Thursday, May 22, 2008

Full Council: Hilly Fields Footpaths Petition, London Living Wage and Affordable Housing

Fun and games as always at Full Council tonight, with the usual hefty dose of political point scoring despite a fair degree of consensus on the issues being discussed. In brief:

1. Mike (pictured) presented a petition signed by 272 local residents and park users concerned at the poor state of the footpaths in Hilly Fields. The resurfacing of the cycle path across Hilly Fields recently is welcome, but it throws into even sharper relief the sorry state of the other paths in the park, which are in places treacherous for cyclists, wheelchair users and walkers alike. Well done to Hilly Fields Users Group who organised the petition.

2. I asked a number of questions to Mayor and Cabinet on planning enforcement, community composting schemes, air quality monitoring and the possibility of a safety audit to look at the implications of removing the railings on Ladywell Road. The full questions and answers can be viewed here.

3. Ute proposed a motion calling on the Council to ensure it paid all its staff at least London Living Wage (£7.20/hour) and to ensure that its contractors (eg cleaners, catering staff) did likewise. This is less of an issue for those directly employed by the Council, who currently all receive at least this rate (only just in some cases), but more so for those employed by contractors. The motion received cross-party support, and the Mayor indicated that as contracts come up for renewal, it would be stipulated going forward that staff should be paid at least London Living Wage.

There was a bit of argy bargy over whether it was Ken or the Greens who were responsible for the London Living Wage Unit at City Hall (I think it was a Green budget amendment supported by Ken in order to get Green support for his budget), plus a funny moment when the Tories said they would support it because they hadn't heard the Mayor of London say he was opposed to it (never mind what they themselves think, hey?). Anyway, the motion was passed, which was good news and sends a clear signal that Lewisham Council is going to outlaw poverty pay among all those working for the Council, whether directly or via a contractor.

4. There was also cross-party support for a Labour motion calling for the affordable housing quota in the forthcoming Local Development Framework to be increased to 50%. Again, this was welcome news and something the Green Group has consistently called for, including in our submission to the LDF consultation last August. At that point officers argued that it wasn't feasible, so we are glad that the borough's position on this has changed.

It is of course slightly ironic that Lewisham is now supporting a 50% affordable housing quota when it previously wanted to stick at 35% and was in dispute with the previous Mayor of London over this. Now we have a Tory Mayor of London who wants to scrap the affordable housing quota, the Labour Mayor of Lewisham suddenly supports it. Welcome news, nevertheless. The Tories opposed this motion, on the grounds that Boris had made his opposition to affordable housing quotas clear.

There was some hoo-hah over a Lib Dem amendment and motion pointing out the number of planning applications in Lewisham that have failed to meet even the existing 35% quota, but once the main motion was passed (the amendment fell), the Lib Dems withdrew their second motion.

So, two good motions passed, then lots of councillors went to watch some football match or other in Moscow apparently.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Open Gym

A new exercise class has started on Hilly Fields for people who want to get fit but who hate the gym. It's called Open Gym and has been set up by local resident Jo Hill.

Tea Leaf Arts Gallery

I've been sent the application form and details for joining Tea Leaf Arts, Brockley's new art co-operative (the new building with the sticking out bit on Brockley Cross). If there are any creative types reading this blog who would like the details forwarded to them, let me know.

Nappuccino at Masons on 27th May

The next Lewisham Nappuccino will be held on Tuesday 27 May at Masons Bar and Restaurant, Ladywell (beside the train station) from 10am-midday. The event will provide lots of information and guidance on Real Nappies and their benefits from Real Nappy experts. If possible, please let Vivienne, the Real Nappy officer know if you are planning to come along as space is slightly limited (tel: 020 8314 2124) .

Friday, May 16, 2008

Betting licence has to be granted

Portland Bookmakers won their appeal against the Council’s decision last November to turn down their application for a betting shop licence for the former Homeview video shop on Brockley Road. This means that after 16 months of valiant, spirited, untiring und unprecedented local opposition the corner shop will become yet another bookies.

In spite of the ultimate outcome a big Thank You and Well Done is due to the many hundreds of local residents who got involved in this campaign in one way or another and in particular to those who gave evidence in the various hearings we’ve been to since last year and who, like me, know more about gambling legislation and research now than we ever thought we would.

Personally I don’t have great faith in the applicant’s promise to contribute to the community but hope lives on and I would like to be proved wrong.

