Posts Tagged ‘Planning’

You read it here first

February 25, 2010

At last night’s Local Assembly for Lewisham Central ward, among the other presentations of community groups there was one update on the state of the developments at Town Centre delivered by no less than Mr John Miller, Head of Planning of Lewisham Council.

The news is that the Loampit Vale development is now due to start in “spring/summer 2010” with the delivery of the Leisure Centre now forecast for the first half of 2013. That’s after the London Olympics. As readers of this blog knew already.

The other information given about the developments is that the Gateway is not anymore viable and the Council will now wait until the economy improves to restart talks with developers. Whenever that is.

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Doing Civics in the 21st Century

February 9, 2010

A conference on Civic Societies and apparently also on Lewisham’s Local Development Framework (already discussed on this blog here).
Next week Thursday 18th February, 8pm to 10pm, The Golden Lion, 116 Sydenham Road, London SE26 5JX.
More here.

Thanks to Brockley Central for the tip.

Will Minigolf save the Meridian South Piazza?

February 9, 2010

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.

Short stay car park for Hither Green Lane (with poll)

February 4, 2010

Lewisham borough presents a variety of local parades, some are very successful, some less so.
Today Brockley Central posted an item about Honor Oak Park, which is probably as good as it gets and should be used as a benchmark for what a local parade can aspire to, and discusses the implications of parking policies for the shops of the area. The Council has in fact revealed that preventing commuters from leaving their car parked all day there has helped shops.

I thought that this is also an argument in support of short stay car park to help shops on Hither Green Lane, that today can only draw trade from pedestrians as the Lane is completely surrounded by CPZ.
Some short stay car park for shoppers could be provided either on the side roads or by building parking bays on the Lane and in the past I have already put this proposal to the Head of Highways of Lewisham Council.

But is there popular support for this measure?

Catford deal closed

February 3, 2010

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.

Pathetic excuse for lack of primary school places

January 29, 2010

From South London Press:

Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock said: “The main reason for the extra demand is the housing market.

“People who are living in properties in Lewisham who had every intention of moving are now stuck and need to find school places here.”

Pathetic isn’t it? He knew that there was a shortage coming, I knew there was a shortage coming coming for sure, everyone knew there was a shortage coming.
That warning gave the opportunity to plan ahead, the Council didn’t take the opportunity.
In the light of the projections in primary school needs the Council should have reviewed its plans at least a year ago but they left it to last minute and the consequences will be paid by the children and their families starting with the beginning of the next school year.

If there is a thing that’s worse than a lack of secondary school places is a lack of primary school places, and when the data about this shortage emerged the decision to close Lewisham Bridge Primary to demolish it and re-open as an all through primary and secondary combined to include a reduced primary provision on site should have been reviewed.
What we’re now facing are overcrowded primaries and possibly parents being forced into long term stress to bring their children to school somewhere away from where they live or work.

Allow me a little “I told you so” moment and link to a comment I left at Brockley Central on 28th April 2009 when I wrote:

Another issue is that when the decision to use Lewisham Bridge Primary as the site for the new secondary was taken part of the motivation was that the number of children attending it was dwindling and it would have been sized down anyway.
At the time I attended the meeting of the decision and it was reported to the Mayor that the Head of the school had indeed asked for a reduction in size of the school.

Now we have new projections for needs of places at primary schools and the forecast is that we’ll need many more primary places than available so if the plan goes ahead then the Council will have to start thinking about a new Primary too, that means spending for building two schools instead of one.

New Pool to miss Olympics

December 31, 2009

The Loampit Vale website homepage have not been updated in last few weeks, it still says:

Loampit Vale was granted planning permission at a Strategic Planning Committee meeting on 10th September 2009. Barratt Homes hope to start on site before the end of the year.

And unless works start in the next few hours before midnight this hope of Barratt will not realize.

