Greenwich Society responds to Greenwich Park Revealed plans

Royal Parks / Greenwich Park

RESPONSE OF THE GREENWICH SOCIETY TO PLANNING APPLICATION 19/4305/F FOR GREENWICH PARK

 

The Greenwich Society is broadly supportive of this planning application (19/4305/F) which takes forward the main elements in the lottery-supported Greenwich Park Revealed plan. We welcome in particular the proposals for the Learning Centre, improvements to the Blackheath Gates entrance, the flower garden, the conduit head and the bandstand, the removal of the footpath over the Anglo-Saxon burial ground, improved signage and the strategy for dispersing visitors across the whole park

We have reservations however about some aspects which were either not spelled out in the earlier consultation stages or where we think the significance may not have been sufficiently realised.

Landscape

The re-creation of the parterre and the Grand Ascent is a key element of the plan. We do not challenge this but we are concerned about the felling of 160 trees which is proposed along both sides of the Queen’s Field. This will radically transform the appearance of this part of the park for many years until new trees have grown. It will also involve, after new planting, a net reduction of 26 trees which, together with the wholesale replacement of mature trees by young ones, will have significant adverse environmental effects. This sits badly with the current drive globally to increase tree cover. We doubt whether most regular visitors to the park have hoisted in the significance of this proposal and suspect there will be a lot of criticism if mass felling occurs. (There are precedents for vociferous opposition to tree felling in the ORNC site and in other royal parks.) We recognise that a good number of trees along these avenues are suffering from squirrel damage or disease but this is not true of all of them. We would prefer to see a more selective and staged approach which retains far more trees.

Given that squirrels are responsible for so much tree damage the plan ought to include measures designed to reduce the squirrel population. Otherwise the cycle of destruction will begin again on the new trees.

Planned tree felling should be well publicised in advance and the subject of public awareness sessions so that local residents and regular park users understand what is being done.

It will be important that landscape works are planned so as to minimise disruption for visitors especially in the high visitor periods. Rapid implementation of parts of the Royal Parks Movement Strategy to encourage visitor dispersal throughout the park might help. We have further comments on implementation of the plan at the end of this letter.

Buildings

Ranger’s House is an important but under-visited building on the western perimeter of the park. The layout of the rose garden behind it helps to link it visually to the park but we would like to see some consideration in Greenwich Park Revealed of how it might be integrated more fully into the presentation of the park to visitors. This would require the involvement of English Heritage and we would hope that they could be involved. Encouraging more visitors to enter from the Park itself would be beneficial.

We welcome the proposed Learning Centre and the quality of the design. We had some discussion about whether an east-west orientation would be better in terms of lighting but assumed that the current boundary of the works site was a constraint.

We are not sure where the exit from the relocated works site into the park would be. We note that there are ramps at the north and south end of the Learning Centre and hope this does not mean that works vehicles would be passing close to the new building; it is important to avoid any conflict between people visiting the Learning Centre and works vehicles.

Our main concern about the building proposals relates to the ancillary buildings for Vanburgh Lodge café, the Pavilion Café and the kiosk by the Wolfe statue. In each case what is proposed is essentially wood-clad boxes. We presume that the designers think that these plain structures will appear properly subservient to the buildings that they serve. We consider, on the contrary, that their inert boxiness will detract from their host buildings.  In the case of the Learning Centre the service structures will be the first thing visitors to the Learning Centre see. Something more imaginative, even playful, is needed. The Victorians and Edwardians had the knack of making ancillary buildings interesting but non-assertive.

We have an additional concern in the case of the Pavilion Cafe about the proposed relocation of the storage facility to the south edge of the café enclosure. The existing storage facility to the east, apart from being unnecessarily high, is unobtrusive and does not block views of the pavilion from the east (or to the east). The site proposed for its relocation would impinge more markedly on views of the pavilion which is an attractive building designed by Sir Henry Tanner in 1906. It would be better to locate a new store on the existing site which would allow the pavilion to retain a more open setting. This would accord with the open setting which was recreated a few years ago for the lodge by St Mary’s Gate, an early work by John Nash 1807-8, in the north-west corner of the park.

We would like to see the former balustrade at first floor level on the Pavilion Café restored as part of the planned programme of work.

Climate change and environmental sustainability

We note that the plan envisages drawing more water from boreholes which we assume means from the aquafer. As much reliance as possible should be placed on recycling water. To what extent will the proposed soakaways achieve self-sufficiency of water for horticultural and aboricultural requirements in the park?

A related question is whether new trees will be selected which can thrive in drier conditions than experienced historically in the park. There may be a conflict here between historical authenticity and environmental sustainability; we believe the latter should have priority

The Energy Statement for the Learning Centre states that “a roof mounted PV array providing 10mwh per annum is proposed to provide renewable energy to offset the total emissions of the building. This is approximately equal to an array size of 80m2.  This is not easy to understand and we question what proportion of the electricity requirement of the Learning Centre would be met by these solar panels on bright or sunny days. Could the extent of the proposed solar panels be increased on the various roofs?

Implementation

Even in normal times the timetable for implementing the Greenwich Park Revealed strategy would be ambitious. But these are not normal times. It will be difficult for contractors to come on site until normal working conditions have been restored across the economy and there must be uncertainties too on the financial front. Will more urgent national economic and social needs be given priority over desirable but discretionary expenditure? How much of a dent is being inflicted on the revenue targets of the Royal Parks by the current cessation of trading and fee-earning activity? Will fund-raising from the public for this plan be more difficult for some time? Another factor which could delay work is the UEFA Fan Zone. Will the park come under pressure again to host a rescheduled FanZone in 2021? This would certainly cut across the planned implementation of Greenwich Park Revealed.

We don’t have answers to these questions but suggest that it is important that thought is given now to how implementation could be phased over a longer period or the plan cut back if funding becomes a problem. The plan needs to be robust enough to cope with the current and prospective great uncertainties.

 

Greenwich Society

7 April 2020