Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Licensing Application: Cafe Oscars

Café Oscars
48 Ladywell Road
SE13 7UZ

Applied for sale of alcohol Monday – Friday 1100 – 1800, Saturday 1100 - 1700 & Sunday 1100 – 1600.

Any representations either way should reach Lewisham Licensing Team by 28th April 2010. E-mail

Monday, March 29, 2010

Prendergast Hilly Fields Plans - what did you think?

I popped in to look at the proposals for Prendergast Hilly Fields at the drop in session this evening. I was quite favourably impressed, but would be keen to hear what others who saw the plans thought.

I suspect the two potentially most contentious aspects of the plans will be where to place the temporary classrooms while the lower site is decanted and rebuilt, and the extra height of the lower site buildings. The two options proposed for the decant classrooms are either to put them on two of the tennis courts for the year while the work takes place, or to put them on the land adjacent to the upper site school, near the basketball courts. With the first option, the community would lose the use of the tennis courts for a year, but potentially at the end of it, get brand new, resurfaced tennis courts. The second option would involve temporary loss of green space adjacent to the school but not, I'm told, involve needing to remove any mature trees. I need to go and take a look at the site to get a clear picture of it in my mind, and would be keen to hear the community's views on this, and the thoughts of Friends of Hilly Fields.

I like the idea of having one, high quality building on the lower site rather than the mish mash that is currently there. The proposals involve keeping the existing sports hall, but building around and above it. The new buildings would be 4 storeys in the middle and 3 storeys at the sides adjacent to the neighbouring houses. The extra height would enable the sixth form to grow, while the plans also include more landscaped outside space in the middle, with a sightline from Hilly Fields through to the cemeteries, 'connecting the two green spaces'.

The boundary treatment would be a combination of brick wall and quality railings, rather than the rather tatty chainlink fence currently there. There haven't decided on the exact materials they plan to use the the building itself, but are looking at brick, rather than a rendered finish, which should age better. The architect seemed keen to go for a brick colour that contrasted with the neighbouring red brick buildings on Adelaide Avenue rather than trying to match it.

I was keen to see how they envisaged the new building relating to Ivy Road, which has been problematic in the past. The windows of the exam hall that face onto Ivy Road have been boarded up almost since it was built, due to vandalism problems. Ivy Road is looking better these days, with less graffiti and flytipping, but there is still limited footfall along there and security is an issue. They seemed to be planning a delivery entrance on the Ivy Road side, and a bit more landscaping, rather than just the back wall of buildings, but it's a tricky issue to resolve.

The flat roofs on the new building incorporate both brown and green living roofs, which if done properly could look good from Hilly Fields, and while they were uncertain how they would attain the 20% renewables target, were looking at using air source heat pumps and solar thermal on the roof. Previous BSF schools in Lewisham have tended to go for biomass boilers, as they proved the most cost-effective way to meet the 20% target, but now there are concerns over the impact these may have on air quality and they are looking at other options. Solar thermal is not normally a viable option at schools, as there isn't a huge demand for hot water, but if the kitchens and sports facilities are all on the lower site, this may be more viable.

The changes to the top site building are fairly minor and, as far as I can tell involve adding a lift inside the main building, moving the kitchens down to the lower site to create more space next to the main hall, demolishing the rather tatty white toilet block and replacing it with outside space, and, rearranging some of the classrooms to create extra space.

The project team are looking to submit the planning application in April with a view to getting planning permission over the summer and starting the rebuild/refurb in the Autumn term. I would be keen to hear your views on the plans, if you saw them. I've asked if they can also be made available online for those who were unable to attend the drop-in session.

New refuse bins and recycling box/bin changes in the pipeline

Over on his Love Lewisham blog, Nigel Tyrell, the Council's head of environment, has outlined his team's plans to make black bins smaller and green bins bigger, in a bid to encourage people to throw away less and recycle more. The new bins are being rolled out over the next few months and if it's affecting your street, you should get a leaflet beforehand. I supported the plans when we scrutinised them on Sustainable Development Committee and think it's a step in the right direction. I suspect they may be more suitable for houses rather than houses converted into flats. More details here.

Smaller wheelie bins will of course also block less of the pavement than bigger wheelie bins, though clearly the optimum is no wheelie bins blocking the pavement! This particular issue is clearly a bug bear of a number of residents I've been speaking to recently and I'd be keen to hear from more people about how you think the Council should approach the issue.

