Archive for October, 2009

Springbank Road clearing, pruning and planting

October 28, 2009

From the Hither Green Community Association:

HITHER GREEN STATION EMBANKMENT PROJECT

Clearing, pruning and planting…

Please come along and help us improve the embankment along Springbank Road and Hither Green station. Plans include clearing the litter, pruning the trees, cutting overgrown vegetation back and planting wildflowers. Network Rail has given us permission for the project and has put in an access gate on platform 1; the project has been granted £5,000 from the Mayor’s Fund and Lewisham Biodiversity department at the Council will include the project under their insurance.

  • Date: Saturday 31st October 2009
  • Time: 11:00am – 3.00pm
  • Location: Springbank Road / Platform 1 Hither Station

Steel-capped boots and high-visibility vests will be provided on the day.

For further detail and/or to confirm attendance please email: info@ourhithergreen.com

Out and about with James – weekend roundup

October 26, 2009

Jamie_Billboard

This is James Jennings, who is also running for Council for Lewisham Central for the Libdems at next elections. Me and James were out leafleting last Saturday,  here he is on Hither Green Lane, standing in front of the famous forgotten billboard. I can actually remember the poster when it was new, but that was quite some years ago. I remember when the glue gave up and it became a sail that eventually broke off, I then saw what’s left fade. I think that it’s now time to change it, so I emailed a photo to the Council (without James in it). Let’s see what happens.

George-hoarding-450pxJames took instead this photo of me (badly in need of a haircut) at the bottom of George Lane where finally London & Quadrant erected a hoarding to start works on the site of the George Pub to build this mixed use development.

I want to thank Cllr Dave Edgerton for putting a lot of pressure on L&Q to remove the honeytrap that that stretch of pavement had been transformed into (see my previous post on this matter).

I still find it hard to believe that a housing association, whose purpose  is to serve the public, decided to set such an operation on the main road and just by a Job Centre, it’s bad enough being fined £500 for missing a very confusing no parking sign, but if you’re unemployed then having to fork out £500 to  get your car back can make the difference between having a roof over the head or not, especially in a recession like this one.

Last month I submitted a question at Council about it and when I read the reply I really felt quite angry, I didn’t expect Lewisham Council to just copy and paste from an email from L&Q in turn forwarding an email from the parking company (I received such email whilst dealing with L&Q directly).

At the Council meeting I used my right to a verbal supplementary question to express my astonishment at the unwillingness of the Council to engage with a major partner of theirs to make this operation cease and to be true for once the verbal response that I received was better than the written one and was told that they understood my point and would have tried to do what I suggested, i.e. contact L&Q and discuss it with them. I think that the fact that I wasn’t trying to score points but only to stop an activity which is antisocial in all but legal terms did come out.

Anyway, the honeytrap is gone now and work on site should start soon. Pity about the George pub (here in historic context), but it closed because of years of increasingly appalling management, a real pub suicide. It was sold to L&Q that received planning consent for this development and was boarded up and allowed to become a major eyesore with a parking honeytrap on the front. In my opinion the sooner they build there the better it is.

Commiserations also about another historic pub, the nearby Rising Sun, also on Rushey Green, the second pub to commit suicide within a few hundred metres. It was closed by the police because it had become a drug dealing centre and never reopened again. The pub stands in front of an enormous plot of land smack in the middle of Catford and now a developer has submitted this planning application for housing on the site.

News of the application was posted on the Hither Green Forum, I downloaded the documents and uncharacteristically I thought that it was actually quite good, and so I commented on the online forum. The comment was noticed by Micheal Stringer of the South London Press that contacted me asking me if I wanted to elaborate for the paper, and here’s the article that will make my reputation as a destroyer of pubs.

Rising-Sun-SLP

But Catford won’t go without beer, in less than a minute walk from there there is a very popular Wetherspoon, the London & Rye, and in another further minute walk the Goose and then the Ram, which is also excellent. There is also another smaller  pub near the Rising Sun that looks on its way out though, the Plough and Arrow is now sporting a sign that says that soon a hair and nails salon will soon operate from there.

To close this post “keeping it real” here’s a rare insight of Libdem party life recorded for posterity at Lewisham’s finest fish and chips place. At the excellent “Something Fishy” of Lewisham market my running mate James seeks my support for a seat at the party’s English Council.

