units. And wouldn’t a Cafe benefit from the vicinity of a Minigolf? Of course it would. At that point the Piazza would have attracted its own footfall and maybe other businesses would want to open too, finally populating it with commercial life.
That would take some optimism, but who said that we must be pessimists? Surely this makes the piazza more rather than less likely to succeed. We have something to speak about, we must tell the world that the best indoor Minigolf in London is in Hither Green, only a ten minutes train ride from London Bridge.
It’s an opportunity to overcome the serious planning problem the Meridian South Piazza was born with. Unlikely as at first it may sound, the Minigolf may steer the Piazza towards that commercial vitality that so far eluded it.