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A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2017

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Green Spaces / Gardens

Countryside in our city

Photo of grassy meadow with trees in background, blue sky and clouds

‘It’s not under lock and key… a place like this is really important. We need a countryside in our city.’ (SE22 resident who visits Green Dale a couple of times a week to play football on the astroturf.)

‘It isn’t a regimented park… it is scruffy and governed by natural cycles. All the wildlife that is here. Incredible to have this space.’ (SE15 residents, daily visitors to Green Dale to walk the dog.)

I was very moved to read these comments made by local residents about Green Dale Fields, the open space that runs between Sainsbury’s/Champion Hill stadium and the Green Dale cycle/footpath. Volunteers from the Friends of Green Dale carried out an all-day survey of 50 people who used or walked through Green Dale on Sunday 18 June.

A third of people surveyed use Green Dale to walk their dogs, while others use it for football on the astroturf, cycling, tennis and exercising. Anyone can turn up and play on the astroturf pitches – there’s no fee or booking system.

People walking through said they were on their way to places including Dulwich Picture Gallery. As a child, the poet Robert Browning used to walk to the gallery from his home on the corner of Coleman Road and Southampton Way. (A plaque above the dry-cleaner’s at 179 Southampton Way marks the spot.) He described it as ‘a green half-hour’s walk over the fields’, and on Green Dale you can imagine what that would have been like in the 1820s.

Other reasons for being there that Sunday included sunbathing, birdwatching, enjoying the peace and quiet – and collecting long grass for a guinea pig!

Chris Rowse, Chair of Friends of Green Dale, noted that people appreciate Green Dale’s unspoilt character and most said they preferred it to a more ‘manicured’ park: ‘People enjoy the wide open space and wild greenery’.

I love classic Victorian parks like Brunswick Park, Myatt’s Fields and Ruskin Park. They have an incredible density of different things happening at the same time – tennis, the splash pool, picnics and football. But it is also vitally important to have access to wilder spaces. On Green Dale, you can pick blackberries from the bramble hedges; older children can discover the simple pleasures of hanging out in nature; and birds, bats, frogs, and hedgehogs thrive, a short but significant distance away from streetlights and the noise of cars.

‘It feels wild and beautiful.’

‘Tranquillity in the city.’

If you want evidence of the benefits for mental and physical health of green spaces in cities, there’s lots collected here by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. But the comments collected in the Green Dale Survey Report are rich and personal  and I’m very grateful that the Friends spent a day talking to people about how they feel about Green Dale.

Survey_pic1

 

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The small stuff that matters

‘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.

whaddon and melbreak pathThis 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!

widths

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.

Bike your way IN to history

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.

 

camberwell-immigration-2007 camberwell-immigration2007b

greenerin

Questions, questions

hadley consultation
Spot the leading questions?

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.

Green Dale tennis court
Anyone for tennis?

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?’

Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust

Dulwich Hamlet supporters’ site

Dulwich Hamlet FC are playing a charity match against FC Assyria on Wednesday 2nd March

See also Mayoral candidate Sian Berry visits Champion Hill

 

Let’s have an incredible edible Camberwell

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.

cherry2013
Cherry tree in Camberwell Orchard

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.

Cherry jam, preserved figs and redcurrant jelly made with fruit from Camberwell Orchard, 2013
Cherry jam, preserved figs and redcurrant jelly made with fruit from Camberwell Orchard, 2013

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?

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