Friday, August 5, 2011

Damien Hirst invited to curate new Deptford Gallery

The Deptford Dame reported on 22 July that the developer of the old Seager Distillery site had applied to Lewisham Planning for Change of Use in a revision of their plans for "Holland House" (what is now left of the original Seager building).

The already approved plan for a large art gallery and six floors of offices above it was to be ditched because the developer had been unable to attract any takers for the office space. Instead they had expressions of interest from a couple of hotel chains for the entire building, so now they want to move the gallery round the corner to a new building on the site that used to be "Norfolk House" (presently scheduled to be housing with offices at ground floor level).

The Dame pointed out that objections needed to be filed by 3rd August. Meanwhile, Brockley Central debated the merits of having a hotel rather than office space. The developer's application admits the hotel will only employ 44 people rather than a potential 153 or so in the offices. All in Brockley drew, as the developers wanted them to, the obvious conclusion: that 44 is better than none.

The point everyone seems to be missing is that over 100 Housing Association tenants were displaced from Norfolk House plus three times as many artists, designers, creatives and related businesses from the old Seager Building, in order to make way for this large development back in the early part of this millennium. Lewisham Council recognised this, and built provision early on into the Section 106 negotiations with the developers.

Section 106

For those who don't know, Section 106 is a legally binding contract whereby the local authority secures community benefits to mitigate impact on existing communities and ensures new infrastructures are built to accommodate new residents if required and specifies how land may and may not be used or even how construction and future activities may be carried out. But much of the too-ing and fro-ing since then (in which time McDonald Egan sold the development with planning permission to Galliard in 2005) has been about the height of the new tower.

However, a Section 106 deal was done in 2009 that included:

•    £250,000 enhancement payment to regenerate the surrounding area, in particular, Broadway Fields which adjoins the site.
•    £100,000 towards local employment initiatives.
•    Provision of subsidised employment space and gallery space.
•    Public access to the part of the site adjoining the river to be made available, creating a through route from Broadway Fields to Deptford Bridge and the DLR station.
•    Green Travel Plan

We have seen the improvements to Broadway Fields, but we wonder what happened to the '£100,000 towards local employment initiatives' and the 'provision of subsidised employment space'? Might that not have been put into the 'office space' to encourage its uptake?

The marketing report referred to many times in the new planning application was not available to view on the Planning Portal, but we find it hard to believe much effort was put into marketing the office space. We suggest the developer looks at the Tea Building in Shoreditch to see how it's done properly. The Tea Building has a full house of creative businesses, two galleries, a ground floor restaurant, AND a hotel with a swimming pool on top.

It didn't happen overnight, it wasn't cashing in on the Olympics (if it was, it was very insightful). It took some years, but it was popular from the beginning. The advantage in its proximity to the City is nothing compared to the degree of imagination its owners, investors and occupiers have shown in its development. Which only goes to expose what an unimaginative bunch we are dealing with here in Deptford. Galliard probably always had boring chain hotels in mind (possibly its own subsiduaries or partners) when it bought the development.

Meanwhile, the gallery...

In their application, Freshplant (aka Galliard) state that the "bulk, height and massing of the consented scheme has been retained in the proposed scheme." Meaning, the gallery round the corner is the same size, innit.

However, the ground floor of Holland House is in fact double-height, the same as a double decker bus. There is also a mezanine floor. The height is around 6m with glass frontage of about 4m.

The height of the space offered at the new Norfolk House is about 3m throughout. See the difference in this drawing of elevations North to South, Broadway to down Brookmill Road. The section far left is Holland House, far right is Norfolk House (click to enlarge).

Mainly because of this height advantage, the original gallery space is around 547sqm. The new space is 281sqm, just a little more than half originally gifted.

Not only that, but it's round the corner. This is what the new Norfolk House looks like (click to enlarge).