Future Community Garden?

This little patch of ground, between Huxbear Street and Elsiemaud Road, has long been a bit of an overgrown spot, that has tended to attract fly-tipping. It probably did also provide a useful bit of habitat for a bit of wildlife, but it has now been cleared under the Community Payback scheme. It seems like an ideal spot for a few trees and a mini community garden.

After speaking to a number of residents on Huxbear Street and Elsiemaud Road, there seems to be support for something along these lines, along with some kind of path to maintain the short cut between the two streets. I've had a chat with an officer from the Council's Greenscene today, who is going to check who the land belongs to, but he was potentially up for offering support for a community garden there.

Any thoughts or offers to get involved? Leave a note in the comments box or e-mail me if you prefer.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ladywell to get its own conservation area

Back in December I posted about the consultation Lewisham's Planning Department were running to find out residents' views on establishing a conservation area in Ladywell. The report on this, went to Mayor & Cabinet on Wednesday and the Mayor agreed the recommendation to create a conservation area in Ladywell and approve the making of article 4 directions to the residential streets .

The area includes Algiers Road, Gillian Street and sections of Embleton Road, Ermine Road, Algernon Road, Ladywell Road and Vicar's Hill. You can see a (not very clear) map of the proposed area here, the report for Mayor & Cabinet here, and the report on the consultation responses here.

A bit of background from the report on the reasons behind establishing the conservation area:

"When the review of the nearby St. Mary’s Conservation Area was considered by Mayor & Cabinet on 29 November 2006, members of the public asked for the boundary to be extended to include the Ladywell area. Officers’ advice was not to include Ladywell into the St. Mary’s Conservation Area, but to consider it as a conservation area in its own right. Subsequent to this, this year’s conservation area review programme included the survey of Ladywell to assess the architectural and historic interest of the area and the drafting of a conservation area appraisal. The proposed Ladywell Conservation Area comprises a late Victorian residential suburban development which was built by Lewisham local developer Samuel J. Jerrard through the 1880s and 1890s. Jerrard built up long stretches of Vicars Hill and the newly laid out streets Algernon Road, Algiers Road, Ermine and Embleton Road, taking advantage of the topography and the good transport links to London. His houses are generously sized and stylistically highly distinctive as a group. The proposed conservation area also includes the infill development of the late 19th and early 20th century that completed the Jerrard streets as well as the commercial core of Ladywell, known as Ladywell Village, along Ladywell Road between the railway bridge and Slagrove Place. This area contains some of the oldest houses and pubs of Ladywell and Edwardian commercial properties that were constructed around 1900 in response to the rapidly increasing community around them."

The report states that the Article 4 direction will "withdraw permitted development rights currently allowed under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (No. 2) (England) Order 2008 where visible from any public viewpoint. This means that planning permission will be required for alterations such as the replacement of windows or doors, retiling of roofs, rooflights, alterations to chimneys, demolition of garden walls, pebbledashing or painting of elevations and other minor alterations. The effect is not that those developments can not be carried out, but simply that they are no longer automatically permitted. This enables the planning service to retain some control over the design and detailing of proposed alterations".

The report explains that making an Article 4 Direction "usually involves formally serving a notice upon owner and occupiers and inviting representations. The notice will be accompanied by a guidance sheet explaining what an Article 4 Direction is, and why one has been served in this particular case. The need to apply for planning permission comes into force with serving the notice, but the Council will have to confirm the direction within six months, or it lapses."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gordonbrock update

Sue and I attended a meeting with council officers yesterday, and this is the update on the situation (further information will be available at the meeting with parents tonight):

Legal challenge: Judicial review proceedings have been issued against the Council in relation to the planning permission for Gordonbrock School granted on 21st December 2009. They were issued by an individual with the support of the Brockley Society on 18th March under reference CO/3771/2010. The basis of the claim is essentially that the planning decision is procedurally flawed. Following receipt of a pre-action protocol letter, which is part of the standard procedure in these cases, the Council instructed Leading Counsel, attended a consultation with him, and responded to the pre-action protocol letter. At all times the Council has acted in accordance with the advice of Leading Counsel. It was his advice that the Council could not resist the claim – in other words the Council has accepted that the planning application was procedurally flawed as it was claimed (even if legally correct), and notified the claimant accordingly. The claimant is pursuing the judicial review proceedings in spite of this.