Armed police deployed without senior order

October 23, 2009

One of the things that I always loved about this country is that the police don’t carry guns. It defuses tension and avoids unnecessary danger and escalations. But now someone thinks differently. Or do they? Because alarmingly it looks like armed police has been ordered out but no senior officer or political counterpart was involved in the decision.

As today’s Times tells us :

You’d think that a decision as important as putting armed police patrols into gun crime hotspots in London might have been discussed between the top brass at the Yard and the tiller-handlers at City Hall.

But when we contacted Bojo’s office for a comment on the deployment yesterday neither the Mayor nor his staff had heard a word about it. Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor for policing, was away but it wasn’t a case that he had forgot to tell the Mayor – no-one had bothered to mention it to him either.

Meanwhile there was flat-spin pandemonium at Scotland Yard as the story emerged in Police Review and a hasty response had to be put together. Of course, we thought, this is Sir Paul Stephenson making a major operational decision without talking to the Mayor and therefore putting on a display of police independence.

Er no. SPS (as he is apparently known at the Yard) wasn’t around and neither was Tim Godwin, the Deputy Commissioner.

So if Boris and Kit haven’t got their hands on the tiller, and neither the Commissioner nor his deputy are steering the ship – just who is making these decisions?

I tend to agree with Brian Paddick that in an interview with the Today Programme makes the very sensible point that where these armed patrols are deployed police officers are more at risk because criminals won’t know if a policeman is carrying a gun or doesn’t and since most of the police around are community support officers these would be exposed to great risks, and they are neither trained for that or paid enough.

Listen to Brian Paddick here.

Today armed patrols have been deployed in various parts or London and this measure doesn’t look part of a strategy that’s been thought through well enough. Tomorrow we could have the same armed patrols around the streets of Lewisham and if Paddick’s fears were justified it could put us all in more danger rather than less.

Remember what Bob Marley used to sing?

I shot the sheriff,
but I didn’t shoot no deputy , oh no, no!
I shot the sheriff,
but I didn’t shoot no deputy , oh no, no!

Reflexes had got the better of me
And what is to be must be…

As Dave Hill reports:

Claudia Webbe, chair of the Operation Trident Advisory Group has released a letter she’s written to the Met in which she expresses her “deepest shock and horror” at the decision without consultation or notification. The letter continues:


The failure of the MPS to consult and the instigation of this deployment of armed patrols in targeted areas of London damages the trust and confidence developed over a significant period of time and the investment that we have made to develop an intelligence based, community led policing response to tackle the disproportionate effects of gun crime on Black communities.

We distance ourselves from this decision and cannot support this action by the MPS. It is unjust, unwarranted and unfair and like the random use of ‘stop and search’ will seriously damage relationships between the police and black communities.

Furthermore, this knee-jerk reaction by the MPS does not appear to be based on any common sense approach to policing and/or intelligence and works against the whole notion of “policing by consent” and will only serve to further distance communities from the police.

In the previous post I reported how our Safer Neighbourhood Team is understaffed and likely to remain so and quite possibly we’re not an exception. Looks like the much trumpeted project of substantial community based policing in London has only been implemented half way and now guns will be used to deal with the consequences.

The crime statistics for Lewisham Central are sobering, we have a well above average share of crime and today’s news should alarm us. We don’t have enough community based police to make that policing as effective as it was supposed to be and when situations deteriorate the only answer appears to be that of deploying heavily armed police on our streets without even explaining how that would make things better.
That’s not what I want for my neighbourhood, I don’t want to walk past checkpoints of armed police. This is an option that must be rejected, we need more investment for recruitment of community officers so that crime is detected early and dealt with before it goes out of hand.

Hither Green Community Association meeting report

October 22, 2009

Very good attendance at last night’s Hither Green Community Association meeting where updates on different aspects of community life where received from various people.

The Town Centre manager Deborah Efemini told us about shops opening at various locations on Hither Green lane. The unit at number 132 will soon have an art related business, A cafe is also due to open in the Meridian South Piazza.
This sudden activity at the long suffering Meridian South commercial units is attributable to the change of management that from Bellway Homes goes now to Johal Reagan which is much more proactive
If you are interested in one of those units you can contact David Byron on 020 8858 9303 or Chris Chidgey at 0208 532 2222.

