Answers from Lewisham Council

THE BROCKLEY CENTRAL INTERVIEW
JOHN MILLER, HEAD OF PLANNING, LEWISHAM COUNCIL

PART ONE - THE LOCAL DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK AND BROCKLEY CROSS

Brockley Central has become a little obsessed with trying to understand the Council's vision for Brockley and Lewisham more widely. We've read papers, plans and articles but still didn't really understand what a Local Development Framework was, what was being done to improve Brockley Road and whether we could really be sure that a new pool in Loampit Vale would have windows. So we decided to make an audacious bid for an interview with the Head of Planning for Lewisham Council - one of the key architects of Lewisham's destiny.

"How about we talk tomorrow?" came the reply. So we did.

But before we go on, some caveats:

1. John Miller is Head of Planning for Lewisham, which means that he has to focus on the biggest issues facing the borough and he can't be expected to be au fait with every stray satellite dish. Having said that, he was very knowledgeable about Brockley's issues and had taken the time to read all of your comments before we spoke.

2. We have a proper job, which frowns upon us spending all day talking to people about Brockley, so the amount time we had for the interview was limited.

3. Issues like the thunderous car stereos that shake the window frames of many in Brockley, though important, are outside of his remit.

4.This is the beginning, not the end, of Brockley Central's pestering of the Council.

For these reasons, we're afraid that the interview won't address all the issues suggested by readers, but we hope you find what we did manage to cover interesting.

The interview will come in several parts - the first of which addresses developments in Brockley. Essentially, Brockley is not targeted for massive regeneration (unlike Lewisham town centre) because it's neither appropriate nor desirable. Development will be more organic - nurtured by planners and stimulated by the East London Line. We don't believe that's a cop out - we've recently managed to speak with a number of council officials and it's clear that they are passionate about Brockley and find working in this area rewarding, due to the enthusiasm of local residents. As we've had opportunity to write with increasing frequency - regeneration is happening in Brockley - in a quiet, small-scale way.

The Lewisham Local Development Framework is essentially a spatial plan for the whole borough. It maps out not only physical changes, like road layouts and new buildings, but also changes in things like healthcare provision, employment patterns and sport and leisure opportunities for local people.

Lewisham isn't developing the LDF in a vacuum, it's part of a planning process determined by national government and the Mayor's London Plan.

For example, Lewisham has been set a target by the Mayor of building 975 new homes every year (net) for 10 years, to play its part in meeting London's growing housing needs. In the LDF, Lewisham has to decide where these houses go and what other infrastructural changes are needed to provide for these new houses. Places like Brockley have relatively little scope for building new homes, whereas areas like Catford and Lewisham town centre have more available land and have had special Action Area plans written for them. This is where projects like the Lewisham Gateway scheme come in.

As we wrote here, the Brockley Cross 'masterplan' was never officially adopted as a proper masterplan and has instead been superseded by the LDF. Many of the ideas from that masterplanning process will be incorporated.

So - here's the first part...

What does the LDF mean for Brockley?

"We look at Lewisham as a collection of different communities, each of which needs a different approach. Brockley is considered "an area for local renewal", which means small-scale developments and regeneration based on Brockley's existing assets, including excellent (and improving) transport links and strong local identity.

"That doesn't mean we won't be focusing on Brockley and there is a a cluster of sites around Brockley Cross, including the timber yard, which were subject to a planning process with the Brockley Cross Action Group. We now have a plan for that area which is ambitious but also realistic for commercial developers, as well as being sensitive to the local community.

"The improvements we've seen to Coulgate Street and the approach to the station on the east side are exactly the kinds of improvements which are appropriate for Brockley and I've been impressed with the work of groups like the Brockley Cross Action Group in helping to make that possible."

What do you think will be the most important changes to the area?

"There are a lot of blank-fronted buildings around the station, create an oppressive environment. By replacing those buildings with mixed use developments, with lots going on at ground level, we can really change the feel of the area, particularly on the west side of the station.

"In my view, Lewisham has undersold itself as a destination for business in the past [a 2001 study ranked Lewisham 30th out of 33 London Boroughs for competitiveness] - we have a lot to offer business and we are determined to spread the message effectively. Offices, studios and other workplaces help to create communities which are lively throughout the week, rather than just at weekends."

How optimistic should we be that things will change?

"The world of urban planning never moves quickly, I've learned to be patient! However, I've no doubt that over the next few years major changes will happen. We are currently in lots of positive discussions with developers about Brockley. "

What is the Council actually doing to change things?

