The future of South Dock and the surrounding area are in some doubt at the moment, due to proposals for new construction works along the Thames. Southwark Council are planning a massive new residential development that will replace most of the boatyard and will include two massive tower blocks as well as substantial and dense building blocks that will connect the towers. Southwark Council have named the development St George’s Wharf after the business premises that formerly occupied the site. I suppose that the name has a suitably patriotic ring to it, but the scale of the development has met with considerable local opposition due to the impact it will have on the immediate and wider area.
Whilst everyone accepts that such a prime site, overlooking the Thames, was probably always going to be targeted for development, residents are appalled not only by the scale of the development itself and the impact it will have on existing homes (both on land and afloat). Natural lighting and the dock’s micro-climate will both be under threat, which may well impact wildlife as well as residents (and in the absence of an environmental impact assessment, this is of serious concern). Open areas will be overlooked by tower blocks and there will be a massive influx of new residents, which will be accompanied by problems of its own, undermining the peaceful quality of the South Dock and Greenland Dock areas as well as the local parks, and putting real strain on local services.
There are serious concerns about the effect that it would have on local roads and the public transport infrastructure, neither of which are in any way set up to cope with the influx of such a large volume of new people into one small corner of the area. Plough Way is the main route out of Rotherhithe from the proposed site of the new development to areas to south and west. Transport issues will also impact a much wider area. Thanks to developments in Greenwich and Deptford, the route from Greenwich and Deptford to the one way system at the end of Plough Way in Rotherhithe will become even more congested than it is already.
Nor does Rotherhithe have sufficient medical and dental facilities to cope with a massive incursion of people, and local retail facilities are very poor at the moment, directing more footfall to Surrey Quays shopping centre, which is not due for refurbishment for many years.
In so far as the boatyard itself is concerned, the intention of the new plan is to incorporate boatyard facilities and trade workshops within the development itself. This will seriously diminish the ability of South Dock to support both leisure and commercial boat services and businesses along the Thames. At the moment South Dock is one of the few boat servicing centres along this long stretch of the river, and if the development were to go ahead these services could be drastically reduced, to the detriment of those depending on them. Whether or not the boatyard will be able to sustain itself as a business with a much smaller footprint will remain to be seen, particularly given the constraints that will be imposed upon it in terms of noise and chemical use due to its being built into a residential facility.
Residents feel, as do I, that the consultation process for the St George’s Wharf development has been negligible to date, failing to draw in the a concern shared by groups in other areas of Rotherhithe threatened by similarly large-scale developments. See, for example, the Canada Water West website, which looks at plans apparently withheld from the public until the Southwark Council had already made final decisions about their proposal for the site for a new leisure centre prior to any public consultation (an Freedom Of Information application eventually brought matters to light).
Looking at the heritage as a separate but related issue, the stretch of the Thames that includes South Dock is a Southwark Council designated Archaeology Zone, reflecting the importance of the Thames-side history to London as a whole. This also means that before any construction work can take place, a full survey needs to be carried out and any industrial archaeology that emerges will need to be excavated. The Grade 2 listing of some of the features of the dock place the boatyard in an area of curtilage, meaning that this too will have to be taken into account before development of any sort can begin.
Fortunately for the dock itself, the type of systematic neglect visible at the Grade 2 listed lock features of Greenland Dock is unlikely to occur in South Dock, due to the modern infrastructure required to operate the marina. At the May meeting of the Canada Water Consultative Forum the Liberal Democrat, Green Party and Conservative representatives have said that they are against the development, but the Labour candidate is in its favour (unsurprisingly as it a Labour-sponsored project). You can see Green Party’s Colin Boyle talking about his objections to the development on Facebook here. And you can see Conservative Candidate Craig Cox talking about the development and his concerns on Twitter here.
As a whole, the future for South Dock as a whole remains very uncertain, and is very worrying to a lot of residents, as the following poster demonstrates:
You can track the ongoing story at any of the following sites: