Lewisham Gateway

Brockley Central received a request to highlight a campaign against the long-awaited Lewisham Gateway scheme - which would lead to the replacement of the main roundabout in Lewisham centre with an h-shaped road system that would free up land for new homes, retail units and offices.

The documentation put together to criticise the plans is certainly comprehensive - the objection runs to 45 pages.

They're concerned that the development will ruin the unique charm of Lewisham Roundabout, reduce the green spaces in which locals reguarly frolic (in preference to neighbouring Blackheath, presumably), impair the unspoiled views of Citibank tower from Hilly Fields and replace the good-as-gold, local, wealth-creating shopkeepers with evil chain stores, who will suck money out of the prosperous streets of Lewisham.

Some of their criticisms of the scheme are valid, of course - better cycle access would be good, the failure to do more with the rivers is a missed opportunity and more affordable housing would be desirable - it's the job of the Council to squeeze the best deal possible from the developers and we hope it does. The developers' website is poor and by releasing only massings of what the new buildings will look like from strategic views (ie: just outlines of the buildings, not realistic pictures) they do nothing to allay the fears of those for whom tall automatically means bad.

Some of the campaigners' criticisms are silly. They claim that there is a "net loss of green space" as a result of this development, but gloss over the fact that the quality of the 'green space' currently on offer is very poor and that the development will create more public space, even if it isn't technically "green". They describe the architecture as though 'high-rise' and 'glass and steel' were innately pejorative terms.

Some of their criticisms are just plain wrong, such as the claim that the development will lead to increased demand for public transport with no increase in supply. This ignores the fact that capacity on the DLR service from Lewisham to Bank will be expanded by 50% with the introduction of 3 car trains by 2009.

Most of their criticism stems from the idea that many of the claims made for Lewisham Gateway are "unproven". The traffic system will cope: "unproven". The development will bring regeneration and employment to the area: "unproven". Improvements to the high street: "a speculative, nebulous and subjective concept."

We find this attitude pretty depressing. It's the nature of all such developments that many aspects remain unproven until they are built. What's required is conviction, money, an element of risk-taking and vision.

So what's their alternative vision?

"An approach that would assert Lewisham's uniqueness, emphasise Lewisham's hills and valleys, its green spaces, its views, its historical buildings and its market and independent shops."

Blimey, sounds great! Just to remind you what that looks like, you can see it here - the greenery under threat is the stuff north of the river channel in the middle of the photo. And of the course, the unusual circular park in the top right, which contributes so much to the area's unique character.

Their vision glosses over the fact that a vibrant streetscape is compatible with new development (all those new people might inject some new life in to Lewisham, maybe?), historical buildings are not under threat. It also ignores the question of who would pay for their scheme.

In fact, though vague, their alternative plan boils down to something much more mundane:

"We believe that a cheaper scheme could improve the roundabout without blighting the area in such a permanent way."

In other words, do nothing that might disturb the traffic flow or bring more people in to the area. The vast majority of the objection seems pre-occupied with traffic flow, which jars somewhat with the new eden they envisage earlier in the document. The argument against the new road layout, reminds us of the opposition to the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square a few years ago - and look how badly that turned out.

It's great to hold developers and the Council to account, which is why we're happy to link to the campaign. Brockley Central was set up to celebrate community action and we believe it can be an incredible force for change. But too often, it's used as a means for reinforcing the status quo, even when the status quo is Lewisham roundabout.

Click here for the campaign website.

Anyway, that completes our axis-of-evil series of articles in which we've failed to condemn Tesco, Lewisham Council or property developers. We plan to write about something less controversial next time. Tennis, anyone?


BrockleyBiker said...

All but one of the shops on that delapidated Viccy strip next to the roundabout (leading towards the main shopping area) is boarded up now. They have to do something soon or it will deteriate rather quickly.

kate said...

A good ad for the lewisham gateway people but i dont think your expected to condemn either the council or anyone else.
I would have thought you might be more concerned with how this development might affect house prices in brockley and its new found cool status.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I should have a stronger opinion about this than I do. It looks like the proposed development will have a massive effect on the area. And, while I can't deny that I would love Brockley house prices to rise, I am very concerned about how this will affect people who live nearer Lewisham town centre. (In fact, the two are linked). What makes it hard to take a position on this is that it is actually very complex. I'm not a planner, an architect or enough of a community activist to wade through 45 pages of objections. I did take the trouble to go through the two websites; and I'm not convinced of the authority of either, they both look biased to me. I do know that Lewisham town centre has very little to recommend it now - is there anything there to "save"? How will the development affect people who live there, *and* house prices in lewisham and brockley and points in between? (isn't affordable housing part of the mix?)

Brockley Nick said...

Kate, I don't think this will have much of an impact on house prices in Brockley - the two markets are quite different - although it would certainly not do them any harm.

As a lifetime resident of SE London, I'm more concerned about seeing something done about Lewisham - as per Elijah's comment above.

Ploomie said...

