Friday, November 15, 2013

Convoys Wharf update – sign the petition!

Last week the decision on planning permission for Convoys Wharf was taken out of Lewisham's control when the Mayor of London stepped in at the developer's request.

Now that locals can no longer make their objections to the application, local campaigners Deptford Is have set up a petition to give a voice to the community so that we can let Boris know that we don't want this. 


See Deptford Is... and local papers. Also read this week's Private Eye (click on the image below).


Heritage versus housing

Deptford's MP Joan Ruddock, in response to the Boris decision to "call in" the application, has described the site as "a heritage jewel in London's crown". The site is also of international significance, which is why the World Heritage Fund saw fit to include it on their Watch List for 2014-2016.

Boris's glib soundbite to news reporters was that "London needs more housing". Don't be fooled by the notion that London's housing crisis can be solved by the building of 3000 more luxury flats.

Originally, the percentage of "affordable housing" in new developments was set at 50% by Ken Livingstone. But most developers now claim that their sites are not "viable" (= massive profits) unless they deliver affordable housing at below 15%. In the Convoys application it is 14% – an extra 500 units at 80% market rent (still not affordable to the people who keep this city running), bringing the total to an impossibly dense 3,500 units.

It is also feared that, like other major new housing developments, the units will be sold off-plan to foreign investors before going on the market in the UK. Overseas investors currently earn enough from the rise in property values they needn't even bother renting their units out to those who can afford the high rents.   

The developers and Boris

It's feared Boris will look favourably on this application, despite the GLA's own reservations to it in their report to Lewisham Planning (in particular from Transport For London).

The developer is Chinese conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, one of many holding companies owned by the 8th richest man in the world, Li Ka Shing. He also owns major utilities in water and power (ie, UK Power Assets who run much of the National Grid and London's power), fracking (via Husky, causing community uproar in Canada) and telecoms (3G and others – and they're currently being 'investigated' by the EU on their recent purchases of telecoms in Ireland and Italy), as well as major British container ports (see June 2013 post).

Boris Johnson has recently been courting Chinese trade. David Cameron is due to visit China next month "on a trade mission" and Li Ka Shing has been spotted in and out of No.10.  Boris is also mates with Rupert Murdoch. (Thanks, Transpontine). Having sold the site to Hutchison Whampoa, News International has a profit share in the sale of the 3000 luxury flats planned for the site.

And this week the PM launched the Regeneration Investment Organisation Advisory Board (RIO), "an inward investment body" with the aim of raising billions of pounds from overseas trading partners to "fund urban regeneration projects". Sky News reports, "Its remit has been borne out of a frustration expressed by many major overseas investors about the bureaucracy and complexity of finalising major deals in the UK". Like Hutchison Whampoa, for instance, who accused Lewisham Planning of making "unrealistic demands" and "unreasonable and unwarranted requests" that would damage their profit margins.

Lungs for the City
The application proposes to build over almost every inch of the historic site, which was founded in 1513 by Henry VIII as the home of shipbuilding for the Royal Navy (the Royal Dockyard that, along with Woolwich dockyard, preceded the grandeur at Greenwich).

To get an idea of the density, have a look round the development at New Capital Quay. That's 1000 flats with a ground space a third of the Convoys site. Imagine that x3. To get an idea of heights, look at the tallest tower at the new Renaissance development in Loampit Vale – that's 24 storeys, half the height of the 48 storey tower proposed at Convoys (the other two being 38).

Convoys also contains the remains of Sayes Court Garden, where John Evelyn's innovative horticultural theories were developed and  which led to the founding of the National Trust. It was his theory that trees are the lungs of a city.

Considering the latest reports by the No To Silvertown Tunnel campaign, in which it was revealed that pollution levels at the end of Deptford Church Street on Creek Road have been breaching European limits for nitrogen dioxide for more than eight years, his advice is worth remembering more than ever. (Thanks, Deptford Dame).

Especially since Hutchison's plans include parking provision for 2000 cars (all housed in the giant blocks of housing units) that will cause ever greater pollution and congestion on Evelyn Street. The only public transport will be a diversion of the 199 bus and a Thames clipper, putting greater strain on existing services. And don't forget the ten years of construction traffic.

In an ideal world, the entire Convoys site should be planted with trees just to make up for the new IKEA being planned to go on the site the award-winning Sainsbury's eco-building at Greenwich peninsula, which will draw in traffic from miles around to unprecedented levels. (Thanks, 853 blog).

But Hutchisons were arguing over the necessity of widening New King Street to accommodate the bus making a two-way journey.

A people's history

The history of this site is amazing – it features loads of important historical figures (Drake, Raleigh etc), was the launch pad for some fantastic scientific discoveries (Cook, among others), and was built and designed by many celebrated pioneers in engineering and shipbuilding (Rennie, Penn etc), as well as being a place where ordinary people who worked in and around the dockyard have fantastic stories to tell (female shipwrights, black and Asian sailors), that were never recorded by Samuel Pepys who ran the yard for Charles II.

So much of Deptford's history has been buried and ignored (perhaps because of the shame of slavery), it is bursting to come through and speak to us. The site is monumentally multi-cultural – with links all over the world – as much as Deptford is now.

The archaeology

Many of the site's surviving below-ground structures (docks) will be buried under dense 12 storey blocks and 38-48 storey towers. The one remaining above ground structure, the Olympia Shed, will be overshadowed and hidden from view by the buildings closely surrounding it. You'll only be able to glimpse a small part of it from the river. Hutchisons were rejecting English Heritage's demands to open the view up.

The plans have been opposed by English Heritage, the Council for British Archaeology, the Naval Dockyard Society and other heritage bodies – not forgetting, of course, the local people who will have to live with ten years or more of building works and construction traffic.

The public space provision in the present application is laughable – a thin strip on the riverside and two strips on the sites of an historic dock and slipway, which are only not being built on because they're "protected". They could actually be listed by English Heritage, but not until the full archaeology report made by a commercial arm of the Museum of London which (had to be) commissioned by the developer has been published. It hasn't been published yet, despite the archaeology work being long completed – although not as thoroughly as it could have been (there is, according to Deptford Is, areas of the site yet to be uncovered).

English Heritage have recently listed the remaining walls on the site (including the river walls), which must make it the longest length of listed Thames wall in London. Meanwhile, with no full report, the archaeology of the site is not "fully understood". It would therefore be premature for the Mayor of London to make a decision until this report is published.

Local campaigners have emphasised the heritage of the site and how it can open up a tourism strategy for Lewisham, bringing in visitors from Royal Maritime Greenwich. Unfortunately, the owner of the site is so fixated on the simple formula of selling luxury waterfront residential units that it cannot envision the advantages of owning a site of world heritage – and the capital value that would add to a smaller number of units.  

Deptford Is are also advocating that an area on the site designated by the Greater London Authority (GLA) as a "protected wharf" (to be used for river business, very often simply cargo) should be developed as a Maritime Enterprise Zone incorporating boat building and repairs and other associated marine business that is presently lacking in this part of the Thames and which would bring great employment opportunities.

But this is strongly opposed by the developer, who will more than likely lobby the GLA, with Cameron, Osbourne and Johnson's help, to change the designation so that it can build even more luxury flats.

If you care about Deptford, you must sign the petition! This application must be opposed so that a better proposal can come forward – one that combines housing with a full appreciation of the site's heritage.

Update 18 Nov:  also see the Deptford Dame's take on the Mayor of London's new role in the process.



  1. That is very interesting but not a balanced argument. What about the other side the argument for the development in depth? You must have the pros and cons. And then there needs to be an agreement. It needs to be built and unfortunately money does not grow on trees. If you are a businessman then you have the right to invest your money where you see fit and that money could be withdrawn so there does need to be a realistic negotiation. But I do think that the Sayes Court Garden should be incorporated with a small model of the ship/and small museum of the history of the site. Unfortunately we are part of a global economy so we also have got to be open to inward investment maybe particularly when we are a bit bang to rights.

    1. Whoa ...

      Whatever convinces you this development NEEDS to be built? That idea is bizarre, and to many Deptford residents it is offensive.

      In its present form, the development too is offensive - massive tower blocks of luxury flats to be sold to investors, in closed ghettos, much like may other developments now scarring and ruining the London skyline and riverside - and with no thought given to the locale, the history, and the culture of the area.

      And pray tell - what are the pros? At the moment they appear invisible.

  2. Responding to the above comment- None of us in this country have a right to invest where we like. Sophisticated planning policy that has been generated over decades as a way to ensure our cities grow in a sensible and sustainable way exists to ensure that valuable heritage assets are not neglected or destroyed.
    The balance on this site will be to redevelop this heritage asset to provide a strong sense of place, employment, tourism together with homes. At present the miserable plans are unable to deliver both. The developer may well have paid too much for the site( his gamble) or he may need to adjust his expectations of profit margin. His profit cannot be a reason to ignore heritage protection and other planning policies.
    Yes, the site will benefit from redevelopment and inward investment, the role of the Mayor or LBL is to ensure that London in general and Deptford in particular are enriched by using planning policy to achieve the best result possible.
    The danger here is that the planning process is vulnerable to vast funds and a chummy handshake recently in China. Chinese money or not, it has to be considered within the context of UK planning law, not the context of the profit margin of Mr Li Ka Shing.
    Mr Li Ka Shing is a wealthy and generous man through his charitable foundation. Should he wish to apply some of his community development practice and thinking to this site, we could all be happy achieving a scheme that both Deptford and he can be proud of.


    1623 overlay

  4. When I enlarge the archaeology image you've shown I can see a long building diagonal to the large slipway. Is this the Navy Treasurer's House written about in Pepys and Evelyn that was a residence of James Duke of York? Effectively a lost royal palace in Deptford?

