Missing London Squares of Lewisham

A public outcry at the development of green spaces in London including Euston Square where local residents, the National Trust and the London Society opposed to the building a friends meeting house led to the creation of the Royal Commission on London Squares.

The Royal Commission report says that

“… The enclosures, particularly those which abut on roads and are open to the public view, are a very distinctive and attractive feature of the plan of the parts of London in which they are situate: similar open spaces are not to be found except to a very limited extent in other towns in this or other countries. It is
beyond question that the enclosures add greatly to the amenities, not only of their immediate surroundings, but of London as a whole, and the air spaces they afford are of benefit to the well-being of the community. Their loss to any extent would effect an alteration in the characteristic development of the parts of London concerned which would, in our view, be deplorable.”

The Royal Commissioners define the purpose of London Squares as

“… the enclosures should be reserved as ornamental gardens or pleasure grounds or as grounds for play, rest or recreation, and that the erection of buildings or structures, other than buildings or structures necessary or convenient for the enjoyment of the lands for those purposes, should be prohibited.”

The London Squares Preservation Act of 1931 followed. This gave statutory protection to 461 squares and other green spaces in greater London and was supported by the London County Council. It is significant to note that about one fifth were publicly owned. A contemporary account of the passage of the legislation in The Vote – the weekly publication of the Women’s Freedom League – on 4th September 1931 says: “It is the people’s and especially the electors’ duty to see that the open spaces of the land are safeguarded, and this…should have a prominent place in the programme of all candidates in the forthcoming elections.

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There are two areas specified in the legislation under Metropolitan Borough of Deptford that are within the London Borough of Lewisham currently.

The Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham has its own entry in the Schedule

London Squares in the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham – Queen’s Road circle will be the roundabout at the top of Taymount Rise in Forest Hill as this was renamed.
Listed in the second Schedule

The tensions between development, house building and the population’s need for open spaces for health and recreation and the need to put in place proper measures to mitigate climate change are today’s political issues. Particularly, those living in social housing need green, open spaces more now than ever.

Lewisham Council is still consulting on the planning policies in the Lewisham Development Plan that will used to judge and shape the borough’s future building and infrastructure for ten or more years to come.

The London Squares included in the planning policies in force now are listed below:

London Squares listed in Lewisham Council’s current planning policies

There seem to be fewer squares listed in Lewisham Council’s Development Management Local Plan now than in the enacted legislation for 1931. It would be very interesting to find out what happened to the missing London Squares?

The regeneration plans for Catford should include full protection for the current London Squares that exist along Rushey Green. However, new green and open spaces are needed to combat pollution of the busy roads – now is the time to increase the amount of green, open space and parkland across the whole of the London Borough of Lewisham and heed the advice of The Vote.

Cllr Alan Hall Response to Lewisham Council’s Local Plan

The Local Plan helps to ensure that planning decisions are made in the best interests of our neighbourhoods and communities. It provides a strategy for the Council and its partners to direct investment across Lewisham, recognising it is an integral part of London. It includes policies and guidelines that are used to determine planning applications.

Lewisham Council says:

“The Local Plan sets out a shared vision for the future of Lewisham along with the planning and delivery framework to achieve this vision.

The Local Plan helps to ensure that planning decisions are made in the best interests of our neighbourhoods and communities. It provides:

A strategy for the Council and its partners to direct investment across Lewisham, recognising it is an integral part of London. Policies and guidelines used to determine planning applications.”

The formal consultation process ran from 15th January 2021 to 11th April 2021 and Cllr Alan Hall has asked what are the next steps in the process to take the public’s views into full consideration.

Cllr Alan Hall made a formal response mentioning the need for more green space and the expansion of the River Pool Linear Park. He said: “I would like to see the biodiversity and green space commitments explicitly included in this Local Plan and at the sites mentioned above. In Bell Green, a community masterplanning approach should be undertaken and the proposals as they stand are unacceptable. The heritage assets of the Livesey Hall, War Memorial and Grounds needs to be fully recognised in any plan for Bell Green.”

On social housing, Cllr Alan Hall has called for a clear and strong statement in the Local Plan, saying: “A target of 50% of all new homes built to be ‘genuinely affordable’, which is defined as housing at social rent levels (which is set on the basis of local income levels); this means that intermediate and market housing products would not be considered as genuinely affordable.”

London Affordable Rent is classified as an intermediate rent product by most housing experts as it is more expensive than social rent.

