Thursday, October 8, 2015

South Dock Marina development (St George's Wharf) consultation - some notes about the session

Model provided by the Harbour-Masters Office.
The lock is shown at bottom left.  The 15-storey
block will be where the lock meets the Thames.
A couple of weeks ago I was notified informally by someone who knows that I take an interest in these things that there were South Dock (St George's Wharf) development consultation presentations being arranged for Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th October, and that attendance had to be booked because places were limited.  So I scurried off to the Eventbrite website and booked my place.  I attended  the 5pm session on Wednesday 7th October. 

These are not intended to act as minutes from the meeting.  They are just informal notes and impressions, but it seemed worth jotting down the comments of members of the audience, together with some of my doubts and concerns.  Click on any of the images to see a bigger version.  Most of them are legible when enlarged.

There was apparently an initial presentation in July 2015, where initial objections were noted.  Not having known about the July meeting I did not attend, so it is impossible to know how today's differed, but as the emphasis was very much on the wonders of the new boatyard rather than the housing development, I am guessing that many of those who attended previously were boat owners from South Dock who understandably wanted reassurances about the future of their facilities. 

The plan for the boatyard, which generated a lot of positive noises from the audience, consists of providing a smaller outdoor hard-standing than is currently available for the boats, but with the addition of indoor units, which will reduce noise and dirt, and will provide cover for those working on their boats.  Above the level of the indoor units, it is planned to have craft and other boatyard related workshops, in order to create a boating centre for the London area, something currently lacking.  In the current proposal there will also be a block with toilet facilities, a laundry, showers and, elsewhere on the site, a community room.  The presentation showed the boatyard facilities in bright sunny colours, and it all looked very good.  The idea of workshops that will support traditional craft and engineering professions obviously has an attraction for the boat owners in South Dock, and is something that, in theory, would be good to support.  It is lovely to have a blacksmiths at Surrey Docks Farm, and it is a nice idea to reintroduce shipping trades into Rotherhithe, always assuming that they can be made compatible with the interests of nearby residential communities.

But there are problems.

For a start, none of the images in the presentation that focused on the boatyard showed the residential buildings that will be built around it, which was substantially misleading.  When you start to look at the scale of the proposed building on the site, it is considerable.  The plan is for 213 apartments, mixed council and private, and will include a block of 15 floors on the corner of the South Dock lock and the Thames, as well as a 20 storey one further down the Thames Path.  Others are 8 and 3 storeys high. For comparison see the image to the left from one of the posters, showing that the  Baltic Quay tower at the other end of South Dock is shorter than the new proposed tower.  And as someone pointed out at the meeting, Tavistock Tower in Greenland Dock looks enormous at  9 floors.  Fortunately, even though the presentation omitted the buildings on the early slides, there was a model provided by the Harbour Masters office that showed where the 15-storey tower block will be located in relation to the lock, boatyard and dock (the photograph at the top of this post - it does not show the 20 storey block, but the image above and to the left does).  We were shown various different possible combinations of high and low rise blocks, but the one shown above is the preferred option.  One of the handouts had a page in it that showed many of the previous objections to the development from the July consultation, which included a range of issues including blocking of light from homes and residential boats, the impacts of boatyard noise, the possibilitiy that the new construction will turn the dock into a wind tunnel and worries about losing the small-community character of the area.  Many other issues were listed as well.  Some of the concerns expressed in July were repeated at the meeting on the 7th, and the block-like nature of the development was strongly criticized.  Other objections were the blocking of views from existing buildings and boats, the failure to consider that land on the Lewisham side of the Thames Path might be used to mitigate the impact of the development, and there was also a general dislike expressed for high-rises in our low-rise area.

There were no detailed previews of the actual design elements in the architecture.  Although outline blocks were shown, and these are substantially "Lego-like," as one member of the audience evocatively described it, there were no indications of any features or design flourishes.  The only hint as to the appearance of the complex is on the image above left, which was in one of the hand-outs.  The architects assigned to the project are Adam Khan Architects, East and Levitt Bernstein.

Regarding green areas, a number of proposals were made.  Existing trees will have to be removed to make way for buildings, as is always the case.  A "tree strategy" is being developed, and of the trees that will be demolished in the boatyard zone, none are Category A (high quality and value), two are Category B (moderate quality and value), eight are Category C (low quality and value) and five are Category U (unsuitable for retention).  Nine new trees are to be added and six are to be retained.  A new public park with shared community garden and play space is planned to the east of the complex.  See the excerpt from the handout, right.

There was no mention of the marina lying in a designated archaeological zone which, according the Southwark Council website, will require a full archaeological survey prior to any work commencing.  And given that the site sits on the old parish boundary this should probably attract more attention.

