Archive for September, 2009

Timber Yard seeking planning consent for housing

September 29, 2009

A planning application for a residential building on the site of the Timber Yard on Spring Bank Road, just a few meters from the entrance to platform 1 of Hither Green Station, has been submitted. The designs are not available yet but what details there are of this outline planning application can be seen here.  The proposal is for:

The demolition of existing buildings on the Builders Yard site, Springbank Road SE13 and construction of a five storey building comprising 33 residential units (4 x 1 bed, 16 x 2 bed and 13 x 3 bed) incorporating balconies/terraces and landscaping, provision of refuse/bicycle store and 5 car parking spaces. (Outline Application, but with only landscaping treated as a reserved matter).

This is an important change of use for the site, it’s  currently designated for employment and there isn’t much going on around here. Hither Green is becoming more and more a purely residential area and this is a trend that is not really appealing and that once established is very difficult to invert. A local economy is a precious thing and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. On the other hand I’ve been told that recently  trade has been terrible for them, it’s a sad state of things when businesses want to throw in the towel, but can you blame them for trying to make an exit landing on their feet if things are so bad that they risk to go down altogether?

But putting these considerations aside I don’t think that this proposal makes the best use of this site. It’s a sizable plot in a rather strategic location and I think that at the very least it should incorporate some commercial space at the ground floor. Being just outside a station entrance makes it highly suitable for some form of retail to serve commuters coming back from work and Springbank road would surely benefit form having an enhanced variety of shops outside the station. If a critical mass of shops would form then the whole street could take off as a well functioning shopping parade, as it is now it’s a bit patchy and lacking some basics, and that’s the reason why despite being a very busy commuters’ approach it struggles to fulfill its potential.

As for the protection of  employment areas, that’s another thing that need to be considered, but in a wider view. What is the Council’s policy about employment areas? It seems to me that all that’s happening is that they are being converted into housing. How can trades and businesses prosper if a policy to help them succeed is not deployed? There are a lot of big speeches made about apprenticeship schemes and trainings for people to go into plumbing of other trades, but once you’ve been trained what are the opportunities for employment if those businesses don’t have space to grow?

Again, the critical mass, if trades move out of the area then suppliers like the timber yard stop working, then cafes lose trade and so on and on and the whole area becomes poorer.

The space around Hither Green Station is now very valuable if converted into housing, and it can be a positive for the local  community if converted into an appropriately balanced mixed use, but these conversions should not come at the cost of the destruction of the local economy. Maybe employment areas should be protected, just like green spaces, if a site is being converted into housing then another of equal size must be found nearby for the same use.

Thanks to the ever alert Biccy (second mention on this blog) for posting about the application on the Hither Green Forum.

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The Kitchen Waste Budget #2 and other considerations multipost

September 27, 2009

In the Mayor and Cabinet document about waste management proposals dated 9th April 2009 (link) at paragraph 3.7 one can read that:

Unfortunately, the investment in recycling services is not sufficient to roll out a borough wide garden waste service.

Paragraph 3.20 says that:

The Council is also keen to assist people through this recession and a further way in which this can be done is through the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. The WCA showed that the dominant category in the residual waste was organic catering amounting to 29.8%, or 3.54kg per household of food waste being thrown into the refuse bin each week. For Lewisham, this equates to 405 tonnes a week costing the Council nearly £20,000 for disposal. In annual terms this is 21,060 tonnes costing over £1m. On average the food that is wasted accounts for approximately £420 per household per year / 0.8 tonnes CO2 equivalent per household – £610 for households with children. In addition there is the environmental cost in terms of food production, transportation, refrigeration and disposal, all contributing to green house gases.

And so it is, they think this costs £1m when instead it costs £4m.
In the last sentence the argument of the cost of disposal is touched but only as a general consideration about the green house gases produced.

This is a spectacular example of disjointed thinking, they own an incinerator that produces energy by combustion and by bringing there their kitchen waste they feed it with lots of water. Which of course doesn’t burn that well.

They waste millions each year and apparently they don’t even know about it.
And even going at Council to try to explain to the Mayor that the Council is missing on a major trick, as I did last week, doesn’t seems to work much.

(you may want to read my previous post the Kitchen Waste Budget)

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A consideration about the figures.

This document evaluates Lewisham’s kitchen waste as 29.8% of the total and 21,060 tonnes in weight, this clarifies how much is kitchen and how much is garden waste of that 35% of the total of the waste of Lewisam that is compostable. It looks nevertheless quite likely that this figure doesn’t include commercial waste so the total figure could be higher.

Anyway, even with 20% deduced from the £3.1m that I had calculated as loss of earnings at the incinerator we would still remain with £2.5m, with still about £1.2m of savings in gate fees at the incinerator to be added to it, that’s £3.7m that could indeed pay for a decent collection and composting service.

Another thing to be considered is that compost has a value, once all those thousands of tons of waste are converted you’re left with something that can be sold. And as previously mentioned bin lorries traveling a third lighter represent a further saving.

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Kitchen-and-rubbish

That’s my kitchen, my Italian coffee machine, a coffee cup, a small scale and on top of the scale a bowl of kitchen waste. Peels, some leftovers of pasta, some stale popcorns, half a lemon that’s gone mouldy, the usual. That bowl holds a day of compostable kitchen waste and according to my calculations that’s about 15p of tax money quite literally burnt if it would be sent to the incinerator.

