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Bell Green planning shambles

The Strategic Planning Committee meeting on 16 June to decide the future of the Bell Green Gasworks ended in confusion after councillors voted to “not approve” the plans for the Phase 2 part of the site. The Phase 3 housing development was granted permission.

After 3 hours of presentation, representation and discussion, councillors rejected by four votes to two the plans for an out of town Retail Park anchored by a Homebase and garden centre. Council planning officers scrambled to get the plans back on the table claiming that adequate planning reasons for refusal had not been given. The Chairman of the committee, Councillor Terry Scott announced that the Phase 2 application had “fallen”, at which point a motion to defer was taken and passed.

Absolute shambles

Local residents, members of the Sydenham Society and press representatives looked on in disbelief as the confused drama unfolded. It was agreed by many present that the voting process was an absolute shambles

Developers claims challenged

During the proceedings Jimmy Dickens for the Sydenham Society, with extensive experience in employment matters, challenged the developer’s claims that the plans would create 500 new jobs, stating that the loss of £3m annually from local high streets would result in a loss of existing jobs, which the council and the developer had chosen not to take into account. His comment that the one-off payment of £ 100,000 to be shared by Forest Hill and Sydenham towards the regeneration of their high streets was derisory, “there’s no point in putting up pretty hanging baskets outside boarded up shops”.

The council had received a large number of written comments from residents about the development. 90% of these were against the proposals. Jimmy said: “The opinion of residents is overwhelmingly against these plans. There’s not much point consulting people and then ignoring their response.”

Local Ward Councillors then asked to be allowed to speak. Cllr Colin Hastie, Perry Vale, (apparently still living in the 1950’s) commented that Sydenham needed to wake up, cease its half day trading habits and its lunchtime closing!

Cllr Chris Best, Sydenham, and Chair of Sydenham Road Regeneration Partnership, said she was working for free car parking in Sydenham’s 150 space car park in order to help the local traders, and thought that Sydenham was vibrant enough to cope with a major Retail Park.

Finally, Cllr Dave Whiting, Forest Hill, set off on a verbal meander around Forest Hill; he couldn’t see a problem with the proposed development. What problem would there be with competition to nail parlours, hairdressers and restaurants/cafes? In fact he eulogised so much about the new 21st century type of shopping that he thought everyone should now be embracing, that the Chair of the committee asked him whether he was proposing the motion to approve? After a bit of fluster, Dave Whiting said yes he would propose such a motion.

Four Councillors voted against approval

As it was, the only councillor prepared to second Dave Whiting’s motion to approve was the Chair of the Committee and these were only two councillors to vote in favour of the proposals. All four other councillors voted against approval. It was a breath of fresh air to hear one of the dissenting councillors, Mark Morris, say prior to the decision being taken, that he couldn’t possibly agree to the approval of such a 1980’s type of development.

The deferred Strategic Planning Meeting took place on 14 July. The result can be seen .

Bell Green Gas Works Phases II & III



  1. The Sydenham Society is a local, and entirely voluntary, amenity society with a paid-up membership of nearly 1,100 local residents. Its catchment area is principally Sydenham, but also extends to other parts of the Borough of Lewisham, including Forest Hill. The Society’s Executive is responsible for developing broad policy responses to local issues as they arise. There are two sub-committees, one specialising in roads and transport issues and the other in conservation, planning and environmental issues. Much of the work of the two committees involves advising and making representations to the London Borough of Lewisham (the Council), about local transport, planning and other associated matters.
  2. What follows is the Sydenham Society’s statement of case, as required under Rule 6 of the Town and Country Planning (Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2000, made in connection with the above inquiry.

The Applications

  1. The current applications are as follows:
    a. the Phase ll application is for non-food bulky goods retailing floorspace of 13,517 m2, business and industry floorspace of 10,644 m2 and a restaurant of 316 m2; and
    b. the Phase lll application is for non-food bulky goods retailing of 1,247 m2 (or restaurant), and residential accommodation of 156 flats.
  2. Although an outline permission already exists for the further development of the Bell Green site, the scale of development now proposed far exceeds the provision contained in the existing permissions.
  3. If the existing proposals are permitted then the result would be an out of centre retail park at Bell Green, of almost 29,000 m2, that would be larger in its retail floorspace than its closest town centres of Forest Hill and Sydenham. The site would provide 1,830 car parking spaces, the majority of which (1,642) would be for shoppers. The proposed developments, when combined with the existing food retail provision on the Bell Green site, would damage the vitality and viability of Forest Hill and Sydenham and would result in a significant net increase in car traffic on the network. The developer estimates that 77% of visits to the proposed sites would be by car.
  4. The Sydenham Society considers that the applications fail to meet the requirements of national planning policy guidance. We also consider that the applications do not comply with relevant development plan policies including the London Plan and the Council’s UDP – July 2004.
  5. We also consider that the Council’s consideration of the applications, as contained in its reports to the strategic Planning Committees of 16 June and 14 July, was insufficient and flawed.
    Response to the Secretary of State’s Statement of Matters
  6. The Sydenham Society’s objections to these applications can in the main be referred to the Secretary of State’s statement of matters as follows:
    a. retail and town centres, including matters at 4(a)(ii) and 4(a)(iii) of the Government Office’s letter dated 5 October 2005;
    b. employment, including matters at 4(a)(iv) and 4(c);
    c. transport, including matters at 4(b)(i), 4(b)(ii) and 4(b)(iii), including traffic generation and car parking; and
    d. alternative uses of the land, including matters at 4(e) in relation to housing provision.
  7. The Sydenham Society’s main points in relation to each of the above are developed further in the sections which follow
  8. Retailing and Town Centres

