Today, I’m letting someone else have a turn – Paula Hirst, head of regeneration at Mazars, offers her thoughts on a scheme which seems to hark back to the 80s…
Thursday’s London Evening Standard heralded “a £1bn vision to transform Deptford”, announcing a new scheme on the Thames-fronted Convoys Wharf site by Sir Terry Farrell.
With a plan to “turn the rundown riverside neighbourhood into a thriving ‘Shoreditch of south London'”, the scheme proposals are to include 3.500 homes, shops, restaurants and a primary school, alongside three new parks. Oh, and three high-rise towers of up to 48 storeys (yes, you did read that right), with luxury apartments at the top.
Putting the question of whether London needs two Shoreditches to one side for a moment, reading this article I wondered whether we had somehow been transported back in time to the 1980s where no-one really seemed to know what regeneration meant.
It was an era where shiny glossy buildings would somehow “transform” an area through real estate development, although whether for better or worse would be highly dependent on exactly where you sat on the income spectrum.
Well, Deptford is not the London Docklands, and this is not the 1980s. Deptford has some of the highest density housing in the country. Convoys Wharf backs onto an area with more people living in one place than live in many small towns. There are already quite a lot of residential towers on the skyline. And there has been no access to the river for 13 years for local people.
Yes, local people would very much like to be able to have some more open space, more parks would be welcome, a view and the ability to sit by the river would be enjoyed by many. That’s why the development of Convoys Wharf is important and a long time overdue.
And there is a local, Londonwide, and national housing shortage, so a few more homes on a site that big would be important. But a high-density scheme that’s pretending to be Canary Wharf mark two? Difficult to see what this might bring to local people.
Farrell is not wrong when he says that there are lots of creative people living in Deptford. It’s already a thriving hub of creative industries, in no small part due to the successful regeneration schemes already undertaken.
But it’s hard to see how three new luxury giant tower blocks of gleaming steel and glass will be of much benefit to that industry. It’s hard to imagine how 3,500 homes won’t create intense additional stress on existing infrastructure. It’s hard to envisage how such towers will be of benefit to anyone locally at all, in fact, unless you count creating a massive shadow over their balconies and gardens a benefit. No, didnt think so.
Deptford, located in South East London in the borough of Lewisham, contains high amounts of social housing, and is within the 10% most deprived areas in the country. Successful regeneration schemes understand the context they are in, seek to integrate within the area, and provide facilities and amenities which open up new opportunities for local people.
They don’t seek to create an island of wealth separated from and adjacent to existing areas, which local people don’t feel welcome in, cannot afford, and in all likelihood will have limited access to physically.
In developing a scheme that faces Canary Wharf rather than its hinterland, Farell appears to be giving local people a clear sign that this is not for them. But then Farell is quite used to this. One only needs to look at the controversial Earls Court scheme to see that existing communities are considered pretty marginal if not totally inconsequential, to development plans.
Where on earth the money is going to come from for a £1bn scheme in this day and age is anyone’s guess, but no doubt someone has heard the money bells ringing, knowing there is an almost clear 40-acre site with prime river frontage.
But let’s stop for a minute before anyone decides that somehow giving local people access to the river by sticking huge residential towers on their doorstep is regeneration, or that somehow or other they will benefit or be grateful. This is pure real estate development, and represents everything that is wrong with our property industry.
What Deptford needs is not more high-density housing in an area of existing high density, putting more pressure on existing infrastructure. What’s needed is more open space, free to enjoy access to the river, and new employment opportunities that go way beyond construction.
Opening up Convoys Wharf once again to local people is a must. But let’s do it right. Letls invest in our communities, not take from them. Lets regenerate areas, not just develop them. And above all, lets value the amazing spirit of the people of Deptford by developing a scheme with the community for the community; one that harnesses that spirit and enables it to thrive.