Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Objecting to Convoys Wharf DC/02/52533

On Saturday concerned citizens met at The Albany to find out more about the plans for Convoys Wharf and how to object to them.

There was quite a lot to take in. Participants were invited to look at various documents, drawings, books and plans before the meeting was addressed by William Richards, one of the group of local residents behind "Deptford Is..."

William clarified a few points among the issues listed below, and identified a few more, whilst other members of the group contributed additional responses. Young architect Morgan Lewis had prepared a very clear document, some of which we reproduce here. We've also taken notes from the Deptford is... website where they have posted a crib sheet on how to object.

Here is what we learned...(and have learned since)...

(Feel free to nick the bits in italics for a short and concise 'holding' objection that is equally as valid as a blindingly long and detailed one. Don't go on about how the new development is going to spoil your view – that doesn't count, even if unfortunately it's going to spoil hundreds of peoples' views...)

The site was the first Royal Dockyard, created by Henry VIII in 1513, home of pioneering ship building for the next three hundred years. By building in Convoys Wharf the developers are not only destroying valuable archaeology but also squandering a public asset.

The King's Yard built many of the Navy's finest ships and was at the forefront of naval technology. The remains of the dockyard are extensive, accessible and in good condition – but do not feature in the developer's masterplan. Furthermore the application fails to meet criteria regarding heritage sites stated in National Planning Policy.

The development also ignores John Evelyn's garden at Sayes Court, one of the most famous and celebrated gardens of its time. Evelyn's many visitors included his friends Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren, and even Charles II. The garden is internationally renowned as the principal antecedent of the English Landscape style – both Hampstead Heath and Central Park (New York) owe much to Evelyn's design. It was also the first garden to be 'held in trust', marking the beginnings of the National Trust.

Affordable housing, green space, employment, transport
The development does not include enough affordable housing, green space or employment opportunities. Not enough provisions have been made for the impact upon transport and education.

Out of the 3,500 proposed residential units, less than 20% are affordable homes. The London Plan asks for 35%-50%. Morgan said that only 14% are likely to be affordable, and 80% of those will be one or two bedrooms (no families then). And just what is 'affordable' anyway? At this stage it's not possible to know which Housing Associations may be charged with the cheaper residencies. These are usually the flats with bad views that are in shadow all day...but that doesn't mean there won't be luxury priced flats with no view and no sun.

Although in the illustrative masterplan (below, click to enlarge) there seems to be lots of green space with courtyards between each of the high rise residential blocks, in reality these gardens will be raised on 17m high 'podiums' that will contain the car parks that are to house over 2000 cars. The green areas on this illustration will actually be inaccessible and invisible from street level. This will not only create oppressive, monolithic streets but also reduces the amount of green public space to a minimum.

With 24% of the site being non-residential, there are obviously going to be some jobs – almost 7% of the site may be a hotel. Most of the jobs will be in retail and the service industries. Perhaps it can be a big campus for unpaid interns from Greenwich Community College, Lewisham College and Westminster Uni? There will be a lot of work in construction – but less than 10% of construction jobs at the Olympic site went to local people. Where are the real jobs and training that are so urgently needed in this area?

With over 2000 parking spaces for residents and 323 spaces for non-residents, the additional car traffic generated will create an unacceptable impact on the surrounding highway network, especially the roads in and out of the site.

Meanwhile, retail and service employees in addition to a potential 10,000 residents (who may keep a car but not use it to get to work) will make demands on existing local public transport that cannot be met. Add that to the other large residential developments already going on, and the pressures on the borough's infrastructures are clearly in danger of overload.

Density and size
The density and size of the development and the negligible commitments to architectural quality point towards a banal and alienating environment.

One of the three high towers proposed is twice as tall as the existing tall buildings in the area, whilst the surrounding blocks, which go right up to the perimeter of the site, will overshadow and curtail daylight on existing housing. The surrounding blocks can go up to a height of 60m – how is this in any way on a human scale? The density as regards the number of residential units (3500) is unsupportable in terms of transport, especially in regard to roads.

Other stuff...(for information)

There are no building designs to view at this stage. This is because they are only seeking 'outline' planning permission for the site – if accepted, they will be able to build whatever they like within the parameters of their application, for instance, the buildings cannot be higher – nor shorter – than specified here.

The developer also wants 'outline' permission to divide the site into a series of 'parcels' (areas within the site, basically) and to build these 'parcels' (and their roads) in phases. There are six 'parcels' of varying sizes – how buildings are arranged within these areas can be decided at a later stage, and in the meantime, sold to which ever other developer would like to build there. They in turn will have to have their designs approved, but do not have to pay attention to demands from the community – that deal is being struck here. Several aspects of the things the developer is offering to the community are unresolved, but once permission is granted, it will be hard to secure anything more for Deptford.

Lewisham are quite keen on having a primary school (even though Charlotte Turner school lies unused a few metres away, but that's Greenwich). They have also had to consider the offer of turning part of the site into an 'energy plant' (another SELCHIP) which, needless to say, nobody in Deptford wants. A 'Working Wharf' is offered (considerably smaller than was originally offered) and the only building saved on the site, the Olympia Building (once used to build ships in) is designated for "cultural use", but the area around it reduced to a few metres – the access to the river to the north of the building will be built on, whereas it should be opened up as the "Great Basin" it originally was – where ships were launched into the Thames...

