Wednesday, 9 August 2017

--- and --- about the gasholder consultation

- so - what happened when we heard about the consultation on the gas holder site?

It is now a couple of months since Greenwich Council announced a consultation on a site on the Greenwich Peninsula  which turned out to be the one which has our iconic gas holder on it.  You wouldn't have known that from the consultation document which assumed that the holder would be gone and that the site would be developed for housing.  This post is intending to describe some of the reactions - those reactions we are aware of - to this consultation

All over the country gas holders are being demolished following a decision by the owners to decommission them.  In many areas campaigns have sprung up to save and to find a way of reusing the frame of their local gas holder.  There are already a number of interesting projects around the world where holders are used for housing, and for leisure facilities.   In the last few days we have learnt that the prestigious Architects' Journal has launched a competition for proposals for reuse of gas holder bases but not the guide frames.

We also understand that developers have suddenly woken up to the potential of these sites and that one major company has set up a division to find interesting ways of using them.  It is ironic that this news comes from the one community which has petitioned for their holder to be pulled down, Oxted in Surrey.

So what reaction was there in Greenwich?  We must remember that our local holder - East Greenwich No 1 - is very special.  Built in the 1890s by the South Metropolitan Gas Company it was then the largest in the world and built to revolutionary engineering and design criteria.  Very plain it is a very early modern movement industrial building - built at a  time which such design was at the cutting edge of artistic thought.  It stands dramatically on the flat marshland near the river and is an iconic landmark for much of surrounding area.

There have been several ideas put forward for our local holder in recent years. As long ago as the 1990s a local architects practice published a booklet called 'Eyesore' which was partially influenced by the light show which was then being played onto it from a local pub.  In 2013 ideas were put forward by two architects from BDP and was the result of a project by the Royal Institution of British Architects from whom it received a commendation.   Later, in 2015, Cuan Hawker exhibited a prizewinning photograph of the holder at the Royal Academy summer exhibition

But, locally, once the consultation began, one of the first things which happened was that someone set up an online petition to register people's views on retention or demolition of the holder.  A facebook page and a twitter account were also set up. We understand a massive 76% of respondents wanted the holder frame saved and reused in some way.

This was followed by tweets, facebook comments and linked in comments - from locals, and from people in the gas history, and gas enthusiast world - and copied on to all sorts of facebook sites and blogs, locally, London wide, nationally and internationally.

And also - this includes only stuff which was copied to us, there was doubtless much more - 

What the press - locally - said - 

Greenwich Visitor put the story on their front page with a picture splashed across with 'Save it'  and headed 'Symbol of Greenwich's proud past faces demolition' . Inside that issue was another story about reuse of holders around the world, with pictures and the strap line 'Beauties in the eye of the gas holder. They have followed this up with a front page note in their current issue.

The Mercury also front paged it with the heading 'Save Exceptional Gas Holder' and a detailed story.

Westcombe News included a short front page item, commenting that it was unfortunate that that consultation had been timed for the summer months

Greenwich Society Newsletter - included an item on the holder as a late news flash.

(and thank you to all of them)

There were submissions from national and London wide bodies - for example the national Association for Industrial Archaeology.  The London based Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society also made a submission.  Their expert described in detail the background to the construction of the holder and also said  'it is inexcusable that it is virtually unmentioned in the draft planning brief.... and yet it has considerable potential in place making in the new development...  the plans are remarkably lacking in vision'.  The submission also describes ways in which the frame could be used in a safe and practical way.

There was reaction from gas holder enthusiasts abroad.  Someone in Munich wrote " British engineers did pioneer work on designing and developing the gas holder and........  it was to the merits of George Livesey to invent the so called shell principle that enforce the structure of the guide framing and facilitated very tall gas holders with a large storage capacity....  with East Greenwich Livesey crowned this sublime structure with a very eyeable pattern that added a third cross. Thus the tall guide framing has a very elegant appearance". She also published a photograph of the Greenwich Visitor article.

this shows the holder in the snow
A local archaeologist wrote to say that one of the listing criteria should be that this is the last survivor of a significant local industry and reminded us of links to experiments on Shooters Hill.

An East Greenwich resident wrote " it would make such a great public space and is one of the only civic scale monuments to the industrial history of  East Greenwich.  It appears to rotate and spiral out as one drives past it on the bus'.

A correspondent from North London wrote to say how he was appalled at the 'lifeless and boring indicative development scenarios' described in the consultation documents and he also described in detail work done on the gas holders at Kings Cross

Several people have put forward ideas for reuse.  One suggested "use of the lower third as a sports arena, middle third as industrial museum and the top third as housing with huge numbers of tall trees surrounding". 

Another respondent made a detailed submission to the consultation including drawings for its use for "what could be achieved" given the vast amount of space inside it and asks if it could be used as an extension to the entertainment area at the Dome - citing several sites around the world where old holder space has been adapted in this way. He also cited its dramatic site and suggested this should be maximised as a landmark and icon for the whole area.

Finally - this blog has featured histories of the holder - scroll down the entries to find them, and also additional fantastic ideas for reuse (see the one by Jo, for instance). We are also aware that submissions have been made by important local groups - The Greenwich Society, the East Greenwich Residents Association and the borough wide Greenwich Conservation Group.  As well as lots of residents.

Listing - why isn't the holder listed??

There have been several attempts to get listed status for this holder going back many years.  We are aware of an application for spot listing as long ago as the 1990s. This, along with many other attempts, was refused.  We understand that Historic England commented earlier this year that they had little intention of listing all holders but said that this holder " remains a monumental industrial landmark in this part of London a clear marker on the skyline".

However as a result of the consultation we have heard of several people who have asked for the listing to be reconsidered - for example some members of the Enderby Group have sent in a long and detailed submission covering the history and architectural potential.  They are not alone.

And -
only one person has written to say that they think  the holder  is ugly and shall be pulled down - and they will not be alone in this view.

and also - ps - something else on the consultation site which Greenwich Council didn't mention was the old school building now used by the Horniman Museum - or some of the rumoured plans for adjacent sites.

thanks for pix to R.J.M.Carr & Rob Powell


Patrick Ives said...

I'm a local resident but happened to be in Canada during the consultation period. I tried to complete the consultation document but couldn't get past the identification page at the end. The form simply wouldn't accept my e-mail address. I wonder how many others tried and failed to get the document to work.
I am very much in favour of the gas holder being kept and used in some form but it is now going to be virtually impossible to get that view over to the council.

M said...

Patrick - its almost always worth just emailing the planning department on their general address and asking them to pass your comments on to the member of staff dealing with it. In my experience they always seem quite ok with doing this

Anonymous said...

A certificate of Immunity from Listing has been applied for regarding the historic Greenwich No 1 Gas Holder in SE London of which subject expert Dr Mary Mills says,
"East Greenwich No.1 when built was the largest holder ever built – only one other, in the US, has been built larger. It was built to revolutionary designs and as well as its virtuoso engineering it embodies a number of more philosophical ideas and also in its deliberate austerity could be described as an early modern movement industrial building."
On those grounds an others there is also a concurrent application for the gas holder to be listed.
Historic England is seeking responses to the requests in a consultation.
Send your responses, quoting Reference 1449918 to:
Sebastian Fry
Listing Adviser
Historic England
1 Waterhouse Square
138-142 Holborn

You have until 27 September to respond.