Memorandum by The Creekside Forum (HIS
1. The Creekside Forum was established in
1997 as a joint sub-committee of Deptford Community Forum and
Greenwich Waterfront Community Forum in order to give local people
a voice in the Building Bridges Creekside SRB2. The SRB project
has long since finished and, the now independent, Creekside Forum
finds itself at the centre of a maelstrom of developer interest.
This has already resulted in the loss of important historical
buildings and others are under threat. Locally there is a feeling
that Deptford is discriminated against and buildings that in more
prosperous areas would be listed are denied listing here.
2. The preservation and enhancement of the
historic environment is essential if communities are to feel positive
about regeneration. Although EH have made some achievements with
regard to individual buildings or development sites they appear
to be unable to grasp a wider geographical context. English Heritage
seems to have difficulty grasping the local historical context
of buildings. Apart from the recent farrago in York CABE do not
appear to have any contribution to make. Regeneration agencies
only seem to have any regard for the historic environment when
an individual has a particular interest. By maintaining historic
buildings as anchors the system prevents the complete destruction
of areas in the name of Progress. The current VAT regime that
taxes refurbishment of buildings, but not new build, is a disincentive
to the preservation of many outstanding but unlisted properties.
A quirk of the current system as applied to the Creekside area
is that whilst the buried remnants of previous structures are
the subject of archaeological conditions that ensure that they
are recorded, extant unlisted buildings can be demolished without
any formal record being made.
3. Left unrestricted and uncontrolled, much
modern development consists of assembling the largest site possible,
using heavy plant to level it and then building as high and as
dense as local planning controls will allow. This results not
only in developments that established communities find intimidating
but all too often in buildings that have a Nowheresville Northwest
Europe aesthetic. The retention of historic buildings ensures
continuity not only as a direct link with the past in themselves
but as an indication of scale and urban grain. The retention of
historic buildings is essential to both a sense of place and a
sense of community.
4. English Heritage through their Heritage
Economic Regeneration Scheme (HERS) have, in partnership with
LB Lewisham and others, helped in the restoration of a number
of individual buildings along the A2. Despite outstanding success
in restoring buildings and levering in funds from other sourcesit
seems that there will not be sufficient money available to achieve
anything like the full potential of the project. Apart from the
HERS scheme EH seem to revert to their statutory consultee role
and are somewhat less than proactive in the regeneration of the
area. When commenting on applications that affect the settings
of listed buildings they have effectively been sidelined from
the planning process by the slicker PR and spin of CABE and in
London by the persistently snide remarks of the Mayor. EH's persistent
failure to make use of modern technology such as email places
them at a distinct disadvantage in engaging in the planning process.
5. CABE are a funny little organisation
who have a distinctly arrogant and all too often downright unpleasant
attitude to the community. When repeatedly pressed over why they
would not comment on a particularly appalling development in LB
Greenwich (see below para 7) their excuse was that they only get
involved when asked to by the local planning authority. Whilst
this may make them look superficially more influential than they
really are, to anybody familiar with the system they appear as
little more than a hired gun. Added to this is their less than
appealing habit of publishing documents in an A3 colour format
on their website with no hard copies available; this is a downright
insult to the many civic and amenity societies and other community
organisations up and down the country who engage with the planning
process but do not have the funds to purchase A3 colour printers.
6. Urban regeneration performance is inevitably
measured by quantitative targets in the form of outputs. Although
historic buildings may appear as floorspace improved or similar
they do not appear in their own right. Although individual managers
will make efforts to bring listed buildings back into economic
use there is rarely the time or the specialist resources available
7. However the Deptford Discovery Team (DDT),
as local managers for the London-wide SRB2 Vital Centres and Green
Links, achieved very considerable success in enhancing the setting
of the listed St Nicholas Church and the neighbouring Rachel McMillan
nursery. Whilst these works may have contributed to the subsequent
listings of some of the nursery buildings and the Margaret McMillan
memorial they sadly afforded no protection from an overbearing
development bereft of architectural merit on the neighbouring
Rachel McMillan College site. Working on Thameside sites along
the Lewisham and Greenwich waterfront DDT installed many interpretation
plates explaining the historical context.