The 'Viccy strip' next to the roundabout (which the compaigners include in the net green area!!!) was abouth by the developers and will be torn down as part of the complex.

Lewisham has very little going for it, save for one or two little shops/. It already has lots of national chains, a tesco, sainsburys, argos, burger king, mcdonalds, next, Gregs, tkmax, M&S etc so that argument holds no water.

The roundabout is a paint ot navigate and cuts of lewisham centre from the transport system. My only reservation is what the buldings looks lie, not what they are purring there or te net loss of green space. I'd rather have a nice space that is smaller than the waste of greenygreybrownnothingness we currently have. For gods sake council, build it so we dont have to stare at the landmarks of the citibank tower and the hideous policestation.

You will never please everyone. But I think the arguments that are totally against this proposal are in the most part typical English 'Oh dont change it' backward bull. I'm with Nil on this one. Well done for bringing it up!

Brockley Jon said...

What is this 'Viccy strip'? Is that where the nice butchers is?

As for the Gateway, yeah, go for it. I have always thought of Lewisham as a little Birmingham. Just look at how the Bullring redevelopment has turned Birmingham city centre around. Just hope they put in some decent architecture (see Selfridges building). The Citibank tower can be our Rotunda!

Ploomie said...

Jon, you hit the nail on the head.

Lewisham needs a 'grand design' something really inspiring, not just another faceless tower.

Our landscape is an urban landscape. Buildings are our trees.

Why the developers haven't tried to inspire us with great architecture I dont know.

Anonymous said...

Now, you wouldn't think that the sight of a Lewisham Council housing development could move you to tears of joy would you?
Well, that was the effect that the Cornmill Gardens development (one of the first phases of this Gateway development) had on me. So I am impressed by what I have seen so far, despite being a cynic.

This is a housing development off Loampit Vale/Molesworth Street. The houses themselves looked fine enough but what was dramatic and moving was the miraculous appearance of the River Ravensbourne flowing through the middle of them for all the world like Amsterdam. Maybe if you didn't know this area before you wouldn't be as amazed as I was!

And not the only dramatic development planned for this river - there are great plans for the Lewisham end of Ladywell Fields - to make the river more a feature of this park. In London, rivers are so often in pipes or down the bottom of deep concrete channels, and I think these developments deserve praise.

It is easy to forget there are 2 rivers that have their confluence in Lewisham. And I think it is also fair comment that more could be done to make this confluence a feature of the development: there is a the group that has done marvels further east with the Quaggy, which is the second river -they are campaining for this and this is something we could join with them in asking the Council to consider.

Lewisham was once very very lovely - I have seen the old prints of it - with these two rivers runnign through, so ... yes, more could be done to emphasise them - but praise where praise is due for what has been done already.

(NB: am the poster formerly known as Spincat - so cool I destroyed my own identity! And no, I am not a council employee or part of a river pressure group or a Rhine Maiden...)

Andrew Brown said...

Like the former Spincat I am enjoying what's happening to the Sundermead estate, off Loampit Vale, and look forward to seeing the new park when that opens soon.

(As an aside I was told - when I was the councillor with responsibility for such things - that when Lewisham last created a new park that it was one of only six new parks that year.)

As far as I've seen the changes that are happening to the river should bleed into the Gateway, if it get the go ahead.

I do hope that the Council continues to press for the most value it can get from the development on our behalf. As I am sure we all recognise we'll have to live with this for a long time to come and it needs to work.

Anonymous said...

Not spuncat..

Last night's Evening Standard carries an interview with architect Richard Rodgers, where he comments on the Thames Gateway and lack of grand design. Lewisham Gateway is the southern tip of the Thames Gateway.

The latest edition of Lewisham Urban Renaissance has the following "Lewisham Town Centre had been in decline since the 1970's for many reasons." In 1977 the Riverdale Shopping Centre was opened, in the 1980's £12m was spent making the market area traffic free among other things, the late nineties saw the end of Lewisham 2000.

All those projects were said would improve the Lewisham experience (including the roundabout), now it's said they failed.

When the Lewisham Gateway scheme began there were extremely well attended 'Lewisham Forums' were the public could ask questions, put forward their ideas and guess speaking gave talks on such subjects as reclaiming the streets etc. After 3-4 meetings the forum ceased for 18 months, during which time the road layouts were revealed and decided plus the developers were chosen.

I was told the consultation about the roads was 2 years behind schedule. It took 15 months to negotiate the development contract which apparently normally only takes a few months. The planning application went in to the council spring of this year, to be decided apon sometime in 2008.

YET..the public were constantly being told building work would begin in 2006.

I think the Viccy buildings are actually Edwardian (Sainsburys) that and the entire block of buildings will be demolished, so that Rennell street can be widened.

I'm 60/40 on the Lewisham Gateway development, trying to imagine what it will be like is difficult. For example, will the open space look silly as it is too small.

Will it mean the existing shopping centre will be redeveloped along with the southern end of the town centre?

Would it be better to take the H road system down to the Library?

Brockley Nick said...

