Saturday, October 22, 2016

Inconsiderate contractors?

If you were kept awake last night by the roadworks on Deptford Church Street you will find no comfort in the fact that major works in this area are set to continue for many years.

These particular works, commissioned by Thames Water for their super sewer project, could be a taste of what is to come on the western side of the Crossfields estate. And, of course, works on the eastern side, along the Creek have been underway for quite some time and are also resulting in considerable noise, dust, and traffic and parking problems. The combined effect is to make a living here a lot less comfortable.

As other contributors to this blog have said, it is important that you do complain if you are disturbed both to the operator and to the council. It may make no practical impact in the short term but it does help us argue for better protection for residents in future and to assists our campaign to improve liveability in this area.

It may be some small comfort to know that the Thames Water 24 hour helpdesk phone line is actually staffed 24 hours a day. If you are inconvenienced by the works going on along Deptford Church Street I do recommend you ring them and make sure you log a formal complaint. They do respond even in the middle of the night. Last night they were able to establish by about half past midnight that the works would continue for up to another two hours which proved to be correct, though the news was of no particular comfort to anybody. 

Work around Coffey Street, which mainly consists of drilling boreholes and moving utilities, continues into November.

If you want to complain about Thames Tideway or find out more about what's going on then the telephone number of the 24-hour helpline is 08000 30 80 80 or you can email them at Copy in the council at

And look out for their community liaison working group meeting on 28 November. Details from

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, September 9, 2016

Open House London : the Lenox Project at the Master Shipwright's House

Master Shipwright's House viewed from the river garden

The Master Shipwright's House opens its doors this weekend for London Open House. Joint hosts The Lenox Project have invited a team of re-enactors to bring a flavour of the period when the building was part of Deptford's Royal Naval Dockyard. The original Lenox was launched in 1678; the Grade II listed house was built later in 1708 on the site of an earlier building. A large wall separates the house and gardens from the old dockyard site now known as Convoys Wharf, where the only other surviving above-ground building from the time of the dockyard is the Olympia Shed (viewable from the site entrance on Princes Street – or from the river!).

The Lenox at Greenwich by Richard Endsor

You'll be able to visit selected rooms inside the house, enjoy views of the river, watch the re-enactors demonstrate how life was lived at the time (including the loading and firing of period firearms and cannon), catch up with the Lenox Project's progress and meet the historian who's documented the extensive research on which the project is based. On Saturday you may also chance to see the Thames Sailing Barge Parade making its way from Tower Bridge to West India Dock or catch a glimpse of a tall ship (part of Sail Greenwich 2016).

17th & 18th September (Saturday 10.30am–5pm, Sunday 10am-2pm)
Master Shipwrights House, Watergate Street SE8
No booking required, entry is free but, as with all the more popular Open House listings, there may be queues.

Also in the vicinity on Saturday, The Lenox Project's sister project Sayes Court Garden CIC will be running a (briskly paced) walking tour at 2pm, in association with the Landscape Institute. The tour starts at Sayes Court Garden in Grove Street SE8 3LN, the only surviving part of John Evelyn's original garden which inspired the creation of the National Trust, as well as modern ideas about sustainability and horticulture. Booking required.

For other places to visit in Lewisham go to the Open House London website.

The Deptford Take Back

The sun is supposed to make an appearance on Sunday when Squeeze take the stage at On Blackheath – but the weather forecast is often wrong, so we're hoping the rain holds off for this local event on Saturday, which doesn't have Primal Scream playing (equally likely to get rained on up on Blackheath) but is free to get in. This may be the last chance to enjoy the beautiful Tidemill Garden before the Council and its developer partners finally close it down to build on it ! * 

Saturday 10 September, 11am–9pm
Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, Reginald Road SE8 4RS
A FREE family friendly afternoon and evening packed with activities for kids, live music from local artists, art workshops, local films and food. Come and explore the garden!

ALL DAY 11am–9m Food and drink, arts & crafts workshops, face painting and games
2pm–3pm Samba percussion workshop and carnival procession
2pm–6pm Live music from local bands
3pm–3.30pm Vietnamese Fan Dance
4pm–5pm Street Dance Workshop
6pm–9pm Open Mic DJ sets

The emphasis is on fun, but festivities will also contain a serious side and begin at midday with The Deptford Debates – discussing all the changes taking place in Deptford and how local people can have a voice. Deptford Neighbourhood Action (DNA), a group of locals who are developing a Neighbourhood Plan to benefit the community rather than the usual vested interests, will also be holding their AGM at some point between 12 and 3pm and welcome new members.

