Library Square Proposals

The Blackheath Society are displaying their suggestions for an improved library in the area next to the Post Office. I quite like the 1970s style little library as it is… Every newly upgraded library always seems to have fewer books, and more slightly broken Windows PCs, which doesn’t feel like much of a step forward to me. As computers become cheaper and more portable, I’d be much keener to see an old fashioned library, with lots of books, some (reasonably) confortable chairs, and some Free Wifi. That would be great.

The exhibition is by the bar at the Concert Halls:

The exhibition will be held in the bar area of Blackheath Concert Halls from January 18 to 22 and is open from 10.00am to 7.00pm each day. Committee members will be on hand daily from 5-7pm to answer questions.

If anyone heads over, please let me know how it was – I’ll try and take a look soon!

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Library Square Proposals

  1. EnglishRose

    What’s the betting that Starbucks will try to persuade the library that an in-house coffee shop is a Good Idea?

    Incidentally, I gather that the library is going to be closed from Sat 30th Jan to Mon 26th April for the refurb.

  2. john dawson

    I would love to see the rather unappealing 1961 library pulled down and something made of the unnattractive mish mash of car park and service area. After viewing the exhibition today I came away with mixed feelings, having realised that the only way to finance a project like this is to create a development which would include residential units. The problem with the proposal is best described as “town cramming”. We are going to lose our lovely village feel and replace it with a pressure cooker. Shoehorning what must be 20 plus appartments into this space in return for a small square is going to bring a substantial change to the feel of Blackheath.
    All that’s really needed is the demolition of the ghastly library block and it’s replacement by something less brutal. Sort out the awful “pinch point” at the entrance to Blackheath Grove by covering part of the railway cutting and you would have a supurb mini piazza.

    • Chris Nelson

      I agree – the original idea of building over the railway was a blinder. But the latest scheme is a disaster. I live on Tranquil Vale – the 5 storey block being proposed by the Blackheath Society will start just 8 metres from my front door and windows. At 5 storeys it will tower over the 3 storey buildings on Tranquil Vale. Like other correspondents I would expect the Blackheath Society to oppose not to promote developments like this. 40 new households plus ground floor commercial units! – ‘shoe-horning’ is the right word for this. The hair-dressers on Blackheath Grove are strongly opposed to this – their lease is coming for renewal and the Blackheath Society scheme will put them out of business by demolishing their premises. Ditto the Thai restaurant. The exhibition was a joke – their artist’s impression has a mature tree in front of the new development where none exists now. In fact, my reading of the plans is that a mature tree will have to be cut down to make way for the block. They’ve left out Tranquil Vale from the views – the reason being I imagine that their proposal is 2 storeys higher than the buildings on Tranquil Vale! Sadly, about 75% of the comments in their visitors book are in favour. Fairly predictable when you realise that the exhibition was timed to co-oincide with the annual meeting of the ‘Friends of Blackheath Halls’ – AKA the Blackheath establishment – very few of whom actually live in the village. This will be a hard fight against the Blackheath establishment to stop the scheme going ahead. For those who are interested below is a letter I’ve sent BS for publication in their next newsletter – didn’t even get an acknowledgement – and I’m a member of the Blackheath Society! I also contacted the Blackheath Village Group about the scheme and didn’t get a response. Some local residents are planning to form an action group against the scheme – if you’re interested in joining leave contact details here.

      Dear Blackheath Society

      I’ve just visited the Library Square Project sales pitch at Blackheath Halls. As a resident of an property adjoining the proposed development, I’m stunned! We are, if the Blackheath Society gets it’s way, to have a five storey building erected within a few metres of our three storey home! Overall, It’s very difficult to see what benefit the scheme offers to anybody other than the architects & developers who will profit from the scheme. On the other hand it’s very easy to see what loss of amenity and difficulties the scheme will cause to residents of and visitors to the Village! Especially those who have homes in the immediate vicinity of it.

