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Forest Hill Town Centre Management
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Posts: 145
Joined: Oct 2006
Post: #1
29-10-2008 01:32 PM

[New thread derived from SE23 Topics > Provender]

Backs up entirely what I've suggested on related threads about the eyesore that is our town centre. Too many outlets for the population.

There's all sorts of reasons why it will probably never happen - not least of which is our invisible town centre manager and the economic climate - but the regeneration of Forest Hill requires a coherent strategy, central to which is converting that whole end stretch of dartmouth Rd into housing. The very few remaining successful businesses could be relocated into refurbished vacant premises in the centre.

I don't think it's demographically unrealistic to have something similar to Lorship Lane occur in F Hill, attracting in / back the likes of Provender, but never while it remains in its current delapidated sprawling state. With notable exceptions it's embarassing.

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Posts: 581
Joined: Sep 2007
Post: #2
29-10-2008 04:36 PM

Well, depends what you mean by 'centre'. How far along Dartmouth Road does the centre end?

And surely no food shop is going to want to go much nearer the centre, with its big orange behemoth and its vaguely preposterous swirly news headlines...

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Posts: 145
Joined: Oct 2006
Post: #3
29-10-2008 09:16 PM

Baboonery are you actually suggesting it would be preferable not to have Sainsbury's here? For all its many faults it's a good looking decent quality supermarket and the only thing FH has got over Lordship Lane and it's heap of **** Somerfield. It draws people in and adaptive small businesses could take advantage.

I'd draw the line on Dartmouth Rd at the shop before Tory HQ.

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Post: #4
29-10-2008 09:20 PM

I'm not actually suggesting that, no, and I'm not sure what there is in my post that would make you think I felt that. But if you sold food, how much closer to Sainsbury's would you want to be?

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Posts: 145
Joined: Oct 2006
Post: #5
29-10-2008 09:33 PM

Sorry, my misunderstanding. "Orange behemouth" doesn't suggest affection, but fair dues, that's different from wishing it away.

Not sure I'd want to try and sell food next door to Sainsbury's but am sure I'd not want to be at the ****end of Dartmouth Rd.

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Posts: 79
Joined: Dec 2003
Post: #6
30-10-2008 09:23 AM

The pools is clearly a real factor in Provender's problems. However, it is far from the only one. The basic problem in the Forest Hill high street continues to be that there are just too many shops for the amount of business. It is also a problem that most of shops are half units (note 21 and 21a etc). These don't permit enough business to cover overheads and make a return, given that retail margins are mostly quite tight.

In answer to the problem of 'what is core': the core was defined in the last UDP a London Road and that part of Dartmouth Road as far as the old Post Office. Along the rest of Dartmouth Road shops may be converted to retail - if the owners are agreeable. Landlords don't seem very interested, as they probably think that when the Overground comes all will transform.

The Council might have been more radical and promoted a proper restructuring. However, it is far from certain that this would have succeeded. Many local landlords appeared unwilling to even speak to Lewisham. Further, there is a view on the part of many that with determination and an entrepreneurial spirit (usually, I might add, with someone else putting up the money), all could be transformed and Forest Hill would rapidly become another Fulham. Would all local amenity societies have given their support to the conversion of most of Dartmouth Road to housing, or would we have seen several 'save our high street from the uncaring council' campaigns, each adopting a rather different view of what should be done. The response to my posts on retail over-supply in Forest Hill suggest that it would not have been easy to carry such a policy through.

The problem now is not only that current economic conditions will make things more difficult in Forest Hill centre, but also that they will make it much harder to find or justify the investment required.

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Posts: 144
Joined: Jun 2005
Post: #7
30-10-2008 11:51 AM

Dave - Of course it's useful to blame those dreadful amenity societies but you were a councillor in this area for very many years (and a member of the LBL cabinet) so why didn't you try to put such a "homesteading" scheme into operation locally?

Is it perhaps because the transfer of existing marginal shops into homes is a great deal trickier in practice than in theory?

Landlords and shopkeepers are seldom keen to transform their shops in this way. Why should they - they are receiving rents and income from the business and landlords can usually find another tenant if one disappears (as is the case with Provender). You admit above that "landlords don't seem very interested" in such a scheme - so why exactly do you keep pushing this as a solution to local problems?

If you want to see how difficult putting such a scheme into operation really is, look at what is happening currently at the parade of shops close to Bell Green Health Centre. Here, all of the shopkeepers have been invited to vacate their businesses to make way for a new housing development/possible extension to the health centre. What has emerged is a battle royal with shopkeepers demanding compensation to leave, some refusing to leave etc. And these are shops (with flats) where LBL is the landlord. Imagine how much more difficult this would be if a series of private landlords was involved.