"The investment will come from private enterprise, which means that the Council's role is to promote Brockley Cross as an opportunity, give guidance and direction about the kinds of developments we want to see and to meet with developers and provide the right assurances and encouragement they need in order to commit money to the area. As I say, there is a lot of positive interest in this area, as well as many other parts of the borough.

"We also have a local officer (Sarah Pfeiffer) whose job is (partly) to work with local businesses setting up in the area - to help them become successful and meet their requirements to the community. Much of the best examples of local regeneration happen just by small businesses having the confidence to invest in an area and, through their success, encouraging others. It's the "tipping point" that lots of people on the blog have referred to."

What about the cursed double roundabout?

"We appreciate how important an issue this is and our transport people are looking at it but we haven't got a solution just yet. One of the most important issues to consider is the impact of layout changes on residential streets. Traffic will always seek out the quickest route between A and B so, we have to make sure we don't simply divert traffic on to other streets."

How much impact will the East London Line have?

"Although it won't provide any new stations, I think its impact will be comparable to the arrival of the DLR in Deptford and Lewisham town centre. The new options it will provide commuters and Brockley's appearance on the tube map will create significant interest from developers. In fact, we are already seeing this - particularly in Brockley and Forest Hill. Developments like "One SE8" simply wouldn't have happened without the DLR. I'm not suggesting we'll see a development of that type in Brockley, but it shows what becomes possible with the right transport infrastructure."

STILL TO COME...

Lewisham Gateway, Convoys Wharf, New Cross, Loampit Vale, enforcement, shop fronts, effective local engagement and trees!

Brockley Nature Reserve open on Sunday

Just a quick note to say that the Brockley Nature reserve will be opening to the public again between 2pm and 5pm this Sunday, weather permitting (forecast to be good).

It’s an excellent chance to visit a relatively unknown area of wilderness at the heart of Brockley and it got a lot of positive reviews last time it opened its doors, so definitely worth a visit.

Moonbow Makeover

Local cafe / music venue / the centre of the Brockley universe Moonbow Jakes will look ten years younger, once the decorators have finished.

A couple of people have asked us what's being done and Moonbow's John explains:

"We have sanded the floor and painted the walls, ceilings and toilets - still a bit to finish yet. Done a few repairs in the loo and going to do some work at the back counter side.

"The place already feels fresher and back to how it looked when it first opened."

A farewell to cars

While half of Brockley's 'retail space' is taken up by car lots, it's never going to give Notting Hill a run for its money.

We've been hoping for some time that the relatively small size of the lots and the lack of obvious demand for their products locally, might prompt the owners to give up the used motor game and start, say, a Tapas Bar instead.

Well, it appears at least one of them has accepted the inevitable - the site at 196 Brockley Road, occupied by the Action Commercials dealership, has been sold and the owners have applied for permission to convert the site in to retail space:

"The construction of a single storey, plus basement level building at the side of 196 Brockley Road SE4, to provide a commercial unit (342 sq.m) Use Classes A1 (Shops), A2 (Financial and Professional Services), B1 (Business), together with the provision of a deliveries/refuse store."

Sadly, the application was rejected, on the grounds that:

"The proposed building, by reason of its form, design and building footprint, would have a poor relationship to adjacent properties in Brockley and Harcourt Roads, would result in an incongruous addition to the terrace of which it forms part and would represent a poor standard of design in this prominent location, contrary to Policy URB 3 Urban Design in the adopted Unitary Development Plan (July 2004)."

But, it's quite likely that they will come back again with another proposal, hopefully of an appropriate standard. In any case, the move hopefully signals a rethink by other garage owners.

Christmas Market will be chance to prove local demand

Before we write up the interview with John Miller, Lewisham Council's Head of Planning - something that is in danger of turning in to the War and Peace of blog articles - we wanted to address one of the issues that was raised in response to yesterday's article, "Questions for the Council".

Although Brockley and Telegraph Hill are relatively well served by Farmers Markets, many people are enthusiastic about the idea of bringing a market right in to the heart of the community, by creating one on Brockley Road. An occasional market could further strengthen the regeneration process that's already underway.

Lewisham Council and the Post Office are keen to develop a street market on the land in front of the Sorting Office on Brockley Road. However, one of the key barriers to this idead is that operating companies are not yet convinced that there will be sufficient demand from local people for a market, especially on a relatively small plot of land.

A Christmas market is planned for the rejuvenated Coulgate Street in December and Sarah Pfeiffer, Local Town Centre Manager for the Council believes that this will be Brockley's opportunity to prove itself as a venue for market traders.

We'll cover this story in more detail at a later date.