Earlier today I passed by Lewisham Shopping Centre’s car park and from there there’s a good birds’ view of the site, I didn’t have a camera with me today, but apart from the seasonal colour the site looked exactly as it did a few weeks ago when I took this pictures in October.
Works have not started and the reason is clear, the business case for the Loampit Vale development stands on a 24 storeys high tower of one bedroom flats, and last week the Times told us that:

The effect of troubles in the City can be seen in the performance of the boroughs: Greenwich, a sought-after area in South East London within easy reach of Canary Wharf and popular with younger professionals and families employed there, has suffered this year, dropping 8.7 per cent.

Mr Lewis said: “The oversupply of new-build property around the Cutty Sark and Woolwich Arsenal has partly been to blame for the dip in prices.” The nearby areas of Lewisham and Tower Hamlets, also well-supplied with recently built apartment blocks marketed at first-time buyers, have also underperformed.

Three months ago, immediately after the Strategic Planning Committee unwisely voted in favour of planning consent to this scheme (Labour members for, all others against), I made here an analysis and a prediction. The analysis was that the developers are not in any hurry to start works, the prediction was that in the future a revised planning application to cut on amenities and affordable housing will be submitted.

And the fact that all was not well and that risks were high should not have been unknown to the committee members, in fact almost one year earlier, in November 2008, Sir Steve Bullock received this item telling him of a revised timetable for the delivery of the leisure centre:

5.2 Since the Mayor and Cabinet decision in July officers have been negotiating with Barratt a revision to the key terms which were proposed by Barratt in response to changing market conditions and the current economic situation with respect to the availability of credit. Other issues were also raised by Barratt but these did not result in the need to make any changes. As a result of this it has been agreed to extend the time Barratt have to deliver the new Leisure Centre from 24 to 36 months as Barratt had indicated that this was the only way they could continue with the scheme. The result of this deferment is to provide a cashflow for the scheme that is viable and enables them to continue with the scheme. Following this change contracts were exchanged with Barratt on 30th October

5.3 The time taken to negotiate the Development Agreement with Barratt had already pushed the programme back from an original planned completion date for the Leisure Centre at the end of 2010 to June 2011. This completion date was based on an assumed planning consent late January / early February 2009 with 6 months to complete outstanding S106 and Housing Corporation funding issues and clear the Judicial Review challenge period. On this basis, it was anticipated that the Development Agreement would become unconditional in June 2009 with Barratt then having 24 months to deliver the new Leisure Centre. The parties are still working to the original timetable for the Development Agreement to become unconditional. However, the 24 month period has now been extended to 36 months. Adding 12 months (on the basis of a June 2009 unconditional date) means an anticipated date for delivery of the new Leisure Centre not later than June 2012.

June 2012 is of course Olympic time for London and a new pool to celebrate it would be a great boast for Lewisham Council, but looking at the calendar today, reading the market situation for one bedroom flats and what the Mayor’s papers say about how long it takes to Barratt to build it I don’t think that anyone would bet a single penny on it happening.

Timber Yard application refused

December 29, 2009

Good news!
I just received a letter from Lewisham Planning telling me that the planning application for a housing development on the Timber Yard site of Springbank Road that I had opposed has been refused.
You can read details of this development and the reasons of my objection here.

Catford to be nationalized behind closed doors

December 14, 2009

Just as we celebrate the liberation of the expenses’ list Lewisham Council’s bosses instead decide that the papers for this week’s extraordinary Full Council Meeting regarding the proposal to buy the Catford Centre for redevelopment are all confidential i.e. not for you and me.
This is all we’re allowed to know:

It is recommended that under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of Part 1 of Schedule 12(A) of the Act, as amended by the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (Amendments) (England) Regulations 2006 and the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information:-

I’m really not happy about this.
There may be reasons to keep discussions confidential, but there are all sorts of meetings at Council where they can flesh out deals without the public and the press nosing around, and this is particularly true for boroughs that adopted the Executive Mayor system like Lewisham.
The wrap of confidentiality at Full Council meeting means that if any member of the Council has an objection to the deal he or she will be unable to tell us why.

