Welcome to The Scullery – a Blackheath institution reborn

CIMG2406Congratulations to The Scullery Cafe, which opened on Tuesday (April 22nd) in what used to be Gambardella’s on Vanbrugh Park. Run by the Petrillo family for generations, Gambardella’s had been a Blackheath institution ever since 1927 and it was very sad when it closed in April 2013 after a family bereavement.

Run by Colin, the Scullery Cafe’s interior is almost exactly as Gambardella’s left it , with only some funky new orange lamps and a slightly healthier menu. While its sad that the old Gambardella’s signage outside (with the wording “High Class Refreshments”) had to go, it’s great to see Gambardella’s historic interior survive a change of operator (see the write-up the Classic Cafes websiteCIMG2411 gave to Gamberdella’s a few years ago here: sadly the yellowing Wall’s Ice Cream chest freezer no longer survives and the 1960s swivel seats were removed from the front section a few years back, though they survive at the back).

Gambardella’s had always been one of my favourite meeting places in Blackheath but it usually closed at about 5. The Scullery now has an evening license so will be opening for supper, with wine served (currently the only places at the Standard serving evening meals are the Royal Standard pub itself, and the legendary Sun Ya Chinese restaurant).

Gambardella's Cafe 2013 - closed

Gambardella’s old frontage

CIMG2410The Scullery Cafe is just one of several exciting new businesses to open at Blackheath Standard in the last few years – others include the chemist next door, Mara Interiors & Coffee Shop on Westcombe Hilland over on Old Dover Road the children’s toy and bookshop Ottie and the Bea, the cookshop Blackheath Cooks and Moca Cafe (in what used to be Fosters, and reviewed here on the Blackheath Coffee Shops blog).

The Royal Standard has done well to survive the recession and the slow recovery since without any shops standing empty for long. It has cemented its reputation as the place to go for the sort of distinctive, independent shops and cafes which are becoming rarer in Blackheath Village and Greenwich town centre because of rent rises – by contrast, the council has frozen shop rents on Old Dover Road ever since 2008. The Royal Standard Business and Traders Association is looking at how to market the shops better, with help from the council’s e-Business programme, and a new Shopwatch scheme has been set up to help traders work together to prevent crime. The Royal Standard is on the up, and long may it thrive.

New pools and library at Greenwich Square on schedule to open in spring 2015

Greenwich Square - CGI

Along with other councillors I visited the development site at the bottom of Vanbrugh Hill – Greenwich Square – last week to see the new swimming pools and library being built there along with a new health centre, shops and 645 new homes.

Like many developments that were conceived before the financial crash – plans were first drawn up for the site in 2006 and submitted to the council in 2007 – this one has been a long time coming. The development was given planning consent in 2008 but stalled when the developer First Base walked away in 2010, and after the incoming Government cut funds for affordable housing on the site it was difficult to make the development viable. But the plans were then modified, a new development consortium (Hadley Mace) was brought in in 2012 and work finally started on site later that year.Greenwich Square cgi

The good news is that the scheme has been kept alive with only minor changes to Make Architects‘ original plans, and 150 of the new homes will be available to local people at genuinely affordable rents (not Boris Johnson’s definition of “affordable” – 80% of market rents). Make are a great architectural practice founded in 2004 by Ken Shuttleworth, who had formerly been a partner at Norman Foster’s firm, and I am glad their design has not been dumbed down.

Local people could be forgiven for having forgotten the promise of the Greenwich Centre – a new library and leisure centre on the site, to replace East Greenwich Library and the Arches: the scheme has not been well publicised beyond its immediate neighbours so far.

New swimming pool at Greenwich SquareBut work is now progressing rapidly and the new public building going up on the corner of Vanbrugh hill and Woolwich Road, containing the library, leisure centre and a council “contact centre” alongside a new public square, has been topped out. While there is some affection for the Arches and East Greenwich Library, I hope the new building can prove that public services can be as well-built in the twenty-first century as in the twentieth, and be easier to maintain and adapt to future demands.

