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Pedestrian improvements to Sydenham Road

By the time this newsletter is distributed the long overdue plans for improving Sydenham Road will have been reviewed by the Mayor and Cabinet. If they are approved and the funding is secured, work should begin in January 2010. The plans are designed to enhance the general environment and to make the road more pedestrian friendly.

Proposals for improvements to Station Approach when Lewisham Council adopts this road, will include improved design, paving and parking improvements as part of creating a heart for Sydenham. Lewisham has allocated funds to Station Approach and the consultation process is likely to start at the end of 2009. There will be some parking, but this will not, as now, be dominated by all day parking. The aim is to have half hour short-term parking as in the rest of the high street, together with a station drop off area.

However before any of these road improvements can be started work on renewing the gas mains, taking approximately 14 months, is due to begin throughout the length of Sydenham Road. The first phases involve laying smaller diameter pipes under the pavements (this work has started) and Southern Gas Networks (SGN) promise that access to homes and businesses will be maintained at all times.
From April SGN say they will be working in the carriageway to replace sections of the old metal mains where possible using a process called ‘insertion’ which involves pushing the new pipe into the old one. This method greatly reduces the amount of digging and this, in turn, reduces disruption.

Also to add to the pleasure of travelling through Sydenham in the next twelve months comes the news that at the same time as the gas mains work is in progress Thames Water will be replacing their mains west of the railway bridge at Cobbs Corner. Oh joy!

Sydenham parking restrictions

In early November Lewisham’s Mayor and Cabinet meeting proposed a series of measures which will have profound implications for parking around Sydenham Road and neighbouring streets.
Introducing charges for Girton Road Car Park
Currently the Girton Road Car is free thanks to a £16,000 pa part-subsidy from Safeway, which ended with the sale of Safeway. Unless the new owner (Somerfield) agrees to reinstate the subsidy, proposed charges will be introduced as follows:

  • Up to 30mins free
  • From 30mins to one hour 50p
  • From one hour to two hours £1.00
  • From two to three hours £2.00
  • From three to six hours £3.00
  • Maximum stay six hours

Local councillors and the Head of Lewisham Transport have agreed to hold meetings with Lidl and Somerfield to see if some money can be found to prevent charges being levied on Girton Road, but as we went to press we had no news that these meetings have been arranged.

What is a Controlled Parking Zone? (CPZ)
An area where parking is restricted only to those local residents and local traders displaying a parking permit on the windscreen of their car. Permits can be purchased from the council, along with short-term permits for visitors. Normal operating hours for a CPZ in an area such as Sydenham are likely to be Monday-Saturday 9am- 6pm.

Which streets are to be included?
There are no indications yet as to how far the zone will extend but to be effective it would have to include all of the streets bordering Sydenham Road and the lower parts of Kirkdale and Westwood Hill.

How much will it cost?
Lewisham CPZs are charged £30 pa per vehicle. There is no limit to the number of vehicles per household, providing the resident can prove that they are the owner of each vehicle. For traders the charge is £300 per vehicle. There is no limit to the number of permits any trader can claim.
If charges are introduced this is likely to have an adverse effect on the local high street as customers make for the giant 1200 free car park at Bell Green to give their custom to Sainsbury’s or other outlets in the out of town retail centre.

Referendum on Controlled Parking Zones
Before parking charges are introduced at Girton Road, residents in the roads adjoining Sydenham Road will have a vote on whether they wish to have a CPZ in the area. On the voting papers, residents will be informed that parking charges for Girton Road are to be introduced – the implication being that once it costs money to use the car park, many more drivers will try to park on nearby streets and residents should take this into account when voting.
Lewisham Council will not attempt to impose a CPZ should a majority of residents vote against the proposal but the charges to use Girton Road Car Park could go ahead whatever the result of the referendum.

Pay and display areas
Some of the bays, generally at the end of a street, will also be areas where non-permit holders can park using a “pay and display” system. There is a limit to the time non-permit holders can park in a pay and display bay – normally no longer than four hours.

Disabled Parking
Disabled bays will not normally be marked out in CPZs unless the person can show that they cannot regularly park in a bay close to their home.

