Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Walking New Cross (7): the Surrey Canal Wasteland
I think it was Jean Genet who said that the sewers of heaven still stink. Every area of human habitation needs a place where all the waste gets taken care of. For New Cross, and indeed the wider borough of Lewisham, that place is Surrey Canal Road.
As the name suggests, the road replaces the old Grand Surrey Canal; it still has a feel of a sunken canal with the road surface several feet below the level of the footpath (the former canal tow path). In fact there were two canals, the Croydon canal joining the Surrey canal where Mercury Way joins Surrey Canal Road. Nowadays it is dustcarts rather than canal boats that pass up and down.
Many of the names round here aspire heavenward, even if their business is very much earthbound. There is Juno Way, Mercury Way, the Orion Business Centre and the Gemini Project industrial estate. The nearest anything gets to the stars is the 100m chimney of the Landmann Way incinerator or, to give it its full title, South East London Combined Heat and Power Ltd. waste to energy plant, opened in 1994.
Rubbish gets burnt here in vast quantities to generate electricity. There have been protests by environmentalists about emissions from SELCHP, including a Greenpeace occupation which closed it for several days in February 2002. It would obviously be preferable if less rubbish was produced and more recycled, but given that the rubbish exists there is also an environmental argument that it is better to dispose of some of it this way than to drive it outside of London to dump in landfill sites. NHS studies of the health impact of SELCHP have not found any evidence of an increase in illness in the local area, but equally they acknowledge that if there was an impact it would be difficult to identify and not become apparent in the short term.
On the corner of the same road is the Lewisham dump or again to use official titles, Household Waste Reuse and Recycling Centre. Outside it is this tasteful colour coded assemblage of rubbish. There are other private sections of the rubbish industry. On Landmann Way there is also the Deptford Waste and Recycling Centre. On Mercury Way there is Wellings scrap metal, a car yard and Economic Skips, the latter a three sided warehouse into which skips are emptied into a huge pile.
Not everything round here is rubbish. On Juno Way there's the Elizabeth Industrial Estate, 'on the site of the Mazawattee Tea Company, which here produced chocolate and cocoa from 1901 to c.1955' (Darrell Spurgeon, Discover Deptford and Lewisham, 1997). No drinking chocolate today, but organic chocolate brownies are made here in the bakery of Flour Power City. The tower below is a leftover from the tea company.
North of Surrey Canal Road a track leads under rail bridges towards Surrey Quays station, passing the New Den, home of Millwal on one side and a bleak car pound on the other.
At the moment there are road closures in the area because of work on the East London Line. For at least 150 years this zone has been shaped by transport routes, by railways, canals, roads and the spaces they generate between and beside them.