Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Convoys Wharf: No one likes us, we don't care

Millwall FC's legendary terrace chant "No one likes us" seems an apt slogan for Convoys Wharf developer Hutchison Whampoa to adopt (though the club may not wish to be associated). Not because Hutchisons have captured the spirit of Deptford (far from it), but because no one likes their development – and they don't care.

At their presentation at The Albany on Saturday (and at Charlotte Turner School the previous Thursday), Hutchison's representatives Hard Hat, plus Farrells' architects, transport consultants SKM Buchanan, archaeological consultants Baxters and landscapers Grontmij, were full of helpful friendliness as they showed off the latest masterplan. Rather like the smiling cowboy shaking hands with the native American before corralling his people off into reservations.

Especially since the other billion dollar corporate company who are partners with Hutchison Whampoa in this development are Murdoch's News International, who own a profit share on the sell off of various components of this site – ie the luxury flats. All 3000 of them (discounting the so-called 'affordable' ones).

At first glance there didn't seem to be any changes since the last presentation in July 2012 at Deptford Lounge – except the exhibition boards now presented a cohesive story (with some developer spin), replacing the mostly 'post-it note' styled display of historical research that was shown before.

One local who must've seen the exhibition on Thursday at Charlotte Turner School arrived at the Albany with an oblong of polystyrene to add to the large model. His intention was to show how tall the towers would really be and how deceptive the model is. It really is about time the developer stopped bringing out this 'street level' model in their public presentations. Some visitors came away with no idea there were three towers.
An hour before the exhibition closed, a local woman flew into the Albany's Red Room on a skateboard and tipped the models into the air, shouting "Lies, all lies!". She skated out again almost as quickly, and within minutes the whole facade was reassembled good humouredly as though nothing had happened. (Sorry, we didn't get a picture!)

There are still 3,500 flats in a dense and tall arrangement, and although the parking spaces have been slightly reduced, they still number 1700, potentially creating an enormous strain on Evelyn Street, Lower Road and Creek Road. The parking will be housed in two storeys (known as 'podium parking') in many of the buildings, creating an inhospitable streetscape (walls of nothingness) in places where no retail outlets are proposed (shops are shown as brightly coloured shapes on the model).

The podium parking could not be understood by looking at the model. There were no building designs to look at, and no street views to give a sense of place, other than fantasy illustrations of public spaces – including one that shows a young woman sitting on the quayside with her legs over the side (a totally unrealistic proposition!).

Many locals are concerned with the transport situation, and Evelyn Ward's Cllr Crada Onuegbu was overheard presenting the case to the guy from SMK Buchanan. (The event also happened to coincide with an Evelyn Ward surgery at the Albany, but there were no New Cross Ward councillors in attendance, even though the development impacts on the whole of Deptford). The developers estimate only 10% of new residents will use the new riverboat, and that all the new cars (1700) will not be driven in rush hour (even though 300 of them are for non-residents), but there are no plans to increase capacity at local stations. There is now only one bus stop on the site. Hopefully, with an up-and-coming by-election in Evelyn Ward, the councillor will keep plugging the concerns of her constituents, since the time is approaching to let Lewisham planners know what we think.

Affordable housing is still only 14% (500 out of 3500 homes). L&Q are onboard – one of the largest (and possibly the most awful) housing association in South London. New government rules will mean they can charge up to 80% of market rent for the 'affordable homes' in their portfolio, and they are just the sort of housing association who will. "There will be a mix of market, rented and shared ownership tenures" says the exhibition board. What percentage of the 500 homes will actually be rented at Lewisham's definition of 'affordable' (60% of market rents) is anyone's guess.

According to the exhibition boards, the employment opportunities are covered by an employment specialist company called Reds 10 who promise to "develop their strategy for training and employment that will prioritise jobs for local people. This strategy will be developed in partnership with Lewisham Council and local community skills and training organisations. Around 1000 construction jobs will be created as well as 1500 long term jobs." Local people will be cynical about the construction jobs, having been excluded from recent opportunities (as heard briefly at the last Evelyn Assembly meeting). Hopefully, Lewisham's backing of this agency will improve opportunities, but jobs are still confined to "construction, hospitality and retail".


Meanwhile, the reason given by the developer for fitting 3500 flats into a space too small for them is that Lewisham Council wants this number, as laid down in their Core Strategy. It's about time this number was flushed out – Lewisham needs to confirm whether the number of units is required by them – or is it simply a figure the developer won't back down on. Unfortunately no one from Planning was there (at Charlotte Turner School on Thursday or the Albany on Saturday) to answer.

The main architectural model looked the same as last time and as deceptive as ever. The 'ground floor level' plan model made every building look like a bungalow, with oversized model trees the height of two storeys further deceiving people's perception. (A fully matured tree would take many years to reach anywhere near this sort of height). This big model was supposed to be viewed in conjunction with another smaller model. The smaller model – which had been expanded since July to include the larger area surrounding it – showed the heights of buildings, but was too small to make sense.