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Other Countries have laws that force incinerators to charge different gate fees for different materials, this to discourage incineration of unsuitable materials like… kitchen waste.

In Britain we don’t have a law to that effect, SELCHP charges a flat fee, no matter what you bring to it.

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Another beat that the current Council’s policy misses is the collection of oil, as Cllr Milton reminded us you can bring your used oil to the recycling centre in Landmann Way, and you should, because it is illegal to pour it down the drain, but don’t do it all together because in making an effort to avoid clogging the drains you’ll clog the transport arteries of the borough.

Seriously, who’s going to Landmann Way to bring their used oil?

If a separate collection of compostables was set up maybe adding used oil to the list of materials collected would provide a further source of income for those green jobs. There are money there, but I don’t know why used oils from households are not collected, and to be fair to Lewisham Council it’s not just here, this is true for pretty much anywhere, I searched but I couldn’t find any example of a local authority collecting used oil from households.

Maybe it’s not done just because there isn’t a regular door to door collection of compostables or recyclables, like what I’m envisaging could be done with the savings on the incineration of kitchen waste.

Anyway, one thing Lewisham Council did right was to provide us with the best ever analogy to explain how much energy can be extracted out of used oil:

Just one litre (that’s about a third of what’s found in the average chip pan) of used cooking oil can be converted into LF100 to produce enough clean electricity to make 240 cups of tea.

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And finally, let me close this megapost with a straightforward personal position on incinerators, because I recognize that this proposal of mine can be seen as controversial by many. Incinerators are one of those things that many people oppose with vigour, and with arguments that I agree with.

They are ugly, they pollute and they must be phased out. They are yesterday’s news and we should all produce a lot less rubbish than we do and pretty much everything should be recycled in a way or the other, not burnt.

But the fact is that we do have an incinerator in Lewisham and it processes tens of thousands of tonnes of waste a year, the unrecyclable, non-reusable and uncompostable byproducts of the lives of those millions that live around it, it currently performs a useful function and we better make the most out of it until we find a better way to deal with waste.

But that will take many years, and as the incinerator in Lewisham holds the key to the waste management budget I don’t think that there’s a conflict between environmentally sound policies and a proposal about the incinerator that is not just “let’s shut it down” but that instead looks at ways to shift some of that budget into local green jobs.

The Kitchen Waste budget

September 25, 2009

Here’s the answer I received yesterday to a question I submitted to Lewisham Council about kitchen waste:

Question

Please provide a breakdown of the energy produced by the SELCHP divided into energy produced by incineration of kitchen waste and that of other kinds of waste. What share of this energy production belongs to Lewisham Council and what share of this energy is produced by the incineration of waste produced by Lewisham?

Reply

The total energy output of SELCP is 220,000 MWh per annum.

Lewisham waste provides approximately 23.8% of this = 52,360 MWh

From SELCHP’s waste analysis approximately 6.9% of the energy comes from putrescible kitchen waste.

Therefore energy recovered from Lewisham kitchen waste is about 3,600 MWh per year (after deduction of a contribution to the total parasitic load of running the plant) or 1.6% of the total energy output.

This isn’t the first post on this blog about this or the fist time I question the Council on the matter of the incinerator, the revenue it provides and the appropriateness of what’s fed to it, read more here and here.

We know that kitchen waste forms about 35% of the incinerated, and now we also know that it only produces 6.9% of the energy (the 35% is the figure we have for both kitchen and garden waste combined, but I think that we can safely assume that the weight of the kitchen waste in this mix represents the overwhelming majority with the garden waste being in comparison almost negligible. So, let’s live with this small approximation in the know that we’re only looking for a ballpark figure here).

Using the figure provided by DirectGov of 14.0p/kWh as the price for bulk purchase of electricity at domestic or small industrial scale in July 2009 we can put a MWh (unit of the answer) at £140 and this means that 52,360 MWh is therefore sold at approximatively £7,330,400.

Of this amount the kitchen waste, that is about 35% of the incinerated, produces only 6.9% of energy – 3,612 MWh (the answer says 3600 after deduction of a contribution to the total parasitic load of running the plant, the difference with this calculation is so marginal that I’m not even going to approximate all calculations for that) –  at £140/MWh this bring in £505,797.

The remaining 65% produces instead 93% of the energy – 48,695 MWh – at £140/MWh this bring in £6,817,300.

This means that 1% of Lewisham waste at the incinerator earns in energy produced:

–  £14k if kitchen waste;

– £104k if non kitchen waste.

For each percentage point of kitchen waste swapped for non-kitchen waste Lewisham Council would make over £90k, and given that there is enormous demand for the use of the incinerator it would be possible to take out the kitchen waste from the mix and allow non-kitchen waste from other boroughs or other clients to be incinerated instead, this would produce an extra profit for Lewisham Council of well over £3m through increased energy production.

The reduction of 35% of Lewisham’s incinerated waste would also bring a saving in gate fee at the SELCHP of  £1,211,268 for Lewisham (see here).
This would be revenue-neutral for the SELCHP (of which LBL is a partner) as the fee would be replaced that for waste from other clients.

