Sunday, June 23, 2013

Convoys Wharf update: is Hong Kong the model for Deptford New Town?

This is Hong Kong. It's where Convoys Wharf site owner, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd (HWL) are headquartered. The owner's plans for Deptford are not dissimilar to this view of China's major capitalist service economy (which is one of the most densely populated areas in the world).

With the proposal for three towers in north Deptford, one at 48 storeys (158m) and two at 38 (156m), Hutchisons intend to compete with Canary Wharf and the City of London for the tallest buildings in London, despite Deptford not being in any way a financial district. Though not quite as tall as Canary Wharf's three central buildings (One Canada Square, HSBC and Citigroup), the proposed Deptford waterfront building will be taller than Barclays' world headquarters (156m).

As a residential-only building it could be the third tallest in the UK after the soon-to-be-finished St George's Wharf Tower at Vauxhall (49 storeys, 181m) and the 75-storey residential tower planned for the Isle of Dogs (presently on hold).


Hutchison Whampoa Ltd (HWL) are an investment holding company whose main shareholder is Cheung Kong Holdings. The chairman of both is Li Ka Shing. His son Victor Li is Managing Director and Deputy Chairman and the set up has been compared to Rupert and James Murdoch, from whose empire our little bit of Deptford was bought. News International retains a profit share in the sale of the luxury homes proposed.

This month, Li Ka Shing is 21st on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (Murdoch is 77th), and his biggest company, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, posted revenue last year of over US$50 billion. Europe has become the main source of income for HWL, with its revenue in the region reaching US$21 billion, 42% of its total.

Both billionaires are in and out of bed with each other investment-wise. One example is the story of London teenager Nick D'Aloisio, whose app 'TrimIt' made Apple's 'App of the Week' and attracted $300,000 in investment from Li Ka Shing's venture capital firm, Horizon Ventures, after a tip off from Murdoch's soon-to-be-ex-wife Wendi Deng. With further investment from News International (as well as Stephen Fry and Yoko Ono), D'Aloisio went on to sell the app as the more refined 'Summly' to Yahoo for $30m.

That's the sort of good news story that the developer should be promoting, as part of their marketing for Convoys Wharf as a future centre for Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT), and their aim to expand the City across the water into Deptford, promoting both the hi-tech businesses that they are so good at investing in, and filling their expensive apartments with the people that work in that industry.

Obviously, if that was the stated intention, we'd immediately clock on to the fact that they were creating a New Town Bubble. Such honesty might be welcomed, but instead this agenda has had to be disguised as something that pertains to Deptford, so that the bubble can be seen to integrate into the area, and not be percieved as the gated community (or compound of gated communities) it is ultimately designed to be.

To expand the mythology, they have managed to include the Telecommunications Industry under the umbrella of 'Creative Industries' so that they can link their aims to what is already here, so that Regeneration can be seen to take place.

In the Cultural Strategy document of Hutchison's planning application (which reads like an estate agent's brochure) it says: "In providing temporary space for seeding new enterprise (and) by locating creative and TMT enterprise and R&D at the heart of the scheme's vision from the outset...Convoys Wharf clearly has the potential to create an environment that can successfully support the kind of creative industries businesses that would in turn attract the TMT residents that are envisaged as the engine of the development, as well as TMT companies more broadly."

Deptford's reputation for contemporary art and design practice is undoubtedly part of the Goldsmiths and YBAs-of-yore myth. Goldsmiths now attracts much of its income from international (mostly Japanese) students who pay £18K+ a year in fees, based on the YBA rep. Laban is so grateful to exist it is happy to be overshadowed by any residential towers that come its way (more are promised at Creekside Village, and Laban has already voted to be completely overshadowed, just so it can get another theatre).

But for heaven's sake, every London borough and UK town has a 'thriving arts community', some more than others, because artists (and theatre companies, and film-makers and designers) will exist where rents are cheap. Although some web-based design companies are now designing apps for mobile phones, surely the activities of Deptford's arts and performance practitioners and cottage industries are strange bedfellows for telecommunications and mobile phone technology.

The lead architect of Hutchison's new planning application, Sir Terry Farrell, said "I think this is the equivalent of Hoxton or a Shoreditch of the South". Perhaps the old man was confusing his latest development in Shoreditch (another tower) for this one. What happened in Shoreditch was a disaster for the local community, where rents soared in a vision initiated by an estate agent and backed by the Council (and the London Plan) in the name of Regeneration.

Convoys Wharf is only a little bit different. There is a big empty space to fill with a bubble culture of TMT that will bear no relation to its surroundings, and before that, a load of property to sell off-plan to investors who don't give a toss about cultural strategies. The only way Deptford's present Creative Industries will be involved is in the potential use of temporary cheap space whilst the new culture is being built. As long as rents stay low outside the bubble, we could happily continue as we are, and doing whatever we like, daring the suits to come downtown to get dirty. But estate agents and greedy private landlords will make sure rents rise until Lewisham Council has fulfilled its dream of Deptford as a dormitory town for City workers, whilst the ageing population living close to the site will end their remaining years accompanied by the endless sounds of banging scaffolding and the noisy engines of construction lorries and cement mixers.

Reflecting on the past, one might see a parallel with the Naval dockyard facilities that grew up around the site in the 16th-19th centuries and the Navy's own little bubble. Except that all the toffs were in Greenwich. The workers and artisans and skilled workers and medium ranking officers had Deptford. That's why you won't find their history in Greenwich. Ask also why the history of slavery and the heritage of Black and Asian peoples right here in Deptford, is not recorded in Greenwich and has been wiped out of Deptford's history by successive embarrassed left wing councils.

Ultimately our new Chinese masters know they will be repeating history by rebuilding a Deptford New Town, to be serviced by Deptford Old Town, but that's about as near as Hutchison Whampoa want to get to the history of this site.  

So, ANYWAY, what experience do Hutchisons have of integrating into and regenerating communities?
Their property division has only ever dealt in luxury residential property and hotels (see below), so the chances are low to nothing.

Here are the core areas of their business: 

Ports and related services: Hutchison Port Holdings operates across Europe, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Africa and is the largest port operator in the world. In the UK it owns London Thamesport on the Isle of Grain, Harwich International Port, and the Port of Felixstowe. Their subsiduary Myanmar International Terminals Thilawa (MITT) is involved in trade with the military junta in Burma. Presently, ongoing striking dockers at Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) are paid less now than they were in 1995 and work in appalling conditions.

Property and hotels: Hutchison Whampoa Properties Ltd develops and invests in real estate, with office buildings in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, luxury residential properties in the UK, and with Cheung Kong Holdings as Habour Plaza Hotel Management (International) Ltd operates and manages hotels in China and the Bahamas.

Telecommunications: HWL owns the "3" brand, plus mobile, fixed-line, broadband and international connectivity services in eleven countries around the world. A subsidiary, INQ, manufacture mobile phones. HWL is presently looking for majority control in a merger with Telecom Italia, Italy's biggest wireless carrier, and reportedly plans to buy have bought O2 Ireland (whilst Murdoch's Sky has just bought O2 UK).

Retail: As A.S.Watson & Co (ASW) HWL's retail arm operates in Asia and Europe, as the world's largest health and beauty retailer. Most notably in the UK, it owns Superdrug and The Perfume Shop. Retail interests also include supermarkets, consumer electronics and airport retailing.

Energy: Cheung Kong Infrastructure (CKI) has its finger in transportation, energy, infrastructure materials and water. The Energy division includes a 34% interest in Husky Energy Inc, one of Canada's largest energy-related companies, with a focus on oil and gas exploration and extraction, pipelines, storage and processing, plus retail outlets all over Canada. Husky works with Gasfrac and  is involved in the potentially harmful and controversial process of "fracking" for shale gas (banned in France, Bulgaria and the Canadian state of Vermont, since it generates massive volumes of toxic water and huge piles of debris, and has been blamed for triggering two tiny earthquakes in northwest England).

With an interest in Hong Kong Holdings, CKI is the sole electricity supplier to Hong Kong Island, as well as an investor in the UK, China, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In the UK, CKI already owns UK Power Networks (the electricity transmission network in London and the South East), gas distributor Northern Gas Networks, and a 50% stake in Seabank Power. Last year, CKI bought British gas distribution company Wales & West Utilities and New Zealand's waste management firm Environ.

Water: Hutchison Water are involved in desalination, water treatment, waste water treatment, water reuse and water technologies. New to the market, they intend to be the leading company in the production and treatment of water. They have a 49% holding in the Sorek desalination plant in Israel, the largest of its kind in the world, and own Kinrot Ventures, investors in water and Cleantech technologies. In 2011, CKI bought Northumbrian Water (which includes Essex & Suffolk Water). In the process, CKI sold Cambridge Water to HSBC to avoid competition issues. It still has a 4.75% stake in Southern Water.

