The Council is keen to find a private partner that will build a new cafe in Hilly Fields and it has targeted the site currently occupied by the toilet block for redevelopment. This would allow them to unburden themselves of the cost of "maintaining" the loos, while enabling the construction of a new community asset.
One possible partner is the development team behind a proposal called The View at Hilly Fields, although they would like to use an alternative location. It's not known at this stage whether the Council will consider other sites, although one would hope that they'd listen to all serious proposals submitted to them.
We ran a story about the proposals here. Unsurprisingly, given how important Hilly Fields is to the whole area and how ambitious the plans are, it generated a huge debate. The large majority of those who posted were supportive of the principle of creating a cafe in the park, but many had questions or concerns about this particular proposal (which is one of two that BC is aware of).
The team has taken the time to address the issues raised in that debate, sending us this Q&A. Whether you approve of their ideas or not, their willingness to engage is extremely welcome and it has helped to provoke a constructive debate about what kind of building we want in Hilly Fields. Whatever the location or design eventually chosen, it is clear that we should be thinking bigger than a tuck shop with toilets attached.
Dear Brockley Central Readers, with regards to The View at Hilly Fields...
Any developer who wins the bid to develop the loo block is called to:
(i) demolish and remove an old toilet block and office
(ii) replace (on the same footprint), a new public toilet,
(iii) an office for the park keeper,
(iv) a café,
(v) on a 20 year lease..?
Limited space, with a limited lease, equals limited return. Indeed one wonders if the council is serious. We genuinely feel that this undertaking will be economically unviable, and possibly even financially disastrous; for additional reasons:
a) that far inside the park would see reduced passing trade
b) the building would be unseen from all three sides/reduced marquee
c) in the dark winter months customers would lack confidence visiting.
It’s the three Rs: Reduced trade. Reduced profit. Repossession.
An additional factor, of huge concern actually, one that plagues park buildings across London; security issues due to burglary and vandalism. If this were solely public money then perhaps one could just shrug one’s shoulders - when it’s your own you’re perhaps a little less dismissive.
However, our concerns do not end there…
The nearby trees have played havoc with the existing building at the loo block site. This is in fact is why the Council needs to rebuild but cannot afford to. There is a huge fissure inside across the length and breadth of the building. It is actually falling down even though it is not very old. (Please go along and ask the park keeper to let you inspect, he‘s quite accommodating.) The drains too may have been damaged by the roots of trees and need constant maintenance.
Four mature trees would have to go or their roots would again destroy the foundations of any new building.
There would be insurance and mortgage issues that would be insurmountable if they remained.
The council is not financing the demolition, or any new building, and the financial risk would rest (solely) with the developer. Repeat, there is no public money. How could anyone, with a 20-year lease, in an environment to a building’s foundations, take on such risk?
Although the above form our reasons for not choosing to bid for the toilet block location we understand that other parties may do so and that at least one, a franchise, may be interested. We are not a franchise, just locals concerned by the risk, but we wish them well.
The View Location
We looked at approximately 12 locations (including the toilet block) and settled on the proposed site - which by coincidence was actually the original site of a Victorian Refreshment House. We did not want to ‘steal’ the view from park users so set the building back; as you may see in the additional photograph supplied to Nick. That said, the location was chosen by the Brockley community circa 1860; in other words chosen by the founders of the park because that position was, to their great thinking, special.
Park users’ do not actually use this section, they either congregate alongside the bench or south where the hill slopes towards Adelaide Avenue. Other users congregate to the north and west, away from this location - which is not in the centre of the park. (In fact the toilet block is central.)
The original building that stood there enhanced the views out some distance - in all weather - and did not intrude on the view enjoyed by other park users. Nor would it now.
How do we make it healthy but interesting - for kids?
We aim to have a section of the interior with different users in mind. Therefore we welcome the pupils at Prendergast; even though some here have posted against this. We will, if the land is ever offered (?), and if we should win a successful bid, and if we should find favour with the community - so many ifs - approach the school kids to design that part of the interior which is exclusively theirs.
What if the building isn’t maintained by you?
The council (freeholder), or the managers of the park, would impose hefty fines. We would also (naturally) be interested in the upkeep of a building that contained our financial futures.
