Monday, 9 April 2018

New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival 2018

Woo!

Very excited that one of my favourite local events is nearly here - the annual New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival.

Totally free, all run and organised by volunteers, and in some great venues across Deptford & New Cross - a fabulous example of our vibrant, enthusiastic, imaginative and fun SE community spirit.

Once again this year there will be a whole host of different films in venues ranging from the traditional to downright wacky, encouraging people to visit new parts of the borough and seek out the green spaces, churches and bars they aren't familiar with, in the pursuit of free entertainment.

Launch night kicks off at the Brick Brewery in Blackhorse Road with a showing of Get Out - Jordan Peele’s chilling satire on liberal racism in America. The bar will be open and food will be on sale, with a DJ and party after the film.



Watch in comfort at the Brookmill pub; put your energy into pedalling at the bike-powered park showings or watch a film somewhere you don't normally get to visit, such as Sanford Housing Coop or the Stephen Lawrence Centre.


On Facebook and on the web - and usually printed programmes to pick up a week or two before the festival from local libraries and cafes.

http://www.freefilmfestivals.org/filmfestival/new-cross-deptford/


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Twinkle Park to get its pond back

Twinkle Park at the bottom of Watergate St is one of the hidden secrets of Deptford - it used to be one of my favourite haunts in happier days when its pond was a beautiful centrepiece.


Sadly and somewhat mysteriously in October 2013 it sprang a leak and all the water drained out overnight.


Since that time the pond has remained empty, and has turned into a kind of grassy crater in the middle of the park. Not really what was intended.

So I was delighted to discover that the Twinkle Park Trust, which manages the park and neighbouring Charlotte Turner Gardens, has finally raised funds to pay for the pond to be relined and renovated.

Work on the pond is due to start tomorrow (Monday 9th April) and is expected to take about a month. Twinkle Park Trust is hoping to celebrate the reinstatement of the pond at its summer festival this year.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Housing - winners and losers

Councillors in Lewisham were patting themselves on the backs last week after a Mayor & Cabinet meeting agreed to fund an increase in the number of affordable houses that will be built as part of the Tidemill redevelopment in Deptford.

It's difficult to know what sort of compromises have been made, what deals struck and where the money has come from, as the report was debated and the decision taken behind closed doors - a common procedure with 'commercial sensitivity' usually blamed. Councillors rarely, if ever, seem to challenge the decision to conduct proceedings in secret. Or perhaps that's just the unavoidable consequence of having no opposition.

In this case even the general gist of the discussion was kept under wraps ahead of the meeting, which could be considered rather draconian given that it's clearly in the public interest to know about these sort of things.

The council must however report the decision that it took, and it did so in the following way:

Having considered a confidential officer report and a presentation by the Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Damien Egan, the Mayor agreed that:

(1) the update on the Deptford Southern sites project, as detailed, and the progress in negotiations led by officers with development partners and the GLA with the aim of increasing the amount of affordable housing within the proposals be noted;

(2) the Council provides grant funding on the basis set out;

(3) the tenure of 43 homes on the Tidemill site be changed from private sale to London Affordable Rent (social rent) at a cost to the Council of £4,310,211 and 16 homes from private sale to shared ownership at no additional cost to the Council;

(5) the revised budget for the development, as set out, be approved; and

(6) authority be delegated to the Executive Director for Resources & Regeneration, in consultation with the Executive Director for Customer Services and the Head of Law, to negotiate and agree the necessary legal documentation in connection with the recommendations in this report.

Apparently this means that the redevelopment will now provide 104 new units for social rent - in addition to the 16 provided for those tenants whose flats will be demolished to make way for the new development - and 41 new units for shared ownership. 

The sound of mutual congratulations echoing round social media made it easy to forget the rather disappointing news that the housing select committee had just received the day before. 

A total of £40 million promised by the Mayor of London through his Housing Zones scheme to support housing provision on the New Bermondsey and Catford Town Centre redevelopment schemes has now been withdrawn because the developments are not progressing quickly enough.

In the case of New Bermondsey/Surrey Canal Road (aka the Millwall fiasco) most of the funding was intended to pay for the fit out of the new Overground station which locals have pretty much stopped holding their breath for by now. The plan was that £12 million of the money would pay for the station fit-out, enabling it to be built and opened very early in the phasing of the development. The contribution that developer Renewal would have been obliged to make to TFL towards transport as part of the Section 106 agreement would then have been diverted to fund additional affordable housing on the site.

