Peckham Rye Station & Gateway Area Development threatens what makes Peckham so great

Architects, Weston Williamson + Partners, discussing plans for Peckham Rye Station

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.

Discussion of the plans for Peckham Rye Station and the Gateway area during the public meeting 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.

Preffered Plan by Network Rail 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.

Discussion at the public consultation event for Peckham Rye Station & Gateway Areas

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).

Discussion at the public consultation event for Peckham Rye Station & Gateway Areas

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.

Discussion at the public consultation event for Peckham Rye Station & Gateway Areas

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 daisy.froud@theaoc.co.uk, give her a call 020 7739 9950, or complete a feedback form, to voice your opinions before it is too late. 

 

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The Peckham Rye Lane Station Gateway Redevelopment Project by Network Rail

Google Map of Peckham Rye LaneThe Telegraph’s Alex Proud recently proclaimed that Peckham was the latest victim of ‘Shoreditchification‘ – a culture sweeping run-down areas of London, in which entrepreneurial ‘hipsters’ move in and create a hub of creativity for a while. Thus attracting like-minded hipsters to the area, raising rent prices until the original settlers can no longer afford to live there and the place becomes commercialised by Starbucks and inner-city bankers. However, as Aleks Eror rightfully asks in his defending article, “What are lowly paid creative types supposed to do?”.

No doubt Peckham, in recent years, has seen wave of creative activity, or gentrification as others like to call it, with the Peckham Liberal Club, the Bussey Building, and the multi-storey car park (of Frank’s Cafe fame, as reviewed by Time Out over the summer) all putting Peckham on the map. In addition to these, the area surrounding Rye Lane station, particularly within the Arches Studios and within the 1930’s arcade building on Blenheim Grove, have become home to some of the most attractive qualities for creative-types. To name a few, The Sunday Painter gallery situated just above the newly opened Peckham Refreshment Rooms, then Bar Story and Innovation Interiors.

Ongoing efforts to restore the station to its former glory, which have been largely campaigned for by The Peckham Society, Rye Lane & Station Action Group and Peckham Vision have culminated in a series of unfortunate events.

Rye Lane Station (1880)Rye Lane station, seen here circa 1880, boasted a grand first class waiting room at the top of the building, now affectionately dubbed The Old Waiting Room, and a large square before it reaching out to Rye Lane itself. Local architect, Benedict O’Looney, took on the restoration project several years ago, and along with Peckham Vision, has been campaigning for the space to become a community-led enterprise ever since.

However, in light of Peckham’s recent successes on the ‘hipster’ scene, it has come to the attention of Network Rail that there is money to be made here. Network Rail own the station, the land beneath the forecourt that reaches out to Rye Lane and around to Blenheim Grove, and all of the arches down to Bellenden Road (as can be seen in the image bellow). The whole area is known as The Gateway.

The Gateway AreaInitial plans to restore the square before the station, creating a community space with growing commuter traffic better managed, were welcomed by local residents. It was proposed that businesses affected by the redevelopment project, including Jenny’s Cafe, the fruit and vegetable stall on the corner, DDJ Jerk Centre and the new £400,000 Southwark Council-subsidised Cycle Hub, would all be relocated and uninhibited. Yet, as is always the case, the promise of commercial turn-overs has led to a ‘preferred option plan’ by Network Rail, which is so horrible it is making the creative community quake in their Dr. Martens.

The 1930’s arcade in front of the station is to be ripped out, and replaced by two, towering seven-storey residential buildings on either side of the proposed square, consisting of 40 units. We are reassured that the ground floor units will be use-classed as A3’s: restaurants and cafes, which rings bells of London Bridge’s torrent of card shops and Paul’s.

Preffered Plan by Network RailAs a result of the business loss – around 2000 sq ft of it – Network Rail then proposes gutting out the arches of all current, long-standing, independent businesses and replacing them with individual, lonely retail shells all along residential Blenheim Grove. Undoubtedly, the rent for these glorious new-builds will be too expensive for anyone other than Paperchase to afford. In an extraordinary coincidence, Network Rail have yet to put these illustrative plans on their website, but have still issued a weeks feedback period for all constructive comments, to be made by Sunday 26th January. The extent of the plans can only feasibly be found on the project blog, ‘Improving the Area Around Peckham Rye Station‘.

Preferred Plan by Network RailSouthwark Council have also issued a 33 page PDF entitled ‘Peckham Rye Station: the case for change‘, which details the many “cultural” and financial benefits of the redevelopment. Below are a few artist impressions of what the square will look like. Clearly the artist was in no two minds about the fate of Peckham Rye either; note the inclusion of Wagamama and Natwest.

Artist impression of Peckham Rye Lane squareArtist impression of Peckham Rye Lane squareOn Saturday 18th January, a drop-in exhibition was held in Rye Lane Baptist Chapel, in which discussion with the architects was encouraged during a Q&A session. The following blog post will report on the events that ensued.

 

See Peckham for more blogs and information.
Or visit PlanA, our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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