Wednesday, November 29, 2006

£10,000 for Ladywell - how should we spend it?

Each ward in Lewisham has been given a £10,000 fund to be spent on community initiatives. Last year there was a pilot scheme with a grant of £5,000 per ward. In Ladywell this was spent on the hanging baskets that were along Ladywell Road over the summer, and the Christmas Tree that has just gone up outside the baker's on Algernon Road.

The question is - what would you like the money to be spent on this year?

We have a few ideas, the local police team have suggested a few ideas for funding youth projects, Gordonbrock School could happily spend the money several times over, we haven't yet approached other local groups such as Hilly Fields Users Group, Ladywell Society, Ladywell Day Centre etc for suggestions, but will be doing so shortly and trying to consult as widely as possible in the time available. (The details of the fund were only confirmed to councillors a couple of weeks ago, and we need to submit our proposals by 15th January and the money needs to be spent by the end of March 2007. )

We could go for one project that takes up the entire £10,000 (more if match-funding is available) or a number of smaller projects. It could be a football tournament, a solar panel on a community building, an outing for young people or elderly residents, equipment for a school or club, improvements to a park, more planters or hanging baskets, a community art project, a wildlife garden, benches . . . .

So, please tell us how you think the money should be spent! (Suggestions only for projects within Ladywell ward please!)


Hello to Dean , Green councillor in neighbouring Brockley ward who has just started blogging. I certainly share some of his frustrations over housing in Lewisham - not only the shortage of social housing, but the fact that a significant chunk of my casework in my (limited) experience so far has been chasing up seemingly simple repairs like broken glass panes which should have been done within days, but have taken months to get fixed, or jobs that end up being much bigger and more expensive because they are left until they are urgent, even one case of a leaseholder who had been asking the council for over a year to invoice her for work they had carried out on her property! Yes, that's right - it took a year of this resident saying 'I want to give you money' before the council would send her a bill. Have to hope that for every case we get that needs following up, hundreds of repairs have been done within a reasonable time frame, but suspect that there are also hundreds of cases of residents who just give up after ringing the council a few times and nothing happening.

There still seems to be some confusion amongst council officers about who is responsible for what since the reorganisation of housing/regeneration earlier in the year, and the extensive use of contractors for repair work seems to lead to greater comunication problems than when council employees do carry out the work. On a positive note, I've now found a housing officer who seems to get things done, so I'll be hassling him regularly from now on!

We have an Overview and Scrutiny committee tomorrow which is going to set up a sub-committee to look at housing issues, including ALMOs and the implementation of PFI schemes. The Brockley PFI contract (which covers Ladywell) is due to be signed early in the new year - the improvements to the housing stock are welcome and long overdue, but PFI (putting it all on tick) is a very expensive way of doing things.

Lewisham Gateway

As we've had a number of enquiries from residents about the town centre development, I thought it might be useful to post a more detailed statement agreed by the Green group (minus Dean who is on strategic planning committee so didn't take part in the discussions) on the Lewisham Gateway application:

The Green Group supports in principle the regeneration of Lewisham TownCentre to improve the pedestrian links from the rail station to the town centre; to make the river more accessible and a key feature in the towncentre; and to provide high-density housing given that good public transport links make this a suitable site for accommodating Lewisham's growing population. We believe that making Lewisham a more attractive shopping venue will help encourage more people to shop locally and reduce the number of journeys to other town centres and out of town shopping centres. We also welcome plans to improve bus facilities to help accommodate the expected increase in bus usage. However, we have a number of serious concerns about the current proposals that need to be addressed: -
  • We support the Mayor of London's demand that detailed traffic modelling is required to determine whether the "low H" shape road layout is appropriate.

  • We support Lewisham Cyclists in demanding a number of specific measures to meet the needs of cyclists, including road safety improvements, improved cycle routes through and around the Gateway, crossing provision for cyclists, and increased secure cycle parking for residents.

  • We call for a significant reduction in the overall number of car parking spaces, given the location next to Lewisham's main public transport interchange. We would welcome a car-free development, with no automatic right to a residents' parking space, but the provision of a car club for residents. We have serious concerns that a development with extensive car parking provision will merely add to traffic problems, and exacerbate the already poor air quality in the area.

  • We call for exemplary standards in sustainable design and construction, and are extremely concerned about the lack of ambition and lack of detailed information in the current plans regarding renewable energy. Ideally, we wish to see such a landmark development be a carbon neutral development, but at the very least, we expect to see the renewable energy targets in the Mayor's London Plan strictly adhered to.

  • We are concerned that currently only 20% of housing is proposed to be affordable, way below the Mayor of London's overall target of 50%and Lewisham's target of 35%. We call for the level of affordable housing to be significantly increased, and with an appropriate mix ofsocial housing and intermediate housing, in line with the policies on affordable housing within the London Plan.