Elsewhere on the site the first 36 housing units – affordable homes to rent through L&Q housing association – are almost completed and are being handed over in April. A small Sainsbury’s on the site will open in July. A gym, dance studio, 25-metre Fitness poll, a 20-metre learning pool, creche and an 820 square metre library – three times bigger than the current East Greenwich Library – should be handed over to the council in November 2014 and open by the end of March 2015. A new NHS health centre, which will replace the Vanbrugh Health centre operating at the southern end of the site, will also open upstairs from the library next spring, and all the housing on the site should be completed by 2018.

Unlike many PFI developments, the council will have control of these buildings through a 999 year lease, and a seat on the management company that will own the freehold of the site.

Swimming pools under construction at Greenwich Square

The council now needs to seek appropriate new uses for the (locally listed) Arches building and the East Greenwich library building (which is statutorily listed), which will be replaced in spring 2015 by these new facilities. I would be keen to hear local people’s thoughts about how they should find a sustainable future (Blackheath Library on Old Dover Road, which was refurbished and had its opening hours extended in 2010, won’t be affected).

Deep within the site we were shown the two new pools under construction – the larger one is under a wooden hoarding but the smaller children’s pool is beginning to look like somewhere you could swim in (the steps into it are already in place). It is already just possible to imagine what the pools will look like when they are open (compare the computer-generated image above with the photo of the same part of site under construction below). The new library will be upstairs, in a prominent position right on the crossroads of Vanbrugh Hill and Woolwich Road. Read more of this post

All is forgiven, planners: you are now needed more than ever

Huntsman mapped

Good news from the Planning Inspectorate last week,  who turned down a proposal for 131 new homes on the Huntsman site, a disused playing field just off the Cator Estate.

Although everyone accepts the land will end up being developed as housing (its designation as Metropolitan Open Land was lifted some years ago as part of a land-swap to enable the Ferrier estate to be redeveloped as Kidbrooke Village), the proposed development was wrong in many respects. Above all it would have turned its back on the neighbouring Kidbrooke Vision development it was supposed to be part of. As this map shows, all the traffic would have gone onto the Cator Estate’s narrow (and privately-owned) roads to the west, via a dangerous new entry junction on the corner of Manor Way and Brooklands Park.

It is pleasing that for once a planning inspector has agreed with the council and local residents, and refused the scheme on traffic grounds. It was clear at the public enquiry earlier this year that residents across Blackheath, who organised an effective campaign called No to the Huntsman, felt that this was the wrong scheme both for them, and the borough as whole: although the site is about a half-mile south of Blackheath Westcombe ward (whose southern boundary is Blackheath Park) I was contacted by many concerned residents living north of Blackheath Park as well as south. The Planning Inspectorate’s judgement, issued on February 26th, can be read herePhotos July 2008 029

The Huntsman is not the only large planning application causing concern locally. In Kidbrooke Village itself, Berkeley Homes are beginning to consult on a proposal for a 30-storey tower by Kidbrooke station, with a public exhibition being held later this week. The new proposal is much higher than the building heights that Berkeley already have outline permission for. As most of the new development in Kidbrooke Village has so far been top-quality, let’s hope it won’t be ruined now: see here for a discussion on Skyscraper city, an online discussion forum about tall buildings, and here for SE9 magazine’s coverage (it’s on page 18).  Read more of this post

The Greenwich Foodbank: helping those who the Coalition forgot

Foodbank 4

Just before Christmas a group of eight councillors visited the Greenwich Foodbank‘s headquarters in Eltham. We were all impressed by the hard work and determination of its volunteers, led by Alan Robinson who showed us around.