      For obvious reasons, we and, I imagine, the residents of the properties surrounding the site are opposed to the scheme which will tower over the three storey buildings on Tranquil Vale thus changing the skyline for the worse for ever. In that regard, it was interesting to note that the visuals at the exhibition did not include views to and from Tranquil Vale against which the proposed building is most out of scale. That oversight could be construed as part of a skilful sales pitch similar to the artist’s impression which includes a mature tree in front of the development where none exists now. By contrast, my reading of the plans suggests that at least one mature tree on the site will have to be felled.

      Part of the sales pitch for the Library Square Project is that it will create a “focus for community life”. It is difficult to understand what is meant by that term which is often developer-speak intended to overcome local resistance to a scheme by attempting to engage local community activists’ support. In fact, experience has shown that open spaces of this type are more likely to attract a community of young binge drinkers. Nevertheless, it seems surprising that the community most affected by the scheme – for example residents of Wemyss Road, Tranquil Vale and Blackheath Grove – were not consulted during the development of the project. In that regard, having scanned the responses to the exhibition it’s interesting to see that support for the project comes for the most part from those who live in far-off places such as Lee and the Standard rather than those who will have to live with the results of our Society’s foray into urban planning. Finally, there has been a tendency in the Society’s literature to gain support for the project on the back of an alleged threat to the continued existence of library services in Blackheath Village when there seems to be very little evidence that such a threat exists. In fact, it’s reasonable to argue that the scheme will result in the loss of library services during the period between demolition of the existing library and the construction of the new development which amongst other functions is intended to rehouse the library. A period which could be as long as a year!

      As a member of the Society I would much rather see it opposing such schemes rather than initiating them. That brings me onto the issue of the Blackheath Society’s credibility as a campaigning organisation working to protect and enhance Blackheath Village and the surrounding area. Inevitably that role will in most cases be adversarial – for example, opposing or suggesting changes to development projects in the Blackheath area. And indeed the Society’s publications and history emphasise that role. Moreover, the planning authorities have a statutory duty to consult with local amenity groups – in our case the Blackheath Society – when considering planning applications. Schemes promoted by the Society therefore have, by definition, already received local amenity group approval. This is important because of, amongst other reasons, the fact that the society counts amongst its membership many architects and and by extension developers who have a vested interest in seeing development occur locally.

      The Blackheath Society is a highly influential and credible organisation with a great track record. However, as a relatively new member of the Society I’m not clear how what processes ensure accountability to its members For example, were the members of the society consulted before the Library Square Project was launched? Who authorised the allocation of funds to draw up plans and appoint a firm of architects to promote the project? Were conflicts of interest considered when initiating the project? In the absence of checks and balances such as consultation with its wider membership before schemes are intiated, the Society lays itself open to the charge that a cabal of unaccountable people – some of whom may have a vested interest in seeing a development proceed – are using the Society to further personal interests and hobby-horses. Therefore, it seems to me that if the Society is to depart from its traditional role and become an advocate and initiator of development, then its constitutional processes must be suitably amended to ensure its credibility is not compromised by the change in role exemplified by the Library Square Project.

      Best regards

      Chris Nelson

      PS. the previous scheme (covering in the railway line, etc) was marvellous and would have gained my support -subject to proper consultation with the Society’s membership before the proposal entered the public domain.

  3. P Mc

    Earlier today I went to view the proposals for the Blackheath Grove ‘Library Square’ development on display at Blackheath Halls and was absolutely horrified by what I saw.

    The proposed development is for two five-story blocks – a mix of commercial units and 40 residential flats that covers the complete area of the current public car park (it is not contained to the existing footprint of the library and next door buildings) and would butt up to every building surrounding it, literally shoe-horned into the space. It is a clear example of over-development.

    Furthermore, it is not in keeping with the village, it looks like an out of town retail unit. Its two five-storey blocks will tower over nearby buildings, whose residents (including myself) will have their views and light obliterated – let alone their privacy removed. If this goes ahead I will have the new block just feet away, with the residential flats looking directly into my windows.