  5. There is a better version of John Evelyn's 1623 map here (it is zoomable):

    Evelyn's sketch shows the Treasurer's House as parallel to the Great Dock and perpendicular to the Old Storehouse.

    The Treasurer's House is mentioned in the application's Heritage Statement but not shown. It describes it as on a "distinctive north-east south-west alignment". It also mentions the Naval Officers' terraces built in 1700 (near the entrance). These and other things like the Smithery could be added to our map if we were sure where they were exactly!

  6. So there are remains of a royal palace on the site. Is anything being done to publicise this?

  7. Boris is a legend in the making. Deptford needs a major makeover and Convoys will be a great place to start. Enough nostalgia and more progress. More input from developers and professionals who know what they're talking about and less objections from people who want to live in the dark ages.

    1. What, like professional historians, archaelogists, and heritage specialists such as the World Monuments Fund and English Heritage et al? Developers know about nothing except profit margins. And Boris is a fool.

  8. I agree Anon - far too much nostalgia. What makes it all the more amusing is that people here hark back to the good old days, whereas the map of 1623 actually shows that much of Deptford owned by a few rich landowners. Oh the irony...

  9. Deptford Dockyard's landowners have mostly been the Crown and State since 1513, via the Royal Navy/Admiralty as a major Navy shipyard, from Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles II and so on until 1869. It then became the property of The City of London as a cattle market, then leased to the War Dept, and then owned by the MoD.

    Rupert Murdoch bought it off the MoD in 1980. Hutchison Whampoa bought it off him in 2008.

    So it has been in private hands for roughly 33 years. Previously it was in Crown & State hands for 467 years, and used by the Admiralty for 356.

    Anonymous is either anti-royalist and/or anti-state, or else working for the developer's PR team, since the only stakeholder who is threatened by the restoration of this amazing historical legacy is the now private owner who wants to make a huge profit out of it at the expense of national heritage.

  10. Heritage? It's a bit of wasteland with a shed on it !

    1. Funnily enough, a dockyard is made up of lots of below ground structures, eg docks, basins, slipways and mastponds.

      The MoD demolished a lot of above ground structures, as did Rupert Murdoch who got rid of the last remaining historical structure, the Great Storehouse. The Olympia Shed was listed by English Heritage in 1982 and thereby saved from Murdoch's wrecking ball.

      You really should try and read more, Anonymous.

    2. I'm fully aware of the history of the site and the tin shed that is left on it, but your response reconfirms the fact that the 'sights' are all below ground. Unless you are a mole I fail to see what interest there is to look at in the present day. I do however agree it is worth taking the opportunity to record the history, but, once documented just build over it. If you wanted to preserve stones, most of central London would need digging up!

      I think the argument about history preservation is being blurred with the argument about building tall buildings/substandard transport infrastructure.

      I wonder if the debate about building over our heritage would be so passionate if the proposals were to build a landmark hospital and school? Or is it just the fact that people are envious that others (not me by the way) stand to profit from the regeneration?

    3. The heritage assets that are in the ground are former water bodies- docks, slipways and basins. These water bodies can become part of the ground-plan of any new development. The listed Olympia shed can be linked to the river by the basin. It could then be used as a home to visiting tall ships, or perhaps house the Golden Hinde and attract tourists. The basin could be used to sail in safely by the Ahoy centre. The Olympia building could become a boat repair site. The docks and slipways could be marginal spaces where the swans nest and plants grow to protect them.
      The Sayes Court Garden Institute can be a place where kids learn about green-spaces in our cities, where the elderly mix with the young and grow things together.
      Building the Lenox will attract tourists and involve the community for years.
      Wouldn't you like to live there, rather than in an over crowded slum of the future?
      I like tall buildings, but it is what goes on around them that is important. Deptford has heritage that can make a vibrant future. That what some creative people are trying to achieve.

  11. I note that Boris's troll Mr Anonymous has posted the same absurd comment verbatim on many local blogs. Hope he's charging the Mayor or Mr Li appropriately.

  12. The site is an eyesore from both sides of the river - I live in Deptford and welcome the change that will make the area more desirable and less of a wasteland.

  13. Don't be daft. You can't even see the site from this side of the river unless you stand at the gate. And the view of the flats on the other side of the river isn't that inspiring! The view from those flats would be hugely enhanced by cutting out a couple of monstrous blocks of housing and opening up the basin to be filled with boats – small boats and boats as big and as old as the Cutty Sark (or indeed older). Boats are what the river is about, in case you hadn't noticed. And boats, marinas and boatyards and maritime enterprise is what has been driven from the river by luxury housing developments. Don't you want to see boats on the river?

    And the view would be better from this side if it included a beautiful garden dedicated to the memory and work of John Evelyn. All of this could be afforded by the developer – in fact the capital value of his land and property could greatly be enhanced by rethinking his plans. The plan he has now is to create a ghetto that will look shit in 20 years – just a couple of tweaks, and he could create a place of lasting value that increases in prestige and importance (and therefore value) the older it gets.

    How can you not see that?!