Friday, January 4, 2013

Faircharm Uncreative Quarter #2

Application DC/12/82000

Crossfields residents and Faircharm businesses received a letter only a few days before Christmas (dated 17th December, received 20th) inviting them to make their views known on the above proposal – in the middle of the holiday period and with less than three weeks to respond.

This is the sort of manoeuvre we've come to expect from developers who want to slip things past everyone while they're on holiday (a tactic also favoured by betting shops).

Those living in Holden and Wilshaw houses on Creekside will be most affected by these plans, so may wish to take some time in the next couple of days to comment. Other residents will be affected by the building works which, if the application is approved, will go on for three years (2014-2016). The development will also overshadow the Creek and Creekside Discovery Centre. Others rather more immediately affected are the business tenants in Faircharm.

We last wrote about this proposed redevelopment in December 2011, when the owners of Faircharm, Workspace Group plc, first presented their ideas for redeveloping the site – dressed up as something that would be beneficial for Deptford, local residents and businesses. Their first proposal featured new buildings fronting onto the road that were taller than Crossfields, threatening to create a grand canyon out of Creekside and all-day darkness for Holden and Wilshaw residents. The plan also included a 12/13 storey tower by the Creek, more residential space than there was work space, the promise of 30% affordable housing and parking for 60 cars (surely not enough).

In the same month, Lewisham Council ran a consultation on the creation of the Creekside Conservation Area, a proposal that was adopted by the Mayor in May 2012. The Conservation Zone assignation meant that the buildings at the front of Faircharm had to be preserved, so Workspace's architects Karakusevic Carson had to come up with another plan, a mixture of their original "Do nothing" and Workspaces' wildest dreams for economic recovery, eg as many luxury flats to sell to overseas for local letting as possible...

These new plans were shown in a public consultation in July 2012. Gone were the tall blocks fronting the edge of Creekside. These had simply been moved back a bit to accommodate the conservation of the low (and familiar) Faircharm frontage. The tower block remained. It was to be covered in Cor-ten steel Рa weathering material that looks like rust and a design clich̩ often used in areas rich in 'industrial heritage'. Perhaps because this was already being used in a new building on Greenwich High Road, the tower is now presented to us as dark grey brick. A dark satanic mill. Otherwise there is little change in the proposals.

A further two meetings were held for Faircharm tenants, chaired by Joan Ruddock. The first meeting was with Joan, Lewisham planners and the tenants. A second meeting was held in September 2012 to which Workspace was invited. This is referred to in the Consultation chapter of the Design & Access Statement, where Workspace say "the key concerns raised were in relation to planned timescales, lease renewals and uncertainty".

This was actually quite a heated and angry meeting. Joan insisted all the tenants were kept in the loop, and Workspace states in their application that as a result of these discussions they "agreed to meet with all 38 businesses individually to discuss what plans will mean for them. These meetings have been ongoing since September. Updates are also currently issued to the tenants via email on a fortnightly basis." Tenants say this is far from the truth: they have not been kept up to date and have not been contacted individually or otherwise by their landlord.

In their Affordable Housing and Viability Statement, Workspace state:
"4.5 A core part of the redevelopment proposals is the business continuity programme which has been developed by the applicant...This sets out the range of support that will be offered to the existing occupiers on site during the construction process and will provide assistance in finding temporary or permanent relocation options for tenants. This level of support to tenants affected by the redevelopment is over and above the legal obligations of a landlord undertaking this type of development. This business continuity programme is judged by LBL to be a key priority and therefore a legitimate part of the overall Section 106 obligations for the site. A sum of £500,000 has been allocated to fund this package."
All that cash must have gone to the consultancy who have failed to consult.

Workspace say they are not really earning much out of Faircharm. If they merely renovated the present buildings they would be in danger of "a missed opportunity for optimising development at a key location".  They also threaten to close the estate down if they're not allowed to proceed.

