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?