Archive for November, 2009

Cycle to the Wave this Saturday

November 30, 2009

Are you planning to go to central London this Saturday 5th December to join in the Wave?

Then why not cycle it there with the cyclists’ group organised by Councillor Pete Pattison? The group will leave from the Clock Tower in Lewisham Town Centre at 11am.

Councillors’ expenses – the petition!

November 30, 2009

We the undersigned ask Lewisham Council to make the Councillors’ expenses list available online from the Council’s website with immediate effect.
We also ask Lewisham Council to produce an official statement explaining why these non-confidential papers were not published online together with the rest of the Standards Committee papers of 24th November 2009.

Click here to learn more about it and sign now.
You can also join the Facebook group.

The X files

November 28, 2009

You may have noticed an item in this week’s local press about Councillor’s expenses.

The South London Press tells us that:

“Proposals made at a Lewisham Council committee meeting could see all councillors’ claims made public in full”.

and also tells us that:

“Councillors’ expenses claims over the last year were also published in the report”

At reading this I thought, hold on, aren’t these information public already? And aren’t these two statements in contradiction with each other?

So I went on the Council’s website to look for those papers, I found the meeting report, but not the expenses’ list, those pages were missing.
How strange I thought, even given that in the News Shopper the Independent Chair of the Standards Commitee Sally Hawkins said:

“We decided it was important that the system is transparent so that people can see that what is being claimed is reasonable.”

Yes, sure people ought to see, only that it looks like your idea of transparency doesn’t involve showing us the expenses’ list. Now, that’s a very odd idea of transparency.

But despair not, because I’ve got them for you and I can here release the two missing pages with the full Councillors’ expenses list. (click here to download as pdf or click on images to enlarge)

And look! One senior Labour Councillor expenses’ list stands out like a sore thumb.
She’s Labour Councillor for Crofton Park Cllr Sylvia Scott that last year clocked up the tidy sum of £1300 in taxi fares, and this despite the fact that she doesn’t even have cabinet duties.
I bet that many or her constituents would like to know this, in fact it’s their right as this expenses’ list is public.

Could this be the reason why this list was not made available to the public on the Council’s website?

Frankly, the behaviour of Lewisham Council needs explaining here. To remove important papers from public viewing whilst making a press release glorifying their openness is ludicrous.

Don’t they understand how silly they look? And what about the misuse of the Council’s press office? Who thought of issuing this kind of patronizing nonsense as if we were kindly given some big concession when to know this was our right all along?

But the most important question is why this expenses’ list is not available from the Council’s website. Who decided that these pages should be removed?

Labour keeps democracy out of Council

November 27, 2009

I sat through the whole of last Full Council meeting last Wednesday and frankly, it was one of the worst meetings I ever saw. Due to the absence of a couple of opposition Councillors Labour had the majority and used it to vote to re-write the order of business, so that the first motion to be discussed was a sickeningly Stalinist Labour motion praising the Mayor for his balanced decisions!

I am not joking, they forced the Council to discuss this spectacularly ludicrous matter, end even worse, made sure to occupy all the time left available in the meeting with the discussion on this motion, so that when 10 pm came there wasn’t any time left to discuss anything else. A vote was asked to extend the meeting so that the rest of the Agenda could be discussed, all Labour Councillors voted against.

One of the points that were so effectively barred from discussion, and far more serious than what was discussed, was the motion proposed by Libdem Councillor Chris Maines and seconded by Cllr Brian Robson (read his excellent post on the subject here) about one of the matters where Lewisham Labour has an abysmal record, housing, obviously the motion was not allowed to be discussed.
Thank you Labour, this week you reminded me why I’m running for the Libdems.

Sad dives

November 26, 2009

Everytime I asked at Council why the specifications of the “state of the art” new swimming pool planned for Loampit Vale are so poor and made specific reference to the very low depth that would never allow diving again in this Borough I was always told that hopeful divers are very well provided in South London and that there’s no demand for more diving facilities.

The South London Press now shows us what these wonderful facilities that our Labour Councillors were speaking about look like. Kids in a freezing room jumping on mattresses pretending they’re in a swimming pool! Of course when the Olympics were presented the opening video opened with some great divers, good for presentation purposes, not good enough to support for real.

