Erith Riverside Gardens – Community Fun Day

I have written before about Riverside Gardens, Erith, and how I helped the local community save it from being built on by turning their emotional objections into Planning ones, the strength of which made the Local Authority change their minds.

Despite this the local community don’t believe that this is the end of the matter so are determied to use the gardens as much as possible and, as part of this effort, held another community festival on the gardens. I thought I would post a few photographs.

Fun Day 1

Fun Day 2

Fun Day3

We had about 40 stalls, a display arena and had the official unveiling of The Alexander Selkirk Signpost (Erith is where he landed in England after being rescued from his island). It was a good day, with fine weather and lots of families enjoying themselves. The Port of London Authority also attended making children aware of the dangers of Thames mud at low tide.

This was all set up and run by volunteers, and with very little money. 

Local businesses and groups helped out with sponsorship and we had support from The Rotary Club of Erith, The Erith Group, NatWest, Batt Cables, The Aleff Group, Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and Erith Town Forum.

The gardens are in the heart of Erith’s Western Gateway ‘regeneration’ area and we are determined  that they get improved as an integral part of these developments rather than built on, and that any developments nearby are of high quality with integrated public realm and open space.




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East London River Crossings – are they the correct transport approach?

Recently I responded to TfL’s consultation on additional East London River Thames crossings. My first set of thoughts were that, yes, we need more crossings. But then I began to think that this was a knee-jerk reaction and perhaps we need to look deeper at the communications network before spending a lot of money. The following is the core of what I ended up saying:

Given the high level of growth which is being planned for within the area to the east and south east of London close to the River Thames, it seems logical that the area requires new and additional road transport links across the Thames. As someone who lives in this area I know full-well that the inadequate transport links across the River Thames to the east of London restricts and constrains travel, employment and business options, with possibilities often not even being considered because of the difficulties.

It therefore seems natural, and intuitive, that new bridge crossings are required to the east of London, and I support new bridges at both Gallions Reach and Belvedere because, with the planned for growth, in the long run both will be required. To me it makes sense to have a period of excess capacity in order to encourage the required growth rather than always trying to catch up from already congested infrastructure. It is often argued that building road infrastructure encourages its use – well we might as well accept this in an area where we want to encourage growth to happen, and build to encourage development. Likewise, even if only two lanes are provided for in each direction (which hardly seems adequate anyway), future-proofing must be built in to enable the easy retrofitting of additional lanes and capacity at some time.

TfL argues that these new crossings will help the economic growth in the east and south east of London in areas close to this new infrastructure, with a large number of additional employment opportunities being brought closer together with homes in terms of travel time. However, the economic evidence of the cost and benefits of the east London Crossings is lacking and TfL needs to carry out these studies and make them available before decisions are made.

I am not sure that TfL’s existing studies yet prove the case for the new crossings. The transport studies seem to argue that there will not be a large amount of new traffic, but rather a proportion of existing traffic will choose to use the new crossings instead of those currently used. TfL’s transport studies seem to be saying that demand will be shifted from existing crossings rather than created, so I fail to see how the new crossings will therefore help to create new jobs and help business growth except marginally.

I would like to see (in fact surely it is vital) more-detailed economic benefit appraisal carried out before any decisions are made. It may be that it makes more economic seance to accept that the natural and existing travel routes are radial into London and that these must be strengthened and improved, rather than trying to create new orbital routes used by few but created at great expense. I would like to see more exploration of whether it is better to invest in better public transport radial routes into London (with stops on the way) from east London and south east London, or indeed to provide better road connections between the large development areas north and south of the Thames with their more immediate respective hinterlands and accept that the Thames is a barrier.

So, is the option of turning the areas north and south of the Thames to the east of London into 2 parallel, separate, but equally high quality locations for homes and jobs etc, with top quality radial routes a better way to spend £1.5bn? I don’t know the answer to this but am hoping that TfL and The Mayor of London are looking at this question and will have the answer to it.

