Monday, April 30, 2007

Full Council, Questions to Mayor & Cabinet

Last Wednesday's full council meeting was unusually amicable, with an unprecedented display of councillors of all parties agreeing with each other, constructively amending motions to improve them and then unanimously supporting two motions; one calling on rail companies to put rubbish and recycling bins in all stations, and one calling on TfL to reconsider its plans dealing with the planned East London line closure and to meet with a cross-party group from Lewisham to discuss how to minimise disruption to commuters.

I submitted four questions to the deputy mayor, on lollipop people (or lack thereof recently for Gordonbrock School), to find out how many residents took the council up on its renewable energy grant last year (answer: 1), the borough's carbon footprint and the future of Ladywell Playtower. Responses below, FYI.

Does the council have relief crossing patrol staff to cover when the normal lollipop men/women are off sick for extended periods?
No, the Council does not retain relief crossing patrol staff. All staff are retained as permanent employees and work at one location. Unfortunately there are occasions when extended absence means that sites will be unattended.

This was in response to concerns from parents of pupils at Gordonbrock Primary School, as the lollipop man had been off sick for a while.

How many residents in the borough received a grant from the council towards renewable energy installations for their homes last year?
In financial year 2006/07, the year in which this grant scheme was introduced, one application was processed for the installation of solar thermal energy, for a home in Catford. There has been significant interest in the scheme, with private blocks of flats in both Forest Hill and Blackheath enquiring about the grant, however, this has yet to translate into further grants. Encouraging further renewable installations in residential property has been identified as a priority by the council and is one of the reasons why the Energy Action Zone (EAZ) has been established. EAZ officers will undertake door to door surveys, initially in Downham, Evelyn and Brockley, to assist residents to identify energy efficiency savings. However, they will also recommend renewable energy installations where residents are able to access funding. It is hoped that this will significantly increase the take up of renewable energy in Lewisham.

Has any attempt ever been made to establish what the council's current carbon footprint is, and do you agree that we need to move towards calculating costs of projects in terms of carbon emissions as well as financial cost?
The council’s carbon footprint has been estimated at 44,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum for energy used within council operations. This includes those domestic gas and electricity bills paid by the council. Of this amount, the council currently purchases 80% ‘green’ electricity, which means that just under 17,000 tonnes of the above figure is already offset.
The council is working towards using life cycle costing wherever possible when evaluating project costs, for instance, the Building Schools for the Future programme used life cycle costing. Life cycle costing is based on finance rather than carbon. However, energy is a critical factor in life cycle calculations, meaning that environmental costs are taken into consideration through the cost of long term energy usage. To calculate true carbon costs it is necessary to know the embodied energy of everything procured through a project. At present, insufficient work has been undertaken nationally to provide this information and thus it is not currently possible to produce accurate carbon emission figures for all stages of a project. However, long term, when further carbon information is available, it will enable accurate life cycle calculations to be undertaken for projects.

As part of the public consultation about the expansion of St Mary's Conservation area last year, residents were asked their views on the future use of Ladywell Playtower, (a grade 2 listed building). A number of community, housing and mixed uses were suggested by residents and the Council’s property service was asked to "investigate and promote its repair and re-use and "continue to liaise and negotiate with developers interested in the site". Is there any progress to report on this?
Consultants have been appointed to advise on the cost of bringing the remaining part of the Playtower into good repair as well as design options for a mixed use development that would include a refurbished Playtower. This work will be completed in May and will be used by Officers to advise the Mayor on options for bringing the Playtower back into use. Discussions with interested developers are ongoing but there is nothing to report yet.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Reminder: Area Forum Monday 30th April, 7.30pm

Just a quick reminder that the area forum for Brockley, Crofton Park and Ladywell is taking place tomorrow (Monday), 7.30pm at St Andrews Church, Brockley Road.

The first part of the meeting will focus on community safety (how the Safer Neighbourhood teams are working), then there will be time for general Q&A to councillors. We would also like to hear residents' views on how to improve community engagement.

Hope to see you there.

In a nutshell . . .