Because everyone loves a poll

Polls - the lifeblood of PR agencies and exhausted TV formats... and bloggers.

We've incorporated a poll into Brockley Central and we've kicked it off with a rather basic question to try and learn a bit more about the people who read this site, but we hope this feature will prove to be a useful (if unscientific) guide to local opinion in future.

Polls will be left on the site until they've outlived their welcome - but we'll collate the results on the site.

We've got some ideas about what other polls we could run, but if anyone has any good suggestions, please feel free to leave them here.

POLL 4 RESULT

What's your favourite Brockley art?

The steak and kidney pudding grave 22% (18 votes)
The giant clockwork key 44% (36 votes)
The station mural 20% (16 votes)
The reclamation yard on Lewisham Way 15% (12 votes)
Total voters for this poll: 82

POLL 3 RESULT

The Balance of Power: are you 'good Brockley', 'bad Brockley' or something else altogether?

Good: I'm an artist, teacher or spiritualist and I was here before Moonbows 18% (8 votes)
Bad: I work in financial services and I want to replace Hilly Fields with a heliport 32% (14 votes)
Yummy mummy or daddy 2% (1 votes)
Unemployed 5% (2 votes)
I work in IT, PR, etc so my opinions aren't important 43% (19 votes)

Total voters for this poll: 44

POLL 2 RESULT

Brockley's getting a deli and a gallery, what's the next thing you'd like?

A place to eat 0% (0 votes)
A place to drink 32% (21 votes)
A Hilly Fields Cafe 14% (9 votes)
Brockley Common Phase 2 14% (9 votes)
A street market 17% (11 votes)
A gym 12% (8 votes)
Nothing, leave it alone 2% (1 votes)
Other 9% (6 votes):
Bookshop
health food shop
Bookshop (with coffee)
bookshop
A hilly fields art gallery and bar, run by me
a cash machine!

Total voters for this poll: 65

POLL 1 RESULT

How long have you lived in Brockley?

Less than a year 18% (17 votes)
1-3 years 37% (35 votes)
3-5 years 12% (11 votes)
5+ years 24% (23 votes)
I don't live in Brockley I just read the blog 9% (9 votes)

Total voters for this poll: 95

Questions for the Council

Lewisham Council have kindly granted Brockley Central an interview tomorrow about planning issues relevant to Brockley residents - in particular, the Local Development Framework that's currently subject to consultation.

If you have any questions which you think we should ask (only constructive ones, please!) then please feel free to suggest them here and we will put the best ones to the Council on your behalf as part of the interview.

Project Brockzilla

The Coterie of Zombies has launched "Project Brockzilla" - an art project / experiment, which seeks to show Brockley in a whole new light.

Click on the link to find out more.

Against nature

Andrew Brown recently blogged about the fate of three trees in St John's recently but we thought it was slightly outside our catchment area to follow-up on.

However, last week, another Sycamore tree was lost - this time in Geoffrey Road, at the edge of the conservation area, near Brockley Cross.

Local residents were not consulted and no explanation has been given as to why it was allowed to be destroyed (despite the fact that it was located in the conservation area). The work was part of a private development, which has helped to tidy up a derelict patch of land, but why the Sycamore had to go as part of that exercise has not been addressed. In fact, there has been no communication about any of the work on that (substantial) plot.

In our view, the loss of trees in cities is always a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible - they have a civilising effect on the streetscape, provide habitat for wildlife and look nice and leafy. The large trees that line many of Brockley's streets are one of its best defining features.

We have tried to contact the relevant people in Lewisham's planning department about this, but so far, we have had no luck as the team is "very stretched" at the moment.

If any of the councillors who occasionally read this site would care to comment about the Council's position on this matter, it would be much appreciated.

Q: When is a masterplan not a masterplan?

A: When it's a contributory document for a draft local development framework



This image, produced by ACQ Architects, shows the area that was considered for the masterplan

Since Brockley Central's inception, we've been trying to discover the truth behind the legend of the Brockley Cross masterplan. Fact or fiction? Clues have been scattered around the internet like a JJ Abrams viral marketing campaign. The Brockley Cross Action Group have only spoken of it in dark whispers. Lewisham Council have remained elusive... until now.

We first heard about the masterplan on a web forum. Then we tracked down the conceptual designs on the website belonging to the architects who were appointed back in 2002. The ACQ website claimed that "the study is now in its final draft," but the news was clearly old.

Lewisham Council documents added:

"In September 2002 the Council together with the Brockley Cross Action Group appointed consultants ACQ Architects to undertake an Urban Design Framework and Development Strategy for the Brockley Cross area. The purpose of the study is to guide future regeneration of the area and to attract new investment into Brockley Cross."

