Peckham town centre’s historical context

In order to explore the historical context of how Peckham CoDesign and proposals for Peckham Rye Station came about, we should focus on the role of the community in initiating ideas and promoting local discussions about the development of Peckham town centre. This is the commercial heart of Peckham, composed of three primary streets — Rye Lane, Peckham High Street and Peckham Hill Street — plus a few adjacent areas, which are lined with retail shops and a variety of businesses. Many people live in the town centre, above and among the commercial premises, integrated tightly with the residential area. It affects a wider geographical spread because of its physical, social and economic attributes.

For more information, please visit Peckham Vision:

Rye Lane Central

For a long time council policies assumed that the town centre could only be a long narrow linear shopping street, with relatively isolated opportunity/development sites. Peckham Vision promoted the idea of viewing it instead as an integrated matrix, with old and new buildings, interlinked with a network of open pedestrian spaces and pathways. The core of this is the area in the central part of Rye Lane between Elm Grove and Bournemouth Road, with Peckham Rye station and the emerging Copeland Cultural Quarter at its heart.


The Copeland Cultural Quarter

The Copeland Cultural Quarter is the area next to the railway line between Rye Lane, Bournemouth Road and Copeland Road. For several years it was blighted by TfL and the council, who planned to demolish it for a tram depot. Peckham Vision was born here, when the campaign to review this plan took shape in 2005-2006. Finally in October 2008, following the campaign, TfL’s own consultants reported that it was the wrong site for the tram depot and the threat was lifted. For years it has been evolving into a thriving mixed area of artists’ studios, art galleries, a variety of small businesses, retail and creative industry, housing and other community uses. The campaign named this area an emerging cultural quarter. This has been realised with the CLF Art Cafe now established in the Bussey building and several years of successful art galleries on site, with an increasing demand from creative and cultural enterprises. A major part of the land is owned and operated by Copeland Park, so the area and its immediate surrounds has become known as the Copeland Cultural Quarter (CCQ).


The CCQ is an active and interesting contributor
to the economic, social and cultural life of Peckham. This positive change has been occurring organically and naturally over the last decade, made possible because the site is characterised by a mixture of commercial and industrial buildings with scope for additional new developments. It is a natural place for Peckham to expand into and develop for mixed uses, building on the commercial and cultural presence of the site, with part of the strategic vision to open up the space in front of the magnificent station buildings and transform the central part of Rye Lane.

The draft masterplan drawn up by Peckham Vision illustrated the concept of a mixed organic development with the gradual rehabilitation of historic buildings integrated with new build, creating linked squares, courtyards and the Copeland Cultural Quarter, providing a comfortable transition between the town centre in the west and housing to the east.

This plan complemented a similar vision for Peckham Rye Station and its adjacent environments, both behind and in front.


Peckham Rye Station

Peckham Rye Station began operating in 1865. The building was Grade II listed in 2008 by English Heritage, after years of campaigning by the Peckham Society. The station was originally built with an open square in front. The building remains but the square became filled with commercial buildings in the 1930s. In 2008 the council agreed to the longer term policy to have the buildings in the square removed and reopened as a space in the central part of the town centre — part of the integrated plan produced by Peckham Vision for Rye Lane Central. In Jan 2012 £10m funding was agreed by the council and the London Mayor to implement this transformation. With the council’s support, Peckham Vision, the Rye Lane & Station Action Group and the Peckham Society also worked together to bring the large historic waiting room out of dereliction.


Town Centre Conservation Area

From 2004, the Peckham Society campaigned for a Central Peckham Conservation Area to recognize the historic interest and antiquity of Peckham town centre. In 2009, this was strongly supported by English Heritage’s Historic Area Assessment of Central Peckham. There are noteworthy buildings in the centre of Peckham that point to the neighbourhood’s distinctive history of over 300 years. The designation of a conservation area sets a high standard for new buildings and helps potential developers understand the historic context of their proposals. The designation status also brings government money to improve historic buildings and streetscape and help young or old people, Londoners and new immigrants see and understand their neighbourhood’s long and varied history. In October 2011 the council finally designated the whole of the town centre as the Rye Lane Conservation Area. Subsequently in May 2012 the Heritage Lottery Fund approved a first round proposal for a £1.7m Townscape Heritage Initiative grant.


Role of the community in the station project

The local community played a significant role in initiating and championing the proposal to open up the front of the station. The idea was first proposed by the Peckham Society in 1997, and taken up by Peckham Vision in 2006, as part of the local campaign for an integrated approach to Peckham town centre. Discussions with the council had included a proposal for a public competition for design of the square, to involve local public discussion of the scope and details. However, when the council and GLA brought the funding together (2011), the community was excluded from the discussion of the scope of the project — its purpose, scale and its role in the town centre economy. This was developed by the council, GLA and Network Rail together. In 2013, council documents in the public domain indicated a plan to clear the whole site at once. In response to two deputations to Cabinet and a Scrutiny examination, the council said that was definitely not the plan. In January 2014 the community inevitably rejected the proposals for major redevelopment of the whole site. The authorities then agreed to adopt a CoDesign process, proposed by the community, to enable the full local public discussion that had been missing the previous two years. This story has stimulated media commentaries on the role of communities in the future of their own neighbourhoods and in the nature of organic change, in an era of redevelopments based on major demolition and rebuilding.

by Eileen Conn (Peckham Vision coordinator)

For further information on central Rye Lane please visit:

Original text written for Peckham Vision website by Eileen Conn 2006 to 2014. 

Selected from the website links below, and reproduced for this compilation by Michelle Male Shaw.