Friday, February 27, 2009

Keep the Post Public

If like me you're angry at Peter Mandelson's latest ruse; to part-privatise the Royal Mail, please sign the CWU petition on the Downing Street Website. There is also a Facebook group and cause and more info on the Keep the Post Public website.

You can also write to your MP and ask them to sign early day motion 428, which calls for the Royal Mail to be kept in public ownership. None of Lewisham's MPs have signed it so far, although 130 other Labour MPs have (only 2 Tory and one Lib Dem so far)

And next time you see a picture of an MP/councillor on a leaflet claiming to be fighting to save a local post office, check which way they/their party representatives voted on this both at Westminster and in the European Parliament.

It's a weird world when the government bails out banks making massive losses but wants to flog off a business that has topped up the treasury's coffers over many years.

Great post on this issue over at Two Doctors.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Something for the weekend?

This week and next week is Fairtrade Fortnight and there are a number of events on throughout the borough in connection with this. Amongst other things, Oscar's Cafe on Ladywell Road are giving away free fairtrade tea or coffee to their first 50 customers tomorrow (Friday). S if you haven't been along and sampled Petra's delicious cake yet, tomorrow might be a good time to do so.

Saturday is the last day of voting for this year's 'Who do you love' competition to find the best independent business in Lewisham. It would be great if a Ladywell or Brockley business won, but of course I'm biaised! Yes, we have a problem with run-down and empty premises, but we also have some great businesses in the area. You can cast your vote here.

Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries are having another workday this Saturday, in conjunction with Nature's Gym. Meet by the old chapel (near Ladywell entrance) at 11am. All welcome, wear comfortable old clothes, tools will be provided.

A bit further afield, in Bethnal Green, there is a very interesting line-up of speakers and discussions organised by a coalition of NGOs. The day is called 6 Billion Ways and the blurb says it is a a day where the arts meet ideas, discussion and action to explore the causes and find solutions to the interlinked global crises with financial markets, energy price rises, food riots, violent conflicts and environmental disasters. More details here. All sorts of interested discussions, a great line-up of speakers, and a big party in the evening.

Finally, if anyone fancies a bit of 'political green gym' (aka delivering our newsletters), I have thousands of our latest edition of Lewisham Green News arriving at my flat in the next day or so. If any readers are willing to deliver them to their street please get in touch, it would be most appreciated and not only does it give us councillors more time to get on with casework, getting a life etc, but it might also mean I get to see my lovely new floors again some time this side of Easter . . .

UPDATE, FRI AM: I forgot to mention Frog Day at Devonshire Road Nature Reserve this coming Sunday!

Heathrow Expansion - response from Joan Ruddock MP

A while back I posted about the fact that all 3 of Lewisham's Labour MPs supported Heathrow Expansion. I mentioned at the time that I had written to Joan Ruddock, Lewisham Deptford MP and junior minister for climate change, to express my concern on this point. I received her response today:

Dear Cllr Luxton
My apologies for the delay in responding to your email about the third runway at Heathrow. This was a difficult and finely balance decision.

As you will know the UK has pressed for aviation to be included in the EU ETS and that will happen in 2012. Thus emissions for all flights within Europe will be capped. We are also pressing for an international agreement that will similarly place limits.

I am opposed to unrestrained growth in aviation emissions and we have asked our independent Committee on Climate Change to advise us on how to return our aviation emissions to 2005 levels by 2050 (the year when UK emissions will have to be reduced by 80%). At present aviation accounts for 6% of our CO2 emissions and any growth in aviation will have to be offset by reductions in other sectors.

Your efforts to insulate your home are extremely important – 27% of UK emissions come from our homes and there is huge potential for reduction in this sector.

Yours sincerely

Ms Joan Ruddock MP

Needless to say, I disagree with both her decision and the assumptions made, not least that we can expand aviation significantly, yet reduce its emissions to 2005 levels (which are still far higher than we can safely afford, given that we need to reduce our carbon emissions by 90% by 2050, and a significant chunk of that needs to happen well before 2050, ie by 2020, to avoid runaway climate change). Do we really want to give aviation, in many ways a luxury, an even bigger chunk of the carbon emissions pie, ahead of basic necessities such as heating homes, food security, rail travel etc? Reducing carbon emissions by 90% is no mean feat, and aviation is, frankly, one of the easier things to cut down on. I don't think we can gamble people and planet on the hope that technological fixes will be found (or assume that there will be fuel to run them when oil supplies dwindle, that doesn't involve growing biofuels on land needed for food).

