Rye Lane, London

Assessment Summary

This street engages all the senses with an eclectic mix of shops along the whole length. Behind the main shops there are great arts and workspace to discover. There is work to be done to improve connectivity, wayfinding and legibility to connect these two faces of the streets. But this is a great example of how a multi-cultural street can embrace arts, commence and lively public users.

Learning Moments

1. Leadership and Governance
Southwark Council appointed a Regeneration Director about ten years ago and this seems to have focused many ad hoc changes. The Peckham Society founded in the 1970’s is now supplemented by Peckham Vision and this has led to well-published campaigns to save the Bussey Buildings and the multi-storey car park from demolition. However, there is a disconnect between the community organisations and the Council initiatives.

2. Local Character
Rye Lane is a two-lane road extending south from Peckham Library and The Mountainview Academy of Theatre Arts lined with low- and mid-rise buildings that house many independent businesses. The existing buildings are being retained and refurbished rather than replaced. This supports a highly localised economy consisting of beauty salons, artist and maker spaces, affordable workspaces, grocers, butchers, community groups, cafes, and bars.

Rye Lane is a vibrant and bustling place and although the buildings are not yet restored and cleaned, the street’s character shines through. The building heights and street enclosure ratio are proportionate and reasonable for the area and there is an active ground level with several market stalls and no noticeable shopfront vacancies. It will be interesting to see how the ongoing regeneration schemes around Peckham Rye station will impact the character of the area in future.

3. Amenity
The amenity value of Rye Lane is diverse and attractive. The street was still busy on the rainy Tuesday morning of the assessment visit. The tour identified that Rye Lane is a regional attraction within South East London, trying to position itself as an easy-access alternative amenity to central London for shopping, work and leisure. This is pursued with a diversity of amenity from local shop uses such to more regional draws such as the Mountview drama school, Peckham Levels, the Peckham Plex Cinema, the Bussey Building and Copeland Gallery.

Amenity value is challenged by cleanliness across the street.This is not helped by crumbling street infrastructure. All local representatives that we met made comment about the general cleanliness and some also referred to problems of anti-social behaviour and crime. But Rye Lane’s amenity value seems strong enough to deal with these issues.

4. Commercial success and vitality
This street is full of busy and successful businesses and the rents are more affordable than many nearby locations. In recent years Southwark Council has become more proactive in shaping Rye Lane. They give grants to help diversity and ensure their local businesses are supported. The local initiatives have proven that there is a reservoir of commercial and creative talent in the area that can work in interesting and quirky spaces. Copeland Park and the Bussey Building combine Arts, Business and Community activities is an admirable way. Rents are discounted for start-ups and events in the spaces subsidise this.

Peckham Levels Workspace is housed in a car park owned by the Council. A vigorous local campaign stopped them from demolishing it and now a wide range of businesses operate from there. The 120sqft standard office space being based on a car parking space. Businesses here give access to the community and pottery kilns and screen-printing businesses encourage outside use. There are 100 entrepreneurial enterprises here creating 250 jobs.

5. Environmental sustainability
Mountview Performing Arts School sits at the end of Rye Lane behind the Library and creates the idea of an arts hub here. Southwark lent money to the school to help it develop this site. The building achieved a BREEAM very good rating and has an excellent central ‘street’ which drives an innovative natural ventilation strategy across the whole building. The rest of the Rye Lane has not yet embraced new thinking in sustainability. There are changes that could be made in terms of recycling, energy use and more locally sourced materials.

Peckham Levels leads the way in terms of materials re-use and there are innovate design practices who want to make a difference. Southwark Council will be key in assisting progress in sustainable terms.

6. Community, health and wellbeing
PEM People was established in 2010 as a non-profit enterprise to provide skills training and employment in hard to reach groups. Peckham Vision have always supported ‘an integrated town centre’ and their grassroots activism has been very influential over the years. The works to form a new square outside the Grade II listed station seem to be the right way to make a proper arrival space when arriving at Peckham via train. However, the council owns the land and an informal collection of hairdressers had been thriving there. Southwark have built a new building nearby with a café to rehouse these businesses with a better infrastructure and a full-time caretaker to assist with business planning. This is pro-active council planning at its best. There have been more than 90 people and organisations consultants so far for this proposal and Southwark have shown resolve in making the scheme happen.

7. Connectivity
A large number of buses run along Rye Lane. The northern end is one-way for buses with a cycle lane contraflow. Peckham Rye train station is well-used and connects to a number of key stations across London. It has become increasingly crowded, particularly due to the Overground (literally) putting Peckham ‘on the map’. Much-needed plans exist to improve and expand entranceways. Rye Lane benefits from restricting through traffic to bikes and buses only, which is mostly (although not entirely) complied with. It is mostly without segregated cycle infrastructure, though low traffic volumes and speeds partly mitigate this. The low traffic volume also gives the street informal pedestrian permeability, making both sides of the street feel close to each other and part of one coherent place. Some footways have been temporarily narrowed/removed due to ongoing construction work. Overall this is a well-connected street.

Lead assessor:
Alistair Barr AoU

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