And have you seen what many homesteading schemes normally produce in terms of housing? Most are dreary cramped conversions, with doors opening directly onto the street and with wheely bins on the pavement outside. Many such schemes - and they are always piecemeal giving a gap-toothed appearance to a parade of shops - have dragged an area further downhill rather than led to regeneration.

Dave - there is only one solution to regenerating an area. And that is good Town Centre Management, looking after local amenities such as swimming pools so they don't close and active local planning by the local authority to encourage commercial development.

Perhaps we should ensure that this is happening before we proceed with schemes such as homesteading which simply aren't going to work.

And stop attacking local amenity societies who are working daily to improve our lives locally.

Barry Milton

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Joined: Sep 2008
Post: #8
30-10-2008 10:07 PM

Is there a way of finding out what strategy our town centre manager has for making improvements? There is a huge community in Forest Hill who are crying out for individual shops and more quality eating places.

I don't think things are helped by the fact that the streets look quite dirty - perhaps by investing some money in cleaning the town centre - that might help.

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Posts: 144
Joined: Jun 2005
Post: #9
31-10-2008 10:08 AM

Agree with you entirely Elise. It's by doing hundreds of small things well - cleaning the streets, marketing properties, ensuring parking arrangements are adequate, "greening" strategies etc that will help maintain local shopping areas.

Schemes like the one above to remove most of the shops in Dartmouth Road and turn them into substandard housing are unworkable and will only result in DR turning into a slum.

What strategy does the Town Centre Manager have for making improvements? Any local politician like to answer this question?

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Post: #10
31-10-2008 10:18 AM
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Posts: 144
Joined: Jun 2005
Post: #11
31-10-2008 10:26 AM

Alex - Thanks for posting the link to JS's website.

But this doesn't answer the question. What is the Town Centre Manager's strategy for improvement?

Surely local politicians must have sat down with JS and devised such a strategy?

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Posts: 2,002
Joined: Apr 2005
Post: #12
31-10-2008 10:32 AM

Surely we have been down this road ( excuse the pun ) many times before as each shop closed.
I remember couple or so years ago when most people welcomed the closure of Mc Donalds presuming Costa Coffee and Starbucks would be fighting to open there. What have we got there.
Not sure what the Town Centre Manager can do except keep streets clean etc. Actually I think the street sweepers do a good job in most cases.
Would a greengrocer , fishmonger etc survive. I would like to hope so but not sure they would .
Being realistic what retail outlets would make a profit opening now in SE 23. Perhaps betting shops but they thrive on misery of others.
The Bird in The Hand does not help Dartmouth Rd. I am sure people are put of entering a few shops either side.
There is no magic solution. Perhaps people who believe shops would do well should put their money where their laptops are. ( not sure that makes sense but hey would not be the first time.

Going back to the Original question Provender.
I recall when Brian and Elizabeth Brett first opened in early 70's it was half home brewing and a few bottles and half health food.

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Posts: 145
Joined: Oct 2006
Post: #13
31-10-2008 10:50 AM

"Good Town Centre Management, looking after local amenities such as swimming pools so they don't close and active local planning by the local authority to encourage commercial development." DR was dying a long time before the pools closed and what does "active local planning" mean in practice nasaroc. What plan could lead to Dartmouth Road filling its empty commercial premises other than residential conversions? And clean streets will always look a mess with boarded up shops behind them.

I suspect FH is neglected because it is considered prosperous relative to the other neighbourhoods in Lewisham. And as far as i can tell our town centre manager has never posted on here. Can she really be unaware of Doubt it. Her failure to engage with the local population on here is to abdicate one of her main responsibilities.

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Posts: 653
Joined: Feb 2007
Post: #14
31-10-2008 11:06 AM

Agree with you on your last paragraph, Vipes. Look at the pathetic 'craft market' that was organised outside the station a few months ago. Waste of time. Especially when compared to the lively commercial craft market the Hob organised a few months later. The regeneration of Lewisham is clearly a far more glamorous and CV-enhancing proposition for some people.

Provender closing, to me, is a different order than the closure of most of the other businesses over the past two years. The other shops that have closed have closed, largely I think, cos they were rubbish.

This one's a real shame and quite worrying.

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Posts: 269
Joined: Mar 2008
Post: #15
31-10-2008 01:27 PM

I'm sorry to see them close.

Unfortunately they weren't in the right place, the pools shutting hurt them and with the other shops being fairly nondescript, they were one of the only reason to visit that stretch of shops.

