Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by The Creekside Forum (HIS 16)


  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 sources[12]it 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 for success.

  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 manner.

  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 ancient monument).

  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.

Bill Ellson

Creekside Forum

23 November 2003

12   English Heritage: Heritage Dividend 2002 (page 34)Back

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