New Year 2005

The origins of Mayow Park

On 29th May 1875, a “Plea for a People’s Recreation Ground” appeared in the Sydenham, Forest Hill & Penge Gazette. It regretted that “all available land in our neighbourhood is being taken for building purposes” and young people “meet and loiter about the roads, congregate at every street corner, becoming a moral pest and a nuisance”. Furthermore, the poor had nothing but “the streets, the music hall, the penny gaff or the public house for their evening’s resort”.

This letter, written by Rev William Taylor Jones, headmaster of Sydenham College, led to the creation of Sydenham Public Recreation Ground (later renamed Mayow Park), the first public open space in the south of Lewisham. The following week, the Hon and Rev Augustus Legge, vicar of St Bartholomew’s, wrote endorsing Taylor Jones’ proposal. He also offered twenty guineas towards the cost.

Six months later, stung by an editorial in the Gazette that asked why so little progress had been made, Taylor Jones replied that he had hoped that “a more energetic person” would have taken up the reins. He then discussed the two major issues – how was money to be raised, and where was the ground be located? Raising money was straightforward. The Metropolitan Board of Works (the London-wide local authority of the time) might make a significant contribution, and the rest would come from donations. The Lewisham District Board of Works (forerunner of Lewisham Council) could lay out and maintain the ground. Finding a suitable site was more difficult. Several were discussed. One, “an excellent site”, was not then available, but it would later become Wells Park. Another suggestion was glebe land (called Vicar’s Field) in Dartmouth Road, where the Library, swimming pools, Thorpewood Avenue and Derby Crescent were later built. This was the preferred site. However, objectors suggested that as it was let as allotments to the poor, at a very low rent, it would be unjust to deprive them of this benefit.

By November 1875 Taylor Jones had formed a committee of two dozen of the more wealthy and influential residents, including Mayow Wynell Adams, F J Horniman, A G Hennell (architect of Forest Hill library), Rev Augustus Legge and T W Williams (embezzler, drug-taker, suicide, local politician and Lewisham’s first mayor). Taylor Jones also published a list of those willing to give money, of whom F J Horniman (with £100) was the most generous.

By December 1875 the Lewisham District Board of Works had agreed that it would accept and “enclose, plant, and preserve [a suitable site] as an open space forever”. Taylor Jones said, “The ground should be used for recreation, and not a mere ornamental or pleasure ground”. By “recreation”, he meant sports (football, cricket etc.). This comment makes clear the distinction between a “park”, which was primarily ornamental, and a “recreation ground”, which was primarily for sports.

A public meeting at the Foresters’ Hall, Clyde Vale (the building survives) on 24th February 1876 was a turning point. It was attended by “many well known ladies and gentlemen”. The Earl of Dartmouth was in the chair. Sharing the platform with him was his younger brother, the Hon and Rev Augustus Legge. Their father, as Lewisham’s major landowner, was a principal proponent and major beneficiary of the enclosure of Sydenham Common in 1819.

At this meeting, Taylor Jones announced that Mayow Wynell Adams had offered 17½ acres of land for £8,500 (about half its market value). The meeting unanimously accepted the site offered by Mayow Adams and accepted a motion, proposed by George Grove, to open a subscription list of those willing to donate.

In a book published in 1878, Mayow Wynell Adams wrote, “It had often occurred to me how pleasant a thing it would be if I could devote a portion of land for the amusement and recreation of the public, but … it was not in my power to give it.” In 1874, Mayow Wynell Adams inherited the Old House, on the site of the present Earlsthorpe Road. After a legal dispute with his trustees, he was able to offer the site of the present park.

A deputation, led by William Taylor Jones, approached the MBW to apply for a grant. After much discussion (and an Act of Parliament, which was needed to allow the MWB to use ratepayers money to buy land, and to bind the Lewisham District Board of Works and its successors to care for the ground in perpetuity) the MBW agreed to contribute half the cost of the site. The trustees of the Lewisham Parochial Charities (of whom Taylor Jones was chairman) agreed to donate £1000. That left £3250 for local people to raise.

