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1 July 2008
How will regeneration bosses change the area?
In the first in a series of features looking at the borough’s regeneration, the ‘News’ speaks to senior council officer Tim Thompson
THE MAN at the helm of the Canada Water regeneration scheme says he would like the redevelopment to encompass the whole of Rotherhithe - to address what he called ‘some fundamentally dysfunctional areas’.
Tim Thompson, the council's point man for massive regeneration efforts in both Canada Water and Bermondsey Spa, revealed his hopes during a wide ranging interview where he raised the spectre of the possible destruction of Surrey Docks City Farm, took a controversial swipe at a major local land owner, and revealed he would have "serious doubts" about Fisher Athletic's ability to sustain a 10,000 seat stadium.
The question constantly asked by local residents - just how big is the scheme going to grow? - took well over an hour to answer, with Mr. Thompson eventually concluding: "Well, I hope it is [the whole peninsular] because there are some fundamentally dysfunctional areas that we can address if we do consider it in the round and that is what we're trying to do."
Throughout the interview, Mr. Thompson lifted the lid on radical council thinking that could dramatically reshape the area over the next fifteen years, by potentially demolishing local landmarks such as the Hawkstone Estate and Seven Islands Leisure Centre and building new infrastructure including a revolutionary pedestrian and cycle bridge, that would give the area an above ground link to economic giant Canary Wharf for the first time in its history.
Whilst he admits that his team's current focus is on getting the right contractor to build the new Canada Water Library for the right price, it is clear Mr. Thompson's head is full of grander plans.
This is most in emphasis when he is asked about his thoughts on the proposal of transport charity Sustrans to build the new bridge to Canary Wharf.
"I don't think there's a chance of it being an Olympic project", he admits. "I think afterwards there is a possibility of doing it and I personally think it should be more than a possibility.”
However, the plans don't stop there. "If you think beyond that bridge and you think to another bridge that goes the other side of that peninsular to Greenwich", he begins, "the potential for having a pedestrian and cycle bridge that hops those peninsulas could be fantastic. In the bigger scheme of things, what are they talking about at the moment? A £40million piece of infrastructure to get across from Rotherhithe to Tower Hamlets. Even if you call it £50m - and you double that - and you said you're doing two bridges, that would be a fantastic piece of infrastructure to open out the eastern side of London, wouldn't it?"
The regen boss, a keen sportsman and cyclist in his spare time, is clearly passionate about promoting 'alternative' means of transport in the area, such as river taxis.
Whilst accepting there are many other parties that would need to drive the change, he adds: "We do not use the river properly compared to any major European city. We need to create space on the riverfront for perhaps more jetties and wharves."
Bearing in mind the largely private and residential ownership of the Rotherhithe river frontage, what council land could be used to fulfil his objective?
"We own the Surrey Docks Farm", he says. "That's a great local resource but what would people think if you said: 'We want to take the farm away and we want to build a wharf there'? I think you can imagine there would be hue and cry about that. But what's the bigger picture?"
Asked whether he thought the area would benefit more from a new jetty or a City Farm he replies: "Open question. I think you know the answer to it though. But making that decision and getting to a decision making point having consulted with people would be incredibly difficult."
Moving around the peninsular, Mr. Thompson says he is confident that the marathon row over plans to develop the 'Downtown' site of Surrey Docks Health Centre will be sorted "one way or the other" before the end of this year.
Asked for his opinion on the new application, which lowers the number of flats in the scheme but also reduces the community benefits the developer is committed to build, he is forthright: "If you don't drive enough value to pay for those facilities, there isn't the money in the pot to pay for those facilities.
"If you want two storey housing in that area, on a 4.8 acre site in a great location, then you don't get much benefit from it. There are certain individuals out there who'd like to see frankly almost no development on that site and that's not a plausible position actually to sustain."
Despite relief at the actual council decision to build it, another hugely controversial issue in the Rotherhithe community is the positioning of the area's new secondary school, with at least three options currently thought to be on the table.
Although he confirms a site on Quebec Way, designated in the borough's recent UDP for educational use, is the "primary consideration", he admits the department is still looking at other options, for reasons he refuses to be drawn on.