Funding: As notified earlier, the funding for this scheme is less at risk than initially feared as it does not consist of government grants that have to be spent by a certain time. However, there are still financial risks associated with the delay. These are primarily due to the fact that we are close to elections both at national and local level. As the project is far advanced, in spite of the current situation, it seems unlikely that funding would be withdrawn after the general election. However, theoretically this could happen if an incoming government issued a moratorium on spending whilst all funding commitments of the previous government were reviewed. Likewise, at the local level, as financial decisions are made by the mayor, the decision to fund the Gordonbrock scheme could theoretically be reviewed by the incoming administration after the local election on 6th May. In responding to parents Mayor Steve Bullock has stated very clearly that he is fully supporting the part rebuild/part refurbishment of the school as planned. As ward councillors, we are writing to the mayoral candidates to ask for a formal commitment for funding for Gordonbrock school from them should they be elected. All responses will be posted on the blog in due course.

It is worth noting that these risks are less significant than a direct government grant funding scheme would have been but nevertheless they exist and need to be considered in assessing the situation and the impact of the delay on the Gordonbrock project and the overall funding required for it. It is clear now that there will be additional costs in implementing improvements at Gordonbrock and that the council will have to cover them.

Next steps: The Council is committed to the Gordonbrock project as planned and officers continue to work on it in light of the new circumstances and new timeframe. As stated above, the legal challenge is still being pursued. This means that the whole planning process has to be completed again and the decant would be more likely to take place in December/January. If the legal challenge were to be withdrawn (and we are not in a position to assess how likely or unlikely this may be), the decant could probably happen in time for September because different requirements would apply and a shorter timetable would be possible.

The Council's appraisal of Brockley Society's feasibility study will be discussed with Broc Soc representatives at a meeting on Friday in the first instance.

Access to documents: Some parents have written to Council officers requesting access to documents related to the legal challenge. Please note that the Council is not prepared to disclose the documents as they are currently the subject of legal professional privilege as litigation is now in progress (Section 42 FOIA 2000). The Council is also acting in accordance with Leading Counsel's advice with a view to securing that the flaws in the Council decision making are resolved as soon as possible.

The bigger picture: Understandably this may be of no importance to Gordonbrock parents, but the delay also adds pressure on the Council's provision of primary places as Gordonbrock won't be able to go up to 3 form entry from September as would have been possible with the planned decant to Greenvale. This shortage is substantial in the whole borough (and not related locally to the reduction at Lewisham Bridge School) and the Council has to take this into account when planning future provision of primary school places.

As the different issues above show, it is not possible to see just one concern in isolation when assessing the situation and the merits of different proposals for Gordonbrock School. It is rather a jigsaw of different factors that need to be considered together, and ultimately this means in most cases that the outcome is a compromise. The main objective in this case is to improve the learning environment for pupils at Gordonbrock – with the added complications of previous delays, limited funding available, limited space, inevitable disruption for pupils, staff and parents, increased school place requirements and beautiful old but no longer entirely fit for purpose buildings. Noone has probably ever claimed that the plans for Gordonbrock that were passed in December were anything other than a compromise, but we feel they were acceptable in the existing circumstances that should finally enable much needed and long overdue improvements to be made for the benefits of current and future generations of pupils. It is laudable to strive for the perfect solution – it is even more ambitious to aim for the best that is practically possible. We don't think solely pursuing the preservation of the buildings regardless of the consequences, even if this ultimately might mean no changes were made at all, is a responsible position to take.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This blog is 4 years old today!

I've just belatedly realised that it was 4 years ago today (24th March), in the run-up to the 2006 local elections, that I started this blog, more of an experiment than anything. Rather pleased that notwithstanding the occasional break we've managed to keep posting on it right through our term as councillors.

Hopefully it's served its purpose and has been another way for us to let residents know what we're up to, in addition to our newsletters, ward assemblies and face to face contact with people.

It's late now and time to sleep, but we will post tomorrow on Gordonbrock (Ute's writing up notes from our meeting with officers today), Ladywell Conservation Area and the Street Markets Review my committee has just finished . . .