It looks to me that there is therefore an untapped budget for composting of well over £4m available year on year to be derived from the removal of kitchen and garden waste from the incinerator (without even counting the savings of fuel for the fleet of bin lorries that would always travel with a load about one third lighter than they currently do).

These savings could be able to fund a labour intensive composting operation that would provide a large number of local jobs to collect and compost kitchen and garden waste in microsites around the Borough.

For quite some time I wondered if those savings would be able to pay for a replacement collection and composting service, I’d now say that yes, they probably do. The figures need reviewing and I welcome opinions on this proposal.

Yesterday I used my opportunity for a supplementary question to try to explain this to the Mayor, I tried my best to be clear but it’s not an easy thing to do in a Council meeting. I had with me a sheet of paper with these calculations and wanted to give it to him, I explained him “look, I found over £4m for composting in your budget”, but he wasn’t having it, no one came to take the paper to bring it to him, so I sat down and I now write it here.

Sydenham High School contract was rigged

September 22, 2009

The list of the contracts found to be rigged is available from the OfT website.

Lewisham Hospital is not one of them but one Lewisham contract is, it’s a contract for £1,327,000 for works at Sydenham High School.

The OfT also says that “Councils are free to sue”.

And so Lewisham Council should do, you’ve been taken for mugs and swindled of our tax money. Go for them now!

Construction cartel fined

September 22, 2009

From today’s Times:

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today fined the construction industry £129.5 million after an investigation into bid-rigging between companies tendering for public sector building contracts.


Last year we discovered that the biggest construction companies of the land had formed an unethical and unlawful cartel to squeeze more money out of public contracts, I have quite a strong opinion on this matter as I wrote back then here.

Here in Lewisham we are personally touched by this story as one of the companies found guilty and fined is in fact Carrillion, which built the new block at Lewisham Hospital.

From today’s article in the Times:

Tristan Meears-White, a lawyer with Watson Burton, who represented 14 of the smaller companies, told The Times: “Bearing in mind the huge resource the OFT has thrown at this four-year case – they brought in a lot of agency staff, which must have cost them a fortune, this is not a massive fine.

“It might sound like a lot, but relatively speaking its not been the most profitable return for four years’ work.”

Obviously, I strongly disagree with this lawyer, malpractice has been unveiled and large sums have been saved to the taxpayers by preventing this happening again (at least for a while) on further contracts.

In the current economic climate it would have been irresponsible to push a few of them under, as the seriousness of the charge would have called for. Those involved represent large part of the construction sector of this Country and his clients got away with it because it’s not in the public interest to punish them further, but it was in the public interest to unearth and disclose the dishonesty of his clients.

Lord Mandelson has already taken a position, and it goes in the opposite direction of mine, he sent a guidelines note to Government departments saying that companies involveved should not be barred from future contracts.
The note is redundant as today’s Court order doesn’t bar them from anything and anyway we are here speaking of basically most of the the companies with the capability to run for large public contracts, so if you cut them out you’re left with no one.
The note Lord Mandelson should have sent should have contained names and surnames of those people involved in these frauds against our shools and hospitals’ budgets, the people that we now know should never be allowed anywhere near public contracts again.

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It is also still the case, and a stronger case, for what I called for at the time of the unearthing of this scandal, that we should be asking the Office of Fair Trade if Lewisham Hospital was one of the contracts they know of having been rigged, and if that would turn out to be the case then we’d have to look at the contract again, because it’s an ongoing one, it was not only for the construction of the new Hospital building, but also 30 years of facilities’ management services.
And with the current state of the finances at Lewisham Hospital we’d surely do with some more money.

Vince at the conference

September 21, 2009

Hear it as it is from the man who in 2003 asked the then Chancellor Gordon Brown:

Is not the brutal truth that with investment, exports and manufacturing output stagnating or falling, the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Bank of England describes as well above equilibrium level?

Just a little bit of national politics on this blog, but I think it helps to explain why I decided that I could join the Libdems.
One set of reasons is at local level, the Libdem group at Council that I know quite well and like, but it would be pretend naivity to ignore that what we do to further our local group does not reflect on the chances of success of another level of political activity. And I’m comfortable with that.

Vince Cable’s speech at the Libdem conference is an important one, he’s possibly the most popular politician in Britain today and what he said today could greatly influence the direction that this Country must take for the future. I surely hope so.

My favourite bits from his speech (link to transcipt):

The unemployed must be found productive work. We should learn from the experience of Scandinavia and other countries where the alternative to long term unemployment is a guarantee – and a requirement – to work, or for young people train or study. There is no shortage of socially useful tasks – improving homes, environmental projects, care work – which can be undertaken on the basis of voluntary sector and local government initiatives. There are also some imaginative private sector schemes like the plan to create half a million IT jobs. There must also be more apprenticeships to ensure that the next generation learns skills and trades: real, not financial, engineering.

And what has so far prevented this from being rolled out effectively? Lack of leadership and vision.

Later in the speech he also says:

We must also lead the debate on tax reform as a Liberal government did a century ago with the People’s Budget. We should aim to shift the tax burden further from income – work, savings and innovation – onto pollution – the green tax switch. Switching taxation onto financial pollution – questionable transactions of no social and economic value. And onto land values instead of penalising productive investment. But at the heart of our tax plans must be a commitment to social justice.

