Friday, March 07, 2008

Questions to Mayor & Cabinet: March

Please see below, for information, the questions I asked to Mayor & Cabinet this month and the responses. As the budget discussions were rather lengthy, there wasn't an opportunity to ask supplementary questions, which I had wanted to do on the first question, which was in relation to a particular derelict shop premises on Ladywell Road.

Question by Cllr Luxton of the Deputy Mayor
The Council has had several notable successes in recent months in using EDMOs (empty dwelling management orders) to bring empty homes back into use. On how many occasions in the past year has the Council used section 215 or other planning enforcement powers to try and bring derelict and run-down commercial properties back into use? How does this compare with the neighbouring boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Southwark and Greenwich? From April owners of empty commercial properties will no longer be exempt from business rates. What plans are there to support, encourage and where necessary prod property owners to bring their properties back into use?


During the current financial year two Section 215 Notices were issued relating to derelict properties and their physical appearance. The vacant properties, previously in commercial use – nos. 159 and 161 New Cross Road – are adjoining and the Notices required that the external appearance of both be improved. The aim, of course, is to encourage the owner, through carrying out the necessary repairs, to bring the derelict properties back into use, but it is beyond the scope of the S215 Notice to require for beneficial re-use, being limited only to ensuring that they are better maintained.

The above properties fall within the boundary of the New Cross Gate New Deal for Communities Area boundary. Run as a central part of the Government strategy for regeneration in deprived areas the programme includes such initiatives as “Restoration Retail” which uses grant aid to effect repairs and restoration on derelict properties. In this particular instance a twin-tracked approach is being taken between the Council and the NDC body to ensure that the necessary works are undertaken. In the event that the owners fail to co-operate a charge can be placed on the land for future recovery of costs incurred.

As regards the use of S215 powers by other neighbouring authorities no figures are yet available but the Council is intending to carry out a benchmarking exercise in this connection.

In Town Centre areas the Council’s Economic Development Team, through the Town Centre Managers, will encourage the owners of un-let properties to bring these into use for occupation by new businesses that will enhance the Centre, particulary now that there will no longer be any business rate exemption.

With regard to Empty Dwelling Management Orders, this initiative was introduced through the Housing Act 2004; the intention being to bridge the gap between voluntary measures and existing compulsory purchase powers. Such an Order enables the local housing authority to take responsibility of managing a property and for ensuring it is occupied. It is however, only used as a last resort where it is clear that an owner has no intention to bring the property back into occupation.

The decision whether to pursue an EDMO – the property needs to have been empty for at least 6 months – is not a Planning issue, instead, being entirely at the discretion of the Local Housing Association (LHA). It is thought that the threat of issuing such an Order may be sufficient to put pressure on the owner to enter into constructive dialogue with the authority to agree the best course of action to secure re-occupation.

Question by Cllr Luxton of the Deputy Mayor

The recent public campaign to protect the Rivoli Ballroom, which resulted in the building being granted grade 2 listed status by English Heritage, was a great example of local residents acting swiftly to protect a local building. Does the Council Planning Department proactively apply for listed status for any buildings in the borough which it feels merit such status, or does it rely solely on amenities societies and local residents to do this? Please provide examples of where buildings have been listed as a result of the Council applying for them to be listed. Has the Council carried out any consultation with residents and amenities societies about local buildings that they feel should be protected/listed?

The great majority of the listed buildings in the borough were listed following a comprehensive survey in the 1970’s by English Heritage’s predecessor organisation. Since then other buildings have been added as listing criteria evolve or as buildings missed by the original survey are identified. They are usually put forward by either the Council, individuals and amenity societies, or English Heritage.

Examples of buildings put forward for listing by the Council Planning Service include the ex London County Council (LCC) fire station at 340 Lewisham High Street, 227 Deptford High Street, 329-331, 369 New Cross Road and the White Hart Pub in New Cross.

The Planning Service is usually aware of the aspirations of local people and amenity societies to achieve listed status for particular buildings and, where appropriate, will provide advice and support, for example the Rivoli Ballroom. The council wrote to English Heritage in support of listing the Rivoli in December 2007.

In the case of Council owned buildings the Planning Service always maintains a neutral position.

English Heritage periodically carry out thematic building reviews. For example a national review of post war public housing lead to the Passfields Estate, Bromley Road and Lammas Green, Sydenham Hill being listed recently, and a review of London cemeteries lead to parts of Brockley/Ladywell cemeteries being listed.

In terms of consultation exercises, the regular review of conservation areas (for example St Mary’s in 2006/7) involves consultation exercises which may identify buildings suitable to put forward for listing. There is also an on-going programme to update the list of locally listed buildings (buildings of local as opposed to national special architectural of historic interest), in conjunction with local amenity societies. This process could also identify buildings worthy of national listing.

Question by Cllr Luxton of the Mayor

Following the recent visit of Fouad Hanini from Beit Fourik on the West Bank in Palestine, has the Mayor taken any steps to establish closer links between the people of Beit Fourik and Lewisham?

It was a pleasure to welcome to Lewisham Fouad Hanani during his visit to the UK in November and I was pleased that his attendance at our full Council meeting was so well received.

Lewisham has been very active over many years in developing partnerships with local communities overseas. Unfortunately, we work with very limited resources and we are not in a position to enter into new civic partnerships at this time. But I welcome contact with overseas visitors and the support the Council provides to such exchanges of information and experience. I am always pleased to hear about the efforts that local communities around the world are making in tackling the political, economic and social challenges of our time. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members in wishing Fouad and his colleagues well in serving the people of Beit Fourik.

Question by Cllr Luxton of the Cabinet Member for Customer Services
Does the Council have a comprehensive, up-to-date database of residents associations within the borough, both those for council tenants and in private housing areas. If so, how do new residents associations get added to the list and if not, would you agree that it would be useful to establish one?

The Council does not have a comprehensive database of residents associations within the borough.

We do however have records of Residents Associations within the Council’s housing stock. The Council’s principal housing management agents; Lewisham Homes, Dunlop Hayward and Regenter B3 all maintain up to date records of the residents associations that they regularly engage within their individual areas. Lewisham Tenants contribute as part of their rent to the Lewisham Tenants Fund (LTF) an independent organisation which supports local resident associations through funding and advice. Any new TRAs would be added to the housing management agents records and then passed onto the Council.

Similarly Registered Social Landlords (RSL) partners maintain records of residents associations within their own stock as required by Housing Corporation regulations.

The Local Assemblies Programme will be building up a comprehensive list of community organisations, including resident associations in each ward, over the next 6-12 months.

Question by Cllr Luxton of the Cabinet Member for Customer Services

With the welcome expansion of recycling facilities in the borough, there have been a proliferation in the number of wheelie bins on pavements, sometimes causing problems on narrow streets and adding to existing street clutter. In some areas black bins have been replaced with smaller bins, which is welcome, but with the potential rolling out of a third bin in the future for kitchen and garden waste, street clutter and obstructions of pavements by wheelie bins are likely to be exacerbated. What steps is the Council considering to deal with this problem?

At the present time residents can request to have a green wheelie bin for their recycling. This tends to be in areas where households can accommodate two bins.

Current services have been trialled in areas that can accommodate a number of bins within the boundaries of the property. Future service planning will take into account the issue of how many bins street properties can accommodate, which may mean offering residents a number of possible solutions.

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