In other words, although my gut-feel is that I think we need to build new bridges to the east of London to provide orbital routes, I want to see some evidence from TfL that this is a better thing to do than create new and better radial routes combined with some local improvements linking the radial system into its local hinterlands. As TfL is arguing that the new crossings are not for strategic traffic but rather local residents and businesses, it seems to make more sense to provide better local links with those sites north and south of the Thames respectably rather than spending a lot of money making essentially local connections for short journeys across the Thames.

If the proposed new crossings are provided I am totally against the use of tolls or user charging. East (and south-east) London citizens and businesses contribute to the general taxation pot, and some of this is used to provide, for example, major infrastructure to the west of London, such as additional lanes of the M25 around Heathrow, which is freely available, yet they are expected to pay separately, in addition to taxation, for the use of their vital infrastructure. This is unfair, and puts east London to a disadvantage: adding to the list of disadvantages it already has compared with west London. In any event, it seems illogical to say that new crossings are required to enable the planned for growth to the east of London to happen and then try to restrict demand through user-charging – if TfL don’t want people to cross the Thames then they shouldn’t build the crossings; or the Mayor should not allow so much development to the east of London.

It is understood that TfL intend to procure the new crossings via some sort of Public Finance Initiative (PFI) methodology. I strongly object to this method of procuring the crossings without robust and detailed evidence that PFI is the most cost effective (i.e cheapest) method. The Public Accounts Committee has published findings that PFI and its variants are expensive methods of funding, financing, procurement and delivery, so if it is used I wish to see the evidence that alternatives have been seriously considered and have found to be more expensive across the lifetime of the crossings. Furthermore, using PFI goes against the Government’s public procurement strategy of using Two Stage Open Book Tendering and Supply Chain Relationship methodologies when procuring large construction and engineering projects. In addition the Government’s wish of using ‘Partnering Arrangements’ is also ignored by the use of PFI.

Whatever options for crossings are chosen a ‘Total Landscape’ approach to the design and construction must be taken. Using a Total Landscape approach, which includes ecological, environmental, social and aesthetic issues and considerations, all integrated and being considered holistically, will enable a much better project or programme being delivered and go a long way to answering many objections from local communities.

By treating design holistically the argument that bridges and their approaches sterilise the surrounding environment and area can be countered and avoided. Good quality design will enable homes, offices and other structures to be built very close to bridges and for the bridges to actually contribute towards ‘Place Making’. I have examples of high quality communities and environments which are directly under bridges of the scale we are talking about in East London. Even if buildings and structures are considered unsuitable for some reason (such as security perhaps) the surrounding environment and landscaping must be dealt with as an integral part of the project and be of high quality (a public park perhaps rather than a dead and neglected piece of land).

To assist with this holistic and integrated approach, and to get maximum contributions to the cost of delivering the new crossings, TfL (or some other public agency) ought to be considering securing the ownership of the surrounding areas and development sites, and work at a very early stage with a development partner to plan development of the area in proximity to the crossings and their approaches. In this way we can plan for, and deliver, developments whose value is increased by the proximity of the crossings rather than are considered ‘blighted’ by it – in this way financial contributions to the cost of the crossings can be made.

I am concerned that the cost estimates of the crossings are not including the total infrastructure changes which are required. It is understood that only those roads which are or will be the responsibility of TfL are included in the cost estimates and programme. However, many of the changes required to the surrounding areas are the responsibility of the local London Boroughs – these must be included in the project costs, and the funds made available. Without this there is not a complete and integrated scheme and programme.

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Housing Design – random thoughts

I have been talking about making cemeteries into useable public spaces and places for some time, and on building homes on the edge of parks and public open spaces in order to provide a degree of ‘Natural Surveillance’. I have some examples of what I mean and what can be done, but they are old fashioned photographs in the depths of my archives and I haven’t got around to scanning them. But I came across this example in Kent last Thursday:

Rolvenden Cemetary

By having the front door facing into the grave-yard, and a low picket fence, the residents can oversee anything which is going on and thus nothing dodgy does go on. The same approach can be taken with parks and other open spaces with homes fronting them instead of the usual arrangement of backgardens and high fences.