In the largest commercial unit of the same piazza an indoor golf course will also soon open, but that’s been in the making for a long time so that’s not strictly news.
We were also told that the units on the shopping parade just by the yellow light crossing, next to the chemist, will soon have occupancy and also about developments at the unit at number 118 Hither Green Lane (towards the Spotted Cow end of the parade) that’s currently unoccupied and there a charity shop could open, this is an activity where the Church would be in part involved but they are looking for people that want to run it. If you’re interested please contact the Vicar here.
Another update Deborah gave was about the shopping centre where HMV is about to open an outlet.

There where then questions raised to Deborah about the problem of the car dealers and garages around the junction between Hither Green Lane and Benin Road where illegal parking has been making the area a complete mess for years.
And also about cars and shops I repeated the call for some short stay car park spaces on Hither Green Lane, a measure that would help some of the shops there that really suffer without the possibility to ever park a car nearby.

We then had a report from the Police and we learnt that the local Safer Neighbourhood Team for Lewisham Central is understaffed and likely to remain so because due to budget constraints the police is not currently recruiting.
We should have 1 Sergent, 4 PCs and 12 PCSOs, we have instead 1 Sergent, 2 PCs and 8 PCSOs. That’s for the whole of Lewisham Central Ward.
Another important information that was given is that recently there have been muggings where the victims were women who had their jewelery snatched from them on the streets by criminals on motorbikes. The advise was to avoid jewelery, that now replaces iPods on top of the list of items likely to be stolen. Also an appeal was made to avoid keeping valuables visible in your car as cars have been broken into even just for a few coins. This is a problem particularly felt at Meridian South, but there isn’t a place that is particularly safe.

This was followed by an update on signposts saying “welcome to Hither Green” and bearing a logo designed by a design student that was there to present it and take questions. This is an initiative that came out of what people answered to questionnaires about what could be done to enhance the area. About 10 of these signposts should go up around the area so attention should be paid to making them attractive.

Joanne Deverson (of HGCA) told us that after negotiations with Network Rail access has been granted to the overgrown Station embankement on Springbank Road so that it can be tidied up and landscaped by volunteer gardeners. There was real jubilation at this announcement.
The provisional date is 31st October (still in pencil) and everyone’s welcome to get a bit messy and help in. Tools and overall clothes including safety jackets and boots will be provided on the day.

Then I did my update on the Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society activity, this means the cinema event of last Sunday and the struggle for the Park Hall Cinema, commonly known as Kidz Korner but now back in use as a shop under the name of “mostly 99p”. Now, my take is that this is preferable to having the building demolished or empty and it allows us time to put together the large funding we need to get hold of the building. Obviously the degree of success of the current shop will play a major role in determining the chances of success.
In a couple of weeks we’ll have a meeting with a serious potential private investor, two weeks ago we met with the Council’s bosses, we discussed options and the possibility is very much alive.

But, as I explained, in the meantime we constituted ourselves as an organization that “aims at promoting cultural events in the area with a view to establish an Arts and Community Centre in Hither Green”, and we carefully chose this wording to avoid tying up ourselves with one specific building, that as important for the area as is, is not as important as the activity that we need it for. So, emboldened by the spectacular success of last Sunday we’ll now think of more cultural activities to promote in the area.

One immediate consequence of the event is that Crave Arts Theatre that ran the Drama workshops for children at Sunday’s event are keen to start a regular drama group for kids in the area and this is a first tangible improvement to opportunities in the area as a consequence of our work. The availability of after school activities is a big indicator of a healthy community and we can do with more of them, so from me this is particularly welcome.
If you are interested in the Drama club you can contact Crave Arts Theatre here. A course may already take place on half term week.

My update was really well received and many people asked questions including how to join and help, which is the best question for me. If you want to help too then just write an email to contact@hithergreenhall.org.

Last point on the agenda was the election of a new steering group committee, many of the old members stayed in, but not the chair Chris Freed, who was the chair from start and did the work to set up the association and get it going from zero to where it is now. A huge thanks to her is due. Well done Chris.
A few new members joined the steering group and so with fresh blood end enthusiasm the association should produce even more good initiatives for Hither Green.