But it's all about swings and roundabouts in the crazy world of funding. What the Mayor takes away with one hand, he (almost) gives back with the other. Lewisham might have pissed away their £40 million allocation, but according to the same report a new allocation of £10 million from a different fund has been approved for Catford scheme. Trebles all round!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Smashfest in Deptford

Unbeknownst to Deptford, extreme climate change has caused a huge flood, which will overwhelm London. How can we prepare? What can we do?


The annual free family festival which focuses on science, technology, engineering and the arts is back next week at the Deptford Lounge and the Albany.

It's billed as a big adventure for all the family – comedy, music, performance, arts, crafts, science, engineering, games, activities and experiments… SmashfestUK is an award-winning narrative-driven science/arts festival which aims to widen participation and increase diversity in STEM and the arts.

Each year it focuses on a different natural disaster, featuring interactive installations, games, experiments, comedy and storytelling for all the family.

This year's theme - flood! - takes over The Albany Theatre and Deptford Lounge over half term from 12 - 16 Feb. They will be tackling a topical and challenging subject - a climate change-induced flood that submerges London.

Find out more at www.smashfestuk.com

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Lights out over Deptford

How many of you visited the wonderful Lumiere festival of light in town last weekend? I hope you got your fill of awe-inspiring illumination as you ain't going to get much in SE8, not even the bog standard stuff. 

With bitter irony, as Deptford's night-time economy takes an upturn, its public lighting seems to be going head-first down the pan.

Of all of Deptford's public areas, Giffin Square is surely the one most generously provided with lighting facilities. As well as eight towering lamp standards which each carry five or six lights on the top, the square also has small lights set in some of the stone cubes, and strip lights place randomly between the paving stones in the square.


Hard to imagine when this is the scene after dark in Deptford's main square. The north side of the square, in front of Costa Coffee, is pitch black.

Out of more than 40 lights on the eight lamp standards in the square JUST TWO are actually working, shining pitifully down on this gloomy landscape.


Luckily floor level is lit sufficiently to prevent pedestrians tripping over the randomly-placed blocks of granite, but almost everything else is in shadow.


What exactly is the point of having a lamp post with six lights on the top if you can't be arsed to replace the bulbs? 

Walk a bit further and you start to suspect this is not just a one-off fail. 


Douglas Square was refurbished with those odd hanging lights a few years back - four sets of cables each with three lights strung between poles to illuminate the market square. 

Or not. 

ONLY HALF of the lights in Douglas Square are working - six out of twelve unlit and no sign of them having replacement bulbs any time soon. 


As if that's not bad enough, anyone walking to New Cross station has to pass through yet another square of gloom on their journey.

The infamous 'public realm' (I use the term advisedly) outside the Waldron Centre is also cast into shadow as soon as the sun sets. There are four streetlights in the square, only one of which continues to shine doggedly onto the uneven and unfinished asphalt with its dead trees.


The lamp in the photo below may look like it's on, but in fact it's just being lit up by the lights behind the lettering.


Street lighting in Lewisham is the responsibility of Skanska and John Laing, who took it on in a huge 25 year PFI contract in 2011.

Lewisham Council's website includes an online reporting form which also lists the faults that might occur. Some of them - including any situation where three consecutive lights are out of order - are classified as 'emergencies'. These can only be reported by calling the freephone number, and the contractor promises a one-hour response to fix them.

Having struggled with this 'reporting' system in the past, I'm not surprised to hear from a correspondent who says they reported the Giffin Square lighting fail several weeks ago. So much for a one-hour response - surely it's just a case of putting new bulbs in?

Looks like we're going to remain in the dark for some time yet. Anyone want to do the mushroom joke?



Friday, 19 January 2018

Celebrating the return of the anchor

A small fleet of ships is currently anchored at 28 Deptford High Street 
Why?
To celebrate the imminent return of the Deptford anchor! 

Deptford Does Art, Sayes Court and Deptford Is Forever are planning a programme of events to coincide with an exhibition around the imminent return of the anchor. 

