Monday, November 16, 2015

Whatever happened to Nunhead Reservoir? - public meeting

Nunhead Reservoir, on the other side of Brockley Footpath from the Cemetery, was one of the area's hidden gems. While nominally fenced off, it was easy enough to get into and dog walkers, lovers, runners and others would climb up its grassy banks and take in the great views of London. I should say for those who don't know it that the reservoir itself is underground and completely covered so there was no obvious risk to the water supply.

But early last year a massive new security fence was built, topped with barbed wire and not only preventing access but dominating the view from the surrounding area. I'm not sure what reasons have been given by Thames Water, the privatised utility company that runs the site, but there is a similar reservoir only a few hundred metres away that has a golf course on top of it (Beechcroft reservoir), so on the face of it there is nothing intrinsically unsafe about people moving around such sites.

Anyway there's a public meeting coming up to discuss this, next Sunday 22 November at the The Field, 385 Queens Road, SE14 5HD. The organisers say:

'If you didn't already know, Nunhead Reservoir is now surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire, patrolled by security guard and dogs.

Do you have a connection to Nunhead Reservoir?

Did you used to go there to hang out/ run around/ burn stuff/ do yoga/ walk dogs/ play rounders/ watch the sunset etc. before the new fence was put up?

Are you upset/angry/glad about the new fence?

Did you have your first date with your girlfriend/boyfriend there? Did the reservoir have any special significance to you?

Do you miss being able to go there? Did you dislike the noise and/or rubbish left by people spending time there?

Whatever your connection/memory/opinion, you are warmly invited to a public meeting with soup, bread and wine, hosted by the New Cross Commoners.

We will have an open discussion on Nunhead Reservoir – to share memories and think together about its past and future'

This meeting doesn't have a set agenda- the purpose is to get people who love the reservoir (or hate it!) together, and we will see what comes of this through that meeting. If you know people who have a connection please feel free to invite them'.

Starts at 7pm, there will be soup and wine too

See also article on this at New Cross Commoners for a bit more detail: 'Thames Water probably have valid reasons for doing this. But some locals are understandably upset that what by now is perceived as a common has been so suddenly taken away. There hasn’t, as far as I can tell, been any dialogue between Thames Water and Nunhead locals, so nobody is completely sure of the exact reasons for the new fence. The only new signs are to tell people that guard dogs patrol the area. There is no notice explaining why, even though Thames Water know that people regularly used to spend time there- that’s why they’ve built the new fence after all.

The reservoir is an example of a space which until its recent increased securitization has been paradoxically liminal in terms of its private/ public status.  It’s been used as if it were public, and yet its private status has allowed it to be outside of state control- free from the ‘city officials’ who might also try to control it. Wide open space in this way is always in demand, and yet it being above a reservoir it is at least protected from being bought and developed on as expensive flats. Because of these two powers- the state and the market (in the form of Thames Water) turning a blind eye, many different activities have been allowed to happen at the site'.

One of the things I wonder about places like this is that there's a kind of tacit understanding that people can be allowed to quietly break the rules as long as they don't broadcast the fact too loudly. The reservoir was in use as a semi-public space for years, but Thames Water seem to have acted once people started posting about online or even writing about in the Guardian (to be fair, the latter article didn't actually name the site).  

Chimpman also wondered on twitter whether Thames Water's action might have been prompted by an 'over-zealous' reading of the Government's Centre for Protection of the National Infrastructure's security guidelines.

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