We must stop dogfighting (with poll!)

October 21, 2009

dogfight
I read in the South London Press that my friend Peter Richardson is raising the issue of dogfights in parks, this time in his neck of the wood, Manor Park. Well done Peter, we must tackle this scourge and keep on raising the issue again until something serious is done about it.

A few months ago I drew this little cartoon for the Libdem newsletter Focus as a commentary to an article about the growing population of aggressive and dangerous dogs and the effect that they have on our environment. This is a serious matter that affects everybody and the result of one of the most stupid fashions ever to appear on our streets. Dangerous dogs hardly under control intimidate people and diminish the enjoyment of public spaces, especially parks, and the dogfights that are organized at night in our parks are a cruel and primitive form of entertainment that must be stopped.

But I fear that there’s little room for reasoning with the owners of these dogs, these are idiots of the lowest form and quite possibly until licensing is introduced it will be difficult to eradicate this shameful practice.
If that was in place unsuitable owners could be detected and prevented from owning dogs unless authorities were satisfied that they were fit for ownership and the dogs were appropriately looked after. I know it’s an unnecessary inconvenient for the overwhelming majority of dog owners that are indeed responsible but the problem is real and is big and there’s nothing in place to stop it.

A few months ago I met with the Council officer that deals with dogs to report how the rubber seats of the swings of the playground in the local park had all been chewed up out of shape. What I heard from him is that the current toolkit to deal with this matter is inadequate and that the problem is much bigger than what we normally think.
He told me of a figure of 15 dogs a week rescued in Lewisham alone, puppies abandoned because although bred for aggressiveness didn’t come out as aggressive as they were supposed to be and are therefore abandoned.

So, let me run the first poll of this blog. What do you think? Should we introduce licensing for dog ownership?

Savings and pressures

October 21, 2009

There’s a big item discussed at Overview and Scrutiny committee tonight, it’s about over £4 of savings in the Council’s budget and some arising extra expenditures not considered at the time of the last budget.
In the Pressures document one item struck me:

Homeless Accommodation 16/17 year olds (Budget Pressure Risk of £800k)
5.2.4

The consequence of the Southwark judgement and how it should be applied is still being assessed. However, 16/17 year olds in Homeless Accommodation will have to be reassessed under the looked after children criteria. There are about 50 of these children. At this stage it is difficult to identify how many of this group will fall under Looked after Children and become the financial responsibility of children’s social care rather than housing. With one case costing around £50k the impact could be considerable and be as much as a £1m. A number of London Boroughs are indicating the costs will be between £800k and £1m. Some of the costs of the judgement are currently being borne by the Customer Services Directorate. The figure above reflects that the judgement requires care expenditure to be undertaken that was previously not required and there will be a net pressure on the Council’s overall budget.

Reading this made me want to understand what this Southwark Judgement is and here it is.
It’s a landmark judgement about a 17 year old who Southwark Council assisted with housing support but nothing else. As the Community Care website summarizes:

The ruling could mean that many more homeless 16 and 17-year-olds receive social care support, and not just accommodation, from councils, and a number of 18- to 21-year-olds become entitled to leaving care support.

Some fundamental questions about the level of support that a lot of young people in need receive arise.
The young person at the centre of this ruling was evicted by his mother at 17, a gigantic personal tragedy, as such he was in need of care, not old enough and lacking the stability that would allow him to make considered choices about his life. Obviously in great need of comprehensive support to surrogate his non existent family. Only that he didn’t find support other than housing. Important as it is in cases like this it’s surely not enough.
I think that savings on these kind of care are false economies, only if the person in question becomes a successful adult then social care costs will cease, but a lack of support at this stage is quite likely to inflict a damage to those chances of success.

In the post before this I mentioned the homeless hostel, its guests are a very visible component of this neck of the wood and on a daily basis the thought “what happened to you that made you like this” comes to my mind. For some of them part of the answer may be found in the Southwark Judgement and the document on discussion at tomorrow’s O&S tells us that probably in the past few years in Lewisham alone there always were about 50 young people in big need that were not supported enough.

Objection to 24 hour off-license application

October 20, 2009

I just sent this objection to an application for a 24 hours off-licence, you can also write in objection to licensing@lewisham.gov.uk.