I have, however, great faith in communities and as this case has shown once more, residents have risen to the challenge and made a well-argued sound case against the application. The saddest experience of the appeal hearing this week was that in his summing up statement, the applicant’s Counsel largely quoted passages from the recent Haringey appeal verdict which were irrelevant to the local situation – and yet this was good enough to get the licence.

As we argued objecting to the application, the proximity of both services for people recovering from addictions just yards away (and more services provided in a larger area around the premises with a higher density of provision than in other parts of the borough) and a secondary school round the corner should have been taken into consideration on the grounds of protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling. However, this sorry piece of legislation, the Gambling Act 2005 which a Labour government has seen fit to pass, does not deem these circumstances valid to refuse a licence. I am not against businesses or betting shops in principle but in reality there is virtually no balancing of business interests with the wider interests of a local community and society in general and in particular of protecting its more vulnerable members.

The law effectively forces the Council, which had turned down the licence application on these grounds last November, to undo with one hand what it does with the other. Lewisham Council spends millions of pounds every year on valuable services for a range of vulnerable people. One of these, a service for people recovering from addictions including gambling, is literally just yards away from the new betting premises. Maybe this makes sense to the MPs who voted in favour of this. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


300 'Shop Local in Ladywell' bags, featuring the winning design by 5 year-old Jemima Jones from Gordonbrock Primary School arrived today. I'll be working over the next few days to get these on sale in local shops and they are also likely to be on sale at Hilly Fields Fayre and other local events. They are a good quality organic cotton produced by a fairtrade organisation in India. More details to follow.

That was the good news for today, Ute will be posting later with some not so good news for Brockley Road . . .

Friday, May 09, 2008

105 Ladywell Road - decision deferred

The application to turn 105 Ladywell Road into a takeaway came to my planning committee last night. I used my right as ward councillor to speak against this and then withdraw from the meeting, as I felt I had a fairly closed mind on this particular application. A representative from Ladywell Society also spoke against.

The officer recommendation was to grant permission as it was felt that it was unlikely that refusal would be upheld on appeal. However, after some discussion, the committee decided to defer the decision until the next meeting, pending evidence of how long the property has been empty and how exhaustive the owner's efforts have been to let the premises.

I was pleased that committee members were sympathetic to local concerns and asked for further information. Under the old UDP (unitary development plan) there are few grounds on which to turn the change of use down, but under the draft LDF (local development framework), there is more potential and planning committees currently have to consider both policies as we are part-way between the two.

The key planning consideration was whether the loss of an A1 shop would contribute towards preserving or enhancing the local character, vitality and viability of the shopping parade. The officer's report argued that it would not harm the shopping parade as there would still be 21 other A1 category premises in the area (A1, incidentally, includes hairdressers and launderettes among other things, not just 'shops'). I argued that it would adversely affect the viability of the shopping parade, as we don't currently have anywhere selling good quality fresh food, eg fresh fruit and veg, meat or fish in the area and this would be one less possible premises for a greengrocers or other decent food shop.

The application also has to be considered alongside the fact that Rio Grill (Life Cafe as was) is operating as a takeaway without the appropriate planning consent, the empty 'Snack Bar' could potentially reopen one day as a takeaway, and there is another application pending to change 40 Ladywell Road from A1 to a cafe (plus we already have a kebab shop, fish and chip shop, Chinese takeaway, cafe on Algernon Road and Ladywell Tandoori).

It was also useful to be able to refer to the results of the recent survey of views on Ladywell shops and services, including the fact that over 50% of respondents said they would like to see a fruit and veg shop, 46% would like a coffee shop and 43% wanted a deli, but not one person said they wanted more takeaways. Unfortunately our current planning policy is exceedingly limited in its ability to protect small, local shopping parades from turning into little more than rows of takeaways, estate agents and money transfer shops.

Anyway, the decision has been postponed for 6 weeks, which gives budding enterpreneurs 6 weeks to persuade the owner of 105 Ladywell Road to let the premises to them to open a decent food shop instead of opening yet another takeaway.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ladywell Village Improvement Group: AGM and Blog

A blog has been set up by the Ladywell Village Improvement Group (the name has now been decided!) and a date for their AGM now fixed: Thursday 5 June at the St Mary's Centre, Ladywell Road at 7.30pm. They are looking for people to help them deliver flyers to homes in the area advertising the meeting and/or willing to stand as officers for the new group. See blog for further details. Hopefully at some point the blog will become Ladywell's answer to Brockley Central (a tall order, I realise!). You can e-mail them enquiries/offers of help. They will also have a stall at the Ladywell Fields Fun Day this Saturday.

