Tuesday 10 October 2017

Tonight's the night

Tonight (Tuesday 10th) GIHS is hosting a discussion evening on industrial heritage in Greenwich - all turn up - and lets hope the Bakehouse has enough seats for everyone - 7.30 Age Exchange Bakehouse (which is down an alleyway in Bennett Park at the back of the Age Exchange building in Blackheath Village)

In the meantime - here are some ideas from one area of the Borough - Creekside -

Unlocking Deptford Creek

An urgent call to all Creekside stakeholders* for the current Thames Tideway Tunnel Greenwich works to be used to deliver a  legacy of improved public access  and amenity.
Mick Delap, Ashburnham Triangle, West Greenwich,  April 2017

*see Section 4, below.  Plus Appendix 1 - Map; and Appendix 2 - the 19th Century Creek

 1. Introduction: unlocking the Creek.  Deptford Creek is an area of major historical and environmental interest, that is changing fast. In the nineteenth century, a variety of Creekside industrial enterprises made an extraordinary contribution to the emergence of London as a modern mega city. They showed the rest of London, and the world, what it would take to make large scale urbanization work  [see Appendix 2].  This former industrial powerhouse is now being transformed at breathtaking speed into a series of new high rise domestic communities.

Over the years,  successive plans, at London, and Lewisham and Royal Greenwich Borough level, have highlighted the opportunities for combining the wave of new housing with improved public access to the Creek's environmental and historical riches. But little has been done to give established West Greenwich neighbourhoods, like my own Ashburnham Triangle, and these thousands of Creekside newcomers the kind of public open space and cultural amenities they were promised.

Now the Thames Tideway Tunnel works along the Creek at Thames Water's Greenwich Pumping Station offer a golden opportunity, at little additional cost, to leave a significantly improved public legacy for the Creek's new inhabitants.

2.  The current situation:  no trespassing.  At present (and for the foreseeable future, unless post Tideway Tunnel reconstruction plans can be improved), the Creek's environmental, cultural and amenity assets and potential are locked away. Apart from the brief views of the Creek from the Halfpenny Hatch bridge on the east-west pedestrian and cycle pathway, there is no public access.

The nearby Creekside Discovery Centre, on the Creek's west (Lewisham) bank is a valiant pioneer in drawing attention to the Creek's unique environment,  but lacks resources and support. The situation on the east (Greenwich) bank is even more discouraging.  Royal Greenwich Planning has proposed using Section 106 agreements to provide access to the Creek on two developments upstream from the Halfpenny Hatch bridge.  The Galliard development of the Skillion/Merryweather site required the developer to provide public access to the Creek. A pathway has been built, but, in defiance of Section 106 requirements, it remains locked.  The new Booker development, further upstream, will also have Section 106 requirements for public access to the Creek.  But even if these are honoured, neither the Galliard nor the Booker Creekside paths offer any significant improvement in public amenity.  They go nowhere, and are not long enough to attract walkers or cyclists.

3. A new Creekside pathway.  What would transform meaningful public access to a significant stretch of the Creek, and at a blow unlock its historical, heritage and environmental riches, would be if the isolated Creekside pathway plans for the Galliard and Booker sites were linked to a new section of Creekside  pathway running south from the Halfpenny Hatch Bridge on the east (Greenwich)  bank of the Creek, along the edge of the Thames Water Pumping Station site.  With careful attention to ensuring the security of the working Pumping Station site, this new north - south pathway could finally open up the Creek and give the newly emerging Creekside community the kind of public amenity it has long been promised.  It could also be linked to Brookmill Park, making the Halfpenny Hatch bridge the northern starting point of the Ravensbourne Trail.

And what makes all this feasible is the Thames Tideway Tunnel work along this stretch of the Creek,  as the Greenwich element of the project is built over the next two years.  This exact section of Creekside is being taken apart as we speak by the Tideway works.  After which, the site will be restored.  The planning agreements already reached  between Tideway and Royal Greenwich do not call for any planning gain.  If they go ahead as planned, the Creek will be returned to its present shut off state.  There will be no improvements to public access, no unlocking of the Creek's historical and environmental treasures, no significant legacy for the Creekside community.

 The alternative is to use this golden opportunity to amend the post-construction plans to open up the key section of a new north-south pathway.  And to use the pathway to provide the public with properly interpreted access to the history and environment of the Creek (perhaps finally finding a use for at least part of the Grade 1 listed Coal Sheds, the hidden gems on the Thames Water site).  Given the vast scale of the Tideway project, the additional costs would be minimal.  Planning agreements have been reached, and the opportunity to enforce Section 106 requirements has passed.  But if all the interested parties could, on a voluntary basis, agree an alternative legacy plan  - not as a planning requirement, but as a significant public good - then the Tideway Tunnel could still leave the Creek, and the wider Greenwich and Lewisham communities,  with an impressive legacy.

 4.  Moving forward - but how?.  Funding will need to be found.  But for once the real challenge is finding a way to bring the very disparate group of potential stakeholders together.  Central to realising the dream of a new north-south Creekside pathway are Tideway and Thames Tunnel East, as contractors, and Thames Water, as owners and operators of the Greenwich Pumping Station site. For Thames Water, safeguarding  security will be a key issue. Royal Greenwich are the planning authority for the east bank of the Creek, as Lewisham are for much of the west bank.  There is potential for the proposed opening up of the Creek to link productively with existing Greenwich and Lewisham Green Space and tourism initiatives (especially the Historic Greenwich World Heritage Site, and the Ravensbourne Trail).  The Creekside Discovery Centre and Creekside Educational Trust already play a key role in developing public awareness of Creekside environment, history and amenities. They have approached some existing and new developers of Creekside sites. The current owners of the Skillion /  Merryweather,  and the Booker sites are obviously important here.   

Looking further afield, Greenwich University have ongoing programmes which build on the past, present and future of their immediate neighbourhood.  Local amenity groups such as the Greenwich Society, the Greenwich Industrial History Society and the Ashburnham Triangle Association have also regularly engaged with the Creek's past, present and future. There will be potentially interested development agencies. And individual elected representatives have roles to play, from Greenwich and Lewisham MP's to local councillors.  In particular, Greenwich Councillor Mehboob Khan is already involved as chair of the Community Liaison Working Group for Tideway East's Greenwich and Deptford projects.  One local body with a proven record of unlocking heritage sites is the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust. 

5. Conclusion. The current Tideway Thames Tunnel works on the Thames Water Pumping Station site over the next two years represent a golden opportunity for dramatically improving Creekside amenities. Given the complex web of stakeholders, what is lacking is an obvious individual or body to take overall responsibility for seizing  this opportunity.  Creative Process's 2009 Creekside Charrette is one model.  I hope this paper will re-start a process that ends by finally  unlocking the Creek to the public.

Mick Delap,
Ashburnham Triangle, Greenwich, April 2017

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