* The plans for the new Tidemill development propose to deliver only 6% affordable housing (with 176 out of 210 homes being luxury private housing) by demolishing a council block (2-30A Reginald Road for which there is little support from its 16 tenants) and the schoolkeeper's house next to the old school, as well as destroying the existing Tidemill Garden by removing 73 trees and building over it, and removing all green space in Reginald Road until construction is complete. The proposal is due to be decided by Lewisham's Strategic Planning Committee on 29 September. Use the search facility on this blog for previous posts on Tidemill and/or check out this post about the developer's Viability Assessment by the Deptford Dame.

A joint event organised by Deptford Neighbourhood Action, The Deptford People's Project, The Deptford Debates, Evelyn Community Revival in Deptford SE8 and Trade Deptford.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Tiling gets done after six months of waiting

Work finally started three weeks ago at Castell House to replace the stairwell tiles which were removed in late January 2016. It was a slow start as someone went round with some cement, filling in the areas that had been hacked out by MITIE workers at the beginning of the year.

This seemed an odd thing to do because if the work followed the same procedure as other stairwells, there would be no room for the specially made 6mm deep tiles that were supposed to replace the hacked out heritage tiles.

The following week, someone went round with some white gunk, but left the job unfinished.

Finally this week new tiles were added. They were the same tiles that had just gone up on Farrer's walls – a much thinner and smaller tile not at all like the originals. That explained why the hacked off areas needed to be filled in before the new tiles were added.

It turned out that the Major Works team had failed to get a match for the original yellow heritage tiles. Farrer's block rep was told, "...there have been numerous attempts to gain approval from planning and conservation around the matching of tiles. A number of suppliers provided a good initial match but then failed to replicate this in bulk. There has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with different sample boards and test patches onsite which eventually led to an approved product last week."

They could not find a match at all for the coving tiles – so Farrer got bright yellow ones and Castell now has white ones.

And because the tiles are a few millimetres smaller than the old ones, the grouting is three times as wide.

The tile work on the three stairwells at Wilshaw House (which has the same green tiles as Holden) wasn't completed until June. Cremer House residents had to wait until April for their slightly darker green tiles on their single stairwell. Luckily for Browne House, their blue tiles (quite a difficult colour match) were deemed not to need replacing. Finch and Congers do not have tiled stairwells, so escaped the months of waiting.

After six months of waiting, Castell and Farrer are the last blocks to get this work completed. It's also the last task in the Decent Homes programme that began in August 2014. 'Snagging' of all the work in the programme has still yet to take place. Hopefully that will include touching up the previously redcorated walls after tiling...

The tiling omnishambles...

When Crossfields residents first received an estimate for Major Works in June 2014, the schedule of works included the following task, specified by surveyors Bailey Garner:

431007: Wall Tiles: Clean off walls, fix new ne 152x152x6mm glazed ceramic wall tiles to splashback and cills with adhesive, grout, edge strips, cutting, hack off glazed wall tiling, making good, remove spoil. Staircase wall tiling – allowance to repair any missing areas prior to decoration. £37.12 per sqm. Quantity: 30.

Residents queried the item since the proposed work was cosmetic and had nothing to do with the aims of Decent Homes (to keep residents warm, safe and dry) for which government funding had been granted. We wanted a solution to the stairs themselves – to have them cleaned and possibly repainted because they are spectacularly filthy (but the Major Works team had other ideas and the stair problem remains unresolved). 

The confusing 'task item' above refers to 'missing areas' – of which there were only a very small number – where the council had failed to replace broken tiles in the past and just filled them in with cement, such as this:

But MITIE, always on the look out to make more money, and the Lewisham Homes project team, who had a shortfall in project spending, decided to replace tiles that were damaged – such as these:

They also wanted to include tiles that had small pits in them where they'd been knocked by furniture removals over several decades. Bailey Garner suggested the smaller holes could be made good with a filler dyed to match the tile, but this idea was never adopted.

