24 April 2008

Craft Market in Forest Hill this weekend

There will be a Craft Market in the car park at Forest Hill station, Saturday 26th April 10am-3pm. Help support the idea of a craft market in the town centre by coming along, spending some money and maybe visit some of the other local shops and cafes/restaurants in the area. Weather is expected to be good!

On Sunday 27th April
at 2pm our friends at the Tewkesbury Lodge Estate Residents Association will be hosting a public meeting in the Dutch Barn, Horniman Gardens. The plans for the Gardens will be available for viewing, and after a presentation from Museum staff, there will be an opportunity to ask questions. Refreshments will be available. Everyone welcome.

07 April 2008

Good news for Rail Services

For over a year the Forest Hill Society has been campaigning against any reduction to services from Forest Hill to London Bridge. At the end of March the final version of the Route Utilisation Strategy was published and this document has included many of the recommendations put forward by the Society.

The final version of the RUS document can be viewed on the Network Rail website.

  1. Same level of service to London Bridge from Forest Hill over the peak period.
  2. Additional trains to London Bridge from Honor Oak Park (all services from Forest Hill will be stopping service).
  3. Introduction of peak services to Victoria via Crystal Palace.
  4. Early implementation of train lengthening, from the current 6-8 carriages in the peak up to 12 carriages. This is planned to be implemented by 2012.
  5. 10 trains per hour on the East London Line (an increase from the 8 trains planned).
  6. Thameslink services at peak times taking passengers from Forest Hill north of London Bridge. These services will start in 2015.
One note of caution, it is likely that between 2012 and 2015 there will be a reduction in services to London Bridge. This will be partially off set by longer trains and alternative routes via the East London Line, but it seems worthwhile to get ThamesLink services from our stations from 2015.

Thanks to the campaign we have been running we will get more trains, longer trains, and an increase in choice of destinations. All of these issues were identified in our submission to Network Rail, although we had not actually requested Thameslink trains stopping at Forest Hill. This is a welcome increase to services and good news for the people of Forest Hill.

Newsletter - March 08

The following 10 entries are taken from the March newsletter to members of the Forest Hill Society. Please feel free to comment on any of the articles and let us know what you think.

06 April 2008

Chair's Report - April Newsletter

I am delighted that our next General Meeting on 7th May will be at Forest Hill School - my old school - which has been completely rebuilt over the last few years. It’s a specialist school for the performing arts and has some great new facilities so our general meeting will be a fantastic opportunity to see some of these and to join the discussions on what you feel is important in and around Forest Hill.

Two topics that are bound to crop up are the rail service and the pools. We’ve finally had information from Network Rail, which indicates there will no cut to peak rail services to London Bridge with the coming of the East London Line. We are pleased that our year long campaign on rail services has produced promising results and we will continue to monitor the situation with the re-franchising of the South Central network.

The report on the pools was published in early February with bad news for the existing building. The Forest Hill Society will be working with the council to make sure we have the best solution to swimming and other leisure services in the heart of Forest Hill.

This year we are continuing to focus on improving the town centres in Honor Oak and Forest Hill. This is not an easy task but one that clearly needs some attention. Do get involved!

Michael Abrahams
Chair, Forest Hill Society

Dates for your Diary

7th May – Forest Hill Society General Meeting.
Forest Hill School, Dacres Road. Doors open 7pm for light refreshments. Proceedings start at 7.30 pm.

25th MayGreen Chain Walk – Sydenham Wells Park to One Tree Hill. 2pm, meet at the pond in Sydenham Wells Park. Walk led by Peter Frost of Friends of One Tree Hill.

Out and About

13th April
- spring flower walk at 2.30 with Roy Vickery, Chairman of the South London Botanical Institute. Meet at the Crescent Wood Road entrance to Sydenham Wood.

28th June – Blythe Hill Fields Fun Day, starts 11am. There’ll be a live stage with music and performance from local groups, activities and field games for children and food and drink. The Forest Hill Society will have a stall with information about our activities and lots of our popular SE23 cakes to buy!

Forest Hill Pools to be Demolished

Plans to refurbish Forest Hill’s Victorian swimming pools have been scrapped. Instead, Lewisham’s Mayor now says that the existing pools and Louise House next door will be demolished and a new, two-pool facility will be built.

It’s been two years since the swimming pools were closed because of fears about the structural safety of the building. We were then told, after a consultation, that the Victorian building would be refurbished and reopened in 2009.

