By Calum Fraser
Creative businesses and artists are being driven out of South London by developers converting offices into flats, according to entrepreneurs and residents in the area.
Small business owners and residents in Deptford are challenging developers who are trying to turn ground floor business units in the Childers street into eight flats.
Residents believe this scheme flies in the face of the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) status that the Mayor of London has earmarked for New Cross and Deptford.
The council have been given a £50,000 to come up with a bid for the £500,000 CEZ grant.
Trina Lynskey, DeptfordFolk’s chairwoman, said: “Its disappointing that the council seems to be undermining their own project.
“By allowing affordable business spaces to be squeezed out by yet more private homes, they’re sterilising the area.”
The Arches development on Childers street were built in 2008. It was a mix of flats and ground floor business units. But since then, none of the business units have been let.
The application, submitted by Evelyn Court LLP, seeks to change these six vacant Class B1a units into six two bedroom flats, one three bedroom and a one bedroom unit. None of them would be affordable.
Planning officers expect to get just over £4000 in Section 106 compensation money from this development.
Ms Lynskey, of Deptford, said: “It’s ridiculous. If they’re so desperate for four grand why don’t they just have a meat raffle down the pub.
“Think of what money these businesses could bring into the area.
“If they kept these units and let them out to provide affordable spaces for creative businesses then we could start making a dent in Evelyn ward’s horrific poverty levels as well.”
To qualify as a CEZ, boroughs must focus on securing permanent, affordable, creative workspaces at “well below market rents”, and ensure no net loss of affordable workspace through new developments in the area, according to a GLA statement.
Julian Marks co-owns a printwork and graphic design company, Concorde Graphics, that is in the process of moving to 73-79 Childers Street.
He said: “It’s such a shame. We do a lot of work with artists and they are being pushed further and further out.
“But we’re the kind of business that creates jobs in the area. Of the 11 staff we employ, at least five of them live within three miles and the rest are from South London.”
London is predicted to lose 30 per cent of affordable creative workspace by 2019, GLA figures show.
Martin Hoenle, 53, who runs the Festa sul Prato cafe in Deptford, said: “A lot of our customers are people who run small and privately owned businesses locally.
“They are the backbone of the local economy. Many of them are looking for space to expand or for new premises in the area.”
The developer applied to convert the units into substandard housing in 2017.
Permission was granted on February 22 this year based on the acceptance of a marketing report commissioned by the developer.
But residents objected to this and had the decision overturned as the marketing report had not been made public.
The application went back to planning on March 29.
More than 60 objections were submitted against it.
Due to the level of response, and in compliance with Lewisham Council’s constitution, a public meeting is now required.
The council have offered August 8 as a date for the public meeting.
But DeptfordFolk are lobbying the council to move it to September as they say it is too short notice and many people cannot attend because they are looking after their children during the holidays.
Joe Dromey, Lewisham council cabinet member for finance, skills and jobs, said: “We want to support small businesses to thrive, to grow and create good quality jobs in Lewisham. So while we need to build more social and affordable housing for our community, we also need to protect workspaces.
“There is huge demand for commercial space in Deptford. I’m hoping that we can see these units occupied as soon as possible.”
Mayor Khan said: “Artists and creative businesses around London breathe life into every corner of our city – but too often they find themselves unable to put down roots due to the spiralling cost of housing and workspace. This is a real problem that threatens to undermine London’s position as the world’s creative capital.”