Community worried about intervention in Convoys Wharf development

The proposed plan for the £1.9bn Convoys Wharf redevelopment. Pic: Hutchinson Whampoa

The proposed plan for the £1.9bn Convoys Wharf redevelopment. Pic: Hutchinson Whampoa

Community groups have expressed concern about the future of Deptford’s Convoys Wharf after Boris Johnson’s decision to call in the planning application for the£1.9bn redevelopment of the site.

The London Mayor took an unprecedented step last week when he took over consideration of Hutchinson Whampoa’s planning application after discussions between the developer and Lewisham Council reached a standstill.

Deptford IS, a local group that campaigns for a redevelopment of Convoys Wharf that offers the best for Deptford, has called the decision “extremely disappointing.”

The Lenox Project, a community led initiative that is proposing regeneration for the area through the recreation of a 17th century warship, said they were “deeply concerned by the decision.”

Both Deptford Is and The Lennox Project worry that this decision could set an “extremely dangerous precedent.”

Jon Wright, former Head of Conservation at the Council for British Archaeology and spokesman for Deptford Is, said “We are in totally uncharted territory.”

He added: “Some of the planning process in London does need streamlining, but this is not the way to do it. Hutchinson Whampoa are not operating within the bounds of our systems and how it should go.”

Julian Kingston of The Lenox Project was sceptical about opportunities for public scrutiny now that the application has been given to Mayor’s Office.

He said: “There seems to be no mechanism that I can see in this regime of the Mayor calling in the application, that consults or engages with the community.

“Not only should there be a full public hearing into this plan but it should be far more in-depth than any local one, due to the fact of the Mayor’s remoteness from the situation.”

The site has a great maritime historical importance after being made the first Royal Dockyard by King Henry VII in 1513 and was a focal point for British ship building up until the 19th century. The adjoining Sayes Court Gardens was also the home of the famous 17th century diarist John Evelyn, while efforts to save the gardens in 19th century can be directly linked to the formation of The National Trust.

As a result of this, Convoys Wharf was placed alongside Machu Pichu and Venice on The World Monument Fund’s watchlist, a list set up to protect some of the world’s most important heritage sites.

There is a worry from community groups that this history could be lost if the redevelopment is approved by The Mayor’s Office.

Kingston said: “The plans are already quite remote and have no real bearing on Deptford as a community, as an area or its history.”

Wright was worried that, with a archaeological report and a report to look into listing a part of the wharf, decisions could be made by the Mayor’s office, without the proper analysis taking place.

He also questioned how the Mayor’s office could make an informed decision in such a short space of time: “I do not understand after ten years’ work by English Heritage, Lewisham Council and  by groups like ours, how the Mayor’s office feels they can distil all of this information in a matter of months.”

Kingston said: “The positive aspect of this could be that the Mayor’s office are using this as a chance to encourage the developers to sit down and negotiate. However, my worry is that it is not that.”

A statement released by the Mayor’s office said: ‘The Mayor has asked his planning team to work closely with officers at Lewisham Council to ensure that all local issues are fully considered, and to ensure that he benefits from the considerable expertise and knowledge of their team in respect of the Convoys Wharf site and its surrounding neighborhoods.”

The mayor’s planning team hopes to bring the application to the Mayor for his consideration by February 2014.

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