But it now seems that the intrusive survey, which convinced the Mayor that this option was feasible, was not intrusive enough. A detailed feasibility assessment now states that the two pool tanks have severe cracking across their entire width in three places and are leaking water at the rate of 3627m3 per annum.

Having considered various options (again), the Mayor now plans to demolish the pools and Louise House and build a modern replacement with a 25m pool and a learner pool. Other facilities will be incorporated and we expect the Council to listen to local opinions when deciding what exactly these facilities should be.

The Council has made a commitment to engage with local groups, such as the Forest Hill Society, as plans for the building proceed. It has also pledged to incorporate some of the existing architectural features from the current building such as the foundation stone. The Council says our new pool will be ready for us to dive into in the summer of 2010.

However, many people will mourn the destruction of both of Thomas Aldwinckle’s Victorian public buildings in Forest Hill.

We will press the council to seek advice from a conservation architect so that as much of the original facade as possible can be incorporated into the new building. It’s also very important that a historical report on the building be gathered before demolition so that Forest Hill Pools can be archived for the historical record.

Most importantly, we want a good quality building in this prominent site. When the Victorians built their public baths, they had a deep sense of civic pride and this was reflected in their grand designs. In the event of full or partial demolition we do not want to see a Victorian pastiche but neither do we want a modern non-descript shed. There are many examples of excellent modern civic buildings and we believe that SE23 deserves high architectural standards to compensate us for any loss of our Victorian heritage.

Whilst we regret the destruction of the Victorian baths, it’s worth remembering that in several areas they did not meet the needs of twenty-first century swimmers. Apart from general dilapidation, there is no disabled access and the changing facilities are poor and poorly located. Refurbishing the existing building would be a huge risk since it is highly likely more structural problems would emerge in coming years and we would simply be delaying the inevitable. But we would like the council to consider if it would be possible to save the facade of the existing pool building without compromising the facilities that will be available on the site.

It is obviously deeply frustrating that several years have been wasted and this two-pool, rebuild scheme was not offered as an option during the initial consultation. But the important thing now is to consult widely and ensure we get the building we want and that more people than ever – especially our local children - get the chance to enjoy swimming.

And by making our voices heard, we can make sure it’s not just a great sports facility but also a civic building that everyone can be proud of – swimmers and non-swimmers alike.

Forest Hill Pools - Who Says What

“I tried very hard to find a way to save the old pools but there is no affordable way to do it. It came as a real blow to find that the work needed to refurbish the pool was much greater than we anticipated.”
Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham

"It's a scandal that two years have been wasted pursuing a flawed refurbishment idea, even if it may have been the least worst of the two alternatives. These better options could have been put on the table back in 2006, and should have been - the Mayor has to answer as to why they were not!"
Cllr Alex Feakes (Lib Dem), Forest Hill Ward

"The pools, Louise House, Holy Trinity Schools and the library give a possibly unique insight into the Victorian attitude toward health, education and social welfare. I feel that every effort should be made to ensure that at least the front of the pools building, including the ticket offices, slipper baths, waiting rooms and superintendent's accommodation, should be retained."
Steve Grindlay, local historian.

“What do we know of what will replace the pools? The design should go to competition and encourage architects of great repute with design of world class quality. If the building is demolished there is no going back, an important and historic building will be lost forever.”
Jeff Lowe, founder Havelock Walk artists’ quarter.

Forest Hill Pools Timeline

1884 - Forest Hill Pools built. They are amongst the oldest public baths of the Victorian era.

2001 – a management-only contract is drawn up for the pools which means no investment in maintaining the infrastructure or upgrading facilities. Not surprisingly, the condition of the pools deteriorate.

2005 – a consultation process starts to determine the future of Forest Hill Pools. Only two options are offered - to refurbish the pools or knock them down and build a new facility with just one pool. Most people who replied choose the rebuild option.

October 2005 – consultation meetings are held. There is a very vocal minority, which strongly opposes demolishing the Victorian pools and urges refurbishment of the existing building.

March 2006 – the pools are closed when the roof is deemed unsafe.

The Mayor is persuaded by the strength of feeling at the public meeting to opt for refurbishment, pending the results of an intrusive survey.

May 2006 - English Heritage turns down an application to have the building listed.

