Southwark moves to centre stage

Monday 18 July 2016

Southwark has all but completed its ‘mission’ to become recognised as being in the very heart of central London.

But now the borough’s emphasis has switched to developing areas away from the tourist honeypots of the south bank resolving to ‘take the community with them’ in fast-developing places like the Old Kent Road, Canada Water and Peckham.

Those were some of the key messages to emerge from an NLA On Location event held yesterday in another area of rapid change, Elephant & Castle.

Southwark leader Peter John kicked off the conference six years on from a similar event in the borough, saying things had progressed rapidly on its main aspiration. ‘I’m cautious of having a banner saying ‘mission accomplished behind me’, he said, ‘but I think Southwark is increasingly recognised as being in the heart of central London.’

The council has six key themes including the provision of quality affordable homes, the best start in life, revitalised neighbourhoods and a strong local economy, but the difference is that it delivers under those headings, said John. It is a similar picture in housing, where the borough has built just shy of 9,000 new homes in the last four years, 37% of them affordable. It also aims to deliver 11,000 new council homes by 2043, the largest such commitment any council has made in the country. ‘It’s having a very clear vision of what we can achieve, and delivering it’, said John. Other schemes of note include the new Camberwell library or the flagship Canada Water library, which has had a million visits in two years. And improving the quality of public realm is another key commitment, with Blackfriars Road and Elephant and Castle significant projects for new, cycle-friendly schemes.

The council’s director of regeneration Steve Platts said that 50% of the borough had been identified for substantial growth and development, with 50-100,000 more people expected over the next 20 years. Canada Water represents some 10 million sq ft of development on its 56-acre site with ownerships split between British Land and Southwark, and Sellar, King’s College and Notting Hill Housing. Platts said he council is expecting around 11 towers of between 30-50 storeys high – including one in the public domain by David Chipperfield – and holds a vision to ‘create the best of the best in urban regeneration’ in the area. The approach in Peckham is less of a grand masterplan or vision but of ‘organic change and working with the community’, said Platts, while beyond its historical connections with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and even the Monopoly board, ‘the time has come’ for Old Kent Road, with its biggest and most ambitious project, including ‘high density, high rise development’, 20,000 new homes, 5000 new jobs 8 new primary and 2 new secondary schools part of the regeneration picture. But all of this was getting more challenging with austerity and reduced budgets meaning direct council investment was becoming more difficult, said Platts.

Transport infrastructure is a ‘an absolutely vital dimension in efforts to regenerate places’, said acting director of borough planning at TfL, Lucinda Turner. The work on transforming Elephant & Castle roundabouts and environs has already helped to transform the place into one that is ‘easier and safer for people to walk and cycle in’, and there is a ‘great value for money case’ behind the £2-3bn (2015 prices) extension to the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham. Turner also revealed that TfL is investigating the potential of roll-on, roll-off ferries for bikes between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf as well as bridge and tunnel options.

The conference also heard from GLA strategic planning manager Colin Wilson on delivering London’s next Opportunity Areas, including Old Kent Road ‘We’re trying to articulate a shift in growth potential in London’, he said, citing the ‘massive shift in ambition’ between the London Plan of 2004 to the 210,000 proposed new homes in the next iteration. The Old Kent Road Area Action Plan includes locations for 20,000 new homes including new council homes over the next 20 years.

Carl Turner led a discussion about co-design and its role in facilitating regeneration, looking at his work in Peckham Square in extensive consultation with local stakeholders, with fliers, workshops, social media and a website and portal. ‘It’s now out there that Peckham’s a great place’. One of the keys to good engagement is to clearly set out what the rules of engagement are, he said. At Peckham Levels, a £2.7 million conversion project now granted planning permission, Turner has grasped the chance to be not just architect but part of the development team. In so doing his practice is creating low cost space for artists - perhaps even his own practice as it outgrows its home in Pop Brixton – in the former car park through engaging, listening, demonstrating, evolving and initiating, he said. ‘We can’t just present the fait accompli at the end. We wall want to avoid alienating communities and we do need to find ways to bring the communities with us so development is done with them, not to them.’

 By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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