It's been suggested that my previous post was a tad too detailed, so here is an attempt at a more concise response to the Ladywell Rose:

The Ladywell Rose story 'Greens back tree massacre' was an ill-informed pack of lies by an ex-councillor who frankly should know better and I take it as a slur on my integrity. The article claims that at a 1st February public meeting to discuss the planning application for Ladywell Fields, Green councillors "defied local people and gave their backing to the tree cutting plan". This is untrue. I was the only councillor present (from any ward or political party) and as such was asked to chair the meeting. As the chair of the meeting I did my utmost to remain impartial, to refrain from expressing an opinion either way and to give all those present an opportunity to speak. Local Labour representative Paul Newing attended the meeting, but did not speak.

For the record, I was uncomfortable with the idea of 68 trees being felled, but also keen that the opportunity the EU money provided to improve the Northern Field was not lost. I was therefore pleased when following the walkabout with park users and officers, a revised plan was drawn up which resulted in a reduced number of trees being lost, and an overall gain in the numbers of trees after replanting.

Cllr Mike Keogh has been heavily involved with Ladywell Fields Users' Group and the QUERCUS project since its inception. As he has been so heavily involved in the project, and as the company he works for are contracted to carry out some of the work in the park, he quite rightly took no part in the planning decision when it was considered by his planning committee on 15th March 2007.

It is always sad when trees are cut down, but there are sometimes valid reasons for doing so. In this case, as I understand it, some are being removed to enable the river to be moved to the centre of the field (a key part of the project, which in my opinion will enhance the park for both local people and wildlife), some are diseased, some are too close together and need to be thinned to enable them to flourish and some non-native species are being replaced with more native species. If the plan was to stick a motorway through Ladywell Fields, I would be the first to chain myself to the diggers. This is not the case. There will be a short-term loss in biodiversity while the work is being carried out, but I honestly believe this will be outweighed by the longer-term improvements in wildlife habitat and attractiveness of the park to local people.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"Greens backed tree massacre" (according to Labour Ladywell Rose)

I generally despise tit for tat party political point scoring, and get fed up in council meetings when parties start off on how good Labour/Lib Dem/Tory controlled such and such a borough is, or how low their council tax is compared to Labour/Lib Dem/Tory controlled XYZ. Maybe when Greens control a council, we will end up doing the same, but I'd hope not. In our newsletters, we prefer to focus on our achievements, and if we are critical of other parties, to suggest constructive alternatives. However, having read the Ladywell Labour Rose that came through my door today, I am rising to the bait, gloves are off, and I'm furious at the misrepresentation, if not downright lies it contains.

In brief Labour's leaflet says that Ladywell's Green Councillors "backed a tree slashing programme to cut down 68 trees" in Ladywell Fields. It goes on to say "at a special consultation meeting in Ladywell on 1st February, Green Councillors defied local people and gave their backing to the cutting plan. Thankfully, Council planning officers could see the strength of local feeling and revised the plan so that 31 of the trees were saved and a tree planting programme was increased from 20 to 49. Questions are being asked about why Green councillors are not representing the views of the local people who put them in office and why they are so eager to cut down trees in the park. Local Labour representative Paul Newing, who attended the meeting and backed local residents said: "The behaviour of Green councillors in Ladywell is a long way from the soft and cuddly image they like to portray" [not quite as cuddly as the last Ladywell cllrs, IMHO ;)] "The Greens need to learn that they can't just make up their minds - they should listen to local people. What are councillors for, if not to represent the people in their ward? Labour Action Team Members are keeping a close eye on things in Ladywell and will continue to step in when the Greens decide that they know better than local people."