On the evidence...

Anyone who understands the world of investment will be unsurprised and possibly uncritical. Conglomerates and billionaires own the planet, and where would we be without someone to invest in us, as Camoron is probably wont to say?

Thames Water is owned by an Australian-based consortium Kemble Water. When they were owned by German company RWE nothing got repaired. Private equity took over and look at us now, overdue repairs of Victorian pipelines causing massive inconvenience to all over London, done, thank you, suburban gardens no longer flooded with tampons, thank you, all done on massive borrowing and no tax to be paid amid much scandal and staff layoffs and director pay-outs, and now with £4bn borrowing to build the Tideway Tunnel, totally underwritten by the taxpayer. The Chinese Investment Corporation, among others, have a snack in it. Hutchisons aren't the only foreign investors in town. Of course.

Meanwhile, one can only hope that Hutchison's proposed new buildings at Convoys Wharf will surely be highly energy efficient, to make up for the damage Li Ka Shing's investments and businesses are doing elsewhere.


When a company this size puts in a planning application that purports to bring prosperity to a deprived community, and claims that it has 'talked to', 'consulted with' and 'listened to' that community 'via its grass roots organisations', you should know it has not done any such thing.

Only now are they talking about temporary uses for the site, whilst for the past ten years the entire space has been off-limits and thoroughly secured. Community use could have been managed during this time but there was no inclination to engage from the developer.

They have refused to step down from the massive density and to create more affordable housing, lest they lose their profit margins. Talks with the planners have resulted in high-to-medium height buildings being reduced, by increasing the heights of the taller buildings. Buildings marked on the application as "feature buildings" are simply those tall buildings which have been advised by Farrells to have rounded corners, since the site would otherwise be a total wind tunnel.

Most of all, the developer has steadfastly refused to listen to any arguments about preserving the heritage of the site in any meaningful way.

Through interpreters and consultants, they have arrived at a premature but palatable version for the Planners that pretends to talk about about regeneration, but nothing can disguise their real intention to make as much money as possible, with absolutely no regard for anyone in Deptford.

Further notes:

Meanwhile, Lewisham appears to be reneging on its Core Strategy policy once again, as it did recently with Faircharm Trading Estate. In Appendix 1 of the Convoys' Wharf Delivery Strategy (CW012, p.33), we noted the following:

Core Strategy Policy Strategic Site Allocation 1 (Requirements for strategic site alllocations)
2. The Masterplan will need to be submitted as part of an initial outline or full planning application. If the applicant submits an outline planning application then this should be accompanied by a full planning application for Phase 1 of the strategic site.

The application DC/13/83358 is for Outline Planning 'with all matters reserved'.  What does that mean? Against Lewisham's Core Strategy, there is no full planning application for Phase 1. That's why we have no idea what the buildings will look like. (Because they will be sold off to other developers asap).

Yet Deputy Mayor ("look into my eyes, my eyes, my eyes, not around my eyes") Alan Smith has been going round telling local campaigners that Lewisham will pass it.


  1. great article Sue, sorry I have nothing to add except if Lewisham Planning were to listen to you deptford would be a happier place, oh, and, having met Alan Smith I can confirm he is of limited intelligence but is pliant in the hands of the mayor

  2. complete crap.....the sites empty and no use to the community whatsoever and local businesses and future communities.. you really need to get a life.... London is a world centre ie people want to live here thats why they want to build apartments....and have every right to do so.. you dont own the land

    1. thanks to the anonymous Lewisham councillor for that contribution


    2. We don't own the land, but we are 'stakeholders' in the land. As opposed to 'shareholders' who will make a profit out of it at the expense of the stakeholders.

  3. and you are in the extreme minority with those views.. that's why it will get built on.......

    1. Extreme minority? I think it;' pretty much the majority view of anyone who will be living living in reach of the monstrosity.. Will these poeple be buying down Deptford High Street in any big way? I think not - so how does that help the community?

      It will, as Sue implies, destroy the local arts and creative scene.