Bellingham Estate to be Area of Special Local Character

Full response to the London Borough of Lewisham Local Plan:

The Integrated Impact Assessment on the Local Plan published November 2020 states:

“There will also be a need to consider in-combination issues and opportunities associated with redevelopment at both Bell Green Retail Park, as the southern extent of the Pool River Linear Park, and two sites at the northern extent, namely Wickes and Halfords, Catford Road and Pool Court (proposed as a gypsy and traveller site; currently comprises a Site of Importunate for Nature Conservation, SINC).

There could feasibly be an opportunity to extend the Linear Park into one or both of the larger development sites, and it is recommended that this option is explored, with a view to an overall biodiversity net gain, as measured/calculated at an appropriate functional scale. Extending the Linear Park would also be in line with open space objectives, noting the key finding of the Lewisham Open Spaces Assessment (2019), which is that a significant amount of additional provision will be required to maintain standards (of access to open space) over the long-term. However, it is recognised that there is a need to balance wide ranging objectives when considering how best to redevelop these sites.

I support the expansion of the Linear Park.

Site specific policy currently states:

• Bell Green Retail Park – “Development proposals must protect and seek to enhance green infrastructure, including SINC, green corridor, Metropolitan Open Land and the Pool River.”

• Wickes and Halfords, Catford Road – “Development should maximise opportunities to enhance the ecological quality and amenity provided by the River Ravensbourne, including by revealing the river through decluverting, repairing gaps in Waterlink Way and improving public access to it.” This site specific policy is broadly in accordance with the Site Specific Design and Development Guidelines set for Wickes and Halfords, Catford Road within the adopted River Corridor Improvement Plan SPD (2015). Figure 9.1 shows one of the figures from the SPD, showing the location of the Pool River Linear Park between BGLS and Catford, also highlighting proximity of Beckenham Palace Park.

• Pool Court – the site specific policy does not reference biodiversity constraints or opportunities; however, it explains: “Applicants should consult with Network Rail and Transport for London on design and development options.”

I would like to see the biodiversity and green space commitments explicitly included in this Local Plan and at the sites mentioned above. In Bell Green, a community masterplanning approach should be undertaken and the proposals as they stand are unacceptable. The heritage assets of the Livesey Hall, War Memorial and Grounds needs to be fully recognised in any plan for Bell Green.

On the proposed Gypsy and Travellers Site the document makes the specific comments:

“9.7.5 Finally, there is a need to consider the proposed strategy in respect of meeting gypsy and traveller accommodation needs.

The background is as follows: The Lewisham Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (2015 and amended 2016) identifies a minimum need for six pitches within the plan period, arising from people currently living in bricks and mortar homes, teenage children and household formation. Having regard to this assessment, the Council commenced preparation of a Gypsy and Traveller Site Local Plan. This set out the approach to meeting identified local need for this group, including through site allocation policies.

A Preferred Site Consultation was then over six weeks in 2018. Consultation responses have been considered and negotiations with landowners are progressing. This is particularly to ensure that any future proposed site is deliverable for the intended use, and that feedback from the wider public is appropriately addressed.

9.7.6 In light of the above, the Draft Local Plan proposes an allocation at Pool Court, which is a 0.3 ha site located to just to the southwest of the Catford Masterplan area; specifically, to the south of the large proposed allocation at Wickes and Halfords, Catford Road. The site comprises a ‘left over’ triangle of land at the point where the two railways south of Catford cross-over one another. The River Ravensbourne borders the site, and the confluence of the rivers Ravensbourne and Pool is near adjacent to the west of the site (separated by the railway); however, the site is shown intersect flood zone 2 (as opposed to flood zone 3, which constrains Wickes and Halfords, Catford Road), presumably because the river is effectively channelled or culverted at this point.

A related constraint is the on-site local nature conservation (SINC) designation, and it is important to consider the biodiversity value of this site not only isolation, but as one element of the ecological network associated with the Ravensbourne and Pool river valleys (see discussion of the Wickes and Halfords site above, under ‘Biodiversity’). Whilst it is recognised that this site has been identified following a site selection process undertaken over a number of years, given the onsite constraints, it is recommended that further detailed assessments of biodiversity and flood risk are undertaken, with additional requirements/guidance included within the site allocation, as appropriate; the council should also continue to explore other opportunities to meet the housing needs of this group.”

I support the need for further detailed consideration of the negative impact to biodiversity and the SINC.

Not only this, I believe that this site is insufficient to meet the needs of the Traveller community and that as a stand alone policy is insufficient to comply with the London Plan.