‘Drawing The Line’ - Max Barnes; Curated by Sayes Court Garden CIC 
‘Give Us Back Our Bloomin’ Anchor’; a campaign archive by Deptford Is Forever 

Friday 19th January – Sunday 4th February 
Preview: Friday 19th January 6.30-9pm (bar open till 10.30pm) 

Venue opening times: Wed-Sat 12–11pm / Sun 12-10pm

Friday, 5 January 2018

'Liveable neighbourhood' plans for Deptford Park and environs

Late last year Deptford Folk (the user group for Deptford Park and Folkestone Gardens) got the welcome news that a bid for funding from TfL had been successful. The bid was developed in partnership with Sustrans and proposes a number of improvements to walking and cycling routes in and around the parks - some of them quite substantial projects in their own right.

The money is coming from the 'liveable neighbourhoods' fund and the first tranche will be used to cover the cost of further feasibility studies, with a second slice paid out later for the actual work, presumably depending on the projects being proved feasible - a potential total of £2.9 million for these schemes.


The overall package includes six 'Copenhagen Crossings' (improved road crossings for cyclists and pedestrians) at locations around the parks, and seven more substantial 'interventions' which involve improving existing cycle routes, and creating and opening up new ones, among other things.

One of the flagship 'interventions' which would impact directly on access to Folkestone Gardens is improvement of the existing crossing of Rolt Street, which links the Woodpecker estate (and the pedestrian and cycle route through it) to the gardens.

Although this already exists as a raised crossing, and is on the bend of a road ostensibly with a 20mph speed limit, anyone who uses it will know that this counts for very little. A lot of traffic uses this route as a cut-through, especially in the rush hours, and much of it takes this corner way too fast. There is no refuge or island to slow drivers down, and visibility is poor for anyone coming out of the park, due to the bend in the road and the density of parked cars outside the houses.


Last year Sustrans held a public workshop which involved restricting the road width with some cunningly-arranged straw bales, and inviting school groups and passers by to experience the new road environment and give their feedback on the idea.


During this 'temporary street event' Sustrans also recorded the number and speed of vehicles that passed in both directions - this was collected over a seven day period, 24 hours a day, including the day of the event. Data (which is published in the report here) showed a reduction in traffic speed of around 23% in one direction and 17% in the other at the counter nearest to the restriction. 


I'm curious as to whether this speed reduction would be a permanent outcome of the traffic calming measures that Sustrans is proposing. How much of the speed reduction was down to drivers wondering why there were bales of straw in the road, and kids were prone on the road behind them? Don't speeds just creep back up once drivers get accustomed to new driving conditions? I presume Sustrans has monitored what has happened in other schemes, and I'd be keen to know how it pans out in the long term.

One of the other major projects that the funding will be used to investigate is the plan to create a new cycle route under Evelyn Street, right next to the Blackhorse pub. This route will provide a safe route for cyclists and pedestrians between the parks and estates on the west side of Evelyn Street and the riverside paths and parks of the Pepys estate and Surrey Docks.



It is a collaboration between Deptford Folk, Sustrans, the Ramblers Association, Lewisham Cyclists and Lewisham Council and would create a new route along the line of the former Surrey Canal.

I'm particularly excited about this as when I looked back in the archive I realised I've been banging on about it for seven years now. Seven years! Turns out I've got stamina!

You can read my initial blog post here which includes a photo of the bridge parapet, and a subsequent one here, in which I remarked on improvements to the layout of the buildings proposed for the Wharves development (now the Timberyard) which would make this route a possibility.

It will also build on Deptford Folk's subsequent work which involved objecting against the planning application for the Shurgard storage facility that has just been built at the end of Blackhorse Road. If this application had passed in its original form, the building would have obstructed the proposed route. But Deptford Folk was successful in challenging the application, with the result that the building footprint was moved slightly to leave space for a cycle route on the west side of the road.

With the recent funding award we may at last find out how feasible this idea is, and perhaps even see it brought to fruition in the near future.


More details of the Deptford Folk plans can be seen on the web page here, and if it's something you want to get involved with, they also have an email newsletter you can sign up to, so you'll be kept in the loop. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

The anchor cometh

The imminent return of the anchor to Deptford High Street is a demonstration that people power really can make a difference - although you do have to be incredibly bloody-minded and tenacious, particularly if it involves dealing with local councils.

Luckily Deptford has got more than its fair share of bloody-minded and tenacious folk, some of whom were not willing to take no for an answer after the council removed the anchor from the south end of the high street during the renovation works in 2013.

The anchor was a much-loved reminder of Deptford's maritime past; it might not have originated from a Deptford-built ship, but it provided a symbolic link to the prosperous days of Deptford's Royal Dockyard and local people did not take kindly to it being removed. Long term followers of this blog may recall that I was particularly narked about the consultation that took place before its removal; the consultation included a question about what should happen to the anchor, and 84% of respondents agreed that it should remain in Deptford.