(These pitted tiles were never replaced)
Over the Christmas period 2015-16, tiles were identified for replacement by the MITIE Contracts Manager, who went round the blocks with a can of yellow spray. His markings were highly arbitrary; some quite damaged tiles were not marked; others with only tiny pits were included while right next to them others with similar pits and marks were not.

Block reps were then told how many tiles would be replaced in their blocks. The Holden House rep was told that 96 tiles would be required across Holden's three stairwells. But already, a far greater number than this had been yellow-marked.

On 11th January 2016, workers began hacking out the tiles at Holden. At first, only the tiles themselves were removed, and MITIE's workers were able to remove a tile without damaging too many of the others around it. But behind the 6mm thick heritage tiles was half an inch of 80-year-old tile adhesive that was very solidly stuck to the wall behind.

If none of the adhesive layer was removed, only a very thin layer of new adhesive could be applied to fix any new tiles – which had been specified to the exact size and thickness of the old tiles (6mm). These could not be bought off the shelf and had to be specially made.

But the workers had not been told to hack off the old adhesive. It became clear that there was no methodology behind the task. When this was pointed out to the Major Works project manager in an email, she did not reply.

But as tile removal progressed, the old tile adhesive began to be hacked out as well – in a very uneven fashion with the work proving extremely noisy and difficult. As more force needed to be applied, the greater was the collateral damage.

We have added a yellow overlay to show the tiles that had been marked for removal.

After three days of hacking out, one stairwell alone had had about 82 tiles removed, already 86% of the estimated tile replacement for the whole block. At that rate, it was likely that over 250 new tiles would have to be fitted – much more than twice the original estimate.

So how many 'specially' manufactured tiles had been ordered? We had been told that this work had already been delayed by several months because the new tiles took a long time to make. It seemed likely that a contingency might be allowed, but it was going to have to be seriously large contingency to account for collateral damage. As the hacking out job neared completion on the third stairwell at Holden, workers informed us they'd been told by the site foreman not to bother hacking out some of the yellow-marked tiles. Failing to monitor progress as the work went on, MITIE's site foreman had finally realised the job had already expanded way beyond original estimates.

At the end of January, 6mm thick replacement tiles began to go up in the first stairwell at Holden. There obviously weren't enough tiles ordered to complete the other two stairwells in the block; these were not re-tiled until the end of March.

The new tiles are not an exact match for the old ones. But that's of little concern compared to the number of undamaged tiles that had to be replaced, whilst a lot of badly pitted ones remain. This is especially evident at the stairwell entrances, which have the most traffic, and which are the first tiles one sees when entering the block.

The old tiles have never been cleaned, and the old grouting has not been refreshed and is still filthy. As are the stairs themselves. And the quarry tiles on the landings, which suffered quite a battering during the other works, have never been properly cleaned either. Here's another 'damaged' bit of tiling that never got replaced, whilst other perfectly good tiles were damaged in the hacking out process:

So, to recap:

• to begin with, the surveyors Bailey Garner specified replacement of 'missing' tiles
• they specified the tile size and depth to match the original tiles (6mm thick)
• MITIE expanded the job to replace other 'damaged' tiles
• MITIE didn't realise their workers would need to hack out half an inch of 80 year old adhesive to allow fitting of the 6mm thick tiles
• The job became harder, noisier, took longer and lots of good tiles were damaged
• The tiles were hard to match and took months to make

And the pièce de résistance...
• When 6mm thick yellow tiles could not be made to match, much thinner and smaller tiles were used in five stairwells over three blocks
• these did not require all the extra hacking out that took place six months earlier that had damaged so many perfectly good tiles and increased the number of tiles that needed replacing.

On a final note, during the months of waiting to have the tiling work completed, block reps could get no sense from the Major Works project manager – as one block rep commented:   

"She was totally unreasonable and defensive, as usual, and wouldn't tell me anything useful about how the final amounts/costs for the tiling process would be calculated for the bill except this: once the work is complete she will look at what's been done, look at the original number of tiles identified in the walkabouts as needing replacement and then "make a recommendation" to LH as to what the final cost should be.