As the Dame says "rather than giving it the promised high profile location on a major traffic route, with the opportunity to signal Deptford's art credentials to the wider world, the developers want to tuck the gallery out of sight in a smaller, uninspiring space with limited marketing potential".

The brief moment...

We saw the following drawing somewhere with  A R T   G A L L E R Y  written on the top floor glass instead of the later added  H O T E L  but we can't find it now, so here's the hotel version.

The now defunct Creative Lewisham concluded in their Creative Hub Investment Plan in 2005:  

"There is brief moment when we can work with developers, educators, would be entrepreneurs and cultural animateurs and deliver a truly integrated creative hub, one that will deliver growth and sustainable economic regeneration not only for this area but also for London as a whole.

“The prize for getting it right is an integrated sustainable creative hub, a ladder of opportunity for all, an area that is a major destination for cultural tourism, an economic powerhouse that will persuade graduates to stay and start their businesses, an incubator that will help turn a communities culture into gainful employment, a growing powerhouse that will be able to make a real difference to the overall economy of the area.

“Or it could become a dormitory…”

Lewisham Council's own stated vision to achieve a thriving, dynamic and creative economy by 2020 outlined objectives to "support Deptford and New Cross as a City Growth Area with a business-led economic strategy attracting entrepreneurs and new companies, creating business and jobs and supporting existing firms."

Reality is a dish best served with a side order of reflection, a dash of humility for digestion and a sense of humour to pay the bill at the end of the meal.*

Obviously a banker-led recession and a council-cutting Tory government have got in the way of any idealism on the part of our glorious leaders. We wonder how the plans for knocking down a perfectly beautiful Civic building (the Town Hall) in Catford are coming along....

And how their decisions are affected by Boris's new tax on any new developments decided on after April 2012 that taxes the council – not the developers – £35 per sqm...(quick decisions to be made on some large scale developments? Convoys?). All to pay for Crossrail apparently.

We have watched the arts in the borough develop over the last 30 years and lost count of the number of times the council has taken credit (beyond what they have funded) for the many grassroots arts initiatives in the Deptford area, and then sold the story on to developers who have used the bohemian 'artists' quarter' buzz to sell glass boxes to make huge profits.

That brief moment again...

There should be a prestigious gallery on the main drag into Deptford. The Deptford-led South London Art Map initiative that won Arts Council funding (in a famine) is a prime example of how good it could be. SLAM covers Bankside, Peckham and Deptford. That's Tate Modern, South London Art Gallery and....what? What is there in Deptford? Lots of little spaces all spread out. APT have a big space and put on a pretty good show sometimes, but they're hidden away and by all accounts don't want to be a public gallery.

A robust high profile programme of work in a large and visible public gallery would bring more visitors to the area and to existing studios and small galleries and contribute to Deptford’s own economy by being the Jewel in the Art Tourist crown. With its double height this could be a great sculpture space and place for big work.

But obviously, funding would be required for such a venture....

A handful of people responded to the Dame's call to arms and lodged an objection with the Planning Department. Section 106 aside, Galliard are trying to go back on what was granted in their planning permission. As one objector said, "If Lewisham let this through, it sends a message to developers that in an initial application they could agree to any terms that made it an acceptable proposal but after the development had begun they could change their proposals and get away with it."

All drawings by BUJ Architects as submitted to Lewisham Planning.

*Thanks to Paul Clayton for quote

(This post was edited 21.53, 5.8.11)


  1. excellent article, well researched - a tricky situation but well explained

  2. I don't disagree with many of the points made here, but the community of artists, etc you mentioned was displaced when the old building was demolished - it would be interesting to know where they were displaced to. Has there been a net loss of artists to Deptford in the last few years? Or have they stayed in and around Deptford, working in other premises?

  3. Concorde Graphics moved to Lee. Lush moved to Cockpit. Reckon most still about, Nick.
    No shortage of artists and designers round here, eh. New arrivals at Goldsmiths every year!
    More space always wanted. Reasonably priced commercial space especially.