However council officers chose to interpret this as supporting the permanent relocation of the anchor to Convoys Wharf - something I'll wager not a single one of those respondents even considered would be an option.

Lobbying for its return has been a long and complex process, with the usual meetings, petitions and lobbying being interspersed Deptford-stylee with parades, street interviews, posters, paper bags, tattoos, chalk and red tape - both literally and figuratively. If you want to read all the ins and outs, they are set out in minute detail on the Deptford Is Forever website. Tireless efforts by DIF and the Deptford Society were fundamental to getting this issue resolved, despite repeated efforts by council officers and even some council members to obfuscate, delay and derail the process.

Cutting a long story short, the upshot of all this activity is that a mere five years since being removed (a drop in the ocean of Deptford's history) the anchor will be restored almost to the exact spot, but without the plinth that created a handy seating area for Deptford's street drinkers.

As we all predicted, the street drinkers did not magically disappear when the anchor was removed - they just relocated to other places in the high street where they had somewhere to sit - Giffin Street and Douglas Square are firm favourites now.

Anchor and plinth - ideal for an alfresco pint
Anchor no plinth - not so comfy

Current ETA is February although don't hold your breath; the ETA has slipped a few times already, but there's no reason to think it won't happen. Planning applications have been submitted and approved, funds have been found (from the appropriate part of the community infrastructure levy, one assumes) contractors have been briefed and all they have to do now is get Hutchison Whampoa to let them on the site to pick up the anchor for a good wash and brush up ready for its triumphant return. 

I'll certainly be raising a glass (discreetly of course) to celebrate.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The scandal of Deptford's empty homes and abandoned public realm

When Lewisham Council spends £4 million annually on providing temporary accommodation, and the borough has one of the highest levels of rough sleepers in London, why are newly-built apartments allowed to stand empty?

And why is the council allowing the same developers to wriggle out of their commitments to improve public realm, plant trees and provide disabled parking spaces?


This development on the corner of New Cross Road and Watson's Street has been finished for more than a year now.

The red brick building which faces onto New Cross Road and the smaller, grey/brown bricked block are part of the same development by Kitewood Estates which created a total of 44 new homes; 35 for private ownership and 9 for social rent. The flats for social rent are located in the lower block on Watson's Street, at the end of the development furthest from New Cross Road - the entrance, or 'poor door', to the social housing is in the extreme left of the picture below.


Not a single one of the private flats, which have separate entrances closer to New Cross Road, is occupied; they have lain empty since the block was finished. 

The entrance to the low-rise flats has a sign propped in the window warning that the properties are protected by a security firm; the corridor leading from the street to the flats on the main road still has protective covering on the floor and several notices in the door warning that entry is forbidden and giving a phone number for deliveries.


The casual passer-by might be forgiven for thinking that the blocks are still under construction - the large retail units at street level have been boarded up since being built, and the patchwork of footpath and public realm on Watson's Street is clearly nowhere near finished.

But the social housing is already occupied and the pavement has been like this for months. Surely this is not how it is supposed to be?

Indeed not - the planning application for the block (which was initially refused by Lewisham Council but which was passed at appeal) gives details of the soft landscaping and public realm improvements that the developer was promising.

You can get a clue from the rendering below, although for the full details it's necessary to go to the drawings.


The plans promise six semi-mature trees (five London Plane trees, and one Tulip Tree) and six Witch Hazel shrubs next to the block, to soften its hard edges no doubt. Three mature trees were removed so that the block could be built.


The soft landscaping was even made one of the conditions when the application was given permission at appeal. 

The inspector's report said:
All planting, seeding or turfing comprised in the landscaping scheme hereby approved shall be carried out in the first planting and seeding seasons following the occupation of the buildings, or the completion of the development, whichever is the sooner. Any trees or plants which within a period of 5 years from the completion of the development die, are removed or become seriously damaged or diseased, shall be replaced in the next planting season with others of similar size and species.

As well as soft landscaping, the plans included the creation of four disabled parking bays (the ground floor flats are designed to be accessible for wheelchairs) and a delivery bay, presumably to service the retail units and/or allow parking for refuse collections.

Instead there is a mish-mash of asphalt, a wave of shabby paving stones that hug the edge of the block for dear life, and remnants of the concrete pavement that dates back long before the building work started. If you're walking down here watch your step, especially if you are old or unsteady on your feet - pity the few new residents who have to negotiate it on a daily basis.


