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.

The plans have been shown off a couple of times before, in the astonishing waiting room hidden inside the station itself.

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.


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  1. OlracUK says:

    Last year I did the Overground circle, and stopped at Peckham. As a stranger (one who “Looks Up”) I straight away saw the potential hidden from the High St – and that waiting room is crying out to be used by the community again.

    The streets around teh station are already (still?) vibrant – any plaza should celebrate that diversity of the neighbourhood, but re-establish the old splendour too.

  2. Sykobee says:

    I’m sure the NIMBYs will derail it and then have to live with that existing ugliness because other options simply aren’t viable financially.

    Redoing that area between the lines as a market/retail/cafe/restaurant/bar area is a good idea, it’s a nice enclosed area. Hopefully the rents won’t price the interesting things out of contention.

    • Simon says:

      I know the area well, and to be fair I’m not sure there are a great deal of “interesting” things there. People will inevitably sling around platitudes about “vibrancy” and “diversity”, but all told, the immediate area is a dump.

    • IanVisits says:

      It may lack the icons that define a vibrant location if it were in say, Shoreditch — in the form of achingly fashionable cafes that drain the wallet faster than you can drain the cup, or delicate artisan boutiques selling a pair of gloves for the price of an average weekly wage.

      But it does have human vibrancy, a melting pot of people and cultures that is just as valuable to society.

  3. Hi Ian,

    We are a young business, just over a year old, that is directly affected by the redevelopment of the station. Network Rail’s plans would mean a loss of our premises at a time when we are still in the early growth stages and without the spare funds needed for relocation. Initially being unable to secure funds due to the lack of arts funding The Sunday Painter were able to offer us an affordable entry into the arts industry. This was an incubation period that has been absolutely necessary to the establishment of our business. Being one of a minority of screen printing studios in London we offer open access facilities for individuals wishing to use our studio to produce hand printed work, with the majority of our members being from the South East London area. We run regular weekly workshops that provide the opportunity for any member of the public to learn a new skill. These have gown to be one of the most important and recognised aspects of the studio. These sessions often result in participants visiting other local shops and cafes before and after, thereby adding to the local economy. The commercial print service we offer helps to fund emerging artists and illustrators and provides an outlet for their projects via our online shop and relationship with local and other London businesses. It’s important to remember that everything we do was made possible by the help that we received from the The Sunday Painter and any redevelopment and displacement would greatly inhibit the continuation of what we do and the ability of The Sunday Painter to help future businesses and individuals in the way that we were helped.

  4. james fisher says:

    I am a local resident of 12 years and a co owner of a business of 7months in the affected Peckham Rye development plan. The below comments are my own views and do not represent those of any other persons.
    I am all for the regeneration of the station but there is a problem with the most recent plan submitted by network rail.
    That problem is that the plan does not deliver regeneration but pure change.i fully support Southwarks original plan of 2009 that addressed the key issues of safety access and nuisance through the opening up of the front and rear of the station in conjunction with the doing up of the 30s building on the stations flanks. This is where the latest plans move away, in that these 30 buildings are to be demolished and replaced with a series of 7 to 4 story apartment blocks with ground floor retail units.
    So whats the problem with that as i am sure this addition will pay for the whole development. Well, for me, what is at the heart of peckham is its living history.This is expressed through the mix of Georgian, Victorian and 30s buildings with modern build housing, halal and irish butchers, Jamacian jerk chicken joints, Nigerian whisky bars to art galleries and italian/ french restaurants. Is the place run down, filthy, nerve racking at times, well yes but the potential is there to bring the high st back to its glory days of the 70s when the high st was the south london destination.
    It has now become a destination for art, food and great bars, but ripping out the heart and transplanting an all new vision is such a missed opportunity.Tipping the baby out with the bath water?
    In answer to the comment re local businesses looking for a hand out. Well, we invested £50k of our own money into a premise with a 5 year lease. We are in the 30s building at 12 to 16 belenheim grove to which all the tenants 2 months ago paid for and finished £12k worth of redecoration to the outside of the building. All the units are now occupied, the building looks great and we are servicing the locals needs. So what are we doing wrong? Do i want to be part of the regeneration. Well i am not walking away. We had network rail and southwark showing people around my premises holding us up as an example of how vibrant the area is. We love the area and want to be part of it, but so far we have not been approached by network rail in a meaningful way. the public sessions have been confrontational and we don’t have enough information to go on. I am hoping our local knowledge of the area and passion will be an asset to our landlords but so far no dice. If you work for the council or network rail or know someone who is please contact us. We all have a chance to make this a great project. at the moment it feels like a white elephant. We need more information, meaningful dialogue and an appreciation that this is a unique area that means a bespoke solution not a pre fitted model
    all my best james

  5. Spectacle Productions says:

    Perhaps you would be interested in our recent and upcoming blog posts about the redevelopment plans for Peckham Rye Station and the Gateway Area.

    We are extremely concerned about Network Rail’s most recent design ideas and are hoping to investigate the issue further. Should any local residents or business owners wish to contact us to discuss their concerns or voice their opinions, please email [email protected].

  6. Chris says:

    I have to say – I agree with James. This isn’t about ‘regeneration’ – it’s about ditching the existing businesses entirely and swapping them for a bunch of corporate clones, costa and the like. I don’t want that on my street – I like Refreshment Rooms etc. Hell, I even like the garages, etc. These are good businesses that employ real people and bring people to the area. Long may that continue. I’m almost entirely against putting apartments into those buildings, especially at 7 stories, ugh.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Regeneration always means the wholesale destruction of often beautiful buildings and the sweeping away of useful businesses in exchange for high value/rent anonymous shiny boxes. The station building should be renovated and the lovely 1930’s block brought back to its former glory. Having said this, the once foetid Deptford station has been replaced by a gorgeous glass and steel building, but the ‘courtyard’ remains empty. No doubt Lewisham Council is hoping to attract high-end businesses. Good luck with getting them to come to tatty, old Deptford.

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