Other Areas

  1. PPS6 enjoins local authorities to consider the extension of primary shopping areas where growth cannot be accommodated in existing centres. The Council has not properly examined that possibility in respect of the proposals. As a result, possibilities such as an extension of the Forest Hill shopping area, in respect of which Lewisham Council have developed an Urban Design Framework, have not been properly examined in connection with these applications.
  2. Nor, as part of the sequential test, has a thorough assessment (as required by PPS6) been made of all potential development opportunities in town centre or district centre sites. For example, the Council have not properly considered in any detail the potential of the Lee High Road site, which is noted in the UDP for retail, or a mix of retail and residential, and is described as a key development site. Likewise the Council have failed properly to consider, in sufficient detail, the Old Market site, Catford which could accommodate significant retail floorspace – approx 18,000m2 – albeit over a longer time scale than at the Bell Green site.
    Impact of the Proposals
  3. If the Phase II application is approved then the total retailing floorspace located on the Bell Green site (including the Savacentre on the developed Phase 1 site) together with the Phase III proposal would be 28,606m2.
  4. The result would be a retail park with retailing floorspace larger than Forest Hill centre (18,158m2), larger than Sydenham town centre (23,040m2) and 62% of the size of Catford town centre (46,358m2).
  5. The retail park would (i) combine food and non-food retailing (with the non-food element containing – within the Savacentre – non-bulky goods) and (ii) provide 1,641 free car parking spaces for shoppers. Its sheer retailing scale and massive free parking provision poses a real threat to the viability of existing shopping centres, especially Forest Hill and Sydenham.
  6. The Council already recognises the vulnerability of both shopping centres. In 2003 the Council adopted an Urban Design and Development Strategy for Forest Hill (as part of its wider programme of regenerating ailing town centres across the borough). In the case of Sydenham, the Council created the Sydenham Regeneration Partnership as a forum for securing the regeneration of the town centre.
  7. However, at May 2003 (the latest available data) both Forest Hill and Sydenham town centres had a level of vacant retail units well in excess of the national average of 10.5%. The Forest Hill vacancy level stood at 15.3% and Sydenham at 13.3%.
  8. Against that background, there must be the most serious concern about the level of spending that the developer estimates will be diverted annually from the local town centres by their proposal.
  9. The developers’ figures for diverted trade, in bulky goods spending, are:

Area £ per annum % of goods spend

Forest Hill £550,000 12.6%
Sydenham £490,000 8.5%
Catford £1,890,000 12.3%

  1. In addition to loss of spending on bulky goods there will be an additional loss of spending on non-bulky goods, and on food, arising from a decline in the shopping ‘footfall’ of the local centres, i.e. a decline in visitors to the town centres. The Council’s retail analyst, Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP), when referring to the broad range of comparison goods, i.e. bulky and non-bulky, stated that ‘subject to any permission being suitably conditionedthe levels of comparison impact on the existing centres, at less than 3.5%, are likely to be acceptable’. That assessment did not factor in further potential losses of food sales. In any event, NLP’s conclusion falls well short of a clear view that centres such as Forest Hill and Sydenham would not be harmed by the Phase II proposal. The developers’ evidence should be subject to the greatest possible level of scrutiny.
  2. The Greater London Authority (GLA) have serious concerns about the ‘conflict with emerging and established national and regional policy by virtue of their scale relative to the established local centre’. In other words, the GLA is concerned that the amount of retailing proposed for the Phase II site is disproportionate to the size of existing town centres, and thus a threat to their viability. The GLA’s view is that ‘on balance’ their doubts can be outweighed only by the addition of housing (now met by the Phase III proposal) and a reduction in levels of car parking on the site. The developers do notpropose tomeet the GLA’s objection in respect of reduced car parking.
  3. Bromley Council, with a borough boundary approximately 1km from the Bell Green site, formally objected on the grounds that ‘in view of the amount of retail floorspace, its location outside an established town centre and the amount of on site parking, the proposal would significantly undermine the trading patterns in neighbouring town centres in Bromley and would harm the viability and vitality of those centres, would encourage an unsustainable increase in car-based trips to the north of the Borough and would thereby be contrary to PPG6 and to Draft PPS6.
  4. Bromley’s second ground for objection is ‘that the delays forecast for vehicles on the A2218 Southend Lane would increase the likelihood of significant queuing of vehicles seeking to use Worsley Bridge Road and would, in turn, increase the number of vehicles diverted onto other roads in the adjacent part of the London Borough of Bromley most of which are predominantly residential and would be detrimental to traffic flow and vehicle and pedestrian safety.’ This is echoed by the Society, as considered later in the section in this statement of case which deals with transport.
  5. Neither the Council nor the developer have responded to Bromley’s concerns.
  6. From a retail perspective alone, there is a clear case for refusing to permit the proposals.
    Planning Policy
  7. The proposals are contrary to development plan and national policy, including but not limited to the following provisions.
    Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres (PPS6)

Paragraph 1.3 – ‘The Government’s key objective for town centres is to promote their vitality and viability by: …promoting and enhancing existing centres by focusing development in such centres and encouraging a wide range of services in a good environment, accessible to all’.
Para 2.56 – ‘Deprived areas often have poor access to local shops and services…local authorities should work with the local community and retailers to identify opportunities to remedy any deficiencies in local provision. This is likely to be best achieved by strengthening existing centres…’.
Para 2.57 – Local planning authorities ‘should strengthen local centres by seeking to ensure that there is a range of facilities in local centres consistent with the scale and function of the centre, to meet people’s everyday needs, particularly in deprived areas’.
Para 2.58 – ‘Local authorities should, where appropriate, seek to protect existing facilities which provide for people’s everyday needs and seek to remedy deficiencies in local shopping and other facilities to help address social exclusion…local authorities should take a positive approach to strengthening local centres…’.
The London Plan

Policy 3D.1 – boroughs should enhance access to goods and services and strengthen the wider role of town centres, including UDP policies to…encourage retail, leisure and other related uses in town centres and discourage them outside the town centres.
Policy 3D.2 – the scale of new schemes should be appropriate to the size and role of the established local centres.
London Borough of Lewisham UDP – July 2004

Policy STR.STC 1 – ‘To sustain and promote the vitality and viability of the existing shopping centres in the Borough


