The Greyhound on Fire

Latest: 01:15am Christmas Day

The fire is now out. Fire Investigative teams have moved in as the fire is officially regarded as “suspicious”. The main damage is to the floor which has gone through to the basement in places. The Borough Surveyor is checking it out but there does not appear to be major structural damage that could endanger the building. However there is smoke damage to the upper floors

The fire was reported at 21:47 Christmas Eve. Smoke was still belching from the Greyhound an hour later from the front ground floor windows nearest the roundabout (behind the right hand fire engine). Milford’s boarding appears to have impeded the fire crews access to the building. They had to smash their way through the boards just behind the central fire service vehicle.

The building had been empty since August. Arson had been long feared and predicted by local residents in our Forum. Appeals to the developers, Milford Group, to not make it a target and bring it back into use while planning applications were made have been ignored.

The building is in a conservation area and it is locally listed. Milford Group has a duty of care for this building. We would imagine many concerned local people will be asking how well that was honoured.

On fire December 24th … and forced entry

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Shuttered in September

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Last July …

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Development MADness

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was a successful cold war strategy whereby both sides interests were best served by not using their weapons of mass destruction. The heated controversy over the threatened demolition of The Greyhound is hardly nuclear war – but the misjudgements in this issue has badly damaged the interests of both sides. How do we stop this MADness?

First a little history on the affair. The current “swiss cottage” building continues a tradition of serving ales for over 300 years on this site. It occupies, with the adjoining buildings and layout, an iconic position in Sydenham. It is regarded by some as the most sensitive building in Sydenham.

It was a popular pub with an impressive interor – some of which remains though hidden. It played an important part in the community and was the natural gateway to Sydenham itself. But it fell on hard times. It got appallingly themed – the Greyhounds that guarded the door disappeared along with its amazing bar. Its original trade disappeared too. The new trade would often attract the attentions of the constabulary and the opprobrium of its neighbours. It became unloved.

Its potential to return to be Sydenham’s premier pub was undiminished. The success of the Dolphin showed what could be done. However, the landlords appeared to be resistant to offers to return the Greyhound to glory – and more profit! It was generally understood that the large car park adjoing the station was a too good a development opportunity to be compromised by a successful pub.

The developers, Milford Group Ltd, talked to both Lewisham Council and the Sydenham Society about using the site for residential development. The site’s proximity to the station and Lewisham’s need to meet its targets for home creation in the borough should have meant there would be much common cause. The main issue of difference was the retention of the most important element of the Greyhound itself – indeed improved by the removal and redevelopment of some of the less attractive ‘add-ons’.

Milford Group in a meeting flatly refused to deny they would demolish The Greyhound. The managers of the pub were given just a few weeks notice to clear the pub and get out. Then the Greyhound was boarded up. Not sensitively to protect against vandalism but with awful grey boarding that creates a blot on Sydenham itself.

Remember – Milford Group have not even yet applied for building permission. So why did Milford forgo the income from the pub in the meantime?

Lee Barker of Milford in a posting in the Forum «here» put the company’s position but did not cover this point.

The immediate reaction of the Sydenham Society, Sydenham Traders and many others was this may be leading to demolition. The mess it makes of the centre of Sydenham means any development may be seen as better than nothing. Not to put too fine a point on it – some saw it as blackmail.

There was little indeed to stop Milford demolishing the pub if they wished. The closure of many other pubs in the area fuelled speculation and fear. Was demolition only 45 minutes away? Serious threats get serious reponses. This issue brought into focus the importance of The Greyhound and Cobbs Corner buildings to Sydenham. Hence on Wednesday 5th September 2007 the Mayor and cabinet declared a Conservation Area and added the pub to the local historic buildings list.

Ratified on Friday – The Greyhound is now legally protected from demolition.

A victory? Hardly. For Milford Group they now have a non-earning liability. They have future redevelopment constrained and complicated by rules they would not have wanted. For the community we have no pub and a horrible blot on the landscape for the forseeable future.

Both sides have fired. Do we have a stalemate? Are we going into a period of recrimination and blame?

One beacon of hope is the company’s slogan “The Milford Group has one of the best reputations in the Southern Counties”. At the moment it looks badly tarnished. This is an opportunity for Milford to re-instate that claim. Please remove those horrible boards. Make the site useful again while seeking development permission. Most people are in favour of “something being done”. A good many will recognise that Milford should expect to profit well from the exercise and will support a sensitive plan from a sensitive company. You are not pushing at a closed door.

What happens next will be recorded here. Will it reflect well on Milford? – or will it serve as a warning to others who have Milford managed land in their communities?

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