One of the members of the audience mentioned a previous 2005 public enquiry concerning the building of a hotel on the car park area of the marina.  It was rejected for a number of reasons, one of which was the intrusive nature of its height, which would lead to overshadowing of surrounding areas.  The Council clearly didn't get planning permission for that development but they are now proposing a tower that will certainly overshadow parts of the surrounding area.  Interestingly, the Council set out limitations on the height of the nearby Tavern Quay redevelopment, a development that was referred to the Mayor's office.  One would have thought that the tall building proposals for South Dock would attract similar scrutiny.  It remains unclear what the difference between the 2005 tower blocks and today's might be, and this needs to be addressed. 

As to traffic and transport, the impact analysis has not yet begun.  Underground parking will be supplied for around 50% of the apartments, which adds up to 105 spaces including 21 disabled spaces.  Ground floor parking will provide 18 van spaces for boatyard users.  No research has been carried out to date into the impact that the additional traffic will have on Plough Way, the already chaotic one-way system and the surrounding roads.  Various members of the audience expressed concern about these issues.  Nor has there yet been any research into the impact on the already heavily congested tube stations and the bus services at rush-hour periods and, again, this was a concern expressed by several people.  As usual the presenters put a huge emphasis on the use of bicycles and new bicycle routes, but although bicycles are increasingly used in London I simply don't see this as a solution to existing transport problems as they don't seem to have helped ease congestion much to date.

When new impact analyses are carried out, I have no idea if each new development project takes into account not only the existing buildings and their residents, but also the potential impacts of other developments going through the same consultation, planning and development processes.  For example, the Odessa Wharf site is going through the same stages of Thames-side development planning, the Canada Water developments are racing ahead, the Downtown development is still under construction, as is the Sweden Gate development behind the watersports centre, the Quebec Way development near the Odeon/Bingo Leisure Park, not to mention plans to develop the Leisure Park itself.  And that’s just the planned and half-built developments that I can remember off the top of my head.  Are these factored into new planning applications?  I have no idea.  With all the new developments, heaven help our roads and public transport systems.  And, looking at the staggering scale of development in Rotherhithe at the moment, nothing will persuade me that bicycle lanes are the answer to congestion on either our roads or our public transport infrastructure!

Looking at the plan on one of the posters, there are peculiarities about access to the boatyard (this was pointed out to me by one of the other attendees).  If the 15-storey tower block is to be located on the Thames-side, and the boatyard is to be accessed via the dock where the crane is currently located, how are emergency services going to access the tower?  Once it was pointed out to me, I really couldn't figure it out.  At first sight, there does appear to be something wrong with the logistics.

The Harbour Office is also to be expanded at ground floor level, with extensions either side.  There was no explanation as to why this was required, but although people looked puzzled no objections were raised at the time.

Coming back to the boatyard for a moment, there are some questions here too.  The redeveloped boatyard is being put forward as the carrot, the incentive, the nice thing that will make all the horror of the development (noise and chaos whilst it’s going up, and then all the potential downsides of living with it once it has been built) worth tolerating.  This is standard practice in planning these days - to sweeten the pill the community is given something to make the development more acceptable.  Interestingly, one resident asked whether or not the boatyard could be redeveloped without the investment of the property company, and the answer was a firm negative from the Harbour Master Patrick Keating, and the Southwark Council representative Bruce (I didn’t manage to collect his last name).  But the question does remain.  Is the proposal of a London boating centre so unreasonable that it couldn’t attract independent investment on its commercial merits?  And if it is not a viable commercial proposition, why are the developers so keen to pay for it?  Either it is a viable proposition, in which case it should be able to attract investors, or it isn't, in which case it may be a gigantic red herring.  If the workshops turn out to be commercially unsustainable, what will happen to them?  Are they going to be subsidized by Southwark Council?  And if not, what will happen to the workshops if they are unable to operate as functional businesses?

Nobody mentioned the summer Dockstock music and entertainment events that take place in the boatyard.  Will those events and ones similar to it be tolerated or barred?  I would hate to live next door to that sort of noise, but the fact that it was still going this summer argues that it had some support.  I would imagine that the terms of use of the new boatyard would have to be fairly firmly defined, and that nearby residents should have input into this.

The application for planning permission is expected to be submitted in around March 2016, and a period of consultation was outlined.  We were assured that it is all still very early days, and that there will be plenty of opportunity for input in the future.  Still, March 2016 isn’t that far away, particularly as there are no architects’ plans yet available, nothing to show what these flats will actually look like.  How long will these take to produce?  How much time will be available for us to consider them and give input into the eventual outcome? I suspect many of these concerns will have to be addressed after the application for planning permission has been submitted.

Finally, and speaking from a purely Greenland-centric point of view, I would imagine that the desire to develop the boatyard into a London centre for boat maintenance and repairs will raise the issue of extending moorings (berths) into the open water parts of Greenland Dock so that visiting boats who want to make use of the new boatyard facilities can moor up.  The current marina in South Dock and its overflow into the top part of Greenland Dock are pretty full so the argument would automatically follow that the marina should be extended into the rest of Greenland Dock.  This would of course be introduced as a marina for temporary berths for boats visiting the boat centre, but would become an argument for permanent moorings.  We’ve seen attempts to turn Greenland Dock into a marina in the past, so it is bound to be on the minds of Southwark Council that a new boatyard and associated facilities would be the perfect excuse earn a lot more income by expanding marina facilities in front of homes that currently overlook peaceful open water.