I agree with her comments about the huge potential for reduction in emissions from homes (although the figure for London and Lewisham is closer to 40% of emissions, not 27%), and welcome DECC's (Department for Energy and Climate Change) recent announcements on extra funding for insulation, but (as I'm quoted as saying in the Newsshopper today), it is too limited and with too slow a rollout period. We need to start the rollout of free home insulation (and training up the people to do the work) to every home NOW, not just start gearing up in 2012 and only really get going in 2030.

On a lighter note, for some reason, the Newsshopper have stuck a picture of Emine Enver who runs Junction Express Drycleaners on Ladywell Road in the article about insulation, and said it is me. They must have used the photo of us with the 'Shop local in Ladywell' bags from last year and cut the wrong person out. She is admittedly more photogenic, but may not take it too kindly if residents start taking their Council casework issues to her as well as their drycleaning!

Monday, February 23, 2009

It had to be done, apparently

I signed up to Twitter a while back and didn't really get it, but am now giving it a go. It may turn out to be one thing too many to update, but for now, if you want to follow my often inane, occasionally Council-related ramblings, you will find me here.

There is a website, CllrTweeps that tracks councillors who Tweet, and shows that I'm one of 3 Tweeting Lewisham councillors, along with Andrew Milton in Lewisham Central and newly-elected Jenni Clutten in Downham. Lewisham Council's comms team are also making interesting use of Twitter, and a number of other local bloggers are on it. Haven't yet worked out how to get it to work on my phone, which is half the point of it, but will no doubt suss that in time.

Green Budget: Free Insulation to 25,000 Lewisham homes

The Council's budget for the next municipal year is due to be decided at Full Council on 2nd March. As in the previous two years, the Green Group has put in a detailed budget amendment, with a combination of proposals to overturn what we feel are unacceptable cuts and also proposing a number of new measures, including the roll-out of a free insulation scheme to 25,000 homes in the borough.

The plan would pay for free loft, cavity wall or boiler insulation in 25,700 private homes across Lewisham. That means all private homes in Lewisham which need insulation - but which do not qualify for free help under schemes for the elderly and those on benefits - would get it free of charge. (Those living in social housing will be getting the insulation anyway as part of the decent homes work.) The scheme would run along similar lines to the highly-successful and popular scheme initiated by Green councillors in Kirklees, with an energy company, which must carry out 'green' work under the government's 'Carbon Emissions Reduction Target' rules, being sought as a partner, providing half the cash.

Once again, Ute has led for the group on putting forward our budget proposals and I expect will be posting something further on this in a few days. (It's Ute's birthday today, btw, so happy birthday Ute!). You can read the basic details of our budget amendment here and see the Full Council papers here. Among our other key proposals are:
  • A new £1m 'revolving' fund which could be dipped into by householders wanting to fit renewable energy equipment in their homes. The no-interest loans would only have to be repaid when the home is sold on, and the money would return to the fund so others can access it.
  • £1.5m to retrofit solid wall (mostly Victorian or pre-1930s) council homes as they become void. As tenants in the Brockley PFI area can testify, these properties often get less insulation than those in other properties because their solid walls make installing insulation more complicated. It's disruptive work, so it makes sense to start by carrying it out on properties that are empty, before they are re-let.
  • £500,000 fund to allow the Mayor to use compulsory purchase orders to bring neglected properties back into use. This follows on from the findings of my committee in its Empty Properties review earlier in the year and is aimed at being a last resort, when all other enforcement measures have failed (I can think of a certain property on the corner of Loampit Hill/Tyrwhitt Road that immediately springs to mind here).
  • Money to roll out the 'brown bins' garden waste collection trial to almost 20,000 homes. Our budget amendment the year before last resulted in the successful pilot. We are now saying lets start rolling the bins out permanently.
While the Greens have submitted a detailed budget amendment, the Lib Dems have again opted for the back of a fag packet option. They propose a zero rate increase in Council Tax by scrapping the Mayor's proposals to spend £2m on measures to tackle the recesssion. That's it, no attempt to overturn any cuts they might not like, no positive growth proposals to help us tackle the 'triple crunch' of climate change, peak oil and the credit-fuelled financial crisis. I am confident that our proposals will benefit residents more, both in the medium and long-term, both in terms of energy bill savings, new jobs and warmer homes than a one-off council tax freeze. No budget amendments from the Tories (again) or the Socialists.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Operation Insulation: Part 1 Completed!

