22 June 2013

What Sort of Town Centre do we want?

Forest Hill has been in the property press a number of times recently.  On Location Location Location there always seem to be people priced out of the local market, and stories of Kirsty and Phil in local cafes.

However, another recent piece - "Lets Move to...." In the Guardian in April raised a number of different questions that made me think that it is sometimes good to look at things from an outsiders point of view rather than your own comfortable angle.

This article, written by Blackheath resident and architectural critic Tom Dykhoff basically said that the town centre 'looked' rubbish. He didn't mean the quality of the shops or local businesses. He meant the visual appearance of the place, particularly when seen from the South Circular (which is, I suspect how he did his site visit).

We have some lovely shopfronts, some interesting buildings and some nice artwork. But in between all of this there is a lot of rubbish. Uncared for buildings, derelict shopfronts, blank advertising hoardings, poor conversions, a LOT of street clutter, poor signposting, and a general lack of coherence.

The town centre is a Conservation Area and this should mean we see a gradual improvement as new works take place. But I'm not sure that is what's happening. We really need a much clearer view about what would work better, what improvements we would like to see, and how we think the area could work in the longer term.

In the last issue of the newsletter we talked about ideas for a new town centre vision possibly using the Neighbourhood Planning provisions of the Localism Act.  This could be a 10 year plan to take us to 2023.

What seems really important is that we all take a very good look at the town centre, possibly from an outsiders point of view and have a good think about what could be better.  Over the next year we will be asking for your ideas!

Hilary Satchwell, chair of Forest Hill Society development committee, architect and urban designer.

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