A couple of weeks ago, John Tyson (prospective parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark) and I met Mark Brearley at his factory just off the Old Kent Road. Last year, Mark set up Vital OKR, an association of the businesses along the road. There are over 1,000 businesses in the area, giving work to around 11,000 people, but they are under threat from Southwark Council’s draft ‘Area Action Plan’.
The businesses are incredibly diverse. Some of them, like the tyre and vehicle repair shops, will be familiar from a casual walk along the road. But all kinds of extraordinary businesses are tucked away in the light industrial spaces just off the main road: furniture and prop makers, cafe proprietors, hydraulic engineers, theatrical chandlers, art shippers, metalworkers, picture framers, building contractors, architects, product designers and photographers. There are companies that hire out coaches and companies that hire out projection equipment.
The hats worn by Yeoman Warders in the Tower of London are produced in Bermondsey, near the Old Kent Road, by Royal Warrant holder Patey Hats. And not to forget Mark’s own Kaymet factory which has been producing metal trays in south London since 1947. Altogether, the Old Kent Road is a highly productive and fast-growing economy.
But all this is under threat if Southwark Council’s draft ‘Area Action Plan’ for the Old Kent Road is implemented without a radical rethink. The plan as it stands would see businesses replaced with dense blocks of flats, creating a dormitory district instead of a vibrant high street offering a mix of local jobs.
Why does it matter so much that these businesses remain a part of our city, instead of being pushed out? Take printing as an example. The 17 volume printers in the area employ 400 people. They supply everything from reports to Parliament to the restaurant menus pushed through your door. That demand is not going to disappear. If the printing was done instead somewhere else – in Maidstone, say – we’d lose local jobs and instead see even more delivery vans crawling into the city along the Old Kent Road, with all the congestion and pollution they bring.
The Green Party’s policies on planning are to ‘provide housing that is suitable for and affordable by local people as well as the land, infrastructure and facilities for work, social and cultural activities’. We want to see a mix of homes, shops, workplaces and leisure uses. That’s the pattern of development that best meets sustainable transport and energy objectives – imagine, for example, walking to work and using solar panels on flat roofed factories to generate energy for local homes. Above all, we’re in favour of empowering local communities to be genuinely involved in the development of local planning policy.
As a Green London Assembly member, Jenny Jones visited businesses on industrial estates around London and argued powerfully against the expulsion of local economies. Caroline Russell AM has also been on a walking tour of the Old Kent Road area with Mark Brearley and Gavin Weber (Weber Industries).
Southwark Council’s draft Area Action Plan threatens the jobs and diversity of the Old Kent Road, offering nothing in return but blocks of flats and mini supermarkets. It is essential that all local politicians understand just what is at stake and work to help this vibrant economy survive and grow.
Many of the Old Kent Road fabricators do bespoke work for architects, artists, theatre companies and start up companies. Their expertise and central location are highly valued by their clients. SeTwo make theatre sets and props with a 10 person team at their Verney Road premises.
Some excellent news from the London Borough of Southwark. The council has published a proposal for a traffic order stating: ‘Engines to be turned off when stationary in parking places, free parking places, loading bays and on waiting restrictions’
This reflects existing legislation* and will mean that the council’s own parking enforcement officers will be able to talk to drivers about turning off their engines when stopped.
At the moment, cycling up Portland Street on a typical weekday morning, I notice at least three or four vehicles parked with engines running. These include utilities companies, delivery companies and Southwark’s own vehicles. The proposal says:
This purpose of this scheme would be to prohibit vehicles from waiting with the engine running, regardless of whether the vehicle is attended, in all pay parking places, free parking places, loading bays and on all waiting restrictions on streets throughout the borough – and thereby reduce the environmental pollution caused by idling vehicles.
If made, the order would be enforced on-street by the Council’s Civil enforcement officers, using contravention code 63.
