The Lewisham Gateway scheme disregards an opportunity to create an exciting, attractive and unique public space by restoring and integrating the two rivers that flow here.

It is now 11 months since the outline planning application for the Lewisham Gateway scheme was registered. There have been delays for a number of reasons, not least being the concern that the projected road layout will not provide sufficient traffic capacity. QWAG has used the time to analyse the application and its earlier concerns, (see news items for 18th May and 12th June 2006), have been refined into three specific objections. They will form the basis of our formal submission.

1. Failure to realise the potential of the rivers
The application fails to exploit the potential of (a) the River Quaggy along the whole eastern edge of the site, and (b) the River Ravensbourne in the southwest of the site.

(a) River Quaggy along the eastern edge
Today’s green space (Quaggy Gardens) beside the River Quaggy, offers the potential to integrate the river into its surroundings and create a natural, safely graded river bank. This would improve the river and its immediate environs and allow people to approach and enjoy an attractive feature of their landscape. Significant benefits for river and pedestrians could be achieved using only a small proportion of the current existing space. However, the application proposes moving the road and pavement right up to the river’s edge, ensuring that the ‘bank’ remains a vertical (or near vertical) three-metre drop. For safety, heavy railings will continue to isolate the river.

(b) River Ravensbourne in the southwest
One third of the length of the River Ravensbourne within the site currently flows through the green space of Charlottenburg Gardens. A small proportion could be used to create natural banks and a more accessible, attractive river. Instead the proposal is to lose the green space entirely and culvert (cover over) the river here.

2. Destruction of the existing potential to restore rivers in the future
If the potential for restoring rivers, for whatever reason, cannot be achieved, the development should not destroy the potential for succeeding generations. This planning application stops any future river restoration by (a) culverting and (b) removing green space.

(a) Culverting
The current proposal adds at least another 30 metres of culverting to the River Ravensbourne. Although there is some de-culverting along the smaller River Quaggy there is no material net gain. Any regeneration scheme of this size should achieve considerable net de-culverting of rivers. Culverting 30 metres of river, especially where it currently flows through green space, means that an existing prime opportunity to restore the river will be lost forever.

(b) Removal of green space beside the rivers
The Gateway site has about 5,000 square metres of green space alongside approximately 210 metres of river bank. The application proposes reducing these figures to about 2,700 square metres and less than 100 metres respectively. Quaggy Gardens, Charlottenburg Gardens and the Pitchers Sports Bar’s pub garden currently lie alongside the rivers. All will be lost by the proposed scheme. Green space is vitally important for restoring rivers and re-integrating them into the landscape. This redevelopment should use the opportunities offered here. Instead it will destroy the existing potential forever, and in compensation, provide one very much smaller length of green space by one side of river.

3. Degrading the river environment
In addition to measures objected to above, the proposal would degrade the river environment in three further ways. It will:
(a) significantly reduce both sunlight and daylight along approximately a third of the rivers within the site
(b) increase windiness beside the only section of river to be restored – indeed the only section of river that would be available for people to enjoy
(c) degrade the landscape and amenity value of the rivers by bringing buildings (including many tall ones), and roads closer to the river

(a) Sunlight and daylight
The development will significantly reduce the sunlight and daylight to the River Quaggy along the east side of the site. Although there has not been a specific analysis of the effects on the rivers it is clear from the figures provided that daylight to the River Quaggy will be reduced to approximately half of what it currently receives. Based on the assessment of the effect of the development on the buildings to the east of the river (further away), that the effect on the river itself will be in the “severe” category. The section of river affected is more than half of the river’s total length within the site.

(b) Wind
The amenity and ecological value of the only proposed green space and river restoration – Confluence Place – will be significantly reduced due to down draughts created by the proposed surrounding tall buildings. Sustained and stronger winds will discourage marginal plants, insects and birds, and of course, reduce the opportunity for enjoyment of, and relaxation by the river.

The reality of Confluence Place, surrounded by tall buildings, is likely to be very much at odds with various ‘artist’s impressions’. Three-metre high porous screens may be necessary, with individual wind shelters wherever sitting or outdoor eating is anticipated. Even so, in summer it will not generally be comfortable to sit in the locality. Winter will be even less welcoming.

(c) Encroachment on the rivers
Any development should respect rivers as:

  • features of historic, topographical and public interest
  • public amenities, with potential to provide stimulating sights, sounds and physical contact
  • an ecological resource of significant potential
  • “green” corridors, allowing movement and exchange of plants, animals and fish

In order to provide these natural functions, a river needs to be open and accessible. At the very least, development should be set back from the river. However, the scheme proposes:

  • covering over more than half the River Ravensbourne within the site
  • adding tall buildings along the north bank of the River Quaggy for almost half its length within the site
  • moving roads to within three or four metres of the west bank of the River Quaggy along its other half

The proposal results in every part of the river system being encroached on by buildings or roads.

QWAG believes the redevelopment of the Lewisham Gateway site presents an opportunity to create an exciting, attractive and unique public space by restoring and integrating the two rivers that flow here.

The primary importance of incorporating the rivers cannot be doubted. It is supported by independent public consultation, which showed rivers and open space to be the most important requirement within the project. And it is supported by planning guidance policies from both the Mayor of London’s London Plan and the London Borough of Lewisham own Unitary Development Plan.

The proposed plan lamentably fails in this respect. As outlined, it fails to realise the potential of the rivers, it destroys existing potential to restore the rivers in the future and it degrades the river environment.

Make a splash without getting wet!