  • We support high density housing on this site in principle, but this is subject to being convinced by full daylight, shadowing and wind reports and the buildings being of high quality and sustainable design. We also require further clarification about whether the proposed level of housing density can all be accommodated, given the range of different facilities planned for this site.

  • We support proposals to remove parts of the rivers from concrete channels and place them in a natural setting, but we share the concerns of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group, that the opportunities for improving riverside access have not been maximised, and the plans need to be modified to improve upon this. It is important that there is no overall loss of public open space, and specifically that levels of accessible green space should at least be comparable to existing levels.

  • We support improved shopping facilities, but do not wish to see Lewisham just becoming more of a "clone town", and therefore wish to see start-up premises for small businesses included in the overall plans. We want to see planning conditions used to ensure a diversity of retailoutlets.

  • We are very concerned by the loss of the children's play area in the Shopping Centre. We support the Mayor of London's demand that provision needs to be made for children's play space, but believe indoor as well as outdoor play facilities are required.

For more info also see the official Lewisham Gateway site and a site set up by opponents to the scheme.

53rd best Green Blogger

Lots of mtgs and casework lately, plus relatives visiting and ward newsletter to deliver, so not so many posts in past couple of weeks. Only 2 meetings this week though, so hopefully I will be able to catch up on backlog of things to post here. Thanks to everyone who helped with delivering newsletters - the ward has been pretty much covered now, with one or two bits left.

Recent(ish) news from blogosphere - attended a Lewisham bloggers meet-up at the Jolly Farmers, organised by Andrew Brown. 9 bloggers turned up, some politicos, some not. Others have long since already blogged about it, so I won't bother repeating it, just read here, here or here. V interesting - thanks to Andrew for organising it.

Jim has published his long-awaited list of 100 Best Green bloggers - and I'm a disappointing 53rd! I guess my blog is a bit parochial compared to George Monbiot's, Caroline Lucas's et al, but I am hoping to make it into the dizzy heights of the top 50 next time round!

Green Party News - belated congratulations to Derek Wall who has been selected as our new male principal speaker, to work alongside Sian Berry, our female principal speaker. I'm sure he'll do a good job.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Help needed delivering Green News

Our next edition of Green News will be back from the printers on Friday, and any help delivering them around Ladywell would be very much appreciated. We are having a group leafletting session on Sunday 2-4pm followed by drinks at Life Cafe. Contact me for details.

Beckenham Place Park, Green Chain Walk and dinosaurs

Took the train to Beckenham Hill on Sunday, explored a bit of Beckenham Place Park then went along the Green Chain Walk to Crystal Palace Park to see the dinosaurs and finished up in the White Hart pub. Very enjoyable day out. Have to confess I had never been to Beckenham Place Park before and it came up as an item in the Sustainable Development committee meeting and I thought I should go and take a look. Next stop on my tour of parks I've never been to in Lewisham will be Chinbrook Meadows.

Monday, November 13, 2006

What should Ladywell Playtower be used for?

One of the questions in the questionnaire about the proposals to extend the St Mary's conservation area (mentioned in 24th October entry), asked what the Ladywell Playtower and Coroner's Court buildings should be used for. I suggested that it would be good if some of the site could be used to house a local history museum. Lewisham does not have a local history museum and local archives are apparently stored in a basement in New Cross (possibly the Art House, but don't quote me on that) which has occasionally been flooded. A couple of years ago, Citibank offered the use of the old watermill building to house a museum, but nothing came of this.

I know the local history society are keen to see some kind of museum set up and one of their members suggested that the inside of the Coroner's Court (which is a grade 2 listed building) is unique and would make a good museum. I think everyone would like to see as much of the Playtower as possible restored, as together with the Coroner’s Court it is an important local building that makes a positive contribution to the character of the area. That said, I would not object to some housing being built at the back of the Playtower, to help fund the restoration of the rest of the building for community use, but the front and as much of the building as possible should be preserved.

Anyway, I got some feedback from the conservation officer today, saying that other people had suggested turning part of the site into a musuem. As of Friday, the Playtower is a grade 2 listed building, which will give it added protection. Following feedback from people who thought other streets in Ladywell should be included in the conservation area, such as Embleton Road and Vicar's Hill, the conservation officers are now looking at proposing a separate Ladywell Conservation Area, rather than extending St Mary's further west than the bridge.

Incidentally, while looking for a good picture of the Playtower, I found a rather good website called Derelict London - worth a look.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pretty fair article about the Green Party in yesterday's FT, give or take the odd reference to beards. (Thanks to Natalie for forwarding this link.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Reminder: Ladywell Forum this Thursday (tomorrow)

Just a reminder that tomorrow is our first Ladywell Ward Forum. Focus is on youth provision and we hope this will be a chance for local people, youth services, the Safer Neighbourhood Police team, housing associations and us to share ideas about what youth provision is needed in the area.