OK, now for a bit of background info and some facts.
1. The plan to which they refer is the QUERCUS project, which involves £460,000 of EU money being spent on improvements to the north field in Ladywell Fields. The Labour run executive of Lewisham are fully behind the scheme, as reflected in Cllr Susan Wise's comments in this recent press release. The planning application details can be found on Lewisham's planning website.
2. Ladywell Fields are actually in Lewisham Central ward, but as a lot of residents from Ladywell use the fields regularly, we take an active interest in them and Mike has been an active member of Ladywell Fields Users' Group for many years.
3. Ladywell Fields Users' Group and a number of other stakeholders were closely involved throughout the development of the plans for the Quercus Project.
4. When the planning application was submitted, members of Ladywell Society, Ladywell Fields Users' Group and residents were somewhat shocked to find it involved the removal of 68 trees of various species and age, which was not mentioned during earlier consultations. As a result of this, 12 objections were received by the planning department, compared to 3 letters in favour. When there are more than a few objections, it is common practice for the planning department to arrange a public meeting so that residents and applicants can discuss the application further, prior to the application going to a planning committee.
5. The public meeting was arranged for 1st February, which unfortunately clashed with planning committee B, which Mike is on, and the Ladywell Safer Neighbourhoods Panel meeting, which Ute went to, so I was the only one of us able to go to the public meeting on the Ladywell Fields application.
6. A few weeks before the meeting, a planning officer asked me if I would be willing to chair the meeting. I said I could, but wouldn't it be better if one of the Lewisham Central ward councillors chaired it, as it was in their ward. However, none of them could make it to the meeting (probably for perfectly good reasons) so when I got there I found out that I was chairing.
7. 16 people attended the meeting on 1st February, included ex-cllr Paul Newing, who is quoted in the Labour Ladywell Rose. I was careful to remain strictly neutral both as chair and because I am on a planning committee (you can't have made up your mind about an application before it comes to your planning committee, you are expected to keep an open mind).
8. Council officers outlined the application details, including what trees they planned to remove and why they felt it was necessary. There was then time for residents to comment on the scheme, and the vast majority of those who spoke expressed concern about the tree loss. As far as I remember, ex-cllr Paul Newing did not speak at all, either for or against, but another former Labour councillor, Nick Taylor, who is currently chair of Lewisham Environment Trust, made a number of constructive comments.
9. None of those present at the meeting expressed outright opposition to the QUERCUS scheme as a whole, the sticking point was the number of trees earmarked to be cut down. In the hope that a compromise could be reached, it was agreed that officers and objectors would meet at Ladywell Fields the following Saturday and have a walkaround to look at the trees together, and see if any compromise could be reached. 7 residents and 3 officers took part in the walkabout, neither ex-cllr Paul Newing, Vikki Mills (pictured holding a "protect Ladywell trees" placard on the Labour leaflet) or Cllr Edward Mark (Labour councillor for Lewisham Central) attended.
10. After the walkabout, which both sides felt was constructive, a revised plan was submitted which involved 37 trees being removed, rather than 68 and extra replanting so that there would be a net gain of 10 trees. Not all objectors were happy with this, but others felt that a reasonable compromise had been made, and the chair of the Ladywell Fields Users' Group commented that he felt it had resulted in a better scheme overall, as did Lib Dem councillor for Lewisham Central Andrew Milton.
11. The application went to planning committee B on 15th March and was passed. As Mike has been so involved with Ladywell Fields Users group, Ladywell Society and Lewisham Environment Trust over the years, as well as the fact that the company he works for, Envirowork Lewisham had the contract for some of the work for the QUERCUS Project, he withdrew from that part of the meeting and took no part in considering the application.

So, just to clarify, at no time have the Green councillors in Ladywell been pushing for 68 trees to be chopped down in Ladywell Fields and there was no gallant intervention by Paul Newing or, for that matter, the Lewisham Central Labour councillor to save 31 trees from the clutches of evil chain-saw wielding Greens, far from it. At the 1st February meeting, NO Green councillors "defied local opinion and gave their backing to the tree cutting plan"; I was the only one of us at the meeting, and as chair and a planning committee member, I remained strictly neutral.

We have been broadly supportive of a scheme that is likely to improve the north field of Ladywell Fields considerably, as are the Labour Mayor and Cabinet and Andrew Milton, the Lewisham Central councillor who takes an active interest in Ladywell Fields. I think we were all pleased that the council officers listened to local people's concerns at the 1st February public meeting.

Mike is an ecologist by training, has been heavily involved with the Ladywell Fields Users' group for many years and was involved with the QUERCUS project from early stages. He is 100% committed to working to improve Ladywell Fields and has worked closely with officers and LFUG at every stage of the project. Mike knows his stuff on biodiversity, much more than I do, and I'm happy to trust him on these matters. Precisely because of his involvement over the years and his job at Envirowork, he was right to withdraw from the planning meeting for this application.

