27 February 2009

Lewisham Misses the Point on the Pools

At the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on the 25th February, the Mayor Sir Steve Bullock decided to go ahead with a further consultation on the options for Forest Hill Pools. The options that he has decided to consult on take a very narrow view of what it is possible to achieve, fail to look at the issue in the round and ignore the strong views of Forest Hill residents who both want to see swimming return to Forest Hill in the near future but also want to see a pool on the pools site.

The options that the Mayor has resolved to consult on are either to:
  • Look again at the delivery of Option 2 in 2012 with possible delivery in 2015; or
  • Deliver a pool on the Willow Way site in 2012 and to fund it through housing (up to 60 flats) on the existing pools site.
The concern is that both of these options create significant problems for Forest Hill. Under both of these alternatives the pools site is likely to remain empty and semi derelict for a number of years and neither option provides the short to medium term support for the town centre that it desperately needs. Whilst there is an argument that says that Willow Way is not an entirely bad site for a new swimming pool, this isn’t the case if you have a better site in the town centre, ready and waiting.

As you will be aware what the Forest Hill Society had been pushing for is an option that would meet the majority of residents and pools users requirements – and at the same time underpin the Dartmouth Road end of the Town Centre. This focussed on the designs for option 2 but sought to find a way to make it affordable and to deliver it now. To us the advantages of option 2 are clear, we believe it would be a way of uniting the various groups who all have different objectives for the project and developing something of which we could all be proud.

The view is that Option 2 would:
  • Provide a high quality sensitive design that would minimise its impact on adjoining residents;
  • Meet the requirements of the heritage lobby who want to keep the pools frontage and see them retained in public use;
  • Meet the requirements of swimming groups and keen pools users who want a 2 pool swimming facility as soon as possible;
  • Help reinforce the town centre and support local traders; and
  • Provide the simplest route through Planning as it is sensitive to the adjacent listed buildings and the potential Conservation Area Extension.

In fact at the Mayor and Cabinet meeting Steve Gough, the lead officer for the project said that the Option 2 Pools would be the simplest to deliver, if it could be funded.

The potential problem with funding this option relates back to the Willow Way site and the potential to redevelop it for a mix of residential and employment uses to cross subsidise the pools proposal. At the stakeholder meeting a couple of weeks ago the only barrier presented to achieving this was a planning issue related to the loss of employment on the site. Having looked into this further we believe that there are ways of making an argument for mixed uses on this site that could be in accordance with this policy, particularly as Lewisham are in the process of rewriting their Planning Policy framework at the moment. Key to this is the fact that under both of the options there would be no net loss of employment across the two sites. In fact option 2 might actually increase jobs if commercial and employment is provided on Willow Way alongside the housing, and it would also help support existing and new employment uses in the town centre. So we believe with the right argument this is possible and that therefore option 2 is affordable now, with less planning risk than option 3.

Another issue that has been raised by this process is that The Mayor and elements within the Council seem to believe that there is a silent majority out there that disagree with all of this and don’t care about the location of the pool, the town centre or housing on the pools site and who think the Forest Hill Society and other groups and residents are just being obstructive to swimming. We would really like to hear from a wider range of people as it would be really helpful to know if we are really being that unrepresentative, although we use a variety of methods to get opinions from across all aspects of Forest Hill residents - members and non-members. However, consulting on the 2 consultation options as currently set out will not tell us this as it is not based on fair and reasonable propositions about what may be possible and, as with last summer's consultation, is unlikely to give space for those who disagree with both options to contribute their opinions.

Whilst the consultation options as they appear to stand at the moment do force a difficult decision for residents it seems odd to set up a consultation whose result is going to alienate a large proportion of residents either way, particularly when better alternatives exist.

The one small piece of good news to come out of the meeting was that the Mayor stated that the stakeholder group should continue to be part of the pools project going forward and that a stakeholder meeting should be set up in the near future. This was in contrast to the draft of the officers report that appeared to say that they didn’t like the constituency of the current stakeholder group and that they should get rid of it and put together (a more agreeable) new one. How the Forest Hill Society form part of this group and what our role is going forward we are currently considering. However, we will continue to seek the best solution for the majority of residents and users of Forest Hill.