In their Environment Statement they say: "In terms of the existing situation the buildings are in good order, but many of the building elements are coming to the end of their economic life. In relation to performance, the current configuration...does not lend itself to the requirements and needs of the majority of contemporary commercial tenants." (4.10) "The quality and the nature of the space means that the rents are low, the existing space is under-occupied and insufficient revenues are being generated to maintain the space. The situation is one that can no longer be sustained by the Applicant. Without intervention the only feasible outcome would be closure of the Estate and the implementation of measures to reduce the ongoing costs of operating the Estate." (4.11)

The premises are indeed under-occupied – tenants are leaving because of Workspace's new plans. According to the Environment Statement (Non Technical), a business survey undertaken in January 2012 found there were 68 businesses. Now there are 38.

Although the site in question is one of Lewisham's last few areas of designated concentrated employment use, the council likes 'mixed use' developments, since it also has to fulfill an unrealistic target for housing. That makes Workspace's proposals for the site relatively attractive even though they go against Lewisham and the Greater London Authority's ideas for this particular area.

Workspace have tarted up their application with the absurd nomenclature "Creative Quarter", based on the notion that Creekside is a 'creative hub' – as defined by the now defunct findings of the 'Creekside Charrette', which identified the area as bustling with artists and creative types. Yes, it was. Because it was cheap. Many of the creative businesses in Faircharm are there because it is cheaper than elsewhere. Some of them are there because there are so few self-contained spaces available locally (although there's plenty of luxury housing).

Workspace says "Creative industries are important to (us), and we support them across London...At the moment, creative businesses in Lewisham are important customers in Workspace centres...We want to encourage more businesses to flourish by creating spaces that we know work...This is our way of contributing to Lewisham's growing creative sector – as part of the borough's 'Creative Industries Strategy'..."

Their September 2012 brochure boasted "more flexible studios and office-based space to consolidate and expand the Creekside/Deptford creative industry cluster, capitalising on the local population..." with apparently "90-100 more jobs on site". There is 100,000sqft (9,300 sqm) of business space which they want to reduce to 50,000sqft (or 4734 sqm).

Workspace's application requests a Change of Use for the site. It includes provision of 'new commercial uses' – 4734 sqm of Use Class B1. This planning class is for offices and light industry appropriate in a residential area. What is meant by Creative Industries then? It appears to be the sort of creativity that involves computers and light crafts in office-type spaces. Not artists, not crafts people, not the much heralded Based Upon (who work in bronze), not Shultz & Wiramu (who dye fabrics for theatre and film), not the sculptors, not the recording studio, not the artists collectives, the printers and publishers, not the fabricators of film props, not the businesses who need more than an office space.

The current tenants which are part of the creative industries Lewisham and Workspace say they want to promote, who do big messy things, or make noise with machinery or power tools and often work late into the night to meet deadlines and require 24 hour access, will not be able to be rehoused in the titchy new office/studio spaces, next door to or below people who have paid over £400K for their quiet apartment beside Deptford Creek.

Perhaps Workspace and the planners would care to look at what happened at Seager Distillery. Two art galleries and lots of office space for small business was proposed. The developer could find no one to run the gallery spaces and no takers for the office space and was soon applying for Change of Use to turn it into a hotel – and then the hotel chain pulled out, resulting in a half finished building. Perhaps Workspace and the planners should also look at all the empty ground floor commercial space lying empty at Creekside Village.

In reality this is not about Workspace's commitment to providing swanky new accommodation and employment opportunities for Lewisham's creative industry – it is simply the usual story of a property developer wanting to cash in on their riverside property with yet another proposal for luxury flats. The residential part of the development will be sold to another developer/builder and Workspace will make a nice tidy profit and possibly even profit share on future sales.

Their commitment is not to solving Lewisham's housing crisis either, having reduced the number of affordable homes in the scheme from 30% to 15%, with the usual developer's threat (since Boris relaxed the rules) that the project simply wouldn't be viable (hugely profit making) if there were more.

Email your objection to: and include the application number DC/12/82000 and your name and address. Please also copy your objection to Joan Ruddock who has been following this development closely.

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