Whilst on the subject of homes I will also mention one the the many things which annoy me – the treatment of windows.

The is a newish development:

Rolvenden Small Windows

but look at the tiny windows. The occupants must need to have their lights on all of the time – and if there is a good view they can’t actually get much of it. I know that the small window syndrome has come about because of the need to reduce energy loss and energy use but this is a lazy way to do so, and a way which I think we will end up regretting. It is also another example of something which seems too prevalent today – being able to only think of one thing at a time.

A while back we felt the need to have larger windows:

Rolvenden Large Windows

I know that priorities over energy conservation were different when these homes were built, and I am not saying that the design is good – but it does illustrate how we have had ‘fashions’ in window size.

I also know we are more energy conscious nowadays but it is possible to have larger windows (of harmonious proportions) and still meet the low energy use requirements. To me, the small and badly proportioned fenestration we see all to often in new housing is lazy and something we will regret in the long run.

Also, good design doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

To me, this is an example of good design:

Good design Rye

and it is good design because of the proportions used. I am not saying that I want to see new homes copying this, but why can’t most developers learn that a simple design, using good proportions, works and isn’t any more expensive than adding fake details?









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East London River Crossing 1997 and 2014 (for 2025 delivery)

I have just completed composing a formal consultation response to Transport for London on their latest proposals for new East London River Crossings.

Purely by chance I was tidying up some papers at the weekend and came across an artist’s impression of a previous proposed East London River Crossing, so thought I would share it here:

East London River Crossing 1997

I think it dates from 1997. Getting on for 20 wasted years because ‘we’ couldn’t come up with an acceptable scheme.

Note the ‘waste land’ around the bridge’s approaches. Another lack of imagination which I hope we will not be repeating. Bridges and their approaches do not have to sterilize an area if an integrated, holistic, approach is taken using a Total-Landscape methodology.

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From Pipes to SuDs – full circle in Lewisham

Just thought I would show people what is happening to the River Quaggy in Lewisham, South-East London.

River Quaggy

The River Quaggy, after being hidden underground in concrete for many years – as per the fashion and thinking of the time, is being opened up to accord with current thinking of making rivers more natural. Does anyone have any photographs of what this area looked like before concrete took over?

It will be interesting to learn whether the whole course of the River Ravensbourne and Quaggy (same river) has been considered and worked up into an integrated SuDs system (it has already been opened up in Sutcliffe Park). Hopefully it has and this isn’t a piece of ad-hocracy.

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In the real world the targets for reducing carbon emissions from the existing housing stock will not be met

Recently I was talking to a conference organiser about the issues around upgrading the energy efficiency of the UK’s existing housing stock. I expressed my doubts about the basic deliverability of the EU’s and the UK Government’s carbon reduction targets within their stated time-scale, and the organiser asked me to write a brief to inform their panel chairman during the discussion sessions.

These are the Key Pointers which I set out:

“ I believe that most, if not all, desk top studies on the costs of upgrading and retrofitting insulation to existing homes underestimate the actual costs. They seem to ignore: the costs of removing and refitting radiators, skirting-boards etc; of redecorating; the costs of removing and storing furniture and belongings to give room for the works to be carried out; the costs of removing things stored in the loft, storing them and putting them back.  In other words the consultants seem to think no one lives in these homes, and that people redecorate a complete home in one go, and assume that retrofitting insulation will always coincide with this redecorating and/or the gutting of kitchens and bathrooms and their refitting; so they fail to count these costs. However, real people understand this and don’t want the disruption and can’t afford the total costs.

If the experts answer the above by saying that all this can be addressed and avoided by fitting external insulation, they  ignore the fact that many people buy their home because of the way it looks externally and don’t want brick replaced by render.

The studies ignore the fact that people store things in their lofts, and put them back there after the insulation upgrade which compresses it and thus doesn’t work as predicted by the theory.