November 2006 – the consultants who carried out the intrusive survey report that extensive repair and replacement of most of the plant and fittings would be required to bring the pools up to modern standards. However, they believe the building fabric retains its structural integrity, so refurbishment is an option.

February 2007 – The Mayor announces that he has decided to have the pools refurbished. A timetable for the work is produced with the grand opening planned for 2009.

February 2008 – further feasibility studies are carried out and the results are discussed at the Mayor and Cabinet meeting. The full extent of the pools’ structural problems becomes clear. The Mayor agrees with the recommendation to demolish the existing buildings and build a new, two-pool facility on the site of the pools and Louise House.

Good News for Rail Passengers

[Note; this is the article that appeared in our April newsletter, but further good news has been received since this date. Click here to read more]

We ran a Save our Services petition, which over a thousand people signed, the South London Press ran an article about our cause and we even got a mention in parliament. Now, finally, Network Rail has given us reassurances that there will be no significant reduction in our rail services into London Bridge after the opening of the East London Line Extension.

Last Autumn, Network Rail published its draft Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) setting out proposed levels of rail services from 2010. It clearly suggested a significant reduction in services to London Bridge. There were doubts too about the continuation of the current off-peak services to Victoria.

Network Rail now says that the total number of trains between 7am and 10am will remain at the current level of 18 with only a slight adjustment to the present hourly spread of trains. All trains, they tell us, should be 8 carriages long whereas currently some are only 6 carriages long.

The indications are that the present direct, off-peak services to Victoria may continue. At peak times, the extension of the East London Line to Crystal Palace will reduce journey times to Victoria and Clapham Junction, although this will involve a change at Crystal Palace.

These services are dependent on the agreement of the Department for Transport and on its discussions with the train operators and Transport for London when the franchises are renegotiated in 2009. The Forest Hill Society will therefore continue to closely monitor the situation over the next couple of years to make sure that these revised proposals become a reality.

It’s also very exciting to see Honor Oak Park and Forest Hill now appearing on Tube Maps across London! It may only be on a faint, dotted line at the moment, but come 2010 we will have an extra 8 trains per hour of 4 carriages on the East London Line Overground providing fast and regular connections to the Jubilee Line, Crystal Palace, Docklands and the East of the City of London.

Other improvements include Oyster readers at all stations along the line. Commuters working in the east of the City, travelling on a direct connection to Shoreditch, will benefit from cheaper tickets by avoiding zone 1. The southbound platform at Forest Hill is to be made accessible to disabled passengers with money from the Department for Transport.

On the negative side, all services between London Bridge and Forest Hill/Sydenham will be stopping services, removing existing fast services. From 2009, there will be no more through trains to Charing Cross.

We will continue to press for 10 or 12 carriage trains into London Bridge to take into account the suppressed demand for rail services in this area. This would require the extension of all station platforms along the route.

The Society is grateful to Jim Dowd, our local MP, and Len Duvall, our GLA member, who have lobbied hard in support of our aims. The Save our Services campaign was run jointly with the Sydenham Society.

We would like to thank everyone who signed our petition.

Good News ... BUT ...

We’ve recently learned from Southern Railways that when Oyster readers come into operation at Forest Hill Station in January 2009, the gate to Perry Vale will be kept shut throughout the day, only opening during evening peaks. From 3pm until the end of the peak, members of staff will be on hand to read everyone’s oyster card with handheld readers.

This system would inevitably create delays for passengers exiting at Perry Vale. We also question whether staff would be willing to stand in the rain, snow, or freezing/boiling temperatures for hours at a time with trains every five minutes. In reality, this system is likely to lead to the gates being closed all day.

The Forest Hill Society, along with Councillor John Paschoud, is putting pressure on Southern Railways and others involved in the Oyster implementation to avoid shutting the gate. There are two alternatives that we would prefer:

1. Oyster reader available at the Perry Vale exit for pre-pay customers to swipe in and out, similar to the system in place until recently at New Cross Gate. This would allow the exit to remain open as it does today.

2. A new exit onto Perry Vale car park providing staffed ticket barriers all day and an accessible entrance to the station on the Perry Vale side of the station.

Further problems will occur at Sydenham and Brockley where the exits on the northbound (Sydenham) and southbound (Brockley) platforms will be remotely operated for disabled passengers only. Of course, once these gates are opened there will be nobody to stop other passengers flooding through the gates. Honor Oak Park station should be fairly straightforward as a single set of barriers can be placed in the ticket hall.

Definitely one to watch.