Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Notes from the Odessa Street /Thames Path/ Red Crane development consultation

I seem to be spending far too much time talking about development plans and not enough about local history.  But on this post the two come together.  I went to the Hollybrook Homes exhibition at the Dockland Settlement this evening, which was introducing plans for the 1-3 Odessa Street site.  They had mounted a series of posters presenting their proposition for the new building project.  There were no hand-outs and I forgot to take my camera so I am afraid that I have been unable to provide images of the planned development.  

They are proposing to build a by-now familiar mix of different types of housing, with a commitment imposed by Southwark Council of at least 35% affordable housing.  The buildings will be between 4 and 10 storeys tall, will comprise around 50 homes (final number to be confirmed) and car parking for an as yet undetermined proportion of the homes being built (but likely to be around 50%, which was the same number being voiced for the St George's Quay, South Dock site).

If you have a real interest in this development, I would seriously recommend reading the Southwark Council report "Extending the Thames Riverside Footpath including Consequential Lands Transactions" at (it loads as a PDF) dating to 9th December 2014. It is focussed on this site and contains some insights not covered at the exhibition.

The unique features of the Hollybrook development are that it is planned for one of the truly miserable corners of Rotherhithe, just downriver (west) of where the former nightclub and its squatters are currently located, taking up the space currently occupied by the defunct youth club, sports ground and red derrick (crane).  Here's where all the main features are located:

The removal of the nightclub is part of the plan.  This would not only remove an eyesore but would open up another stretch of Thames Path, currently blocked by the nightclub itself.   In theory, this would enable Southwark Council to open up the Thames Path in front of New Caledonia Wharf and Odessa Wharf.  Although provision was made for the Thames Path to extend in front of these buildings it was never opened up, and the residents in New Caledonia have converted it to a terrace serving the building - and this has been the case for over 20 years.  Should the path be opened in front of New Caledonia, this would be something that would have to be negotiated between its residents and Southwark Council.  This means that although the idea of opening a huge stretch of the Thames Path would certainly be theoretically possible with the removal of the nightclub, it is by no means certain that Southwark Council could successfully negotiate for the return of the stretch of land currently in use by residents of New Caledonia Wharf.  Any New Caledonia Wharf residents reading this might want to have a look at the Southwark Council report "Extending the Thames Riverside Footpath including Consequential Lands Transactions" at (see sections 6, 7, 8 and 22).  There is also more on the Southwark Council website at:

As well as extending the Thames Path either a short way or all the way to Greenland Dock, there are plans for a "pocket park" (one of those pseudo-phrases like pop-up restaurant or tea-cup pig) which basically makes provision for a small green area within the development.  The development itself is shown skewed at an angle, which has been done to preserve existing mature trees, but I was unable to determine if any other mature trees were under threat. A park, even a small one, would be a good thing.  The more greenery the better.  There's not much of it in that area of the Thames Path.

There are also plans for a cafe with views over the river to be built underneath one of the apartment buildings, which sounds like a very good idea, as long as it is sustainable.  If memory serves, the Surrey Docks Farm had a lot of trouble maintaining a cafe in their busy facility before the current Piccalilli Cafe was established.  I would image that one of the problems would be figuring out how to promote its survival during the week, when most people in the area are at work, and through the winter months. 