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gordonbrock decant delay - a bit more info

I've been out and about in the ward over the past few days, spoken to a fair few residents and understandably the delay to Gordonbrock School's decant is the number one issue on many people's minds. Lots of concern over the impact this will have on pupils, some children in tears at the news (having spent a large part of this term preparing for the decant), parents left out of pocket having arranged childcare for the extended holidays that wouldn't now be needed and on the whole, great annoyance.

Even some of those who had not been keen on the rebuild plans or the prospect of their children being bussed to Greenville for 18 months said they had got used to the idea, prepared their children, and now the rug has been pulled from under them. Unsurprisingly, I didn't meet a single parent delighted at the prospect of their children being educated in those awful huts in the playground for another 6 months.

A little more info I gleaned from officers:

Parents Meeting: There will be a meeting for parents of Gordonbrock pupils at the school on Thursday 25th March at 7pm to discuss the situation.

One of the key concerns parents have raised is whether the funding will still be there in 6 months time, given the economic climate, the forthcoming general and local elections, and the prospect of a new government making big cuts. Officers said that a large part of the funding for the work is due to come from council prudential borrowing rather than central government funding which means that, assuming the incoming Mayor after 6th May supports the project, the chances of it going ahead are pretty high and not wholly at the mercy of a new national government.

A lot of people I spoke to were highly suspicious about the reasons given for the delay, given that funding was withdrawn in 2005, and thought it was some kind of council ruse to avoid rebuilding Gordonbrock. Nothing I've heard from officers so far makes me think this is the case and I believe the Mayor is still fully committed to the project (and will hopefully confirm this to reassure parents in the next few days). Never say never, however.

What happens next?
Things should become clearer to everyone by the end of this week, but it looks like the planning application will have to be resubmitted and the process gone through again. As I understand it, this is due to a mistake by the planning department and picked up on by Brockley Society lawyers, in not getting an Environmental Impact Assessment done, which apparently is required for sites over half a hectare.

Clearly there are lessons to be learnt by the planning department here, and potentially exceedingly expensive ones for the Council (going through the whole planning process again, securing the decant site and temporary classrooms for six months, legal costs etc won't come cheaply).

Council Officers, together with the head teacher and a governor, are meeting with representatives from Brockley Society this Friday, to discuss their legal letter and feasibility study and have promised to update ward councillors shortly after that.

In addition, Ute and I have a meeting with the Council officers leading on the project this Wednesday. If you have specific questions you would like us to put to them, do let us know, or of course you can ask them at the parents meeting on Thursday evening.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Prendergast Hilly Fields - drop in session to view designs for rebuild/refurb, Monday 29th March

Gordonbrock Primary isn't the only school in Ladywell earmarked for rebuild/refurb plans - Prendergast Hilly Fields is also due to have millions of pounds spent on it, under the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) programme. The plans involve demolishing and rebuilding the existing buildings at the lower site on Adelaide Avenue, and refurbing the existing listed building on Hilly Fields "in line with English Heritage guidelines".

A drop in session has been arranged for local residents to see the designs and meet the project team on Monday 29th March, from 5-8pm, in the hall on the Adelaide Avenue site.

I would urge people to go along and have their say. Let's see if this can be third time lucky, after the problems with both the Lewisham Bridge and Gordonbrock school projects. Done properly, Lewisham could make this an exemplar of how to refurbish a historical building to high modern standards of energy efficiency. As with the other BSF projects, the funding is PFI, so as we'll be paying through the nose for it for the next 25 years, let's at least make sure it's good.

Gordonbrock Decant - delayed

I found out today that the decant and rebuilding programme for Gordonbrock School has been delayed by six months due to a legal challenge by Brockley Society. I heard from Council officers on Tuesday evening that a delay was likely, and letters were sent home to parents yesterday confirming this. I understand that Council officers and Brockley Society representatives will be meeting next week to discuss the legal challenge, and hopefully more will become clear after that. There will also be a meeting for parents at the school soon, date tbc.

I don't know the details, but my understanding is that the challenge is to do with whether or not the Council carried out an environmental impact assessment as part of the planning process.

