QWAG chairman Matthew Blumler reviews the latest Urban Renaissance in Lewisham proposals.
A developer is currently finalising a planning application for the £250 million redevelopment of an area that includes the confluence of the rivers Ravensbourne and Quaggy.
QWAG believes that the developer’s current plans contain a number of weaknesses (see below). We are holding discussions with the developer and Lewisham Council, trying to persuade them to do more with the rivers so that the redevelopment becomes more pleasant, exciting and unique.
The outline planning application for the development, along with a detailed planning application for the location of roads and rivers, will probably be submitted at the end of November.
Lewisham’s rivers – the key to improving the centre of Lewisham
QWAG believes that the key to improving the centre of Lewisham lies in its natural resources – the rivers Ravensbourne and Quaggy.
The regeneration and improvement of the area where the rivers meet (their “confluence”) has become possible thanks to Urban Renaissance in Lewisham (URL) – a partnership project partly funded by the government’s Single Regeneration Budget, that is aiming to improve the part of Lewisham between the rail and DLR stations and the shopping centre.
QWAG is an active partner in Urban Renaissance in Lewisham and sees its role as ensuring that the project takes the opportunity to make Lewisham one of the most exciting and unique places to shop, work and live.
ARUP has been appointed as the main developer, and a £250 million regeneration scheme is currently in the planning phase, with work due to start some time in 2006.
One of the exciting things about this project is its potential to demonstrate to the world that urban rivers don’t have to lie dead at the bottom of a concrete drain – they can be brought back to life, becoming an attractive, integral and living part of our built environment.
But at present QWAG are concerned that Urban Renaissance in Lewisham may not realise this potential.
The current state of the historic confluence of Lewisham’s two rivers is lamentable. The Ravensbourne and the Quaggy are both cut off from the surrounding landscape by deep vertical walls. Ugly and extremely dangerous, they must be fenced off and provide no interest to passers-by.
The developer’s latest idea for the confluence
This is the developer’s latest idea for the confluence of the Ravensbourne and the Quaggy.
QWAG is hoping to persuade the developer to tier the buildings back from the river, to reflect a valley landscape and give a more open aspect to the rivers. We also believe that the river will need to be narrower, but with a wider wetland margin. But in general QWAG feel that the proposal for this short section of the rivers is good.
The River Quaggy in front of St Stephen’s Church on Lewisham High Street: vertical brick walls create a harsh forbidding atmosphere, and the river feels cut off from the surrounding landscape. The extensive flat concrete bottom supports little wildlife and creates a shallow, slow-moving river that provides a poor habitat for fish as well as being visually boring.
QWAG’s ideas for the Quaggy in front of St Stephen’s Church and the police station
QWAG has produced its own ideas for the Quaggy in front of St Stephen’s Church and the police station. QWAG feel that proposals made by the developer so far have been limited and are concerned that no money has been allocated for restoring this stretch of river.
QWAG wants to create two paths at different levels, within a shallow “V” shape designed to carry high flows during storms. Once in 70 years, a storm is likely to fill the whole channel, but the rest of the time people will be able to walk close to a river that will be narrower, deeper and less sluggish than it is at the moment. The shallow V helps to create a feeling of being in a green but open corridor, cut off from the surrounding traffic and roads. The deeper faster flowing water is a better habitat for fish. A gravel bed and more natural banks support marginal plants and other wildlife, enabling the river to be an attractive feature and a pleasant route for pedestrians.
To turn this idea into reality, QWAG believes that the developer will need to give up some of the space that it is currently proposing to take away from the river. Since the current proposal reduces the amount of green space in the URL area, we feel justified in asking for some of it back.
The three key areas
1. The river confluence – QWAG has high hopes
We believe that Lewisham Council and the developer are genuinely keen to make this an attractive feature. The developer’s initial proposals involved a moving weir and raising the level of the rivers; in our opinion, these ideas were environmentally poor and impractical. With input from QWAG and the Environment Agency, the plans for this area have been improved, and consultation is continuing.
2. The Quaggy on the east side – QWAG is very concerned
On the eastern side of the URL site, the Quaggy has been hived off into a separate planning application with no money allocated to it. In other words, the developer says it is unable to spend money on restoring this section of the river, even though it forms part of the redevelopment area and will contribute greatly to the developemnt’s overall appeal.
Furthermore, the developer’s proposals for the main redevelopment site will take away green space that currently exists alongside the Quaggy, and will reduce the width of the path alongside the river. We believe this will make it impossible to fully restore the river – now or ever.
QWAG has suggested how the river can be restored and brought back into the surrounding landscape, and we have offered to form a partnership to raise funds. If the developer will shift the line separating the two planning applications by just three metres, we believe that this will give the river enough space to allow it to be restored.
3. The Ravensbourne buried – a step backwards
Part of the River Ravensbourne is already covered over by a road, but the developer is proposing to increase the amount of the river that is covered over. This is a disappointing step backwards, and QWAG has tried to resist it.
We have suggested a change (see dotted line on above plan) that would improve matters, but have been told that the suggestion is too late and too expensive.