"She wouldn't tell me anything about the basis on which this recommendation would be made, how any calculations would be made etc. and said I was asking for confidential information when I asked for these details.  She also said if I wanted to know more I should 'get a job at Lewisham Homes and then she'd be at liberty to talk to me about it'!!!!"

Such an exchange was typical of communication between residents and the Major Works project manager throughout the external works stages of the Decent Homes programme...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Lewisham loves trees (except when they're in Deptford)

The Council loves trees

At the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on 29th June, there was an enthusiastic response and approval given to a Biodiversity Action Plan entitled 'A Natural Renaissance for Lewisham'. This was number 13 on the agenda and its priorities emphasised already existing Core Strategies, eg protect all open space including Metropolitan Open Land; protect sites of importance for nature conservation; support and promote local biodiversity; require green roofs and walls where appropriate; implement a Street Tree programme, etc etc.

Point 6.4 of the report states, "Street trees play an important role in London's environment, providing multiple physical and aesthetic benefits. London's street trees principle value is to reducing the impact of climate change on the capital. Trees increase shading, and cooling, they improve street environments and reduce noise and dust from road traffic. Crucially, they also mop up carbon emissions."

Point 6.5 points out the challenges of introducing new trees (for instance, where underground utilities get in the way), but despite this "the Council seeks to maintain, protect and increase the number and quality of trees in the borough through various measures". Point 6.7 acknowledges this is sometimes not possible due to new developments, but "the majority of planning applications achieve a positive biodiversity enhancement from onsite interventions that exceed what existed prior to development."

That sounds like they've got a handle on this tree thing, doesn't it. Apparently "Lewisham's trees are part of what makes the borough so green compared to many other parts of London". Yes, maybe in Brockley and leafy Catford (where there is healthy opposition to the redevelopment of the greyhound track). But not in Deptford, where provision of new (mostly luxury) housing at the expense of trees appears to be much more important than a biodiverse environment, even in Council-led proposals. The Tidemill site is an obvious example.

The Council couldn't care less about trees

After the Mayor and Cabinet had all patted themselves on the back for having such a lovely green borough, they moved through Item 14 and on to Item 15: Disposal of Land at Creekside Part 1.

The accompanying report proposed the "disposal" of Council-owned land on Deptford Church Street/Creekside to Bluecroft Creekside Ltd in return for new commercial space in the development to be owned leased by the Council. It sought authority "to declare the site surplus".

The strip of greenery in question backs onto Crossfields Estate, and can presently only be accessed via the estate. It has long been neglected by the Council and is much overgrown, though has in the past been tamed by some young residents who created a BMX run. An abundance of wildlife exists in the thicket of mature trees and overgrown shrubs. The trees line the road on the approach to the roundabout, reducing the noise and dust from the traffic – and mopping up the carbon emissions.

View of the 'surplus' green area from Reginald Road by the Birds Nest roundabout

Click to enlarge
The report mentioned other options (ie selling the land, doing nothing, or buying the Bluecroft site and building on both plots either on its own or with a partner), but advocated the arrangement described above. Apparently everything was consistent with Lewisham's Sustainable Community Strategy 2008-2020:

• Clean Green Liveable – where people live in high quality housing and can care for and enjoy the environment
• Dynamic and prosperous – where people are part of vibrant communities and town centres, well connected to London and beyond

... and with the Council's Community Strategy:

• Strengthening the local economy – gaining resources to regenerate key localities, strengthen employment skills and promote public transport
• Clean, green and liveable – improving environmental management, the cleanliness and care for roads and pavements and promoting a sustainable environment

In addition, the Core Strategy "has the objective to make provision for the completion of an additional 18,165 net new dwellings" [BUT] "This aims to exceed the London Plan target for the borough". [Why?] 

There's nothing in the report that relates specifically to the local residents and people, other than reference to bland policy statements. This is how our lives are shaped – by a remote elite in Catford.

The "commercially sensitive issues around the terms of disposal" were discussed in secret and subsequently approved. Two of the cabinet members backing it are our local councillors, Joe Dromey and Paul Maslin. Perhaps they can explain to their constituents the thinking behind it.