Southwark Green Party was very critical of the council’s recent Air Quality Strategy and Action Plan for its lack of ambition and of specific measures. We called for the Joint Enforcement Team (a team of community wardens and police officers) to enforce existing anti-idling law. So we welcome this proposal, and hope it will be backed up by:
training for Southwark Council fleet drivers
training for all sub-contractors to Southwark Council (e.g. Conway, Mears, Veolia)
public awareness campaigns
Drivers should be made aware of the law on idling, but more importantly they should know that they can save lives, prevent asthma attacks and save money by turning off engines when they stop. A useful FACTSHEET on idling produced by TfL and Cleaner Air for London gives figures and busts common myths like ‘I need to have the engine on to keep the battery charged’ . Air pollution has to be tackled in many different ways. This is part of the answer.
*Leaving your engine running while stopped on a public road is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. And the Highway Code states: ‘You must not leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.’ (Rule 123). The fixed-penalty fine is £20 (Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002).
Details of the traffic order can be downloaded here
I cycled for the first time in two months yesterday. I’ve been taking the bus and walking, following an unfortunate tumble on Blackfriars Road that resulted in a broken collarbone.
It’s been nice to rediscover the pleasure of reading novels on the bus, or of walking through the mazy alleys of the City. But yesterday I picked up my bike at Waterloo and cycled back to Dog Kennel Hill, along my usual back route.
I remembered why this is such a delightful way to travel. First of all, it’s quick – half the time I’d spent on the bus in the morning rush hour. And my bag is on the pannier rack, so I don’t notice the weight of books or food shopping. But best of all, I revisited places I never see from the bus.
Past the Stage Door of the Old Vic, past clusters of London South Bank University students standing and chatting in autumn sunshine on Keyworth Street. (The buses run along the parallel London Road, where the pavement is crowded with people waiting for buses and everyone is in a grumpy bustle.)
Past the building sites around Elephant with their chirpy slogans. Peculiar balconies like bay windows without glass have appeared on the block of flats being built at the corner of Rodney Road and Content Street – evoking Victorian mansion blocks, a kind of ‘facadism’ without an original building.
Instead of going straight down Portland Street, I make a quick diversion to the Walworth Road, for snacks supplies from Baldwin’s health food shop. A loop past the Newington Library, sadly still boarded up after the 2013 fire and I’m back heading south on Portland Street, past the almhouses and the place that sells parcel packaging and coffee – I always mean to stop there one morning. Past Nursery Row Park, East Street market and Faraday Gardens.
A sign on the Giraffe House at Burgess Park advertises collage sessions all week. I pop in to say hello. On the table in the centre, there is a huge, inviting heap of pages torn from magazines. On the walls, funny, inventive images of the future made by local children: superstars and chimeras and football pitches.
The meadow by the Burgess Park lime kiln is steeply banked, displaying a rich, messy variety, studded today with purple and gold. It’s always a joy to see, the colour almost unreal on a grey day.
Past Caspian Street allotments and Brunswick Park. On Wilson Road, a tree turning red – I stop to take a photo and catch the scent of winter jasmine hidden in a hedge.
Finally, I make it up Camberwell Grove, the steep climb made easier without rush hour drivers nudging my rear wheel – at the moment the road is closed at the railway bridge.
This little journey reminds me of the pleasure of crossing the city under your own steam. The route leads me past a whole alphabet of small personal landmarks. Once I’m on the bus home – especially if I’ve got a seat – I rarely feel like getting off to run an errand and having to wait for another bus. But on the bike I make all sorts of brief stops, say hello to friends, do some essential (or inessential) shopping … I remember how leafy the city is away from the main junctions, my route taking in four parks and avenues of huge plane trees.
Southwark Cyclists have been running a free Bike Train on Wednesday mornings to share this route with people who want to try cycling into central London (reducing to monthly services through the winter – the next one is on 16 November).
I first found the route described here on an LCC map showing the London Cycle Network: it reflects years of small improvements, dozens of interventions that start to make the city more ‘permeable’ to people on foot and on cycles while discouraging motor vehicles from rat-running down back streets. For example, Keyworth Street is closed to vehicles at one end; there is a 3 second advance signal for cyclists at the junction of Webber St and Blackfriars Road; and a light for cyclists to cross Newington Causeway (although it needs a few tweaks). There’s a lot more to do to make the route feel really inviting and safe (as Quietway 7) but on a sunny autumn afternoon, it was pretty nice. Cycle superhighways are very visible transformations – and I love the new segregated path from Oval over Vauxhall Bridge. But the best thing about cycling is that it’s not just about getting from A to B, but also B, C, D … X, Y and Z.
‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is generally good advice. But it’s at the small scale that high level policies are implemented, paving stone by paving stone. Things that seem like small decisions can have long-lasting effects on the way people feel and behave. So while national politics is in turmoil, a friend and I have been knocking on our neighbours’ doors to ask them about the shrubs and bricks they pass every day.
This photo shows a footpath running between Pytchley Road and Albrighton Road, on the East Dulwich Estate. It’s used by residents of the adjacent blocks, and also by parents and children heading to local primary schools, the East Dulwich Community Nursery and the Albrighton Community Centre. It’s a good way to avoid the noise and pollution of the main road, and offers the only step-free route up this part of the hill between Dog Kennel Hill and Bromar Road.
Southwark Council plans to demolish the large brick planter and replace it with four car parking spaces. Does this make any sense at a time when everyone wants to encourage walking instead of the use of private cars? What do Southwark Council’s policies say?
Strategic Policy 5 on Healthy, active lives of the Preferred Option of the New Southwark Plan states that ‘New policies for improving town centres, building schools, and providing the facilities for cycling and walking will address physical and mental health issues to improve the every day experiences of residents, workers and shoppers.’ Strategic Policy 6 Cleaner Greener Safer states that ‘Southwark will be a place where walking, cycling and public transport is the most convenient, safe and attractive way to move around. We will protect and improve our network of open spaces, trees and biodiverse habitats and green corridors that make places open and attractive.’
It’s good stuff. The council’s high level policies recognise the importance of greenery in tackling air pollution, unsustainable carbon consumption and public health problems. And yet in this small corner of the borough, council officers persist with a plan that flies in the face of those policies.
As residents, we’ve objected to this detail of the plan since it was first proposed in 2013. We’ve attended monthly Regeneration Project Team meetings, and made a deputation to the planning committee in 2013. As a result of our comments, the Planning department said that the plans must be revised to preserve step-free access through the courtyard (the original plans had replaced a sloping footpath with steps). But the revised plans still included new car parking spaces and footpaths that were a mere 1.2 metres wide at some points. This makes it hard for pedestrians to pass – if two people pushing buggies in opposite directions met, one would have to reverse back!
Image from a Scottish Government document on designing streets. The accompanying notes state: ‘In lightly used streets (such as those with a purely residential function), the minimum unobstructed width for pedestrians should generally be 2 m’.
Last month an amended plan was presented to us, increasing the footpath width to 1.8m. But it still narrows the footpath significantly and would force pedestrians to follow a tight ‘dogleg’ path round Melbreak House, creating a new blindspot. By reducing visibility and increasing the chance of conflict between pedestrians heading in opposite directions, it is likely to make walking here feel less pleasant and less safe at night.
The design also depends on demolishing a large brick planter containing shrubs. Air pollution is an acknowledged public health emergency in London. Trees and shrubs play a significant role in trapping particulates and taking them out of the air, as well as producing oxygen. We should be planting more, not cutting them down. Here, the proposed car parking spaces would back onto a children’s playground – an undesirable combination from the point of view both of physical safety and air pollution. Greenery also helps to absorb sound – an important consideration since blocks of flats can create hard ‘corridors’ that bounce and amplify street sounds. And replacing a large bed of shrubs with tarmac is contrary to all the current thinking on the need for sustainable urban drainage.
So what of the assumed demand for car parking? In this part of the borough in 2011, 36% of residents owned cars. Census figures show car ownership is falling across London. Our common space should not be designed only for the presumed needs of a minority: after all, every car owner also uses pavements and footpaths to get to their front door. Residents who own cars here would also be affected by the loss of space for pedestrians and the loss of greenery; they also have children who use the playground. Though there has been pressure on parking while Albrighton and Pytchley Roads have been closed off for building work, these nearby streets will offer plenty of spaces once they reopen.
