Convoys Wharf from Greenwich

It’s a development which will have massive implications for Greenwich, yet there remains surprisingly little concern east of the creek about the enormous plans for Deptford’s Convoys Wharf, which will tower over the views from Greenwich Park and Cutty Sark Gardens (above).

With three enormous towers of 26, 32 and 40 storeys, the plans would change the skyline forever; and by squeezing 3,500 homes onto the site (3,000 likely to be sold abroad, just 12% going to the local community), riverside Deptford would be transformed. Into what, though, nobody quite knows.

Furthermore, this isn’t just any old patch of derelict land – this is the site of the first royal dockyard, founded in 1513, and arguably the beginning of Greenwich’s links with royalty. The site’s now on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list.

So, it was right and proper that Lewisham Council took its time on the scheme. Until Hong Kong-based developer Hutchison Whampoa threw a wobbly and went running to Boris Johnson, that is.

Now the mayor has decided to call in the application himself, taking the decision away from Lewisham Council and putting it in his hands. Considering Johnson’s track record in backing big developers, and his recent trip to China, you could forgive those who think this one of the more whiffy decisions to come out of City Hall.

It’s not as if critics don’t have alternative ideas for the site. Diarist John Evelyn once kept a legendary garden here. Campaigners want the site to include a recreation of Sayes Court Garden. Most excitingly of all, the Build The Lenox project wants to have a visitor attraction here, centred around building a Tudor era warship in the old dockyard.

At the moment the historic dockyard at Deptford has no working links with its wonderful history. Building a ship which was a significant part of the dockyard’s past would regenerate the area and help restore the eminence Deptford once enjoyed. It would also help bridge the maritime cultural gap with Greenwich. For a modest entrance fee, visitors would be able to see the ship being built and some of the traditional skills used to build her. They would experience all this in close proximity to structures that were contemporary to her construction, such as the Master Shipwright’s house and other surviving buildings.

While locals were hoping Lewisham Council could force Hutchison Whampoa to incorporate these ideas into the Convoys development, Johnson’s intervention puts all this at risk.

As well as the Lenox site, there’s also an excellent analysis of the issue at Deptford Is…. Anyone who cares about Greenwich should be caring about this issue too – because the consequences of what happens at Convoys Wharf will be felt far beyond a small corner of riverside Deptford.

13 replies on “Convoys Wharf: Deptford in dread after mayor Boris takes charge”

  1. I’ve only briefly read the issues with this development, and do have problems with many of the points raised including the bypassing of its history, but London has to build upwards. It needs to just to provide a decent quality of life to the existing population let alone the population increase of 1 million in the next 10 years. High density towers & homes mainly in zones 1-2 will need to be built. The issues are building them whilst embracing the historic elements of sites, providing many of the homes at an affordable rent or purchase price, and ensuring they are of a good size with good facilities.

  2. Is it possible to apply pressure directly to the Mayor? It’s all well and good saying we should support the adoption of heritage measures, but how to do so, now that it’s in Boris’ hands?

  3. This opens up the possibility of Boris butting in whenever development is wanted, especially on the river. If the general quality is as shoddy as reported by one of your other bloggers then it is a scarey future. This kind of fight will come expensive.
    I have no idea how to protest or put on pressure but it sounds like the people of Deptford need a good lawyer with an interest in planning and environmental issues who could do some work for free and some support from the national media.

  4. Fromthemurkydepths: I think one of the main objections is that this development is not going to benefit ordinary people and will not be affordable, and won’t provide the quality of life that you quite rightly mention. 3000 of the 3500 units are to be sold to overseas speculators, so I hear. So yet another just-for-profit development that will benefit only the developers and not anything to solve the housing shortage. In fact it will add to traffic congestion and price out local people as the area is cleansed of character and anyone who isn’t well-off. So, unfortunately, this development is not only aesthetically objectionable but, more importantly, won’t be in the interests of the community (except the developer’s community).