Well, it's been a bit of a mammoth undertaking, involving moving furniture from room to room and kipping at Ute's for half the month, but finally my under floor insulation is all done and the floor boards all sanded, sealed and oiled. Most importantly, my flat feels noticeably less draughty, with a few inches of hemp insulation underneath the floor boards. Really pleased with the work - it took longer than envisaged, due to extra problems such as rotten joists being discovered, but more than happy to recommend the carpenters who did it to anyone interested in getting similar work done. Now just got to paint the skirting boards, move all my things back to the right place and wait for planning permission before I can embark on part 2 and 3, which involves replacing the windows and getting the walls insulated. . .

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ladywell Leisure Centre Users' Forum

Just a quick post to flag up the Ladywell Leisure Centre Users Forum and the Ladywell Pool Users Group. The former is a quarterly meeting organised by Parkwood, who run the centre, as a forum for users to air concerns and suggestions. The next forum in on Thursday 26th March, 6pm, at the Leisure Centre.

The Ladywell Pool Users group was set up to prod the Council to maintain the pool properly at least until its replacement is up and running. You can contact them by e-mail or use the discussion forum on the Save Ladywell Pool site.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Next mtg of LVIG: this Wednesday

The next meeting of the Ladywell Village Improvement Group will be held this Wednesday (18 February) at the St Mary's Centre, Ladywell Road at 7.30pm.

Agenda below. The committee have also put together an action plan of what they feel are the key issues and events to work towards over the next few months, and are keen to get feedback. Come along to the meeting or join the discussion at:


1. Welcome / Apologies for absence
2. Minutes of meeting held 21 January
3. Ladywell Action Plan
4. Play Tower update - presentation of current proposal
5. Financial report
6. Publicity update
7. AOB

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Play Areas for Foxborough Gardens and Hilly Fields

Good News Flash! Foxborough Gardens and Hilly Fields have both got funding for new play areas. Ladywell Fields, Blythe Hill Fields and Clare Road estate are among other areas locally that are also set to benefit. The funding comes from the £1.15m of funding Lewisham Council has got from the government as part of the 'Playbuilder' scheme, to provide good quality play areas for under-8s. We were hopeful that we would get the funding, and the Mayor formally approved the officers' recommendations at Mayor and Cabinet last night. The full report and list of areas set to get new play areas can be found here.

The funding for Foxborough Gardens is for a new play area (there is nothing on the estate at the moment), while the Hilly Fields funding is part of a bigger scheme HFUG (Hilly Fields Users' Group) is working on to overhaul the play equipment at the top of the park, and will be pooled with other funding already secured.

The funding for Ladywell Fields is for extra play equipment from natural materials for the proposed adventure playground in the middle field (at the end of Malyons Road, by the spiral bridge).

Great news for the ward, and it's lovely to be able to pass on some good news when the wider economic picture is all doom and gloom at the moment. Particularly pleased about Foxborough Gardens, as I've been working with residents on that since last summer. In June last year I presented a petition to the Mayor signed by more than a hundred residents of Foxborough Gardens, calling for a play area. This coincided nicely with the announcement of the Playbuilder funding, so we started working with residents, Pinnacle and the Council's Early Years team on a proposal.

Residents set up a TRA (tenant's and residents association), with the support of Pinnacle, and organised the successful Foxy Fun Day to fundraise for the play area (as well as bring the whole community together for the day). I understand that a planning application should be submitted within the next few weeks, and all being well, the play area could be ready in time for the summer holidays.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Planning Application for New School at Lewisham Bridge

The planning application for the proposed new 3-16 school at the site of the current Lewisham Bridge Primary School has now been submitted and can be found on the Council's planning portal.

