Within Hutchison Whampoa's Design Team’s proposals there is no clear strategic vision for the heritage influence or the realisation of its potential contribution to the site. The Design Team has failed to demonstrate design sensitivity to the majority of historic dockyard structures, the basin, mast ponds and slipways. Better solutions can be found based on a heritage led approach, appropriate for an area of archaeological priority and unparalleled historic significance on the London Thames. The Design team is basing its disregard for the history on the suggested condition of the structures alone and whilst this is controversial what I more controversial is the attempt to instill a disaggregated approach to the dockyard as a whole and a wholesale disregard for historic association of eminent architects , engineers and major national figures and nationally significant events.
The Design teams decisions and their proposals currently demonstrate that they have not been guided by specific Government national policy English Heritage on Naval and Maritime sites (EH April 2011), Thames Gateway, London Plan or more recent heritage policy such as PPS5.
A sensitivity to the Tudor dockyard plan, its routes, circulations, access points, its historic open spaces is not apparent in the Design Team’s proposals. An understanding and familiarity of these resources is absent as they have not been utilized by the Design Team to inform their choices and proposals in the location of buildings. These resources should be used to stimulate alternative designs, stimulate dialogue between the new and the old and encourage better solutions than those currently proposed.
Whilst successful design must respond to the market, market forces should never dictate design decisions affecting the historic environment. Fifty years ago, the earliest naval building in the country, Henry VIII’s Great Storehouse of 1513, was demolished for “economic and strategic reasons”. The building that replaced it stood for less than thirty years. Whilst planners need to understand the market and meet its demands, we must ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated by squandering irreplaceable historic resources.
A successful scheme is one that will respond to people’s needs beyond housing and retail. The site is bookended by listed buildings of the Master Shipwright’s House and Payne’s Wharf to the east, the buildings of the Royal Victualling yard to the West and backed up by one of the most significant garden sites in the country, John Evelyn’s Sayes Court Garden. This is the greatest concentration of heritage assets in the borough of Lewisham.
Heritage assets exist across the site, creating the opportunity for the creation of an unparalleled stretch of the Thames Path in London that incorporates the influence of the archaeology and historic assets within the design proposals. The incorporation of the areas of the mast ponds, their entrance gates, of the basin and its entrance gates, of the slipways with their brick and stone entrances have not been utilized to inform the design layout. Whether this is achieved as green space in the form of sunken gardens, or the re-introduction of inland water bodiesas has been achieved at the neighbouring Deptford Wharves site, it is clear that there is no demonstration of any of these possibilities coming to bear within the current proposals.
PPS5 demands that field based assessments are carried out prior to the validation of a proposal. The field-based assessments of some of the most significant historic assets recognized by EH as of national importance in 2003 have not yet been achieved.
London Plan GLA
The GLA has reported that the previous proposals fall short of capitalizing on the heritage resources that the site offers. The GLA recognizes the potential for a series of heritage led responses and heritage spaces across the site. The current proposals concentrate the heritage element at the site of the dry dock alone. Isolating the dry dock in this way may impair the future sustainability of this asset.
Whilst the Olympia Building is listed, its proposed development erases much of its heritage value and the proposal to build on the basin damages the context, setting and legibility of the listed building.
Sayes Court Garden
Declared an open space in the 2004 development proposals, this key site could fulfill the GLA recommendations and meet PPS5 aspirations for nationally significant historic sites. As a public open space the re-instatement of the garden would contribute to meeting health and environmental policies, especially where the current proposals for green space are limited to the landscaped dry dock.
The landscaping of the dry dock is an unimaginative response. The Head dock is a vast granite built structure. As a unique feature the Head dock could contribute far more to the distinctive sense of place if it were exposed.
The opportunity for the reinstatement of seven bridges across the dock, slipway, basin and mast pond openings to the river should be explored to create an unparalleled stretch of the London Thames Path. The proposed 45ft Thames Path is sufficient width for these bridges to be re-instated.
The basin is the dockyard’s wet dock. Given that the dry dock is protected it makes sense to protect the wet dock. They were first built around the same time c.1517. Both structures were developed through successive centuries, by the eminent engineers of their time. John Rennie designed the basin as it exists now. Both structures were filled in by the late 19th century and they are both major signifiers of the dockyard. To protect only one diminishes both.
If the basin walls are not in a good condition then they should be repaired.
The 17th century mast pond is a unique feature and reported to be in very good condition. Possibilities should be explored to bring it back as an inland body of water or it could become a sunken garden.
Whilst the Design Team’s statements acknowledge the potential contribution of the heritage assets their current proposals do not fulfill these publicly made assertions. To this extent the Design Team’s publicity and recent consultation documentation seriously misleads the public. By engaging local people in the design process and incorporating local people’s knowledge of the site into design proposals, opposition to the scheme will diminish and the chances of the schemes success will be greatly increased.