  5. Yeah, fair enough, I know what you mean 🙂 And there is something to be said for sensitive, well-planned high rise buildings in inner London. If they are planned well, not too massive and made and available to locals they could save space and help communities, although these are a bit insanely tall! Let’s hope Boris doesn’t just steamroll these plans through because they don’t like having to wait for a well-thought-out planning decision.

  6. Overseas investors / speculators fund the building of thousands of London homes which wouldn’t otherwise get built and which put some downward pressure on rents for Londoners. Londoners generally look to buy period properties or conversions over new build so outside zone 1 overseas buyers and locals aren’t even in competition. As long as the towers they put up aren’t too offensive to look at I think it’s win-win – I wouldn’t say these are ugly, just a bit bland.

  7. A bit bland and of course massive and visible from just about everywhere around. Not sure about the funding these speculators allegedly bring, it seems to just go to a certain few’s offshore accounts rather than into the local economy, while more areas are privatised and cordoned off, history is lost and green/public space is lost.

    Despite all the thousands of such new builds going up none of it seems to be reducing rents for Londoners at all but if you have evidence to the contrary it would be interesting to see. Why not build affordable homes instead? I don’t agree that Londoners want period homes necessarily, they just want somewhere affordable and decent to live. All this investment while the wealth gap widens and more people get excluded just so a handful of developers can get rich doesn’t seem a healthy way to do things.

  8. Mark – they wouldn’t otherwise get built as the crazy land and selling prices in London (propped up by government market manipulation) mean many people can’t buy at the levels of mortgage-to-income needed, which are far above historic norms, or in comparison to other developed nations. Make houses affordable without govt backed 5% mortgage subsidies (a bailout to existing home/landowners leaving taxpayers on the hook) by stopping constant manipulation of the market, let prices correct, and permit councils and other authorities to build. Then you would get much more supply. As happened for most of the 20th century in Britain, and in most developed nations historically. Instead we now have to rely on Asian investors who avoid paying capital gains tax (that Britons can’t – see weekend papers for details on that) & for whom it is simply an investment pricing out Londoners. Whether it’s let, affordable, well kept etc is of little concern compared to owning the ‘asset’ in a respectable nation with strong laws.

    As letting out is not of great concern for many, as well as sky high prices sustained by Asian purchasers, it is thus doing nothing for rent costs.

    Of course many people would like to buy a spacious central London flat near work at a decent price – it’s the high prices and massive mortgages at 10 times earnings that stop it. Oh, and UK flats being the smallest in the developed world, even below Japan, doesn’t entice people in.

  9. Letting out these sorts of flats will be a concern for investors. New build flats tend to depreciate initially and there will be service charges and council tax to cover – I don’t think you can draw parallels with Belgravia and Knightsbridge where the oligarchs and sheikhs look to protect their capital rather than draw a steady return. If enough of these towers were built rents would come down regardless of who owned them.

    I agree that councils ought to be building too. London has a chronic shortage of houses and anything which helps redress the balance is surely a good thing.

  10. Governments can legislate all they like and we can all have your views but the planet will have the last word. If we go on as we are acting as if resources are endless then one day it will be bite-back time. Whether it’s running out of water, starving because we have killed off the pollinating insects, more extreme weather events or an old fashioned pandemic with antibiotic resistant bugs we are storing up a stinker with too many people grabbing after shrinking resources.

  11. Very much agree Maggy, and this is why the championing of retail jobs, which Greenwich aspires to, seems completely unsustainable in the long term.

    As far as the chronic housing shortage goes though, if we continue to build high density developments with fake environmental sustainability standards – insulation and so on is no balance to increased commuter traffic – without having meaningful local job opportunities and genuinely affordable business space (particularly small business space) we will not be onto a good thing at all. Regeneration can and should be community led.

  12. Cheap horrible design……the design from the previous architects was more interesting…these hong kong style buildings look totally out of place in london

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