For me the key there is on the “land value” reference, that’s where money for productive investments are trapped.

This is so relevant to Lewisham. But we could think of Lewisham as a metaphor for much of Britain. Look at what Lewisham Central and its fringes are today, commuter corridor, a dormitory without a daytime economy to speak of.

Each day of the week during the day half of the population is at work in central London, the other half hasn’t got any money to spend, and a very small local economy it can be involved with.
There are no restaurants, they can’t survive because there are no workers to sell lunches to around and this means only half the income of restaurants of more vital areas.
Lewisham High Street that connects Lewisham Centre to Catford could be a splendid and vital boulevard, it is instead something of a fried chicken alley dotted with pound shops, pawn shops and betting shops.
Some heroic exception resists, but they are indeed exceptions, and occasionally one of them falls, it is a much rarer event that a new one opens.

And where is the root of the failure to lift it above what our Council planners think of as a “vocation” and I call instead a condition?
It’s in Gordon Brown’s big idea of ten years ago, when he decided that houses had to become surrogate pension funds, artificially inflating the figures of growth when they were instead only inflating a housing bubble that brought us where we are.
From that moment all valuable sites in Britain became the target of property developers on a mission to build as much residential as they could and Councils were frogmarched to help them and a balanced approach to planning took the backseat.

In this disfunctional central Lewisham the big focus on the redevelopment of that area has been much to the detriment of the attention that the local authority should have paid to the rest of the borough, where the people live. Because local authorities are very efficiently “streamlined”, so when they think of one thing they can’t think of another.

Vince Cable is right, we need to unlock the money invested in housing so that it ends up invested in ways that help a balanced growth, even within our towns and centres, there is so much potential and talent and expertise among us, and with this crisis much of it is at the park kicking cans.
Because where they could have set up trade and work they built houses instead.

Help us to deliver…

September 20, 2009

…lots of leaflets!

Yes, because to win an election one must also deliver an awful lot of leaflets, that’s an unadorned truth of local politics and reason of this appeal directed at everyone who thinks that Lewisham Council needs a change. Yes, you too.

Don’t leave it to someone else. The Labour Party receives fat checks from the Unions. The Conservatives have Lord Ashcroft of Tax Heaven that is busy giving large sums to every Conservative candidate in the land.
Why is it that British politics is dominated by these two parties that people keep on going back to as masochists asking for another whipping? It’s because of the money!

In the next few months they’ll bombard voters with billboard posters and mountains of glossy full colours publications that we Libdems cannot afford, and sadly all that propaganda does make a difference at the ballots.
We Libdems have only legs and good will to deliver our leaflets ourselves.

Do you think that Lewisham Council needs a change?
Then get in touch to help us to get elected.

The Libdems are the largest opposition group at Lewisham Council, there are 17 Libdem Councillors and 26 Labour Councillors. It’s winnable, we can break the spell in Lewisham.
But we need all the help we can get.
Help us to deliver… a better Council.

A couple of hours every once in a while until May is all that’s needed to make this change happen.

Council turns its back to the Playtower

September 19, 2009

PlaytowerThe original Victorian Ladywell Baths building, built in 1885 and commonly known as the Playtower is one of the most interesting buildings of Lewisham Central.
After its life as a swimming pool it became a gymnastic club, that was until a few years ago when the Ladywell Gymnastic Club relocated to modern facilities in Bellingham.
At that point a very shortsighted Council decided to close the building and keep it like that, which meant that a steady deterioration started its course.
Had they decided to keep it in some use it would not have fallen into disrepair to the point that it now needs a colossal sum just to keep it standing.
Unfortunately the Mayor decided that what it needed was a security guard on site round the clock to make sure that no one gets close to it. This security guard has been the recipient of a full income for some years now and we’re very happy for him.

But regardless of what this administration’s shortsightedness did to the poor building many care for it and last year the Ladywell Village Improvement Group (LVIG) tried to bring it back into use as a Youth Club and to develop that plan it had received the backing of Lewisham’s own Regeneration office which worked with an architects’ firm and came out with a proposal that was presented at a meeting that I attended together with members of the LVIG, local Councillors, Council officers and of course the architects.
The proposal was really impressive, one of the pools rooms would have been transformed into a theatre, the other into a 5 a side football pitch, a whole host of other activities would have been based around the rest of the building.
The price tag for all this was a eye-watering £8m, of which only about £2m coming from Lewisham Council, the bulk of the sum should have come from a Government fund called Myspace set up to give grants of up to £5m to projects for youth facilities.

Only that on Wednesday the Mayor decided to bid for this fund for essentially the same project, only to be developed in Sydenham Wells Park instead of the Playtower. This means that there is currently no plan whatsoever for a use for this rather handsome historic and landmark building that is rotting away as I type.

It’s therefore time for me to put again on the table my proposal for a possible use of the Playtower, proposal that I had shelved to support the LVIG bid for a Youth Club to be based there.

Just before the LVIG made its proposal public I had in fact made public mine, not through this blog but through a guest column on Brockley Central and the response was very good indeed. A thing that I found rather reassuring, because it’s hard to be objective about our own ideas.

