Lewisham looks beyond the numbers for ‘good growth’

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Successful regeneration needs more than the numbers approach often favoured by planners; it requires the kind of ‘good growth’ that values character, improved public realm and a sense of place just as much as the numerical goals.

So said Lewisham head of planning Emma Talbot at Lewisham: Building a Metropolitan centre, an NLA On Location event held at the borough’s Laban Building on Deptford Creekside yesterday.

‘You can come to any event and hear about numbers and targets but development needs to be more than that’, she said, pointing to the way in which her organisation is masterplanning, digitally mapping how people experience their place, providing schools and other infrastructure and recognizing the diversity of Lewisham. An extension of the Bakerloo line will help unlock more growth in the borough, which  -incidentally – has been set challenging targets to provide 2117 homes a year, up from 1385 currently, which it exceeds. ‘What does the future hold? For us it is about putting Lewisham on the tube map…It’s more than about numbers and targets. It’s about people.’ The borough is not afraid of density or height in the right place, Talbot added, but subtle interventions were needed as well in order to make Lewisham ‘the best place to live, work and learn in London.’.

Talbot was speaking after an introduction by Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock, who said the borough had always been about providing a good quality of life for people working in other parts of the city. ‘We don’t regard that in any sense as a lack of ambition’, he said. ‘Creating a borough where people want to live and feel part of a community is a very strong ambition.’ Challenges, though, include finding room for more homes while maintaining that quality of life, striking the right balance between ‘what we need and what we value’ in ‘one of the hidden gems of London.’

As part of this process, We Made That’s Holly Lewis explained the work her practice is doing to understand the character of New Cross as place and aim to build on its essentials as a lively, creative, distinctive and equitable place. Catriona Boulton, meanwhile, director of estates and facilities at Goldsmiths College, outlined the contribution her organisation is making from its 8 hectare site, including the creation of the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art opening this September.

The conference also heard from Jeff Endean, housing strategy and programmes manager at Lewisham who showed the borough’s adventurous rethinking of housing delivery. ‘We don’t have forever to make decisions or build perfect schemes’, he said. ‘Sometimes we just need to get on and build housing.’ Part of that output has been provided by RHSP, whose senior associate Andrew Partridge described the Ladywell project - 24 flats with community use at the ground floor, adding that RSHP is working on three more sites and including an innovative idea for local assembly. GLA assistant director of regeneration Debbie Jackon said that Lewisham has a lot of potential for growth, its Opportunity Areas figuring in the top third of London boroughs, with small sites set to play a key role. ‘I think it’s a key growth location but it is really important we think about placemaking around those key locations as well’, she said. Finally, Commonplace Founder Mike Saunders explained how technology is an ‘essential’ part within wider strategies of ensuring that communities are heard in development – even the harder to reach, normally ‘quiet’ elements. ‘Lewisham is a fantastic example of what’s possible, and is great at using it as a catalyst.’

David Taylor, 
New London Quarterly

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