EVERY time I passed through Greenwich Market recently, I found myself sadly thinking: "Just four months before this is all gone." The relief now that planning permission has been refused, and the threat lifted, is immense. But what happens next?
The day after the council threw out Greenwich Hospital's plans, its director, Martin Sands, sent round a letter to all the market traders saying how "very disappointed" he was and thanking "many traders and retailers in the market... who so publicly gave us their support." This sentence was ironically underlined by the shopkeeper who passed me the note. Let me say that in all these months I have only ever found one market trader who was wholly happy with the proposals.
The Hospital now has six months to lodge an appeal, which would probably be heard by the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol. The appeal would be decided on whether the council had acted in accordance with its own planning policy, the Unitary Development Plan (UDP), and national planning policy guidance (PPG). However, the council's condemnation of the proposals was so comprehensive and scathing and the scheme breached so many policies of the UDP and PPG that the odds must be against a successful appeal.
The council's official decision notice, published a few days after the planning meeting, says the scheme breaks ten UDP policies and two items of PPG. It adds that the proposed development:
- has "an unbalanced and detrimental relationship with the established urban fabric of the area;"
- is "visually obtrusive...to the detriment of the adjacent Grade II listed buildings;"
- is "out of keeping with its historic surroundings;"
- "fails to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the West Greenwich Conservation Area and has an adverse effect on the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site in which it is located;"
- would cause "the overdevelopment of the site and...adversely affect the existing patterns of development;"
- "is considered to lead to 'town cramming';"
- "fails to safeguard the integrity of adjoining properties;"
- shows "a low quality of design for the covered roof and a poor environment;"
- would cause "an increased sense of enclosure and loss of outlook detrimental to the residential amenities presently enjoyed by the adjoining residential properties;"
- would "impact on the free flow of traffic;" and
- would "result in additional congestion and obstruction on the local highway to the detriment of pedestrian and highway safety."
That is some smackdown, folks. They found some arguments that even I didn't think of!
What about option 2, making some revisions to the existing Hopkins blueprint and coming back in a few months? This seems unlikely to find favour, either: from the tone of its decision, the council will accept nothing less than major changes - which the Hospital probably can't afford to make. The Hospital's spokesman, David McFarlane, is surprisingly frank when I call him: "Proposing a smaller scheme will affect the viability and the viability was always incredibly tight," he said.
When (in 2006) the Hospital first tried to sneak through the Hopkins scheme, in secret, it caused an outcry and forced a retreat. But instead of changing the scheme in any significant way, they just changed the PR strategy, embarking on their effort to win over "key stakeholders" with a lot of meetings and a few relatively minor changes to the design.
Now that strategy has completely failed. Those "key stakeholders," such as Nick Raynsford MP and the Greenwich Society, have been revealed as not, in fact, "key" at all - but as totally irrelevant. The Hospital has spent - wasted - vast amounts of money printing glossy leaflets, buttering up local worthies and buying out leases. But it is now clear that the only "stakeholders" who matter are the public, the market traders and the council, and it is these the Hospital must satisfy.
With the Hospital's whole work of the last three years in ruins, now is the time for a radical rethink. It is time for Greenwich Hospital to recognise that the Hopkins blueprint is dead and that no amount of cosmetic tinkering can bring it back to life.
After they have accepted this, there are two possible courses the Hospital could take. The first is to work with the community and the market traders - the real community and all the market traders, that is, rather than the ersatz "consultation" apparatus of self-appointed amenity groups and hand-picked trader representatives - to come up with a new design that all are happy with. This new blueprint should preserve the market's heritage ambience, support its varied tenant mix and respect its human scale. It should not be sweeping, "iconic," or grandiose.
The second option, which might well also be the economically sensible choice, is simply to refresh the existing fabric. Perhaps clean the roof; perhaps do something about the tackiness of the central streets, which to my mind are a far more pressing problem than the market. But for the market itself, modest change is all that's needed. And if the Hospital doesn't accept that, maybe it's time to think about changing the Hospital.