At this stage I've got a lot more questions than I have answers, and am keen to get more information from officers as soon as possible, particularly about what the financial implications of this latest delay will be. While I've been quite vocal in my criticism of aspects of the planning application, in particular the appearance of the new building, I worked constructively with officers to secure some (modest) improvements to it, and was clear that the latest application was an improvement on the 2005 application in a number of ways. I am concerned that this latest delay may jeopardise the funding, and while I think the current plans are far from perfect, they are far better than no improvements at all. It would be awful for the school to once again lose the funding, as happened 5 years ago.

In addition to the legal challenge, Brockley Society have published a feasibility study suggesting an alternative way of refurbishing the existing buildings, without demolishing any of them, but still increasing capacity to three form entry, creating larger classrooms, a large assembly hall etc. The document, looks professionally produced and clearly the society have put a lot of time and effort into it, but comes very late in the day, just a few weeks before the decant was scheduled to start. I've asked officers for their views on the viability of what is proposed in it, and what the financial implications would be.

I hope to be able to be able to post more information soon, when I have it. In the meantime I've set up a straw poll on the site to gauge readers' opinions. If the options I've given don't cover your view, please use the comments section of this post to share them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Questions to Mayor & Cabinet - responses

On 1st March, we had our final full council meeting of this term. I took the opportunity to submit a number of written questions to Mayor & Cabinet on a number of issues, including several long-term unresolved pieces of casework. Sometimes it can be useful to get a formal response on record, rather than just e-mail, and sometimes it can trigger useful action. I asked questions on:
  • road safety at the junction of Tyrwhitt Road and Hilly Fields Crescent
  • the state of the footpaths in Hilly Fields
  • environmental enforcement action on 46 Ladywell Road
  • Brockley PFI: leaseholder major works repayment terms
  • Brockley PFI: living roofs on garages
  • school places and discussions with the owners of Convoys Wharf about plans for the new school there
The questions and responses to these are below, plus one Ute asked about 63a Loampit Hill, another long-term unresolved piece of casework we've been chasing for 4 years.

Question by Councillor Luxton of the Deputy Mayor
A number of local residents have raised safety concerns about the junction of Hilly Fields Crescent with Tyrwhitt Road. It is a popular place to cross to get to Hilly Fields, but something of a blind spot for all road users due to the bend in the road. Has the Highways department ever carried out a safety audit at this location and have highways officers got any recommendations on how safety could be improved here? Have there been any recorded accidents here in the past 5 years?

Hilly Fields Crescent and Tyrwhitt Road are within a 20mph zone with traffic calming, which was installed in 2005. There are no recorded accidents at this junction in the 5 year period to the end of October 2009, the latest available data.

There are no current proposals for this junction and safety audits are carried out only on planned schemes. Visibility at this junction on the western side is poor with the added complication of a bus stop there.

The Council maintains a list of small scale traffic management and pedestrian crossing requests. A proposal for a controlled crossing just east of this junction is on the list of locations to be assessed as to whether a zebra crossing is viable. An assessment will include pedestrian counts, vehicle speeds, desired crossing points and visibility before a crossing can be designed. If viable it will be added to the list of small scale schemes to be prioritised and those to be progressed will be the schemes with the highest priority and within the budget available.

Question by Councillor Luxton of the Cabinet Member for Customer Services
For the past two years Brockley Cross Action Group have organised a popular and well-attended Fun Run on Hilly Fields. However this year they are so concerned about the state of the footpaths on Hilly Fields that they fear it will be unsafe to do so. Obviously, this is very disappointing for the many local residents who take part in this event. Please could you provide an update on what progress has been made with plans to resurface the footpaths on Hilly Fields?

The poor condition of footpaths in a number of our public parks is one that we are keenly aware of and continue to make repairs through both planned maintenance and externally funded works. We were successful, in the spring of 2009, in securing funding to resurface and repair the east to west pathway.

Lewisham is very fortunate to have many great parks situated on high ground, affording wonderful views across London, however these hills are made up of London clay which cause more problems in laying pathways. The costs of resurfacing is therefore extremely high.

In partnership with the local community, we are actively making improvements at Hilly Fields, this Spring will see the installation of a new children’s playground and works are progressing with the exciting cricket project. These improvements make the need for good footpaths a priority. With this in mind we have bid for Transport for London cycling and walking funding to resurface the north to south pathway, from the bowls club to Eastern Road. We will learn the outcome of the bid in March, and if successful works can take place early in the new financial year. Should the bid not be successful some repairs will be made to this pathway, but not a full resurface.

