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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.

Crystal Palace Park masterplan

Since the plans for a 20 screen Multiplex cinema on the top site of Crystal Palace Park were withdrawn in May 2001 the future of the English Heritage Grade ll* park has been widely debated. Owned by Bromley since the demise of the Greater London Council, the park became very run down, and Bromley clearly did not have the capital or the revenue funding to repair and maintain the important features which give the park its listed designation.

In late 2003, Sport England announced that it was not prepared to renew its Lease on the 40-year old National Sports Centre (NSC) as it was no longer fit for purpose. With no money to upgrade this facility Bromley gave notice that the NSC would close for good in March 2004.

With London preparing to launch a bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, and with a lack of sports facilities throughout London the necessity of retaining a refurbished NSC as a training facility for elite athletes was obvious. The London Development Agency (LDA), the development and regeneration arm of the Greater London Authority, stepped in to take over the operating costs of the NSC and to work towards a Masterplan for the regeneration of the park as a whole.

Since March 2004 the LDA has engaged with local residents in what has been a long and, at times, tortuous dialogue. There have been two major consultations held within the park and a major exhibition in the old booking hall at Crystal Palace station to coincide with the submission of the Masterplan proposals to Bromley, last November.

The Sydenham Society has taken part in the dialogue process and Pat Trembath, on behalf of the Society, has attended the Park Working Group which has met regularly since 2002 to discuss, originally with Bromley and then with the LDA and its team of design consultants, the future shape of the park. Regular reports on the process have been carried in the newsletter over the past five years and information about the consultations and exhibitions has been provided and members have been encouraged to see the ideas for themselves. On September 18, last year, on the eve of the proposals being submitted to Bromley, the Society held a public meeting at which the Park Project Manager for the LDA, Roger Frith, gave a presentation to interested members and answered questions.

The Masterplan, some 10,000 pages long, with environment, traffic and sustainability impact statements and Business Plan is a daunting document. It can be found on the Crystal Palace Park website. The plans are very ambitious and may not all come to fruition. To regenerate the park will cost between £40m – £67m, certainly money that Bromley cannot even contemplate affording on one park within its borough.

Members of the Executive of the Sydenham Society have yet to discuss the Society’s formal response to the Masterplan. Overall our initial feelings are to welcome the plans for the park. There are concerns which we will register particularly about the proposals for housing on the Rockhills (Caravan Club) site.

The park is Metropolitan Open Land and the surrounding area has Conservation Area status. The decision about the suitability of any and all of the proposals will need to be taken, initially by Bromley as the Planning Authority, and ultimately by the Planning Inspectorate, as it is anticipated that there is likely to be a public inquiry. The LDA has said that if planning permission is granted it will take a 125-year lease on the Park and will seek out a suitable form of park governance. If permission is not granted the park will remain the responsibility of Bromley.

The consultation period has started and officially runs for 42 days, although Bromley has stated that it will continue to take comments and objections until early summer. Individual comments about the plans can be made to Bromley Council, Civic Centre, Bromley BR1 3UH, quoting 07/03897/OUT.

The Greyhound public house campaign

A Greyhound Public House has stood at the entrance to Sydenham Town since 1719 and it is Sydenham’s oldest pub. The current building dates from 1874 and contained some fine original fittings, including glorious ceramic tiled wall panels which survived in the former hotel entrance, together with a stained glass roof, a mosaic floor and the carved wooden screen stating “The Greyhound Hotel” above what was the reception area.

A recent listed building application to English Heritage was turned down. Of the tiled lobby English Heritage state: “Surviving intact, the tiled drinking corridor might have been of sufficient interest to counterbalance the absence of original features elsewhere… however, the owners have begun to demolish the most significant element of the building”.

The Greyhound is a ‘stand alone’ building with a large car park, part of which was sold to developers about three years ago. Two planning applications for blocks of flats were submitted to Lewisham, but were not of a good enough design quality for an important town centre site.
In late March members of the Society met with the developers, the Milford Group, who advised that they had purchased the whole site and stated that they wanted to demolish the pub and build 70 flats on the site. They said they were prepared to dismantle the tiled room and give it to a tile museum. Despite protests they said that the pub had no ‘planning’ protection and they could do what they liked. Fortunately, planning officers at Lewisham turned down these first proposals before they got to public consultation stage.