Anyway, over one year has passed and I am still convinced that it’s something that’s worth pursuing and since the Council has now decided that it won’t back the proposal of a Youth Club there I think that it’s time to re-open the case for this alternative use.

One difference between this proposal and the Youth Club is that it’s for a use that would create many jobs, substantial economic activity and hopefully generate an income. If a business case for this can be made then this can be used to attract the funds that are needed for the refurbishment of the building, estimated at £3m.

And what’s this proposal? Read it here…

But whatever scheme is pursued urgent action is needed to stop the building from deteriorating further and secure the structure, now.
The money spent on years of 24 hours security guards would have paid for some basic works and would have allowed the building to remain in use, the sorry state it is now and the consequent likely cost of a refurbishment today was an entirely predictable consequence of the lack of action of the Council, in fact it was predicted by many.

Daily Mail jumps on my bandwagon

September 12, 2009

Only two days ofter my posting on rogue clamping in Lewisham and my call for the Council to do something about it the Daily Mail starts a campaign against Cowboy Clampers.

The article in the Mail gives some good legal background and call this activity a legalized mugging. According to the mail this is a completely unregulated activity and until legislation is introduced clampers are in their right to do whatever they want and suggest what new legislation should say.

I am not completely convinced that there isn’t anything that can already be done. Couldn’t this fall into street trading? It is indeed private land but open to public access.
One could say that trading has to do with the exchange of goods, I’d say that trading involves all economic activities, and clamping is definitely one.

The Council’s policy is to:

“oppose all street trading other than from areas approved by the Council where highway safety will not be impaired. For such sites a trader’s licence must be obtained from us”

So, if the legal definition of trading includes all economic activities then this could mean that Councils are already in the position to stop rogue clampers by denying licences for those sites not approved by the Council.

And if there were legal reasons why this would not work then all the legislation that’s needed is an extension of street trading to include clamping and a set of rules for the standards that need apply in order to obtain and retain a licence for this specific activity.

Loampit Vale application approved

September 11, 2009

Members of Planning Committees are independent, unbiased and impartial.
Last night the three Labour members of the Strategic Planning committee (Smith, Paschoud and Wise) voted all in favour of the application for the Loampit Vale development, the others (Libdems Bentley and Edgerton and Green Party Walton) voted against.
The proposal was decided on the casting vote of the Chair, Labour Cllr Smith.

And yet the developers left with stony faces.
What does it take to make a developer happy if not approving a massive application?

The fact is that this application as is makes them little or no money, it’s an enormous development but it has to pay for a swimming pool that although insufficient for the area still costs a packet, then there is the affordable housing and that costs money too, and all of this must be paid by the sale of one bedroom flats and those are not currently making a lot of money.
Lewisham Council in exchange gets a pool built at no cost, then once that’s built they can sell the land of Ladywell Pool.

The financial case for the developments at Lewisham centre was always reliant on the expansion of Canary Wharf, connected to Lewisham via DLR, and the expectation that there the financial services would have created tens of thousands of new jobs in the next few years, and so Lewisham would build towers of one bedroom apartments as the 24 storey block approved yesterday, and these blocks would generate planning gains that would pay for new infrastructure, saving lots of money to the Council. But does this economic model still stand?

I’m going to now make a daring prediction, here’s my fear, the developer starts works, then submits a new planning application asking for more floors to be added or for less social housing or both and doesn’t finish the job until it’s approved. This would be textbook behaviour in the economics of deals like these.
Developers have now limited capacity and with multiple planning application approved they will always decide to go with the most profitable option and so if this one site doesn’t make enough money it stays on the back burner until it becomes profitable, and that could be some years down the line.

And the best thing is that now they own the land, the Mayor approved the transfer out of Council’s ownership over to the developer that can now very easily keep it bare as is for as long as it takes to see it become a profitable development. Lewisham Council cannot now just ask another developer.

At yesterday committee it was accepted even by the members supporters of the development that this plan stands on the limit of acceptability, even the Head of Planning called it a “challenging” development!
Cllr Andrew Milton picked on that in his speech against the development, it is in fact an unheard event that Lewisham’s Head of Planning uses a word that could imply in any way a negative judgement.
Cllr Sue Luxton also spoke against it and so did I, for the reason expressed in my objection.
There were also other objectors speaking at the meeting, Geoffrey Thurley of the Ladywell Society, and representatives of the Rivermill residents as well as the Gateway group.
One objection that was read aloud was from Transition Lewisham.

Then a pin-striped developer helped a blind man to walk down the isle and sit at the committee table, there with a raspy voice he spoke in support of the application. Houses for the people! He cried. And we need a new swimming pool! He added.

Anyway, I have to say that what I instead said was not contradicted either by developers, officers or Labour Councillors, the argument stood unchallenged, only Cllr John Paschoud declaring his vote in favour said something for the new pool and what he said was “I don’t have time for the argument that we shouldn’t build a new pool because it would be too popular”.
Nice twist John, only keeping by the shallow end and pretending of not understanding what arithmetic is allows you to dodge the issue, I shouldn’t explain it again because it’s dead easy but the problem is that it’s too small, not too popular.