    The proposal also includes further commercial premises – do we really need more? The village is already littered with vacant retail units. It is highly likely that the new commercial units will be yet more licensed premises (as if there aren’t enough in the village already) and we are all aware the inherent problems associated with them. More problems with anti-social behaviour, more late night noise etc.

    The small open space the ‘library square’ that would also form part of the development is laughable. With acres of heath and Greenwich Park on our doorstep ‘open space’ is something we are not short of. So who will make use of the ‘library square’? Well late in the evenings it will be a haven for young binge drinkers to congregate – it is an open invitation for them all to hang out.

    And then there is the parking. Currently the land earmarked for development provides 30 paid for spaces, 4 disabled places and 20 private spaces. In place of this, the proposed development will provide only 30 underground parking spaces – a reduction on available parking of 40%. But, there would also be 40 new flats – so where are all these residents and their visitors going to park?

    It saddens me that The Blackheath Society is promoting this development – as it appears to contradict everything that they stand for. One can only question their motives. As their members include those with experience in planning law, architecture, property development and urban planning… in whose best interests are they really acting on?

    This development is not a positive step. I believe it will be very detrimental to Blackheath Village. I urge fellow residents that also have concerns about the development to express their opposition by email to Blackheath.soc@lineone.net as soon as possible.

    • Every time I’ve tried to go to the Halls, they’ve been locked up… Wish they’d held it in the library itself. I like the idea of extending the bridge covering to create a large square, and remove the “pinch point” that you described.

  4. James

    I agree with John Dawson above, I went along to see the exhibit and was originally quite excited just by the idea of a development, but actually the cost is high. To fund any development there will be two five story modern apartment buildings dropped in the current car park (new spaces provided underneath though). I wouldn’t like to lose the ‘village-feel’ and end up with a new-build town look.

  5. john dawson

    It disturbs me that the Blackheath Society, formed in protest to the building of a giant residential/mixed use block (Selwyn Court) is now proposing exactly the same type of development seventy years on.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the Society oppose the Starbucks, successfully reducing the number of tables allowed to three?

    • Chris Nelson

      Both points have occurred to me too. Selwyn Court Mk2 . Nobody seems to have mentioned so far that two thriving businesses – the hairdressers and the Thai restaurant will be put out of business by the development – their premises are to be demolished along with the library. Responses at the exhibition are running three to one in favour of the scheme – although some of those who voted in favour seem to think that they were voting for the original scheme (covering over the railway, etc) which has been abandoned in favour of Selwyn Court Mk2. Not surprising really because the first thing a visitor sees is graphics of the original scheme! I received a reply from the chair of the Blackheath Society to my letter complaining about the scheme. He didn’t respond to any of the points I made except to say ” I can certainly assure you that we will be continuing in full accordance with the traditions and objectives of the Blackheath Society” . My response was to thank him and ask since when has it been part of the tradition and objectives of the BS to promote 5 storey blocks in the centre of Blackheath Village. Also wrote to a local councillor (Maines) who sent me an almost word for word copy of a letter he’d sent another resident who’d raised the issue with him. He said that residents will have the chance to object when and if a planning application is made and that we shouldn’t be “unduly worried”. This seems to miss the point that the wretched scheme can only get to planning if the council of which he is a member agree to a change of use of the site. I was a bit surprised at his, shall we say, unsympathetic response until I looked again at the Blackheath Society annual report which lists its members names & addresses – there are about 750 members and he is one them. That’s a lot of votes to lose by opposing a Blackheath Society scheme. But he has lost mine and I imagine a few others.

      We have engaged a professional planning consultant to review the scheme – his view is that there’s nothing in planning law which could prevent the scheme going ahead – particularly because there was a building of similar scale on the site until 1945. Have also spoken to two local estate agents who say the scheme will make properties in the immediate vicinity unsaleable as soon as the scheme goes to planning. Once the block has been built, property prices in the adjacent properties – particularly those on Tranquil Vale – will drop by about 25%. The joint Blackheath Working Party is holding its AGM next Thursday. Some local residents are planning to attend to protest against the scheme.

  6. Pingback: Details of the proposed Piazza Square « The Blackheath Bugle

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