Although a foodbank had been set up by two churches  in Thamesmead in 2009, demand shot up after the coalition’s welfare cuts started in 2010, with people from all over Greenwich and Bexley boroughs beating a path to its doors. With help from the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity that helps foodbanks across Britain, a new borough-wide foodbank was set up in October 2012 by 45 Greenwich churches (including St John’s in Blackheath, which acts as a collection point for donations).

The Greenwich Foodbank is a very well-organised operation that gives out three-quarters of a ton of food and other goods each week. Increasingly, toiletries are given out as well as food: Office of National Statistics figures show that unemployed people on the breadline  are going without soap and shampoo to afford to feed themselves. People can only receive a week’s food if they have been given a voucher by an authorised person working at the sharp end: in Social Services, the NHS, Police, Probation service, or the voluntary sector (need is the only factor: the Foodbank helps people regardless of their religious faith).Foodbank 2

Normally, no-one is allowed to redeem vouchers more than three times: the Foodbank is determined to help people out of poverty, not make them dependent on handouts. As well as giving out food, the Foodbank has put together a cookbook (many of its clients are used to fast food, and find it hard to make a nutritious meal out of the ingredients the Foodbank provides). Giving out food helps alleviate some of the immediate effects of the cost-of-living crisis, but it is not a long-term cure on its own, which is why the Foodbank acts as a “signpost” to other services so its clients can find a long-term solution to whatever problems they face.

But no-one should be pleased that more and more Foodbanks are starting in Britain in 2014: everyone should afford to feed themselves and their families without the indignity of going to a Foodbank. Dave Wilcox, a veteran labour councillor in Derbyshire who helped his local foodbank get lottery money, recently wrote of his “sadness in success”. Like many, he hopes that one day foodbanks will run out of customers, return their money to the lottery, and that everyone will have enough money to buy their own food rather than need handouts. How right he is. Read more of this post

Is IKEA a good idea for Greenwich?

sainsbury-greenwichHow quickly do the architectural innovations of the late Twentieth century become redundant in the Twenty-First! The iconic Sainsbury’s store on Peartree Way, with its partly glazed roof, curved lines and timber cladding, is due to be made redundant once a much larger Sainsbury’s opens down the road off Bugsby’s Way in 2014.

IKEA have now put forward plans to take over the site – and knock down the Sainsbury’s building, which was nominated for the Stirling Prize and won the prestigious RIBA Sustainability Award in 2000. Until now it had been hoped that a new retailer would adapt the building, not demolish it.

Tony Duckworth, one of the Environmental designers of the Sainsbury’s store, predicted last year that the most likely outcome was its demolition (see a blog post from 2012 here). I’m sorry that it seems he has been proved right. Read more of this post

Street trading: separating facts from fiction

Old Dover Road 2013There has been a lot of discussion in the local media recently about the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s new policy of charging shops and cafes for putting merchandise, or tables and chairs, on the public highway – the so-called “Pavement Tax”.

As a Labour candidate in Blackheath Westcombe ward, and as chair of South East Enterprise (a business support agency based in Greenwich town centre) I have spoken to lots of people about the impact of the new policy on businesses in Greenwich town centre, Blackheath Standard, and elsewhere in the borough.

There are good arguments for some kind of regulation of trading on the public highway. Most people would agree that it is fair, in principle, to charge businesses for using pavements and highways for commercial purposes. A small minority of shops and businesses – not in Blackheath, but in other parts of the borough – do put excessive amounts of merchandise on narrow pavements, impeding access for pedestrians.

Most other London boroughs (Tory, Lib Dem, and Labour-controlled) already have a charging policy so it is reasonable for Greenwich to do the same. The charges introduced (£7 for the first square metre per week, and £3.50 per week for any further square metres) are lower than what most other boroughs charge.

However, the council needs to be mindful of the impact of the policy on small businesses, which are feeling the pinch due to the failure of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition to deliver proper economic growth. The new charging policy was not well explained to traders, and there was not enough consultation with traders groups. Read more of this post