So the really strange thing about all of this is that the Council don’t seem to want to find a solution that could meet the requirements of the widest range of residents and swimmers, they want to press ahead with a scheme with significant disadvantages when considered in the round. In contrast to the view put across by the Mayor that this is a “choice between buildings or swimming”, there is another way, that could be delivered within the Council's £9.5m budget, that could be delivered soon, and that from the feedback we have had a great many people would support – they just don’t want to give any of us the opportunity to be consulted on it.

Please get in touch with us if you have views about these options or the pools project and particularly about the view the Forest Hill Society should take going forward.

Speech to Mayor and Cabinet

Below is the text of the speech made to Mayor and Cabinet meeting on Wednesday by Hilary Satchwell on behalf of the Forest Hill Society:

1) I’m speaking as a representative of the Forest Hill Society, and with the backing of the Tewkesbury Lodge Estate Residents’ Association, the Sydenham Society and Save the Face of Forest Hill Pools. I’m happy that we’ve been able to find a common view on the latest proposals from the Council.

2) Thank you for a report that provides some new ideas. We are really glad you have restated that you want a pool in Forest Hill – we REALLY want one too! We want a pool IN Forest Hill. Forest Hill Town Centre feels as if it is dying as a result of the closure of the pool three years ago. The report says that Option 3 could give us a pool sooner, but we would lose of one of the town centre’s key ‘anchors’ as identified in the 2003 Urban Development Framework. We have to find a way around this problem. Rushing ahead with newly conceived option three cannot be right. If you consult with such a strong preference for Option three without fully exploring the alternatives we fear there will be another fiasco.

3) We very strongly support option 2, but not as a pipe-dream for 2015. We must work together to find a way of delivering this now. Option 2 has many benefits, including good design, retention of ‘civic’ use and the pools frontage. It would revitalise the town centre and protect employment. It has minimal impact on neighbours. Our online survey and other feedback shows that it is supported by the overwhelming majority of residents. We believe that this option not only has the support of the majority of Forest Hill residents but also Council Members and Officers. It has the support of the swimming lobby and the Heritage lobby. We can’t shelve this option for three years. Nobody can accept that a solution that was first presented to the stakeholders just 3 weeks ago can’t be delivered before 2015.

The location of the pools is really important. Willow Way is 600 metres further from the centre of Forest Hill and is in Sydenham. Its catchment area overlaps The Bridge and Crystal Palace but is further from Honor Oak, Perry Vale and East Dulwich, which have no modern swimming facilities. Less people in Lewisham would be within a kilometre of a swimming pool if you move the site to Willow Way. We are concerned that a pool in Willow Way would be hidden in a back street and further from a wide range of public transport. This location will not attract custom or support long term viability. Lewisham’s leisure strategy and national guidelines recognise the importance of town centre locations for the provision of leisure and we are lucky to have a great site on Dartmouth Road!

4) We understand the constraints of planning policy and the important principle of not losing employment land from the Borough. As presented, option 2 and option 3 create exactly the same number of jobs from the pools. There would be NO NET loss of employment under option 2, and possibly an increase, if Willow Way included live work, or commercial and residential uses. On the other hand, option 3 would seriously threaten jobs in the town centre as a result of relocation of the pool. This cannot be the intention – it does not make sense to quote planning policy against Option 2 when it would actually increase employment opportunities within the borough. The issue needs further consideration and thought so that Willow Way can be used to cross subsidise the proposals.

5) We are concerned that the planning constraints of option 3 on Willow Way have been understated. Gaining planning approval for a significant leisure use outside of a defined town centre is contrary to both Lewisham Council Policy and national planning policy statement 6 on Town Centres. At the same time, putting high density housing on the Pools site would materially affect the setting of 2 listed buildings. We haven’t had the privilege of seeing the planning advice received on the proposals but know that Planning isn’t usually such a black and white issue as has been presented.

