Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflecting on 2008 and looking to 2009

Best wishes for 2009 to all readers of this blog. Nick over on Brockley Central has done an excellent recap on the main local events in 2008 (I'll turn a blind eye to his ongoing attempts to subsume Ladywell into Greater Brockley!!), but I wanted to write a few words from the point of view of a Green councillor on what the main challenges were in the last year and what we managed to achieve.

At the beginning of the year we spoke out against plans to expand Heathrow while the Mayor of Lewisham chose to remain silent. By the end of the year he had agreed to write to the Minister for Transport urging him not to grant permission for the expansion plans.

January saw the publication of Lewisham's Sustainable Development Committee's report on 'Alternatives to individual car use' (yes, that's right, people were queuing up to get their hands on a copy!) which advocated a 20mph zone across residential streets in the borough and greater resources for cycling training in schools, amongst other things. As chair of the committee I spoke in favour of the recommendations at Mayor & Cabinet and in February, the Mayor of Lewisham supported the call for a borough-wide 20mph zone, and the previous Mayor of London was also supportive, but that was all scuppered when (the outer ring of the doughnut that is) London (overwhelmingly) opted for Bojo in May.

January also saw the first informal meeting in Masons, which led to the launch of Ladywell Village Improvement group, and I organised the competition to design the 'Shop Local in Ladywell bags'. The bags proved popular and sold out, but more have been ordered and will be arriving in early 2009. Rivoli Ballroom was listed by English Heritage and I vowed that 2008 would be the year I would green up my home (ahem, more on this v soon in 2009, I promise, work is due to start on Jan 12th!).

The controversial 'A Picture of Health' consultation, with its proposals to cut services at Lewisham Hospital was launched, decent homes work started in Ladywell, and I enjoyed two minor successes locally with the removal of an illegal advertising hoarding and finally getting a street bench repaired.

In February, Green councillors highlighted the amount of money Lewisham Council was wasting on water coolers: as a result a plan is now being implemented to phase out most of the water coolers in Council buildings. We also highlighted Council leaseholders' concerns at having their original Victorian wooden sash windows replaced with UPVC windows.

In March we responded to a police consultation that included a proposal to close Brockley Police station and joined residents marching to oppose the proposed hospital cuts. We also, finally , got a bit more redundant street clutter removed.

In the annual budget negotiations, despite a tough financial settlement for the borough, the Green Group secured the following budget concessions:
- 'Smart meters' - devices proven to slash household CO2 emissions and fuel poverty - to be on loan through libraries and schools.
- -Cash for a bid to be the first London borough to run street-by-street energy reduction scheme.
- More sustainable transport officers to boost cycling and draw in more TfL funding.
- Full funding of the successful Real Nappies scheme piloted last year which has brought Lewisham to the top three of all participating boroughs.
- Reversal of cuts to sports programmes targeted at poor young people and obese people.
- Reversal of staff cuts in food and licensing enforcement.

April was full of election campaigning for London politicians, but locally also saw the results of the Ladywell Road survey and improvements for cyclists on St Margaret's Road.

In May, following a motion proposed by Greens, Lewisham Council committed to ensuring that all its employees and contractors earn at least the London Living Wage. Greens will be monitoring progress on this closely, particularly with regards to contracts with external providers.

Also in May, following our biggest election campaign ever in Lewisham, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones were re-elected to the London Assembly. Encouragingly, despite the tight squeeze London-wide our vote share went up in 14 out of 18 wards across Lewisham, most noticeably in our target constituency of Lewisham Deptford. In Ladywell the Green vote was up nearly 6%, the second highest increase for Greens in London.

Greens supported a long-running and vociferous local campaign against the opening of another betting shop on Brockley Road. In May, the betting shop won its appeal. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the campaign helped trigger a Local Government Association campaign calling for the laws to be changed.

The Mayor of Lewisham did a u-turn on affordable housing and agreed to Green demands for a 50% affordable housing quota in new developments.

