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.