The Labour-led Council negotiated a bad deal for both the developers and the residents, only that the Council makes a profit out of this. But the mutated economic situation opens us to a great risk of the thing getting completely stuck halfway for who knows how long.
The Labour members of the planning committee didn’t have the guts to stop it here, they approved an application for a development that reduces swimming provision for Lewisham residents and opens us to a great risk of having to live with an empty wasteland in front of Lewisham Station for years to come.
A bad decision taken behind closed doors and pushed through again and again thanks to a combination of peer pressure and lack of judgement.

The Lewisham Gateway development was also negotiated during the housing bubble, it received planning consent in April 2006 and so far nothing has been built. They should have learned something by now.

Loampit Vale #2

September 10, 2009

It’s tonight. Finally the Loampit Vale development goes to planning, and I spent the last couple of days reading from the mountain of documents that accompanies the application.
One document I can recommend is the design and access statement.
A massive tome of 277 pages giving a good overview of the project.
It’s very glossy and sexy, but planning should be about getting the best we can, and there still are issues.

I also spotted what looks like selective quoting there. At page 59 the document says:

We have met with CABE officers on two occasions and received a formal response following an internal Design Review Panel.
The outline proposals were considered at a panel meeting on 21 May 2008.
The panel stated that, “…whilst the quantum and size are large, this could be acceptable if carefully handled.
However, they remained to be convinced of the departure from the Development Brief Masterplan.
They concluded that, “…we see its potential to create a vibrant public destination and a pleasant place to live.”

Now, if you go and look at the CABE’s website and their responses to the submitted disegn you’ll find that those sentences are longer and have a somehow different meaning when read in full (CABE review 1 and CABE review 2).

The concluding paragraph of the latest contains one the quote included in the design and access statement document, only that in full it reads:

To conclude, while we see the potential to create a vibrant public destination and a pleasant place to live, we do not think that the composition of the different typological elements and the quality of the courtyards in terms of sunlight are fully convincing.

As I wrote in my previous post on Loampit Vale, I submitted an objecion and would be pleased if it was upheld and the plan being thought through to make it really worth its while.

It is of course also a matter of great concern that various massive developments are going up one next to the other and no overall study of the impact of these on traffic has been done.
The traffic through Lewisham Centre is traffic that generates elsewhere, Loampit Vale though narrow and congested is a major traffic artery, it hosts a public transport interchange and increased activity greatly impact on the flow of traffic. A study to determine what will happen once all these blocks go up would have been highly recommendable, the risk is that we create a spectacularly congested town centre when this could have been avoided with better planning.

There is no masterplan, in this document for the first time you find some pictures of how these giants would look like next to each other and personally I don’t like the result.
But that’s not a planning matter. Amenities’ space is a planning matter, quality of design is also a planning matter.
Tonight I’ll attend the meeting, let’s see what the committee members make of these concerns.

The Honeytrap

September 10, 2009

This is a video of an arrest made on 2nd July on the forecourt of the former George Pub on the corner of George Lane and Rushey Green SE13.

I don’t know exactly the details of the offence that motivated the arrest, I’m investigating the details, but the root cause is a parking offence, and one that is quite easily done here.

As you can see from the picture of the site there aren’t in fact visible no parking signs on the forecourt of the former George Pub, the sign that should clearly say “no parking” says instead “warning” and is placed quite high up on the wall, making it very difficult to read in full unless one stands in front of it and looks up, something that is not possibly done from a car.
It is also only one of many signs, the others saying that the building is watched by a security company, others that the building has been acquired by London and Quadrant Housing Association. The building appears in fact to be a complete eyesore so cluttered of signs it is.
And so it is easy to miss the warning and park there, and at that point, once you walk out the clampers arrive in a matter of minutes, the car is clamped and removed and you get a fine exceeding £400.

george-forecourt

To make matter worse the forecourt in question is next door to the Job Centre and in the middle of a Controlled Parking Zone where only residents can park. You get the picture, man loses his job, drives to the job centre and gets a £400 fine.

These fines have in fact provoked scenes of desperation with people trying to prevent the clampers removing their cars by sitting in them while the clampers try to tow them away or even sitting on top of the vehicles, and as you can see from this video this has also lead to public disorder.

That’s why I have now asked the Council to do something about it with a formal question to be answered at next Council meeting:

Parking firms often set up no parking zones that lack clear signage but impose extremely heavy fines for infractions.
One of these sites is currently operating in Lewisham on the forecourt of the former George Pub (now owned by London and Quadrant) on the corner between George Lane and Rushey Green.
The signage is easily missed as it is not a standard no parking design, its large print says “warning” rather than “no parking” and the signs are also set quite high up on the walls of the former pub above other signs giving instead notice that the building is looked after by a security company.
Fines for parking there can exceed £400 and confrontations between motorists and the operators have provoked issues with public order.
It is private land but it is open to the public and at first sight it looks like an open invitation to park your car, one could very easily call it a honeytrap.

Are there ways for the Council to regulate such activities so that unaware members of the public are not damaged by unscrupulous operators.

We cannot allow rogue traders to fleece members of the public to the tune of £400 for a minor mistake that is so easily done.

I don’t know exactly the terms of their operation but it seems to me that it’s a commercial operation and as such should be subjected to licensing regulation, and if it causes public disorder then it is an even stronger case for regulation.

Why the not standard no parking signs, and why are they placed in a way that’s not easy to read?