Spotted Cow consultation this Wednesday

December 8, 2009


The former Spotted Cow Pub in Hither Green Lane is a very distinctive building that has considerable historic significance for the area and the fact that it is not working anymore as a pub is to me a major concern as it makes that end of Hither Green Lane much less vital than it once was.
Anyway, it ceased trade a couple of years ago and was sold to London and Quadrant Housing Association that last year submitted a planning application for demolition and new built. This was forcefully opposed by the Hither Green Community Association and the proposal was withdrawn.

Now London and Quadrant are submitting a new proposal that promises to be sympathetic with what’s good in the local streetscape as it seeks to convert the building into residential accommodation instead of demolishing it.
The proposal is for 16 accommodations ranging from 1 to 3 bedroom flats.
I struggle to see how can 16 flats fit in that building ( without using Tardis technology) so I really look forward to see the plans tomorrow.
The proposal will be available for viewing on Wednesday 9th December 2009 between 4pm and 8pm at Hither Green Baptist Church, Theodore Road, SE13 6HT.

Update on 10th December:

I was there yesterday and had a very long conversation with one of the architects and I have to say I left rather reassured about this development. It’s much better than last years plans, it’s actually the work or a different firm of architects that in my opinion did make an effort to fit something modern in a way that works with the existing surroundings.
They had a few options that they had studied and one preferred option that they want to submit for planning consent.
This involves converting the Spotted Cow into flats and building three houses of the same height alongside Thornford Road, with gardens on the back. The new buildings will have the same width of the semi-detached houses that front the Spotted Cow on Hither Green Lane and will also have the same distance between floors as the Spotted Cow which visually will result in the same horizontal lines running across the Spotted Cow then continued in the new blocks. This also means that the new flats will have unusually high ceilings for a new development.
Each house will have one 2 bedroom flat at ground floor, 2 one bedroom flats at the first floor and another 2 bedroom flat at the top floor.

I forgot to ask about car parking that is always a burning issue but picked up the plans and on the ground floor sheet it looks like they want to have to the side of the Spotted cow one car parking space and 7 bicycle racks.

I scanned the page with 4 views of the preferred option, here it is.
One note, the plans show an underground floor to be derived by digging deeper in the cellar of the Spotted Cow, the architect told me that this idea has been abandoned so the Spotted Cow would look from the road exactly as it looks today.


I hope the architects don’t mind me posting the drawings here, I think it’s ok, they were for public viewing after all.
Here are the details of the architects should you want to comment and ask more information:
http://emolipetroschka.co.uk/contact.html

Catford to be nationalized

December 7, 2009

Lewisham Council has apologized to the people of Catford for the Plessy Road Retail Island, Eros House and Milford Towers.
“What were we thinking?” said a tearful Town Hall spokesperson.

“We’ll make it all up now, we have a plan”
continued the crazy-eyed spokesperson laughing “we buy Catford Centre and make it beautiful!”

This high rise high density housing high quality development will be presented at a special Council meeting on 16th December.

If you want to know more then consult the Catford Centre Action Plan, for ease of consultation the document has been divided into 8 different parts. As if that wasn’t enough all possible options for development are listed and a reading key to understand which statements are true and which are false is provided separately.
I’m not making this up, here’s an extract from chapter 4.7, they could have just written that they want to increase density and build higher, but everyone can do that, here’s how you write that proper if you work for Lewisham Planning:

4.7.1 Options considered
The following housing options were put
forward:
1. Shop-top housing
A. Promote housing above ground floor shops (shop-top housing)
B. Do not promote/permit shop-top housing

2. Density
A. Support taller buildings and more intensive development
B. Maintain current density/housing levels
C. Promote housing as part of the development of opportunity sites
D. Ensure that the redevelopment of existing housing results in the overall provision of the same or more housing on the site

4.7.2 Preferred option
The preferred option is to proceed with additions 1A, 2A, 2C and 2D.

Letter in the South London Press

December 6, 2009

On Friday the South London Press published this letter of mine about the new pool at Loampit Vale.

