It seems all is lost

Dear Friends,

Unfortunately, it seems we have come to the end of the road in our attempt to save the Swan tavern.

With heavy heart, I have to report that scaffolding has gone up around the pub, and this noble Victorian building is in the process of being demolished.

This final act has come about after a protracted campaign to find an alternative to demolition.  We explored a variety of options, with the most promising being the extension of the Ashburnham Conservation Area.  Unfortunately the Council deemed that this would not be enough to revoke existing permission for demolition – a technical matter which we dispute, but we simply do not have time to resolve.

This battle is lost, but the war rages.  Heritage buildings, and pubs in particular, are vulnerable to developers looking for a quick buck. We are not asking for a moratorium on construction, nor are we asking for streetscapes to be set in stone – we are merely seeking to preserve the nuggets of character that allow areas to remain vibrant and interesting.

We hope the fight to save the Swan has raised awareness of the issue, and we can assure you that there will be an extension to this campaign.

Southwark shows us the way

Courtesy of James Hughes at the noble Victorian Society, we can take a look an example of a conservation area being extended to protect an endangered building – and by Southwark Council too, just a short way up the river.

In this case, the building under threat was a glorious Edwardian bakery, from 1907.

It was saved by a local residents’ campaign which managed to persuade the Council to create a new Conservation area, thus preventing plans for its demolition.

Check out the full story here.

This is the kind of happy ending we want for our building!
Greenwich Council, why not take a leaf out of Southwark’s book?

Speaking to the Council

Over the past few days, our campaign has been speaking to Greenwich Council and working with them to explore the options for saving The Swan.

We thank Councillor Matthew Pennycook for taking the time to respond to our questions, and for being the most pro-active member for the West Ward.

Matters discussed were as follows:

1)  Refusing to grant permission for method of demolition (14/0919/SD)

The senior planners pointed out that “refusing to discharge conditions … without just cause, and indeed with an openly stated ulterior motive … would leave the Council open to legal challenge. [..] Moreover, our officers have advised us that the developer could easily file an application to renew the existing planning permission before the forthcoming expiry date... If the planning department refused to renew the existing permission [without just cause] it would again leave the Council open to legal challenge.”

We would argue that serious local opposition could be seen as ‘just cause’, but from a procedural standpoint we can see how this might be challenged.  At any rate, this decision has now been made, and so we need to find other alternatives.

2)  Extension of the Ashburnham Conservation Area

The Council advised that “The Ashburnham Triangle Conservation Area was extended as recently as December 2008 to include sites on the northern side of Greenwich High Road and Deptford Bridge. The Ashburnham Triangle Association (ATA), which represents residents in the area and which has a dedicated planning hub, was consulted at the time and did not recommend the Swan Tavern for incorporation (although there is a record that two individuals did ask for the building to be included). As a result, the Swan Tavern was not included in the extension for its protection.”

Firstly, it is good to know that Conservation Areas can be extended, and we call on the Council to do the same again.

Secondly, we take the point that The Swan – a once unloved derelict – was overlooked at the time, but we believe that this was a mistake which should now be rectified.  Clearly, the two individuals who asked for inclusion also thought so, and this sentiment has since strengthened.

The ATA has since changed its stance in light of developments on the High Road, and is now fully in favour of saving the Swan.  Just this morning, a spokesman from the ATA planning hub commented on their 2008 position as follows:

“[..] at that time there were still a number of other pre-1900 buildings on this road… As we both know, most of those other buildings have now been removed .. some in the face of stiff but ultimately ineffective opposition from the ATA. With their disappearance, the White Swan now stands as an almost unique example of pre-20th century architecture on this road, and its architectural merits shine out against its rather tawdry modern surroundings.”

3)  Options for conservation under the Localism Act 2011

We wanted to make sure the Council had explored every avenue, so we asked them to look at Eric Pickles’ flapship Localism Act.  Their response follows, and we are still awaiting a follow up:

“We are seeking further information about what action might reasonably be taken under the Localism Act 2011 and will provide you and others that have written to us with an update as soon as we receive a response.”

4)  Increased opposition since 2011

The Council gave the following rather cowardly summary of their position.

“We fully appreciate that new residents have moved in… since July 2011 and that following your campaign a greater number of residents are now unhappy about the demolition … but the appropriate moment for significant local concern to be expressed … was three years ago when over 300 residents were directly notified by letter … and we, as your local representatives, requested the decision be made at a public meeting..”

Well, speaking personally, I did not live here in 2011, and so if “the appropriate moment”  was three years ago then I shall continue to object in an wholly inappropriate capacity!