Members attending the Society’s Annual General Meeting on 27 March gave the Executive Committee unanimous support for any campaign to save the Greyhound from demolition. Local councillors indicated that they, too, were in favour of retaining the building.

The Sydenham Society had to consider urgently what it could do to preserve this pub, a major part of the area’s heritage, and a strategy was developed.

A Conservation Area proposal for the Cobbs Corner area was already being worked up in order to augment the ideas being developed by the Council and Transport for London to improve the pedestrian environment of Sydenham Road and this was submitted to Lewisham in mid July.The planning officers were also alerted to the ’tiled room’ and, having inspected this, they asked the developers to retain the pub within their plans for the site.The developers refused to consider this.

On 30 July, Milford gave staff at the Greyhound two weeks notice that the pub was closing down. On August 9, members of the Society met the developers for a third time and this time Councillor Chris Best was present. At this meeting the developers again refused to give an undertaking not to demolish until planning permission was in place. After this meeting the Society’s full campaign strategy was employed and several local residents, not members, came forward to offer assistance.

The local press were alerted and were sympathetic to the cause. A Sydenham Society petition was launched in the Kirkdale Bookshop opposite the Greyhound and before long several other retailers in Sydenham Road asked to be able to collect signatures, too. The Society’s Autumn newsletter deadline was held back to let members know of the campaign.The petition (still open, and part of the Sydenham Society’s objection to any future application for demolition) collected over 1500 signatures in its first month.

Others joined our campaign. A local PR consultant alerted BBC London South-east and ITV London News, and a local resident, a member of CAMRA, requested English Heritage to consider ‘spot listing’ the Greyhound.

Three days before the pub closed both BBC and ITV local news came to Sydenham to highlight the closure of the Greyhound – the ninth pub locally to suffer this fate in six months at the hands of property developers. The fact that there was a big CAMRA gathering at Earl’s Court helped serve the cause! BBC covered the story at lunchtime and in their 6.30pm news and ITV in their 6.00pm news. Radio London and other local stations also carried the story.

Milford’s continued repetition to the press of their intentions to demolish the building assisted the campaign. It was agreed that the press should be encouraged to keep the story running as it was felt that the Milford Group would not want to carry out their demolition threats in the full glare of the media. For three weeks following the Greyhound’s closure the South London Press, the Mercury and the News Shopper carried articles and letters supporting the retention of the Greyhound.

On 5 September Lewisham Council formally considered our proposal for Conservation Area status based on the area around Cobbs Corner and to the great surprise (and delight) of the Sydenham Society agreed with our proposals. The Greyhound also received formal listing by the Council as being a building of architectural and historic interest. This was reported on ITV London News, the local press and on local radio.

The story is not over. No one knows what will happen next or what Milford will do with the site. The Sydenham Society’s Greyhound group of campaigners is ready to continue the fight…

Sydenham Road environment improvements

The first indication of how the environment and safety of Sydenham Road can be improved was described to a packed room on 20 September at the Sydenham Community Regeneration Partnership (SCRP) meeting, chaired by Cllr Chris Best.

Ian Plowright, Lewisham’s Project Manager, explained the draft designs for improving the junctions along the road from above Cobbs Corner to Mayow Road. It is anticipated that a roundabout will remain, although it will be re-designed and re-sited. The crossings at Cobbs Corner will remain where they are and a much wider ‘Puffin’ crossing, with pedestrian phased lights, will replace the existing zebra crossing on the railway bridge.

The ‘sheep-pen’ type crossings above Newlands Park and also at the Mayow Road crossroads will be removed. New light-controlled pedestrian crossings will be introduced at Sydenham Road /Newlands Park to allow for a pedestrian phase across this dangerous junction, and the bus stop will be relocated to allow for more space for traffic at this junction.

However, disappointingly, no additional bus stops further up Sydenham Road are included in the draft plan as had been hoped for at the public consultation.

At Sydenham Road/Mayow Road new crossings will also allow pedestrians to cross in one ‘go’.