Previously, there were no private car parking spaces at this entrance to the courtyard: a ‘deliveries/emergency access only’ entrance would ensure that delivery vans and emergency vehicles can park close to the residential blocks when needed.
So far, we’ve spoken to about half the residents in this courtyard. Everyone we’ve spoken to – including car owners – has signed our petition (below). We’re now waiting to see how the council officers responsible for New Homes and Regeneration will respond.
On balance, I think it’s worth sweating the small stuff here. After all, decisions about bricks and mortar, trees and public space are likely to last for a generation.
We, the undersigned, ask Southwark Council officers responsible for New Homes and Regeneration to change their current plans for Melbreak and Whaddon courtyard on the East Dulwich Estate. We urge them to follow the council’s own policies on walking, biodiversity and green spaces. These policies are meant to protect and improve the trees and shrubs around our homes and make sure that walking to school and shops is safe and convenient. We are asking for a new design that
a) keeps the flowerbed
b) keeps a wide pavement
c) keeps access for bin-trucks, deliveries and emergency vehicles only.
Ever wondered about the names of Calais Road, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill or Delft Way? Did you know that Camberwell had a thriving German population in the 19th century, supporting bakeries, a German church and visiting composers? Or that a community of French Huguenot refugees settled here? Have you spotted the Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Camberwell New Road? Ever bought Cypriot pastries in SE5 or French chocolate in SE15?
In June 2016, participants on a cycle ride led by Eleanor Margolies uncovered the European history of Camberwell and Peckham. They began under Peckham Arch, cycled to look at the mural of the ‘Camberwell Beauty’ butterfly (an immigrant from Scandinavia), visited the park that the French Huguenot Minet family donated to the people of Camberwell, looked at the remnants of grand mansions built by German residents (a portico now part of Ruskin Park; the Platanes, now student residences for King’s College London) and ended at the French chocolatier Melange on Maxted Road.
Some of the sites visited were described in a 2007 article for Camberwell Renewal.
So you’ve got a Cycle Superhighway, or a junction on the London Cycle Network with a separate signal for cyclists to help people safely bypass the Elephant and Castle roundabout (as was). But you can’t get across, even when the light is green.
The junction of Cycle Superhighway 7 with London Road is frequently blocked by stationary traffic when signals are showing a green light for cyclists and pedestrians to cross London Road. It’s inconvenient and dangerous. Pedestrians and cyclists who try to weave between the stopped buses and trucks can’t always be seen by drivers. The same problem occurs at the junction of Rockingham Street and Newington Causeway – but at this crossing there isn’t even any blue paint to alert drivers to the signalised crossing for cyclists. It seemed obvious that a yellow box indicating ‘keep the crossing clear’ would help alert drivers.
Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson took up the problem with TfL and the London Mayor. This post on the Southwark Cyclists website describes a year of trying to get answers…
Today I went to a public consultation event about Hadley Property Group’s plans to redevelop Champion Hill. There will be another chance to look at the plans on Saturday 27 February 11am-2pm, in the bar of the Dulwich Hamlet football club, if you’d like to see for yourself.
I am really keen to see proposals that will give the football club a sustainable future. I also understand the need to build more genuinely affordable homes. I don’t think these proposals will deliver either.
The plans would depend on the developers being given permission to build on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). Like Hampstead Heath, Green Dale Fields are designated as Metropolitan Open Land – this relates to open spaces used for leisure, recreation and sport, or important for nature conservation or habitat interest, for example. The London Plan states that ‘the strongest protection should be given to London’s Metropolitan Open Land and inappropriate development refused’.
Hadley’s representatives quibble that the community football pitches within Green Dale Fields are not ‘really’ MOL, because they are covered with astroturf. They claim that building a new stadium on the footprint of these pitches would have no impact on the views or wildlife in the surrounding open fields. A similar scheme (to move the stadium onto MOL and build a Homebase store on the site of the current stadium) was rejected by Southwark Council in 2003.
The planning settlement that produced the current stadium in 1992 also gave the local community a supermarket on an inappropriate ‘out of town’ scale, with a massive car park between shop and street, three five-a-side football pitches so crammed together that the ball from one game often ends up in the middle of the next, and the uninspiring St Francis Park, which is managed by Sainsburys. The design of all these elements could have been much better.
