Many in Ladywell will be very disappointed to learn that the scheme to restore the Victorian Grade II listed swimming baths AKA the Play Tower has been put on hold, writes Tony Rich.
It was way back in 2017 when then Mayor Sir Steve Bullock and cabinet chose the Curzon cinema and housing project as the successful bid for the site.
Developers Guildmore stepped in after Curzon pulled out in 2022 in the wake of the pandemic but opted not to look for any grant funding to subsidise the project.
That has proved to be a mistake as rising interest rates and materials costs have put a stop (which we hope if only temporary) to the project.
But we are told by the council that the developer and independent cinema operator are still interested in pursuing the project – clearly good news. There are apparently discussions going on between the developer and Council officers.
To make the scheme work now we understand that the developer has said it will require some additional grant funding and what we’re told is ‘a different funding model’.
It’s unclear what a different funding model means – grants? But it may now be the case that the grant monies sought are no longer be available.
The local community is desperate for these discussions not to drag on too long, leaving the Grade II listed building to deteriorate further.
It is important local people who campaigned to save the historic building are kept informed and given a chance to influence the scheme if it starts to move away from the original plans. This has really been a story of how not to manage a difficult community asset.
Instead of choosing the simpler Picturehouse bid (backed by the then Lewisham Building Preservation Trust which I was a member of), because of issues unrelated to planning, the decision was made to select a scheme that would require the maximum amount of private housing on the site to generate the necessary profit to fund the refurbishment.
Following this, during the planning negotiations on the site the council tried to load an unrealistic affordable housing requirement as ‘community benefit’ rather than seeing the refurbishment of a prominent listed building as the true local benefit (plus of course the addition of an independent cinema).
The wrangling and delay has meant the scheme has not advanced at all and now deteriorating economic conditions will delay it further and may sabotage it completely.
At this stage I am sure many in the community would settle for a sympathetically renovated Play Tower with or without a cinema. But let’s hope a sensible outcome with real benefits for the local community finally emerges from this sorry saga.
Update: Community concern mounts over lengthy delay to work on restoring Play Tower as council wrangles over s106 agreementIt
Concern is growing in the local community that the long awaited restoration of the Play Tower may still face a lengthy delay.
Councillors have said the project has been held up by negotiations over the Section 106 agreement between the council and developer. This sets out the cost of providing community infrastructure deemed necessary as a result of the proposed development.
But community activist and long time Ladywell resident Robert Sheppard has asked councillors for further clarification on the delay.
Writing in his personal capacity, Robert asks local Ladywell councillors if they are able “to shed any light on the excessive delay in getting ‘boots on the ground’ to deliver this long-awaited development.
“I have heard that it’s negotiations about the Section 106 agreement which is holding things up, which does rather fill me with horror as it was haggling over ‘community benefit’ that scuppered the earlier version of this development back in 2019 after Damien Egan was first elected as Mayor.
“If it is this that’s holding things up it really is all rather absurd given that restoration of the building and delivery of a cinema with associated facilities is, as far as local people are concerned, ‘community benefit’ enough.
“I – and the community at large – would welcome some clarification on where things are at and when works on-site might realistically start.”
Ladywell cinema operator Lyn Goleby keen to work with local groups
Lyn Goleby, who will run the independent Ladywell cinema in the Play Tower, attended a Ladywell Society meeting along with Malcolm McGregor, PRSA Architects, and Adam Ouaddane of communications specialists BECG.
The meeting heard that Lyn, who co-founded Picturehouse in 1989 and now runs a handful of independent cinemas, will operate a four screen cinema in the Play Tower, which will be renovated by developers Guildmore.
It will show mainstream films along with other less well known productions including documentaries. Lyn also indicated she was keen to support local talent and canvass local views on the films people would like to see. She hopes to keep prices affordable.
Lyn will also run the community space within the building and is keen to work with local groups including the Ladywell Society to see how the space could best be used for the local community.
There was some concern in the meeting that the mature trees on the site will be felled to make way for the residential development of 33 flats. Participants pointed out that older trees are better at absorbing CO2.
Guildmore will sell the flats to fund the renovation of the Play Tower.
There was also some concern from residents in nearby Church Grove that they had not received planning notice letters.
The planning application for the Play Tower development is expected to come before the council’s planning committee in June.
Guildmore says cinema lease deal will allow work on restoration of Play Tower to proceed
Finally. Some good news on the Play Tower.
Developers Guildmore, appointed by the council in 2017 to lead the restoration of the Play Tower, say they are now able to proceed after agreement was reached with a new cinema operator.
Guildmore says a new cinema provider – Ladywell Cinema – has now signed an agreement for a lease with Lewisham council.
Curzon, which had originally planned to run the cinema, dropped out during the Covid pandemic.
Guildmore will hold a public consultation before Christmas on their latest proposals for the development and restoration of the Grade II listed landmark..
It says the proposals remain very similar to those set out during the January 2020 public consultation, with the cinema provider committed to ensuring that all employees receive the London Living Wage. The cinema will have a strong community focus.
A planning application is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks, with the proposals for the restoration on display to the public before Christmas.
Residents will be able to take part in onlinel consultations from December 13 until December 17 at www.ladywellplaytower.consultationonline.co.uk
A physical presentation of the proposals will take place on December 13 from 4.00pm until 8.00pm at Lewisham Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, 346 Lewisham High Street.
The planning application could be approved in spring 2022, allowing construction to begin in summer 2022 with the restoration work on the Play Tower taking place alongside the construction of two blocks of residential units.
Councillors have been told the cinema and restaurant would reach practical completion by the end of 2023.
Guildmore were appointed by Lewisham in 2017 to bring forward proposals for the restoration of the Ladywell Playtower – which is one of Historic England’s top 10 at-risk listed buildings.
The proposed redevelopment would include a cinema, bar and restaurant in the restored Play Tower and 33 new homes in two additional buildings.
In the past Guildmore has said the core aim of the project is to use the for-sale residential units to release revenue to pay for the restoOur vision is to bring the Playtower back into public use. The estimated cost of the development is in excess of £7 million.