Last week, I took a look at the Deptford Update exhibition on at the APT gallery on Creekside. It was an interesting showcase of various development schemes and ideas planned for Deptford and surrounding areas.
But what made it interesting was also its weakness – it was hard to tell what was a fantasy scheme and what was actually happening. That little plan to revamp Deptford Church Street – dream or reality? And why was New Cross constantly referred to as “North Lewisham”?
A few days later, I popped into Convoys Wharf, to see the latest on the much-delayed scheme there. Once News International’s newsprint depot, it’s now an eerie place, with smashed-up offices and warehouses surrounded by weeds. It’s easy to imagine it in some gangster movie, with vicious interrogations taking place in these echoey spaces.
One of them played host to a small exhbition about Hutchison Whampoa’s plans for the site, which has lain empty for a decade.
In between fixing up a little electric heater, the representative talked a good talk about it opening up to the surrounding communities, with “think Camden, Covent Garden, Spitalfields” attached to plans for the listed Olympia Warehouse in the middle of the site.
But a gentleman from the Greenwich Society was vexed that the new plans still will not allow the public complete access to the Deptford waterfront – apparently, down to part of the site having to be designated as a working wharf and possible access issues around the Master Shipwright’s House. At least the wonderful Dog & Bell pub might benefit from a few more passers-by.
How people are expected to get to and from the site also remained vague – there was some talk of diverting the 199 bus to serve the site, while the cross-Greenwich 129 is supposed to be extended there and onto Peckham eventually (in fact, the buses already have “129 via South Bermondsey” blinds).
But Convoys is surrounded by tiny residential streets, and how 2,318 car parking spaces fit in here is a mystery. It reminds me of the ill-concieved Lovells Wharf development now rising up in Greenwich. It’s supposed to be easy to walk to Convoys from Deptford station, up the high street and New King Street, but the latter will presumably need a serious revamp.
It’s an interesting scheme that could completely revolutionise riverside Deptford – or could stick out like a sore thumb. I found myself in Imperial Wharf, Chelsea, on Saturday – a similar riverside redevelopment – and it was eerily quiet, a lifeless quarter of the kind Convoys’ developers will be hoping to avoid. Deptford Dame went to an earlier exhibition that also featured a tour of the site, and has some thoughts on Convoys Wharf.
Deptford Update, Convoyss, and a the Dame’s thoughts on Creekside Village got me thinking about the way redevelopment is discussed, talked about, and promoted in Deptford. Some of the Deptford Update schemes included spots on the Greenwich side of the creek, which made me think further about the differences between the two areas.
Deptford and Greenwich are separated by a creek, but in reality there’s a gulf in attitudes between the two places. This division doesn’t do either district any good, to be honest. It’s complicated by a further division – between Lewisham and Greenwich boroughs – which runs through Deptford, meaning neither authority has an incentive to treat the area as a single whole.
For years, Deptford had a reputation as a place you didn’t want to go to, but the past decade or so has seen the growth of a thriving artistic community in SE8, assisted by backing from Lewisham Council and other bodies. Creekside’s never going to be the world’s most beautiful street, but in those old industrial buildings there’s an outward-looking, forward-thinking mentality that’s almost infectious. It draws people in, and exhibitions like Deptford Update are a recognition that there’s a wider community that needs to get involved in the area’s future.
Cross the creek into Greenwich, though, and the attitude’s inverted. Greenwich Hospital has a tight grip on the market area, Greenwich Council is more introverted than its neighbour, and there’s little sense of solidarity between local people and local traders. Campaigns are fought to preserve heritage (such as the market) but there’s little public discussion of what’s planned for the area, with organisations like the Greenwich Society often being consulted instead of, or ahead of, the wider public.
Few people were aware of the plans for the National Maritime Museum’s Sammy Ofer wing until the earth-movers rolled in (above) – SE7-based blogger Dave Peeps, who writes brilliantly about Charlton Athletic, thought it was the start of work for the Olympics. How many people know much about Greenwich University’s plans for the Stockwell Street market site, still lying empty with barely a murmur of complaint?
There’s little interaction between the two places. For Greenwich people, Deptford’s usually somewhere passed through on the way to somewhere else, with the high street being ignored. And why would Deptford people, with a damn good high street on their doorstep, need to come to Greenwich with its crap pubs and tourists? Creek Bridge is a miserable way to cross from one place to the other, while the wonderful millennium innovation that was the Ha’penny Hatch (the only cross-boundary project I can think of, apart from the largely-forgotten about heritage walk from the Cutty Sark to Deptford Bridge) dispatches Greenwich-bound walkers in pedestrian-unfriendly Norman Road, an industrial zone surrounded by choking traffic. Two places so close, yet facing in different directions.
Yet there’s much both places can learn from each other. Greenwich desperately needs an injection of the artistic spirit that is behind Deptford’s rebirth. The temporary “guerilla gallery” in Greenwich Market is just what’s needed to liven up central Greenwich. The team behind it are hoping Greenwich Hospital will let them stay on beyond Christmas Eve. I hope they do. The market itself could be a brilliant showcase for local artists, and encouraging creative industries to come to Greenwich town centre should create new links between the two areas. And those with responsibility for the town centre (Greenwich Hospital, the council, the university, the National Maritime Museum) need to be seen to be working more closely, and with local people, instead of imposing things on them.
And Deptford can learn about keeping hold of its heritage in the face of pressure from developers – sites like St Nicholas’s church and the remains of the dockyard are tucked away or hidden from view, and unsympathetic development threatens to blight the area.
This isn’t about obssessing over old buildings – the Laban centre looked amazing on its own by the creek, but now looks decidedly odd with the Creekside Village monolith towering over it. Heaven knows what it’ll be like when the development – cheekily called “Greenwich Creekside” on Creek Road billboards – is finished and it ends up in the shadows of its glass towers. And Creekside Village – together with whatever ends up appearing on the between the Thames and the Greenwich side of the creek – will have a massive effect on both town centres.
Deptford and Greenwich have faced away from each other for too long. I’d suggest it’s now time for people and planners to take a serious look at the two town centres and work out how to bring them closer together. Not just bringing Deptford’s high street and creekside together, or by keeping the Thames walkway intact. But in making it as easy and safe as possible to walk or cycle from Deptford to Greenwich markets, by promoting Greenwich as a home for creative business and in securing Deptford’s heritage, and in improving the “no man’s land” around the creek, both places will only benefit. Otherwise, Greenwich risks tourist-trap stagnation, and Deptford risks losing its down-to-earth character.
These are just some rambling thoughts, of course. But I’d be interested to know what you think.