My main priority in attending was to see the plans for the red derrick (or crane) that was preserved by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) as a piece of riverside heritage.  Many other pieces of history were preserved by them at the same time and they have all become valued features of our landscape, landmarks with great personality that give Rotherhithe a unique character.  The Hollybrook consultation included a poster that asked for ideas about what to do with the derrick.  David Godden, who helpfully answered a positive barrage of questions from residents, says that there was no plan to move it north of the river, but that there were other options.  First, a specialist company is being brought in to see how structurally sound it actually is.  Thanks to decades of neglect by Southwark Council, there is significant rust.  An engineer, one of the residents attending the exhibition, thought from the photographs that it was probably structurally sound, and that the visible rust is cosmetic, but we have to wait for the survey before any decisions can be made.  I will be so hacked off if Southwark Council's neglect has resulted in its demise  - that's a serious dereliction of the council's duty of care to our heritage, to the community who live in its vicinity and to visitors on the Thames Path.  It is of course a long-standing, if dishonourable tradition in this country to let inconvenient structures that are located on prime development land rot so that there are good arguments for removal.    If it is given a surveyor's seal of approval the next question is what happens to it.  One suggestion is to reduce it down to more manageable dimensions and shift its position slightly so that it is still incorporated into the site but does not require as much space as it does at the moment.  A suggestion from Southwark Council (proposed in the above report) was to try to interest some sort of heritage organization who might take it and incorporate it into some sort of display (all a bit ephemeral!).  No other suggestions were being proposed, but the Hollybrook standpoint on it is that they would like to hear other ideas for its future.  So if anyone has any good alternative ideas please let me know and I will pass them on.   Something certainly needs to be done with it - it is probably a health and safety hazard and it is currently occupied by pigeons (winged vermin), and it will be wonderful to see it restored in some way to its former dignity.  My email address is in the header at the top of this blog if anyone has any suggestions for its future.  Hollybrook themselves seemed very approachable on the subject, and included the derrick in many of their artist's impressions.  It does worry me, however, that Southwark Council's own "Extending the Thames Riverside Footpath including Consequential Lands Transactions" from 9th December 2014 report at (see sections 19, 21) states:
The removal of the crane may result in some members of the community being concerned about the loss of a heritage feature. However, the safety of the wider community including persons inclined to climb upon it and users of the Thames Path being subject to pigeon mess must over-ride this concern. Hollybrook has agreed to see if a historical organisation will take the crane but failing that it will be broken up and removed.
It seems so typical of Southwark Council to become concerned for public safety only when it becomes possible to redevelop the site! They couldn't develop it previously because of agreements for its usage that were in place and have only been recently overturned.  It is really no more of health and safety hazard now that it was five or more years ago, and no-one on the Thames Path walks under it at the moment, so that statement is all about being in a position to move an obstacle to development, not making the site any safer or more "mess"-free. 

I would imagine that parking would be an issue for the residents of Redriff Estate, because they already have difficulty with car owners from surrounding developments using their spaces.

I am forever banging on about traffic and public transport impact assessments because there is so much new building going up that at rush hour local roads, buses and tube trains are creaking at the seams.  As anyone who lives upriver (west) of Greenland Dock knows, there are only three ways off Rotherhithe in a car.  And there's nothing more annoying when you're trying to get to work by bus than watching the 381 sweep merrily past your bus stop because it is full to capacity.   There are already two huge brand new developments nearby, one opposite Trinity Church and the other just up the road at the Downtown site where the medical centre has always been located, and these are already contributing to the strain.   Southwark Council really need to think about how to improve public transport services if they want all these new homes to be built.

As to the buildings themselves, Hollybrook had quite a few posters and a model on display.   The buildings are being graded in height to limit the impact of light blockage on surrounding buildings (one will have to wait for a full assessment to see how effective this will be), and although the design doesn't look particularly distinctive or imaginative in the architectural sketches, it doesn't look too bad either.  The illustrations are early stage impressions of what it will look like, and I'm fairly sure that if they go ahead as they are they won't distinguish themselves, but they seem unlikely to upset anyone either.  The architect firm is Panter Hudspith.  The sketch of the building certainly looks a lot better than the nearby Custom House Reach!  I do wish I had pictures to show you.

I don't live in that corner of Rotherhithe, so I don't feel that I really have the right to comment on whether the proposed development is a good thing or not, but I did like the idea of the park, of the cafe (if it could be made sustainable) and of a residential development of some sort to replace and improve that terribly wasted corner of Odessa Street.  I think if I did live around there, I would be concerned about parking and public transport, but would be glad to see that ghastly mess of abandoned sports grounds and the former youth centre transformed into something useful and viable.  Local residents who were in the group of us talking with David Godden were all in favour of salvaging the red derrick in some form. 

As with all these developments, residents are always dealing with two separate entities - the developers and what they want to produce, and Southwark Council and what they want to achieve.  It's amazing how often the developers are more reasonable than the Council (other than Barratts of course!).  But it is Southwark Council who have the final say, so if you have any concerns you will need to communicate them to both Hollybrook Homes and, when a planning page becomes available for this development, Southwark Council.

Thanks to David Godden from Hollybrook Homes for talking through and explaining in detail the information provided at the exhibition.   

Hollybrook have promised to keep those of us who left email addresses up to date with proceedings, so I look forward with real interest to seeing what happens next.

1 comment:

Mark Parker said...

Hollybrook have now published the consultation boards here: