THE BLOG

Undermining Peckham

23/01/2014 11:39 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 09:59 GMT

The regeneration of one of London's roughest areas has been a long and slow process led by locals and the many thousands of artists who moved in to take up disused shops, factories and run down properties. That Peckham has bloomed cannot be denied, but if Network Rail has anything to do with it, they will sweep away a huge sector of artistic and creative industries as well workshops, mechanics and light industrial makers. They hope to replace them with Next, H&M, Starbucks and other UK high street standards who can afford to pay higher rents. I do not rent from Network Rail and will only be affected like every other resident.

Oddly this situation has come about by the well meaning intervention of local people. Tired of the sad state of the station (Network Rail had let much of it run to ruin), they brought forward sound and realisable proposals to save a nice example of Victorian railway architecture. The Peckham Vision community group worked with local people to expose the state of the building and the hidden/bricked up splendors that were still there. Network Rail supposedly went along with their suggestions, but seeing a windfall, sprung a surprise on Sunday January 18th.

At a one day exhibition to show their preferred plans, they presented architectural drawings that if implemented would spoil the area. At the first and only other public consultation in November 2013, their architects showed some 'initial thoughts', but have now drawn up lavish computer animations that are quite against the wishes of local stakeholders. At a testy town meeting Network Rail staff worked hard to split the community, condemning 'the creatives' as not representing the true Peckham. I assume they mean the families who have been there longer than the 17 years I have. I am one of the original 'creatives' who moved to Peckham and have been working to regenerate it ever since.

Speaker after speaker condemned their efforts to slip past some rather uninspired high rise towers that they want to flank the station. These would box it in, when most locals want it opened out. What will likely arise are the usual cheaply built, but highly expensive flats aimed at city workers who will take the new overground line directly into work. The creatives and other businesses will be evicted but then offered new space at much higher, unaffordable, rents. Also proposed is a new anchor building which Network Rail hope to fill with Prada, Gucci and Little Waitrose or whoever else they dream will open up expensive shops ... in Peckham.

The key point is that by itself without external intervention, Peckham has been creating from within a whole set of enterprises right across the cultural and creative industries and across four linked sites in the town center. They are thriving while left alone, but heavy handed regeneration will kill them off. It is likely to be a fiasco and will kill the golden goose that has made Peckham such a hot spot in the first place.

Network Rail say they have to do all or nothing in order for the redevelopment to be economic but the project has already secured £5,000,000 of public money. It is being underwritten by all those local people who do not want this to happen. Even if Network Rail only used their own money, many would object to the vast scope of the plan including the destruction of several Art Deco buildings that could be restored. What makes it all the more worrying is that the information about the project has had to be prized from them via Freedom of Information requests.

There is still time for people to complain, and while the May local council elections might be a lever to apply pressure on Labour council members of the planning committee, there is meagre hope. Southwark Council appears to be going along with everything Network Rail wants rather than local community need. It is likely that the preferred option will be rubber stamped though.

Forecast bleak.