The studies ignore that fitting new gas boilers may not be as simple as a straight swap. It may be necessary to fit a bigger gas supply pipe, and this means taking up floor coverings and floor boards, and if this is not possible major re-routing and thus costs.

The studies ignore the fact that many people don’t want the disruption – they don’t want it even if the work is done for free, and will live with higher energy bills. This isn’t new – in the past local authorities funded toilets and bathrooms but many old people said ‘no thanks – I don’t want the mess’.

We need to remember that for energy to be useful if has to cheap enough to use, and thus cheap enough to ‘waste’ at at least some level and to some extent. So, trying to price people into upgrading their energy efficiency will be a very slow process with those who can afford to do so choosing ‘waste’ over inconvenience, and those who can’t suffering from more and more fuel poverty.

The sales methods used – cold calling/telephone cold calls from firms you have never heard of – all appear as if they are from a bunch of ‘cowboys’ and are going to be the next mis-selling scandal, so I know of no-one who will talk to them. Contact and sales calls from names you know, such as the energy suppliers, are assumed to be over-priced rip-offs and also likely to be mis-selling.

So, in summary, the government has based policy and their targets on studies which ignore the human factor. Their targets were always undeliverable.

I am not sure if there is a simple answer, apart from making it obligatory to do the upgrading when a home is sold (or at tenant change) but this means it will take many years to hit the target which the Government wants – but it is going to take far longer than they want to anyway to meet their target at existing rates of take-up.  In any event, upgrade at a house-sale still involves disruption and extra costs (people will have to be out of at least one home while the work is done; and the costs may not be affordable – unless this is reflected in lower sales prices and this isn’t going to be popular).

On top of all this, there is evidence (but this isn’t talked about much) that the predicted level of energy savings (and thus £ savings) do not materialise: after a while people spend their additional income on higher temperatures (or other energy use) anyway. The £12bn smart meter programme will turn out to be a scandal – the energy and cost savings will not materialise (or will be very small), and the energy companies get 48% of the benefits but their customers pay 100% of the costs of fitting the meters – something which will not be popular when customers finally understand this.“

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Growth Outside of London, High Speed Transport, and Tax Raising Powers

Back in May 2014 Public Finance Magazine published a piece of the progress of The City Growth Commission, chaired by Jim O’Neill. I wrote a response which they asked to publish in their printed journal – I thought I would repeat it here:

“Before anyone gets carried away (with the interview with Jim O’Neill) they need to read carefully what is actually being said. Firstly, he seems to be saying that SOME cities may be capable of increasing their tax take BUT even then this is not enough to solve the problems of insufficient growth and success outside of London and the South East. To my way of thinking it is the other things he mentions which are the important ones which will help to increase growth across the country. In my opinion most cities do not, in the short to medium terms, have the potential tax-base to raise anything like the investment required without massive transfers from the centre.

I am not convinced by his ‘lessons’ from the USA. For one thing, the USA is much bigger than the UK and distances between cities are greater which helps to mitigate tax ‘competition’ between cities; but even then there are many examples of cities reducing taxes (rather than increasing them to fund infrastructure), and the hollowing out of cities as people move out to the lower tax hinterland but still expect to use the infrastructure which they don’t want to pay towards. Secondly, there are lots of examples in the real world (in USA and Europe) of local government undertaking lots of borrowing via bonds etc and then not being able to pay the money back – so let us learn from these before we say ‘it has worked elsewhere’, because in fact it hasn’t worked.

His assumptions about making large savings in time (between London and Northern cities) from HS2 are full of ‘ifs’ which don’t to me seem to be based on reality. I think there is lots to be gained from connecting our midland and northern cities to each other but not by linking them (especially via hubs which are not actually in these cities) to London.”

So, there it is , short and sharp, and not a line-by-line commentary on the work of the commission but a few ‘from-the-hip responses’ to an interview.

An interim report has recently been published by The City Growth Commission, so I had better get round to reading it to see it the earlier interview and report matches the contents.

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