The area around Peckham Rye railway station is such that if it were a person, it might be described as having a face for radio, a face that only a mother could love, for it is undeniably not a nice looking area at all.
Two tired and shabby railway bridges bestride the main shopping street offering ample cover for pigeons and their inevitable deposits. Buses line up and block the area. And a shabby shopping arcade offers a desolate route to the station itself.
Peckham Rye Station was built by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and opened in 1865, and it is still a stunning brick building. Well, from the outside, up close, if you don’t look at anything else near it.
Sadly, the shopping arcade that blocks the station forecourt is probably one of the least appealing buildings I have ever seen — not just for the tired dilapidated state it finds itself in today, but also for how it utterly ruined the railway station behind it.
Now, I am no snob and fully approve of cheaper shops offering cheaper wares to the many of us unable to afford finer wares. But, dear gods this shopping arcade is awful.
Fortunately, lots of people agree — and a plan has been developed to sweep away this monstrous obstruction and reveal the station once more.
Last weekend, Network Rail held another public exhibition about the latest revision to plans, and if it wasn’t for the fact that it had been widely publicized, I might have suspected a box-ticking exercise.
The sort where an exhibition is laid on, not in a larger church, but in a small hall, around the back on a side street and only accessed by a narrow alley — the sort often used by consultations to tick a box saying a consultation took place, but designed to deter any but the most determined sorts of visitors from actually visiting it.
However, this time, it was a decent-sized hall, that was hidden down the alley, and it was widely publicized, and the signage copious.
No mere box-ticking exercise then. And just as well, for the locals are both local and vocal.
The intention is to sweep away the concrete monstrosity in front of the station and create that most fashionable of railway developments right now — a large plaza space. This will be lined with some shops, while taller buildings will replace existing buildings that abut the railway.
More controversially in the eyes of the locals, the light industrial space at the rear of the station is to be redeveloped. A number of buildings will appear along the side of the railway arches, and the central space between the two railway lines will be opened up to the public and turned into something a little more productive than a car park.
As will it seems, the back of the railway station building. And that seems to be the only modification to the building, as part of these plans. Anything else, such as lifts, and the restoration of the waiting room are for another department to handle.
As a policy concept, it seems decent enough.
The station frontage will be opened up again, and as far as it seems a decent amount of replacement space is being offered to the existing tenants being affected by the move.
It should create a focus for the area that it currently slightly lacks, with the plaza at the front and the space behind both cleaned up.
That’s not to say it isn’t controversial, with displaced tenants feeling very displaced by all the plans. One at the time of my visit was most annoyed that he would be expected to choose an alternative venue from the ones on offer, rather than it seems it all being handed to him on a plate.
Network Rail had also fallen into an obvious trap with the clever computer-generated video, and despite a handwritten note that it was just a concept, I heard numerous dismayed voices expressing concern about “all that glass and steel” in the plans.
Never ever put too much detail into a building design when seeking approval at the concept stage — as the debate is going to be derailed into arguments about the colour of the paving slabs or the use of glass and steel in a building.
Never ever do that!
I personally think that the use of glass and steel for some of the replacement buildings the line the edges of the new plaza space would look wrong, and subject to too swift a decay. But that is a matter for the later planning applications, not a debate about whether the existing shopping arcade should be torn down.
As soon as possible please, even though some complain that things are happening too fast. It is a decade long project though!
The plans won’t quite see the front plaza returned to its Victorian original, which I think is a pity, but the developments along the side and behind are what is paying for all the rebuilding works.
One day, visitors arriving at Peckham Rye will be able to walk out of the station to a wide expanse, leading to vibrant shopping streets, and boy won’t it make a difference from what they see today.