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A renewed high street for Sydenham

Text of Sydenham Society response to Lewisham proposals, sent 29th May, 2008

I write to provide the comments of the Sydenham Society on the Council’s plans to enhance Sydenham Road and Kirkdale, as set out in its document “A renewed high street for Sydenham”.

The Society very much welcomes the Council’s scheme and we strongly support its aims of enhancing the street environment, creating a greater sense of place, and providing a more pedestrian-friendly environment. In particular we welcome the attempts to “green” the high street via the creation of pocket parks. However, we would ask the Council to look again at the possibility of “greening” the Cobbs Corner roundabout. As a reminder, the Sydenham Road proposals were worked up following the Sydenham Society’s urban design proposals dating from 2005 entitled “The Sydenham Gateway”. One of the main intentions of this proposal was to make the high street a more attractive place, and there seems to us to be no reason why this greening cannot extend to the roundabout particularly when neighbouring boroughs (eg Bromley and Southwark) have planted roundabouts and even roundabouts containing mature trees and public art.

A second, general point concerns the fact that both Sydenham Road and Cobbs Corner now fall within two recently designated conservation areas – the Cobbs Corner CA and the southern extension to the Thorpes. Within conservation areas it is usual to insist upon high quality street furniture, paving etc, and materials which complement the surrounding buildings and urban form. For this reason we would suggest that the type of paving suggested (overwhelmingly concrete) and the lampposts (a rather stark design) are replaced with styles and materials more sympathetic to the Victorian/Edwardian streetscape. We are encouraged to hear that the owners of the Greyhound are discussing with the planning officers ways to link their suggestion for a public space in front of the pub with the plans for Cobbs Corner; if this is done successfully then the Council and the developers will truly have created a fitting “Gateway for Sydenham”.

The following are our detailed comments:

The roundabout at Cobbs Corner
We do not object to the retention of a roundabout at the junction of Westwood Hill and Kirkdale. We are concerned however that the Council proposes simply to rebuild, in granite this time, the present drab and brutalist structure.

The current review of the high street provides a critical opportunity for the Council to create a roundabout which is landscaped or is in some other way transformed into an eye-catching feature, eg by the introduction of a sculpture (and the obvious candidate for this is Ernest Shackleton), which contributes to the aim of creating a “sense of place” for Sydenham. We urge the Council to consider means by which the rebuilt roundabout can function not only at a practical level but also as a landmark feature at the principal gateway to Sydenham town centre.

Pocket squares
A number of pocket squares are proposed. We welcome these although some, such as the pocket square at Queensthorpe Road – which requires the closure of the road at its junction with the high street – we recognise as being controversial. Our view is that these squares could be successful but only if the Council can ensure that they do not become areas where drinkers congregate and that they are kept litter-free. We suggest too that the Council bear in mind the possibility of traffic seeking alternative routes (because of the Quennsthorpe Road pocket) and creating potential problems in other access roads around the Thorpes.

Regarding the proposed pocket square outside the Naborhood Centre, we suggest that the square would be greatly enhanced if the frontage of the Naborhood Centre were re-decorated. At present the Centre presents a rather grim and dirty façade, which very much detracts from the street environment. We also suggest that the Centre be re-named with a recognisable spelling (in its present form the name frequently attracts the comment that the Council can’t spell!)
Trees

As far as we can see the proposed tree planting is confined principally to the pocket squares. Whilst the planting of the pocket squares is to be welcomed we would ask the Council to look again at planting on Sydenham Road (particularly in the section from Tannsfeld to Girton Road, which is currently rather stark) and Kirkdale. Trees have the potential to change the streetscape dramatically and they are of course environmentally friendly.

We are unsure why the existence of underground services prohibits the planting of trees when so many roads in the wider area, which must also have underground services, are planted. If it really is the case that species suited to the particular environment of Sydenham Road/Kirkdale cannot be identified then we suggest that the Council considers planting in containers. If new trees and additional planters are not considered suitable then we would propose hanging baskets and flower boxes at suitable sites.

Parking spaces

We accept the Council’s assurances that parking bay spaces in Sydenham Road and the side road returns ‘will remain about the same’. Whilst we think it is very important for the vitality of the high street that the overall amount of parking is not significantly reduced, we would accept that increased pedestrian safety and the aim of creating pocket parks may result in the loss of a marginal number of parking spaces.

Station Approach
We note that a scheme encompassing this road will be the subject of a later consultation and will make comments at that stage.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Lund
Chair
Sydenham Society

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