I'm pretty sure that Rogers didn't have the Borough of Lewisham in mind when he was criticising the Thames Gateway architecture. He has (rightly) been banging on about this issue for years and the focus of the criticism is the stretch of river east of the Olympic Park, rather than inner London. After all, he's designed the masterplan for the massive development of Deptford's waterfront - which is also being opposed by some local people...

The architecture for Lewisham Gateway is certainly not great, but it is not bad either and the fact that the developers need it to be a successful public space if they are going to shift the retail units and office spaces (not to mention the residential units, which are in quite a competitive market - presumably commuters from Docklands being the target buyers) means that the development will hopefully be of a high standard.

Unknown said...

I agree with many posters here.

The sooner we do away with that awful roundabout which cuts off the station and DLR transport links the better! The current set up creates an awful funnel of traffic and noise which blights Lewisham and prevents it being anymore than a traffic drain. On the face of it, this new proposal looks like it'll improve prosperity in, and the looks of the area - well it can't exactly get much worse! As for the Victorian strip of shops, it isn't exactly of specific architectural interest. Just a one sided row of rapidly deteriorating/collapsing Victorian shops - there are far better examples elsewhere in London, and indeed across the country. Just not worth shedding tears over if you ask me. As for green space - it's a shame to lose it but it isn't exactly a draw in Lewisham, people just head for Blackheath which is infintely better.

The only thing that does concern me is that Nick mentions lack of cycle access and use of the rivers which I agree would be a missed opportunity. As for views being spoiled - it isn't as if the area provides a beautiful backdrop to Brockley at the moment! And as for the fear of tall buildings - Canary Wharf and associated tall buildings are already visible from parts of the conservation area, and do not detract from it in anyway. I have been leafleted by the nay sayers but personally I say "go for it"...

Anonymous said...

Quick point of order - Lewisham is NOT the southernmost point in the Thames Gateway. In fact it's fairly peripheral to the TG, most of the activity is in East London and, of course, further out. Here's a map:

Anonymous said...

I love Lewisham high streets exceltic mix of local stores, markets and chain stores but that awful rule-less roundabout where you have to literally take your life into your hands as a motorist, should be removed at all costs. I feel awful for older drivers who can be slightly slower as they try to get across it as everyone is driving like lunatics around it. Also citigroup tower needs to be demolished, its rank. I fear that this new development, while it seems modern and nice today, may turn into the Citigroup tower of the future. I am sure the developers and planners of the citibank tower thought it was lovely at the time, i think the new plan will age very badly and will only look good for the first decade or two before being reclassifed as a blight on the landscape.

Anonymous said...

I am still really confused about where exactly this greenspace is that is supposed to be being lost -I have lived in or near Lewisham since 1975 and have failed to find it. It seems to me that more greenspace is being created, isn't it?


Andrew Brown said...

The green spaces are Charlottenberg gardens - the green strip up the side of Molesworth Street - and the tiny park by the river between Lewisham Road and Lewisham High Street, who's name I can never remember.

Not sure if the roundabout itself counts as green space, but that goes too.

In its place its proposed to have something they're calling Confluence Park which would be where the rivers Quaggy and Ravensbourne meet.

I think I'm right in saying there would also be a 'town square' outside St Stephen's church but I think that's hard landscaping rather than a park as such.

Anonymous said...

Not Spuncat

Although Lord Rogers doesn't specifically mention Lewisham, it does fit in with his ideas of 'densifying', more tall buildings and talk of beautiful open spaces.

As you write the development is not great nor is it bad but should Lewisham try and push the boat out for something fantastic?

I believe the developers had no say in the road layout, would they have preferred an alternative? Is the 9 acres too small for what is proposed?

Does anyone know of a similar sized site and project that people could go and look at?

Looking at the picture, the tallest building will be at the highest elevation near the railway station. From where I live trees currently dominate in the future it will be shared Lewisham Gateway buildings.

Walking from Blackheath via Hither Green towards Lewisham Hospital, I was surprised the difference the new Riverside building makes to the skyline.

If the development is to a high standard will flats be affordable to those not working at Canary Wharf?

From comments here and at meetings no one likes the 'bloody' roundabout and many want rid of the Cititower. Well it looks like roundabout will. At the present time Cititower is empty. Will an empty building in the middle of the new town centre have a negative affect?

As you know there is a proposed leisure centre at Loampit Vale. This was orignally presented as a landmark building containing 2 full sized pools, magnificant facilities including a large sports hall for badminton, basketball etc. For what ever reason that is no longer the case.

As someone indicated what we don't want is something new merely because it is new. Let's create something we can boast about rather than end up saying 'well it was a good idea at the time.'

Anonymous said...

" They're concerned that the development will ruin the unique charm of Lewisham Roundabout, reduce the green spaces in which locals reguarly frolic"...you mean the park that the alcoholics use during mornings and afternoons! Yeah it will surely be sad to see that dump go! It will be great! LONG LIVE THE THAMES GATEWAY DEVELOPMENT!

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