6) We are also concerned that the problems of delivering housing on the Pools site have been grossly understated. Delivering 60 flats on an existing leisure site in the current economic downturn and against public opposition will be difficult. It must be easier to construct a robust and sensible argument for the delivery of a mixed use development on Willow Way and a New Pool on an existing leisure site in the Town Centre. Option 2 only requires an increased range of uses on one site whilst option 3 needs a change of use on both. Some employment on Willow Way and a new leisure facility on Dartmouth Road will regenerate the Town Centre. The benefits significantly outweigh the case for leisure employment only on Willow Way, more empty shops on Dartmouth Road and high risk, high density housing.

7) Option 3, as the only recommendation to be delivered in the short term in this report, is the wrong one. Issues are not being considered in the round and it is not yet quite the right time for another consultation. Both Option 2 in 2015 and option 3 in 2011 would kill the town centre at a time of great opportunity with the coming of the East London Line. Pursuing Option 3 raises significant issues including, without being melodramatic, the future of Forest Hill as a Town Centre.

8) When it is right time to consult please make sure that the consultation asks open, informative and useful questions. The answers will then be useful if something unforeseen happens. We need a consultation that provides useful information about what people want from the pools project, in addition to a response on specific options, if that is what you think you need. We don’t need a tick box form for the 2 ‘closed’ options. We want a much more participatory approach involving stakeholders and residents. We don’t need another closed consultation with stakeholders kept in the dark. Let’s work together on this to deliver a first class leisure facility on the Pools site as soon as we can.

9) We understand that there is a proposal being developed for an arts centre in Louise House and would like your support for it, at the very least by financially supporting a feasibility study. We need the creative and youth oriented activities in Forest Hill that this proposal could bring.

10) Please consider what the Community has said and find a way to make option 2 a reality in the short term. This is what the Community wants and this is what your Officers recognise is the best option. Waiting until 2012 to revisit the options is not acceptable. We have already waited three years.

Thank you.

14 February 2009

Pearcefield Avenue Planning Application

Below is the text of an email sent to Lewisham Council planning department on behalf of the Forest Hill Society.

Re: Application DC/08/70576: 17 Pearcefield Avenue, SE23

In general we would welcome bringing a building back into use either as a commercial site, which this appears to have been, or for residential use. However, on this occasion there are a number of concerns that we have about this development that lead us to object to the application.

  1. The key concern is overlooking. The building is approximately 10 metres from the nearest windows and adding a floor to this property looking in this direction would create problems with overlooking both in terms of the gardens and the neighbouring houses in Waldenshaw Road. The first floor window will look out directly into neighbouring gardens and towards their windows. For this reason the application should be rejected in line with council policy HSG 8 (e) "there should be no appreciable loss of privacy and amenity for adjoining houses and their back gardens".

  2. There is very little amenity space in this development with just two small yards for a family house. This is contrary to council policy HSG 7 "The Council will seek in all new dwellings the provision of a readily accessible, secure, private and useable external space. Family dwellings should be provided with their own private garden area. Normally, a minimum garden depth of 9 metres will be required".

  3. We are concerned that the reuse of the glass roof of this building, as well as the fact that this was built as a Victorian coach house, may result in a property that is costly to heat and environmentally inefficient. We would ask that the council consider if the design meets environmental guidelines or is contrary to policy HSG 5 "The Council will, therefore, only permit new residential development which: (e) would encourage energy and natural resource efficiency".

We hope that you will consider these concerns and other concerns expressed by local residents and reject this application.

13 February 2009

After Pools and Polls, it's time for Poles

On Valentine's Day, could there be a more apt destination in south east London than the Horniman Museum?

Their latest exhibition starts on Saturday, all about Wycinanki - no, not a new web 2.0 social network, but the ancient Polish art of paper cutting. If you can't make it for Valentine's, then you have a while, as it's on until September. Could make a nice distraction over half term, and there are some children's workshops planned - see full details in the press release below.