Question by Councillor Luxton of the Cabinet Member for Customer Services
In September 2008 the Council’s environmental health team served an enforcement notice on 46 Ladywell Road, a long-term derelict property, regarding the state of the property and a pigeon infestation. Please can you outline what steps have been taken since then to bring the property back into a state of repair and whether the notice to carry out works in default will now be carried out, given that the owner has not taken any remedial action?

There is a Notice served under section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 that requires the owner to abate a statutory nuisance being caused by pigeons infesting his property through holes in the rear main roof.

The notice requires the roof be repaired or renewed.

The owner has made no attempt to comply with the notice or accept offers of help made by the Empty Properties Officer. The Council has little option therefore but to carry out the works in his default if this nuisance is to be abated. Officers are currently arranging for the property to be viewed by a contractor to have the roof repaired.

The Council will pursue the owner for all its costs and charges for this work.

Question by Councillor Luxton of the Cabinet Member for Customer Services
Please provide an update on when a decision on leaseholder repayment terms for major works bills will be taken?

A proposal on extending leaseholder repayment terms for service charges and major works has been sent to Lewisham Homes and Regenter B3 for their leaseholders to consider and provide comments on. It is hoped that a report setting out the extended repayment proposals will be made to Mayor & Cabinet during March for consideration.

Question by Councillor Luxton of the Cabinet Member for Customer Services
In answer to a question I asked in May 2009, I was told that Regenter B3 were looking at the possibility of constructing a living roof utilizing some of the garage roofs they manage. Please can you provide an update on how many garage roofs have been replaced under the Brockley PFI contract, and of these, how many to date have incorporated living roofs?

The construction of a living roof is still a possibility within the Brockley PFI. This scheme is non contractual and RB3 has had difficulty locating the owners and keys to the majority of the garages. RB3 is now in a better position to consider this scheme and will consult with councillors in the spring time to locate and construct a living roof.

Question by Councillor Luxton of the Deputy Mayor
Further to my question in June 2009, have Council officers had any recent discussions with the owners of Convoys Wharf about the proposals to build a school on the site? Have the discussions focussed purely on primary school provision, or have officers discussed including some secondary school provision? Please can you also confirm whether any discussions have taken place with Greenwich Council about Lewisham utilising the now closed Charlotte Turner Primary School, which is almost adjacent to the Convoys Wharf site?

The Council is now in ongoing discussions with Hutchison Whampoa, the owners of Convoys Wharf, regarding their proposals for the site. The Council is seeking to secure the delivery of a primary school on the site together with a contribution to the cost of providing off-site secondary school places.

A variety of options are currently being considered about how to expand our primary place as well as ensure sufficient decant space is available for our building programmes. Officers are liaising with their counterparts in other boroughs so that a strategic response can be taken across borough boundaries.

Question by Councillor Michel of the Cabinet Member for Customer Services
Please could you provide an update on what steps the Council is taking to recoup the money it has spent on repairs in default to 63a Loampit Hill? Please outline the reasons for the latest delays and give an indication of how long you think it will take for this to be resolved?

A new roof was placed on this property, by contractors, who carried out works in default following an abatement notice under the Environment Protection Act 1990. The failed roof was giving rise to a pigeon infestation. Notice was served on 21.5.05 and works completed in November 2007. A charge of £20,442 has been placed on the property. This debt remains outstanding along with interest.

The elderly owner of the property has since died. Legal Services have been endeavouring to serve notice on the relevant proprietor to chase the outstanding debt and interest. Only recently has it been established that an application for probate has been made but outside of the jurisdiction of the UK. As soon as the issue of probate has been resolved the authority will pursue its outstanding charge. If the debt remains outstanding the council will seek to take possession of the property under the Law of Property Act 1925 and dispose of the property in auction.

Consultation on Lewisham's Planning Policy

A Council consultation is currently underway on the Local Development Framework (LDF). This is the proposed new overarching planning policy, which if approved will replace the existing Urban Development Plan (UDP). It is these policies, along with the London Plan, that planning officers and planning committees have to use when reaching decisions on planning applications.

