Saturday, February 19, 2011

Photos from today's Carnival against the cuts in Lewisham

A few photos from today's Carnival against the Cuts in Lewisham. It was a really well-attended event, despite the drizzly weather, with around 700-1000 people taking part. It was also nice to see the expensive tellytubby hillocks by Lewisham roundabout being put to good community use for the speeches etc afterwards!

At last Thursday's Mayor and Cabinet meeting, a swathe of cuts were agreed, including 'closure' of 5 of our libraries (there may be some kind of continued community use, but details have still to be confirmed), huge increases to charges for many things, including day care for the elderly and disabled, meals on wheels, school meals and controlled parking zones. You can read some of the details of the cuts proposed here (this link may not work once the Council's main website is back up again).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ladywell Arena to be transferred over to community group?

A couple of weeks ago the South London Press reported that the Council was looking for community and sports groups to take over the management of Ladywell Arena (the athletics track and gym on the Catford side of Ladywell Fields).

I was a bit alarmed about what this meant – was the Council still committed to keeping the arena open, or was it planning to offload it in a bid to cut costs, along with the libraries, children’s centres etc? So I wrote to the Council and asked for a bit more information - whether the article was just testing the water or if a formal decision to transfer the management had been taken, how the proposal fitted in with the Council's Leisure contract and what the cost of maintaining the facility at Ladywell Arena is. I received the following response:

“The Council is currently out to tender for its main leisure contract which expires in mid October 2011. As part of that tender we are asking prospective leisure operators to cost the operation of the Arena along with other leisure centres. However, there has been interest from local organisations in the principle of the Arena being managed by a locally based organisation, given its specific focus on athletics and football. The Council is therefore running a parallel process and asking if there is interest from local organisations with both bidding processes ending around the same time, so giving the Council an opportunity to assess the value ( in terms of best value), of both.

The leisure procurement process was agreed by Mayor and Cabinet contracts on 3rd March 2010 and that is underway. This additional proposal to undertake a parallel process in terms of the Arena has been highlighted in the Invitation to Tender to Leisure contracts so that bidders for the main contract are aware.

So, in that way we are 'testing the water' on this.
The potential community lease of the Arena does include the Gym. The current cost to the Council for managing the facility is approximately £185,320 per year (this changes with GDP each year).”

Meanwhile, local residents concerned that this might be a backdoor way of closing the arena to public use (although I'm not sure that it is), have set up a Facebook page with a “Petition to save Ladywell Arena”.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Empty properties

The Ladywell Assembly last night featured an information session with council officer Nick Long about bringing empty properties back into use – the powers the council has to deal with them and an update on empty properties in the ward that they are dealing with.

In addition to the Nightwatch building on Ladywell Road (fingers crossed) and the empty flats above Corals on the corner with Algernon Road (no sign of concern or interest, to put it mildly, by the owners, apparently another betting shop chain) there was some welcome news about progress with 63 Loampit Hill. This goes back several years – the council notice regarding the state of the roof was served in May 2005, long after it had actually become an issue, and the council had to intervene and eventually repair the roof at their own cost in November 2007. Following recent discussions the relatives of the deceased owner have offered to pay a proportion of the amount they owe the council upfront pending further decisions they would make about the property at some stage in the future. The council decided to insist on the full amount (just over £20,000 plus interest) being paid within 28 days. It is expected that the family is going to appeal against this. If the appeal was upheld, the saga would continue. If the appeal was not upheld, the council could take possession of the building and dispose of it at auction and reclaim the cost incurred in this way. Let's hope this is not another case of one step forward one step back.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Sustainable Community Act: Government Response to our Betting Shop Proposals

Way back in 2009, Ute worked closely with local residents to make a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act, to try to give Councils more powers to turn down betting shops in areas where there were already a number of bookies. The proposals were agreed at Ladywell Ward Assembly, then passed on by Lewisham to the Local Government Association and from them on to the government. See here for more details.

Well, it's been a long time coming, what with having a new government and all that, but the Department for Communities and Local Government has finally responded.

For those not inclined to read the whole 109-page document, the bit responding to Lewisham's submission about betting shops is on p44-46.

