Them and us: Forest Hill

Cultural Learnings of Forest Hill for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Brockley

We all know Brockley's great. All those trees and that art and stuff. And the community! Lovely. You can't buy that in Chelsea. But sometimes, we have to concede that we haven't quite cracked it. Eden lies tantalisingly beyond our grasp.

So, this is the first in a two-part series of interviews, which looks over the fence at our neighbours, to ask what Brockley can learn from the Joneses. Specifically, we think there are two nearby areas that have a lot in common with Brockley - Forest Hill and Hither Green. Not identical of course, but similar: same local Council, comparable (although worse) transport links, similar housing stock (particularly Forest Hill) and demographic mixes - though neither is as ethnically diverse. Neither of them is a "destination", like Blackheath or Greenwich, nor have they been overwhelmed by the forces of gentrification, like Dulwich.

Both of them have qualities to be admired. So we wanted to learn from them and, where possible, steal their best ideas for the greater glory of Brockley.

We began by speaking to Michael Abrahams, Chair of the Forest Hill Society - a group whose workings we find easier to follow than our own Brockley Society. The Society is a relatively youthful organisation, little more than one year old, but it has already established itself as the leading campaign voice against planned train service cuts to London Bridge and has also done some work to improve the local environment.

We began by asking him how the Society engaged with the local community:

"It's important for the Forest Hill Society's credibility that we have a substantial local mandate, so we place a lot of emphasis on local communication and we encourage as many people as possible to come to our meetings. We produce a newsletter and run the website and at the last AGM, we had at least 90 people.

"There are a number of other representative groups in the area, including a traders association and the Friends of the Horniman Museum, we try to maintain regular dialogue with them too."

How is the area changing?

"I'm not sure the population is changing particularly rapidly. There are a lot of people in the area that have lived here all their lives."

What positive changes would you point to?

"The Comedy Club [The Hob] has made a real difference to the area - together with the Horniman Museum, it's a reason for people to visit. I suppose Brockley's equivalent would be the Brockley Jack theatre pub, but that hasn't had the same level of investment put in to it."

How do small businesses cope with the competition from local supermarkets?

"Forest Hill has a long history of Sainsbury in the area and we believe that it's important to have local supermarkets to keep people in the area. Small shops alone won't attract people."

Few things get the readers of Brockley Central as animated as the subject of gastropubs, what's the Forest Hill picture like?

"Yes, we've got gastropubs, like the Dartmouth Arms and the Honor Oak [in the disputed zone] and they're great, but I don't think we'd want all of our pubs to be like that. In Dulwich, they're all gastro pubs and the area has lost something as a consequence. But I think we've got a good mix - places like the Blythe Hill are brilliant old fashioned pubs."

Aside from the issue of rail services, what issue is causing concern at the moment?

"The number of commercial [ie: massive] bins on our main streets is alarming. Planning applications are being granted for businesses without sufficient consideration given to how they will deal with waste [a similar thing happened with the Brockley Barge and, as a result, people walking from the train station are regularly confronted with a dozen overflowing commercial bins]. We don't want to pit traders and the public against each other, but it is a serious problem that needs a co-ordinated approach."

What are your perceptions of Brockley?

"Well we see all the people who are getting off the train at Brockley Station. There are lots of young people disembarking off at Brockley these days and it's good that the area seems to be attracting new people with new energy."

"However, I don't think many people here think of Brockley as a place to visit. It doesn't offer too much to the casual visitor. Dulwich is the place most of us visit if we're going out locally and Sydenham is probably the area that local people most closely identify with."

What do you think Brockley can learn from Forest Hill's experience?

"I'm not sure we can teach Brockley anything very much. It's important to keep pressure up on the Council, but try to be constructive and focused. Our focus here has been on the station (and, before that, the pool closure)."

Do you have a message for the people of Brockley?

"Yes, I do want to take this opportunity to highlight the issue we both face in terms of the possible cuts to the rail services as a result of the East London Line extension. The East London Line will be a great boost to our areas, but it should not come at the expense of reduced main line capacity. I hope people in Brockley will join our campaign by signing the petition."

So, what lessons did we learn from our lofty bretheren?
  1. The more that local organisations, such as the Brockley Cross Action Group and the Brockley Society, can do to communicate their work locally and build their mandate, the more effective they will become.
  2. Gastropubs are good, so long as there are other options
  3. Brockley would benefit from a few more places that persuade people from outside the area to visit - if done well, the mooted gallery at the Tea Factory could be a draw
  4. That commercial refuse, cluttering our main streets, is a problem we share and we should work together to tackle it. More on this topic at a later date.
Next: Hither Green.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know the Hither Green article is coming but as a new member of the brockley community and an ex-resident of Hither Green, I couldn't wait.

I saw several positive changes to HG before I moved but ultimately decided that the transport wasn't as quick into town, and that there wasn't the scope for the area to improve much more than it already had done.
There is a great cafe in Hither Green, You Don't Bring Me Flowers and I understand that a deli is opening soon, but then we have that here in Brockley too now. Also the Brockley people seem younger and more dynamic. Brockley seems to already have an identity where HG was still trying to find one.