Even back in 2011, we know that the Greenwich Society and Greenwich Conservation Group did object at the meeting, but were overruled.

Furthermore, as the ATA have pointed out, the sands have shifted since 2011, largely due to the Council failing to protect other architectural gems.

The Council can try all they like to blame the situation on the mistakes of the past, but in the end, they are the only ones who have the power to rectify these mistakes today.

5)  Paradoxical Planning

The Councillor assured us that “the committee decided to give planning authorisation while seeking to retain the important historic elements of the building, including the white swan roundel, by mandating that they be incorporated in its replacement”

Whilst this was probably supposed to make us feel better, all it does is highlight that the original claim of ‘architectural insignificance’ was utterly disingenuous.

Rather than retaining just ‘important historic elements’, it would have been so easy to retain the full facade (as we commonly see elsewhere in the City and beyond).  We are certain the developers would still have found the project quite profitable.

6)  What next?

The Councillor says “We will continue to explore what last minute steps might be taken (I have scheduled a call with officers this afternoon) but we fear that the July 2011 planning authorisation leaves us with little room for manoeuvre.”

In the meantime, we will not give up – please write to all three of the West Ward Councillors, and the Mayor, following the steps given here.  Spread the word to your friends, family and neighbours.

We will bring you the latest when we hear more!

Last chance to see?

The photo below shows the state of demolition as of Friday evening.
I can confirm that, as of this morning, only the newsagents has been touched and no scaffolding has yet gone up on The Swan.

However, it is only a matter of time!


Act now!

Write to Councillors Matthew Pennycook, Maureen O’Mara, and Aidan Smith, and urge them to save this historic building for future generations.

Last we heard, Councillor Pennycook was discussing various options with his senior planners, but was not promising anything.  It is imperative that we keep telling them how much we want to see a satisfactory outcome to this situation – so write today!

Thank you!

Council grants permission despite public outcry

Over the past couple of days, we have been corresponding with Councillor Matthew Pennycook, in a bid to prevent the Council from signing off on the method of works for demolition (application 14/0919/SD).

This would have been the simplest way to get demolition delayed whilst we explored the alternatives for saving the Swan.  It may even have allowed us to delay until planning permission expired on July 11th, at which point we could have objected to a resubmission.

Unfortunately this morning we saw that this application has had its status changed to ‘Decided’, and a new ‘Decision Notice’ has been attached to the case.  You can read it here, but in effect it says “We approve your plans”.

This is an extremely disappointing result in the face of the sheer scale of public opposition which has come about as result of our campaign, and unfortunate evidence that the Council are not doing everything possible to help preserve Greenwich High Road’s streetscape.

Nonetheless, as of last night, the Swan still stands, defiant and undamaged – but for how much longer?

Cllr Pennycook still has options to save the Swan.  We have provided him with a list of creative ways to use his Local Authority powers, and we are urging him to do so.

If you have not yet written to the Councillor, we ask you to do so today (, imploring him to show the will and energy to get a better outcome for Greenwich.

 We have updated the what can I do? page to reflect the new status of the situation.


Campaign is 7 days old today

The Campaign to save the Swan has been operational for 1 week today….  I can tell you now that it feels a great deal longer!

We have accomplished so much in this time!

We have:

  • Leafleted & flyered the West Ward to raise awareness
  • Spread information online with the help of the the Ashburnham Triangle Association, the Greenwich Phantom, and Greenwich Forums
  • Found out a lot more about the pub’s history and musical connections
  • Found out in detail about the plans for demolition and the nature and history of the planning proposals
  • Made it onto the front-page of the Greenwich Town Mercury
  • Contacted a range of local & national organisations to gather advice and assistance
  • Launched this website

Most importantly, we’ve enabled dozens and dozens of local residents to have a say on the future of their area.  We have called into question the way the planning system works, and demanded greater protection for historic buildings across the Borough.

For that, we thank you all!

Swan in the news

Yesterday we found our campaign splashed across the front page of independent local newspaper, The Greenwich Town Mercury.  Go buy a copy today, and visit their parent website to give them some love here.

I am sure you will agree the pub looks splendid – there wasn’t much the poor photographer could do about my face!


Thanks to Mandy and Hannah for their excellent work.
(All image and text rights belong to the Mercury)



Swan website launched!

Thanks to everyone who has been supporting the campaign so far – it’s been moving to see the level of opposition to the demolition of this fine building.

It has started to become impossible to reply to every well wisher, so we have decided to put up this website where you can get updates on the campaign, and also see all the latest information in one place.

Thank you all!
Save the Swan