Warning

And why not just replacing the bollards that once stood there? Once that forecourt was protected by bollards because the pub had tables outdoor, but some of the them were removed by the last management, if the bollards had been reintroduced parking there would have been impossible.

Me and Cllr Dave Edgerton wrote to London and Quadrant but they really can’t see anything wrong with this.
That’s why I have now submitted a question at Council on this very matter.

Loampit Vale development goes to planning committee this Thursday

September 8, 2009

A very important development is going in front of the Strategic Planning Committee this week, it’s the Loampit Vale development. Among other things this large development includes the forecast replacement for Ladywell Pool.
This is only the first post on this subject, I’ll post more considerations in the next few days.
The full application is available from this link. Here’s the proposal in short:

The construction of eight buildings ranging from five to twenty-four storeys, incorporating balconies and terraces, comprising 788 residential units (including up to 186 affordable), a leisure centre, 1,856m² of commercial floorspace (Use Classes A1, A2, and B1, including 626m² for creative industries), an energy centre, replacement London City Mission facilities, public and private amenity space, together with associated landscaping, bin stores, 866 cycle, 26 motorcycle and 181 car parking spaces on ground and first floor levels, associated highway works, plant and servicing.

I submitted an objection to the planning application, here’s the full text:

I write here to object to the proposed development at Loampit Vale
(Ref: DC/09/71246/X) because of the inadequate size of leisure provision and specifically the swimming pool.

The development is of strategic importance for its sport and leisure component since it’s supposed to replace the Borough flagship pool at Ladywell Leisure Centre.
Unfortunately the sizing of this new pool has been determined through a study that is grossly flawed.
The Leisure Needs Analysis commissioned and accepted by Lewisham Council as its policy and that stands at the foundation of this development did not consider the impact on the usage of the pool caused by the developments at the Town Centre themselves, which according to the Council’s own estimate stand at 4000 new housing units. It does not account for the impact of the transport interchange and doesn’t include any possible usage from outside Lewisham Borough boundaries, and despite the fact that the border with the London Borough of Greenich is extremely near and the pool will be very accessible to many Greenwhich residents.
This is an enormous underestimate of baffling proportions which means that this strategic development will only be able to deliver a largely insufficient amount of swimming opportunity for the resident of Lewisham within the catchment area of the Loampit Vale pool. This is in real terms a reduction in sport, health and leisure opportunities for this local community.

I ask this authority to reject the plans unless modifies are introduced so that adequate sports and leisure opportunities are provided to the residents of the area.

This planning application goes to Strategic Planning committee, and that is a special committee that also includes members of the Cabinet, which in this case are the same people that approved of the sale of Council’s land to the developers to build this very development.

On top of this the Council decided that the matter is covered by commercial confidentiality, so we cannot know what the agreement is and if there is room for improvement on what was decided.
But this is a very important and valuable piece of land transferred from Council’s property to a land developer, one wonders if it is appropriate to keep such a tight lid on the deal. I don’t think it’s so outlandish to think that it would have been the democratic thing to do to let us know what we’re getting and how those money are being used.

But putting aside the secretive nature of the financial deals involved and ignoring how appropriate (or not) it is for Council members tightly involved with the same development to sit on the planning committee that decides on its merits, there still is a serious issue that was raised many times over, and the answer from Mayor Bullock has always been a deafening silence.

This is in fact exactly the subject matter of my previous post and what the Mayor decided without motivating, and what the Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel couldn’t scrutinize because of the curtail on discussion imposed by the Labour councillors at Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel committee.

We said it loud and clear, the calculations of the leisure needs analysis are a masterpiece of numerical illiteracy.

In 2007 I presented this document to the Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel, it’s my analysis of what’s wrong with the Council’s analysis, the design of the development has since fortunately changed, but the specs of the pool remain the same. But thanks to some astonishing committee tactics the Mayor’s decision on this aspect of this important development was never scrutinized.

If this development goes ahead as proposed many of those that now use Ladywell Pool will see a serious reduction in availability and it’s quite possible that some will be pushed out altogether for lack of available slots that fit with their life, and the range of users is big, from the fitness lifestyle swimmer to the competitive swimmer, to the therapeutic swimmer, to children and the families.
Do we have to receive this unnecessary damage to our available amenities?

This development was the once in a lifetime opportunity to have a seriously good new pool, built with the same ambition that motivated those that built Ladywell Pool back in the 60’s.
The ambition to expand, not to contract.

I believe that my objection has legs, the case is supported by a solid research and the letter that I received from Planning specifies that one of the Planning considerations is “amenity space in the scheme”.

Will the Strategic Planning Committee do the right thing this Thursday?
Will this plan get the chance to become good enough or will it be forced through again?

Running!

September 7, 2009

This blog is back! And this for the reason that at the next elections I’ll be running for Council to represent Lewisham Central , the ward where I live.
I will run for the Liberal Democrats and this for a series of reasons, one of these reasons is that the Libdems have a real chance of electoral success and I want to help this change at Town Hall because I believe that this is in the public interest.