The smaller model was also turned in the opposite direction, making it almost impossible to refer to so that anyone could work out which of the 'bungalows' on the large model were actually towers or 12–14 storeys (or higher). An exhibition board said the towers would be 32, 38 and the tallest 46. Below, a closer look at the smaller model shows the 'Z' building (aka Aragon Tower) down on Pepys (right) in relation to the tallest tower on the Convoys site (left).

'Z'/Aragon has about 22 floors but looked only moderately smaller than the waterfront Convoys tower, suggesting the height of the tallest Convoys tower would be about 30 floors at most. When this was pointed out to one of the developer's reps, he assured us the model had been built to scale and suggested that the heights of the towers was still under discussion...

The main selling point seems to be public access to the river, with a marvellous new waterfront pier (and eventually a riverboat stop). On either side of the development, two long slim areas that used to be slipways for the ships that were built here in the 17th– 19th centuries, will be public areas. The easterly one has been excavated and is 'protected' from development; it's suggested it will make a natural public ampitheatre (it's also the Lenox Project's preferred site). The westerly one is liable to be a shaded wind tunnel, due to the height of the surrounding buildings.

At the centre of the development is the Olympia Shed, a listed building. Although the height of the buildings on the waterfront and on the outside of the site have been lowered, they now rise towards the centre, dwarfing the listed building. As yet there is no concrete proposal for this building other than to be accessible to the public. The massive space could have mixed uses ("leisure, retail, cultural and amenity"), but the top honcho at Hard Hat totally ruled out the ideas of a museum dedicated to Deptford's important maritime and industrial history, or a boat building project.

The Olympia Shed is shown on the model as a tree lined area. Less informed folk might have thought it was a big public square, but it looks like this because apparently it will have a glass roof (with trees inside). To the left hand corner of the picture above (looking north to the Thames) the historical Great Basin has been reduced to a shallow pool with a see-through sweet shop next to it. That is in fact a 14 storey building.

Here's the view of the Olympia Shed you'd get from the river...


A company called FutureCity has been tasked with Cultural Placement on the site. According to the exhibition boards there are "Seven Key Projects for Convoys Wharf identified which Hutchison Whampoa hope to realise through engagement with local cultural stakeholders, individuals and institutions via an advisory group and project specific working groups. FutureCity have been meeting with key stakeholders in the local area to discuss how the Convoys Wharf masterplan will come forward over the next 10-12 years, to embody these pledges in a way that engages and involves the wider community".

Contrary to the statement above, FutureCity have not been meeting with key stakeholders as of yet (though they are not new to Deptford or Convoys Wharf and have in the past had conversations with The Laban and Albany). There's a sense that someone has been brought in to tell us what our culture is. So now is the time to get involved. See their website contact details to get on their mailing list. Local groups of all kinds are 'cultural stakeholders', and should be part of the plan.

FutureCity work with developers mostly to put arts projects (including festivals and events) in public spaces. They have many developers on their books, including Battersea Power Station. They were last properly engaged in Deptford with Paynes and Borthwick Wharf. This involved promoting the work of local Deptford artists and designers in an online showcase with an unpaid contract that allowed FutureCity to promote itself using those artists' images with no royalties. FutureCity was also involved with Deptford X but it was not a happy relationship by all accounts. Perhaps lessons have been learned on both sides.


All the historical research that Farrells supposedly did at the beginning of their relationship with Hutchisons seems to have resulted in only gestures towards the site's rich history. Locally initiated projects are still included in the masterplan, as the only representatives of the wealth of this history. The Lenox Project boat was positioned on the model in the same place as in the July exhibition, on the 'protected wharf' at the westerly end of the site next to Pepys Park. We understand this is not where the project wants or needs to be built – for many practical and financial reasons. The blurb on one of the wall panels claimed to "have been in discussion with the Build The Lenox group" but the group are apparently still waiting for a meeting.

The Lenox Project would like their boat to be built where it was originally built, on the east of the site in the protected Dry Double Dock, close to Greenwich. A "Double Dry Dock Park" is planned here instead. The far westerly position given to the project would mean the ship couldn't be built according to the original plans (the main point of the project) but would have to be considerably adapted so that it could be hoisted by crane into the Thames, instead of slipping naturally out of dry dock into the river.

Hutchison Whampoa's spokepeople were also adamantly opposed to the alternative siting of the Lenox Project in the Olympia Shed. This is not the Lenox Project's ideal site, but if it were built in the shed, it would need to be launched into the Great Basin that ships were historically launched into. The developer's exhibition panel below shows the area of water in front of the Olympia Building that once led out to the river (the pink funnel shaped area above the red box shape), but this has now been reduced to a couple of small blue shapes – to include a much smaller 'mirror' pond that will 'reflect the buildings around it'. It also enables more buildings to be fitted in.

The Lenox Project has also proposed that the 'protected wharf' at the west end of the site (next to Pepys Park) becomes a Marine Enterprise Zone, producing all sorts of other job and training opportunities not related to construction, retail and hospitality. The developers would like this area to be as light industrial as possible, whilst the PLA (Port of London Authority) like the idea of industrial freight use. Perhaps this is why the Lenox Project has been placed here, to avoid arguments over the use of the wharf.