The full set of draft plans, which should include the de-cluttering of our pavements, will be published during November when a further round of consultation will commence.

Ian Plowright will provide additional information at the next on 6 December as part of the public consultation process.

An important landmark

Gavin Stamp explains why he thinks The Greyhound must survive as a pub.

The Greyhound Public House at Sydenham may not be listable as a building of architectural or historical importance by the national standards maintained by English Heritage but it is certainly of architectural and historical significance at a local level and undoubtedly of great importance as a landmark. Buildings can be of immense topographical significance while being of no architectural distinction, and places like Sydenham need conspicuous centres, or nodes, to articulate the continuous built up area.

This part of Sydenham, Cobbs Corner, is such a centre, formed by the junction of Kirkdale and Westwood Hill and by the presence of the railway station. It is marked by the dome of the Cobb’s Corner building but given a sense of openness, of place – like a small-scale village green – by the Greyhound and its forecourt.
This will be lost if the pub is replaced by a block of flats coming right up to the road. The character of Cobb’s Corner will be further undermined by the fact that such a block will be private whereas the Greyhound, by its nature, is to a degree a public building and the space in front a public space.

The demolition of the Greyhound would spoil the character of this part of Sydenham and represent the significant loss of an important landmark. Surely it would be possible to build on the unnecessarily large car-park to the side and rear while keeping the Greyhound itself as a public house.

The Greyhound must not die!

This view has remained almost unchanged for over a century. The fate of the Greyhound is uncertain. In early August we heard that the Milford Group, the new owners and developers, intended to close the pub on August 12 and had asked the staff to vacate the premises by August 13. A subsequent meeting took place on site between planning and conservation officers from Lewisham with Milford Group who made it clear that it was still their intention to demolish the pub, retention was not a viable option, and they refused to discuss the possibility of retaining the building despite the fact that Barter Inns, the lessees, were keen to continue in business. It would appear that the only reason that Milford want to close down and board up the pub is to pressurise Lewisham into accepting their plans.

Much activity has been going on locally to save the Greyhound. An application for a Conservation Area centred on Cobbs Corner with the Greyhound at its heart, has been compiled and presented to Lewisham and is under active consideration. If successful, it would provide future protection for the pub as the owners would have to apply for “conservation area consent” before they would be allowed to demolish the building.

An application for the “spot listing” of the building has been put forward to English Heritage. A local resident, who is active in CAMRA and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the pubs of south-east London, has written to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport applying for listing status. He has only recently seen the Greyhound’s tiled room; on being shown it by the landlady he commented: “That lobby with the tiling really is spectacular. It is far more than just a bit of decorative tiling on a couple of walls. It is a fully integrated lobby with skylight (with coloured leaded glass inserts), the name of the pub carved in relief overhead, black and white mosaic tiling on the floor, and full height walls of tiling on either side, all forming a superbly ostentatious and brightly colourful entrance hall, certainly one of the grandest pub entrances I have ever seen. It deserves to be kept fully intact, not dismantled and shipped off to a museum.”

While the fate of the Greyhound hangs in the balance, throughout London and the south-east pubs are being boarded up and converted for other uses at an alarming rate. This trend has been particularly dramatic in Lewisham where more than 40% of pubs have been lost in less than 20 years, with seven, including the Greyhound, going in just six months: the Duke (Wells Park Road), the Man of Kent (Sydenham Road), the Rutland Arms (Catford Hill), the Place House Tavern (Catford Road), the Green Man (Bromley Road) and the Tiger’s Head (Bromley Road). Meanwhile the wonderfully flamboyant Victorian pub the Fox & Hounds on Kirkdale is currently closed and its future is also uncertain.

Alarmed at this galloping spiral of closures, former councillor and journalist Liam Curran has started a campaign to try to reverse this decline and is calling on Ken Livingstone to intervene to prevent the loss of well-loved landmarks.

The fight to save the Greyhound is far from over. Please play your part by visiting the Kirkdale Bookshop and signing our petition. We believe that the pub and its street frontage is a vital architectural element in Sydenham’s townscape, and its refurbishment and retention as a family pub is a key element in the ongoing regeneration of the Cobbs Corner area.
Annabel McLaren
Chair, Conservation and Planning Committee