I remember very clearly the first time I thought that maybe I should run for Council, I was at Town Hall at an Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel committee meeting, it was 29th May 2007.
The issue was that the Mayor had taken a decision without giving a motivation, be it either officer’s advice or his personal take.
Some committee members wanted to ask the Mayor a written motivation, just so that we know why, fair enough one would think, after all he’s an elected representative with executive powers and that’s a scrutiny committee purposely set up by the Constitution to check on what he decides.
Only that the leading Labour member Cllr Alan Hall thought differently and there and then did something quite extraordinary.
He questioned a high ranking officer there present about the Mayor’s capability of understanding issues. Basically, he asked for a character reference. I could not believe what I was hearing and seeing.
The officer replied that the Mayor always showed a sharp mind and a clear capacity of understanding the subjects put in front of him (he could have said differently if he wanted to put his job on the line of course).
At that point Cllr Alan Hall asked the committee a vote to decide to move on to the next subject as the character reference they had just heard was enough to satisfy the necessities of Overview and Scrutiny over the Mayor’s decisions.
According to his reasoning the mere fact that the Mayor had taken a decision meant that a good decision had been taken.
Cllr Hall’s motion was seconded and all the Labour members voted in favour, they were the majority of the members present (the conservative member didn’t attend) and so the motion was approved. That decision of the Mayor remains unexplained.
(Here are the minutes of that meeting. The juicy detail of the character reference is missing but besides that the event is on record).

Can we have more of this? Can we have a Mayor taking decisions without explaining why and a Leader of the Labour group that thinks that it’s his job to protect the Mayor from scrutiny even at the cost of setting up undignified pantomimes like that of the character reference to ascertain the Mayor’s capacity to understand issues?

Of course we can’t. The way Lewisham Council is run is in many ways a farce, it wants to be unaccountable and so it’s secretive, this means that when it’s misguided it goes unchallenged. The result is that many times it spends much time and huge sums going back on bad decisions that lead nowhere.
Look at the new school, it’s seven years that they started building it and there still isn’t one brick over another.

If I had not experienced this and felt something needed to be done about it I would not run for Council. If I had confidence that the Labour group can deliver the goods in the future I would not run for Council. If I didn’t think that things can be changed through the democratic process I would not run for Council either.
If I knew of a better way to change things I would go for the better way but I am convinced that at this moment in time the most useful thing I can do for my community is to run for elections and help the Libdems to gain control.

At the 2006 elections with the Save Ladywell Pool campaign we moved public opinion to the point where the overwhelming Labour majority of 45 out of 54 Councillors was reduced to 26 out of 54, bringing for the first time in decades a degree of scrutiny and competition back to the Town Hall.

That time I was convinced that the best way I could serve my community was to clearly spell out my experience of the arrogance and incoherence of Lewisham Council. A leaflet with my personal appeal to Labour voters to switch to whoever they wanted but to stop voting Labour was delivered to 30,000 Lewisham homes in walking distance of the pool.

Many took my advice and the Council became a better Council, but the seeds of destructions are there. I have no confidence that Lewisham’s Labour leadership will behave democratically if they gained back full control of the Council. Look at what happened at that committee when Labour, by virtue of an absent Conservative Councillor, had the majority. They used it to keep a lid on the way they run things.

There are also good people in the Labour group of course, but by what I know and could observe they’re either not particularly influential within the Labour Group or on their way out altogether. In my experience those in charge today should not be Lewisham’s future.

I like the Libdem group. Cllr Andrew Milton was my first contact and I am very proud of being his friend, he’s the embodiment of British fairness and I always thought that he would be a great Mayor, unfortunately he really doesn’t want that job.
Cllr Chris Maines, the Libdem candidate for Mayor is also a very fair and highly intelligent man and one that is genuinely interested in the issues that affect people’s lives. He’s not a supporter of the Mayoral system as it is now and he would run the Borough with a very different style than Sir Bullock does.

This Mayoral system is in big need of reform and there could be constitutional changes to make it fairer and more efficient, where efficiency is not the measure of the speed of bad decisions as they flash in front of the Council the moment before they are approved by the Mayor, but a set up that allows the Council to effectively help the decision making process by reviewing the work of the officers.

In the meantime, waiting for Constitutional reform, we can have a different personality at the helm.
We need a Mayor that respects the Council to the point it actively seeks its collaboration and we also need a Council of quality to assist the Mayor.
We need a majority group at Council that debates openly and is not afraid of going off message if that’s what’s needed to take the best decision.
We need group dynamics that don’t make people afraid of being critical but that make different opinions accepted as positive elements of the debate.
We need a group that respects the community it serves, not one that promotes insulting bogus consultations that have no purpose other than pretending that the Council “listens”.

We’re so lucky we have a democracy, we need to use it and make it work to its full potential and on that front there’s a long way to go from where we are now.
There are big issues to decide on and we need a much more open way to run this Borough that what I think the current administration is capable of.

Today I was out leafleting with Cllr Duwaine Brooks, he’s got a big history and has also a history of high profile campaigning against violent crime. He was elected Councillor for Downham in a by-election in January and is now group leader at the Safer Communities Board of the Local Government Association.
You would think that he’d be seen as a great asset at Lewisham Council. The truth is that he has to ask repeatedly for the papers on community safety in order to know what’s going on.
He takes no nonsense and is not afraid of challenging officers and only because of this he is effective.
That’s what we need. A fresh start with a new attitude.
I want to see him and the rest of the group tested as leading group, running the Borough. And I want to be tested too.
That’s why I am running for Council.