Convoy’s Wharf plans on display

November 25, 2009

News Shopper’s Dan Keel reports:

A PUBLIC exhibition is to be held on proposals for a new development featuring 3,500 new houses and 4,600 sq m of restaurants and bars.

Residents are invited to the Convoys Wharf site in New Kings Street, Deptford, from 10am to 4pm on December 5, with a further meeting taking place on December 8 from 2pm to 8pm.

Read more.

This is about a development in Deptford but the size of it makes it very relevant to all Lewisham.
For those that don’t know about it this area comprizes almost all of Lewisham’s riverfront and was for many years used as News International’s paper depo, a planning application for development was approved but not acted upon until it expired. It is now owned by the Hutchison Whampoa group.
The initial plan was designed by Richard Rogers and what will be presented is expected to be largely based on that initial plan.
Ironically part of this dilapidated site was once Sayes Court, the birthplace of the National Trust.

Consultation on Local Development Framework

November 23, 2009

At last week’s Mayor and Cabinet the Mayor agreed to a public consultation on the very important Core Strategy of the Local Development Framework:

The Lewisham Core Strategy sets out the vision, objectives, strategy and policies that will guide development and regeneration in the borough over the next 15 years. Major change is anticipated and we need to plan for this, with a focus on Lewisham, Catford, Deptford and New Cross.

Following this consultation the Strategy will be submitted to Government to assess its ‘soundness’, but this will only happen after next elections so here’s a unique opportunity for a big public debate on the future of Lewisham.

You’ve been warned! Go and read it here.

Stop the great train robbery

November 19, 2009

These are tumultuous days in South London, the new trains timetables have been announced and those that have realized that their trains will be soon reduced or cancelled altogether are up in arms. Trains through Hither Green have been spared from the chop, but other lines in Lewisham and beyond have not been so lucky and as the railway is a network, every cut affects the whole system.

It looks like a gap in the investments needed for large projects like the East London Line have created a knock on effect with serious repercussions for some important railway routes across South London. Responsibilty is being shuffled between the various bodies overseeing transports, with the Government blaming TfL and TfL blaming the Government, the train operators saying that they just execute orders (we heard that already, didn’t we).

The Victoria to Bellingham line that was planned to make up for the closure of the  South London Line through Peckam Rye has been cancelled, the Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace (touching in our borough the stations of Sydenham, Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park and Brockley) has seen a massive reduction. Blackheath commuters have been told that they will lose half of their rush hour trains.

It’s quite obvious that the recent consultation on the South London Rail Utilisation Strategy (link) has been a very flawed process that has failed to recognize the importance of sustained good and improving public transports for the quality of life in the myriad of communities that compose London.

Something serious must be done about it, there is widespread rebellion all around. Ironically that’s the real consultation, that’s what people think, and it’s coming through only now that the “consultation” is closed.

Southeastern announcement that they’re cutting services through Blackheath after Government asked them to do so because they want instead to bump up numbers on the DLR shows that there is an urgent need of a rethink of the role of Government.

Just a few considerations of strategic nature about what a weaker public transports system would mean for South London:

  • a weakening of the transport provision would harm the London economy;
  • the planning concept of sustainable communities to allow high density residential use around transport hubs needs sustained train services, taking away convenient public transport from outer London impacts the building industry;
  • people will  switch back to car usage instead of public transport harming the environment, damaging air quality and nullifying a whole host of other policies and investments to counter precisely those trends.

We desperately need strong political leadership to intervene in this process and provide guidance for a transport strategy that helps the economy, our daily lives and supports all those other policies that transport is a key part of. London is the birthplace of the railway, we live it and breath it. Weaken it and you weaken London itself.

Besides the flagship infrastracture we need sustained services across the urban region of London, the millions of commuters that pay their ways don’t feel they’ve been subsidized at all and surely deserve better.