The Sydenham, Forest Hill & Penge Gazette was vociferous in its support for the campaign. It pointed out that there was an obligation on the part of those who had benefited from the enclosure of Sydenham Common to give something back. “From those who received so much, something substantial is expected in return, and the public eye … will not fail to watch closely their response to the appeal for funds,” the Gazette said, threateningly. Then there were those who lived near the proposed park, for their houses “will be considerably enhanced” by it. In fact, it concluded, everyone will benefit and therefore all should contribute.

By early May 1876, the treasurers held only £700 of the £3250 that local people needed to raise. William Taylor Jones wrote again to the paper, reminding people of their duty. Thomas Coleman Dibdin, a landscape painter well known in his own day, and local resident, donated “six delightful sketches” of the site of the park, for sale at £5 each, to raise money.

Eventually contracts were exchanged and the Lewisham Board of Works began the task of preparing the ground. The site consisted of four fields, and while the hedges were cleared, the ancient hedgerow oaks were kept. The site had to be levelled and drainage installed, particularly in the central area, which was to be used for cricket. The surviving bank around this area was for spectators. The original layout did not include the main entrance from Silverdale (that had to wait until the road itself was developed) but otherwise the design of the park has changed little, the bowling green and tennis courts being the main additions, and the lodge (part of the original design) the main loss.

On 1st June 1878 the Sydenham and Forest Hill Public Recreation Ground was formally opened. A procession left what is now Dalmain Primary School in Brockley Rise at 3 pm. It made its way along Dartmouth Road, down Kirkdale, Sydenham Road and Mayow Road to the park. Children from schools along the route joined it, as did many shopkeepers, who had closed their shops for the occasion. Buildings were decorated with flags and bunting hung across the roads. Members of local organisations marched (Kent Artillery Volunteers, West Kent Fire Brigade, Ancient Order of Foresters and others). There were also the carriages of those too important to walk. The “oldest inhabitant” said he could not remember an occasion to equal it. By four o’clock, the procession entered the recreation ground.

There were some 11,000 people in the park. The chairman of the Lewisham District Board of Works declared the park open “for ever”, and added “those two words … signified that it was to be kept open and in good order for ever … in the same beautiful order to which it was now seen … never worse, but probably better”. Another speaker showed a model of a drinking fountain to be erected in honour of the Rev William Taylor Jones. He also presented Taylor Jones with a silver inkstand.

Since the opening of Mayow Park, some ten open spaces have been created in the area. The significance of Mayow Park, however, is that it was the first. William Taylor Jones created something that few had done before. It was a typically Victorian venture, led and largely funded by the wealthy and influential, undoubtedly from the best of motives, for the benefit and improvement of those less fortunate.

Footnote: At today’s prices, the 17½-acre site cost £378,057. The Metropolitan Board of Works gave £189,029 and Lewisham Parochial Charities £44,477. The local community donated £144,551. The largest individual donation (F J Horniman at £100) would be worth £4,447 today.

Forest Hill Pools face uncertain future

Too many pools…
In 1994 BP gave the private sports club that it no longer required to Lewisham Council. This is now known as the Bridge Leisure Centre. In 1996, using the argument that they had too many swimming pools, Lewisham took the decision to close Forest Hill Pools.

3 Month Campaign
News reached local residents who turned up to the Leisure Services Committee meeting where the decision was taken. The three-month campaign to Save Forest Hill Pools, supported by Sydenham Society, started immediately. There were many arguments as to why Forest Hill Pools should remain open and the communities of Forest Hill and Sydenham came together to defend their heritage.

Councillors shouted down
There was a groundswell of local protest culminating in a public meeting chaired by then local councillor Steve Bullock at which the councillors and officers were shouted down – a peaceful if highly vociferous protest at which the police were present in case of violent disorder!

Downham Pool collapses
By June 1996 the council had overturned its decision – probably assisted by the collapse of the roof at Downham Pool!

Another public consultation
In May this year there were no 120th birthday celebrations for the oldest pools in London. Lewisham was once again talking about a consultation on their future. A public meeting on 5 October at Sydenham School, chaired by the same Steve Bullock, this time as Mayor, was the start of this consultation. About 150 residents turned up to the meeting, most of them pool users. 2 options were outlined:

  • Refurbishment (leading to a possible extension of 10 years of the life of the existing pools)
  • Demolition and a new building with only one pool (with a 60 year life expectancy).