Ladywell Ward Forum
Thursday 9th November
Crofton Park Baptist Church
Brockley Grove
7.00pm - 9.00pm

Hope to see you there!

New School: Mayor does welcome U-turn

I've just got back from tonight's Mayor and Cabinet meeting where the Mayor took the decision to back down from building a new secondary school on the site of Ladywell Leisure Centre and opted instead for Lewisham Bridge Primary School as the new preferred site. This was following the motion proposed by Greens in July and supported by full council, which asked the Mayor to look again at alternative sites. It was a brave decision for the Mayor to make, and I welcome the fact that he has at last listened to the views of local people and the majority of the council. This means that there will not now be a 3 or more year gap in swimming provision in the borough and that Ladywell Leisure centre can stay open until new facilities are built.

The decision is dependent on a number of hurdles being cleared, including the revocation of the approval given by the Schools Organisation Committee to build a new school on the Ladywell Leisure Centre site. There will also now be a full consultation on the closure of Lewisham Bridge Primary school and the opening of a new school on that site. The council will also ask the Secretary of State to waive the competition requirements in order to help them meet the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) timetable. (Normally, when a school is built, there has to be a 4-month period during which interesed parties can bid to run the school. If this is waived, then we can opt straight for a community school, rather than having to open up the process to allow people bid to run it as an academy. My preference is certainly for a community school, not an academy.)

The option being suggested at the moment is a single 3-16 through school, with the primary school being reduced to one form entry rather than 2 form, and the secondary school being 4 form entry. Lewisham Bridge is officially a 2 form entry school at the moment, although it has on average 20 spare places per year, which means either very large classes, or small but expensive class sizes. With a through school, parents would have the choice of their children staying on at the school at 11, or applying to other secondary schools. A 3-16 school is fairly unusual in the state sector, but common and successful in the independent sector. I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to find out more about the pros and cons of through schools versus separate primary and secondary schools, although Frankie Sulke, the director of the Children and Young People's Directorate, made a fairly strong educational case for them at the meeting.

I recognise that many parents at Lewisham Bridge Primary School have concerns about the impact these plans will have on their children, and the existing school community. Those of us who fought so hard to save the pool now need to work towards making sure the best possible school is built at Lewisham Bridge, with the minimum disruption to the education of existing pupils at the school. Lewisham Bridge is not a perfect site, but on balance I believe it is better than Ladywell Leisure Centre. It also offers the opportunity to replace the existing primary provision on the site with more modern, fit for purpose facilities.

The full report on the school sites can be found here.

Finally, well done to Max Calo and everyone else who worked so hard on the Save Ladywell Pool Campaign! Mission accomplished?!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Climate Change Demo

Took part in the climate change demo yesterday. Didn't quite get up in time to meet Lewisham and Greenwich cyclists at the Cutty Sark at 9.15pm, so did the Ladywell to Canon Street train ride instead, then unfolded my bike and joined the ride as they were just turning onto the Strand ;). Difficult to say how many cyclists took part, probably between 300-500, but it was great fun and definitely got noticed. Big bike rides like this and Critical Mass are always a good way to see London - you never get to see the tops of buildings from the pavement or when you are worried about getting knocked over by a van/bus etc, so en masse cycling is a great chance to take in the views. We went down the Strand, over Waterloo Bridge, along South Bank, over Westminster Bridge, around Parliament Square (several times, to say hi to Brian Haw and savour the moment of being allowed to protest there), down Whitehall, past Trafalgar Square and various other streets via Oxford Street to end up at the Climate Change Rally in Grosvenor Square outside the US embassy.

The square was packed and there were speeches from Green MEP Caroline Lucas, Lib Dem Norman Baker, would-be Tory MP and editor of the Ecologist Zac Goldsmith, Labour MP Colin Challen and George Monbiot, plus music from Seize the Day. Met up with loads of Greens from all over the country, a friend from Worcester who I hadn't seen in a couple of years, Lewisham WDM and Oxfam campaigners and even a 'Green Lib Dem' from Greenwich.

After the speeches we marched/ambled to Trafalgar Square. The square was packed and there wasn't room for bikes, so I had to chance it and lock my bike to some railings alongside a load of police and hope it would still be there when I got back (it was). The Trafalgar Square rally was organised by Stop Climate Chaos, a coalition of NGOs, as part of their I count campaign. Whereas the US embassy rally, organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change had lots of worthy speakers, the Trafalgar Square rally was going more for pop culture appeal and featured Razorlight, KT Tunstall and some bloke off the telly called Simon Anstell, whose risque jokes went down like a lead balloon with a crowd full of Christian Aid campaigners and eco-activists. I count is looking like it will be to the climate change campaign what Make Poverty History was to the drop the debt campaign, ie probably a good thing overall, which will get loads of publicity, but not everyone's cup of tea.