GLA asks Londoners’ views on closed shops

November 13, 2009

118HGL

With closures accelerating as the economic downturn bites, empty local shops have become an all too familiar sight in London. How could current planning legislation be wielded more effectively to stem the loss of the capital’s small retailers? The Planning and Housing Committee is reviewing measures designed to protect London’s local shops, looking at progress on implementing planning policies to support them and asking what more needs to be done through the London Plan.

 

Londoners are invited to submit their views on these issues by 30th November.
More about this important consultation here.

(in the picture, fellow Libdem candidate for Lewisham Central James Jennings in front of empty unit at 118 Hither Green Lane – the unit is available for £8k a year, if you are interested in the unit then please email the Town Centre Manager here)

Action for Lewisham public meeting report

November 13, 2009

Yesterday’s public meeting of the Central Lewisham Action Group was much better attended that I expected, halfway down the meeting I counted 55 people, and most of them stayed until the end, and it was a very long meeting.

Here’s Cllr Andrew Milton‘s speech which was really well received:

Other speakers from the platform were Helen Mercer of the group that opposed the Lewisham Gateway, Fran Rogers of Transition Lewisham and Matthew Blumner of QWAG, who also spoke as a former board member of Urban Renaissance Lewisham (URL), the board that gave us the Gateway plan, he was the community representative on that board but was unable to scrutinize appropriately the plans (a thing referred to by Andrew Milton’s speech when he mentions that the former Deputy Mayor, also chair of URL told Matthew Blumner that he would not have received further answers to his queries about the new traffic system. A serious matter of concern indeed.)

I spoke a few times, giving my opinion on the developments (that is still the same as here) but also trying to advise on practical ways to campaign. I saw a lot of enthusiasm and I really got excited, there is a will to propose alternatives and if the Gateway fails to happen there will be a chance to try to make them into a reality.

Among the practical things I mentioned is that I have two questions about the development at the coming Council meeting of 25th November, these questions ask details of the roadworks program for the new road layout and associated consultation.
This is a follow up to one of my questions at last Council meeting when I instead asked about the original Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) for Lewisham Centre and whether sums were allocated but yet unspent. The answer was that yes, there are almost £9m (out of a total of £15.9 of the original SRB) that were originally transferred to the LDA for the enabling roadworks and are still there.
At that point I asked whether the fact that public money had to be paid for this development instead of the usual other way round where developers pay for works around the developments for the privilege of building there meant that this deal had always been at particular risk from market fluctuation since despite its hugeness it never really stood on its own two feet . The answer I received was that no, on the contrary, they were now consulting with partners about the imminent enabling roadworks.
And that’s why this time I’m asking details about these roadworks and the consultation. I told people to come and support, so that after the meeting we can go and have a quick update at the Ram pub that’s near the Council (and you’re welcome to join us too).

Other politicians present there were Ladywell Councillor Ute Michel, my fellow Libdem Candidate for Lewisham Central James Jennings, who actually spoke very well about how the centre of Lewisham is really “the centre” of Lewisham and if you mess up there you really mess up everywhere.

There was also a Labour Candidate for Lewisham Central, who only identified himself when asked to (shame, but not a surprise). Someone asked how to send a strong signal to Labour, “boot them out” I shouted, and I won’t apologize for that.

But besides the politicians there were plenty of ordinary people concerned about the effect of these developments for the area and willing to do something about it and work for an alternative.

A proper Cafe for Mountsfield Park

November 12, 2009

Bowling-Green

Mountsfield Park is one of the biggest green spaces in Lewisham, and in the recent years has been doing a steady progress, picking itself up from the its very own dark ages of degrade of not long ago.
Quite instrumental to this renaissance is the Mountsfield Park Users Group (MPUG), a group I attended since its very start.
One of the big projects that the group has always pursued was the establishment of a cafe, which besides quenching the thirst, facilitates a better use of the park and is essential in making the park safer.