We recently received a letter from a local couple expressing concern at the "environmental vandalism" they felt was taking place in Ladywell Fields, with shrubbery where song thrushes nest being cut back. Mike was on holiday at this time and as the work had been carried out by the company he worked for, Ute and I thought it best to go and take a look ourselves. A small area of shrubbery had been cleared, but we were assured that the area was checked for birds nests beforehand and no nests from this year were found. I accept this explanation, as does Cllr Susan Wise according to her press release. Envirowork Lewisham are doing great work training up young people for jobs in parks management and conservation work and I have no reason to believe they would be destroying birds nests. I accept that there will be a short-term loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity while the project is in progress, but I am optimistic than there will be a significant long-term gain, both to wildlife and local residents.

This latest Labour Ladywell Rose is the cheapest, most underhand and most inaccurate bit of political propaganda I've come across in my (admittedly fairly limited) time in politics and Paul Newing should be ashamed of himself. As for the line "What are councillors for, if not to represent the people in their ward?" - exactly - isn't that a lesson the previous Ladywell ward councillors learnt to their expense on election day last year?

Having got that off my chest, I'll now get back to the serious business of representing the views of residents in Ladywell, dealing with casework enquiries, pushing for better youth provision and the countless other things we do as councillors.

Oh, and by the way, the Ladywell Fields Kids Wildlife Club last Saturday, that Green councillors helped to set up, was a huge success, with more than 30 children turning up and all enthusiastically saying they would be back next month.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Lewisham Walking Festival 2007- Ladywell Walks

The programme for the 2007 Lewisham Walking Festival is now available and it has more events than ever before. There are a number of walks in Ladywell, including one that Mike and other members of Ladywell Society are leading on May 22nd:

Where has all the Water Gone in Ladywell?
Where Is It Going?
Find out with the Ladywell Society

The Ladywell Society guys lead this informative tour around the damper parts of Ladywell, the original heart of Lewisham, keeping close to Ladywell Road. The walk and talk will feature the mineral springs, the ditch, the Lady’s Well, Playtower, the Ravensbourne, QUERCUS Project and the Water Sculpture at the hospital. Despite the aquatic nature of this walk, you won’t actually get wet unless it rains!

Linear walk of 2 hours, 1.5 miles taking in local history and nature. Suitable for all ages and abilities. Toilets at points on the walk. Bring a drink. Dogs on leads ok.

Meet at 19.00 outside the café on the corner of Algernon Rd and Mercy Terrace, just off
Ladywell Road past the railway line.
Bus: P4, 284, 122, 484 Rail: Ladywell
Finish: Lewisham Hospital, Riverside Block, William Carver Bridge
Rail: Ladywell Buses: 436, 75, 47, 199, 54, 208, 136, all from Lewisham High Street.


Plus the regular Out and About in Ladywell Fields Healthy Walks.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lewisham Green Party Summer Outings

Lewisham Green Party's annual trip to Whitstable has become something of a legend over the years, which invariably involves Dean getting over-excited on the train on the way there and blowing up his inflatable beach ball/shark and other beach accoutrements in the carriage. However this year, as much as we love Whitstable, we've decided to take a year off and explore pastures new. In fact, we're having two outings. All members and supporters welcome:

Saturday 9th June: Leisurely bike ride to the Lea River. Meet at 12.00 at St Andrew's Church on the corner of Brockley Road and Wickham Road.

Saturday 28th July: Yalding Organic Gardens, Kent. Details to follow, but hold the date!

New Gates for Hilly Fields

The new gates for the entrance to Hilly Fields from Eastern Road have now gone up, and I think they look great. Well done to Hilly Fields Users Group, students from Prendergast and Heather Burrell, the local artist who made the gates (she also designed the gates at the Creekside Centre, among other things). I believe Gordonbrock pupils are also going to be involved in some way, with bulb planting if I remember correctly.

Unfortunately the pot-holed surface of Eastern Road and the path up to Hilly Fields doesn't enhance the entrance much - I've contacted highways to see if we can at least get the pot-holes filled in - the whole road needs resurfacing really, but as it's not a key road for public transport it probably won't be high on the priority list.