  1. The Council refer to the schemes’ potential (in retail and light industry) to create up to 475 jobs. This figure is not substantiated either in the officer’s reports to the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee or by the developer. In his report to the Committee on 14 July 2005 the officer explained that the figure of 475 is based upon ‘recognised’ employment/floorspace ratios (see paragraph 2.5 of that report).
  2. However, neither the officer’s report, nor the developer, disclose this ‘recognised’ formula in order to explain how the figure of 475 additional new jobs is arrived at. This formula should have formed part of a published human resource plan setting out, precisely and in detail, the methodology used to justify the figure of 475 additional new jobs. There is no real evidence of the employment to be generated by these proposals.
  3. In the absence of a human resource plan, or other similarly detailed and persuasive evidence, very serious doubts must exist over the validity of the predicted job figure of 475. There are two reasons for this in particular:
    a. retail warehousing is not labour intensive, nor are small business enterprises, nor small industrial premises; and
    b. experience of earlier planning applications for the Bell Green site reveal that potential business and industrial users were only prepared to transfer their existing staff to the site. Few wholly new jobs would have been created. There is no reason to expect a different attitude from potential employers in respect of the present application.
  4. The officer’s report, in advancing the figure of 475 jobs, takes no account of the prospect of serious job losses arising elsewhere in the local light industry and retail sector as a result of the proposed development. The developer acknowledges that town centres in Sydenham, Forest Hill, and Catford would lose at least around £3million per annum, in takings. The loss of this large sum from existing low profit margins would inevitably harm existing employment levels.
  5. The reduction in takings by shops and in business and light industry in local town centres would be caused by two factors:
    a. a reduction in footfall in the town centres, as shoppers divert to the Bell Green site which (taking account of the existing superstore on the site) would cater for food and non- food (both bulky and non-bulky goods) items; and
    b. a loss of trade, by shops such as DIY, plumbers, furniture etc, to the national chains likely to occupy the retail warehouses on the proposed development.
  6. Taken together, the proposals for retailing and employment would certainly not have the effect of strengthening or protecting existing shopping centres. They are more likely to result in harm to local shopping centres, especially those of Forest Hill and Sydenham. The employment benefits claimed to flow from the proposals have not been justified and appear to be exaggerated. Neither the developer nor the Council have attempted properly to assess what the net employment gain, if any, might be.
  7. The Sydenham Society believes that the designation of the Bell Green site as a Defined Employment Area in the Council’s UDP would be more suitable and beneficial for local residents.
  8. By not utilising this land for a use which brings significant levels of employment, and high quality employment at that, the proposals amount to a wasted opportunity. Regeneration, employment and economic growth will best be served by making the best possible use of land to generate high quality local jobs. The current proposals are contrary, and therefore harmful, to meeting objectives of regeneration, employment and economic growth to the greatest possible extent.
  9. Accordingly, the employment benefits of the proposals are over-stated and are not supported by proper evidence. No account is taken of the harm in employment terms that will be caused by the development. Employment in nearby areas will be harmed. This is contrary to development plan policy and national planning policy guidance.

Planning Policy

  1. The proposals are contrary to development plan and national policy, including but not limited to the following provisions.
    The London Plan
    Policy 3B.5 Strategic Employment Locations – “With strategic partners, the Mayor will promote and manage the varied industrial offer of the Strategic Employment Locations (SELs), set out in Annex 2 as London’s strategic reservoir of industrial capacity. Boroughs should identify SELs in UDPs, and develop local policies for employment sites outside the SELs, having regard to:
    • the locational strategy in Chapter 2 of this plan
    • accessibility to the local workforce, public transport and where appropriate, freight movement
    • quality and fitness for purpose of sites
    • the release of surplus land for other uses in order to achieve the efficient use of land in light of strategic and local assessments of industrial demand.”

London Borough of Lewisham UDP – July 2004

Policy STR.EMP 2 – “To protect a range of suitable sites for business including industrial uses, in line with sustainability and environmental objectives, especially for new growth areas of the economy.”
Policy EMP 1 – “the Council will aim to ensure a satisfactory supply of land and premises for employment uses, by protecting where appropriate those existing sites and buildings which it considers to be particularly suitable and by providing or identifying additional sites for new development in suitable locations, including where appropriate, Town Centres”
EMP4 – “Employment sites outside Defined Employment Areas Applications for the redevelopment, in whole or in part, of land currently or previously used for employment purposes but not falling within a Defined Employment Area will be approved where they are for an employment use and the land is still considered suitable for such a use, having regard to other relevant policies in the Plan. Applications for other uses will be approved if it can be demonstrated that, and evidence has been produced that: a) in the case of proposed mixed use development the number of jobs likely to be created by the proposal outweighs the loss of the employment site.


  1. The proposed retailing developments on the Phase II and Phase III sites are geared primarily towards the car user. If implemented, the proposals, taken together with the business/industry element of the application, would result in a major increase in peak period traffic on the road network in the area.
  2. The Phase II proposal provides for a total of 598 car parking spaces. If added to the existing car parking spaces at the Savacentre site of 1,121, then the total car parking spaces (including the 111 spaces associated with the Phase III proposal) would be 1,830. Of those, 1,641 spaces would be devoted to retailing – food, non-food, and restaurant uses.
  3. The developers’ transport consultants, Savell Bird & Axon (SBA), have estimated that 77% of visits (person trips) to the combined Phase II/III proposals would be made by car, including by car as passenger. SBA have also estimated that 50% of trips made to the non-food retailing element of the proposals would be of a primary nature i.e. trips new to the road network, rather than pass-by trips already on the network or trips linked with an existing visit to the Savacentre.
  4. Focussing on some of the local roads, in 2003 SBA predicted increases, at Saturday peak, in traffic flows arising from the Phase II and Phase III proposals ranging between 7.3% and 16.7%. SBA’s 2005 analysis predicts lower – although still significant – levels of increase, up to a maximum of 11.8%. The 2003 analysis took as its starting point existing traffic flows and then measured the predicted increase against that. Whereas, the 2005 analysis took as its starting point existing traffic flows plus a notional level of traffic arising from ‘approved development’ for the Bell Green site i.e. floor areas consented to in the Masterplan for Bell Green but which have not been implemented. Thus the 2005 analysis started from a higher base count than the 2003 calculation, resulting in a lower percentage increase in predicted traffic levels.
  5. The Council’s report of 16 June 2005 to its Strategic Planning Committee, on the Phase II application, refers to ‘increases of about 6% or 7% over existing flows on the network’ during the Saturday peak period. That prediction was in fact based on a flow comparison between previously approved but unimplemented development at Bell Green and flows predicted to arise from the proposals. (The Council’s later report of 14 July 2005 to its Committee corrected the misleading statement in the first report). However, despite the Society repeatedly asking them to do so, the Council have not produced a comparison between existing traffic flows on the network and flows arising should the current proposals be implemented. The flow comparison used by the Council is seriously misleading.
  6. It is inescapable that the Phase II and Phase III proposals would, in combination, generate increases in traffic levels on the local network that can only be described as substantial. The Council’s conclusion in the officer’s report (para 6.39) is that ‘there is sufficient capacity on the road network at most times to accommodate the proposed increase in demand from the Phase II and Phase III development’. Residents in the roads referred to above would strongly disagree with that conclusion, as would the Society.
  7. The officer’s report does not argue that the overall effect of the proposals would be to maintain or reduce the existing levels of traffic on the wider network, nor does it refer to any data that would support such a view. In short, the available evidence suggests that the Phase II proposal would result in a net increase, significant in scale, in existing traffic levels on the network. It follows that some parts of the network would experience increased congestion. The Society considers that the effect in traffic terms would be significantly adverse and unacceptable.
  8. Having regard to the expected impact, the Society considers that from a transport perspective the Phase II and Phase III applications are in clear contravention of important government planning policies at national, regional and local level.