I've also added a link to the blog for Devonshire Road Nature Reserve, which I found via Andrew's blog.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Sue's Shameless Schadenfreude

Just heard a funny story. A man gets off the train at Brockley Station on polling day, to be greeted by a Socialist Party activist with a leaflet urging him not to vote Green because 'they supported privatising council housing in Brighton'. At this point Green Party councillor for Queen's Park ward in Brighton, Ben Duncan, introduced himself and put the activist straight on a few facts. Said activist, duly humbled, promised not to spread such nonsense around again, while Ben set off to help us with our polling day operation in Brockley. See Ben's blog for further details.

This is the same Socialist Party who delivered a leaflet around Telegraph Hill and New Cross before the election claiming that Greens supported cuts to services in Lewisham Hospital. Utter nonsense. Sorry Chris, but you thoroughly deserved the 1.06% you got in the elections for spreading such misleading drivel. Shame on you.

Green Election Results elsewhere

Congratulations to Greens in Camden who won a Council by-election on the same day as the London Assembly and Mayoral elections. Alex Goodman took the third seat in Highgate ward from the Conservatives, and joins Camden Green councillors Maya de Souza and Adrian Oliver.

Elsewhere in the country we won seats in Liverpool, Sheffield, Stroud, Solihull and Norwich, had near misses in Reading and Redhill and lost a seat each in Manchester and Oxford.

In Norwich we are now the main opposition after the Greens won 3 seats off the Lib Dems taking their total number of councillors to 13. Greens secured 33 per cent of the vote and first place across the wards that make up the Norwich South Westminster constituency - giving Adrian Ramsay a great chance of taking over from Charles Clarke as MP. The Greens also secured, for the first time, first place on total vote share across the whole City Council area: over 10,000 votes and 29 per cent. More on this in this BBC interview with Green Party spokesperson Peter Tatchell.

So all in all, not a bad night for us, we ended the night 5 councillors up on our previous total, at 116, but we had hoped for a few more gains.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who voted Green in Greenwich & Lewisham on May 1st. I didn't get elected (it was always a long shot!), but the 16,511 people who voted Green on the London-wide member list did help to ensure that our two existing London Assembly members, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones were re-elected. Congratulations to Len Duvall who was re-elected as London Assembly member for Greenwich & Lewisham.

The 'vote Green on the peach paper' message appears to have worked, as although we were in 4th place in the constituency results, we leap-frogged the Lib Dems and were in 3rd place on the London-wide list vote. Our percentage of the London Assembly list vote rose slightly in Greenwich & Lewisham, from 10.9% to 11.2%, although this includes an increase of over 4,000 in actual Green votes, due to the increased turnout. We also came in a respectable 4th place in the mayoral race, both in Greenwich & Lewisham and London-wide. Well done to Sian for all her hard work.

Not quite the result Greens were after, as we had hoped for 3 or 4 Green members on the London-wide list, no elected racists and a Mayor who understands the urgency of action on climate change, but given the big squeeze on smaller parties' votes in the Ken/Boris battle, I think we did well to stand our ground, while Lib Dems lost a couple of seats and UKIP/One London were wiped out.

I fear London may now be in for 4 years we can ill-afford of inaction on climate change, worsening air quality and congestion and developers getting away with little or no affordable housing in new developments, but I hope that I will be proved wrong on this. Darren and Jenny will work hard to hold the new mayor to account and to push him to build on their hard-fought Green successes from the past few years, but with Conservatives hokding 11 out of 25 seats on the assembly, Boris Johnson has more than the third required to pass his budget, so the influence of members from other parties may well be limited over the next 4 years.

I very much hope that the new Mayor decides to stick with London's Climate Change Action Plan and the targets of 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025 as well as to proceed with the levels of investment in cycling and walking promised by the previous Mayor. I was alarmed by his comments in an interview immediately after his election where he again called for an airport in the Thames Estuary, which would suggest he hasn't grasped the urgency of the need to cut carbon emissions.

Finally, I'd like to congratulate fellow Lewisham blogger James Cleverly, who stood as Conservative candidate for Greenwich & Lewisham in 2004, and has just been elected as Conservative member for Bexley & Bromley with an incredible 105,000 votes. While we're clearly from different sides of the political spectrum, James is a decent bloke who doesn't fall into the 'nasty Tory' category. He's also a cyclist and will, I hope, push our new cycling mayor to make London the cycling capital of the world. Like I said, I hope.

Right, now I'm taking a couple of days off then it's back to business as usual and catching up on Council stuff!