Slightly connected with another previous thread, is one of the changes that did happen to Hither Green while I was there was that they planted new trees all the way down Staplehurst Road, which created an 'avenue' as well as huge wooded tubs with plants in. It had a dramatic effect on the street scene. I was there this weekend and despite some naysayers who worried about vandalism I am pleased to say that the trees and plants are still there and they look great.
Simon J

Cllr Dean Walton said...

Not wanting to start an almightly row between Brockley & Forest Hill...but sensing that I may...it's worth highlighting that the issues of the level of train services into London Bridge affect Brockley & Forest Hill differently - certainly during the morning & evening peak.

Between 5 & 6 in the evening - Brockley gets just 4 trains an hour with 20 minute gaps (at least depending on whether incoming services are late) between some services. During this period Forest Hill retains a 6 trains service. In the morning, trains arriving at Brockley have been filled by commuters from stations further down the line (but these problems may also affect commuters from Forest Hill) meaning that there freqeuntly isn't room for us to get on at all...especially if there've been some delays or a cancellation.

Which brings me round to some of the benefits of the ELL for both Brockley & Forest Hill - a far more frequent service (every 5 minutes at least - albeit not all going to London Bridge); increased capacity overall (albeit with fewer seats); more trains starting from Croydon & therefore closer to London; modern rolling stock (but some of the current trains used by Southern are very good); staff on the station whenever it is open; fantastic connection with the Jubilee Line at Canada Water; proper integration with the Tube network; access at a later stage to an orbi-rail system via Highbury & Islington; good access to the Hammersmith & City/Metropolitan/District Line at Whitechapel; the ability to produce a modal shift in traffic from road to rail; Brockley on the Tube map meaning no need to give the following description to friends & family unfamiliar with London (well I am originally from East Yorkshire)..."Catch the trains from London Bridge - platforms 8-16, look at the departure board for the first train to Brockley, it'll be probably have a destination of 'Caterham', 'Sutton' or 'London Victoria via Crystal Palace'"

Further, things change...next year my office will move from Angel to Euston. The ELL will mean I can travel to London Bridge & then the Northern Line or to Whitechapel & then Euston Square - whichever comes first - it's as easy as that. And the benefit of it being on a network is that if one part of it breaks down...I have another choice.

I think it's important to remember that the impact of the ELL will not just be felt by the people of 'Forest Hill & Brockley' but that people living in Hoxton, Shoreditch, Islington, Hackney, Penge, Crystal Palace, Anerley & Croydon will feel some changes too...and I daresay they will welcome it.

However, despite the above I think it is important to retain the six trains an hour to London Bridge, if technically possible and affordable. I think it is vital to retain the direct services into Charing Cross in the evening.

Brockley Nick said...

Thanks Dean, I totally agree that anyone who suggests the ELL won't be a massive bonus (or "doesn't go anywhere useful" as I have heard said), is wrong.

Forest Hill is basically reliant on that one service to get anywhere, whereas we have services from Crofton Park, St John's, New Cross and New Cross Gate, all a short walk or bus journey away from Brockley Station.

However, London Bridge is a major transport hub and an increasingly important area for jobs. TfL also forecasts massive growth in passenger numbers at Brockley, so we need six trains ano hour plus ELL.

Pete said...

Not that I want to put a downer on the ELL but changing at Canada Water will be quite tough with all the extra commuters.

I just moved from Canada Water and the trains are already pretty full, especially those going to Canaray Wharf. The extra passengers that the extension will bring are sure to lead to even more over crowding.

Cllr Dean Walton said...

Hurummph! This morning it took me over an hour to get from London Bridge to Angel on a bus as there were severe problems with the Northern Line...I fail to see the attraction with London Bridge as a destination - especially when it's wet!!!

However it would be silly to base decisions on how to spend public policy on the anecdotal evidence of my personal experience.

I think the expansion of London Bridge as a 'destination' in its own right and the forecast increase of use of Brockley Station generally is a further reason to ensure that people are provided with genuine alternatives to travelling to London Bridge if they don't actually want to go there but just pass through.

However, I guess the original purpose of my post was to highlight that the call in the petition:

"We welcome the coming of the East London Line in 2010 but oppose any cuts to existing services to London Bridge and Victoria from Sydenham, Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park, Brockley and New Cross Gate."

did not reflect the true nature of the choices that appear to be available or indeed any assessment of the various constraints surrounding the ELL. Further, many of the benefits and integration into the Tube network will only become apparent if the ELL runs at the frequencies proposed. Nor does the petition look to the wider benefits of perhaps fewer people driving through Brockley etc on account of the ELL being open.

I personally feel it would be disingenuous if I were to suggest that the issue could be simply resolved by retaining the 6 trains an hour to London Bridge and this choice was unlikely to have an impact on the rest of the ELL. I am hoping that dialogues like this can bring some of the consequences of these choices to light.