The application is for full planning permission for "The redevelopment of Lewisham Bridge Primary School, Elmira Street SE13, to provide a part three/part four storey all-age school (ages 3 -16 years) and a two-storey sports hall, together with landscaping including play areas, provision of 96 cycle spaces and 16 parking spaces."

If you would like to comment on this application please send an email to including the Application Number (DC/09/70671/X ), your name, address, comment and reason for interest, before 17th February.

Some artist impressions from the developer's application are shown here (as always with artist impressions, they should be treated with caution. The one picture at the bottom makes it look like there will be a grassy path with landscaping leading up to the school, but of course that is the existing Cornmill Gardens and the school itself is in the background.)

I think it will probably go to a strategic planning committee, but just in case it comes to my planning committee, I need to be careful what I say and to keep an open mind at this point about the specifics of the planning application. However a few general thoughts on the proposals:
  • It's not an ideal site, but we need a new secondary school and there is no other obvious, well-located site available to the Council within the timescale it needs to deliver a new secondary school (ie a few years ago). In my opinion it is a much better site for a secondary school than the Ladywell Leisure Centre site previously proposed (not on a busy main road, slightly closer to the north of the borough where the need for secondary school places is greatest, very close to public transport hubs).
  • It is a small site for a secondary school, but this is inner-city London and unfortunately, we don't have sites with rolling playing fields around here to choose from. Other schools, such as Northbrook and Addey & Stanhope are on similarly constrained sites (I think this site is actually bigger than these two). The current site is arguably under-used, ie the school is big enough for a 3-form entry primary but it has for a number of years only had 1 and a half-form entry.
  • Greens, along with the Socialists and other parties, called for a community school, ie one run by the local authority, but this was blocked by education minister Ed Balls, and Mayor Steve Bullock backed down on this rather than put up a fight and further delay the new school. We could argue about the pros and cons of this for ages, but given that there is unfortunately little imminent prospect of a Green or Socialist government, only a neo-liberal government (be it Tory or Labour) which supports acadamies etc, we may just have to accept that as a battle we can't currently win. Prendergast has an established and generally good reputation in the borough and is now conforming to the borough's admissions policy.
  • Like all the other schools being built under the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) programme, it will be built using PFI (private finance initiative) money, ie on tick and we'll be paying it back over the next 25 years. Not something Greens support, but again, the funding of choice of the current government.
  • There have been and will be local concerns about the extra pressure on surrounding roads due to the increase in pupil numbers, and the cumulative effect of this, alongside the proposed developments at Loampit Vale, Lewisham Gateway and Thurston Road. This is an issue that the highways officers will have to address when making their recommendations to the planning committee, and the school will need to demonstrate that it has a robust school travel plan which will do everything it can to encourage pupils and staff to walk, cycle or take public transport to school. It is a well-located site, near to cycle routes, buses, the DLR and the train station.
  • There will be inconvenience to existing pupils, staff and parents while the current school is decanted to the Mornington Centre, but I think the impact of the decant will be considerably less than trying to build the new school in phases with the existing school still on site. A limited number of families and staff will be inconvenienced for a limited amount of time. The constraints that would have been placed on design and construction by trying to build a new school with the existing school on site would, I believe, have resulted in a far inferior design and much greater inconvenience to many. That said, much of my own primary education was spent in portakabin classrooms and between several different sites as the school was being changed, and to be honest, we adapted.
  • Not building a new school would mean that many Lewisham children would have to commute outside the borough or to the other end of the borough to get to school, as many already do.
  • The flipside of this of course if that in reducing a primary school down from 1 and a half-form entry to one-form entry, while at the same time there are plans for hundreds of new homes to be built next door, is that there may well in the future be a shortage of primary school places in central Lewisham.
  • A number of people have expressed concern about how an all-through school will work, eg if there will be an increase in bullying etc. I'm no expert on this, but it seems to work with public schools, many schools elsewhere in Europe and the site is being designed in 3 distinct zones, with separate play areas and entrances for the nursery, primary and secondary school pupils. I taught at a 6-19 school in Minsk, Belarus, for a year, and it simply wasn't an issue - the younger children had separate play times to the older children, and each would look out for the other in corridors etc.
  • I went along to the exhibition at Lewisham Bridge School before Christmas, to see the designs for the new school. I went with some trepidation and to be honest was pleasantly surprised with what was being proposed. I thought the designs made good use of the space available. I think we are now on something like the third version of the plans that have been to the design panel, the previous versions having been heavily criticised. I'm told that once the decision to decant rather than build in phases had been made, this freed the architects up to look at the whole site. Whereas earlier incarnations of the plans had considered having air-conditioned classrooms with windows that wouldn't open alongside the railway line, the current plans propose having the sports hall and dining area next to the railway, in a separate building (with covered walkways), which can be opened up for community access out of school hours.
  • Off the top of my head I can't remember exactly what percentage of the site the footprint of the buildings comprise, but I did ask at the exhibition and if I recall correctly it was around 50%, ie a fair chunk of the site is ear-marked for outdoor play areas. Not as much as many of us would like, I'm sure, but not as bad as I feared it might be, given the site constraints. There is also the potential for the school to make use of the new leisure centre next door, when it is finally built.
  • Sustainability issues: from what I have seen of the plans for the school so far, they seem to address sustainability issues much more comprehensively than the schools that have already been built/are being built under the BSF scheme. The applicants seem to be aiming for a BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) excellent rating, which, if achieved, will be no mean feat. You can read the full preliminary BREEAM report here. It's disappointing that grey water recycling doesn't appear to have been incorporated into the plans, but designers seem confident that a substantial percentage of the school's energy needs will be met on site with a combination of solar panels and a biomass boiler.
  • The Sustainable Development Committee, which I chair, is undertaking an ongoing review of the extent to which the BSF programme is addressing sustainability issues - not just looking at solar panels etc, but also wider issues around how the building meets the needs of the local community etc. We will be looking at the proposals for the new school at our meeting this Wednesday.
  • Ladywell Society briefly discussed the new school plans at its meeting last Tuesday, and both Lewisham Central councillor Andrew Milton and I were there. A number of concerns were expressed, but members decided to go away and look at the proposals again in more detail before reaching a firm view either way.
  • Biodiversity: efforts will need to be made to relocate the frogs, newts and other wildlife, which my ward colleague, Mike, who built the wildlife garden a few years back, assures me are still living in the wildlife garden. The time to do this is very soon, ie before they lay spawn this Spring.
Apologies for the rather long post; I've been mulling this over for a while as I realise it's quite a controversial issue and not everyone in the ward (or within my own party) will agree with the comments I've made here.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rail works this Sunday

