Tuesday22 August 2017

Campaigners renew battle over Convoys Wharf

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Heritage lobbyists hope to halt Aedas high-rise scheme after council forces rethink

Campaigners are trying to persuade the developer behind a £1 billion east London riverside housing development that the architect’s plans would damage the historic site.

Aedas has been forced to withdraw its plans for 3,500 homes at Convoys Wharf, which include three towers rising to 40 storeys, after Lewisham Council warned it was likely to be rejected.

Buoyed by this, community and conservation groups are taking their fight up a level and have convinced English Heritage to reconsider the site’s designation after uncovering more evidence of what has survived.

A number of structures in the former royal dockyard are already listed but campaigners argue the whole 16.6ha plot should be protected because of its history (see box below).

Jon Wright, from the Council for British Archaeology, said Convoys Wharf had the potential to attract World Heritage Status.

“Aedas are not the villains of the piece but what is proposed is monstrous,” he said. “At least the previous scheme by Richard Rogers was a little more sympathetic to the layout of the historic dock. To have come up with something worse is staggering.”

The groups opposed to the development are holding a strategy meeting this month.

Willi Richards, co-founder of  lobby group Deptford Is…, who lives in the dock’s listed Master Shipwright’s House, is confident the developer is listening.

“I think they were genuinely shocked by Lewisham’s stance,” he said. “If I were Hutchison Whampoa [the developer] I would be extremely disappointed that my architects had spent so much of my money only to have the plan thrown to the wall.”

Aedas’s scheme has also been criticised by English Heritage. Malcolm Woods, its historic buildings and areas advisor, said: “The regeneration of Convoys Wharf as now proposed fails to grasp the unique opportunity to create a distinctive sense of place that takes full advantage of the rich historical legacy of the site and its local area.”

In the letter that prompted Aedas’s planning application to be withdrawn, Lewisham’s head of planning, John Miller, described the scheme as a “fairly anonymous response to the site both in terms of layout, massing and specific proposals” and expressed frustration at the vagueness of the proposed outline application.

Hutchison Whampoa said it had paused the process to consider the opposing views, but that its track record of consultation demonstrated its sensitivity to the site.


Convoys Wharf was the site of Henry VIII’s royal dockyard (pictured), where the nation’s rapidly expanding fleet was built and repaired before Chatham and Portsmouth predominated.

It closed in 1869 but a number of features survive including part of the Tudor storehouse, 18th and 19th-century warehouses, the double dock, basin slips and mast ponds.

The wharf also contains the site of Sayes Court, the home of 17th century diarist and gardener John Evelyn, and its celebrated gardens.

Still a working wharf, the site was the subject of a feasibility study by Ricky Burdett in 2000. Five years later the Richard Rogers Partnership drew up a scheme for Rupert Murdoch who then sold it to Hutchison.


Readers' comments (7)

  • London will soon be a shapeless mess if we keep building whopping great skyscrapers all over the place. Heritage policy seems to be the only protection against this madness.

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  • A statement from Aedas: This article is factually incorrect. Hutchinson, who are the applicant for the scheme, have not withdrawn the application. However, following the receipt of responses as part of the statutory consultation process, they are pausing to reflect before deciding on a way forward.

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  • zecks_marquise

    "No, you can't build here"
    "oh really, why is that?"
    "history happened here"
    "but if we build around it, we can preserve it and people will love it"
    "No, you can't build here"

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  • Thanks for this, Yvette. I see what you’re saying - ‘forced to withdraw’ could suggest the planning application was submitted to Lewisham council and subsequently withdrawn.
    But I meant the planning application was on the verge of being submitted, with Aedas and the developer confident it would be approved.
    But when Lewisham council wrote to warn it would not support the application, you decided to withdraw from the process and not submit it after all while you paused to reflect on the opposing views.

    Elizabeth Hopkirk, BD reporter

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  • I like the boat proposal.

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  • "Hutchison Whampoa said it had paused the process to consider the opposing views, but that its track record of consultation demonstrated its sensitivity to the site." Only if the feedback from consultation with EH, Design Review Panel, transport consultants, amenity societies and the public is listened to. It wasn't. It's precisely due to this standard of thinking and communication from Aedas that has brought the scheme to a standstill after so many years of investment of time, effort and attention from all sides.

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  • Desperately wondering how to blame Murdoch for all this - usually a sound principle. He wouldn't like the boat - looks as though it might have carried his ancestors.

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