Mike Peart of Capita, the group who will build the new pools, pointed out that there was a crack in the fabric of one of the pools, which may or may not be serious and that, of course, a building of this age could fail at any time.

Financial constraints
There was a council imposed financial constraint of £4.7m for the new building with, strangely, only £4.1m for refurbishment. Local residents were told the reason for the financial constraint was because Lewisham is building a new pool at Wavelengths at Deptford, and the pool at Downham is nearing completion. Another pool in Lewisham Town Centre is also to be built.

Unanimous call for 2 pools
A well mannered meeting left the Mayor, local councillors and officers with a unanimous understanding that 2 pools are required – a new 25m, 6 lane replacement pool is not flexible enough to maintain the current usage. There are acknowledged problems with the current building, but it is loved locally and a refurbishment would appear to be the only option acceptable. As someone said, lose one pool and you have lost it for good. Certainly retaining and refurbishing the present building and giving it 10+ years of life buys time – there may be additional cash for further improvement a year or so down the line.

14 months closure at least
Whichever option chosen it will necessitate the pools being closed for at least 14 months.

The Sydenham Society’s position
Refurbish the best option
The Sydenham Society supports the option to refurbish. It was quite obvious at the public meeting that local residents want to retain two pools. The loss of a much loved landmark building that has served the community so well for 120 years must be fought.

Listed Library could be under threat
The Society is also concerned about the future of Louise House, the Victorian building between the Pools and Library, should the Pools be demolished. The Library is listed Grade 2 but neither of the other buildings have any protection.

Loaded leaflet
The leaflet being delivered through 45,000 doors is quite clearly loaded in favour of the option to demolish the existing building and rebuild a leisure centre with one pool, and its wording should be questioned. It is not difficult to see that Lewisham Council clearly wants a rebuilt pool and would more than likely take the opportunity to redevelop the whole site. The council needs to explain its position on this matter.

Lewisham has a poor reputation for its handling of Leisure Centres. The Downham Pool is due to open at the end of next year, well behind schedule and over budget. Ladywell Pool had a s1.8m refit some two years ago and within 6 months the council announced its closure in 2007 so that the site could be used for a new school. There is currently a big protest going on by Ladywell Pool users as the new pool for Lewisham Town Centre planned as a replacement is not due to open until 2010 (if then).

Enhancing Sydenham Road

Two open forums held on 1 and 3 March presented the results of the survey. 457 people – some 7.5% of the recipients, a good response in terms of Market Research, had completed the questionnaire. About 50 people had joined “Living Streets” (formerly the Pedestrians Association) in walking the high street to pinpoint problems for pedestrians using Sydenham Road and the Space Syntax map of how residents actually cross the roads, avoiding the prescribed crossings did not come as too much of a surprise to most of us.

Atkins Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, the recently appointed successful bidder to take the project into the design stage, were introduced. Atkins were the project managers for the design consultants team and provided all detailed landscape design, transport planning, traffic and civil engineering services for the major transformation of Trafalgar Square into its current World Square status.
In 3 break-out groups, people discussed what they wanted to see done to improve the high street. An opportunity was given to everyone to express their aspirations and concerns which were noted and will be taken on board by Atkins as they design the scheme. Matters raised included planting trees, the roundabout at Cobbs Corner, Station Approach, where crossings and bus stops should be sited, safety issues, lighting and waste management.

At the final plenary session there was feedback from each break-out group and an account of the next steps. Atkins is tasked to come back to the community with a draft design later in the summer for further local consultation before a bid for funding is made to Transport for London, who will be underwriting the improvements to the tune of £2m. It was noted that as Transport for London would be paying for improvements they will also need to be satisfied that any improvements will not impede their raison d’etre, which is to ensure satisfactory movement of traffic through the high street – especially buses.

Crystal Palace National Sports Centre

On Saturday, 14 May, Pat Trembath, Ruth Locke, Emma Blagg and Kathleen Towler attended the main group meeting of the Crystal Palace Park dialogue process, facilitated by the Environment Council and Nigel Westaway & Associates on behalf of the London Development Authority (LDA).