Tree removal on Veda Road

A resident came to see me at surgery on Saturday about a much loved tree that had been chopped down in Veda Road, and she and her neighbours were concerned that it had been chopped down unnecessarily when it only looked slightly storm damaged. I've checked with the aboricultural team (as you do!) and thought I would post their response in case anyone else was wondering why the tree was removed. They have confirmed that the tree was quite badly damaged and infected, but that a replacement will be planted in the Autumn:

"When the tree was inspected it was discovered its large leader had snapped and was resting on the BT lines and a lamp post. A split leader will cause a big wound and leave the tree open to infection. It had also suffered the double whammy of having been compromised due to a fruiting body, which would usually be Ganoderma, and thus it was decided it should be removed on health and safety grounds. Losing a tree is always unfortunate, however I have put the request through for the tree to be replanted."

So there you go. Now, who said that Greens were a bunch of tree-hugging hippies . . .

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Coming up this week . . .

Lewisham Draft Regeneration Strategy
All being well, on Tuesday I will be confirmed as the new chair of the council's Sustainable Development Select Committee, taking over from Darren. Tuesday's meeting has been called to scrutinise the draft of the Lewisham Regeneration Strategy, before it goes to Mayor and Cabinet. If it is approved by Mayor & Cabinet, it will then go out to public consultation before a final version is adopted in six months or so.

Travellers' Site Relocation/Ladywell Day Centre Sports Hall
Mayor and Cabinet meeting on Wednesday will consider a report on possible sites to relocate the existing travellers' site from Thurston Road. Last summer the council submitted a planning application to move the travellers' site to Dressington Avenue, which would have involved demolishing the sports hall at Ladywell Day Centre. Assuming the report is approved at Wednesday's meeting, that is no longer the plan, and two alternative sites are now being considered; the former Watergate School site in Church Grove, and the Lorry Park behind Laurence House in Catford.

The report states

"During 2006 a possible replacement site was identified that is currently occupied by a sports hall plus adjoining land adjacent to Ladywell Day Centre. Use of this site would require the re-provision of services provided from the sports hall in alternative locations. Consultation was carried out from 18 November to 8 December 2006 with users of the sports hall and other interested groups and the results are set out in Appendix 1. The consultation examined the needs of users of the sports hall, the possible alternative locations for each user group and the associated service and cost implications of providing alternative venues for users.

The consultation concluded that although it may be possible to relocate all the existing users of the gymnasium, the alternatives would present significant difficulties in terms of service to users, many of whom are disabled, and cost. For example, the sports hall is used by 15 user groups comprising 152 service users and over half of the service users are over 65 years of age. It is not therefore proposed to pursue use of this site as a replacement for Thurston Road."

What the report glosses over was the failure to carry out adequate consultation with residents and sports' hall users before the planning application was submitted. Hopefully lessons have been learnt, proper consultation will be carried out this time and a high-quality new travellers' site can be built before the deadline to vacate the Thurston Road site comes. I also hope that assuming the future of the sports hall at Ladywell Day Centre is now more secure, we can start looking at how the local community can make greater use of the facilities there.

Directly Elected Mayor
An EGM (extraordinary general meeting) of full council has been called for this Wednesday by councillors from all the opposition parties, to consider a motion about changing the existing directly elected mayor system in the borough. The motion states:

“This Council notes that in October 2001 there was a referendum in Lewisham to consider the model of local government to be adopted in the Borough. The result was that 16,822 residents voted in favour of an elected Mayor and 15,914 voted against. The turnout was 18 per cent.

Council believes that after five years of the current system the people of Lewisham should now have the opportunity to consider whether an Elected Mayor is the best method of delivering local government within the Borough.

Council requests the Chief Executive to start the statutory consultation and to report back to the Council at the earliest opportunity on the outcome, so that the Council can consider whether to move to a referendum if the outcome of the consultation supports change.”

However, we have been advised by the Council's legal team that if the Local Government Bill currently going through parliament becomes law, it is going to be impossible for us to change the directly elected mayor system until 2011 at the earliest and arguably we would be spending money consulting on something that we couldn't then implement. If the bill goes through parliament, local authorities will be stuck with a choice of just 3 models for the executive, all involving a 'strong' leader elected for 4 years with powers similar to that of the existing directly elected mayor. Amendments to Wednesday's motion are likely, I think!

