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Murdoch making headlines over the news of the wharf

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is heading for a showdown with the London Borough of Lewisham over the redevelopment of Convoy Wharf, a government-protected Thameside area the size of the South Bank Centre.

Murdoch's newspaper operation, News International, owns the historic 10ha site in Deptford, south-east London, and has appointed Fitzroy Robinson to produce a major housing scheme and secure outline planning permission.

But Lewisham is afraid that Fitzroy's scheme will not do justice to the site, which accounts for half the borough's river frontage. Its council 'cabinet' last week welcomed alternative plans by experts from the London School of Economics' Cities Programme, including its leader and Urban Task Force member Ricky Burdett.Burdett said that his team proposed a mix of housing, commercial and cultural facilities.

'We want to do something more interesting than expensive housing which turns its back on the city, 'Burdett said.'News International will want to maximise the value of the site while giving something back to London.

I'm convinced you can do both.'

The council was 'very impressed'with the alternative plans, according to Lewisham head planner John Miller. It will present the design framework to News International next month and demand that it adopts its recommendation of a broader mix of uses, with 'open space and a cultural thrust'.Only a quarter of Lewisham's scheme will be housing.

'We are concerned that it could be a lost opportunity if we go with their proposals, 'Miller said. He added that if News International persists with its housing-dominated scheme, Lewisham 'may wish to combat it by continuing its own masterplan'.

The Convoy Wharf site was formerly the depot for News International's printing supplies, but is now disused.The wharf is home to a rich maritime heritage.This includes the remains of Henry VIII's shipyard and possibly, it is thought, the Golden Hind, the sixteenth-century ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe. Its protected status and the archaeology will complicate any attempt at development, Miller warned.

Convoy Wharf is the third London scheme which the LSE's Cities Programme has advised on following Canada Water and Park Royal. The development value is understood to be in excess of £100 million.A spokeswoman for English Heritage said that it is awaiting the results of archaeological surveys currently being carried out on the site.Much of the interesting material is entombed beneath a metre-thick concrete slab laid in the 1960s.

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