Top quality facilities
The LDA will take responsibility for the sports centre in 2006 and, potentially, for the park as a whole by 2009. The LDA are committed to providing top quality sports and leisure facilities in the capital as they know how much this can do to boost health and regenerate neighbouring areas.

Mayor of London lends a hand
The National Sports Centre receives nearly a million visits a year and is the focus for many London and national sports bodies. But parts of the park are in poor condition and the sports centre will need major works within the next few years if it is to keep running. That’s why Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and the LDA have stepped in to help secure the future of the sports facilities and to see how the park can be rejuvenated and made an even more vibrant place than it is today. They want to help the park fulfil its founding principles of being a place for education and recreation and for promoting commerce, industry and the arts. The LDA want to do this in a way that not only has local backing, but will also benefit communities around the park.

Olympic hopefuls training
We are delighted that London will host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The LDA is committed to regenerating the sports facilities in Crystal Palace Park in particular to make them accessible for the local community, so our budding Olympic hopefuls will have somewhere decent to train. And one lucky Olympic team will have a state of the art training facility in Crystal Palace in 2012.

Exciting proposals
One of the most ambitious and exciting proposals for the park is a combined indoor/outdoor sports facility. The proposed new indoor sports facility would be located near the edge of the park and integrated with the existing athletics stadium. It consolidates the car parking and access roads and would involve demolishing the existing ugly, raised walkway.

A new indoor athletics area beneath the west stand of the stadium would be created and the current National Sports Centre building would either be demolished or released for other uses.

Cons…

  • Potential loss of listed building
  • Extensive works while new facilities are built

Pros…

  • Uses space efficiently and cuts back on the amount of space used
  • Fully integrates Sports Centre, Stadium and Park Landscape, allowing better promotion of Crystal Palace as an International Sports Venue Provides the possibility to provide other sport and community uses, such as a health centre, creating more revenue
  • New building provides continuous provision of sports facilities during construction and maintains jobs
  • It will be located nearer public transport and roads with shorter access roads through the park
  • It opens up centre of park or releases National Sports Centre for other uses
  • It is a holistic approach providing a new vision for Crystal Palace and may attract other funding

Reviewing the options
The purpose of the meeting on 14 May was to review a range of draft options for the park which a smaller Task group, including Pat Trembath, has been working on since December 04.

It was compiled by using, as a base, all of the comments that were received during the public consultation at the end of 2004, as well as other reports generated previously by the dialogue process. The draft proposals were then voted on during the meeting and the results of this will be fed into a draft Planning Framework.

Benchmark for future applications
The Planning Framework is a document against which any future planning applications are judged. The proposals for Crystal Palace are being developed to support the long term improvement of the park and its sports and other facilities. They will also be an important contributor to the regeneration of the wider area.
The Planning Framework is being prepared and will provide a context for these proposals and help ‘flesh out’ some of the details. It will provide specific guidelines on issues such as use, urban design and townscape. All work will have to take proper account of planning, building listing and other legislation, policy and guidance.

Public Consultation in October
The draft Planning Framework will be presented by the LDA to Bromley Council (the owners and planning authority) by September. This will form part of a public consultation, currently scheduled to take place within the Park in two locations – the top and bottom – during October, when various options and their financial drivers (i.e. commercial requirements to make each possible) will be put out to Public Consultation as part of the Planning process

Crystal Palace Park update

Preliminary results from the October exhibition on the future of the park and National Sports Centre (NSC) show a high degree of support for the core principles which constitute the vision for the Park programme.

Most of the options for the park also received general approval. But the possibility of residential building at the Upper Norwood entrance was the main exception to this and the London Development Agency is currently rethinking this part of the proposal. If they decide to go ahead with housing, they will need to work hard to demonstrate the rationale to Bromley’s planning department.

The dilapidated sports centre, with the risible prefix “National”, was on the brink of being closed down in March 2004. The London Olympic bid concentrated the minds of politicians and sports bodies on the lack of international sporting facilities within the capital. The proposal to create a state of the art 21st century sports centre provides the impetus for the regeneration of the whole park. In the build up to the Olympics, the new sports centre, hopefully ready in 2010, will become a focus for elite training and competition in London and a training camp for one of the Olympic teams in 2012.

The timetable is very tight. An international architectural competition for the new NSC and surrounding landscaping is planned for February with the short-listing of entrants in March.

