At the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on 29th June, there was an enthusiastic response and approval given to a Biodiversity Action Plan entitled 'A Natural Renaissance for Lewisham'. This was number 13 on the agenda and its priorities emphasised already existing Core Strategies, eg protect all open space including Metropolitan Open Land; protect sites of importance for nature conservation; support and promote local biodiversity; require green roofs and walls where appropriate; implement a Street Tree programme, etc etc.
Point 6.4 of the report states, "Street trees play an important role in London's environment, providing multiple physical and aesthetic benefits. London's street trees principle value is to reducing the impact of climate change on the capital. Trees increase shading, and cooling, they improve street environments and reduce noise and dust from road traffic. Crucially, they also mop up carbon emissions."
Point 6.5 points out the challenges of introducing new trees (for instance, where underground utilities get in the way), but despite this "the Council seeks to maintain, protect and increase the number and quality of trees in the borough through various measures". Point 6.7 acknowledges this is sometimes not possible due to new developments, but "the majority of planning applications achieve a positive biodiversity enhancement from onsite interventions that exceed what existed prior to development."
That sounds like they've got a handle on this tree thing, doesn't it. Apparently "Lewisham's trees are part of what makes the borough so green compared to many other parts of London". Yes, maybe in Brockley and leafy Catford (where there is healthy opposition to the redevelopment of the greyhound track). But not in Deptford, where provision of new (mostly luxury) housing at the expense of trees appears to be much more important than a biodiverse environment, even in Council-led proposals. The Tidemill site is an obvious example.
The Council couldn't care less about trees
After the Mayor and Cabinet had all patted themselves on the back for having such a lovely green borough, they moved through Item 14 and on to Item 15: Disposal of Land at Creekside Part 1.
The accompanying report proposed the "disposal" of Council-owned land on Deptford Church Street/Creekside to Bluecroft Creekside Ltd in return for new commercial space in the development to be
The strip of greenery in question backs onto Crossfields Estate, and can presently only be accessed via the estate. It has long been neglected by the Council and is much overgrown, though has in the past been tamed by some young residents who created a BMX run. An abundance of wildlife exists in the thicket of mature trees and overgrown shrubs. The trees line the road on the approach to the roundabout, reducing the noise and dust from the traffic – and mopping up the carbon emissions.
|View of the 'surplus' green area from Reginald Road by the Birds Nest roundabout|
|Click to enlarge|
• Clean Green Liveable – where people live in high quality housing and can care for and enjoy the environment
• Dynamic and prosperous – where people are part of vibrant communities and town centres, well connected to London and beyond
... and with the Council's Community Strategy:
• Strengthening the local economy – gaining resources to regenerate key localities, strengthen employment skills and promote public transport
• Clean, green and liveable – improving environmental management, the cleanliness and care for roads and pavements and promoting a sustainable environment
In addition, the Core Strategy "has the objective to make provision for the completion of an additional 18,165 net new dwellings" [BUT] "This aims to exceed the London Plan target for the borough". [Why?]
There's nothing in the report that relates specifically to the local residents and people, other than reference to bland policy statements. This is how our lives are shaped – by a remote elite in Catford.
The "commercially sensitive issues around the terms of disposal" were discussed in secret and subsequently approved. Two of the cabinet members backing it are our local councillors, Joe Dromey and Paul Maslin. Perhaps they can explain to their constituents the thinking behind it.
Will the Council's involvement in the Bluecroft scheme help mitigate its potential worst aspects? Could the exchange not have been for accessible social housing instead of commercial space?
Will the commercial space be used to house creative businesses or will it be retail?
Is their control of commercial space in a Council-designated Creative Employment Zone the only way they can ensure that such an employment zone policy is realised (because the other proposed ground floor commercial spaces at the Faircharm and Kent Wharf developments on Creekside will be too expensive for most creative businesses?), ie, will creative space be subsidised?
How much of the Bluecroft development will be genuinely affordable?
How many more HGVs and cement mixers will be added to our roads?
Does this deal ensure that the development includes an equal amount of green space, ie NO net loss of green space?
No one was aware of the proposal before it came up in Mayor & Cabinet. In their concern for the potential loss of more green space in the area, Deptford Neighbourhood Action (DNA) had previously asked local councillors and officers repeated specific questions about the site but had had no response. The Chair of DNA discovered it was on the agenda at the last minute and attended the meeting, but her request for public consultation fell on deaf ears.
Citing the numerous empty ground floor commercial premises on nearly all the new builds in the area, DNA believe the council will be unlikely to generate ongoing revenue from any commercial space on the site in return for their "gift to Bluecroft". If the Council wants 'planning gain' they'd do better to have accessible social housing there.
|Bluecroft could now build up to the boundary of Crossfields, marked by this fence.|
|Access to the strip via Crossfields|
We wrote about Bluecroft in November 2014, when they had just acquired the MOT Centre at No.1 Creekside and planned 150 flats on the tiny site. With this 'gift' from Lewisham, they now have a larger plot to build in – enough to put up a tower. Locals are now worried that adjacent land (the yard behind the Birds Nest and the building next to the MOT Centre, shown in grey in the map below) may also be sold to Bluecroft by its owner (who also owns the Big Red) – creating an even bigger 'opportunity' for Bluecroft.
Meanwhle, the canyonisation of the Creek continues, from Fairview Homes at Hope Wharf, Bellway Homes at Sun Wharf, Essential Living at Creek bridge, not to mention another Council 'deal' with developer Kitewood at Thanet Wharf etc etc. No trees will be harmed in the building out of these brownfield sites as none presently exist; but all are very dense developments and only a tiny number of new trees might be planted – in line with Lewisham's view that "the majority of planning applications achieve a positive biodiversity enhancement from onsite interventions that exceed what existed prior to development."
The Council will always say it can do little to mitigate market forces, but this does not excuse reductions in existing green space as a result of projects that they themselves are involved with. Bluecroft approached the Council to acquire the land at Church Street for a mixed use development; the outcome could have been different if the Council was not trying to exceed the requirement for new homes (most of which will not be affordable) by allowing building on every spare inch of space.
Perhaps the Mayor's cabinet should reflect on the work of Sayes Court Garden CIC, the community project that won space on Convoys Wharf (along with The Lenox Project) and which both Mayors (London and Lewisham) supported. The project celebrates John Evelyn, an influential proponent of the idea of planting trees to clean the air, establishing sustainable resources and giving people access to nature and heritage (the origins of the National Trust).
In other words, the ideas contained in Lewisham's Biodiversity Action Plan had their roots in Deptford, but are at odds with what Lewisham wants to see happen here. Why else are they so complicit in getting rid of what little green space we have?
NB Edited 17 July 2016.