Environmental Issues

  1. The Bell Green site is immediately adjacent to an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), comprising several of the roads that would carry the weight of the additional road traffic that the proposals would generate. The traffic assessments undertaken by the developers identify all of those roads as likely to experience a marked increase (between 7% and 16%) in traffic flow, during the Saturday peak, as a result of the proposals.
  2. The Council’s officer’s report on the proposals contains no specific discussion of the impact of the proposals on the AQMA. Instead, it merely refers to the conclusion of ERM (consultants appointed by the Council) that the developer’s Environmental Statement complied with environmental impact assessment regulations and dealt with all significant environmental impacts, apart from some relating to construction noise.
  3. One of the roads forming part of the AQMA is Sydenham Road, the main shopping thoroughfare of Sydenham town centre. The developers predict an increase in traffic on Sydenham Road, arising from the proposals, of 10.8%, peak period.
  4. All that ERM have said about Sydenham Road is that ‘the applicant has assessed the impacts of air quality on Sydenham Road by using the Health Centre (at Bell Green) as the key sensitive receptor in this location. The assessment shows that this receptor will not be significantly affected by the Phase II development’.
  5. In other words, ERM simply referred to the developer’s own assessment without providing any independent analysis of whether the conclusion reached by the developer was robust. Moreover, had ERM objectively assessed the developers’ assessment they would have noted that the receptor used to measure the air quality impact on Sydenham Road is located completely separately from Sydenham Road. It is in a location at Bell Green that has a quite different built environment than Sydenham Road and that experiences fewer and shorter traffic queues. In other words, the receptor used is in entirely the wrong place to measure air quality in Sydenham Road.
  6. The overall quality and independence of ERM’s assessment of the developers’ Environmental Statement must be seriously questioned in the light of their Sydenham Road analysis. The Society considers that the proposals will result in unacceptable harm to air quality as a result of the increase in traffic.