No one can deny that the previous owners of the football ground neglected Green Dale Fields and discouraged the public from using it. The tennis courts are completely overgrown and the community pitches full of rips. The Friends of Green Dale have done brilliant work in cleaning, rubbish-picking and opening up discussions about the future.
Southwark Council has also proposed various ways of using the space. Initial plans were to over-stuff the fields with play and gym equipment and tarmacked paths, but more recent thinking seems to be towards lighter management in favour of wildlife and informal walking and play, with the addition of a pond.
Like Green Dale Fields, the resources of the current stadium building seem to have been neglected by the previous owners, with little interest in promoting the bar throughout the week, renting it as a community space or improving the gym facilities. This raises questions about the income that might potentially be generated for the football club from the existing stadium.
Hadley’s plans, however, don’t seem to have changed a great deal since the last display in November 2014, so I found myself asking some of the same questions again:
1) If the economic model depends on 2,000 pupils a month visiting the site to use the Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) will they all walk to the site or will some come by coach or minibus? What about schools that use minibuses to get to activities because the group includes wheelchair users or pupils with limited mobility? The plans show no parking area for a minibus or coach (and local streets rarely have room for a car, let alone a coach). We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.
2) Have you spoken to any pedestrian or cyclists’ groups such as Living Streets or Southwark Cyclists about the suggested cycle path? (No) The proposed path is shared with pedestrians and winds in gentle curves along the ‘linear park’. It would not have adequate capacity for commuter cyclists going between Greendale and Dog Kennel Hill; on match days, the path would be blocked by people queuing for the turnstiles. It’s a worsening of the current access, shabby as that is. Yes, I see.
3) How will pedestrians cross Abbotswood Road between St Francis Park and the new linear park? We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.
4) The posters promise ‘as many affordable homes as the scheme can afford, once costs of the stadium have been factored in’. Will Hadley publish its viability assessments? I can’t speak for Hadley.
5) The posters say you are ‘committed to delivering a target of a 35% reduction in CO2’. Compared to what? I don’t know… perhaps an ordinary block of flats without any sustainability measures? So is this any better than what is specified in the London Plan?I don’t know.
6) Will informal groups be able to turn up and play on the MUGA as they do on the community five-a-side pitches? Yes, it’s cramped, as I said above, and the astroturf is in terrible condition right now, but it doesn’t have to be; the point is, anyone can play, anytime, for free. And there are three pitches, instead of just one. Across the road, East Dulwich Estate residents have just lost a kickabout area for football on Pytchley Road – the site of a new block of flats being built by the council. There’s a need for space for informal games. We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.
7) A ‘Match Day Travel Plan’ is promised as part of the planning submission, but has not yet been developed. Isn’t this crucial to the design and functioning of the whole proposal?
In my view, Hadley are proposing a plan as skimpy as the 1992 agreement with Sainsburys. They overstate the biodiversity (meadows! trees! bat boxes!) that can be achieved in a ‘linear park’ that also contains foot- and cyclepaths. They may be overstating the sustainability of the fabled 3G (third generation) pitch too. The Football League voted not to reintroduce artificial pitches last year. As someone asked this evening, ‘What if we get promoted out of the Ryman League?’
The Camberwell Community Council meeting on 18 November included a discussion on green spaces.
It was very cheering to hear from so many ‘Friends of’: there were representatives from the Friends of Burgess Park, Camberwell Green, Green Dale, Lucas Gardens, Stanswood Gardens, Benhill Nature Reserve and others. These groups are organised by volunteers and work with the dedicated staff of the council’s Parks and Ecology departments, often juggling fundraising, project management and making sure that everyone can enjoy the spaces harmoniously, alongside taking practical care of plants and trees, playgrounds and wildlife.
Ecology Officer Jon Best gave a brief but impressive presentation on the diversity of wildlife in Southwark, including birds, bats and stag beetles, and some of the measures taken to protect them. In the case of stag beetles, for example, that means providing ‘hotels’ of wood that’s allowed to decay, providing a space for the grubs to spend their early years before they emerge in armoured splendour.
