Some of my favourite places in London are leftover forgotten backwaters, under threat of disappearance but not yet vanished. Places like the Bow Back Rivers before the Olympic Stadium landed, or the summit of the disused ski-slope at Beckton Alp. And places like the exterior of the Millennium Dome, now all sponsored and flashy inside but still part-abandoned and overlooked outside. Alas, not for much longer.
Here's how walking round the Dome used to be (and still pretty much is), according to a Time Out article I wrote three years ago...
Soon, through the buddleia, comes a first glimpse inside the grounds of the old Dome proper. Here, across a forlorn fenced-off piazza, the Greenwich Meridian slices through the farthest edge of the Millennium site. The zero degree line was marked in 2000 by a red laser emerging beneath a giant mirror set in a green "Living Wall". But the red light has long been turned off, the mirror reflects little but grime and the dead wall is slowly becoming a weatherbeaten pile of concrete slabs. No longer can visitors stand beside "Kodak Photo Point 18" to take cherished souvenir snapshots (nor, I suspect, did they ever bother). Four metal meridian lines remain, for the time being at least, edged by inspirational international poems etched in granite. Had the government awarded its super-casino licence to the Dome's new owners, the whole of this derelict area would have been wiped away by an ugly multi-storey hotel complex. For now, however, this ground level millennial folly survives.
The O2's casino still may be dead in the water, but it seems this semi-derelict corner of the Greenwich Peninsula is about to be redeveloped. Planning documents have recently been submitted to Greenwich Council [spotted by Greenwich.co.uk], and the long-feared hotel is coming. It's due to be erected to the west of the Dome, on the Thames foreshore facing Canary Wharf, out in the badlands where hundreds of thousands of arena-worshippers never venture. That's precisely where my photo above was taken. The development will comprise "a 452-key Hotel in a building of varying heights" and include "a 3,000m2 ballroom and a 427m2 health spa", while immediately alongside there'll be "100 units of serviced residential apartments in a 24-storey tower". Somewhere expensive to stay overnight after a late Bon Jovi gig, or somewhere expensive to live with excellent views of the Thames and Docklands. It'll undoubtedly be a huge commercial success, but I don't think I'll be moving in.
There are a heck of a lot of planning documents, which only the most diligent citizen would have the patience to unravel and digest. I had a look at a few, including what appears to be the main environmental proposal (big pdf) the site history & masterplan and precise maps of the existingand future sites. It appears that the 'Living Wall' will have to be demolished, as will the Greenwich Pavilion that's been used for mothballed storage for the last nine years. They'll also be building on top of a "redundant" reed bed, installed with much fanfare to recycle the Dome's greywater back in 2000 (so much for sustainability). But I'm (greatly) relieved to see that the hotel complex won't be encroaching right up to the river, which means that the Greenwich Meridian line will remain clear of any buildings - within a proposed public space.
However, it's the visual impact of this major development which most concerns me. You may not be a great fan of the Dome, but you can't deny that its upturned bowl and spiky yellow crown have great presence. The view is currently unimpeded from across the river, including from the top of Canary Wharf's greatest skyscrapers, but all this will change if/when the hotel and residential tower go in. Here, for example, are a couple of the proposed skyscraper-filled views (big pdf). Underneath each I've added the official visual impact of construction, as outlined in the Environmental Plan. Don't laugh.
View 02B: View from the North at East India Dock Basin The proposed Hotel buildings to the right (west) would step up in height towards the O2 and would provide it with a formal counterpoint, their height and vertical punctuation acting as a point of conclusion at the tip of the Peninsula. The Hotel would articulate the skyline along the western shore of the Peninsula and would appear commensurate in scale with the consented development at Peninsula Quays further south. Significance of Potential Impact: Beneficial, having a moderate impact locally.
View 04A: View from Manchester Road Lift Bridge The proposed Hotel buildings would step up away from The O2 leaving its distinctive crown and distinctive curve mostly visible from here. The key components of the consented Peninsula Quays directly opposite, and the shoreline development adjacent would draw the eye southward from The O2. The height of the proposed Development would be appropriate to the width of the River and the expanse of water accentuated by the foreground inlet. The scale and articulation of the shoreline would add quality to the visual character of the Peninsula. Significance of Potential Impact: Beneficial, having a moderate impact locally.
Sorry, but there's no way that either of these are "beneficial" impacts on the view, not unless someone's been paid a backhander to write the assessment. There's additional drivel elsewhere, including "it would add visual interest to the new skyline and enhance its legibility" and the stupendous "the scale and massing of the overall composition and its impact on the skyline would be pleasing to the eye and appropriate to the scale of the Peninsula and River by day, and would contribute to the animation of the water reflections at dusk and night." Creative Writing graduates take heart - there is work out there in the shadowy world of commercial bureaucratic prostitution.
And yet, the planners have a point. The Dome's been pretty much alone on the Greenwich peninsula for most of the last ten years, and only recently have tall buildings started to encroach on its southern flank. That highrise forest is due to grow ever thicker over the next few years as most of the existing wasteland and car parking space is turned over to office and residential development. The view's already started to vanish, so this new hotel will only add to the skyline clutter (and heralds an ever greater eclipse to come). It's what happens when you build an underground station in the middle of a reclaimed gasworks - the new relentlessly edges out the old. Lovers of leftover forgotten backwaters should complain vigorously to Greenwich Council's planning department before the consultation deadline passes. Or (more sensibly) accept the inevitable and go take a walk around the back of the Dome while they still can, before all the millennial detritus is wiped clean away.