Planning Policy

  1. The proposals are contrary to development plan and national policy, including but not limited to the following provisions.
    Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres
    Paragraph 2.49 ‘The Government is seeking to reduce the need to travel, to encourage the use of public transport, walking and cycling and reduce reliance on the private car…local authorities should have regard to…the impact on car use, traffic and congestion’
    Paragraph 3.27 ‘In assessing new developments, local planning authorities should consider: whether the proposal would have an impact on the overall distance travelled by car…’
    PPG13: Transport
    Paragraph 49 – ‘The availability of car parking has a major influence on the means of transport people choose for their journeys. Some studies suggest that levels of parking can be more significant than levels of public transport provision in determining means of travel…even for locations very well served by public transport…Reducing the amount of parking in new development…is essential…to promote sustainable travel choices’
    The London Plan
    Policy 3C.16 Tackling congestion and reducing traffic ‘Working with strategic partners the Mayor will aim from 2001 to 2011 to…achieve zero growth [in traffic] across the rest of inner London [other than central London]
    Policy 3C.18 Local area transport treatments ‘…There is an urgent need to reduce congestion and traffic levels….Boroughs should consider local initiatives that aim to reduce traffic…’
    Lewisham Unitary Development Plan – Adopted Plan July 2004
    Chapter 6 Sustainable Transport and Parking – Policy STR.TRN 1 – ‘To co-ordinate land use and development with the provision of transport and car parking, so as to minimise the need for car travel…’
    Policy STR.TRN 4 – ‘To adopt an integrated car parking strategy which contributes to the objectives of road traffic reduction…’
    Reasons for policies – ‘There is a need to reduce car travel in order to reduce traffic congestion, improve the business-operating environment, improve bus reliability and improve air quality and health’
    Chapter 8 Shopping and Town Centres – Policy STC2 Location of New Stores (Sequential Test) ‘…Proposals for substantial retail provision on the edge or outside of these Centres [Major and District Town Centres] will only be considered if …the proposal is sited so as to reduce the number and length of car journeys…’.
  2. Alternative uses for the site
  3. The Sydenham Society has engaged with the Council over the past 10 years about alternative uses for the site. It is a site with a long history of industrial and employment uses. The Society has suggested that the Council should consider using this site to produce high quality employment and training for local residents such as a high-tech science or business park. The Council has however chosen to consider this site primarily for retailing and includes it in its UDP Shopping and Town Centre chapter.
  4. The Council has designated the site as “unsuitable for residential because of contamination”. The Sydenham Society believes that acceptable methods of building houses on contaminated brownfield sites are now available and has argued that this is also an alternative method of regenerating this site. The latest Phase III proposals now show that the Council is prepared to depart from the adopted UDP designation.
  5. The Society considers that by providing more housing on the Phase II site the overall mix of uses on the development would be improved and many of the harmful effects of the proposals would be avoided.
  6. The site has a number of attributes which make it highly suitable for residential development, not least its sustainable location near the transport network for those needing to travel to work.
  7. By failing to make use of more land for housing as part of the overall development of this land the proposals do not maximise the opportunities presented by this land, including to promote a more sustainable pattern of development.
  8. The proposals are contrary to development plan and national planning policy as a result.
  9. Summary and Conclusions
  10. The Society accepts that there is a need to develop the remainder of the Bell Green site. Indeed, the Society has been pressing the Council over the last decade to persuade the site owners to put forward plans for site regeneration.
  11. The present proposals, Phase II and Phase III, have the Society’s firm support in respect of their business/industrial and housing elements. The Society has consistently argued that those uses (and others) should form the core of regeneration. However, the Society has also consistently argued that further large-scale retailing should not be developed at the Bell Green site since that would damage the already faltering town centres of Forest Hill and Sydenham, and would create significant additional traffic in an area whose roads are badly congested. On that basis we have not objected to the Phase III proposal, in which the housing element predominates, but we continue to oppose the Phase II proposal which is dominated by the non-food retailing element.
  12. The Society understands that the Council had to consider the applications before them, and on their merits. The Society also understands the argument that the Phase II proposal, when linked with Phase III, would bring into use a site that has long lain idle and in a way that would provide some employment and housing, and not just retailing. But the Society believes that the better view is that the benefits of the combined Phase II and Phase III proposals are clearly outweighed by the disbenefits (arising principally from the Phase II proposal), especially of damage to local town centres and significant increases in car traffic. That is why the Society considers that there are firm planning grounds for refusal, on its merits, of the Phase II application.
  13. As to the link between the Phase II and Phase III proposals, the developer and the Council argue that in order to provide the social housing element of the housing proposed for Phase III, and the employment element of the Phase II proposal, both have to be subsidised by a substantial retailing element on the Phase II site. That is a superficially attractive argument. However, on closer scrutiny, the argument is not compelling.
  14. Neither the developer nor the Council have specified what would be a minimum level of retailing that would be needed on the Phase II site in order to subsidise the employment and housing proposals. On the face of it, it appears possible that the developer could scale down the proposed retailing and still be able to provide the necessary cross-subsidy for housing on the Phase III site, and possibly also the employment proposal on Phase II. There must be the possibility too that, if not immediately then within the foreseeable future, funding for social housing in the form of a social housing grant could replace a cross-subsidy from retailing on Phase II. In other words, the Society considers that it may be possible to disengage the Phase III site proposal from the Phase II site proposal.
  15. Returning to the subsidy for employment uses, the developers’ 2003 analysis of the viability of such uses on the Phase II site specifically excluded the possibility of a residential development on Phase II (which they acknowledged would be valuable) as a source of subsidy. That was because the UDP excluded housing, and still does, from the entire Bell Green site. However, the Council has now departed from its own UDP policy by agreeing (in principle) to housing on Phase III. There is no reason then, in principle, why that policy flexibility could not be extended to Phase II. Moreover, as recently as April 2005 the Council’s environmental consultants said that they had ‘no information to preclude possible residential development of the Phase II site’.
  16. The Society considers it apparent then that if the Phase II application is refused that need not prevent a further application from coming forward which could provide for a mix of housing and employment on the site, and possibly a much scaled down amount of retailing. A housing development could subsidise the employment use and would have the major benefit of neither impacting on town centre viability nor creating significant increases in current traffic levels.
  17. In other words, we believe that a development on the Phase II site that provided, predominantly, a mix of housing and employment uses (light industry etc) would be of infinitely greater value to the local and to the wider community than a DIY store, garden centre, and other associated retailing.

The documents to which the Society currently intends to refer at the inquiry are noted where relevant above. The Society reserves the right to refer to additional documents as it investigates further the proposals and develops its evidence.

This statement of case gives as full particulars of the case which the Society proposes to put forward at the inquiry as is possible in the circumstances. The Society reserves the right to refer to additional points as it further investigates the proposals and other relevant matters and develops its case.

Sydenham Road Face-lift

The long awaited local consultation about how to improve Sydenham Road, from Cobbs Corner to Mayow Road, is about to begin.
Lewisham proposes publishing its first stage consultation leaflet around the end of November. A questionnaire will seek local views regarding the high street as it is currently. The leaflet and questionnaire (to be completed by 22 December) will be circulated to 5000 households within a five minute walk of Sydenham Road. A further 5000 copies will be available in the Library and local shops so that everyone interested can take part in the process.

Concurrently, Living Streets (a national charity which campaigns for better conditions for pedestrians in public places) is planning to run a series of Community Street Audits in the high street. The purpose of these audits is to assess the high street’s current ‘walkability’ and will include walkabouts with local residents to pinpoint pedestrian problems. Space Syntax – the partnership that was employed to look at Trafalgar Square pedestrian flows before the square was pedestrianised – will also be reporting on Sydenham Road.

The results of the questionnaire will be analysed and these, together with the Living Streets and Space Syntax reports, will be the subject of a dialogue to be held at two Forums during January. Local residents will meet the design team, who will be tasked with drafting proposals by April/May, which will, in turn, be the subject of a further local consultation.

Following this second consultation the drafts will then be finalised and a submission for funding made to Transport for London. If accepted it is hoped that some work could start during the Financial Year beginning 2007.

Paul Holdsworth of Living Streets says he is very excited about the real possibilities for major pedestrian improvements to Sydenham Road.

A riot of colour at Bell Green

Prompted by ecologist Nick Bertrand’s lively dissertation at the Bell Green public inquiry on the flora recorded on the derelict site by the gas cylinders, the Inspector and a few of us were permitted to visit it. When the gate was unlocked and we set foot on the land one couldn’t help gasping at all the magic of beautiful colours that covered the whole of the undulating area.

What was once a spoil heap had been left untouched for 20 years and had undergone a transformation. Nature has spread a soft blanket of wild flowers and grasses that stand knee high and were at the peak of their flowering time. There were shades of yellow, red, pink and purple, all swaying gently in the sunshine. Nick had recorded at least 175 species in 2 days and he thinks the final number could reach 250-300.