This is the third attempt Lewisham's Planning Department has had at consulting on this document after the two previous version of the LDF had to be scrapped when government guidelines changed. Lewisham Green Party councillors submitted detailed comments on the previous version and we will do so again on this version. A few of our points from previous consultations were taken on board and incorporated into the new framework, but most were not.

I would encourage local residents to respond to this consultation and make their views known. Concerns over the major developments planned for Lewisham town centre have been far and away the biggest issue on the doorstep when we've been speaking to Ladywell residents recently, particularly those living near to Loampit Vale. This document enshrines in policy the 'growth corridor' vision for Lewisham, Deptford and Catford town centres and it's important that residents views on this are taken on board.

That said, however far this planning framework is from what I'd like to see, it is a considerable improvement on the existing UDP. It's been incredibly frustrating over the past 4 years to sit on a planning committee with local planning policy that is not fit for purpose and leaves you all too often powerless to turn down inappropriate developments.

You can see and respond to the consulation online here. The deadline for comments is Tuesday 6th April.

Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries: Friends meeting next Tuesday

The next meeting of the Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries is on Tuesday 16th March at 7.30pm at the Brockley Grove depot. I've had several people contact me concerned about work taking place in the cemeteries so I'm keen to hear from Council officers what work is being done and why, and what progress has been made on producing a longer-term management plan for the cemeteries, both as historical cemeteries and a borough site of nature conservation importance.

It is also hoped that the person who is seeking to renovate the grave of poet Ernest Dowson will be present to give an update on their plans.

FOBLC are having a workday jointly with the Council Nature Conservation Department’s Nature’s Gym on Saturday 20th March 11am – 2pm. Please meet at the chapel near the Ladywell Road gate. Note that this a change of date from that previously announced

After that, their next workday is scheduled for Sunday 18th April 10am – 1pm.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Friends of Hilly Fields - record turnout for meeting

There was a record turnout of around 40 people for last night's meeting of Friends of Hilly Fields, with standing room only in the park keeper's office. Normally between 5 and 10 people show up. The reason that so many people came last night was due to concern over the wording of an article on the Friends of Hilly Fields' website, which was rather anti-dog and threatening to try and ban dogs from Hilly Fields.

The post wasn't written by the chair, or the other active members of the group, didn't represent their views, and has since been removed, but had clearly caused distress to a number of responsible dog owners who had read it. Once this was clarified, a very productive meeting ensued, with lots of dog walkers hopefully leaving with an appreciation of the hard work that a relatively small number of committed friends of Hilly Fields have been carrying out on a voluntary basis for a number of years.

