A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Kip Fenn
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24 - Tesco's takes over (to Streatham's relief); an empire is destroyed by a Doodlebug

All is not what it seems because the series of buildings along the west side of Streatham High Road, numbers 380 to 390 are, at the time of writing, all close to demolition. The bus garage, despite being only a little more than 20 years old, is destined to go, as is the United Reform Church Sunday School (but not the church itself), the ice rink, the swimming pool, the carpet warehouse, the car wash, sundry other buildings. In their stead, Tesco's will build a new leisure centre (with ice rink, swimming pool, sports hall and fitness centre), 250 residential units (40% so-called affordable housing), and, of course, a supermarket. (The United Reform Church will thus be hemmed in, no doubt proudly, on three sides by the grand project.)

Tesco's planning application or, as it is sometimes called the Streatham Hub Scheme, has caused lots of controversy since its inception in 2001. During the planning process, which in early 2004 was still not complete, Lambeth consulted and listened to a large number of organisations. These included Greater London Authority, Transport for London, English Heritage, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), London Boroughs of Wandsworth, Southwark, Merton, Bromley, Croydon, Environment Agency, Council for British Archaeology, English Nature, Countryside Commission, Fire Safety Branch, Ambulance Service, Railtrack, London Underground Limited, Sport England, SUSTRANS, Lambeth Public Transport Group, Streatham Ice Skating Action Group, Streatham Society and a number of resident associations.

The scheme fits well with Lambeth's wish to regenerate the Streatham High Road and Streatham Station area, but, from the outset, local activists sought to ensure they would not lose their ice rink and swimming pool facilities. The Streatham Ice Skating Action Group was set up, for example, with the following objectives: to preserve ice skating in Streatham, to campaign for a full-size (60m x 30m) ice surface, and continuity (i.e. that a replacement rink is built before the existing one is decommissioned). The plan was close to approval in 2003, but the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was concerned about the lack of continuity for the leisure facilities. However, given the nature of the construction project full continuity appears to be too difficult, and so Livingstone has called instead for sufficient legal and financial assurances, from the Council and Tesco Stores, that no demolition of any existing facilities will take place without the appropriate funding and contracts for the replacement facilities being in place. According to the Council paperwork, a thorny little problem has also continued to worry the authorities: the future availability of bus turning facilities.

North, beyond the condemned buildings, the glass-fronted entrance to Streatham station is crammed in between two parades of shops, and a Safeway. (Once Tesco's plan is implemented, there will be a Sainsbury's, a Tesco's and a Safeway's all on the same side of the Streatham High Road and within half a mile of each other!) Here, in the vicinity of the station, the Streatham High Road runs exactly north and on the 300 easting. On the east side, where there is now a post office, there once stood the Streatham Empire Picture Palace which could seat over a thousand people. It was built in 1910, but its fortunes floundered before the start of World War Two and was only being used as a warehouse. Indeed, when destroyed by a Doodlebug in June 1944, it was stacked high with food stuffs, some of which were thrown across the railway line, temporarily closing down the train service.

Near the junction with Mitcham Lane stands a tiny triangular green. Currently, it is closed off with fencing. A notice says: 'Improving your local park. We are working on a range of enhancements to improve the quality of your local park. Look out for improvements in this park over the next few weeks. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience these works cause. Lambeth Parks.' It is difficult not to be affected by the repeated use of the word 'park' as though somehow this epithet will help aggrandise what is little more than a patch of grass. Nevertheless, the green was once larger, and it does have some history. Children used to play cricket here, and a row of elms, which fronted the High Road, were cut down at the turn of the century and found to be 300 years old. An 1862 gothic-looking drinking fountain stands in the centre of the green (although I can't approach it because of the fencing). This was designed by William Dyce, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who painted The Baptism of Ethelbert in the House of Lords and designed the florin coin.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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