In a nutshell, the government seemed to think that local councils already have enough power in this area and said:

DCLG: "We believe that, instead of the civil service only being focused upwards on providing advice to Ministers, we must drive the focus downwards and outwards to put those resources at the service of communities nationwide. So civil servants will work with the following councils to use their existing powers so they are able to achieve the outcomes they want for themselves, or work further with them to explore the issues raised in more detail."

Hmm, ok, but actually I thought the SCA was supposed to be grassroots up, telling national government what we wanted them to change, not them lecturing (sorry 'advising') us. Hmm.
DCLG's response, with my comments [in brackets] below:

• The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is currently considering with the Gambling Commission whether guidance can be amended to give licensing authorities more confidence to use their existing powers to intervene under the prevention of crime or disorder objective of the Gambling Act,
working with the police where necessary. [Well Lewisham to its credit did turn down some betting shop applications and then lost on appeal at not inconsiderable cost - maybe the magistrates who consider the appeals are using a very narrow interpretation of the grounds for refusal?]

• There is a lack of data on the numbers and concentrations of betting shops pre September 2007, as there was no central collection of figures before the introduction of the Gambling Act. DCMS know the total number of betting shops has remained constant or declined in recent years [not in Lewisham and particularly Deptford it hasn't!] and is working with the Gambling Commission to identify better data on the numbers and locations. But it will be difficult to assess how this may have changed since the Gambling Act came into force in September 2007.
• Concerns about betting shops and problem gambling often relate to their higher stake/higher prize gaming machines. We think this is a main cause of local concerns. The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, which advises the Gambling Commission and the Government on research, education and treatment, has prioritised the development of a programme of work into the risks relating to higher prize gaming machines. [I would say that the main concerns in Lewisham relate to anti-social behaviour outside the premises, particularly in the case of Deptford High Street, and the loss of A1 retail units which can jeopardise the viability of small shopping parades.]
• Local planning authorities have planning powers to use in controlling the number and location of betting shops (though this must be in relation to planning considerations, such as amenity, building mix, parking and congestion issues). Current planning policy encourages local planning authorities to pro-actively manage town centres and subsidiary shopping areas to promote vitality through a good mix of investment. Local planning authorities can use local shop frontage policies for parades of shops to ensure good representation of shops, alongside service uses and thus limit the concentration of betting shops [Not much use if the property is already A2 financial and no planning change of use is required though].

• Under the Use Classes Order, betting shops are classed as A2. Other A2 uses (such as banks and estate agents) and A3, A4 and A5 uses could change to betting shops without planning permission for change of use. It would be possible to alter the Use Classes Order to limit these changes or make betting shops sui generis, so planning permission would always be required for material changes of use. But to do this, we would need to demonstrate that there was a material planning difference between betting shops and other A2 land uses in terms in the impact on the environment. [I think there clearly is a difference here, and if successive governments procrastinate much longer, we'll have little but betting shops and money exchange/money lenders left on the high streets in the most deprived parts of the borough].
• This would increase regulation and face councils with a potentially very large increase in the number of planning applications. It may not, therefore, be cost effective to make a national change. [Very weak argument - planning policy should be there to serve the local community, not minimise paper work for (admittedly over-stretched) planning departments.]
• Lewisham could, however, explore whether they could use Article 4 powers to limit the development of betting shops in particular areas and we would be happy to discuss this with them. [Now this is an interesting suggestion that I hadn't heard of before and I would like to hear what council officers and the Mayor and Cabinet make of this suggestion. Assuming it would be something like Article 4 directives with conservation areas]

So, to sum up, some useful suggestions here, but the response felt a bit like DCLG doing a Michael Winner and saying 'Calm down dear, you've already got all the powers you need' rather than listening seriously to the legitimate concerns expressed by local residents.

There is an excellent post over on Crosswhatfields blog about betting shops, the 2005 Gambling Act and the campaign in Deptford to stop betting shop number 10 from opening in the high street.

Photos from Deptford Dame and East London Lines.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

1 Slagrove Place (Ladywell Training Centre) due to be auctioned off

1 Slagrove Place, which until recently housed Ladywell Training Centre (an in-house training centre for council staff) is being auction off by Lewisham Council on 17th February, with a guide price of £450,000.