In June, Ladywell Leisure Centre was closed for a few weeks due to an outbreak of Legionella, the first Ladywell ward assembly was held and Francis Drake Bowling Club got some lovely new gates.

Following a survey of Lewisham Council Pension Fund members, which I called for, a massive majority called for a more ethical investment policy. Not much has changed yet though, and in July our fund managers even opposed Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls motion to get TESCO to phase out battery-farmed chickens. Hmph, still working on that one.

Over the Summber, 3 Brockley primary schools got solar panels on their roofs thanks to funding agreed by Green councillors via the localities fund.

Meanwhile, Foxborough Gardens TRA held a successful Fun Day,

Lewisham Greens went to Climate Camp to protest against new coal-fire power stations, and on Ladywell Road, Oscars Cafe opened and Ladywell Tavern re-opened. There were some successes on environmental enforcement issues in the ward, particularly in Howson Road.

We continued to support tenants and leaseholders affected by the Brockley housing PFI. As well as supporting leaseholders unhappy with the lack of information about the scheduled works, we also highlighted discrepancies in insulation standards proposed between properties in the conservation areas and those outside it and pushed for living roofs to be installed when garages roofs are renovated. A number of Green Group initiatives were incorporated into the borough’s new climate change strategy.

In September, following a motion proposed by Green councillors, Lewisham Council agreed to opt in to the Sustainable Communities Act. Greens organised a public meeting to raise awareness of this new legislation and will be monitoring progress closely. September also saw a new national leader for the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MEP.

In October, we found ourselves again opposing proposals to cut social care to vulnerable Lewisham residents (elderly and disabled people), calling for a more ambitious PC shutdown system at the town hall, a year after we first proposed it, and welcoming the Mayor of Lewisham's recession plan as far as it went, but urging him to go much further and to create a 'Green New Deal' for Lewisham. Within Ladywell, we were highlighting missing street trees and the consultation on dog control orders, which will potentially impact on the cemeteries.

In November, we welcomed another victory against the ongoing PFI UPVC onslaught on local Victorian buildings, this time for Ladywell Lodge, but mourned the passing of the Pepys Community Forum Recycling Scheme.

In Ladywell, the year was rounded off with an excellent Ladywell Christmas Market organised by LVIG and a nice bit of graffiti admonishment to Nestle. We quietly launched our new local party website and gave this blog a slight facelift, although there is more to come.

My predictions for Lewisham for 2009? Well, there's little doubt that it'll be a tough year, with things likely to get worse before they get better, and little sign of the government addressing the root causes of the economic crisis rather than just propping up the status quo. So far, so obvious.

Nationally, we urgently need our government to invest in a nationwide free home insulation programme, which would create lots of jobs and dramatically reduce our carbon emissions and fuel poverty. We also need to look at our nation's food security in a time of great economic uncertainty. We are far too dependent on a centralised food distribution system and supermarkets, which looks increasingly unstable as energy sources start to dwindle.

However, I am encouraged by the way the community has worked together over the past few months, with a number of new groups formed, and think a strong community-based approach is key to getting through the crisis. I think that 2009 will be the year Transition Lewisham gets off the ground and starts to question how we are doing things, and whether we are ready for the economic, energy and environmental challenges that lie ahead. And on a personal level, 2009 will be the year when I finally get my insulation and new windows fitted!

If the government takes the decision to go ahead with expanding Heathrow Airport, we will see unprecedented levels of people involved in direct action to oppose this, including this and I suspect many other elected representatives in the capital.

Darren thinks there will be a general election in March, I'm less sure, but we're getting prepared just in case.

And I sincerely hope that Israel and Palestine call a ceasefire and go back to the negotiating table.

Anyway, it's high time I got off to Moonbow Jakes to see in the New Year, and sadly mark the end of this Brockley institution, as it ceases trading today. Best wishes for the New Year to everyone.

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