Thursday, February 2, 2012

High Street Lament

One of our readers has been emailing us (and other bloggers) for a while about certain developments on Deptford High Street, which is, if you didn't know, a Conservation Zone. Listed below are some of the issues he has raised that counteract and negate all the efforts being made to rejuvenate our high street or honour the designation "Conservation Zone". Included at the end of the post is New Cross (also a Conservation Zone). The Queen of Shops, Mary Portas, could make a whole telly series out of it...

124 Deptford High Street (the old Job Centre)

Our reader's latest lament is over the plan for a massive Poundland at the old Job Centre site, which is currently being built by McDonald Egan. We first reported on the job centre redevelopment in August 2010 and later in July 2011, and the arrival of Poundland was confirmed in August 2011. It appears McDonald Egan could not find tenants for the two previously planned restaurant/bars and this was the best they could do. They always had the option for retail, covering themselves, since it was hard to imagine two restaurant bars competing with each other (though this is an ideal business model apparently – the more the merrier, competition and all that)...

Talking of which, with six or seven pound shops already this side of the railway, one would have thought greater efforts might have been made to attract a less downbeat retail tenant to greet visitors as they emerge from the brand new station in the not so distant future. As the Deptford Dame points out in her latest post, McDonald Egan threw in the towel before any of the new improvements (Douglas Way, the Deptford Lounge, Giffin Square and a brand new station) had begun construction – not to mention the potential Richard Rogers development at the Deptford Project... Read more in the Dame's post 'The Future of the High Street?' here.

Perhaps the developers think Poundland will trump all the other pound shops and run them out of business, leaving the way clear for some bright entrepreneurs to start new and interesting enterprises in their place. Joking (it is unlikely that McDonald Egan think beyond their bank balance)! But already, Seneer, who runs Danny's Pound Land further down the street, told the South London Press before Christmas that he was approached by Poundland to change the name of his shop – with a threat of trademark infringement!

Meanwhile our reader would like everyone to object to the nasty generic shopfront design proposed by Poundland which, if you've a mind to (as Dame Joan Ruddock would say) you can do here (application DC/12/79286/FT – deadline 20th March).

104 Deptford High Street / Giffin Square

Another proposal that has our reader in fits of despair has also been covered by the Deptford Dame recently. In this case a previously submitted and fairly attractive building design has been replaced by one of unutterable blandness, made more horrible by the inclusion of yet another mural by the awful Artmongers, who seem able to do no wrong with Lewisham despite their ghastly mural on Deptford Broadway. The development will back onto the fish shop on the corner of the job centre parade and face onto Giffin Square – so it will be quite a main feature in our enjoyment of the (yet to be finished) square.

Incidentally, the square itself was extremely compromised from its original design – an ampitheatre was envisaged but someone forgot to look into the major drainage problems, and even now, a BT phone box cannot be removed from the resulting compromise (sorry no drawings). We have never seen anyone in the BT phonebox (unlike the one down near Tescos which is used for smoking crack). Anyway, here is what was previously proposed for the new development overlooking the square:

Again, read more details in the Deptford Dame's post 'Giffin Square/104 Deptford High Street'. If you're in the mood to object, the planning application and drawings can be found here (application DC/11/78353/X).

Paving and shopfronts in the Conservation Zone

The main issue that drives our reader to the point of madness is what is allowed to happen to already existing structures in the high street – a Conservation Zone, remember.

For instance, street paving is dug up by utility companies and not reinstated properly (which they are obliged to do within six months but often do not). Soon after the York paving was laid at the corner of Douglas Way, Southern Gas had dug it up and filled it in with tarmac. OK, they've got time to sort it out, but other places such as on Tanners Hill have been unresolved for three years. There appears to be no enforcement and our pavements everywhere are a patchwork of tarmac where paving stones were once laid. Lewisham's reaction to uneven paving is TARMAC before any citizen falls over and litigation can be brought (see our recent post Filling A Hole).

Meanwhile, shopfronts are altered without permission, and guidelines drawn up to maintain the character of the high street are ignored by unscrupulous and uncaring businesses. The more often owners are allowed to get away with unauthorised alterations, says our reader, the more it will happen – making a mockery of the Conservation Area status.

The planning department have stated that "Taking enforcement action can be a long drawn out process and cannot produce ‘quick fixes’...It is not an offence to carry out development without first obtaining planning permission for it. In line with Central Government guidance – PPG18 entitled ‘Enforcing Planning Control’ and Circular 10/97... states that the Local Planning Authority should first attempt to resolve breaches of planning control informally through negotiation with the land owner or developer... The land owner or developer has the right to apply for retrospective planning permission. It would be considered ‘unreasonable’ to issue an enforcement notice (unless the development was about to become ’time barred’) whilst a planning application was in the process of being considered..."

It seems that enforcement might result in appeal with the possibility that costs may be awarded against the council for 'unreasonable' behaviour. There are loopholes in our planning laws that cash-strapped councils are unable to plug.