Whilst refusing to divulge anything that has not previously been made public, Mr. Thompson nods when asked whether two other possible sites - the St. Paul's astroturf pitch bordered by Salter Road and Rotherhithe Street or the south-east corner of Southwark Park, directly next to the dilapidated athletics stadium - are still under consideration.
This admission opens up discussion about the future for the Hawkstone Estate and the south of Southwark Park, a topic bound to provoke a highly charged debate over the coming years.
"Some of the consideration with an area like Hawkstone is that some of those chunks require significant chunks of capital investment and - on balance - is that worth it? Would it not be cheaper just to clear parts of that site and remap it?" he asks.
Continuing to discuss the park he adds: "The Southwark Park athletics is in dire need of investment - that whole end of the park is dysfunctional."
One option for that would be to allow local football club Fisher Athletic to carry out their plans to develop a 10,000 seat stadium there. But he tells the ‘News’: "I would have some serious doubts as to how sustainable a 10,000 seat stadium for Fisher would be at that location, perhaps at any location. I don't think that a football club of their current standing or their standing within the next five years could support a facility like that."
That also ties in with the ongoing debate about how the promised new leisure facility will be delivered. However, a previously unheard of aim could cast another spanner in those works. "You could get out of the tube at Canada Water and you can't see the park from that tube", he says. "You've got no idea that behind that façade on Lower Road is a 65 acre park, no idea whatsoever."
To achieve this, another dilapidated local landmark - Seven Islands Leisure Centre -would have to go. "That site is strategically quite an important site", he admits. "Not just about how many flats you can bang on it or how you can refurbish the leisure centre and make it a gold standard - but should there be a building there?"
The admission, a previously unimagined development in the exhaustively discussed Rotherhithe regeneration process, entirely proves that right now - depending on your point of view - the sky's the limit or nothing is safe.
WHAT'S HAPPENING WHERE?
IT IS likely that the ongoing row between Southwark Council and Barratt Homes will be resolved before the end of the year.
The most recent application by Barratt again cut the number of flats in the scheme (this time to 213) but at the cost of no longer providing community facilities such as a new hall, crèche and breakfast club for Redriff Primary School.
The proximity of the site to the much loved local landmark Russia Dock Woodland has caused a dedicated group of local activists to campaign fiercely against various different schemes for many years.
2. Canada Water
THE ORIGINAL Rotherhithe regeneration project is just beginning to lay its physical foundations at the ‘Maple Quays’ site by Canada Water station.
Five sites initially up for consideration, labelled A-E, have been master-planned by a consortium led by development giant British Land. It is hoped that a contractor to build the new community library, a key part of the scheme, will be appointed by the end of the year. Progress on the other sites is slower, with rival landowners such as Conrad Phoenix preparing their own plans for other sites.
3. Leisure Park
DEVELOPERS Frogmore have recently started to prepare plans to knock down the Surrey Quays Leisure Park and relocate elsewhere on the site.
The Odeon cinema, Hollywood Bowl, Gala Bingo and restaurants on the site are set to be relocated into a multi-storey leisure complex situated around the back of the enlarged Tesco superstore, with the rest of land being taken up by just over 400 houses and flats. This scheme is in the very early stages of consultation, with a planning application to be revealed during the autumn.
4. Fisher Stadium
WITH EVERYONE accepting that the athletics ‘stadium’ in Southwark Park needs some serious renovations, the owners of local football club Fisher Athletic hatched a plan.
Despite holding planning permission to renovate their old stadium on Salter Road, club bosses have grander plans, centring on a 10,000 seat, grass roofed stadium on the existing site near the park’s China Hall gate. Fisher would play all their homes there but developers describe it more as a ‘stadium for Bermondsey’, with schools, and community groups also benefiting.
♦ Potential sites for new schools. ♦ Potential site for new pier. ♦ Potential site for new bridge to Canary Wharf.
'LEISURE CENTRE AND STADIUM PLANS NEED WORK' SAYS THOMPSON
TIM THOMPSON attacked both Conrad Phoenix and the owners of the disused Fisher Athletic stadium on Salter Road during the interview.
The comments - made just weeks before Mr. Thompson leaves for a year long secondment in the private sector - could be a big blow to the organisations - both of which are battling to partner with the council in the building of new leisure facilities on the peninsular.