Originally it was the porter's lodge and stables of the St. Olave's/Bermondsey Union's Workhouse, a vast Victorian workhouse which used to cover the whole area now occupied by Pepermead Square, Dressington Avenue and Slagrove Place. The (listed) water tower on Dressington Avenue and Ladywell Lodge (near Ladywell Day Centre) are the other parts which are left, together with the gate posts to Slagrove Place.

As part of Lewisham Council's 'Worksmart' programme, the Council undertook a review of its buildings portfolio (well, worked with consultants paid £150,000 to do so), to look at ways of reducing overheads*. A couple of years ago Ladywell Training Centre, along with a number of other buildings, were deemed surplus to requirements and ear-marked for sale.

There's no doubt that the Council could do with an extra half a million quid, given it needs to save around £87m over the next 3 years due to cuts in government grants. If the proceeds of the sale of this building were invested in repairing Crofton Park Library to bring the upstairs into use and help to protect its future viability, or in carrying out some basic repairs to Ladywell Playtower, it might be easier to see the benefit to the local community. I don't believe that's the plan though.

As far as I'm aware, 1 Slagrove Place does not have any kind of protected or listed status and I'm not sure whether or not it would merit listed status, in English Heritage's eyes, considering that the much grander Ladywell Lodge building is not listed (maybe it should be?). It might be worth a try though, as if the site is sold to developers, they could simply knock down the Victorian building and squeeze in as many flats as they can get away with.

Also, given that next week's Ladywell Assembly is being held in Lewisham Central ward (Courthill Road) due to the lack of available meeting rooms in Ladywell, I do wonder whether the building could be put to productive community use.

I'd be interested to hear readers' views on what they think should happen to 1 Slagrove Place - whether it should be sold off, or retained by the Council.

With thanks to Geoffrey from Ladywell Society for details of the auction.

*cut back on consultants' fees for starters, perhaps?!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dates for Diary

Oops, it's been a while since I last posted on here - I've been getting on with life outside politics, but there are a number of local events coming up worth supporting:

Saturday 5th February: Lewisham libraries 'read-ins' in protest at proposals to close 5 of the borough's libraries.
Crofton Park & Sydenham 11:30am - 1.00pm, Blackheath Village & Grove Park 2.00 - 3.00pm, New Cross 3pm onwards. Turn up, read and (quietly but clearly) make your voice heard.

[UPDATED 20.21: I forgot to mention the People's Convention against Cuts and austerity, 12th February, up at Euston Friends Meeting House - details over on Lewisham Right to Work blog.]

Thursday 17th February, 9am: Mayor & Cabinet and Tuesday 1st March, 10am Council Budget Setting Meeting
Due to the large number of people wishing to express their democratic right to protest at November's council meeting (or something like that), the Chief Exec (or Mayor, not sure who) has,
on the advice of the police, decided to change the times of the two key budget meetings to 9am and 10am.

So 'Alarm Clock Lewisham'
, including many of the council workers whose jobs will be affected by the cuts will no longer be able to attend the meeting and will be relying on Lewisham's pensioners and anyone not working then, to make sure their concerns are heard.

19th February: Lewisham Carnival Against the Cuts
A day of events across the borough to oppose cuts to services. More details at Carnival Against Cuts.

22nd Feb Lewisham says no to cuts -
Rally for an Alternative -For jobs, growth, justice.

Brendan Barber (TUC General Secretary) plus various local trade unions and anti-cuts activists
Time: 7pm-8.45pm (refreshments, stalls and entertainment from 6pm).
Venue: Goldsmiths College, New Cross go to Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre access via gate at end of Laurie Grove London SE14 6NH
Organised by Lewisham TUC with support of Goldsmiths' Student Union

26th March: March for the alternative: jobs - growth - justice'.
TUC national demo in central London. By the time this demo happens, most councils across the country will have already made sweeping cuts to local services. Better late than never I suppose, though.

To keep up to date on local anti-cuts campaigns, check out the Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance or Lewisham Right to Work blogs, and the LACA Twitter Feed.