Exciting stuff, but no indication what had happened in the intervening five years.

We also knew that the consultation had been supported by a series of images, asking residents to think outside the Brockley box about the possibilities for their area and that they'd set up a community consultation "shop" on the site now known only as "Ask Toes"


The upshot of all this blue sky thinking? Here's the final vision (sorry about the size):



Essentially, they proposed to turn the site facing the Tea Factory and the double roundabout in to a mixed use live / work development, with community facilities, including a sports centre. A modest but probably quite welcome proposal. The scope of the masterplanning exercise was much wider than just that site, but this is the only element we've been able to find.

However, the project concluded in 2004 and the timber yard and its neighbours are going nowhere for the time being. Was this a real masterplan, or just someone playing around with Photoshop?

Finally, the rising star of Lewisham Council, Sarah-Ann Wilks, came to our rescue, albeit with some disappointing news. She told us:

"The draft Brockley Cross Urban Design Framework and Development Study was released in July 2004 and thereafter has had the status of an 'unofficial' planning guidance document.

"Although the document is unlikely to ever have formal planning status, recently the development sites identified in the study have been included in the emerging Local Development Framework. The LDF, once adopted, will have official planning status and will therefore be a formal consideration when assessing planning applications within the Lewisham Borough."


So there you go. All hope for that blighted section of street rests on the future of that Framework.


In the mean time of course, many parts that were featured in the master plan have simply got on with things. Coulgate Street has become a charming little gateway to the area from the station, The Tea Factory is being built and Bridge House is subject to a planning application. Even though it's not a formal masterplan, it has helped to shape Brockley's development and may play a continuing role in future.


Thanks to Sarah-Ann for finally clearing things up.

The Talbot: False Dawn

A couple of excited readers have contacted Brockley Central recently to report that scaffolding has appeared on the outside of The Talbot pub, located at the Lewisham end of the Conservation Area.

Punch Taverns have acquired the pub and are promising to revamp it, adding a proper kitchen and hopefully turning a visit in to a less terrifying experience than it has been in the past.

For some time, we've been awaiting signs of the new Talbot with baited breath and we thought that the refit work had finally begun.

However, Punch Taverns spokesperson told us not to get too excited just yet:

"We are currently carrying out some remedial work on the fabric of the building. The Talbot remains open and we are trying to keep disruption to a minimum while this work is carried out."

"It is still our intention to carry out a more comprehensive refurbishment project at the pub. Plans are being discussed and we expect this will take place in early 2008."

Thanks to James and Cath for the tip-off - sorry to be the bearers of bad news.

Brockley nature reserve opens on Sunday

Jez writes on his blog that the Brockley Nature Reserve is open to the public on the afternoon of the 5th.



For the uninitiated, good luck finding it, based on the directions provided.

Breaking news: Best thing ever, happens

We were planning on writing a rather sour feature today about the Brockley Cross master plan that never was. However, something else momentous has happened, which has blown that idea out of the water.

A deli is coming to Brockley. Very soon.

We're just trying to establish if we are allowed to confirm the details, but the plans have all been agreed and it will be in the perfect location.

More news to follow...

The Standard discovers Brockley again

Who needs the smug, landed classes of Brockley Central to talk-up house prices in the area, when the Evening Standard is perfectly capable of doing it for you?

Today, for the second time in as many months, the Homes & Property section has rhapsodised about the delights of Brockley; celebrating its greenery, its transport links and its "hippy-happy" nature.

The article has some interesting things to say about the history of the area, before scrabbling around rather desperately to recommend some places to eat - Fishy Business, anyone?!

The article is considerably less patronising than the Standard's last effort, in which the journalist wrote about South East London as though it was the lost kingdom of Atlantis they were discovering. However, there are some teeth-grinding puns on the theme of Brockley = broccoli (ha, ha) that you have to endure if you plan on buying a copy. We did get some free Mars Planets with our purchase, which helped to ease the pain.

Brockley's very own Marianne, Erin Essex, owner of the Broca, is also interviewed for the feature. She says:

"People live here 20 years, most never leave, so it has a real village feel - everyone says that. It's not exciting in the conventional sense, but I doubt many people living here would trade in their lifestyle for anything else."

And that, neatly put, is the point that people who accuse us of trying to boost house prices by saying nice things about the area, miss. We, like nearly everyone who contributes to the site, have no interest in leaving, so house prices are irrelevant. We feel like we have a stake in the life of the area and want to help make it a better place. That's why so many people agonise about the fate of the high street or the prospects for a gastro pub.

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