Dear officer,

I here write in objection to the request of a 24 hour license to sell alcoholic beverages for the supermarket at 258-260 Hither Green Lane.
The area is home to St Mungo, a very large hostel for the homeless and such an establishment would have a very disruptive effect on all the work done by those residents of the hostel that are trying to overcome their addiction and improve their lives.
I therefore ask you to reject this request for license.

Kind Regards

Many thanks to Joanne Hall for raising the issue.

Oysterlessness

October 20, 2009


Lewisham Station, c. 1900, passengers were already unable to use Oyster Cards!

If you want to get lost looking at old pictures of the area you can’t do much better than visit the wonderfully named IDEAL HOMES: SUBURBIA IN FOCUS.

Hither Green Community Association public meeting tomorrow

October 20, 2009

When? Tomorrow Wednesday 21st October 2009 at 7:30.
Where? Hither Green Baptist Church.
On the corner between Theodore and Radford road SE13 6HT (map)
Who? The Hither Green Community Association.
What? Public meeting.
Why? To make this place better and make us a functioning community rather than the inhabitants of what’s around a non description railway station in commuter belt, which is what we’d be if we let things be.

I’ll be there. It’s actually a quite important meeting. Until a couple of years ago there was no residents’ association whatsoever in Hither Green. Then the HGCA was set up and a few visible improvements to the area have been brought forward, the notice boards outside the station, tidying up and planting on green yet grotty patches like the now marvellous little garden around the bus stop in Springbank Road, then hanging baskets on Hither Green Lane, the lovely Hither Green week that took place this summer. Just a few examples of what HGCA has done that spring to my mind now.
Now thanks also to the HGCA we were able to set up the Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society group focusing on cultural events like the Hither Green Cinema day and trying to rescue the former Park Cinema building to make it into an Arts and Community Centre.
Things are moving, but they don’t just happen, you have to make them happen. Don’t leave it to someone else, get involved.
Come down if you live around Hither Green, care about your area and can make it.
If you can’t come you will be able to read what happened here on this blog but it’s not like the real thing.

Spectacular success for Hither Green cinema day

October 19, 2009

Firemaster-cinema-empty
Firemaster-cinema

Great thanks to all those who yesterday came to the Hither Green cinema day.
For those that weren’t there here’s a run down of what happened:

– 250 people paid to be there providing living demonstration that the area needs cultural activity;
– in the morning the two drama workshops for children were great, lots of happy faces and possibly a follow up as a regular drama club for children may start to take place in the neighbourhood (contact here if interested);
– people from all walks of life collaborated in a spontaneous and harmonious way to make the event happen. Each according to their abilities, some could run a bar, some others could design leaflets, some others could make spreadsheets, some other again could drive a van, all equally necessary. We showed to 250 people that things can happen and we got many of them to join us to make it bigger and better the next time round;
– three great films were enjoyed on a big screen, one with live piano accompaniment from a truly great pianist;
– we had a busy foyer with a well provided bar and an exhibition about the history of the area. There people got to know each other (including guest of honour Sally Cooper, daughter of Gladys Cooper, the greatest star Hither Green ever conceived);
– at the final count we broke even which was not something we could take for granted since the operation involved considerable set up costs.

Yesterday the newly formed Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society started its activity with a resounding success, may it continue like this.

Objection to the Timber Yard development

October 14, 2009

Last night I submitted my objection to the proposed development of the Springbank Road Timber Yard.

Dear officer,

I’m writing to object to the planning application DC/09/72316/X for the development of the Timber Yard site on Springbank Road into a residential develpment of 33 flats.

My main concern is the nature of the proposed development that as purely residential does not include any commercial space.
The site in question is next door but one to a busy entrance to Hither Green Station, an important commuter approach and as such is highly suitable for substantial commercial development.

It is my opinion that the shopping offer on Springbank Road does not reach that critical mass that makes it a viable option for shopping or entertainment for the large number of commuters that daily walk by and that one can safely assume would appreciate being able to buy their shopping on their way home from work.

The redevelopment of this site could offer the opportunity to remedy to the inconvenience that this lack of provision involves, but not with this proposal.

