This weekend we visited Convoys Wharf, in Deptford, which was open as part of the London 2012 Open House.
For those who don’t know, this was once the site of The Royal Dockyard, Deptford; then has had a succession of uses, and is now a cleared site (apart from the Listed covered slipway sheds), awaiting redevelopment as one of The Mayor of London’s Areas of Opportunity.
What I saw of the proposed development was not only disappointing – it was actually depressing.
The site seems to be set in an enclave, cut off from the real world of Deptford and its current population, and is based on an urban design and grain which could be anywhere rather than on an historic site in South East London, on the banks of The River Thames.
In my view too much of the public space is inward facing and hogged by the internal facing blocks. I don’t think the proposed green spaces respect or reflect the fact that the site of John Evelyn’s famous and important gardens was here; the layout of the site doesn’t nod to or acknowledge adequately the wider historic nature of the site; it appears that connections to wider Deptford are inadequate and possible even disrespectful. Too much of the so called public space and public realm appears to be space for commercial activity such as cafés and restaurants – this doesn’t seem like true public space to me: I wonder who will own and manage these spaces – the developer or Lewisham Council? Many of the visitors made these same points.
(Model of John Evelyn’s gardens)
And, where was the site for the brilliant community based ‘Build the Lenox’ project – a project to build a seventeenth century warship on the site of Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyard? ‘Build the Lenox’ is the only thing I have seen which actually connects this site to the Thames in a way which isn’t placeless and isn’t in a soulless ‘international’ style. www.buildthelenox.org
But essentially all of this is irrelevant because the Planning Application which is currently being considered by Lewisham Council is only to secure an outline consent which approves the location and heights of the 3 high-rise residential towers: an outline consent no doubt sought so that the homes in the towers can be sold off-plan, before anything has been built, to absentee Far-eastern investors, many of who are unlikely ever to visit Deptford, thus furthering the new phenomenon of ‘Dark Neighbourhoods’.
The rest of the site will still need to be approved by Lewisham Council in a subsequent detailed planing application under reserved matters. Furthermore, once outline consent is obtained it may even be possible that the whole site is sold off to another developer who may have totally different ideas on how to develop this site.
So, why at London Open House 2013 was there a model showing the heights and layouts of anything other than the tower blocks? It is meaningless; as all this will be subject the further approval by Lewisham Council, and would have been best left blank with just the location and height of the towers shown. I think it may have been more honest; and put across more accurately to the locals (who seemed set against the development and were giving the representatives from the developers and architects a hard time), exactly what permission was currently being sought for from Lewisham Council.
(Model of Convoy’s Wharf proposals, looking towards central London)
Personally, I don’t see how Lewisham Council can approve the current planning application. I can’t see how anyone can decide on the location and height of such high towers (one of about 40 storeys) without understanding and agreeing to the detailed context within which these towers are to be set. To work as a place, and to help the rest of Deptford work and succeeded, the whole urban design ought to be considered in detail at the same time.