The scheme chosen will be announced in the summer. The proposals will be assessed by September and a planning application submitted to Bromley, the planning authority, by November.

The demolition of the current NSC, a Grade II listed building, will be required since it is not practical to find a further use for it. The land it currently occupies will be landscaped into the park. Sports activities will continue at the NSC while the new centre is being built. The listing of the present NSC does present a difficult hurdle and is currently the subject of negotiation with English Heritage. It is hoped that the outcome will be favourable and that the time taken in providing a satisfactory case will not delay the start of the new building. Public consultations will continue throughout 2006.

Exciting future for Crystal Palace Park

Exciting times lie ahead for Crystal Palace Park and the National Sports Centre (NSC). The recent consultation exercise held by the London Development Agency (LDA) showed ideas being developed as a result of September 2004’s exhibition in the park which was used to gather the views of local people about what they wanted done to improve the park and the NSC.

LDA takes over March 2006
The LDA takes over the responsibility for the NSC in March next year and is already working on an international design competition for a new regional sports centre to be sited near Crystal Palace Station. If all goes to plan, the new facilities will open in 2010, in time for our elite athletes to train for the Olympics and to be the site of a Training Camp for one or maybe two overseas Olympic Teams in 2012.

The old NSC building will be demolished when the new centre is open, and the site will be landscaped back into the park. Also to go is the athlete’s accommodation in the tower- block, the concrete high-level walkway and car parking in the centre of the park. The LDA estimate that the proposals they are putting forward will create 18 acres of new parkland and that 22 acres of existing parkland, currently inaccessible, will also be opened up.

Controversial funding ideas
Some controversial ideas to assist in funding some of the park improvements include the re-siting of the Caravan Club (perhaps to Stratford in east London) and a small development of mews houses built on the corner of this site known as Rockhills, but allowing 4.2 acres of additional parkland to be opened up. Additional housing (filling the gaps due to bombing in the last war) down Crystal Palace Park Road is also part of the scheme.

Options for Norwood Triangle Gate
The LDA have come up with four options for the Norwood Triangle Gate. These range from a fairly major five-storey housing development and 150 space underground car park, to no new development, apart from a piazza and an extended museum. This area is likely to be the most contentious and hotly discussed part of the whole plan.

125 year lease and £300,000 per year
The LDA is likely to sign a 125 year lease on the park itself sometime between 2006 and 2009, but in the meantime they have budgeted for s300,000 per annum for the coming 3 years for minor park improvements. These could include the site clearance and provision of safe access to the subway and clearing the fly-tipping on the closed lands of the hilltop and thus make them accessible to the public.

If you missed the park exhibition, the Roadshow will be visiting Sydenham on 19/20 November between 10am and 5pm. The venue is yet to be confirmed. A further public consultation is being planned for next summer.

Crystal Palace Park Consultation
The Crystal Palace Park consultation exercise is in full swing, as several members of the Sydenham Society found out when they visited the consultation marquee at the Penge entrance to the park on an unseasonably sunny Sunday morning.

The exhibition space was a hive of activity, with local residents busily filling in questionnaires and discussing the various plans and ideas being presented to them.

The exhibition laid out their vision of a sustainable park with a wide variety of benefits for different groups within the community. Also detailed were different options for developing areas within the park with the relative advantages and disadvantages of each.

This enabled visitors to make informed views about which most effectively balanced the need for commercial viability whilst at the same time retaining parkland and heritage. Encouragingly, the exhibition was hosted by familiar faces from the LDA and the consultants, who are managing the process.

Comments overheard from visitors included:

  • A very professional and clear bright ideas for the sports centre
  • the housing development is surprisingly conservative and in keeping

Whichever options are chosen, it seems that, at long last, the future of Crystal Palace Park looks very bright indeed.

Bell Green – Prescott calls a public inquiry

Strategically important site

In July 2005 Lewisham Council approved plans for the development of the Phase 2 and 3 sites at the former Bell Green gasworks. Because of the strategic importance of the site Lewisham had to refer their decision to the Mayor of London who decided not to direct Lewisham to refuse permission. Lewisham then referred the application to the Government Office for London (GOL) for John Prescott’s final approval. Deeply concerned by the superficial consideration given to the developer’s plans by Lewisham’s councillors, and by the GLA, the Sydenham Society made strong representations to John Prescott’s office.