That said, I would like to reiterate my original statement that I am quite prepared to call for the retention of the six trains an hour service if technically possible and affordable. Which of course is a rather more qualified version of the petition.

With regards to over-crowding at Canada Water - well London Bridge is overcrowded now too. It perhaps shows just how the focus of where people work in London has changed over the years - and why people living in Brockley & Forest Hill would be keen to have better and easier links to Canary Wharf.
However, 'accepting' over-crowding at either Canada Water or London Bridge can push people back onto the roads - which would be the worst of all possible worlds in my view. One of the ways to deal with issues of 'over-crowding' are to provide more capacity generally - and this is what the ELL does.

Dean

Brockley Nick said...

The Thameslink expansion will mean that the station becomes a lot better at handling passengers (at least overground) and there will be many more services through London to the north. It's essentially a north / south Crossrail scheme, so I don't think we need worry about London Bridge being a bottle neck

ElijahBailey said...

More (sourced) information from Wikipedia on the future of London Bridge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thameslink_Programme#_note-27

It will be good when it is redeveloped. It is not a bad station but it needs a lot of modernising to cope with its expanding role, as has happened many times in its long life.

Michael Abrahams said...

Cllr Walton raises some important points and some important differences on the impact to Brockley as opposed to Forest Hill. However, a few points I would like to make:

Brockley passengers will get the same number of trains going into London Bridge (these are already packed when they get to Brockley) but now the two extra trains that whiz past will not run, so the passengers from these trains will find themselves on the remaining trains.

Of course the extra ELL trains will reduce this overcrowding, but on a line that currently has '40% suppressed demand' all the trains will quickly fill up.

Some customers will clearly benefit from fast connections to the Jubilee Line at Canada Water, although there are no plans to add to the single escalator in each direction and TfL have recognised that this will be a bottle neck. Travelling to Euston via Whitechapel may appear a reasonable route, but when travelling from Brockley you will need to go through 14 stations rather than 8 and will take considerably longer. For customers going to most destinations that do not involve travel on the Jubilee Line their journeys will be faster via London Bridge. Coming home you will need to make a decision which route to take, do you take the longer journey with more trains at Whitechapel, or the shorter journey with less trains at London Bridge (and if one is cancelled you will be waiting for 30 minutes).

With 40% suppressed demand and estimated 25% increases in passengers in the next few years, it is vital that we keep the existing services to London Bridge, Victoria and Charing Cross. The East London Line is being used as an excuse for giving South Londoners longer journeys which passengers from Brighton and Kent get the fast services into Charing Cross and Blackfriars as well as the Thameslink services which will not stop between Croydon and London Bridge. Instead London Bridge station will be changed to allow more Thameslink services and more Kent services while the lower level platforms will be reduced (from 9 to 6) and all the remaining South London services will need to use these platforms. This is the real reason that Network Rail wishes to cut our services.

The RUS (page 112) makes it very clear that there is a valid case for the continuation of existing peak services on our line:
"Crowding would be better addressed – given the choice – by the operation of additional 8-car trains to London Bridge, an established London terminal,
in preference to the operation of additional 4-car trains to the ELL.
However this analysis is not relevant in view of the operational
considerations above."


Given this analysis from Network Rail I hope you will back our campaign for the existing number of trains on our line to London Bridge (with all stopping at Brockley).

Michael Abrahams said...

I should just add that I do welcome the ELL extension. This is an important development for South East and East London. But this must not be the excuse for cutting the important services into Central London.

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

I agree and i'll sign you're petition.

Is it actually likely services during peak time to London Bridge will actually be cut, or have they merely just memtioned it as part of a wider discussion?

If anything, services to london bridge/charing cross should be increased from Brockley. They should open the old victoria line (high level link) too!

Michael Abrahams said...

APP&P,
The current plan by Network Rail is to stop all off peak trains on our line running to Charing Cross and Waterloo from 2009, and then the loss of two trains per hour (peak and off-peak) from 2010.

They are considering making the remaining trains (and platforms) longer, but this won't be for some time after 2010, despite it being one of the most efficient investments on the entire network!

For those who want to sign the petition it is at http://fhpetition.notlong.com

Cllr Dean Walton said...

Michael,

Thanks for the reference to the Network Rail RUS. I will have a closer look at that in the next day or so. I am particularly interested in what "the operational considerations above" refer to.

It looks like we're getting closer to being in a position to seperate out the techical constraints from the political/funding constraints...that's the sort of discussion I prefer!

Dean

Michael Abrahams said...

The full response from the Forest Hill Society to Network Rail's RUS can be read on our website

Bea said...

Petition now signed

Anonymous said...

IMPORTANT TRANSPORT UPDATE!!!

I'm not sure if anyone else has reported, but it appears as if the East London Line extention (soon known as "East London Rail" - or ELR) is to come online sooner than expected - eight months ahead of schedule in fact. Which is very good news for Brockley.

See Transport for London update below...

"As of May 2007 the (ELR) work is due for completion ahead of schedule on 19 October 2009.[8]"

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - please link to your sources for something like that. I don't think that means we will have an operational ELL before 2010.

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