Paddy Power's alterations to the Deptford Arms is just one of many flagrant abuses of Conservation Area guidelines. In this case, "authorisation for the service of an enforcement notice is being sought". In the case of 37 Deptford High Street, which Abermarle & Bond altered before planning consent was granted, we are told that "informal negotiations are underway to resolve the issue" – in actuality, a "retrospective" planning application was submitted and approved after the alterations took place and before that statement was offered.

You may wonder in some cases, do our public servants have no backbone?  Our reader suggests there should be an "at risk" register for Conservation Areas like Deptford High Street, which, he says, faces a "slow and painful death" (presently, there is only an "at risk" register for specific buildings).

He would also like to see an "amenity group" made up of local people, who could contribute as a panel (expert or not) to advise against the sort of poor design that is proposed for Giffin Square and lobby on all sorts of fronts for a better environment. Perhaps it is only locals who understand the "essence" of what makes the area special, who "get" the gritty grunginess, yet still demand some standards to be met.

A difficult call. Why, for instance, insist on paving to be properly replaced when it is already stained to beyond buggery within a couple of weeks of installation by daily life and commerce and local business tenants and street traders who don't live here, who don't understand nor give a shit what mess happens outside their shop or after they have put away their stall. Go on, replace the paving and see how filthy the rest of the paving is in comparison and expose how it is NEVER CLEANED by the local authority, who will simply replace it all in ten years time when the big funding comes round again.

Rumour has it the lovely paving we were given for the south of the high street, what, 10 years ago (?), now pockmarked with tarmac and filthy as hell, is to be replaced by new paving, courtesy of a big grant from Boris (watch this space or the Deptford Dame for news), and rumour also has it the rest of the high street may get paved with money coming from a Convoys Wharf deal (no way!).

What's the bloody point of all this new paving when utilities dig it up and aren't fined, and traders don't clean up after themselves, and the local authority NEVER washes it. How do we compare to most European cities? Surely we can find a solution (including a cleaning solution that works on York stone) that allows real life to take place and makes housekeeping easy? Despite this local authority neglect, can the problem be solved with Pride?

Back to that picture of the tarmac outside the new barbers (above) – look at the walls, the shop keeper can't even be arsed to finish the paintwork they started, but the inside sure looks nice. Perhaps, with many of the high street's shops being run by people from places like war-torn Afghanistan among other life experiences, this is not surprising. In this case it was quite amusing to see the outside being painted in darkness (with no street light – there has been no proper lighting here since the square renovations started two or three months ago) in order that they could open on the day they'd chosen at the beginning of December – much like the much wealthier Abermarle & Bond (who met their own target a month before they had official permission to).

Can Pride can be tackled at all, as long as south of the railway Deptford High Street is part of New Cross Ward, and the north is part of Evelyn Ward? Presently there is a Divide and Rule democratic status in Deptford and this cannot help it help itself. How can the street have a strong identity when it is administered in this way, in two halves? And where is our Town Manager? (Answer: Cut, a year before The Cuts).

The areas mentioned above are in New Cross Ward, and with its local police stationed in New Cross Gate (as rarely seen as the cops in the north of the street who are based in Surrey Quays), it seems pertinent to mention another area that is sadly lacking in charm, despite the efforts of quite a few individual businesses to breathe life into the area...

Finally, New Cross Road...

In addition to the issues raised by our reader, we were drawn to Brockley Central's recent post regarding the pitiful state of much of the property on New Cross Road. The culprit here is not a faceless anonymous owner but possibly the single largest owner of property in SE14 – Goldsmiths College, who are failing miserably to maintain the many empty buildings they own on the main A2 road and roads off it. The entire area along the main road is a Conservation Zone.

Says Brockley Central guest poster, Isobel, "all the efforts made by the Council, local businesses and community groups to regenerate New Cross are effectively being undermined by this neglect". She's started an e-petition to pressurise Goldsmiths to do something about it. Sign the petition here.

Perhaps "our reader" needs to do the same – start a petition to save our high street?


  1. A question which arose some years ago regarding the Deptford High Street Conservation area that never got an answer was "How much does it cost to fail?", i.e. how much public money is being spent on conservation officers and English Heritage grants to Lewisham Borough for the High Street Conservation Area (is that money actually spent in Deptford?) for it to fail so miserably?

  2. Maybe if council workers took a pension cut we could afford to pay for a few more to police the area...

  3. I think it's more a question of efficiency, political and professional will and pride rather than more financial resources required. What we do know is that the Conservation Area Partnership for the High Street has largely failed to deliver. Therefore new strategies are required. For instance, a material audit has never been carried out. A record of what is of special interest and why could be made. Was Peter Guillery's in depth assessment of the HIgh Street for the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments ever capitalised on? Regarding paving, why do unsuitable materials continued to be specified?

  4. Don’t care didn’t care,
    Don’t care was wild:
    Don’t care stole plum and pear
    Like any beggar’s child.

    Don’t care was made to care,
    Don’t care was hung:
    Don’t care was put in a pot
    And boiled till he was done.