Prescott’s action rare

John Prescott rarely calls in planning applications approved at a local level but in the case of Bell Green he has decided to do so. This means that there will be a local inquiry into the developer’s plans and that John Prescott will take the final decision rather than Lewisham Council.

Proper scrutiny

The Sydenham Society has long argued that the developer’s plan for a giant retail park at Bell Green was contrary to national and regional policies in respect of the effect on traffic levels in the area and the effect on the viability of local town centres such as Sydenham. The call-in decision vindicates the stance that we have taken and, vitally, will ensure that the issues involved are properly scrutinised.

Lack of support from councillors

The support that the Sydenham Society has received from our local councillors, that is the councillors for the Sydenham, Perry Vale, and Forest Hill wards, has been non-existent. Their conduct on this issue provides a shameful contrast with the evident care taken by the GOL in examining the developer’s proposals.

Extensive local concern

Local concern about the proposed development has been extensive. Those concerns were expressed at a large meeting in June at St George’s Church, and the response to the Lewisham consultation exercise was overwhelmingly against the development. Yet not one of our local councillors has spoken up in defence of their constituents’ concerns.

Sydenham residents are entitled to know that certain local councillors openly supported the planning application. Councillor Whiting (Forest Hill ward) voted for it, and Councillors Hastie and Best (of Perry Vale and Sydenham wards respectively) spoke in favour. Councillor Best is chair of the Sydenham Community Forum and it is difficult to reconcile her position with support for a planning application which, as the developers have acknowledged, can only damage Sydenham.

Last chance to stop the retail park

The inquiry will give local residents one last chance to try to stop a giant retail park going onto the Bell Green site. The Sydenham Society will have formal status at the inquiry and will have legal representation. That will be expensive and we will need to raise funds in order to help with the Society’s legal costs.

On detailed scrutiny John Prescott may decide that the development should proceed or should be modified rather than refused. Your Bell Green team will be arguing for refusal and for an alterative and less damaging form of development on the site. The important point though is that, at long last, the matter will have been properly examined.

Secretary of State approves decision to develop Bell Green Gas Works site

On 19 October 2006, Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, granted permission to Castlemore Ltd, the development arm of British Gas, to develop the long derelict Bell Green Gasworks site as a huge retail and business park. It will consist of a Homebase and garden centre, 4 additional retail sheds, business/industrial units, a “family” restaurant, together with 156 residential units on the site in front of Sainsbury’s.

Members of the Sydenham Society’s Bell Green Team are disappointed at the outcome, naturally. We are glad that we were full participants at the recent inquiry as there have been many concerns expressed by local residents (not just Sydenham Society members) about the consequences of a Retail Park at Bell Green. Of particular concern is the anticipated resultant increase in traffic with a hypermarket-sized Homebase and garden centre as its anchor store.

Also of concern was the effect on our local high street traders of the expected loss of trade to a retail park with 1,800 free car parking spaces.

By taking part in the inquiry we made sure that these concerns were taken into consideration and examined fully by the independent Planning Inspector. We were able to challenge various statements and statistics provided by the developers and the council when arguing in favour of the development.

The Sydenham Society must hope that its fears about this development are wrong – that it will not result in increased traffic which our roads cannot cope with, and that Sydenham retailers are robust enough to overcome the inevitable strong competition from the retail giants which will join Homebase in the other sheds at Bell Green.

ne welcome benefit of this decision should be the construction of an overdue pedestrian tunnel through the railway embankment at Southend Lane rail bridge – a long agreed safety measure which should not have been contingent on the outcome of a planning decision.

TheSydenham Society has always acknowledged that Bell Green is an area urgently in need of regeneration and has for many years argued with Lewisham Council that this could be achieved by other means. However, the die is now cast and we in Sydenham, residents and traders, are going to have to live with this development, whatever its consequences.

We would like to thank everyone who gave their support to this campaign, whether through a donation or by giving their time or support. Although the outcome is not what we wanted, we have represented local views on this subject at the highest level, which after all is the primary role of the Sydenham Society.