Reading Julie Sutches website she states: "Over the last couple of years Forest Hill and Sydenham have seen many improvements, working with the Traders Associations and Lewisham Council."

Just what were these 'improvements'?

I totally agree with you Barry about having a strategy in place. It's paramount to the survival of the high street, but just here, but anywhere. It's not a collection of individual shops, but a high street as a whole. Oxford street and regent street have a strategy for the shops they need, markets have a strategy for the stalls they want, local high streets are no different.

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Posts: 145
Joined: Oct 2006
Post: #16
31-10-2008 01:47 PM

I wonder what our very own MP Jim Dowd, chair of the Parliamentary Small Shops Group, thinks Dartmouth will look like in 2015.

He should maybe think about putting out the fires in his own back yard.

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Joined: Oct 2008
Post: #17
31-10-2008 06:45 PM

'Save the Face of Forest Hill', rightly or wrongly (depending on one's individual views) were successful in stalling the progress of the Council's plans for the swimming pool site. Public pressure clearly works when enough fuss is made about something.

On this basis, could an organised group take up the task of lobbying for improvements of Dartmouth Road (and the FH high-streets more generally)? If this means a regular meeting with the Town Centre Manager to see if she actually does anything of any value to FH, or replacing her with someone who would, we could see real changes been made to encourage the right types of business set up and survive in FH. Yes, this might be a simplistic view of a complicated situation, but surely it's necessary to start somewhere. It is disappointing to see the closure of one of the best and most long-standing food shops in the area, and as others have posted, it does not bode well for the future.

Just wondered what others might think about this...

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Post: #18
31-10-2008 07:39 PM

My understanding of the situation is that Ms Sutch's remit is a little large, and I believe was once the remit of two/three people. However she does appear to have quite a high profile and active presence in the Sydenham area and it is a fair question as to why this is not replicated in Forest Hill. I know there have been a few questions begging however some were bordering on personal attacks. I think we should avoid doing this as with most of us, our job priorities and targets are usually set by other people so one can only assume that Ms Sutch has not been briefed by LBL to spend much time on Forest Hill but to prioritise other areas instead.

The only thing I can think of is to for people to write to the Head of her department to ask about their departments strategy for Forest Hill and consultation with local groups, and if that is not satisfactory then contact local councillors to complain.

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Joined: Sep 2008
Post: #19
31-10-2008 08:28 PM

I think those people who set up Save the face of Forest Hill and organised the petition for the pool were brilliantly pro-active. There is an email address on website that alex78 listed in his post, for Julie Sutch. Perhaps if a few of us were to email her directly about our concerns especially about shops such as Provinder closing and what is being done in terms of regeneration, and maybe alert her to this website, that might be a start.

The street cleaners do a great job but the problem is bigger than just litter - the streets are filthy, especially in the area outside the Weatherspoons pub.. and many of the buildings for that matter. I think if general problems like this were addressed then more people would want to move into the area - the Berkley flats would sell and more shops would open as a result of demand. This may seem simplistic but like someone else said we have to start somewhere.

Rant over!

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Post: #20
31-10-2008 08:57 PM

I am pleased to be able to report that Julie has called a meeting with representatives from the Forest Hill Society and the Traders Association in a couple of weeks. I hope that this will be the start of a more pro-active approach to attracting and retaining businesses in Forest Hill town centre, as well as making the town centre a more attractive place to shop.

The closure of Provender must act as a wake up call to everybody involved, but particularly the local council. Forest Hill has been neglected for too long and some radical actions need to be taken to put the town centre on the path to prosperity. It is pathetic that the fancy dress shop moved to Kirkdale, Provender moved to Blackheath, Blue Mountain left Forest Hill and went to Sydenham, and whilst bakers can stay open on Perry Vale and Sydenham High Street, there is no baker in Forest Hill town centre.

We have a real problem with the momentum moving in the wrong direction and if something is not done soon it really will be too late for Forest Hill. Boots has already come close to closing and if either Sainsburys or Smiths were now to close the town centre would never recover.

And yet the Hob, the Lemon Grove, the Dartmouth Arms, and a number of other businesses have made a success of Forest Hill. It is not impossible to see a positive future, if the council puts the right emphasis and financial backing into bringing back a few businesses, and gets the new pool open as soon as possible.

In my personal opinion the continuing absence of a pool does more harm to the town centre than any bulldozer could do. The 'face of Forest Hill' may have been saved but at what cost to the heart?
[not that I blame those who campaigned for the listing any more than I blame the council for the many mistakes they made in the plans for the pools]

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