Even the uninitiated botanist couldn’t fail to find some of the names of the plants enchanting: Shepherd’s Purse, Sticky Mouse Ear, Foxtail, Black Harehound, Yorkshire Frog, Fleabane, Jack go to bed by moon, Nipplewort, Bristly Oxtongue and Canary Grass. Where have they all come from? It seems nature has been winning here. An ecology park would be great! One fears their future existence is doomed – who knows what will happen to this piece of forgotten land.

Ruth Locke
Autumn 2006

Editor’s Note:
Nick Bertrand also said that bull finches, house sparrows, linnets, sky larks, song thrushes and starlings – all Red List species of high conservation concern – are breeding or probably breeding on and using the surrounding area for feeding, roosting and wintering. There is also, unsurprisingly, a long Amber List (species that are of concern but not so threatened as those on the Red List) of birds using the site.

Forest Hill Pools – what next?

Little has been heard since from the Council since the listing of Lousie House, and stakeholders are not to be involved officially until sometime next year. However, we believe the council’s ring-fenced £7.5m could attract interest from architectural practices that would be happy to work in partnership with Lewisham to provide swimming and leisure facilities that we can all be proud to use in Forest Hill.

Last February, following a prolonged and intrusive survey, Lewisham Council reported that Forest Hill Pools could not be refurbished at reasonable cost and with a guaranteed reasonable shelf-life and it was announced that a new facility with a pool and a learner pool would need to be built. The Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, confirmed that a capital sum of £7.5m had been ring-fenced for new facilities and publicly committed to retaining swimming facilities at Forest Hill.

During the early summer the council’s chosen architects (HLM) worked up three “indicative” options all of which involved the demolition of Louise House and the Pools buildings. These included swimming pools, a leisure/fitness suite and housing of differing densities intended to cross-subsidise the level of facilities the local community demanded.

Despite requests to include an option that maintained the existing frontage of the pools the council pressed ahead with their basic designs and at the beginning of August (the school holidays) went out to public consultation. This consultation was poorly conducted and carried out in a particularly hit and miss way – some local residents living close to the pools only receiving their questionnaires on the morning of the first day (of two) of a public exhibition. Local councillors together with the Forest Hill and Sydenham Societies insisted there should be a public meeting as part of the consultation process and this took place on 21 August.
However on 19 August we learned that a request to English Heritage for the listing of Louise House by a local resident had been successful. Louise House was granted Grade ll status and the plans to demolish the building were scuppered.

The public meeting of 21 August was well attended and many asked that the council’s Leisure Services officers return to the drawing board and prepare a feasibility study which would also look at the possibility of retaining the Pool’s frontage block (the Superintendent’s House) in order to “Save the Face of Forest Hill” as demanded by an active and vocal group of campaigning residents, representing 2,000 petitioners.

At a full Mayor and Cabinet meeting in September the Mayor tasked the Leisure Services officers with providing a full feasibility study to include the option of retaining the existing façade, and to examine how facilities could be developed on site without using the space occupied by the newly listed Louise House. The officers are expected to report back to the Mayor by January. Both the Sydenham and Forest Hill Societies believe that the best (and fastest) route to the delivery of a good building is via an architectural competition and such a building will need to be in harmony with its existing neighbours (Holy Trinity School, Forest Hill Library and Louise House, all of which are Grade ll listed) and will need to have the approval of English Heritage before planning permission is given.

Members of the Sydenham Society will continue to attend the Council’s Stakeholder Group, which has met on three occasions this year, to discuss the future of the pools. The Society is keen to see an early resumption of swimming at Forest Hill and will work with the council and other stakeholders to try to ensure this happens. It will not be easy in the current financial climate, but we believe the council’s ring-fenced £7.5m should attract interest from architectural practices that would be happy to work in partnership with Lewisham to provide swimming and leisure facilities that we can all be proud to use in Forest Hill.

A footnote to the above. Strangely, while the Leisure Services Department was working on plans for the demolition of both Louise House and the Pools building, it became known that Conservation Officers in Lewisham’s Planning Department had commissioned a review of the Forest Hill Town Centre Conservation Area. It is understood that this review, to be published early next year, will recommend the extension of the Conservation Area to include the Pools and Louise House buildings. One may wonder, and only Lewisham Council can explain, why it is that one council department is intent on the demolition of the same two buildings that another Council department is considering including within an extended Conservation Area?

History of Forest Hill Pools

Written by Steve Grindlay

Forest Hill Pools are, almost certainly, the oldest substantially intact working baths to survive in the London area. Although they nearly didn’t make it, they have survived to celebrate their 120th anniversary this year. The Earl of Dartmouth opened them on Saturday 2nd May 1885.

The foundation stone was laid a year earlier, in a tent erected on the site. For this ceremony 1700 school children marched along Dartmouth Road to the tent, where they were each given a bun and an orange.

The pool’s origins can be traced back to 1846, when the Baths and Wash-Houses Act empowered local authorities to raise money for such buildings. The Lewisham Vestry was slow to respond, for it was not until 1882 that they decided to use these powers, and appointed seven commissioners to obtain funds and land, and to build two swimming pools with public baths. The commissioners found their two sites; one in Ladywell and one Forest Hill. From 1819 the large plot of land on which the Swimming Pools, Louise House, Forest Hill Library and Holy Trinity School now stand had been glebe land, used to provide income for the vicars of Lewisham. Fortunately, in 1882, the vicar of Lewisham was Hon Canon Augustus Legge, one of the pools commissioners, and he made part of this plot available “at a price much lower than other land about”.

The architects appointed for both the Ladywell and Forest Hill pools were Wilson and Aldwinckle. Thomas Aldwinckle (1845-1920) lived in Dacres Road (co-incidentally, on the site of Hennel Close, named after Alexander Hennell, who designed Forest Hill Library) from the mid-1880s for about twenty years. In addition to the pools Aldwinckle designed Louise House, the Boys’ Industrial Home in Perry Rise (demolished a few years ago) and the Brook Hospital and Water Tower at Shooters Hill.