Big Green Party presence in the square (nice to have more banners than the SWP/Respect for once!), and at times people were clamouring for our membership forms and Green Energy Works leaflets, which was certainly a first ;).

And after the demo? Well, I, er, went to Blackheath Fireworks of course!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Full Council Meeting, Wednesday 1st November

The agenda for Wednesday's full council meeting looked relatively light and I thought we would get through things quickly, but that was not to be. I proposed the following motion, seconded by Darren Johnson:

“This council agrees with the Mayor of London’s reaction to the conclusions of the Energy Review (set out in “The Energy Challenge” published by the Department of Trade and Industry in July). The Council specifically endorses the Mayor of London’s stance that investment in massively reducing energy demand through improving efficiency and decentralising generation, together with a major increase in renewable energy is the way forward for London rather than a new generation of nuclear power stations.”

Labour councillors, who are normally whipped on most votes, were given a free vote, and they seemed to get quite excited at this taste of freedom and couldn't resist the urge to make speeches. There were a few technological problems and we didn't have the usual clock ticking down to show us how much of our 5 minutes alloted time we had left, so I charged through my speech fearful of getting cut off mid-way, though in the event I think the chair was a little lenient on timings anyway. The Deputy Mayor, Heidi Alexander, supported the motion, while suggesting it wasn't a Lewisham issue, while the Mayor, Steve Bullock voted against and revealed himself as a bit of a James Lovelock groupie. Lib Dem Cathie Priddey made a good speech in favour, Labour Cllr Alan Hall proposed a bizarre amendment to sabotage the motion by removing all references to nuclear, but then when that failed he supported it anyway. In the end, the motion was passed by 35 votes to 15, with Greens, Lib Dems and Socialists voting for, Tories against and Labour split for and against.

I do believe that the issue of nuclear power is of direct relevance to Lewisham residents, because if billions are spent on a new generation of nuclear power stations, there will inevitably be less money in the pot for renewable energy schemes in the borough, including microgeneration, which I think is a key way to reduce dependence on an ultimately inefficient centralised energy supply and to reduce fuel poverty. In addition, the more nuclear power stations we have, the more trains we may have going through Lewisham transporting nuclear waste.

The Mayor of London’s submission to the Energy Review can be read as a pdf file here. In it he argues that a 60% cut in CO2 emissions is possible by 2050 through decentralised energy and without nuclear power.

Other business: Lib Dems proposed a motion calling on the cabinet member for housing to be sacked for incompetence. While we shared their concerns about failings in the housing service, we weren't convinced that the motion was particularly constructive or in the best interests of the borough. When our (probably less than perfect) amendment to the motion fell, we abstained from the final vote and the motion fell. The other Lib Dem motion, proposed by Cllr Sera Kentman called on the council to increase its support to supplementary schools. Greens supported an amended version of this motion, which deferred the decision on the amount of extra money to be discussed in the round with the rest of the budget proposals. By the end of all the speeches and wrangling over these 2 motions, I was heartedly sick of the endless references to how good the yellow/red party was in Islington/Camden/Southwark/Lambeth (delete as applicable) - way too much political point-scoring. You would never get me trumpetting the achievements of Greens on councils in Kirklees/Norwich/Brighton/Oxford (delete as applicable) ;).

Main source of amusement at the meeting was the decision of the two Conservative councillors who previously sat between us and the Lib Dems to move over to the Labour side of the chamber. Apparently it wasn't intended as a snub to the Greens, or a hint for us to use less environmentally-friendly deodorant, but to do with a recent falling out between them and the Lib Dems, who have started delivering Lib Dem Focus leaflets in the Tory stronghold of Grove Park, how very dare they :).

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.

Tidal-powered Lunar Clock

Read about this in the London Paper the other day: plans for the world's first tidal-powered lunar clock. If the Aluna Project is realised, it will see a huge sculpture 5 storeys high, made from recycled glass and lit up with the energy from the tidal water of the Thames being built near East India Dock. The green hippy part of me likes the idea of a clock telling natural time and us 'reconnecting with nature's rhythms'. Depending on how people get to the site to visit it, it sounds like quite a sustainable project too. The article quotes a Carl Honere, author of "In praise of Slow" saying the project is "a call to arms against the tyranny of the digital clock" which will "help our speedaholic culture decelerate". At the risk of being accused of being a fluffy green, I rather like the sound of that.