I quote from the Planning, Design and access statement (Ref L/LEW/525/SC/JA/CL67):

The Council concluded that although the site does have potential for redevelopment there are concerns over the loss of the commercial use from the site. It was suggested that a mixed use scheme would be most appropriate. However it is not considered a commercial use would be viable on the basis of demand.

I assume that the ending sentence of this paragraph are considerations of the developer and I disagree with them.
This is a site outside a busy commuter station and provided of a bus stop placed on a very generous widening of the pavement, a small piazza in its own right, a remnant of the time when this was a station entrance.
If that is not commercially viable then nowhere is.

In paragraph 2.23 the developer refers to a rather inconclusive survey of local availability of light industrial premises as a justification to move away from the current use, and in paragraph 2.25 it refers to the vacant units at Meridian South as a reason for not including a commercial component.
Well, a mix development would not include light industry and unlike the units at Meridian South this site is not enclosed in a residential development, a location that makes it hard to derive trade from beyond the immediate surrounding.
Both arguments don’t justify the choice of a purely residential site.

Regarding the visual impact the point of view of the prospective drawing provided gives an image where the highest point of the development is in the drawing lower than the nearby houses, despite this development reaching 5 storeys and the nearby houses only 2, one wonders if these drawings express the impact adequately. The side views appear to be very bulky and the drawing k57/09/09 shows a relationship with the nearby building that is not particularly harmonious.

Another concern is the car park provision. It is obviously a perfect site for non-drivers but 5 parking places for 33 dwellings sounds very low especially when the development includes 16×2 bedrooms and 13×3 bedrooms, suggesting a presence of families and a total count of 75 bedrooms.

Kind Regards

Monster 99p store to dominate Hither Green Lane

October 12, 2009

Hither Green Lane, 1913.

Original-Park-Cinema-1913

Hither Green Lane, circa 1930.
Park-Cinema_Talkies

Hither Green Lane, October 2009.
KK-99p

When a cinema building is transformed into a 99p store you can legitimately say that the area is going to the dogs and something must be done about it.
It surely doesn’t bring the area up and it’s a gross misuse of what once was a great community asset, but let’s look at the positive, at least it’s not being converted into 6 flats, it has planning consent for conversion but due to the known issues with the housing market there probably wouldn’t be any profit in it.
A couple of months ago me and other 48 residents successfully objected to an especially inappropriate planning application for a modern block with 9 flats on the site and now the developer who is not extravagantly wealthy and is stuck with this particularly ill-judged property investment probably needs to make some money to stay afloat, so a commercial tenant may do the job, let’s try to make this new shop only a transition towards something much better and that this area desperately needs.

Let’s free him from his burden! Let’s acquire the building and make it into an Arts and Community Centre. I’ve been in touch with the developer, he said he’d sell it to us. We’ve involved the Council as well as well as other potential funders, including private groups. If the stars align correctly it could be done.

There is a very big argument in favour of this initiative (it started here). That corner is the most important location on Hither Green Lane, as in 2006 the Hither Green Urban Design and Development Framework also found out.
It’s the site of the original ‘Hither Green’ that gives the name to the area and still holds the key to the success of it.
The area doesn’t have any cultural offer and doesn’t have any space for performances or any community activity apart from the Church.

In support of the initiative to transform the former Park Cinema, now 99p store into an Arts and Community Centre this Sunday 18th October we have organized a cinema day, with added free drama workshops for children in the morning.
Come along, there’s a smashing program and a rare opportunity to meet your neighbours in a relaxed foyer in between films. We’ll also have a fully licenced bar. Doors open at 2:30pm with tea and cakes from the Golden Afternoon Tea Company, this will be followed by a screening of My Fair lady.
At 6pm there will be Buster Keaton’s the Balloonatic with live piano accompaniment, that will be followed at 7pm by a recently reissued Ealing production of great interest (I proposed this film), Pool of London (1951), a murky noir in the fascinating setting of post war Docklands and that broke a taboo with the first ever interracial relationship in a British Film.
This event takes place at the Firemaster building, 174-176 Hither Green Lane, entrance from Lanier Road.

One final point, this initiative is not something coming from the Libdems, it’s a community initiative, in fact people from all sorts of political persuasion are involved. I started it in my personal capacity before taking a final decision to run for Council and did it because I thought that it was necessary for the area.
Hither Green Cinema FINAL 150 dpi