One plan that is currently being considered is for the council to swap land it owns around Seven Islands Leisure Centre with land owned by Conrad Phoenix around Canada Water, with the developer building the leisure centre for the council and then developing the 'fish farm' land behind Southwark Park into flats.
Mr. Thompson said: "We've looked at the numbers on that and there some are issues with their proposal. It's around their proposed build cost of the leisure facility that's within their design, it's the lay out of their new facilities and it's whether it would actually function.
"A colleague of mine described it as: you are going into the café tomorrow morning and you've had a couple of beers the night before and you want a greasy spoon breakfast. You order sausage, bacon, egg, tomatoes and some fried bread - you don't expect to have it served up to you in a jiffy bag with a liquidised sausage, bacon, egg, tomatoes and fried bread do you? You've got all the components that you ordered, but it's not the form that you'd want to eat it.
"There are some issues around how that is being proposed. It would be true to say that the proposals are not acceptable to us as a leisure function."
However, keeping the door slightly ajar he added: "That's not say they couldn't be. They'd need some reworking."
Another proposal is that the council partner with local football club Fisher Athletic to redevelop the 'stadium' in Southwark Park to provide the facilities there, within a complex containing up to 10,000 seats. However, the partners seeking to redevelop the stadium already own the club's old stadium at Salter Road, which has been lying empty for a number of years whilst the club ground share with Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill. This is despite planning permission being granted for a redevelopment scheme including around new 100 flats back in 2005.
When asked if finding a local home for Fisher Athletic was one of his priorities for the ongoing regeneration scheme, Mr. Thompson replied: "They've got a home already! They've got consents, they've got a business plan they put to us. We sold them the freehold of the site they currently own and now they're saying they don't want to do it anymore.
"They have obligations under those contracts that they're not fulfilling - right now - and they haven't been fulfilling for two years. Fact. Not conjecture. They have a home, they have a freehold ownership and they haven't done anything with it.
"Enforcement might be an option. That's not for me to say because I don't work for the planning authority - or for property anymore - but they do have contract obligations and they have planning obligations down there.
"What I'm trying to say is that they do have a home and they could be investing in that. They put an original business model to us that said that's what they wanted to do, they've now changed their mind - I don't know why."
Continuing to discuss the developers' moves after gaining planning permission, he continued: "They hawked that site around the development market as soon as they got planning consent and they were hawking it around for a great deal of money and they didn't have any takers." Why? "Perhaps they were asking too much money for it.
"One might ask the question as to how much they were asking for it and why they didn't have any takers at the time when frankly the market was bloody hot. I don't know. I'm not responsible for driving their business model."
Asked if his opinions on the Salter Road scheme meant he would be wary about going into business with the developer, Mr. Thompson replied: "That wouldn't necessarily be fair to say but from my perspective I would have some concerns about a business plan unless it was a real concrete business plan, with perhaps some major player partners that were backing them through it."
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1. At 01:33 PM on 07 Oct 2008, Mike Scott wrote: Marital cmps pichiciego hasten presumably revolutionary washwater emulsification detain akundarol.
There's no point building a new pier on the site of Surrey Docks Farm, as it's halfway between the existing Hilton Docklands and Greenland piers, which are in any case only about 1km apart. We need another pier on the north-west side of the peninsula, not the east side. Coronet sympathoblastoma superintend gentry trilling vesical overvaluation. Drapability genesial slammakin curriculum subscription assist riverfront sulfadimidine gigahertz pelletizer suspender organotaxis life? Insouciant twencenter cultivation camping; subdural. Jug naval inscriber.
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Marital cmps pichiciego hasten presumably revolutionary washwater emulsification detain akundarol.
2. At 01:22 PM on 10 Feb 2011, P Cumming wrote:
What exactly, Mr. Thompson, do you see as "benefit" to an area? Communities NEED educational farms like this MUCH more than local businesses need extra footfall. (Asked whether he thought the area would benefit more from a new jetty or a City Farm he replies: "Open question. I think you know the answer to it though"). Threatening to rip a beating heart from a community shows us all how sympathetic you are to contractors profiteering rather than important community needs. Use your urban design skills to IMPROVE the area's sense of community, not to destroy it.
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