Save Peckham…….(append with favoured local landmark)

Barring some Millwall FC versus Lewisham council controversy, by the time most people read this, Peckham Arch, the canopy that has since 1994 crowned the head of Peckham Square will be either no more or in the process of being torn down.
A save “Peckham arch” campaign is in full swing with the accompanying online petition and twitter handle. My pessimism about the success of the save campaign is due to a previous campaign regarding a building quite near Peckham square, Area 10, the arts venue and former Whitten timber warehouse behind Peckham Library at Eagle Wharf.


Area 10 was demolished in 2010 and building work has only recently commenced on the Mountview theatre school, which is due to open soon on the site, more on this later.

Peckham Arch’s 35m span has crowned the head of the Peckham branch of the now filled in Grand Surrey Canal in South East London since 1994. With Peckham Library and the Peckham Pulse Leisure centre it is one of the forerunners of purpose built regeneration projects in the area.

The prosed replacement for Peckham Arch is housing, specifically 19 flats. In a city where housing and especially public housing is in crisis, it would seem somewhat short sighted to be critical of any schemes providing new housing in Peckham, however looking at the scheme replacing the arch, of the two four and six story blocks comprising of 19 flats in total, only six flats will be available for social housing renters the others shared-ownership and private flats. It seems “affordable/social rent units” are again the Trojan horses for a higher number of private rented accommodation on the site. The Co-design (a process instigated by Southwark council with the aim of “bringing communities together to shape the future of Peckham Square”) participants were apparently led to believe a total of 100 flats would replace Peckham arch and the final decision seems to have sidestepped this process of inclusion:

“Claims were made during the “co-design” process that removal of the Arch could make way for 100 homes to be created surrounding the square. The proposed scheme consists of 17 flats, four of which are to be council homes.”
“the crucial decision to remove the Arch and develop the square for housing was taken by councillors outside of the “co-design” forum after only a handful had been consulted. An independent report on learning the lessons from “co-design” in Peckham criticised the process for lacking clarity in the decision-making process and failures in developing community trust.”

Peckham square currently has a vibrant mix of Peckhamites using it and by rights public land. A private housing scheme on the site and by extension a privatised square may in future lead to “banning” of certain people deemed “undesirable” or activities such as protests deemed too “noisy” also being banned. The predominance of faux public space has increased in London of late, from Canary Wharf to More London, places that draw a large number of the public but are in fact under private ownership and thus subject to the whims of those private owners.

Major building and developments in London appear filled with public space — Canary Wharf, or More London along the south bank by Tower Bridge, for example. But this is all private land, where public access is a privilege that can be revoked at any time.

Coming across as the Svengali to Southwark council’s Trilby (or the Del Boy to the Council’s Rodney if you prefer) Carl Turner of Carl Turner Architects, the firm behind the housing scheme proposal for the Peckham arch site and also the Mountview School behind Peckham Library, and also Peckham Levels suggests:

“Removing the arch will allow the square to breathe.”
“We think overall, it’s quite an insensitive, brutish, modern thing that was dropped into a historic streetscape. We also discovered that about six Georgian buildings were knocked down to build it.”

I’m sure regular users of the square and arch would disagree, as noted by Daisy Froud of Ash Sakula CoDesign Team:

“Peckham Square is alright actually”. That’s me! In previous stages of this project, I have often been told that Peckham Square is an example of Poor public space: big, open and not as well used as it might be. But everybody we spoke to this time thought it pretty good, sometimes for those very same qualities: you can sit there, with space around you, with good long views, and just watch the world. Its situation close to residential areas, and its distinctive architecture, made it a place that was valued (i) as an extension of home, (ii) for bumping into people you knew, and (iii) for meeting people. “It’s a place with a clear location where you can tell someone you will be, or to come and meet you, especially if they don’t know the area”. The landscaping gets children and skateboarders playing, there are plenty of places to sit, and the table-tennis tables are usually in use. Kids gather there after school. “You can be Coming from anywhere and you can sit down and look and relax. Not everyone can go to a shop to eat or relax.” In contrast, Holly Grove Shrubbery, which I am used to hearing people praise, was twice named as somewhere that felt dark, unsafe, unwelcoming and that offered little of interest to sit and look at.”

The save Peckham arch campaign can be followed on twitter. For a fascinating use of Peckham square the video of Amalia Pica’s “Asamble” at Peckham Square is highly recommended.

Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in Peckham

A while back I wrote about the Eagle wharf site behind Peckham library, describing the former occupant (Area 10 as it was known then) as the sine qua non of the Peckham arts scene. Following the failure of the proposed schemes by Baylight/Hudson Featherstone and a rival scheme by Peckham Library architect Will Alsop/Urban Catalyst, and after lying dormant for six years work has finally started on the replacement for the site formally occupied by Area 10 and Whitten timber before that.
We’ll never know what we missed out on in the six years the site has been lying empty. We do have coming to the site in 2018 however, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, watch the glossy promo here.

“On 28 September 2016 Southwark’s Planning Committee voted unanimously to approve our planning application.
We intend to start building work early in 2017 and Mountview in Peckham will open to public and students alike in September 2018.
The four-storey building, covering 95 square metres of land, has been designed by Carl Turner Architects. The Academy will offer undergraduate, masters and foundation-level qualifications.”