Genuinely Affordable Housing

If delivery of genuinely affordable housing is a clear corporate priority for Lewisham Council then The Local Plan needs to set a strategic target for 50 per cent of all new homes delivered in the Borough to be locally defined as housing at social rent levels, below the GLA’s London Affordable Rent level. This would recognise the distinctive characteristics of the local housing market and the relative affordability of different types of provision to the resident population.

All other housing products below market levels, whether for sale or rent, are defined as intermediate housing, and should not be conflated with genuinely affordable housing.

To be clear, a target of 50% of all new homes built to be ‘genuinely affordable’, which is defined as housing at social rent levels (which is set on the basis of local income levels); this means that intermediate and market housing products would not be considered as genuinely affordable.

I support the designation of the Bellingham Estate as an Area of Special Local Character and we support further consideration to making this a Conservation Area.

The Industrial Estate in Bellingham is a successful employment zone. The designation needs to be reinforced.

Local Green Space and Metropolitan Open Land needs to be designated at Coutrai Road in Crofton Park and along the railway cuttings from Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park through to New Cross Gate.

Finally, the fact that this consultation has taken place during a pandemic and at a time of limited communication including an election period needs to be acknowledged. Further formal consultation is required to achieve a common understanding of the plans and therefore, this consultation is inadequate.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Hall

Cllr Alan Hall – Bellingham

Lewisham says “Let’s Turn Up The Heat” In British Gas Dispute As Gas Workers Return To Their Livesey Hall

Cllr Alan Hall joined British Gas workers, local trade unionists and campaigners outside the historic gas workers’ Livesey Hall in Bell Green, Lower Sydenham. He said: “Let’s turn up the heat on British Gas.” The Livesey Memorial Hall was built in the north-west corner of the South Suburban Gas Company’s principal site at Bell Green, which in 1911 employed 380 men. Much of the building work was carried out by the Gas Company workers. It is a Grade II Listed Historic landmark building. The separately Grade II Listed War Memorial commemorates those who died in the World Wars from the gas works.

Cllr Alan Hall says: “Let’s turn up the heat on British Gas”

This marked the start of a fresh four day strike on Friday 29 until Monday 1 February over ‘fire and rehire’ imposed pay cuts 15% below agreed rates and other adverse changes to their terms and conditions of work.

Speaking to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng, Labour MP Stephen Doughty said he met with Centrica CEO Chris O’Shea in September, who told him the company has not issued s188 notices to staff.

Earlier that day, The Morning Star reported that Chris O’Shea, the boss of British Gas told Stephen Doughty MP that the company had not issued redundancy notices when they had.

Labour asking the questions
Solidarity from Lewisham TUC

In fact, Centrica had issued the s188 notices – essentially a legal letter that gives advance notice that an employer intends to dismiss staff – to its entire UK workforce in July, before negotiations had even started.

Unison represent some staff at Centrica, they say: “As a business Centrica has wasted billions of pounds over the past decade and continued during that time to make massive payments to investors. Its decline is not sudden and yet the business has under the smoke screen of an international pandemic decided opportunistically to attack its own loyal workforce and the trade unions that will defend the workforce. This is disgraceful behaviour. We have asked the business to rescind the S188 notice pending negotiations but they have rejected this request.”

GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said: “Either Chris O’Shea was in denial about the dysfunctional way he’s running the business, or he deliberately lied to a Member of Parliament representing their constituents. ”

“The eight days of strikes so far this month, provoked by a profitable British Gas, have led to a repair backlog of more than 150,000 homes, with 200,000 routine annual boiler service visits cancelled so far this month.”

Cllr Alan Hall has written to Centrica Board members demanding that they use their positions to “think again” and “reign in” the Chief Executive Officer.

Full Text below.

Dear Centrica Board Member,

I am writing to you today because I’m incredibly concerned about what I’m seeing in the newspapers and social media about how British Gas is treating its workforce.

British Gas is an institution. It’s a respected company and household name with millions of customers. It is incredibly disappointing to see that you intend to fire and rehire your employees on worse terms and conditions, and this in the middle of a global pandemic.

As Board members you are well rewarded, yet you are asking loyal and hardworking British Gas employees to add another 5.5-8 hours of unpaid work and travel to their working weeks. Many of your employees have children and families and caring responsibilities.

For a company that used to be seen as a great place to work, it’s understandable to see the anger from staff who want to protect their precious family time. For the sake of your own reputation, it’s time you reined in your out-of-control CEO Chris O’Shea.

I see that GMB – the union for British Gas workers – has been willing to negotiate and come to talks with you, but that you won’t take the threat of fire and rehire off the table – that hardly strikes me as an employer negotiating in good faith.