Deptford Is... want other hugely historical areas of the dockyard opened up and re-instated for modern day use, if not restored to their former glory, but most importantly, not built over. In 2000, Lewisham commissioned the London School of Economics' Urban Design department headed by Prof. Richard Burdett to recommend how the site should be developed. The layout produced from this study shows complete regard and respect for the historical parts of the site: Sayes Court Garden is fully restored, the Great Basin and the Dry Dock are reopened, and even the original Clock Tower (presently housed in Woolwich) is returned to its original place.

The LSEs' plans show that even when all the public space is opened, there is still room for a large amount of residential development to make the site commercially viable to the developer. After all, what sort of profits are they after? Regardless of the huge killing made by News International on the original site when they bought it from the MOD for a song (£2m instead of £35m), the site is now worth so much more than Hutchison Whampoa paid for it. Can this old Chinese family be persuaded to think a little more long term? Can we perhaps appeal to their sense of continuity?

Something that may be in Deptford's favour, (though it may not feel like that to the hundreds of people who have already campaigned before against this development), is the history of this application. Quickly: planning permission was requested in 2002 by News International for a scheme that followed a masterplan by Richard Rogers (which paid much more lip service to the site's history than the present plan). Afer difficult negotiations, permission was granted by Lewisham's Strategic Planning Committee in 2005. But the GLA (Greater London Authority) didn't like it and an amended application was put forward in 2010 which they further rejected.

The developers claim this application is an amendment to one submitted in 2002, but in reality it is considerably different and in many ways far worse. The 2002 plan fundamentally ignored the desires of local people and London authorities, and this current application is no improvement. It certainly falls short of any notions of regeneration (creating services and long term employment for local people), whilst completely ignoring the importance and history of the site.


"We strongly urge Lewisham Council to refuse this application and challenge the basic assumptions of the developer's proposals, and we request that the entire project is reassessed to ensure greater sensitivity to the site's history and to the needs of local people."

View the Planning Application from Hutchison Whampoa again here.
Then write to Emma Talbot, Lewisham Planning. Email: planning@lewisham.gov.uk
Quote the Ref: DC/02/52533 (Convoys Wharf).

The alternative is to respond via the online form on Lewisham's website, which we don't particularly recommend since online forms at Lewisham have a tendency to go AWOL.  
Deptford Is... recommend you send your objection by post (or even by hand), but email should suffice and Planning will acknowledge your objection with an email back to you within a week or so (if they don't you'll know your objection's gone astray).

Copy it anyway to whoever you like: ideally, Joan Ruddock, Evelyn Ward councillors (or councillors you know may be helpful, perhaps those in other political camps). Joan has already replied favourably to one objector, despite her less than favourable response to our queries on the same subject earlier in the year. So do please copy her in so she knows how strongly her constituents feel.

The Mayor and the Deputy Mayor need persuading since they are under pressure to finalise the deal – faced as they are with the prospect of the Boris Tax*.

Have a look at the list compiled by Deptford Is...  (at the bottom of the objection information). 
But there's nothing stopping you sending it to people you think might be a lot more use than your local councillor: what about Time Team? Prince Charles? the Maritime Museum? British Museum? BBC? etc etc. If this were happening in Kensington you can bet there'd be some celeb on hand to big up the cause!

And don't forget to sign the petition...

*Boris Tax – something that wasn't discussed at the Deptford Is... meeting, and otherwise known as the Londonwide Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), payable on all new developments from April 2012, but only collectable once the development commences.

The levy is intended to raise £300m towards the delivery of Crossrail and will be inflicted on all London boroughs – £50per sqm for Zone 1 boroughs, £35 for Zone 2 and £20 Zone 3. At £35per sqm for Lewisham in Zone 2, the implications for the new Convoys site are enormous. The tax is obstensibly on the developer but will replace in part the Section 106 offer a developer is obliged to provide in mitigation.

A prominent member of the council has said off the record that this was a big consideration in the Convoys Wharf proposal, and, without having any specific figures to quote from, the equivalent of losing, say, £13m of £50m. It appeared that a decision may need to be rushed in order that development could commence before April 2012.

We suspect there may be some delay in the implementation of this tax, since the business community is worried councils will pass the tax on to them. If we understand it right, in any case, larger London businesses are to be taxed a 2p supplementary rate if their rateable value is in excess of £55k. It is particularly objectionable to those boroughs and businesses who will not benefit from Crossrail. So the implementation date of April 2012 may be delayed amidst opposition...fingers crossed. This may or may not account for Joan's new found confidence in supporting a fellow objector...

Please correct us if we are wrong.


  1. Brilliant- really helpful in terms of clarifying the issues.

  2. St NIcholas Church Hall 5 - 8pm Tues 11th October Following the outcome of the Deptford IS meeting re:CONVOYS WHARF Lewisham council is: " offering an informal meeting or drop in session with local residents who have objected (or want to) to enable an asessment to be made of the areas of concern BEFORE the application is considered by the Planning Committee