Wycinanki: The Art of Polish Paper Cuts

Horniman Museum, Balcony Gallery. Free Admission
Saturday 14 February – 27 September 2009

This exhibition, curated by Justyna Pyz, brings together 50 examples of the Polish folk art, Wycinanki, from the Horniman Museum collection, part of which was acquired in1963 from the Ethnographic Museum, Warsaw. The collection was originally assembled by the Polish Minister of Culture and dates from the late 1950s. Several new works were commissioned by the Museum in 2008 as part of its fieldwork programme; these include works by renowned artists such as Apolonia Nowak and Czesława Kaczyńska from Kurpie region and Helena Miazek from Łowicz, whose heart design was commissioned to mark the exhibition’s opening on Valentine’s Day.

Perhaps modelled on traditional Jewish papercuts, Wycinanki originated as an inexpensive means of decorating the homes of Polish peasants and were popular from the mid 19th century. They were generally made by women using sheep-shearing scissors and any readily available paper and replaced each spring when homes were whitewashed. With the advent of communism, Wycinanki were promoted by the new administration as an example of non-bourgeois art and enjoyed enormous popularity along with other forms of folk art. With the collapse of communism Wycinanki were assimilated into the Polish tourist industry as a traditional craft, they are now however enjoying a resurgence of interest from more radical quarters. The design of the Polish pavilion for the Shanghai Expo 2010 is based on a Wycinanki pattern whilst British artist Robert Ryan’s work has brought paper cuts to a new audience.

Some of the designs on display depict everyday rural scenes; these are valuable documents of social history showing a disappearing way of life. One of the paper cuts shows peasant women using traditional flax brakes to make linen, a practice which has now died out. The collection also includes geometric designs which were popular decorations in many homes. Wycinanki were also made for religious festivals and family celebrations; these designs have a set iconography, for example, cockerels for Easter. The paper cuts on display are from two different regions: those from Łowicz are multi-coloured and made from multiple sheets whereas those from Kurpie are made from a single sheet of coloured paper. Justyna Pyz said: “This collection of Wycinanki is remarkably diverse and represents a fantastic opportunity to discover a folk art which has flourished and continues to develop in Poland and which influences artists worldwide.”

Families with children aged 3 and up will have the opportunity to participate in Saturday art and craft workshops on 21 and 28 February from 1.30pm – 2.15pm and 2.45pm – 3.30pm on both days. Free tickets are available half an hour before the session starts from the Information Desk. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Hat Tip: Brockley Central

11 February 2009

Forest Hill Society to back Option 2

The Forest Hill Society Executive met last night to consider their position on the pools options presented to stakeholders last week.

There was a very strong preference for option 2 which maximises the leisure offered and keeps swimming in the current location in Forest Hill. We are pleased that this plan includes the retention of the pools frontage and believe that it will benefit both Forest Hill town centre and the Kirkdale area where new housing could be built. We recognise that there will be some difficulty in building housing in the Willow Way site, but believe that a solution must be found to move forward with option 2.

Option 3 was particularly disliked as providing a pool in the wrong location, in a back road close to a commercial zone where large van use a narrow road. It is outside Forest Hill town centre, leaving the library isolated in a residential area and having a detrimental effect on retail on Dartmouth Road. The Willow Way site is also significantly further from train stations and main town centres leading to an increased use of cars to travel to the pool, where car parking in not readily available.

These views are supported by local residents who in a poll on SE23.com back option 2 by 75% to 20% for option 1, and less than 5% for option 3 (based on a total of 70 responses over 3 days).

The mayor and cabinet will be considering the options on 25th February. This meeting, at Lewisham Town Hall, is open to the public to observe and we hope that local people will show their support for swimming in Forest Hill and for option 2 by attending the meeting.

Update: The full response by the Forest Hill Society can be read here.

06 February 2009

2009 Options for Forest Hill Pool

Over the last five months Lewisham Council have been working on a feasibility study for the possible options for the current site of Forest Hill Pools.

Details of the three options can be viewed at http://www2.lewisham.gov.uk/lbl/documents/stakeholder_briefing_050209.pdf

We would be very interested to hear your views in the comments section or via email: email@foresthillsociety.com

Picture is of just one of the possible options to be presented to Mayor and Cabinet on 25 February.