Construction underway for Mountview at Eagle Wharf behind Peckham Library

Following recent laments regarding the dearth of high profile working class actors in contemporary Britain from the likes of actor Julie Walters, the establishment of a school focused on a let’s face it, very middle class and very white profession, raises questions of engagement with the mostly working class and minority ethnic communities of Peckham.
Such criticisms seem to have been addressed by “Mountview’s commitment to diversity” and that “Mountview will really help local residents” according to Cllr Mark Williams the council member for regeneration and New homes (who doesn’t go into much detail about how this could be achieved in the promo video). Some of the elements from the stalled Eagles wharf development have remained including the studios and rehearsal spaces, which will apparently be available for hire at a discount rate for the local community.

Training facilities will be in use by the academy during the day and available to the public in the evenings, weekends and holidays. Charities and community groups will receive discounted room hire rates.
Public activities will include weekend and evening performance classes for young people and adults, apprenticeships and volunteering opportunities and high quality, affordable fitness and wellbeing classes. Local residents will receive discounted tickets for Mountview productions in the two theatres throughout the year.

What haven’t remained from the earlier project are the proposed 46 residential units, which seem to have been watered down to 19 then tacked on to the near by Peckham Arch project instead. The use of facilities by the local communities should be seen as the most basic provision, how else can Mountview engage? The royal court run a series of Theatre local workshops a few years ago, or perhaps scholarships and a deeper engagement with the local populace especially with “da yoof dem”, not just acting but the business of theatre, of television and film. Training and unleashing the next batch of Theatre Peckham alumni John Boyega or award-winning playwright Bola Agbaje or filmmaker Adeyemi Michael is the way to go.

Peckham Levels

With so many fingers in the Peckham pie, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Carl Turner Architects are overseeing the coming Peckham Levels, which will be a workspace venue built within the shell of the multi-story car park. Due to open in August, blogger The SlumFlower and Gaup Magazine give a tour here.

7 levels of a multi-storey carpark, transformed into more than 90,000 sq ft of creative workspace, events and exhibition space and food, drink and community space.

Exteriors of Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park, soon to be Peckham Levels

The winning bid to transform the space came from Makeshift (in conjunction with Carl Turner Architects) the team behind Pop Brixton, who describe themselves as:

“Make Shift transforms underused urban space to unlock opportunities for local people and independent businesses.”

The unsuccessful bid (Bold Home)coming from the Hannah Barry Gallery, the team behind Bold Tendencies and arguably one of the earliest instigators of the current art led regeneration of Peckham and the use of the car park as an arts venue. It’s worth noting under the Hannah Barry Gallery plan; the site would have housed 800 studios with cheaper rent as opposed to 50 studios and “retail space” from the winning entry.

“We’ve already proved there is an enormous audience for visual art in Peckham,” Barry says. “We can bring in new people, new voices, new money.”
“There will be light industrial spaces, studio spaces and we’re very keen on Kunsthalle-style [independent] galleries.”
We see Bold Tendencies as a conveyor belt giving people the first opportunity to step up and do their own project,” says Sven. “Then they take that energy with them and do something new.” It’s a spirit you have to admire.”
“Artists in residence would have had to pay just £100 in rent a month, and they claim the plans would have supported 2,500 local jobs — compared with the 600 generated by Pop Collective’s proposal.”

Despite appearances, the future of the multi-story car park is not secure. The new Southwark plan suggests a redevelopment consisting of 83 flats. Peckham Levels has a lease due to expire by 2022 the latest, I rather suspect the Save the multi-story car park campaign has already began as Eileen Coon of Peckham Vision suggests in this London Live interview.

It would seem the Bold Home plan would have been of a permanent nature whilst the winning plan, with it’s chipboard walls is ready to be packed off once 2022 comes round. Not even having three of the most popular attractions in Peckham is likely to save the multi-story car park. The popular Peckhamplex cinema is also contained in the multi-storey car park and faces a similar fate to the other attractions in the venue.

Peckhamplex, in Moncrieff Street, may face demolition if plans proposed in Southwark Council’s huge development plan for the borough goes ahead.
The iconic cinema, housed in the same multi-storey car park as popular summer hangout Frank’s Café, charges under £10 for all tickets.

The clear conflict is southwark council’s 35% affordable housing target, which is important and commendable in an atmosphere where social housing has become an outmoded idea, but in the current climate “affordable housing” is one of those phrases that get wheeled out as a means of pushing through controversial plans that are subject to change once those plans have been approved, as happened on the Exchange development in Bermondsey, the area in Southwark next to Peckham by Notting Hill Housing Trust:

In their ‘The Exchange’ development in Bermondsey they promised 44 social rent homes but after planning permission was approved they changed these to the ‘affordable rent’ category, a sleight of hand that was signed off by The Council themselves. With such underhanded tactics, tenants on Aylesbury are concerned that the promised social rent homes in the regeneration will be also whisked away at the last minute, just like the broken promises at Heygate.

A government-planning inspector was also unconvinced regarding the case for the proposed housing on the site, which you can read about here. Making use of existing buildings and spaces is the essence of the Peckham arts scene, demolishing this unique space for the usual cgi rendered “retail” and “housing units” with some minuscule“Studio/workspace units” bolted on would be a huge error. Southwark council must ensure a lasting legacy for the multi-storey car park and it’s various occupants.


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