Initially there was a very ambitious project led by the Council, asking for a few millions of Lottery Funds to restore part of the park to its original glory and at the same time building a bar and social space area.
This lottery bid failed, and so whilst we waited for a new bid and alternative funding streams to be pursued we managed to establish the current bar in a container which is much better than what it sounds, is very well managed and in just a few months made a big difference to the energy of the park altogether.

This Monday, the meeting of the MPUG was attended by officers from Lewisham Council that came with the news that they decided that there wasn’t much point in insisting with the Lottery Fund and that meant that the money held by Council as match fund could be instead spent immediately on a scaled down project for a Cafe in the park.

These are almost £400k and the place where the Cafe should go is the unused bowling green, that in this screengrab from Googlemap is the square on the top right, many visitors of Mountsfield Park never noticed it actually as it is completely shielded by conifers.
The bowling club ceased activity a few years ago, just like that, members aged and the club failed to attract young members, the green is still maintained in order by the contractors Glendale.
There was some serious work done by MPUG last year to bring back into use the bowling green, and a young enthusiast came forward to lead on this project, unfortunately vandals torched the hut that is absolutely necessary for the establishment of a bowling club. As we started looking for funds to remedy the damage this was torched again,  this time the damage was too extensive to be repaired, this was a blow because a case for funds for a new hut for a club that has ceased to exist is difficult to make. Then suddenly this Monday this proposal for a Cafe to be built there in very short times came. We were told that plans for the Cafe and landscaping could be presented by this springtime and works could be finished by April 2011, it takes a few months for plans to go through planning.

The only sting in the tale is that many of the conifers that surround the bowling green will have to be felled but that’s a necessity for the creation of a safe environment.  I asked if the trees can be uprooted and moved but the costs are so high that it’s just not possible, also the trees that are uprooted and moved very often die in short anyway. So the practical solution is to cut them down and replace them with new trees elsewhere in the park.

This is an opportunity that must be grabbed, money like these come round only once every few years and at the meeting we all voted to go for it.

One thing I said at the meeting is that we must make sure that this project is used to involve residents and users, that we can make it a community building moment, not just a Cafe building one.
By chance with the Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society we started working on a summer program of events to be held in parks and 3 weeks ago me and my friend Angelo visited the bowling green and took a few pictures of the site, at Monday’s MPUG meeting I mentioned this and how it could be used in a strategy to involve the local  community in this exciting project.

A tale of two Lewishams and many Croydons

November 10, 2009

Maybe it’s me not knowing where to tweak the blog settings but my blogging platform WordPress doesn’t display incoming links from Blogger based blogs so here’s a quick note about two links to my previous post, the one about the public meeting on the town centre developments, that are worth reading.

Transpontine makes a fascinating consideration on Croydon as an established byword for botched urban development. Meanwhile on Brockley Central an eagle-eyed commentator reports spotting that our antipodean namesake Lewisham, Australia is also faced with the prospect of Croydonisation and a public meeting on the subject will also take place on Thursday 19th November, just as here in Lewisham, UK.

Public meeting on Loampit Vale

November 9, 2009

This coming Thursday 12th November, at 7:30pm at the Tabernacle, Algernon Road SE13 7AT there will be a public meeting held by the Central Lewisham Action Group, a group of residents that opposes the current plans for redevelopment of the area often referred to as Lewisham Town Centre although currently this area is still mostly a transport hub with a roundabout.

This promises to be a very interesting and lively meeting, many important issues will be discussed, I will be attending and very possibly say something too.

Speakers announced so far are Libdem Councillor for Lewisham Central Andrew Milton and Fran Rogers of Transition Brockley.

Rivers of electronic ink have already been poured on this subject but here’s a quick to recap of the main points to allow me to state clearly where I stand on this issue.