British Gas needs to think again. This is not how a reputable company should treat its workforce. It’s disgraceful.

As a Board member you have the ability to change things. Please use your position to do the right thing for hardworking British Gas employees.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

Report in the Newsshopper is here

Report in South London Press is here

The Story Of The Racquet At The Bridge

The future of The Bridge Leisure Centre in Lower Sydenham looks bleak. Lewisham Council’s Mayor and cabinet approved plans not to reopen the leisure centre. The report added that the site has been running at losses of over £400,000 for many years although an element of the financial losses relate to the deterioration in the quality of the building and service standards in recent years.

The meeting heard that The Bridge was originally a private sports and social club and that its layout was not designed to be a public leisure centre.

Mayor & cabinet meeting, Lewisham Council discusses The Bridge at 29 mins

The history of The Bridge and the playing fields include a time when the site was a British Petroleum – BP – employees leisure club known as the Britannic House Sports Ground. In fact, in 1932, Lensbury Club (Shell) and Britannic House (the BP Club in Sydenham) came together as the ‘Lensbury and Britannic House Associated Clubs’. There was a separation of the Clubs by the two companies in 1962, however, Shell and BP employees retained the right to be members of both. These clubs had combined memberships over 5,000 people.

According to newspaper reports at the time, the 1970 British Open Women’s squash championship was held at The Bridge and won by Australia’s Heather McKay. Of course, at this time it could only be Heather on top. She ranks among the greatest players in the history of squash. She dominated the women’s game in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 16 consecutive British Open titles between 1962 and 1977. In 2000 she was given the title ‘Legend of Australian Sport’.

Many have commented on how could such an extraordinary player and perhaps the world’s most successful athlete been so starved of publicity? No one else remained unbeaten for 19 years – as she did between 1962 and her retirement in1981. No one else beat her challengers so comprehensively.

Also, Heather played hockey, representing Australia in 1967 and 1971. More recently, she has taken up tennis, winning the world veteran’s tennis championships. A true talent.

Meanwhile, The Bridge Leisure Centre was brought by Lewisham Council in 2019 after several years leasing the building. What is to become of the site and playing fields is unknown. Local residents have started to petition the local Council saying that it is a much needed local leisure centre supporting our community for fitness and mental wellbeing. No-one disagrees that it is well used.

A petition has been started by local residents to “Save The Bridge”
Credit Coventry Telegraph and BNA
Heather McKay MBE

Councillor Alan Hall has asked that Lewisham Council contact England Squash, the English national governing body for the sport. He asked a formal Question at the full Council meeting on 20th January 2021 about the ownership of the Bridge and managed to ask this as an oral supplementary question.

The Cabinet Member responsible said: “He believed that the Council had undertaken in depth research but I am more than happy to take that forward.”

A spokesperson for England Squash said: “Sorry to hear that the council are proposing to close the Bridge Leisure Centre.”

“The squash finder they mention [in the Mayor & Cabinet report asking for permission to close the Bridge] is just this page of our website. In these situations we can provide a facility report which details the level of provision relative to the population size and demonstrates the impact of any loss of courts if that would help with these discussions locally.”

Urgent Action Needed To Tackle Homelessness Now

Cllr Alan Hall has joined housing campaigners, Shelter by writing to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on the tory Government to take “urgent action to protect people at risk of being on the streets as a result of the pandemic.”

This follows the tragic news that a homeless person sleeping rough at Bell Green, died. In a response to a formal Council Question at Lewisham Council’s meeting held on 25th November 2020, Cllr Alan Hall asked for a review of the case to learn any lessons and for the Coroner to be contacted, if necessary. He received an undertaking that this would be done.

Cllr Alan Hall’s Question is at 57 minutes

Shelter have said that a new lockdown means we need new protections. The Government needs to provided enough support to those who are homeless or threatened by homelessness as a result of the latest lockdown as a matter of urgency.

The full text of the letter is here:

Dear Prime Minister,

Since the announcement of a new national lockdown your government are yet to lay out all the protections needed that will help those threatened by homelessness.

Over the last year, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, with a rapidly growing number of people also under threat of losing their homes.

Shelter advice services are hearing from more and more people in need of accommodation.

With more bitterly cold weather forecasted, we need you to take urgent action to protect people at risk of being on the streets as a result of the pandemic. We want you to:

• Publish clear guidance to dire councils to provide sage emergency accommodation to everyone at risk of the streets

• Provide financial support to renters to help pay off arrears built up due to COVID-19

• Scrap the benefit cap and review housing benefit rates to ensure people can pay the rent, and to prevent growing rent arrears and eviction

We need urgent action now to help those facing housing issues at this difficult time. Please do everything in your power to ensure everyone have a warm, dry and safe place to live during the pandemic.

