Saturday, November 04, 2006

Loampit Vale Consultation

I spent some time earlier this week putting together my response to the Loampit Vale development consultation. While the development is just outside the ward, it will have a significant impact on many residents, not least those living at that end of the ward eg in Algernon Road who are likely to be affected by construction traffic and an increase in traffic post-development, as well as all those whose children are at Lewisham Bridge Primary School and those who use the current Ladywell Leisure centre. Below are the comments I sent back, studiously ignoring the rather restrictive tick boxes and small space for comments on the consultation form.

1. In principle, do you agree that these sites should be developed for a high density, high quality mixed use scheme which includes new homes, new shops and community uses and a new leisure centre?
I don’t think a simple yes/no answer is appropriate here. Yes, in principle I agree with the above, but if Lewisham Bridge Primary School is chosen as the site for the new secondary school, then I think the first priority should be to make sure sufficient space is available, which may well mean including some of the adjacent land along Loampit Vale into the school site. We shouldn’t have a primary and secondary school squeezed into an unfeasibly small site, in order to build housing alongside.

2. Do you think a mixture of housing including one, two and three bedrooms and above should be provided on these sites?
Yes. While I recognise that there is a demand for more family houses in the borough, this site’s proximity to public transport and the town centre means that high density development is more appropriate.

3. Do you think the new pool should have six or eight lanes?
8X25m absolute minimum.

Ladywell Leisure Centre has a 33m pool with 6 lanes. A 6-lane 25m pool would be an unacceptable reduction in capacity. Given that there will be a increase in the area’s population with the new housing developments, plus the new pool will be more conveniently located for many more people near the transport hub, I would argue that the minimum we should be building is the equivalent size of the Ladywell pool, ie 8x25m. I understand this is also what the swimming club would like for galas. However, I have some doubts that this capacity will be sufficient, and would like to see further evidence to convince me that it is. Given that only 38% of Lewisham children reach the KS2 target for swimming, and just 11% in the north of the borough, we need to do everything we can to get more people taking their children swimming and increasing the use of borough swimming facilities.

I would also like to know if the council has looked into the funding possibilities for an Olympic sized swimming pool, given the lack of them in London and Lewisham’s proximity to the Olympic site?

4. Would you like to see conventional single sex or mixed 'village-style' changing facilities?
What a bizarre question to ask at such a preliminary stage in the consultation process! For the record, a mixture of both would be useful, to accommodate families and those who would prefer single sex facilities.

5. How do you think we could involve children and young people in the design of the new pool?
Talking to them and listening to them, having a consultation discussion with them before/after their swimming class, organising competitions for artwork to be displayed at the new centre, asking them to plan a ‘healthy menu’ of food that the café and vending machines should sell, looking at the renewable energy and energy efficiency features in a science class, getting them to design their dream leisure centre using a computer simulation programme, involving the swimming clubs, local Guides and Scouts etc.

6. Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Yes. Residents in my ward have expressed concerns to me on a number of points.
Firstly, they are keen to see all the facilities lost at Ladywell Leisure Centre replaced. This includes diving boards, the Turkish baths and sauna, a crèche, meeting rooms, and facilities for Lewisham Hospital to do hydro-therapy sessions. They are also worried that the swimming pool will be sited in a basement with no natural light. So please can we have natural light into the swimming pool, but with a degree of privacy from people looking in?

I would also like to see healthy fairtrade and organic food in any café and vending machines, not the junk food currently touted at Ladywell Leisure Centre. Also, easily accessible drinking water fountains and secure bicycle storage.

Residents are also worried that the leisure centre will not replace all the facilities that have been lost in the borough over the last few years. Specifically, residents have told me they are concerned that there are no ‘dry’ facilities planned eg squash and badminton courts and archery, which there were at Crofton Leisure Centre. However, I understand that Crofton Leisure Centre will be re-opening to the public in 2008, which alleviates some of my concerns, and if a secondary school is built on Elmira Street, there is also the potential for a sports hall there with facilities open to the public.

The development as a whole should incorporate the very highest possible standards of energy efficiency and produce a significant percentage of its energy needs on-site using renewable sources. Given the short time scale we have to reduce our carbon emissions by about 80% to avert global disaster, no development would be better than a development that failed to do this. It should also include brown or green roofs and grey water recycling. It should be a car-free development, given its proximity to public transport, with residents of the new homes understanding that they have no right to a residents’ parking permit. There should be a car club, for residents to use when public transport, walking or cycling are not possible. As for any retails units, I would like to see small local and independent retailers rather than the usual clone town Britain suspects.

In addition, while I accept that a significant percentage of the housing will be sold to pay for the social housing, I believe that we should be striving for as high a percentage of social housing as possible, which is where Lewisham’s greatest housing need lies.

I would also stress the need to consult fully and at an early stage with residents south-west of the proposed development re the impact that construction traffic, diverted traffic and any overall potential increase in traffic may have on their lives. Residents on Algernon Road in particular have expressed concern to me. I am also concerned that the existing poor air quality along Loampit Vale will deteriorate further.

Finally, while I appreciate that there were probably very specific reasons why the consultation document questions were worded as they were, many residents have felt that the questions were either unduly restrictive and either too vague or focussing on minor details rather than the bigger picture. Please can we have consultation documents that give residents sufficient space to say what they think, and a space for comments if they don’t want to just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I appreciate the need to analyse results in an efficient manner, but when questions are so narrow and restrictive, residents feel they are being tricked in some way.


Anonymous said...

I believe the main purpose of the Lomapit Vale consultation is to comply with any compulsory purchase orders that may be required. Hence the bizarre questions following the first one.

The head of law gave strongly worded advice on the matter earlier in the year (July?).

Anonymous said...

That was also what officers told me, but your average resident receiving the document wasn't to know that and must have been somewhat puzzled about the rather restrictive nature of the questions.

Max said...

I think that it's more a case of killing two pidgeons with one stone.

Since they had to do a consultation exercise to tick a box in the eventual compulsory purchase order procedure somebody must have thought that by including a couple of questions referring to the Leisure Centre they can from now on say that the public was consulted on it, whether this was the case of a genuine consultation or not.
I'm really curious to see the results of this consultation.

When last year the Council consulted on Forest Hill Pool they distributed 35,000 leaflets and held two widely publicized public meetings chaired by the Mayor. I asked the officers how many leaflets had been distributed this time and they told me that they were less than 3,000.

According to the Council's website this consultation started on 11th September yet on 20th September I received an answer to a question at Council stating that a consultation would have started shortly. In fact it had already started 9 days earlier.

I came to know of it on 6th October when I was told of the open day on 14th.
In all there were two weeks of public consultation in spite of the Council's website speaking of 7 weeks.
A link to the consultation page on the Council's website main page was only displayed in the last few days.