Just received the following e-mail:

"We have just been advised by Network Rail that they need an emergency track possession to replace a set of points between New Cross and St. Johns.

As a result, Southeastern train services will NOT call at New Cross and St. Johns stations on Sunday, 8 February. We will be operating replacement bus services for passengers requiring those stations.

Information will be posted on our website and on posters at stations"

I'm assuming this is if the tracks aren't submerged under 6 inches of snow again . . .

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Violence in Sri Lanka

The dire and deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, where hundreds of civilians have reportedly been killed over the past few weeks, including an incident where one hospital was bombed a number of times, has only fleetingly made the news in the UK.

However for the many Tamil residents in Lewisham, including many in Ladywell, it is obviously a grave concern, and I know some are still trying to contact friends and relatives to check they are safe. There have been a couple of recent demonstrations in London, and Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London and former human rights MEP of the year, spoke at one this Saturday and she issued the following statement:

"I am appalled by the human rights violations currently taking place in Sri Lanka. I have been informed by aid workers that hundreds of civilians have been killed in the last week and the fear is that this situation could become far worse than the recent dreadful devastation of Gaza.

"On Thursday next week, a resolution on Sri Lanka is due to be debated in the European Parliament at the request of the Green MEPs. I also call on the UK Government and the international community to respond immediately to help the many innocent people caught in the crossfire.

"I will be attending the protest this Saturday in central London to demand action to alleviate the suffering and provide emergency medical supplies and humanitarian aid, which have so far not been forthcoming. This war demands the attention of the press and world leaders and I will be doing all in my power to raise the alarm and involve decision makers in finding a peaceful outcome."

People are still having fun

It really shouldn't be allowed . . .
Brockley and Ladywell were looking particularly lovely today, and there were more people on Hilly Fields than I've ever seen, except for the midsummer fayre.