Save Rodney Garages
(Letter to LBC)
Lewisham Council (Hand delivered)
13th January 2012-01-13 Subject: 111A BOVILL ROAD, LONDON, SE23 1EL (Planning application)
I am writing in response to the application submitted for the above- named property concerning the change of use, alteration and conversion of the once formerly used workshop spaces adjacent to the motor garages. As a long-time resident of Forest Hill and active contributor to the communitarian values of our society I feel it necessary to voice my opposition to the proposed change of use from its previous existence as a carpenters’ workshop into a residential dwelling.
Many a local resident appreciates the value of local business more so when its location is nestled within a high residential area. It should also be born in mind that the area is within walking distance of both railway stations, Honor Oak Park and Forest Hill. The relevance of this is singular; the area has become a parking zone in general for would-be commuters. In other words, it has an untapped potential for further business expansion and hearkens to a period when work communities were much more prevalent. And this is the angle I would like to take in view of the sustainable policies that both local and national government need to take.
As a community we are seeing more and more green spaces as well as brownfield sites put over to housing. I understand also that there are current issues concerning the expansion of the cemetery at the expense of recreational space. Bear in mind as well that developers will sit on property for decades sometimes, strangling the potential to enhance community participation and practice by leaving them empty and run-down. The process of waiting to push through planning permission for residential development illuminates a trend towards profiteering from land undergoing change of use. Forest Hill residents are already familiar with the destruction of garages behind Honor Oak parade where once affordable workshop and storage space for local businesses has been sacrificed in the name of profit because the land will hugely increase in value. Bear in mind that many a business including local electricians, gardeners, plumbers, and carpenters all used those garages at rates that allowed them to function through times of hardship and affluence alike. In fact, the attraction of cheap rents brings in more competition and prevents the loss of local resilience. In contrast, the trend has seen the growth of business escalate towards large multi-complex commercial and industrial sites that effectively cede very little competitive advantage, if any, to the small business organisation. People are forced to use their cars at greater and greater distances in order to make their shopping requirements whilst increasing the viral spread of traffic and parking problems. Local boroughs then perpetuate the spiralling effects by imposing CPZs (controlled parking zones) leaving local business residents even more disgruntled because of the cost for keeping a works van outside their front door. Even though this is inevitable it is not entirely necessary when one considers that in times of economic depression it tends to be the entrepreneurs and specialists who maintain some sort of stability before an upturn can be envisaged. Effectively, a sustainable solution is premised on the self-organising complexity of introduced free energy into a system. It was and is the institutions that maintain the possibility of a long-term viable future, one based on the integration of work and residential areas inherent of a post-industrial Britain. (David Holmgrem, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability 2002: pp17-19)Local industry is at the peril of corporate globalism, the latter of which tend not to last longer than a human lifetime. (Holmgrem: 84) Surely it was and is the responsibility of the council to protect the greater interests of the community and to ensure that any government decrees are done so at the enhancement of local resilience and flexibility. The council needs to recognise that we can design our security through intelligent use of productive space, as I am sure it does, or that we inevitably reach that place through default. What tends to happen though, is that under extreme stress the more recently evolved structures and processes are discarded and lower-order, ground-up, and small-scale older systems are fallen back upon. (80cf.) Voluntary frugality is essential if we are truly to evolve together as a community, and that can only be done through communisation. I refer you to A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (1977). He iterates that there should be no reason why a workplace should be any less of a community than your home. (222-223) Alongside this he advocates greens within walking distance and areas for social consumption. I have seen this pattern used by planning services but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. It is not insensible to suppose that they are icons of a bygone age and were in themselves responsible for developing the service industry of post-war Britain. If there are any parallels to be made then the economic crisis that our communities are now facing will require the increased activity of entrepreneurs and public participation. Family run businesses are the bedrock of these future scenarios; they bond our societies undercutting fiscal incentives during times of economic hardship. (51-52) I can also refer you to zoning laws, used successfully all over Europe in the form of Home Zones. (See http://www.homezones.org/concept.html) Even though there are arguments against their utilisation the positives far outweigh the negatives, and in fact deal with the greater issue of infrastructure and the need to change our culture, or slow it down.
I have looked over the plans and have recorded a few anomalies that need answering. Firstly it states that the building has not undergone any change of use. Quite frankly it has, being left empty without any intention to resume its normal function as a store and workshop. Secondly, with the increased residency one must assume that the tenants or owners of the property will require parking spaces. Two car families are common nowadays, but since the economic downturn more and more younger people chose to live with their parents sometimes increasing that figure to 4 or 5 cars per household. I find it inconceivable that a 4-bedroom development is designed for the use of one car only, although I appreciate this to be an enclosed garage space. The development can only be a short-term proposal only.
Now, the community would greatly benefit if the proposal in question would provide a local service instead and return the building to a business development, models of which can be found throughout the borough. One need only look at the infectious development that say, the library and new leisure facilities in Forest Hill, will do for that run-down part of the area. With the increased traffic from access to other public facilities like the school and the police services the area should become a hub of activity. We propose that this can be a model, albeit on a smaller scale, for the existing industrial site on Bovill Road. Further business developments could include a printery, a fabricator, an artist or photographic studio, a recycling centre of sorts, the list goes on. As such a demographic survey of the local area may suggest a much needed service that could transform the site into a lived-in workshop base in concordance with the council’s longer-term visions. Lewisham Council elicits through its website the following:
Our key principles encourage design proposals which:
• add interest and variety and which reflect their local context. • complement their surrounds, developing and enhancing local character. • contribute to the vitality of the public realm by avoiding blank frontages or being inward looking.
We promote sustainable development that improves the quality of the existing environment, attracts business and investment and reinforces civic pride and a sense of place.
Elsewhere the Mayor’s priorities highlight creating “more apprenticeship and training opportunities for our young people, giving them real skills” in which the local economy is strengthened. Resilience in society will only happen through the enterprising developments of entrepreneurs providing local business that ensure that money is made to work within the community. It encourages active bonding.
I look forward to your response in due course.
Chair (Hon), South London Permaculture
I received a reply from the Council two years later and concerns other issues going on in my life which here is not the right place for. At the time though, the landlord went on to bundle the first planning permission through on account of an administration oversight. To provide support Rodney Garages can be contacted here.