Cllr Alan Hall

Join the campaign here

Demolition of Bell Green Gas Holders Approved

Lewisham Council has made the decision to approve the demolition of the Gas Holders at Bell Green, Lower Sydenham.

A decision notice was posted on the Council’s website on 11th July here 

Campaigners fighting to save the Bell Green gas holders (These Streets Belong to Us from Perry Vale and the Sydenham Society) expressed their regret and disappointment at the London Borough of Lewisham’s recent decision to allow the demolition of the locally listed cast iron structures.

Annabel McLaren, Chair of the Sydenham Society said: “The Bell Green gas holders are a visual reminder of the rich history of gas production in Lower Sydenham. The decision to allow the demolition of these iconic cast iron structures is, in our view, vandalism. Demolishing the gas holders will inevitably lead to a bland streetscape, of the kind that is found everywhere. The Sydenham Society will continue to fight for the enhancement of the Grade II listed Livesey Hall, the adjacent war memorial, bowling green and pavilion, with the aim of securing a sustainable and appropriate development in the longer term.”

Speaking on behalf of the campaign, Cllr Alan Hall said: “Residents are not opposed to development, but they are in favour of an imaginative scheme that includes the listed and historic buildings on the site. Bell Green urgently needs a Masterplan. The fight continues!”

House Sparrows and Peregrine Falcons have been sighted but these protected species have not prevented the approval to demolish the locally listed gas holders.

 

Sydenham Society Object to Bell Green Gas Holders demolition and ask for an ‘Article 4’ Direction

The Sydenham Society have written an objection to the plans to demolish the locally listed Bell Green Gas Holders in Lower Sydenham.

Following hot on the heels of the Victorian Society’s objection here, the Sydenham Society go further and request an Article 4 Direction by Lewisham Council. An Article 4 Direction would remove permitted development rights and protect the heritage assets. A fuller explanation by Historic England states that Article 4 directions may be used to require planning permission for the demolition of a non-designated heritage asset (such as a locally listed building outside of a conservation area), by removing the demolition rights.

Falcon Bell Green 040718

SGN the owners of the gasometers spotted a Peregrine Falcon during a wildlife review and immediately called in their drone as the Pergrine Falcon is a protected species. For more details please read: https://alanhall.org.uk/2018/06/20/bell-green-gasometers-demolition-second-application/

Local Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall said: “Serious objections are mounting and the expert view of the Victorian Society should be fully considered. The gas holders form an integral part of the Grade II Listed Livesey Hall and Listed War Memorial. A sympathetic development is possible if the will is there and proper consideration of an Article 4 Direction would be necessary now.”

Comments and objections should be sent to planning@lewisham.gov.uk before July 9th 2018.

The full papers for the application to demolish are here

Read the Sydenham Society’s full objection letter below:

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Bell Green Gasometers demolition second application Peregrine Falcons’ sighting confirmed

The second application to demolish the Victorian gasometers at Bell Green in Lower Sydenham has been received by Lewisham Council.

Southern Gas Networks have applied to Lewisham Council for prior approval to demolish the locally listed structures. Full papers are here.

The campaign to retain the historic structures was given a boost when peregrine falcons were spotted in April. The refusal of the first application for approval to demolish followed shortly after. An account with photographs is here.

In the papers submitted in the second application for prior approval of demolition a Falco Peregrinus survey is attached. It states that no nesting birds were found but dramatically describes how “Part way through the aerial assessment, a male peregrine flew in from the west and landed on the top of the western side of the northern gas holder. Once the bird was spotted, the drone was immediately called in to land, safely away from the peregrine. The bird then perched on the structure for approximately five minutes before flying away and circling the surrounding area. A female peregrine then joined the male in flight from elsewhere (off-site) and they flew together in the vicinity of the site for around 10 minutes before flying out of sight.”

The law protects Peregrin Falcons and it is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a Peregrine. Nests and eggs are also protected and it is an offence to take, damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird while it is in use or being built or to take or destroy the eggs.

An even earlier application to replace the gas holders with shops was refused by Lewisham Council’s planning committee.

Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall said: “These historic gas holders survived an earlier attempt to demolish them by Southern Gas Networks, they survived Lewisham Council’s planning committee and they survived World War II and bombing raids. They are now under threat again.”

Meanwhile, on twitter a young Peregrine Falcon was spotted

 

Objections and comments can be sent to planning@lewisham.gov.uk