There are two adjacent yet distinct main developments that are supposed to be built near Lewisham Station and that already have planning consent, these are the Lewisham Gateway and the Loampit Vale development. Besides these developments very close to these two there are other large blocks on the horizon and also a few others that have just been built. These developments would bring thousands of new accomodations, a large amount of commercial space, a leisure centre, a school, a new road layout, a new bus station and more. All in a relatively small area, with all the repercussions on the environment and services that a development of this scale creates.

The Lewisham Gateway development should rise where today lies the roundabout plus quite a lot of land around it, edging the Citibank Tower on one side and including what today is the Lewisham Bus Station on the other side.
Planning application for the Gateway development was agreed in April 2006, works have not started yet.

The other development with planning consent is the Loampit development and I wrote extensively about it on this blog (link to posts on Loampit Vale).

I personally strongly oppose the Loampit Vale development mostly because it includes a leisure centre that is not built to a size sufficient to serve both the existing local community and the newcomers that would populate all those new developments. There would be many losers, mostly among the current users of Ladywell Pool.
This is a straightforward damage to the quality of life of the residents of Lewisham that use Ladywell pool that would have reduced access to swimming. I squarely blame Mayor Bullock and his uncritical supporters and associates for the inability to plan for sufficient leisure provision.

Regarding the Lewisham Gateway I oppose that too, but for different reasons, one more mundane reason if you will is that to my eyes that’s plain ugly. Despite the best efforts of the architects it still remains a massive bulk, and this is  due to the economics of the development, that burdened by an unusually high level of expenditure for the preparatory infrastructural work, to cover costs and allow a profit for the developers must include an enormous volume of built and no matter which way you turn it the bulk just doesn’t  go away.

To be more specific this development must pay for a new road layout to replace the roundabout so to create the space for the development, and that alone is 2 years of roadworks, then it must move some very large utility mains that run under the roundabout, move a river and a bus station. All this is mightily expensive hence the massive bulk.

My main reason for opposing it though is that I am not convinced that the design of the new road layout is a good plan for Lewisham. I fear it will transform much of the centre in a massive near constant gridlock and that’s surely not my idea of a thriving town centre.
During the years of planning for this project we were all told that this new system would not have had any negative impact on the traffic, there was an explicit firm guarantee that at the very least the impact would have been neutral, this guarantee was repeated at every stage of the process. Then when the study was finalized for planning consent the admission came that it would have been marginally worse.
Now, even assuming that the admitted marginal worsening would have been acceptable the fact remains that the traffic model was done on the Gateway alone, without considering the impact of the other developments around it and so what we have is a traffic model that implies the same amount of built as today, which is a semi-desertic half baked retail park and employment area where there are supposed to be tall buildings all around and a few thousands people living in them, plus a school for 600 children, a leisure centre, a new parade of shops in front of the station. There is a lot of extra activity associated with this plan and this would have a serious further impact on traffic. Think about Lewisham roundabout at peak time today, well, it will be substantially worse.

At the recent planning committee meeting on Loampit Vale the Head of Planning himself admitted that the traffic passing through the Lewisham roundabout is not traffic generated locally, that there’s little that can be done to alleviate it and that probably it won’t get any easier. And I ask myself, if the new traffic system is guaranteed to make traffic slightly worse than now, and this even without considering all the developments surrounding the Lewisham Gateway, what will this high rise traffic-ridden quarter be like to live in? The answer is that probably it won’t be that great. And so, because I don’t believe that we should build houses we wouldn’t like to live in, I oppose it.

Now, as I already said, the Lewisham Gateway has planning consent, so whether we oppose it or not it doesn’t actually make any difference, but there is a concrete risk that the project derails without any external help, just because the numbers don’t stack up anymore, and 3 and half years after planning consent we’re now beginning to be quite close to the moment the planning consent expires.
And if the Gateway wouldn’t happen then that land and adjacent large plots like for example Thurston Road could be at the centre of new planning considerations because the much trumpeted new Town Centre wouldn’t have materialized and a fresh thinking would be required.
Likewise the Loampit Vale development may not happen, but that in my opinion is more at risk of delaying or losing some bits (like part of the social housing) than to derail completely.