Catch up - conference, pensions, Barcelona

Been rather silent on the blogging front lately; had a busy couple of weeks before Easter with meetings most evenings, then Green Party Conference in Swansea, then loads more meetings, including council AGM, then a quick trip to visit my newborn niece (Jessica Rose) in Suffolk and to help out Norwich Greens with their election campaign for a day, then Barcelona for a week over Easter to visit Nigel. Been catching up on things since then and normal blogging service will resume shortly!

Green Party Conference

Green Party Conference was interesting, with debate on the Severn Barrage/Swansea Lagoon (what with it being in Swansea), the leadership debate (should we have one or not and if so, what powers, if any, should they have), we updated our international policy (which had some embarrassingly out-of-date bits about the handover of Hong Kong etc in it), I went to a fringe about voting systems and PR (proportional representation) led by Malcolm Clark from Make Votes Count, helped lead a 'green bloggers' fringe with Jim and Natalie (was nice to meet a few fellow green bloggers I hadn't met before such as Philip and Jim too). Was very inspired by a panel discussion about environmental education and sustainability in schools - Wales, in particular Swansea, seems to be streets ahead of England in some ways with this (every school in Swansea gets their recycling collected for free, unlike in Lewisham). Also found out a bit more about Transition Towns. Anyway conference was weeks ago and it was amply covered at the time here and here.

Pensions Investment Committee
Couple of interesting meetings before Easter. Lewisham Council's Pensions Investment Committee meeting (of which I'm a member) had presentations from Fair Pensions and the Local Authority Pensions Fund Forum (LAPFF) at my request. The committee agreed to join the LAPFF and to survey members of the pension fund (of which there are lots, as the council is the largest employer in Lewisham) about their views on socially responsible investment. As trustees of the pension fund we have a primary fiduciary duty, which means we must place the financial interests of the fund and its members above all else. However, Alex van der Velden from Fair Pensions argued that we would be failing to do this if we didn't scrutinise companies' behaviour on social and environmental issues, as companies risk losing money through reputation damage if they don't take account of 'ethical' issues (eg an oil company with poor safety standards being responsible for an environmentally-catastrophic leak, a sportswear company found to be sourcing its clothes from sweatshops or an arms company revealed to be bribing corrupt officials in dodgy regimes to buy its goods).

We also have a duty to take into consideration the moral views of our members, so if, for example, 90% of respondants to our survey said they didn't want us to invest their pension money in tobacco, there would be grounds for us to disinvest. Anyway, I was pleased with the outcome of the meeting - while the pension fund continues to invest in sectors I'd rather my pension didn't invest in, I think joining the LAPFF and surveying members' views are both steps in the right direction.

Mayor's Commission on Empowering Communities and Neighbourhoods
Another meeting before Easter worth mentioning was the Mayor's Commission on Empowering Communities and Neighbourhoods (catchy title, huh?). After a few meetings hearing evidence and discussing communities and neighbourhoods in general, we are now looking at the nitty gritty of how we would like to change the way the council and elected representatives engage with residents, and in particular whether to change the existing area forums. General consensus at the meeting seemed to be to move towards regular ward based forums, with larger spending powers, rather than the existing 3-ward forums. I think this is a good idea and look forward to seeing what is proposed.

Did the journey by train again, which was fine, but cost me an arm and a leg as all the cheaper tickets had sold out weeks in advance. Once again I was very impressed by how cyclist-friendly the city is. They have just launched a new bike hire scheme, Bicing, to encourage people to cycle around the city. Basically, you pay €24 subscription for the year, then you can borrow a bike for only 30 cents for half an hour, rising to €3 an hour after 2 hours (the scheme is designed for short journeys of less than an hour around the city, you use one of the other bike hire shops for longer periods). They are still rolling the service out, but there will soon be 100 bike stations around the city with 1,500 bikes to hire. I think how it works is that when you register and get your card, which unlocks the bikes, you give your credit card details and are charged according to your use. Sounds like an excellent idea - we should have a similar scheme in London! (Darren, Jenny - Green group budget proposal for next year?!)