  4. Not sure we want London to look like Hong Kong!

  5. The Chinese have bought a piece of British Heritage in acquiring the dockyard. Good old Joan Ruddock the local MP even reminded the owner when she met with HW that they had bought something equivalent to a piece of the Great Wall of China!
    well done Joan.
    Imagine what a fuss would be made in China if the British came along today and started to build tower blocks over that world monument.
    It is not good enough. Neither Blackheath nor Greenwich would allow such bullying and aggressive planning proposals to be passed and allow towers on the heath or next to the Queens House. Why should Deptford allow its open spaces and history to be completely obliterated. Come on Lewisham Council start defending our past so we can enjoy our future and our young people be proud to live here rather than subjected to what will probably become the rotten slums of the future with absentee landlords and overcrowded streets. The Pepys estate will look like paradise compared to this proposal.
    wake up. Start aggressive campaigning. Lets demand to see the models that show the real scale of this. These models exist at HW. Lets see that the councillors know what they are deciding on. IT IS TOO BIG.

  6. The difference is that this is an old derelict piece of land which once had great things on it, but now doesn't. Whereas The Great Wall of China and Greenwich are current World Heritage sites. Yes, we should look to the past and learn, but from what I can see this site has little aesthetic value at the moment, and having been fortunate to have visited Hong Kong, I would love my home of Deptford to resemble it.

    1. In Convoy's application, in the section covering Site History, it is stated that Henry VIII's Great Storehouse sustained non-structural blast damage during WW2. It goes on..."the Tudor Storehouse was demolished soon after"...

      In fact, only part of the Great Storehouse was demolished by the MoD in 1952. The rest of it was shamefully demolished in 1982 by Rupert Murdoch (with blessing from Greenwich Planning). In other words, a building that had survived 468 years was torn down by a foreign newspaper magnate who had no regard for Britain's heritage.

  7. Well, I am bound to tell you that you are ignorant of the facts concerning the former Royal Dockyard at Deptford. It contains a Scheduled Ancient Monument, several Listed Structures of great importance and has a number of other elements that are currently under the watch of EH because they are built by pioneering engineers.
    Greenwich, or the Great Wall are what they are because people like you did not have their way and built towers over them. I instead people like me fought to protect them.

  8. ...and I am not saying that Deptford Dockyard should not be redeveloped. It is how and with what care and guiding principles. Furthermore, to answer your posting, I believe, and so do some experts, that Deptford dockyard should also have World Heritage status.
    Lets bring on sensitive regeneration rather than this monsterous proposal currently being considered by Lewisham Councillors.

  9. The Great Wall of China was built as tall as it could at the time. If technology existed at the time you can bet it would have been built taller. Our forefathers and pioneering engineers were certainly not shy of building big - people even complained about the height and design of St Pauls cathedral when it was built. As generations pass, technology progresses and buildings get higher.

    Whilst I don't think they have sorted out the transport (we need a tube!), I have absolutely no objections to the towers. It's all part of living in a dynamic changing city. I don't want to live in a museum.

  10. "sensitive regeneration", hmm, in a developers hands there's no such thing, indeed the word 'regeneration' has now changed meaning to 'lets build some towerblocks and see if we can flog them to far east investors', unless you can provide an example to the contrary of course

  11. To the anonymous (Hutchison apparatchik) who accuses the author of not "owning the land" I would suggest that, as an argument, that is a foolhardy direction to go in. The dubious circumstances of Mr Murdoch's purchase of the site do not lend themselves to close scrutiny legally. His acquisition is not the first to have been in dubious circumstances, the site has a history of fraudulent transactions over several hundred years. If the people of Deptford could afford the calibre of lawyers that Hutchison are presently using to bludgeon Catford and City Hall into submission then the people of Deptford would own the site now. Morally they already do.

  12. Ownership is not the question- the site is characterised by EH as being of National Importance and as such is to some extent protected. The challenge for developers, owners and the community that surrounds the site is to ensure that the redevelopment is harmonious and appropriate to the past and well planned to create a sense of place for the future.
    Of course, there will be towers, which can be elegant, efficient and sited to not damage the heritage assets. The massing of the current proposal is just too much for the acreage and too much for Deptford, which is already very densely populated.
    EH are calling for a "world class" solution for the design, and this scheme as yet, does not match up that requirement.

  13. I totally agree with Sue! I've lived in and around Deptford all my life and it;s alway been a complete sh*thole. Desolate council estates, rough pubs, betting and pawn shops the only thriving businesses, muggings await round each corner, human excrement in alleyways, resident drunkards on the high st...

    I wouldn't change it for the world!

    Why would I want the area to be regenerated, the riverfront to be opened to the public and new bars and restaurants in the area? Why would I want the area to become buzzing and hip and the place to be like newly trendy Shoreditch?

    Not for me. I want the area to stay the dump it's always been, it makes me feel at home.

    Now let's see, where's that needle....