Public Consultation event at Peckham Rye Baptist Chapel
Saturday 18th January 2014
The drop-in exhibition showcasing the latest design ideas for the Gateway Project (the redevelopment of Peckham Rye Lane Station by Network Rail, Southwark Council and our Mayor of London), was starting to fill out by 3pm. Evidently the inconspicuous, singular poster in the station window had caught the attention of more townsfolk than originally anticipated, and what was expected to be a gentle walk & talk around the concept designs by the architects, turned into something a little different. More than 200 people filled the hall, and with not enough chairs it could have been a sit-in…in fact I wish it had been.
We were first introduced to architects Weston Williamson + Partners, who are leading the operation. They talked us through the design ideas; highly contemporary mixed with Charles Henry Driver’s 19th Century, crisp metal cladding, expressive shapes and glass, but were interrupted by facetious coughing at the point of discussing the “slightly higher” seven-storey, residential blocks on Holly Grove, Rye Lane and Blenheim Grove.
The Q&A began with public toilets. Last years petition by Peckham Vision and Rye Lane Traders’ Association, which achieved 4270 signatures, to get some decent public toilets installed for the employees and shoppers of Rye Lane has, as yet, proved fruitless. It is a contentious issue that has left a sour taste in the mouths of some residents, particularly in the knowledge that Southwark Council has just given £5m (of tax payer’s money) to the redevelopment of the station square. Responsibility for the lack-of-loos was first bounced off Network Rail, as it was not seen as their duty, then was shrugged off by Southwark Council who mumbled something about the futuristic, coin-op facility on Atwell Road. It seems that the streets of Peckham are to remain pissy despite these grandiose ideas.
Conversation soon turned to the matter of Peckham’s young, growing creative economy and whether the redevelopment will “encourage and support it, or would it seriously or terminally jeopardise it“. Indeed, the designs as they stand intend to eradicate all businesses – growing or not growing, creative or not creative – from the area owned by Network Rail. Replacing them with office space, glistening retail and artisan studios and commercial units – all at extortionately high rents, meaning that no original business can afford to stay in the area they grew into.
However, on 6th January 2014, the Government Inspector at the PNAAP (Peckham and Nunhead Area Action Plan) public meeting suggested that the plans needed to consider more carefully the impact upon the creative economy in Peckham. It was advised that Peckham Plex Cinema and the multi-storey car park, home to Frank’s Cafe and Bold Tendencies, be deleted from the redevelopment in order for the council to assess their economic potential. This is a refreshing viewpoint and one that the Arches Studios on Blenheim Court are greatly in favour of, as can be seen here in Geoffrey Lang’s open letter to Southwark Council.
Eileen Conn, of Peckham Vision and a community activist who has lived in Peckham for 38 years, reminded us all about Southwark Council’s previous attempts to redevelop the creative ‘hot-spots’ of Peckham in 2004. The area between Copeland Road and Rye Lane was incorrectly deemed ‘derelict’, and plans were made to introduce a tramway into Peckham, using that area as the depot. However, after a campaign, led again by Peckham Vision, the economic potential of the creative industries housed there was realised and the plans were abandoned. Now the Bussey Building hosts CLF Art Cafe, artists’ studios and resident, upcoming DJs and music artists, which attract hundreds of people to the area every week.
It is evident that some form of economic forecast needs to be carried out on the Gateway Area in order to identify just how valuable these businesses are, and undoubtedly how valuable they will become if they are left to prosper. Rather than a ‘Shoreditchification‘ happening in Peckham, these creative and artistic enterprises were not manufactured or ‘popped- up’ in minutes. In fact, some of the artisan businesses along Blenheim Court have been thriving for over 20 years. These individuals have spent decades crafting their independent ventures into the spaces they have acquired with love and hard work, only to be told they may have to shut-up-shop within the year, so that a Network Rail can improve upon their £6.2 billion revenue (2013).
It may be that these initial design plans are a simple shock tactic, prior to a planning application due to be made in February 2014. Future designs featuring reduced heights or square-footage, may be seen as more acceptable by the community, in comparison to the originals. However, such an investment of public finances and livelihood should not be toyed with so frivolously. Additionally, compromise should not have to be made in circumstances with such obvious public disagreement. The conclusion of the meeting, which did not draw to a close until long after 5pm, was that the community (admittedly not a very fair representation of the community) were happy about the initial plans for the square and the restoration of the station in 2011. However, what they had received from Network Rail and Weston Williamson + Partners posed nothing less than a complete contradiction to what makes Peckham so great.
The deadline for feedback on the plans is set to Sunday 28th January in order for Weston Williamson + Partners, commissioned by Network Rail, to submit a planning application by February 2014. Write to Daisy Froud on firstname.lastname@example.org, give her a call 020 7739 9950, or complete a feedback form, to voice your opinions before it is too late.