Terry Edge, a resident of Church Grove, has long been concerned about the impact development on the site at the end of the grove will have on the street’s tight-knit community. Here he explains his concerns. RUSS has responded to two of his claims at the end of this article.
There’s been a lot of excitement about the proposed Ladywell Play Tower development – its cinema and 33 new flats. But in Church Grove, the small cul-de-sac, across the main road from the tower, residents have long been apprehensive.
Let me explain with a brief history of the developments affecting our little street.
Church Grove has a strong community, holding regular street parties and Christmas get-togethers over the years. But residents there have long thought Lewisham council has tended to ignore this community, preferring instead to promote developments that would, we think, adversely affect it.
In short, we have had 16 years of almost constant assault by council plans.
First, in 2008 a leaflet was pushed through our doors to tell us we had 20 days to respond to the council’s plan to put a traveller’s site on the space at the end of the road., the old Watergate School site.
They had commissioned a report by surveyors to find the best site to build a replacement for the traveller’s site near Lewisham train station that had to be demolished because of the Lewisham Gateway developments. Several sites were identified including the lorry park next to the town hall, Laurence House.
Church Grove was identified as the favoured site but as negotiations continued the remaining travellers on the Lewisham site gave up their licences, making any new site redundant. In 2009, we were told that was that. But it wasn’t.
A couple of years later Lewisham discovered it was one of the London boroughs without a dedicated site for travellers so it decided to revive the Church Grove plans.
This time residents were better prepared. We argued access from Church Grove to the proposed site was not wide enough to comply with buildings and fire regulations.
After another lengthy battle the council finally decided the plans could not go ahead, citing inadequate access for travellers’ caravans. (Travellers’ Site Search – Church Grove Consultation Results. Lewisham council, February 2012)
It felt like a rare victory. But it was short-lived.
Just a few years later RUSS, the volunteer-led community land trust that promotes sustainable communities, proposed putting up some self-build houses on the Church Grove vacant site, emulating the project at Walters Way Honor Oak.
Residents in Church Grove gave the idea a cautious welcome as it seemed like a good fit with the existing community. There was, however, a problem. Residents argued the road was too narrow for emergency vehicle access.
When the plans were submitted for approval the project had become a four-story, 33-apartment, wooden block of flats. Residents thought this was a dubious self-build project, and that wood hugely added to the fire risk.
Residents objected, not least on fire safety grounds.
Local residents were not included in fire safety discussions with the London Fire Brigade but a successful FOI request showed 17 areas of fire safety concerns raised by the LFB. [RUSS disputes this interpretation of events – see below. Note 1]
Russ says LFB concerns have been allayed and that the building is fully compliant with building regulations. Residents say they are not convinced this is the case. Residents have asked for details of discussions between RUSS and the LFB but say none has been forthcoming.
A recemt FOI request to the LFB confirmed there had been no recent meetings, discussions or correspondence with RUSS. As a result Church Grove residents remain concerned about emergency vehicle access. And the saga goes on.
In 2021 RUSS made design changes to the project because of budget problems, opting to use a concrete structure rather than a wooden frame. Opponents to the development said the switch to concrete would mean even less self building. [RUSS response. Note2}
At the moment five of the units are getting self-build input, although there are 11 self-bujilders active on the site. (See https://www.ladywell-live.org/2023/04/19/russ-church-grove-project-reaches-significant-milestone-as-11-self-builders-start-work-on-five-flats/)
The site is car-free although that means our narrow street will probably be jammed with Ubers and delivery trucks. There has already been a lot of disruption because of the build.
On weekends, when the community centre next to the Play Tower is holding events, the number of extra cars often makes getting a car down Church Grove difficult.
Which brings me to the Play Tower development. Residents believe the cinema once built will attract a lot of extra cars making Church Grove even more crowded .
So, little surprise then that local people are tired of new developments nearby. Tired of fighting and never being acknowledged as a strong community.
The design of the flats goes beyond statutory requirements. There are three access staircases, and a sprinkler system covering every flat.
A letter was sent by the London Fire Brigade in August 2021 as part of the normal consultation process with Socotec. Some of the 17 points raised were simple requests for information (e.g. asking for more drawings, information about heights). In the main, they were not ‘concerns’. The information and clarification requested has all been provided to LFB, the advice given incorporated into our management plans, and the Approved Inspector concluded that ‘the scheme now demonstrates compliance with Part B of the Building Regulations 2010’.
Note 2: RUSS says the design changes approved by Lewisham Council in 2021 were made for budget reasons and an awareness of changed perceptions of risk in the mortgage and insurance industries around wood-framed buildings.
“The design work by SEH architects allowed us to add an extra home for people on Lewisham Council’s waiting list, as well as two more affordable homes for sale,” adds RUSS.