Today, with Ladywell Pools derelict and Louise House empty and under threat, Forest Hill Pools takes on an added significance as the only surviving, functioning building in the borough, by this local architect.
Two men, of very different temperament, did more than any others to bring about the creation of the pools: Theophilus William Williams and Augustus Legge. Williams was of modest origins, working his way up from messenger to bank manager (of what was later Barclays, now ACTS Credit Union in Kirkdale). He then entered local politics, where again he was successful, becoming Lewisham’s first mayor in 1900. He fell from grace, committing suicide on the day he was due to face charges of fraud and embezzlement. The Hon Augustus Legge, on the other hand, was a younger son of the Earl of Dartmouth. He was vicar of St Bartholomew’s 1867-1879 then became vicar of Lewisham until 1891 when he was appointed Bishop of Litchfield. Williams or Legge was involved in almost every major local project (Mayow Park, Wells Park, Children’s Hospital, Industrial Homes, libraries) undertaken during the last quarter of the 19th century.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the pools. There were those who considered spending ratepayers’ money on such a project an unjustified extravagance. The Commissioners were keen to point out to that, at £9,000, the building was remarkable value for money. The pools were described as “the cheapest for the accommodation afforded, as well as the handsomest, in the United Kingdom” and The Builder said, “Unnecessary expense and all extraneous ornament have been most carefully avoided … the architects have succeeded very well in giving a certain degree of picturesque effect to buildings of a generally plain and practical character”. In today’s terms, the building would have cost about £600,000.

The pools provide a vivid illustration of the rigid class system in Victorian England. One of the commissioners said that the baths would promote “the comfort and health of the people” reducing “poverty, crime and many evils. The more they promoted healthy exercise the more virtuous the people would become”.

The architects’ plans show that there were two entrances to the building. To the left of the present ticket office was the entrance for “1st class males”, who had their own waiting room and their own pool (the left-hand pool). This was mirrored on the right side, where “2nd class males” had their own ticket office, waiting room and pool. Even today, filtered water, using the original filters, flows first to the left-hand pool before flowing into the right! Women seemed to have been an afterthought, not able to use the main entrance but having their own, on the right side of the building, where the “females ticket office” still survives. There was very definitely no mixed bathing; men could use the pools morning and evening, while women used them during the day. Later, Tuesdays and Fridays were set aside for women. There were also private baths (called slipper baths, for washing), 10 for 1st class customers and 20 2nd class. The 2nd class baths were in the room now used by the fitness centre.

The 1st class baths were on the left side of the entrance, and still retain a couple of the cubicles, although without the baths. Surprisingly, the private baths were not segregated. This was so that all who wanted could have a bath every day of the week.

It was intended that during the quiet winter months from November to April the pools would close for swimming. The 1st class pool would be boarded over, and used as a public hall for meetings, concerts and bazaars.

This continued until the 1950s or later. Indeed, in 1951 Clement Atlee used a political meeting at the pools to announce that Britain needed to re-arm in order to meet the threat to our way of life from the Soviet Union.

We have at least one famous swimmer associated with the pools. Linda Ludgrove, who lived in Eddisbury House, Sydenham Hill and went to Sydenham School, trained in the pools in the evenings, after they were closed to the public. She won several Commonwealth Games gold medals, and broke five world records between 1962 and 1967.

The future of the building is not secure. We have been assured that there will be a public consultation exercise in June, to find out what users and other residents would like for the pools. It is vital that all those who care about them either as a valuable resource, an important part of our townscape or even for what they tell us about the social history of the area, make their feelings known.

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!)

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
Sydenham Society

The Future of Forest Hill Pools

As our last newsletter went to press in mid-February there was news that the Mayor and Cabinet had taken the decision to demolish the existing buildings and build a new two-pool facility on the site of the Pools and Louise House complex, and that they had committed to consulting with local groups and residents with regard to the design. There was also a commitment to integrate some of the features of the existing pools building into the design.

Since that time there has been one “Stakeholder meeting” on 17 March at which members of the Sydenham Society were present, along with members of the Forest Hill Society, to hear Lewisham Council officers outline the schedule of redevelopment.

A further meeting is planned for 15 May, after this newsletter deadline.

The timetable includes demolition of the whole site in July, although it is admitted this date is likely to slip as a nursery, currently using part of the rear of Louise House, will need to be relocated first.

The concerns of a large number of people about retaining the Victorian streetscape, by possibly converting the existing brick built buildings into residential property, are not included in the Council’s plans, despite the statement in Lewisham’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for Forest Hill (March 2003) which says: “The Library and Pools complex need to be addressed in terms of celebrating these important buildings, creating a special place and providing improved amenity for the local community.”

English Heritage has also stated that: “They (the Pools) make a positive contribution to the streetscape and along with Holy Trinity School, Forest Hill Library and Louise House form a distinct group of buildings which reflect the Victorian enthusiasm for education and health reform.”

Members attending the recent Sydenham Society Annual General Meeting were shown ideas for two new pools, a refurbished Louise House and Superintendent’s House (the frontage block of the swimming pool), a public square and residential housing which would help cross-subsidise the pools/leisure facility. There was an overwhelming majority in favour of these ideas which have been put to the council for consideration.

The council say that they are committed to good design for the replacement of all buildings on this important town site, a focal point for Forest Hill, and have earmarked £7.5m for the redevelopment of two pools (a 25m 6-lane pool, and a learner pool), together with a fitness suite. A cross-subsidy of £2m from sale of development land does leave a question in many minds about how much £9.5m can buy in terms of quality design.

The council say that housing on this site could be of high, medium or low density, but as yet there is no indication of what this means in terms of numbers of residential properties, nor of the type of housing, ie high or low rise, also one, two or three bedroom units.

The services are currently being decommissioned and the pools are being drained. Design and feasibility work is underway and a historical survey with a view to retaining some of the original features (the keystone and the griffins) and incorporating these into the new building is also underway. A local public consultation is planned for June at Forest Hill Library. However, there will be no designs available before the planned demolition takes place, which leaves many local residents concerned about what might eventually be planned. A design competition before the pools are demolished has been ruled out as the project is deemed to be too small to justify such a venture.

The Sydenham Society will continue to campaign for the retention of the Victorian buildings which we believe are an important part of the Forest Hill streetscape and which, converted and refurbished will, we believe, provide a sustainable use for these sound structures which have played such an important part in the social history of the area for over 120 years.

