Last Thursday night at a Strategic Planning Committee meeting in Lewisham Town Hall, eight Councillors voted in favour of giving planning permission to Workspace plc to redevelop the Faircharm site on Creekside. Only two Councillors – Cllr Paul Bell (Telegraph Hill) and Cllr Abdeslam Amrani (Catford South) – had the guts to vote against the proposal on the grounds that it goes against Lewisham's own Core Strategies on employment and affordable housing.
Cllr Paul Bell (Telegraph Hill) made a short impassioned speech about how Deptford is "always done unto" and never done with. Our own local ward councillor on this committee, Paul Maslin, voted for the proposal. Whilst other councillors asked quite sensible questions of the developer, the only question Maslin asked was an unchallenging and rhetorical one (ie, a leading question) which allowed Workspace to reiterate how they were far too poor to simply renovate the present buildings without making a filthy big profit out of building luxury flats on the waterfront in an employment zone.
For Crossfields residents uninterested by the strategies of town planning, go to the bottom to read how it will affect you.
The Council's Employment Strategy identifies the Creekside area as a Local Employment Location (LEL). The plans for the area were drawn from the recommendations of the 2008 Creekside Charette which acknowledged that developers were moving quickly into the Creek area and some ground rules to protect it needed to be laid down – a sort of Neighbourhood Plan. It identified Faircharm "for business use only, recognising the important role these buildings have for small and medium enterprises and not wanting to put this at risk by housing".
In particular the 'Core Strategy (2011-2026) of the Local Development Framework' included "Retaining and protecting business and industrial land and buildings that support the creative industries, particularly in Creekside" (The Creative Industries Strategy for Lewisham 2012-2015).
Far from "protecting" employment in the area and against a promise to "ensure the retention of the creative industries", Lewisham has allowed a profit-led investment company to drive more than 130 creative businesses out of the borough. The Faircharm proposal reduces the amount of employment space by half, so that 148 residential units can be densely built next to the waterfront of the Creek, only 21 of which will be "affordable" (with one "affordable" 3-bed unit). All present business tenants will have to leave.
Lewisham has talked up Creekside's creative industries for the past 12 years or so as a jewel in its crown, but it would appear the only 'creative industries' Lewisham now supports are those that make loads of money (digital film & TV) that do not need lots of space to make big messy things in service to an "arts industry" that by its very nature operates on a shoe string. We're not talking about part-time artists needing a cheap little studio space, but full-time artists needing large spaces to build their careers, and businesses who service the arts in other ways making big things, plus small businesses that cater to theatre, music, youth arts, community arts and other poorly funded areas of the arts, who have built up relationships with other groups in the borough.
The requirement for cheap and affordable workspace is the very essence of any strategy to do with the creative industries, but this is now been lost in favour of a "micro business cluster" in which small overpriced units will be let to those whose only requirement is a socket to plug their computers into. Light and medium industrial space is now at a premium in the borough, or non-existent, since it is all being developed into mixed use sites where residents will not tolerate the smell and noise of light industry. Meanwhile, leading workspace providers like Workspace plc are turning what is left of every other industrial space in London into mixed use sites with luxury flats, where light industry cannot exist, and rents elsewhere can be up to seven times as much.
Currently, the site is low-rent (although with high service charges),
and many businesses have been able to claim exemption from business
rates. As always with regeneration in deprived areas where poor people and
creatives exist in a kind of economic bubble, they find themselves
priced out (Hoxton, Shoreditch, Dalston etc). At least now that the application has been accepted, there will be
funds made available for the remaining businesses to relocate, even if
there is nowhere for them to relocate to. Of course those who have
already left did so at great expense to themselves.
Among the many untruths the developer presented to the committee was the expected increase in employment,
when in fact this site would be filled to capacity if Workspace had not
stopped renewing long leases in anticipation of their application.
Employment figures that the Strategy Committee were asked to consider
their decision on were based on the number of tenants still occupying
the site in November 2012, when many had already left because they were
unable to negotiate a satisfactory long-term lease. The Committee were
encouraged to view the future predictions for employment on Faircharm as
a positive factor, when in fact, the predictions are no greater than if
the site continued as it used to.