Eleanor Margolies asked a question about a green space that no longer exists – Camberwell Orchard. While welcoming the new Camberwell library, she noted that a significant number of trees and fruit bushes had been lost as a result of building on this site. When Camberwell Magistrates’ Court was built in 1970, it was on the site of allotments. An alternative site for 32 allotments was therefore provided (next to Lettsom Community Gardens). She asked whether the council had plans to – or would commit to – replace the food growing space that the orchard had provided.
It was deeply disappointing to hear Cllr Barrie Hargrove repeat the canard that Camberwell Orchard had been of no ecological or social value: ‘Some people call a mouldy plum tree an orchard; I don’t,’ he said.
An independent arboricultural assessment of the orchard commissioned by the council noted two fine silver maples, along with 28 mature fruit trees – fig, cherry, pear and plum – as well as blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes. A CAVAT assessment of the value of the trees gave the orchard a financial value in the region of £608,000.
In his response to the question, Cllr Mark Williams mentioned council plans for tree planting on Lomond Grove, an area to be added to the footprint of Camberwell Green, and the potential to reclaim some space behind Camberwell Magistrate’s Court from the highway, but he didn’t address the question of food growing. Cllr Hargrove was clearly piqued by the reminder of the lost orchard, saying ‘we shouldn’t look back’. But talking about urban food growing is not looking back: it is looking towards a sustainable future.
For example, Incredible Edible Todmorden is an urban gardening project which has transformed a town in Yorkshire – building community, public health and sustainability. Its membership requirements are simple: ‘If you eat you’re in.’
In Southwark, architects and local residents Katrin Bohm and Andre Viljoen have written about integrating urban agriculture into urban planning and its environmental, economic and social benefits.
Viljoen teaches architecture at the University of Brighton. In June 2015, at an inspiring event organised by Peckham Vision, 12 master of architecture students from the university showed their plans for how food growing might be integrated into a dense urban area, helping to make Southwark more resilient by providing its own food, making use of its food waste as compost, purifying its own water and so on. Their ideas were based on a period of intense research into the actual conditions of Peckham: where are there unused spaces between buildings? what do people here like to eat? who might be interested in fish-farming, growing herbs or cooking with local produce? They are bold ideas but thoroughly researched and achievable with investment and vision.
In contrast, asking the council to commit to replacing the food growing opportunities provided by Camberwell Orchard is not a huge request. Trees and bushes could be planted in small pockets and corridors around Camberwell.
A commitment to providing at least as many fruit trees and bushes as were lost at Camberwell would show that the councillors understand the importance of urban food growing.
Other residents at the meeting asked about:
how to make sure that contractors don’t chop back shrubs when they are flowering or covered with berries essential to wildlife.
how to make sure that trees planted by Southwark Council are looked after and survive to maturity. A resident described how trees planted by the council on the Elmington Estate had died in their first hot summer because they were not watered by contractors.
how to make sure that volunteers’ work on parks and green spaces is protected by the council for the long term benefit of all.
Afterwards, Eleanor suggested one possible location for food growing to Councillor Hargrove. Low maintenance raspberries and currant bushes could be planted in raised beds on Daneville Road (behind Morrison’s in Camberwell). This street is open for pedestrians and cyclists but closed to cars. Some trees have been planted along the centre of the road – but it’s still dominated by tarmac.
What do you think? What are your suggestions for edible planting in South Camberwell?
At the by-election on 15 October, Octavia Lamb (Labour Party) was elected as a councillor for South Camberwell. Southwark Green Party wishes her well in her new role.
Southwark Green Party will continue to work with local campaign groups to hold the Labour-led council to account. We call on the council
to stop pushing out residents to boost developers’ profits,
to abandon plans to bulldoze Southwark Woods,
to take Southwark’s investments out of dirty fossil fuel companies, and
to clean up our air, providing health information to residents and lobbying TfL to provide cleaner buses and better walking and cycling infrastructure.
Please keep telling us your concerns about the area as well as your ideas to make it a better place to live. You can contact Eleanor directly by sending an email to eleanor.margolies [@] southwark.greenparty.org.uk