Sunday 29 April 2018

East Greenwich Gas Holder - info sheet


This is a brief information sheet about the holder plus information on the current demolition plans.

Please support the petition  

(There are other descriptions of the holder further down the blog - but - sorry - I have managed to mess up the best one ) 

Biggest gas holder in Europe - an exceptional structure built to revolutionary principles - listing now refused - and scheduled for demolition - ideas for reuse apparently not considered


The gas industry in South London, beginning around 1820, had developed as a chaos of small competing private companies. Regulation was imposed on them by governments from the 1870s. This resulted in the area being dominated by Livesey’s South Metropolitan Company from the Old Kent Road. East Greenwich works was built in the 1880s as the out-of-town mega works which the government wanted to be built but it was also a show place for Livesey’s ideals and standards. Only perfection was good enough for South Met.!


A gas holder is like a cup turned upside down in a saucer which holds a pool of water. The cup is built in a tier of sections which can lift and fall according to the amount of gas in it. This one was built on George Livesey's revolutionary cylindrical shell principle which treats it as a single huge cylinder. There are many other revolutionary aspects to the design and materials and while the structure appears to be simple it is really very complex and different from the older, often highly decorative, holders.

It is far taller than would normally be expected. It has four ‘lifts’ which rise upwards and is the first holder ever built to this size. It rises to about 180 feet and holds 8.2 million cubic feet of gas. The great height of construction was made possible by new materials and it effected a great saving in cost which had a huge subsequent effect. It is it more efficient and lighter.  Costs of storage were also less in terms of land use and labour - and workers could be encouraged to go to church on Sundays even though Sunday dinners had to be cooked.

The holder is free of all decoration and it sets a new bench-mark for gasholder design of which it is a refinement in size and sophistication and an exploitation of the beauty of pure structural form. Ideas then being embodied in industrial and domestic design as the modern movement.


Some years ago English Heritage commissioned a report on London holders.  Very recently this report has been revisited and as a result an Old Kent Road holder has been listed and East Greenwich No.1 has not.

The holder has (April 2018) been given consent to demolition. Last year the Council drew up a planning brief for the site in which they said Proposals should respect and respond to the industrial character of the area as a means of relating new development to the local context. In particular, development should build on the heritage value of the gas holder to enhance the character and distinctiveness of the area.”  Following this an application was made for immunity to listings order – which does not get general consultation, although Greenwich Industrial History Society was aware of it and made a submission.  But the order was granted meaning that it could be demolished without a planning application

I am putting below an extract about the legal position by Matt Pennycook MP - which his consent (thank you Matt) - because it is a particularly clear and straightforward explanation

Crucially, the application SGN plc submitted was not a standard planning application but a ‘prior approval’ application. Securing prior approval allows developers to use permitted development rights i.e. the right to make changes without the need to apply for planning permission from the local planning authority. Local planning authorities have only 28 days to determine such applications (if they do not, there is a default in favour of grating permission). Local councillors who object cannot call such applications in, and, in the case of an application to demolish a structure, the local planning authority can only consider the method of demolition, not the principle of whether or not it should take place. In the case of the gasholder, our Council could scrutinise the method of demolition and they did just that, refusing SGN plc’s first prior approval application, but could not refuse the prior notification on the grounds that they would like to see some or all of the gasholder structure to be retained. It’s a frustrating situation, but one that is a world away from the impression created in some recent reports suggesting the Council has backed the demolition of the gasholder. 
As things stand, the granting of prior approval means that there is nothing that can be done to prevent the gasholder being lost should SGN plc wish to proceed with a demolition. However, the Council will continue to make efforts to reach out to SGN plc in the hope that the site owner will agree to at least begin a discussion about the heritage value of the gasholder and the range of creative proposals that could be brought forward to retain and make use of it. I very much hope they are successful
Matt Pennycook

I have also written to planners and influentual people asking them to get the planners to write more detailed letters to residents in cases like this where it is not a straightfordward planning application,. Residents who had raised objections just got a two line letter saying - the first time that it had not been given consent for demolition, and then - the second time that it had.  They deserved to be told what the actual situation was.  Would be grateful for backing for this.

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