Background to the Convoys Wharf Development:
The Convoys Wharf site has been vacant since 1998 when Rupert Murdoch’s News International stopped using it to store its newsprint from Norway. It is 40 acres in size (about 20 football pitches), the largest single space for development in Lewisham and one of the largest in London.
Rupert Murdoch applied for outline planning permission in 2002 to erect 3,500 residential units on the site and received outline permission from Lewisham council in May 2005. He engaged Richard Rogers Partners to produce a master plan for the site. A few months later Rupert Murdoch sold the site, with planning permission attached, to Convoys Properties Ltd, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong property giant Hutchison Whampoa.
Subsequently several well-known architects tried, and failed, to get fresh planning permission to build on the site. They failed because, amongst other things, their plans did not appear to recognise the great importance of the site’s historic wharves or meet the need for good infrastructure for local people (Section 106 money). Lots of different groups raised strong objections including local people, groups like Deptford Is…, Lewisham, the GLA and English Heritage.
Eventually Farrell’s, another leading international architecture firm, was asked to design it. Farrell’s based their plan on the original Richard Rogers work. Their master plan for the site was submitted in April 2013, almost fifteen years since Convoys Wharf first fell vacant.
Farrell’s plan, like all plans for the site, was for a high-density development including three tall residential towers, one at 48 storeys and two at 38 storeys, some of the highest buildings south east of the river. Included was a hotel, restaurants, shops, bars, a primary school, improved transport links, right to use the Thames Path and restoration of the old dry docks in the Grade II listed Olympia building.
Objections to the scheme continued. Deptford community groups, Lewisham’s Strategic Planning committee, Members of Parliament and others still thought the plans unsuitable. The developers were also criticised for not consulting local people adequately. Further adjustments were made to the plan to take some of these complaints into account.
By October 2013, the developer considered Lewisham was taking too long to make up its mind about the plans and took the opportunity to write directly to then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to ask him to use his powers to intervene as the Planning Authority. The then Mayor had a ‘track record’ of intervening in favour of private companies on planning. Consequently, in March 2014, a public meeting was held and, in the teeth of continuing opposition, Johnson approved the Farrell outline planning scheme. All further consultation, he said, was to be done at the detailed planning stage.
This approved outline plan remains substantially the same today (apart from changes made on Plot 17 to accommodate the Sayes Court Garden project and making space for the Build The Lenox project). The scheme has 3 extremely tall buildings – one at 48 storeys, and two of 38 storeys – 85% private luxury apartments, and 15% affordable homes. All the land is privately owned. The ‘affordable’ element will be owned and built by a Housing Association.
From 2014 until the summer of 2017 local people heard little of Convoys Wharf. Then in July of that year Convoys Properties Ltd and Farrell’s the architects announced local consultations. They are obliged by law to consult with us. These consultations were held in the Methodist Church, Creek Road and concerned the first plot they said they wished to build (Phase 1, Plot 08). These are the detailed plans (RMAs) which now sit with Lewisham Council.
In addition, in August of 2018, the summer holidays, Convoys Properties Limited suddenly put in an extra detailed application for another plot (RMA Phase 1, Plot 22). This was unannounced and unexpected. Neither they, nor the architects, had consulted on it, something they are obliged to do with us by law. This application concerns the river jetty. It does away with the original plans for a river park by the Thames and replaces it with a possible three storey marketing suite so that the company can sell its luxury flats to visitors to the site.