Meanwhile, the Sayes Court Garden project have been given a little of what they asked for, as they were in July.  Now their proposed John Evelyn Study Centre has been moved to be housed in two storeys on the corner of a six storey 300-bedroom hotel, opening out onto a new square adjacent to the already existing Sayes Court Gardens. Inside, the archaeological remains of Sayes Court Manor House will be exposed and there will now be a building-free avenue leading to the Olympia Shed, but a new primary school is proposed on the rest of the historic garden site.

Incidentally, many of the green areas shown on the drawing above are actually raised private gardens inside the perimeters of the luxury housing blocks, so the only really green public areas on the whole site are three pedestrian corridors and the existing Sayes Court Garden. Another misleading part of their presentation.

The architects and other representatives of Hutchison Whampoa presented their plans with extreme confidence, and ever-so politely waved away locals' concerns with a "Don't you worry, we'll sort that out, it's still early stages", whilst also creating the impression that everything was now set in stone, like it or lump it. What was not made clear is that Outline Planning Permission can be granted without a lot of things being finalised. The application might be submitted any time in the coming months – the developer optimistically hopes to start building in 2015.

Visitors were invited to fill out feedback forms, but God knows where that feedback will end up. A report on a consultation which took place with Evelyn Ward residents back in 2008 paraphrased comments to show only positive feedback. 

See also:  
The Deptford Dame's report – she points out it is not just locals who dislike the plans, but also a range of professional bodies.
London's Lost Garden argues the case for more land to be devoted to Sayes Gardens: "Developers claim Sayes Court Garden restoration 'infeasible'"...
Deptford Is... are "fundamentally opposed to the density and massing of the buildings proposed for the site"... 


  1. Thanks for sharing this - Great overview of the Convoys Wharf in progress. Lot Cons and very Pros - But the question that I have is - Will this increase the desirably of Deptford High Street and it's surrounding, if so I'm all for it. Then again, it's hard to predict the future.

  2. the High Street is already desirable to burgeoning and established Vietnamese businesses, African food stores, independent small supermarkets, shoe-menders, dry cleaners, grocers, independent cafes, art galleries, hair salons, barbers, independent pharmacy, fish shops, takeaways, banks. There's barely a High Street in London as successful that has been able to resist the onslaught of the ubiquitous chain brands.

  3. It's a shame the developers cant be as concise and truthful as your blog.It was all very deceptive and mind boggling and so badly thought out.The most horrible ill thought out design dumped on Deptford in a long time.It makes the Pepys Estate look like a much more spacious and desirable place to live.Why don't the architects put most of the the flats on floating prison hulk type stuctures and anchor them on the River! Fred Aylward

  4. Better than what's currently there. I say go for it.

    1. You shouldn't just "go for" three and a half thousand luxury flats that will be sold to Chinese investors to serve bankers in Canary Wharf plonked right into an area of deprivation, it needs a bit more thought. Apart from the demands on an already fragile infrastructure (transport links are rubbish, 1700 cars will cause havoc on Creek Road etc). The poor will stay poor and the rich will stay rich, not least because the corporate retailers won't employ anyone locally, as per their policy of avoiding customer/till 'favours'. Cleaning jobs might be on the increase but they'll be administered via an agency who only employ low-paid immigrants. Likewise construction. Your point is?

  5. A huge new development such as this is always sure to create passionate debate and divide opinion. But let’s consider SOME of the facts:

    Sustainable development on this derelict site has to be a plus. Having the site laid to waste - over decades, benefits no one so to those who want to maintain the status quo, I ask: Where do you live - in the wood, or perhaps on a park bench or, in a house/flat? If it is the latter, then no doubt years ago when your house/flat was being built, it too would have been viewed as unwelcome - and yet now, it forms part of a vibrant community for all to experience.

    On the other hand, style of Architecture is always a matter of opinion. Being bold and trying to create something different should be applauded - we do not live in the past, we live now and for the future so why not try building something with imagination. And as for building 30/40 storeys....why not? We once lived in mud-floored rock huts with thatched roofs and no windows. Now we have floors, and real roofs over our heads with strong walls to protect us against the elements...all within the warmth and comfort of being inside.

    So all in all, any development which invests £100's of millions in a local area, creates jobs and makes use of a derelict site, should, in my opinion be welcomed. And to those who have concerns I say: Engage with the developers in a genuine and positive manner and you might be surprised at what you can achieve. Fight them, and all you will gain nothing except a brooding headache of your own making.

    1. What a load of tosh. The developers (there are two to profit from this, Hutchison Whampoa and News International who are already billionaires) are not investing in the local area, they are here to make money out of OUR waterfront.

      There is no engaging with this lot, they won't engage.

  6. See Joan Ruddock's speech to the Royal Dockyard Society in April http://www.joanruddock.org/naval-dockyards-conference-20th-april-2013.html