Why does it have to be completed before the Olympics?
We never said that.. This was just an item on the wish list. Given the interest in London during the games, we just hoped to siphon some towards Brockley.
The View at Hilly Fields is a work in progress, seeking community approval and/or input, and it is to be wholly funded by private means. (However, those willing to contribute against any adverse risk are most welcome.)
Domination by building
The photograph shows a building - a house as someone rightly keeps pointing out - at a reasonably close distance. It is not wholly in context with the overall size of that section of the park. (Also the red dot in the other photo is off by 50 feet.) A specially tailored building, with the same sweeping shapes, would, we believe, compliment the park landscape… but that’s just our view. We also understand that this brings change and with change always comes concern. When that concern is about the disposal of public land then we would be amongst those calling for greater clarification and community control.
Connections to sewage, etc.
The location we have chosen is within easy reach of all utilities according to our research. Added to which, the access road to the toilet block site is roughly the same distance from the toilet block location as Montague Avenue is to our proposed site. (However, the Eastern Road access to the toilet block location is, or so we believe, a right of way to Prendergast School - which places visitors and deliveries even further away.)
As one poster suggested the loo block site would be a good position from which to watch her child in the playground… we would say forget it. You would not see your child from that position, but would from the site we suggest. (Visit it and see.)
Proposed design may look dated in 50 years
We can’t argue with this. We actually love Victorian properties, but we would hazard that not even the Victorians knew how long their beautiful buildings would remain.
Be that as it may… the possibility of something looking dated should not form the handcuffs from which the ideas of a new generation are shackled.
Rebuilding a Victorian refreshment house
We do not believe that all building patterns have to follow the Victorian book. However ours is no fait accompli: by any means. This building is by the same designers and was supplied - together with additional work - as one of a set. (The original View House in Argentina is worth seeing in context.) It’s a representative of the design we want to take to enhance the views around Hilly Fields, and an outline of these has been provided to Nick. It is a work in progress, one which we are inviting community participation; alongside those of the designers Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee and others. We emphasise… There is no land currently being made available by the council at our desired location. The image is there purely to challenge, to stimulate, and - hopefully - produce a healthy debate on what can and cannot be. The land was donated by a previous Brockley community. It is that community which decides the merits of development, if any. It is too that same community to which we are proud to offer an investment that will carry over to the next generation.
What will we gain from this development?
We were surprised by this question…
Try rate revenue, taxes, a Section 106 Agreement, a superb iconic building, a facility in the park, and work for locals.
It will not be a McDonalds. However, on the ground floor we will sell teas and sandwiches, the usual park café fare with the usual user in mind, sensibly and affordably priced, and at a mezzanine level - should one be allowed - we will offer that little bit extra. Some call this ‘fine dining’… We believe all dining should be fine; in other words good for your health - even if it comes wrapped in a sandwich.
Why Should ‘alleged’ entrepreneurs build where they see fit.
We’re just looking to improve the community in which we live and there is nothing ‘alleged‘ about us in our community commitment. If the community doesn’t want our money or ideas then that‘s fine. However, to dispel the myth, we cannot build where we see fit. As pointed out already the land isn’t even being offered. (Please remember this.) If it were then the Council would have to ask for your permission to dispose of it. Following this, if you gave that permission, anyone else could ‘express interest’ in building on what we propose. The hurdles to our ambitions do not end there... Anyone interested in such public land would have to have any plans or disposal passed by the following; Lewisham’s Mayor; Legal Department; Planning Department; Building Control; Traffic Control; Glendale Park Management; Hilly Fields Users Group; the Friends of Hilly Fields; Brockley Society; the London Fire Service, the Metropolitan Police, the residents of Hilly Fields… and a host of individual park users.
The land and interior of present building
Lewisham Council has needed to provide decent public loos at that site for some years. It has failed to do so. The park manager Glendale would also like a new park keeper’s lodge, but why should a café owner pay for this? The authority would (naturally) like anyone expressing interest in the land at the toilet block to redevelop (try rebuild) - on its behalf - a public utility it should provide. But is this likely?
Only time will tell.