Local residents have spoken out against plans to cut down two cherry trees to make way for a new visitor centre at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, writes Kit Heren…
The new 65 square metre centre would include toilets and visitor-facing facilities, meaning the museum’s Engine House building would have more space “to tell stories that are more relevant to the local community,” director Katherine McAlpine told the News.
But nearly 60 people have objected to the proposal – which, along with other plans, would cost £2.6m – on Southwark Council’s planning website, arguing against the loss of the two trees and other green space.
A report on the site’s trees submitted as part of the planning application said the cherry trees have a “moderate” visual value and “should not be considered as a material constraint to the development of the site.”
But one local resident who wanted to remain nameless said he thought the loss of the trees was a shame, given their value to the local community. Other people who commented on the application urged the museum not to change the garden.
And a heritage report that also forms part of the planning application said “the aesthetic value of the site largely derives from the informal garden within the south garden”, which is where the cherry trees to be cut down are found.
McAlpine, who only became director in January this year, said that “losing any tree is regrettable and should be taken really seriously and strongly considered. We’ve elected to put [the pavilion] on the southern end to prioritise the mature trees on the northern end.”
The director added that the museum is looking at how the felled trees could be used somewhere else across the site, like as hedgehog habitats, or creating new furniture or artwork. She has also commissioned a review to look into the project’s sustainability credentials.
“We’re also obviously looking at planting new trees,” she added. “One of the things that has always been in the application is a wildflower meadow. At the moment that south side is grass, which doesn’t have loads of ecological benefit.
“By growing wildflowers you support pollinators like bees. We’re looking at maintaining the biodiversity of the area and ways of increasing it as well.”
Locals have also criticised an apparent lack of consultation with the people of Rotherhithe over the plans.
The Brunel Museum said more than 300 people came to its open days in September as part of London’s Open House festival and pointed out other forms of local engagement.
McAlpine said: “When we submitted planning, that was in response to lots of community engagement in autumn last year. For Open House, we had designs and plans and we invited members of the community to interrogate them. We also did follow up activity in Surrey Quays shopping centre.”
The local resident said he thought the Open House event was not that well attended by locals, and people’s opinions could have been affected by the fact that they were making a trip to the museum.
He also criticised the way the museum publicised the plans on social media and on its website, which he said was not clearly signposted.
McAlpine said the Brunel Museum “can always be doing more” to engage with local people.
It’s important that we have legitimacy in the local community, that people feel they are being listened to,” she added.
“For whatever reason people don’t feel like they are being listened to at the moment. I want to reassure them that we are still listening… We haven’t broken any ground yet and we haven’t heard about planning [permission].”
Other plans include works to the inside and outside of the Engine House and an “audiovisual experience” in the tunnel shaft. The project, funded by grants from the Heritage Fund and other donors, could take about two months if it gets the go ahead.
Comments on the scheme remain open here: https://planning.southwark.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=makeComment&keyVal=QOXWQQKBLKK00