When developers fail to deliver on this kind of commitment, and bugger off leaving the job unfinished, it's down to the council's planning enforcement team to sort it out. Officers have the power to investigate breaches and ensure that developers don't get away with cutting corners.

But Lewisham Council's planning enforcement team had other ideas. After the Deptford Society brought it to their attention last year, an 'investigation' was launched.

A copy of the officer's report, which was issued to the Deptford Society last week when they chased the issue up, came into my possession.

The report makes interesting, if jaw-dropping, reading.

Responsibility for enforcing the construction of disabled parking bays was dismissed with the excuse that "if parking is required to make the scheme acceptable then it would have been specified by the planning inspector as a condition for the development".

As for the public realm the comments confirm they couldn't even be arsed to visit the site:
"The aerial photos shows that the soft landscaping scheme has been substantially implemented; to the extent that the aerial photos only show a minor difference to what was approved as part of the appeal decision. The information gathered as part of the desktop study demonstrates that the conditions have been substantially met, and that any breaches of the planning conditions are only minor in nature."



Allowing a public pavement to be left in this state can only be described as negligent - not to mention a personal injury claim waiting to happen. 

And who are the villains in the piece? Which money-grabbing developer is responsible for leaving newly-built flats empty while housing is in such short supply?

Ironically, while the original development was the work of Kitewood Estates and they are most likely responsible for the unfinished state of the public realm, since July 2016 the entire block has been owned by London & Quadrant Housing Trust, bought at a cost of nearly £15 million. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Cycle superhighway proposals for Creek Road and Evelyn Street

TFL is rolling out plans to expand the cycle superhighway network across this part of London, and is currently consulting on proposals for a new route between Tower Bridge and Greenwich.

As well as creating fully segregated cycle lanes along the entire road, a whole host of other improvements are planned, not just for cyclists but for pedestrians as well. Simplified pedestrian crossings and improvements to public realm are proposed; one bus stop fewer is proposed for the Deptford Park section of the road, and most of those along Evelyn Street are set to be moved one way or another to make spaces between them a bit more even.

The overview map is shown below - there's no detail as yet on the plans for Lower Road, apparently this is still in consultation with Southwark given that the area around Canada Water is due to be heavily redeveloped in the near future.

The plans so far show the segregated cycle lanes crossing from the north side of the road to the south side just before Southwark Park, so that cyclists and motorists will no longer come into conflict on the unpleasant Rotherhithe roundabout. Further along on Evelyn Street they are back on the north side of the road, but as yet there are no suggestions as to where or how this will happen - presumably at one of the junctions that is earmarked for full remodelling.


(Click for a bigger version)

Plans for the bottom end of Deptford High Street are shown below - the current situation top (although this is now slightly out of date with the new, widened pavement already in place) and the proposed segregated lanes on the second image.



The main change to what's there now are restrictions on right turns and the removal of the two pedestrian crossings, which will be combined into one single crossing and brought much closer to the end of the high street.  

Motorists will no longer be able to turn right out of Deptford High Street towards Greenwich, nor will they be able to turn right into DHS from the Greenwich-bound lanes of Evelyn Street, which makes a lot of sense in terms of simplifying the situation for cyclists and pedestrians here. There will also be a ban on right turns out of Watergate Street.

Being a regular cycle commuter I'm firmly in favour of this proposal, and having used the segregated lanes in central London I relish the idea of similar facilities in our local area, making bike travel safer and easier for everyone.

Consultation is open until 19th November and there are plans available in the Deptford Lounge and Canada Water Library throughout the consultation - there's also a consultation event at Deptford Lounge this weekend where TFL staff will be present to answer questions (see below).

The online consultation has links to much more detailed maps of each section of the proposed route.

Consultation events:
Saturday 14 October 11am-3pm, Deptford Lounge 9 Giffin Street, SE8 4RH 
Tuesday 17 October 4-7pm, St Alfege Church Hall, 3 Greenwich Church Street, SE10 9BJ 
Saturday 21 October 11am-3pm, James Wolfe Primary School, 21 Randall Place, SE10 9LA Wednesday 25 October 3pm-7pm, The Finnish Church, 33 Albion Street, SE16 7JG 
Saturday 4 November 11am-3pm. The Finnish Church, 33 Albion Street, SE16 7JG