8. Where local planning authorities have
due regard for the setting of listed buildings and scheduled ancient
monuments this undoubtedly adds to the quality of urban regeneration.
However when a planning authority chooses to disregard the historic
context there are very few avenues open to an objector. In London
the Mayor is totally uninterested in history and Government Office
for London are extremely reluctant to call-in applications. Even
when the setting of listed buildings is as flagrantly disregarded
as in the case of Rachel McMillan College the remedy of judicial
review exists more in theory than reality when the obstacles of
locus standi, cost of representation and simply the time
involved in pursuing an action are considered.
9. The bizarre manner in which EH decide
whether or not to recommend buildings for listing is overdue for
reform. All too often such decisions seem to be in the wholly
subjective judgment of individuals who frequently place written
sources above the local context of the buildings concerned. In
the case of Rachel McMillan College an EH officer produced a report
which related a site visit to a closed up and disused building
when in fact the College was in use, and visibly so from the highway,
by Trinity School of Music. A short distance away RIBA Gold medallist
Sir Edwin Cooper's sumptuous jewel box storehouse Borthwick Wharf
is under threat from development. Although the EH officer who
actually visited Deptford recommended Borthwick Wharf for listing
her report was revised, by the same person who "visited"
Rachel McMillan College, and was not recommended to DCMS for listing.
Borthwick Wharf stands at the eastern end of what is increasingly
known locally as the "Deptford Riviera".
10. The Deptford Riviera is a name coined
locally for a half-mile stretch of waterfront that has thus far
escaped the "tyranny of the bland" that has destroyed
much of riparian London. stretching from the 18th century Rum
Warehouses in the west converted and woven into 1960s Pepys Estate.
To their east Convoys Wharf contains not only the listed Olympia
building but the unprotected, except as an archaeological feature,
filled in Great Double Dry Building Dock and the again filled
in 13th century Basin. Currently being restored the listed early
18th century Master Shipwrights House and offices are the oldest
surviving above ground buildings of the Royal Dockyard established
by Henry VIII in 1513. Immediately adjacent are the Upper Watergate
Stairs (shown on Sir John Evelyn's map of 1623) under threat from
the proposals to redevelop the listed Paynes Wharf (six mighty
Italianate arches facing the Thames) along with Borthwick Wharf.
11. The actions of the Ministry of Defence
in disposing of their interest in Convoys Wharf are open to question.
When they sold the freehold some 20 years ago they retained various
rights of access on and over the site. Times have moved on and
when the ministry disposed of its remaining rights in this 40-acre
site it was open to them to take steps by way of covenant to protect
the remaining naval heritage. They failed to do so and the site
is subject of a residential planning application roundly condemned
by the Naval Dockyards Society amongst others.
12. The current VAT regime creates a perverse
incentive to demolish old buildings rather than renovate them.
13. EH are past their sell-by date and should
be abolished. CABE offer little of any practical value and should
also be abolished.
14. They should not be replaced by a monolithic
national body but by regional bodies combining the various functions.
Such bodies should have a clear remit to communicate in an effective
15. Regional Government Offices should be
given the power to direct local planning authorities, that a proposed
development does affect the setting of a listed building (or scheduled
16. In areas that are attracting substantial
developer interest many buildings which were well built and have
served their purpose face demolition. Many buildings that have
formed part of the everyday fabric of the area for many years
face demolition without any formal record of their existence being
made. However as most of Deptford is an area of archaeological
interest the remains of many lesser buildings under the surface
are, quite properly, recorded for posterity.
17. The Government should amend PPGs 15
and 16 to ensure that especially, but not exclusively, in areas
undergoing substantial regeneration, local planning authorities
should draw up policies to ensure that conditions are imposed
on new developments to properly record significant buildings that
are to be demolished.
23 November 2003
12 English Heritage: Heritage Dividend 2002 (page