The present design for Faircharm is better than what was previously
proposed (8-storey blocks facing directly onto Creekside that would have
created a canyon effect). That plan was only reigned in by Lewisham's
hastily conceived "Conservation Zone" which has preserved some daylight
for Crossfields, but has resulted in denser, higher buildings at the
The Conservation status has preserved the front
two industrial blocks, known as Buildings A & C. Building B (at the
back and nearer the waterfront) was exempt from this assignation because
it was too new. Building B is actually in good working order and has a
new roof, but this is the building Workspace want to demolish. In his
presentation to the Strategy Committee, Workspace's project manager
described this building as having a leaking roof – it doesn't.
Now that they have got planning permission, Workspace will start looking for another developer to sell the residential component to. Mercifully, Planning have made it conditional that the present
architects are retained, so that the design of these new hi-rise
buildings doesn't get dumbed down (and cheaper to build) when sold to a new developer. The architects' re-design of the already existing
low-rise working spaces on Faircharm demonstrate
how the site could have been redeveloped into a lovely working
environment (albeit much more expensive to rent than it is now).
Meanwhile, Lewisham regards the 14% affordable flats as a "windfall" they weren't expecting, and despite being in a position to turn down the development based on their core strategies, say they have no control over 'market forces'. 148 flats is also a ''windfall" when you consider how much Council Tax will be garnered from the new residents – a potential £185,000 per annum.
The new residents will live very closely alongside the DLR and a very smelly Creek. Additionally, there's Thames Water's redevelopment works at Greenwich Pumping Station right opposite, and the fact that many of the flats will be in darkness much of the time due to overshadowing. Cllr Amrani asked wondered how the flats would be marketed – might it be directly to Chinese investors?
No account was taken of the visual impact on Crossfields residents living opposite (in itself a planning consideration), nor for the loss of light quality at APT studios. The developer had the cheek to suggest it was a better view for Crossfields residents than we currently have, and did not even include APT in its sunlight/daylight studies – like artists do not need light!
Work is not likely to start until the end of the year or early 2014 (after conditional contamination and archaeological investigations and a lot more besides is worked out and agreed). There is then the strong possibility that Crossfields will be subjected to 180 lorry trips per day (one every 7 minutes), 8am-6pm on weekdays and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays, along Creekside. Until 2017 we will not want to open our windows in the summer because of the noise and dust.
Planning have suggested that road humps will slow down the construction
traffic, and also made it a condition that the developer
must do a feasibility study on using the Creek to transport demolition waste and materials. Using the Creek for freight was also one of the aims to come out of the
Creekside Charette and is supported by Creekside Centre and the boaters
living in the Creek. Whilst
this idea can be made to work if there is a strong enough will to
overcome the logistics involved, it is also quite likely that this will
be abandoned at the first hurdle as it will cost the developer too much money. Such an idea needs to be actively supported by Crossfields residents and the remaining Creekside businesses.
Parking will become a problem when the site is built, since there are only 28 spaces to be provided on the site, and only about 35 kerbside spaces near to the development. Creekside will be a Controlled Parking Zone and the new residents will be excluded from it, so Crossfields will inevitably have to submit to a permit scheme if it wants to retain parking for its own residents only.
Still, with no parking available and everyone expected to cycle or walk to the development when it is up and running, at least there will be no impact on our little back road until the next development starts (Creekside Village?). There will however be significant impact on all surrounding roads from other new developments (most notably Convoys Wharf which will have parking for 1700 cars) in the near future. Of course, if Deptford Creek is not used to transport materials to and from Faircharm, there will be terrible congestion on surrounding roads for three years with construction traffic queuing up at either end of Creekside to get out onto Creek Road and Deptford Church Street until 2017.
Under the Section 106 agreement, Lewisham has negotiated some stringent conditions and £1,685,866 from the developer. There is also an opportunity in the agreement for Lewisham to secure further funding towards affordable housing at another site. (The Section 106 agreement is supposed to "help mitigate the negative impacts caused by a development, and includes site specific issues as well as the provision of infrastructure and facilities necessary to support the additional residents and help achieve the Council's policy objectives".)
But only about 37% of the one and a half million secured on this development actually relates to the development itself, and not one penny of that yields any direct benefits for Crossfields. Although compared to Greenwich Council, Lewisham does seem to have gone further towards restricting the developer, it also has the promise of added income in council tax and business rates where previously there was next to none. Apart from the promised access to the Creek in the shade (surrounded by CCTV), and some tarted up pavements on Creekside, there is nothing to compensate Crossfields residents for the visual impact and three years of noise, dust and pollution.
Search "Faircharm" on this blog to read our previous coverage.