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Bulletin No. 13

Canada Water Landscape Architect writes...

The Draft Development Framework treated Canada Water like a remnant of a transitional period, always intended to be replaced by "Phase II". It’s sometimes difficult to remember that before July 2000, most of us believed it to be a special creation, permanent and planned to enhance the area. It is reassuring to know that we were right. We recently received a copy of this letter to Simon Hughes MP from Fraser Borwick, landscape architect and Project Leader for London Docklands on the Canada Water restoration scheme:

Dear Mr Hughes,

I understand that Southwark Council is planning to fill in Canada Water and build a shopping centre on top of it. I find this absolutely astonishing.

Canada Water is unique in Docklands; it is a fresh water dock.

After a long internal discussion within London Docklands Surrey Quays Office in the 1980’s, the design and development team there decided to rehabilitate the water ecology of the Dock which had been damaged during the construction of the infrastructure road system. Ecological Consultants Cremer and Warner regularly sampled the water, recommended remedial treatment, and it was finally restored to health by 1985.

In 1986, a scheme was prepared to create a waterfowl sanctuary in the heart of the Inner City to help compensate for the large areas lost to development. Millions of pounds were spent on restoring the dock walls and edges, creating an island and establishing it with native species. Gibberd Landscape Design implemented the scheme prepared by Jenny Coe and myself; RPS Clouston carried out magnificent hard landscaping around the dock and soon herons, kingfishers, coots, moorhens and others returned to the dock. Swans returned to nest and reared five cygnets, an event which made television news.

The dock was losing water due to the damage to the lining during the infrastructure works. A pipeline was built from Surrey Quays station to the dock to pipe water, but was stopped by London Underground because of (ungrounded) fears of Weill’s disease. The option of taking water from the mains was considered but Thames Water could not supply the quantity. The river was considered, but the water coming down contained too many nitrates, and that coming up contained too much salt. Historical research prompted by the local community revealed that substantial amounts of fresh water existed in the chalk stratum underground and had been extracted last century for industrial use. London’s water table is currently rising at an alarming rate; bore holes sunk for the construction of the Jubilee Line in the 1980’s revealed that sure enough, vast amounts of fresh water were freely available between 60 and 80 metres down.

I conceived of a windmill scheme to bring water into the dock, via the four specially constructed granite gargoyles. The system cost around 110,000 then, and was a success.

The project won several awards, including a tourism award, and was opened by naturalist and broadcaster Mr Packham. The scheme produced a unique resource in the Inner City, and the final touch of Interpretation panels enabled local people to identify the various creatures and plants in the dock. With low car ownership in the area, some of the children had never seen such things.

The sculptor, Philip Bews, produced the marvellous sculpture reflecting the men who used to carry the timbers from the ships to the docks. It received universal acclaim when it was installed. The Governor of Florida came to visit the scheme, and in particular, the windmill. The Jubilee Line station footprint was oriented specifically to enjoy the views of the dock as one emerges from the underground. I still have the drawings that were prepared to achieve this.

Sadly, the Council has not followed the maintenance and management plans prepared for the scheme; the water no longer flows from the gargoyles, the vegetation on the islands intended to be a nesting area for birds has become over grown and some of the trees are now too large and should be coppiced. Rather than accepting the challenge of restoring the dock to its former glory, the Council plan to fill it in!!

The problem with the shops in Surrey Quays is not that there are not enough of them, but that they don’t sell things that people want at sensible prices. More will not be better; it will be worse. Shopping Centres are out; High Streets are in. outhwark Council is sadly behind the times. The loss of Canada Water would be a tragedy.

Please use your influence with the Council to make them rethink. If they have money to spend, they should spend it on Burgess Park, or some of their other open spaces which are sadly in need of investment.

Yours faithfully,
Fraser Borwick, B.Sc,. B.Phil, MLI
Landscape Architect and Project Leader for London Docklands on the Canada Water restoration scheme.

There were Steering Committee meetings on 8 January, 30 January and 15 February 2001.

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