The Dulwich Estate positions itself as Dulwich’s conservation guardians – those of us who live in their jurisdiction have become used to having to get their blessing to touch so much as a tree branch. However, some of their decision making lately is so jaw dropping, it makes me ask – are they really fit to be in charge of conservation issues in the area?
The Estate is currently trying to push through a plan to build predominately multi million pound houses on the site of the SG Smith garage workshops. This site is right in the heart of Dulwich Village, bordered by Gilkes Crescent, Calton Avenue and Gilkes Place. There is a small affordable element to the proposal, but this was only after pressure from local residents.
Leaving aside the question of whether building multi million pound houses is the best use community wise of any development site, what is so extraordinary is that it will involve demolishing a rare surviving example of a 1930’s Petrol Station, which perfectly compliments the lovely Arts and Crafts St Barnabas Village Hall over the road. Similar examples have been listed, and when the garage SG Smith tried to get consent to demolish it a few years back, it was allegedly Southwark Council who stepped in to prevent them.
The plan also involves moving the historic site of the village stocks memorial, on Calton Avenue, next to the bookshop, with its 1760 inscription invoking good behavior. This site has become part of the fabric of Dulwich Village, the sign states it is ‘on or near’ its original site, and as yet, it is unclear what the plan is for it. Residents who have tried to engage with the Estate directly on conservation issues arising from the proposed development report being met with a wall of silence.
It is not as if the plan for what is going to replace these two historic sites has an overwhelming architectural merit. The plans have just gone live online on the Southwark website
Many that have viewed them in detail report that overall they find them pretty unremarkable, despite the much heralded design credentials of the architects Panther Hudspith. They seem to be more about ramming as many high value houses onto the site as possible, rather than creating something with a lasting broader legacy and community use.
The plans are also reportedly riddled with inaccuracies and conflicting information, and in allowing for constructing a residents underground car park for 21 cars, throw up a number of unsettling questions about flooding and the water table. Planning for cars emerging from underground on a busy walk to school route is hardly the most neighbourly of acts. Construction will involve driving 400 concrete piles, 10 metres high, into the ground to act as foundations, the vibration from which, according to qualified people who have viewed them, could well threaten surrounding buildings, including the historic Village Hall.
Why would Dulwich Estate allow this? They are co developers with the garage SG Smith (for those of us who know SG Smith, a match made in heaven), and stand to make millions from it. Understandable behavior from a purely commercial developer, rather more puzzling from the people who I have to pay a charge every year to help preserve the unique character of the area, and act as judge and jury as to whether I can put up a satellite dish or not.
In my book the Estate should decide either decide to continue their brief to look after the character of the area, or make a pile of cash, and let someone else do the conservation. They can’t have it both ways. What do you think?