Among the items discussed, some of which Rachel, the chair of the group will be following up on directly, and others which I will follow up on, were:
  • The failure of Glendale to clear away the Autumn leaves in a timely fashion. The park keeper Keith had done his bit, and collected all the leaves in one area, but they were only removed in January/February, by which time, the Spring bulbs were already coming up and the eventual removal of the leaves from the shaded garden area caused damage to the usually impressive display of crocuses and snowdrops in that part of the park. Glendale have apologised, but the Friends are keen to make sure we don't see a similar occurence next year. This has something that had already been flagged up to me and I have followed up on via the casework system.
  • The spraying of fungicide on the tennis courts - a gentleman present wanted to know what was sprayed, whether this was within guidelines and whether there was any risk to children on the adjacent play area. (Mike knows a lot more about this kind of thing than I do, and chatted to the resident concerned afterwards).
  • The poor state of the steps to the park from Vicar's Hill, and the fact that the corpse of a dead fox had been near the Vicar's Hill entrance since the beginning of February and not removed despite being reported.
  • The perceived increase in vehicle usage in the park, on paths rather than just on the roads around, and the damage this was doing both to paths and the grass alongside them, with muddy ruts appearing. This is something I've noticed more of recently too, and think Glendale need to make clear to their staff that they should only be driving their trucks on the park when they need to move equipment, not everytime they want to get from A to B rather than walking.
  • The proposals for a mini-orchard of 8 apple trees between the stone circle and the nature reserve.
  • The fact that Friends of Hilly Fields have affiliated to the Octavia Hill society and are looking to commemorate the centenary of her birth with a project in the shaded garden area in her honour. Octavia Hill was a leading social reformer and one of the founders of the National Trust. She lived locally (on Elswick Road I believe) and was instrumental in raising subscriptions to save Hilly Fields from being built over. More info on the history section of the Friends of Hilly Fields website.
  • Keith, the Hilly Fields bird champion, (who has a blog too), reported that 18 species were spotted during the Hilly Fields Big Bird Watch at the end of January.
  • The state of the footpaths in the park and concern over safety at the Tyrwhitt Road/Hilly Fields Crescent junction (I'll blog about this separately as I asked questions at the recent Council meeting on this subject).
  • The gate to the shaded garden area still not having been fixed, which means that dogs off leads wander in, when it is supposed to be a dog free area (I've reported this twice now via the casework system, and been told it's on the list, but why it takes so long to repair a gate I don't know).
  • The possibility of organising another Dawn Chorus (for those who like to get up and listen to birdsong at 6am). Apparently the beginning of April is the best time to do this.
  • Josh from Lewisham Community Sports was there to answer questions about his organisation's work in the park. Some concern was expressed that the grass by the stone circle has still not recovered from the lengthy period the marquee was up last year, and there was some discussion as to whether Glendale should have done remedial work out of the license fees paid by Lewisham Community Sports and Brockley Max to hold their events in the park.
  • Peter Rankin from Envirowork Lewisham spoke about their proposals for the cricket pitch (see previous post), which were broadly welcomed.
  • The gates on Eastern Road - discussion over the fact that there are lovely gates, a previous successful Friends of Hilly Fields project, but that they are rarely locked by Glendale due to issues over who has keys, Prendergast needing access etc. In addition the 'no unauthorised vehicles' sign is too small and too far up the road, so people don't notice it or ignore it. As a consequence, lots of vehicles that ought not to are getting on to the park and it also leads to other problems such as fly-tippping.
  • Dog-fouling: those present at the meeting suggested it was time for some concerted action on this, not just by Council officers, but more of a community effort, and maybe to have another day of putting flags next to all the dog muck, so dog owners (the irresponsible minority of them, that is) could appreciate the cumulatie effect of not clearing up after their mutt.
All in all, a very useful meeting, with lots of things to follow up on.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Things I never expected to hear myself saying, part 1

"This isn't about ethics, or climate change or the environment, this is about primary fiduciary duty."


Me, a week or two back, in pensions committee, arguing that we should instruct our fund managers to support the BP and Shell Shareholder motions going to their AGMs, which call for them to further consider and justify the economic as well as environmental grounds for investing in tar sand oils.

Tar sands (or oil sands) are among the world’s dirtiest fuels: their extraction produces on average three times the greenhouse gases of conventional oil. The pollution, deforestation and wildlife disturbance associated with tar sands developments also threaten the traditional livelihoods, health and wellbeing of indigenous communities. In addition, serious questions have been raised about the financial risks of oil sands. It's far from clear that they represent a prudent investment.

Fair Pensions is campaigning alongside a number of other organisations, including Greenpeace, to encourage pension funds to support the shareholder motions which are going to the BP and Shell AGMs in April and May. You can find out more about their campaign, and contact your pension fund to ask them to support the motions, by going to their Counting the Cost website.

As a member of Lewisham's Pension Committee, we are regularly reminded by officers that a 1% drop in pension fund value equates to having to find £1m from the Council's budget to meet its pension liabilities and that we can be held personally responsible if we go against legal advice and the fund loses money (don't think it works the other way round). And I've gradually learnt over the past few years that talking about ethics gets you nowhere with fund managers and gets lawyers very alarmed and reminding you of your primary fiduciary duty - our main responsibility is to maximise profits for the pension fund and sod the consequences. So a campaign that encourages pension fund members to challenge fund managers on their own terms, rather than 'woolly ethics' was music to my ears.

In this case, with regards to the tar sands motions, officers advised us to delay making a decision until a report on the tar sands issue has been published by the Local Authority Pension Funds Forum (LAPFF), of which Lewisham is a member. If the LAPFF recommends supporting the motions, then Lewisham is likely to do so, although the decision has ultimately been delegated to the Exective Director for Resources, as the committee won't be meeting again before the AGMs. If all the local authority pension funds that are members of the LAPFF support the shareholder motions, this will send a clear and powerful message to the management of BP and Shell.

Do take a look at the Counting the Cost website for details of how you can support the campaign.