Anyway, it may not happen, but a degree of risk that the project derails exists, and for us Libdems it’s time to think about it concretely so that if after next elections we gain control of this Borough Council we can work on an alternative and of course we must start by listening around to what people would like to see there and what ways there could be to move the current scheme to a more desirable one.

So,  if you’re interested in these and other matters related to the developments at the fabled Lewisham Town Centre (schools for example) then you’d do well to attend this public meeting.

Out and about with James – weekend roundup

October 26, 2009

Jamie_Billboard

This is James Jennings, who is also running for Council for Lewisham Central for the Libdems at next elections. Me and James were out leafleting last Saturday,  here he is on Hither Green Lane, standing in front of the famous forgotten billboard. I can actually remember the poster when it was new, but that was quite some years ago. I remember when the glue gave up and it became a sail that eventually broke off, I then saw what’s left fade. I think that it’s now time to change it, so I emailed a photo to the Council (without James in it). Let’s see what happens.

George-hoarding-450pxJames took instead this photo of me (badly in need of a haircut) at the bottom of George Lane where finally London & Quadrant erected a hoarding to start works on the site of the George Pub to build this mixed use development.

I want to thank Cllr Dave Edgerton for putting a lot of pressure on L&Q to remove the honeytrap that that stretch of pavement had been transformed into (see my previous post on this matter).

I still find it hard to believe that a housing association, whose purpose  is to serve the public, decided to set such an operation on the main road and just by a Job Centre, it’s bad enough being fined £500 for missing a very confusing no parking sign, but if you’re unemployed then having to fork out £500 to  get your car back can make the difference between having a roof over the head or not, especially in a recession like this one.

Last month I submitted a question at Council about it and when I read the reply I really felt quite angry, I didn’t expect Lewisham Council to just copy and paste from an email from L&Q in turn forwarding an email from the parking company (I received such email whilst dealing with L&Q directly).

At the Council meeting I used my right to a verbal supplementary question to express my astonishment at the unwillingness of the Council to engage with a major partner of theirs to make this operation cease and to be true for once the verbal response that I received was better than the written one and was told that they understood my point and would have tried to do what I suggested, i.e. contact L&Q and discuss it with them. I think that the fact that I wasn’t trying to score points but only to stop an activity which is antisocial in all but legal terms did come out.

Anyway, the honeytrap is gone now and work on site should start soon. Pity about the George pub (here in historic context), but it closed because of years of increasingly appalling management, a real pub suicide. It was sold to L&Q that received planning consent for this development and was boarded up and allowed to become a major eyesore with a parking honeytrap on the front. In my opinion the sooner they build there the better it is.

Commiserations also about another historic pub, the nearby Rising Sun, also on Rushey Green, the second pub to commit suicide within a few hundred metres. It was closed by the police because it had become a drug dealing centre and never reopened again. The pub stands in front of an enormous plot of land smack in the middle of Catford and now a developer has submitted this planning application for housing on the site.

News of the application was posted on the Hither Green Forum, I downloaded the documents and uncharacteristically I thought that it was actually quite good, and so I commented on the online forum. The comment was noticed by Micheal Stringer of the South London Press that contacted me asking me if I wanted to elaborate for the paper, and here’s the article that will make my reputation as a destroyer of pubs.

Rising-Sun-SLP

But Catford won’t go without beer, in less than a minute walk from there there is a very popular Wetherspoon, the London & Rye, and in another further minute walk the Goose and then the Ram, which is also excellent. There is also another smaller  pub near the Rising Sun that looks on its way out though, the Plough and Arrow is now sporting a sign that says that soon a hair and nails salon will soon operate from there.

To close this post “keeping it real” here’s a rare insight of Libdem party life recorded for posterity at Lewisham’s finest fish and chips place. At the excellent “Something Fishy” of Lewisham market my running mate James seeks my support for a seat at the party’s English Council.