Will the Council's involvement in the Bluecroft scheme help mitigate its potential worst aspects? Could the exchange not have been for accessible social housing instead of commercial space?
Will the commercial space be used to house creative businesses or will it be retail?
Is their control of commercial space in a Council-designated Creative Employment Zone the only way they can ensure that such an employment zone policy is realised (because the other proposed ground floor commercial spaces at the Faircharm and Kent Wharf developments on Creekside will be too expensive for most creative businesses?), ie, will creative space be subsidised?
How much of the Bluecroft development will be genuinely affordable? 
How many more HGVs and cement mixers will be added to our roads?
Does this deal ensure that the development includes an equal amount of green space, ie NO net loss of green space?

No one was aware of the proposal before it came up in Mayor & Cabinet. In their concern for the potential loss of more green space in the area, Deptford Neighbourhood Action (DNA) had previously asked local councillors and officers repeated specific questions about the site but had had no response. The Chair of DNA discovered it was on the agenda at the last minute and attended the meeting, but her request for public consultation fell on deaf ears.

Citing the numerous empty ground floor commercial premises on nearly all the new builds in the area, DNA believe the council will be unlikely to generate ongoing revenue from any commercial space on the site in return for their "gift to Bluecroft". If the Council wants 'planning gain' they'd do better to have accessible social housing there.

Bluecroft could now build up to the boundary of Crossfields, marked by this fence.
Access to the strip via Crossfields
Crossfields Residents Association received a query from officers in charge of the Tidemill redevelopment as to their thoughts on allocating the land to the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden project as a temporary alternative to the school grounds they will soon be forced to vacate. The offer was not made to OTWG however. It is also part of the Creekside Conservation Zone, but as we have seen in the Tidemill development (where conservation assets have been appropriated into Council-led plans), this means very little – a Supplementary Planning Document, which might have protected the zone and its residents, was never drawn up. 

We wrote about Bluecroft in November 2014, when they had just acquired the MOT Centre at No.1 Creekside and planned 150 flats on the tiny site. With this 'gift' from Lewisham, they now have a larger plot to build in – enough to put up a tower. Locals are now worried that adjacent land (the yard behind the Birds Nest and the building next to the MOT Centre, shown in grey in the map below) may also be sold to Bluecroft by its owner (who also owns the Big Red) – creating an even bigger 'opportunity' for Bluecroft.

Bluecroft own the blue bit; the green denotes present green areas; the thick green line indicates the Conservation Zone; the red hatched area on the left shows part of the Tidemill development which wants to use use the green amenity south of Frankham House as a site compound during construction – after which it will be landscaped just as building starts on the opposite side of the dual carriageway, resulting in a net loss of green space.

Locals also worry that the Council will sell off Sue Godfrey Nature Park, an important site of nature conservation opposite the Laban and Bellway Homes' building site – such is the feeling that the Council don't care very much for Deptford and would be happy to see it turn into a concrete jungle like Lewisham Gateway.

Meanwhle, the canyonisation of the Creek continues, from Fairview Homes at Hope Wharf, Bellway Homes at Sun Wharf, Essential Living at Creek bridge, not to mention another Council 'deal' with developer Kitewood at Thanet Wharf etc etc. No trees will be harmed in the building out of these brownfield sites as none presently exist; but all are very dense developments and only a tiny number of new trees might be planted – in line with Lewisham's view that "the majority of planning applications achieve a positive biodiversity enhancement from onsite interventions that exceed what existed prior to development." 

The Council will always say it can do little to mitigate market forces, but this does not excuse reductions in existing green space as a result of projects that they themselves are involved with. Bluecroft approached the Council to acquire the land at Church Street for a mixed use development; the outcome could have been different if the Council was not trying to exceed the requirement for new homes (most of which will not be affordable) by allowing building on every spare inch of space.

Perhaps the Mayor's cabinet should reflect on the work of Sayes Court Garden CIC, the community project that won space on Convoys Wharf (along with The Lenox Project) and which both Mayors (London and Lewisham) supported. The project celebrates John Evelyn, an influential proponent of the idea of planting trees to clean the air, establishing sustainable resources and giving people access to nature and heritage (the origins of the National Trust).

In other words, the ideas contained in Lewisham's Biodiversity Action Plan had their roots in Deptford, but are at odds with what Lewisham wants to see happen here. Why else are they so complicit in getting rid of what little green space we have?

NB Edited 17 July 2016.