Pedestrian Improvements to Sydenham Road

Plans to improve the pedestrian environment of Sydenham Road are finally emerging and the second round of public consultation has begun. There are a number of major changes which are likely to be introduced. These are:

  1. At Cobb’s Corner. A light controlled pedestrian crossing proposed for Kirkdale (replacing the existing Zebra); at Westwood Hill junction with Lawrie Park Road a signal controlled crossing with a pedestrian phase, replacing the existing Zebra. Both Westwood Hill and Kirkdale signals are intended to help provide better control/balance of traffic flow approaching Cobbs Corner from the west.
  2. Spring Hill junction with Cobbs Corner. Raised pavement across the junction – there has also been discussion between planners and developers’ architects as to how the plans for redevelopment of Greyhound site fit in with the plans for improvement of the pedestrian environment in this area.
  3. A new roundabout will be constructed!!!!
  4. In the Kirkdale Bookshop area. New (unsignalled) road islands to aid pedestrians crossing.
  5. The zebra crossing on the railway bridge will go.
  6. Venner Road. The proposals include moving the point at which Venner Road is closed at its junction with Sydenham Road in order to create a local open space with, possibly, 3-4 longer term parking spaces for businesses at the rear of this area.
  7. Station Approach. The Council is in discussion with Network Rail and TfL London Rail regarding future improvements which will be exhibited / consulted upon outside the current consultation.
  8. Sydenham Road/Silverdale/Venner Road area. An enlarged raised pavement proposed across the width of Sydenham Road as part of a signal controlled pedestrian crossing. Short-term parking will be lost in this area.
  9. Newlands Park/Sydenham Road junction. A full pedestrian phased light controlled crossing is proposed (with straight pedestrian crossings on each arm). This means traffic will stop and pedestrians can even cross the road diagonally. A box junction is also planned.
  10. Bus stops. These are proving problematic in the emerging designs. It is suggested that the one outside Boots be moved nearer to Newlands Park. The bus stop outside the Post Office remains as at present.
  11. Queensthorpe/Sydenham Road junction. A decision about the treatment of this junction has yet to be determined – it could be closed to traffic; alternatively, there could be a raised pavement across this junction.
  12. Sydenham Road/ Mayow Park junction. A full pedestrian phased light controlled crossing (with straight pedestrian crossings on each arm) is proposed. This means that pedestrians can cross this junction in “one go”, and also diagonally.
  13. Short term parking spaces. There will be a loss of some short-term parking spaces on Sydenham Road although, as we go to press, this figure has not been made available.
  14. Mayow Road to Bell Green. During 2008/09 design work is planned for the remainder of Sydenham Road down to Bell Green. This will look to address a number of issues focussing on safety, but will include some pedestrian improvements of a simpler/minor nature compared to proposals west of Mayow Road
  15. Linked traffic signals. It is proposed to link the signals from Westwood Hill/Kirkdale to Mayow Road and extending the linking to Bell Green, enabling traffic movement to be managed more effectively and producing an average 20 mph traffic speed throughout the length of Sydenham Road.
  16. DeCeaux will accept the removal of the cylindrical advertising pillar outside the Post Office, subject to its replacement with a flat faced illuminated scrolling panel at a location of equivalent value. If other illuminated street advertising hoardings are removed the council will need to find alternative advertising sites. Removal of this pillar will enable this area to be made into a more attractive public open space.
  17. The main footway paving is grey concrete standard slabs, with parking bays and raised side road entries constructed in dark grey granite.
  18. If all goes to plan work on the new scheme could start in January 2009.

Public consultation has begun and continues throughout May. The scheme will also be an item discussed at the next Sydenham Assembly on Thursday 5 June. All local residents are invited to take part in the consultation and attend one of the public meetings being held at the Naborhood Centre. Questionnaires have been delivered to all residents and should be returned by 2 June.

Forest Hill Pools back on the agenda

Since the pools were closed on health and safety grounds in March 2006 there has been little information about what was happening inside. We were told that an “intrusive survey” was being carried out before the promised refurbishment, which was due to start in early 2008.

As we go to press a report by council officers about the future of Forest Hill Pools has been tabled and is due to go to the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on 13 February. The report indicates that both pools are severely cracked across their entire width and water leakage has been measured at 3627m3 per annum, equivalent to 10 times the water volume of the main pool. The implication is that the officers consider refurbishment of the existing building, to allow a reasonable lifecycle of 20 years, is not economic.

Other options have been put forward. One is to consider retaining the existing frontage and, behind the existing façade, build a new 25m pool and a learner pool together with a fitness suite. An alternative is to demolish the existing building together with Louise House and provide a complete new build leisure centre with 25m pool, learner pool and fitness suite and a “community facility”. The third choice is to demolish the whole complex and provide a “dry” leisure centre alongside an adult learning centre.

There has been virtually no opportunity for the local community to digest or respond to the officers’ report before it goes to the Mayor and Cabinet. However, the Sydenham Society has requested that the wider community be fully informed of the reasons for the report and kept involved in all processes from now on.

We believe that representatives of the community and user groups should be involved in the selection of architects and a “Planning for Real” exercise should be undertaken at the earliest stage to inform the designers of the hopes, dreams and fears of the community in regard to the development of Forest Hill Pools and Louise House. This, we believe, would help to achieve the best possible outcome for the provision of a great swimming pool facility that preserves the character of Forest Hill’s architectural heritage and includes the local community in the process.

Furthermore we think that public money (perhaps £5000 from the Localities Fund) should be used to employ the expertise of reputable conservation architects to prepare a report on how the much of the original architecture can be saved/integrated/ salvaged/for use in the proposals for a new/refurbished building on the pools and Louise House site.

Pools latest:
We have learned that the Mayor and Cabinet have taken the decision to demolish the existing buildings and build a new two-pool facility on the site of the Pools and Louise House. They have committed to consulting with local groups and residents with regard to the design and there is also a commitment to integrate some of the features of the existing pools building into the new design.

It is hoped that work will begin at the beginning of 2009, after the design and tender process, and that the new pool will be ready in the summer of 2010.