There were some valid comments about how this was a flawed way of running a consultation that could (and almost certainly will) impact so many people.  The ten 25-minute meetings were arranged to take place over two days, each with a maximum 20 people who had registered to attend, and limited to between the hours of 5pm and 7.30pm.  The sessions were fully booked.  Once fully booked, no-one else was able to attend.  Not only are a lot of people still at work during those hours but the numbers of people who could attend on the ticket-only basis were very restricted.  Given that all the meetings were fully booked, it is clear that many more people would have like to attend.  And what about people on holiday or simply not available for those two days?  This restrictive format felt all wrong, which I am sure it was. When I and others raised this, the answers were that smaller meetings enabled better feedback to be given, that there will be many more consultations in the future, and that an exhibition will be arranged somewhere so that people can wander in and out at their own convenience.  There will also, they say, be many consultations in the future, which will focus on particular areas of concern.  But it worries me that the consultations have been confined to such short periods (2 short evenings this time), so restricted in numbers (20 per session and only 10 sessions), so brief (25 minutes per session) and so poorly communicated (I only heard about it via bush-telegraph, even though I am as close as the dock next door).   In spite of pretty time-line graphics showing an ongoing consultation process (scanned image above), together with verbal assurances that all feedback will be incorporated into planning decisions, I am really not convinced that everyone who wants to feed in to this consultation will be able to do so prior to the application for planning permission. There are, after all, an awful lot of us in the area.

Whatever compromises are made, and however the design is modified, the development is almost certainly going ahead.  The lesson in Rotherhithe, epitomized by the Canada Water Campaign and particularly the Downtown Defence Campaign, has been that all developments go ahead whatever public opinion may argue, and that the best one can hope for is to influence the nature of the development.  That requires a lot of work, and a great deal of commitment and co-operation from members of the local community.  And sometimes these things drag on for many, many years.

There was an 11-page questionnaire for the South Dock Marina 7th and 8th October meetings but I don't know how many people will have seen them on the side table just inside the door.  There were none on the big table around which we were all sitting to view the presentation.  There's no postal address to send it to, just an email address (so you would need to complete the hard copy and scan it to be able to send it to the email address).  Objections and suggestions will also be possible when planning permission is submitted.

I'll be going to any presentations and exhibitions that I can, so I'll try to keep the blog updated with any news on the South Dock developments. 

Here are the main links for those who wish to find out more:
Southwark Council page re South Dock:
Southwark Council 11,000 Homes Project: (there will be a mixture of private and council housing in the proposed development)
Email address for anyone who would like to be kept informed of progress in the project:

It will be interesting to see what happens next.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I was just trawling through Southwark's planning applications page and found, much to my surprise, that the application for a ghastly and noisy open air swimming pool in Greenland Dock (filed in May 2015 - which your blog covered) has been suddenly treated as a valid application as of 21 September. Apparently we are in a formal consultation period with respect to these plans now. The websie says that the consultation only runs until 14 October - 4 days away!

I stay along the dock and have received no notice of any such consultation. It appears that Southwark has been its usual surreptitious self and is trying to ram the new pool through without any chance for us to protest.

Any thoughts as to what can be done to stymie this application in the limited time available?


Andie said...

Thank you very much for bringing this to general attention. I had no idea that it had entered a consultation period. You'd have thought that as I overlook the site they would have notified both me and my neighbours at the very least! I have now posted about it here on the blog and on Twitter and have put print-outs of the post through my neighbours' doors. I hope that it's not too late.

Anonymous said...


I thought it might be worth mentioning that a facebook page has been set up for the purpose of keeping residents informed about any further developments on this particular matter. The url is:

Also, I think it's worth noting, that in the first consultation (I was there), very few residents attended, as most were not aware of the proposals - including boat owners. The general voice coming from Residents, living on boats at South Dock Marina, is very much against the developments. The smaller version of the boatyard carries certain potential upgrades, but they are more beneficial for commercial operators rather than residents. Also, several businesses are already operating from the Boatyard, but they use industrial containers (brought in by the business owner) and pay rent on the space. The new workshops will be more expensive and many businesses rely on the outdoor space to work. As Council Tax paying resident of the Marina, I can assure you that my opinions for new development and the negative issues surrounding the proposals are equal to anyone living on dry land in the area.

Andie said...

Dear Anonymous. I am really very sorry that my post came over as being somehow negative towards boat owners. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Having spent four very happy years living on a boat on a residential mooring, I truly value floating communities. My conclusion (clearly wrong, given your summary) was that the heavy focus on boatyard facilities rather than the building itself must have been influenced by concerns from those living on boats (which I would have understood perfectly). Anyway, putting that misunderstanding aside, I am awfully glad to hear that there is a support group on Facebook, and I am off to join!