Convoy’s Wharf plans on display

November 25, 2009

News Shopper’s Dan Keel reports:

A PUBLIC exhibition is to be held on proposals for a new development featuring 3,500 new houses and 4,600 sq m of restaurants and bars.

Residents are invited to the Convoys Wharf site in New Kings Street, Deptford, from 10am to 4pm on December 5, with a further meeting taking place on December 8 from 2pm to 8pm.

Read more.

This is about a development in Deptford but the size of it makes it very relevant to all Lewisham.
For those that don’t know about it this area comprizes almost all of Lewisham’s riverfront and was for many years used as News International’s paper depo, a planning application for development was approved but not acted upon until it expired. It is now owned by the Hutchison Whampoa group.
The initial plan was designed by Richard Rogers and what will be presented is expected to be largely based on that initial plan.
Ironically part of this dilapidated site was once Sayes Court, the birthplace of the National Trust.

Oysters are expensive

November 25, 2009

Lewisham Station - platform 3 - passengers celebrate the arrival of Oyster cards


Oyster cards are arriving to the suburbian railways of Lewisham, Hither Green and beyond. But they come with a hefty bill, a bill you need a degree in billology to understand in full but in short means overall increase in fares, even higher fares for non-Oyster users (yes, there are those that don’t need an Oyster Card) and off peak, plus the introduction of a rather inconvenient system of Oyster Extension Permit for those with Travelcards wishing to travel outside the zones of their permits, something that will inevitably be felt more in areas like ours that are spread across zone 2 (Lewisham Station) and zone 3 (Hither Green).

I cannot possibly put it better than Darryl did in this post that deserves a nomination for some suitable blogging award. Read it here.

I agree with Darryl that this fragmentation of the London railway doesn’t work. London is one town, can we have someone with responsibility for pricing, timetables and routes please. We elect a Mayor of London, I  think it’s just natural that he should have control on these matters, not some control on some, all control and all responsibility.

The recent announcements about transports don’t really speak of joined up thinking and planning in the best interest of Londoners. You can just imagine the ballet of accountants and solicitors that on behalf of the baffling number of rail operators worked out who needs to provide what and how much to pay and to whom and in what way, what a headache. The cost of negotiations must be staggering, and the priorities will inevitably end up in the wrong order. If this byzantine pricing system inflicted on all of us is a symptom then the patient is in need of a cure.

The best local

November 25, 2009

On Monday night I met with a journalist for an interview, in a reversal of roles  he ended up confessing of a dark secret but as I swore to secrecy I cannot possibly tell you what that was. Why did I  tell you this? Never mind. The place for the meeting was my suggestion, the Jolly Farmers, one of Lewisham’s best pubs and very handily just round the corner from home.

And what a night it was, the place was brimming with old boys playing cards and what can only be described as the most authentic folk group in South London was providing live musical accompaniment. Among the musicians two Lewisham legends, one was the ever wonderful Flaky Jake, often seen performing with his accordion outside Lewisham Centre,  the other was D-day veteran, peace campaigner, historic memory, socialist activist and all out benchmark for perfect aging Jim Radford on Bodhram and voice.

As we sat there I explained the journalist who Jim Radford was and told him he should interview him instead. Discussing what the pitch of this article could be to fit the magazine he writes in I suggested “in praise of indipendent pubs”. Maybe that article will be written, maybe not, in the meantime I wrote it here and I can only end this by inviting you to support what is arguably Lewisham’s best pub.

The cost of security

November 24, 2009

I just received the replies to my questions for tomorrow’s Council meeting, here’s the first.

PUBLIC QUESTION NO. 20
LONDON BOROUGH OF LEWISHAM

COUNCIL MEETING

25 NOVEMBER 2009

Question asked by: Mr M Calò

Member to reply:    Deputy Mayor

Question

How long has the Ladywell Playtower been under 24hr security and at what cost?

Reply

24 hour security was installed at Ladywell Playtower on 12.05.06. The total cost to date is £419,401.

Consultation on Local Development Framework

November 23, 2009

At last week’s Mayor and Cabinet the Mayor agreed to a public consultation on the very important Core Strategy of the Local Development Framework:

The Lewisham Core Strategy sets out the vision, objectives, strategy and policies that will guide development and regeneration in the borough over the next 15 years. Major change is anticipated and we need to plan for this, with a focus on Lewisham, Catford, Deptford and New Cross.

Following this consultation the Strategy will be submitted to Government to assess its ‘soundness’, but this will only happen after next elections so here’s a unique opportunity for a big public debate on the future of Lewisham.

You’ve been warned! Go and read it here.

More pruning

November 20, 2009

Tomorrow Saturday 21st November there will be another round of pruning and clearing and planting at the Hither Green Station railway embankment along Springbank Road organised by Hither Green Community Association.
If you’re interested please email Joanna at info@ourhithergreen.com with your boot size, she must make sure that there are enough steel-capped boots for everyone.

Stop the great train robbery

November 19, 2009

These are tumultuous days in South London, the new trains timetables have been announced and those that have realized that their trains will be soon reduced or cancelled altogether are up in arms. Trains through Hither Green have been spared from the chop, but other lines in Lewisham and beyond have not been so lucky and as the railway is a network, every cut affects the whole system.

It looks like a gap in the investments needed for large projects like the East London Line have created a knock on effect with serious repercussions for some important railway routes across South London. Responsibilty is being shuffled between the various bodies overseeing transports, with the Government blaming TfL and TfL blaming the Government, the train operators saying that they just execute orders (we heard that already, didn’t we).

The Victoria to Bellingham line that was planned to make up for the closure of the  South London Line through Peckam Rye has been cancelled, the Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace (touching in our borough the stations of Sydenham, Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park and Brockley) has seen a massive reduction. Blackheath commuters have been told that they will lose half of their rush hour trains.

It’s quite obvious that the recent consultation on the South London Rail Utilisation Strategy (link) has been a very flawed process that has failed to recognize the importance of sustained good and improving public transports for the quality of life in the myriad of communities that compose London.

Something serious must be done about it, there is widespread rebellion all around. Ironically that’s the real consultation, that’s what people think, and it’s coming through only now that the “consultation” is closed.

Southeastern announcement that they’re cutting services through Blackheath after Government asked them to do so because they want instead to bump up numbers on the DLR shows that there is an urgent need of a rethink of the role of Government.

Just a few considerations of strategic nature about what a weaker public transports system would mean for South London:

  • a weakening of the transport provision would harm the London economy;
  • the planning concept of sustainable communities to allow high density residential use around transport hubs needs sustained train services, taking away convenient public transport from outer London impacts the building industry;
  • people will  switch back to car usage instead of public transport harming the environment, damaging air quality and nullifying a whole host of other policies and investments to counter precisely those trends.

We desperately need strong political leadership to intervene in this process and provide guidance for a transport strategy that helps the economy, our daily lives and supports all those other policies that transport is a key part of. London is the birthplace of the railway, we live it and breath it. Weaken it and you weaken London itself.

Besides the flagship infrastracture we need sustained services across the urban region of London, the millions of commuters that pay their ways don’t feel they’ve been subsidized at all and surely deserve better.

Lib Dems have the best record of questioning Lewisham Council

November 16, 2009

Questions-graph-blog

When a few days ago I received a copy of the Councillors’ questions for next Council (thanks to Cllr Mike Keogh for sending them to me) I saw that one of them (Q 64) had already the answer provided, presumably because the answer could be given by the officer that attends at questions, it’s in fact a question asking how many questions has each Councillor asked this Council year and at what cost.
Unsurprisingly the question was from Tory Councillor David Britton, the cost of questions is in fact one of his biggest pet hates.

The answer puts the cost of each question at an average cost of £168.
But how are these money calculated?

I’m told by Cllr Peake that the this figure of £168 had already been given and it breaks down in £160 for officer time and £8 for printing per question.
According to his calculation on this estimate it takes 3 and half hours of work of someone paid in excess of £83k per year to answer the AVERAGE question ((£160 ÷ 3.5) x (35 x 52) = >£83k). A spectacular inefficiency if true.
Now, take a look at the questions Councillors ask and make up your own mind. Is the average difficulty of those questions such that it would take as much to give an answer? I really don’t think so.

And by the way the council would still have to maintain the knowledge and admin infrastructure, and employ the staff even if half the number of questions were asked. Heads of service have to answer questions like this as part of their normal job, and they would perform much worse if they weren’t accountable in this way. The principle that the cost of questioning the administration is a price worth paying as it’s the main driver of fairness and efficiency is hard to dispute.

But tell that to Councillor Britton.
Anyway, leaving aside his warped reasoning and the irony that’s obviously lost on him that he asked a question to know the price of a question, the answer is excellent, the Libdems have the best record of questioning the Council’s performance on your behalf.

Since April the average Libdem submitted 8.5 written question, followed by the average Green with 7.3 question, far away down the average Labour asked only 1.6 questions and the average Socialist asked only 1 question.

And the Conservatives? Well, fortunately there’s Britton asking something because if he had left it all to the other two Conservatives at Council the average would have been zero but fortunately thanks to his 2 questions they have a very honourable average of 0.67 questions that each of them three asked on behalf of their Constituents this year.
A record they will no doubt soon write about in their leaflets.

Campaigning masterclass from Obama’s top campaigner

November 13, 2009

Tam&TreeThe dynamic Libdem candidate for Lewisham Deptford Tam Langley (here in the picture just after miraculously turning a tree Libdem) has organised an extremely interesting event for 29th November.

The Obama Regional Field Director for the Democratic Party in Northern Europe (in charge of convincing a large community of American expats to vote for Obama) will be speaking on the subject “What Lewisham can learn from the Obama campaign”.

In traditional Libdem fashion the event is very inclusive with a minimum 1p entry donation and a recommended £10 donation.

I think that this event says really clearly how serious we are about gaining control of this Borough Council, we’re setting up an effective campaigning machine, and you’re very welcome to join us in this exciting moment by coming along to this meeting.

Sunday 29th November at 7pm
St Hilda’s Church Hall
Courtrai Road
Brockley SE23 1PL

Book your seat here.

GLA asks Londoners’ views on closed shops

November 13, 2009

118HGL

With closures accelerating as the economic downturn bites, empty local shops have become an all too familiar sight in London. How could current planning legislation be wielded more effectively to stem the loss of the capital’s small retailers? The Planning and Housing Committee is reviewing measures designed to protect London’s local shops, looking at progress on implementing planning policies to support them and asking what more needs to be done through the London Plan.

 

Londoners are invited to submit their views on these issues by 30th November.
More about this important consultation here.

(in the picture, fellow Libdem candidate for Lewisham Central James Jennings in front of empty unit at 118 Hither Green Lane – the unit is available for £8k a year, if you are interested in the unit then please email the Town Centre Manager here)

Action for Lewisham public meeting report

November 13, 2009

Yesterday’s public meeting of the Central Lewisham Action Group was much better attended that I expected, halfway down the meeting I counted 55 people, and most of them stayed until the end, and it was a very long meeting.

Here’s Cllr Andrew Milton‘s speech which was really well received:

Other speakers from the platform were Helen Mercer of the group that opposed the Lewisham Gateway, Fran Rogers of Transition Lewisham and Matthew Blumner of QWAG, who also spoke as a former board member of Urban Renaissance Lewisham (URL), the board that gave us the Gateway plan, he was the community representative on that board but was unable to scrutinize appropriately the plans (a thing referred to by Andrew Milton’s speech when he mentions that the former Deputy Mayor, also chair of URL told Matthew Blumner that he would not have received further answers to his queries about the new traffic system. A serious matter of concern indeed.)

I spoke a few times, giving my opinion on the developments (that is still the same as here) but also trying to advise on practical ways to campaign. I saw a lot of enthusiasm and I really got excited, there is a will to propose alternatives and if the Gateway fails to happen there will be a chance to try to make them into a reality.

Among the practical things I mentioned is that I have two questions about the development at the coming Council meeting of 25th November, these questions ask details of the roadworks program for the new road layout and associated consultation.
This is a follow up to one of my questions at last Council meeting when I instead asked about the original Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) for Lewisham Centre and whether sums were allocated but yet unspent. The answer was that yes, there are almost £9m (out of a total of £15.9 of the original SRB) that were originally transferred to the LDA for the enabling roadworks and are still there.
At that point I asked whether the fact that public money had to be paid for this development instead of the usual other way round where developers pay for works around the developments for the privilege of building there meant that this deal had always been at particular risk from market fluctuation since despite its hugeness it never really stood on its own two feet . The answer I received was that no, on the contrary, they were now consulting with partners about the imminent enabling roadworks.
And that’s why this time I’m asking details about these roadworks and the consultation. I told people to come and support, so that after the meeting we can go and have a quick update at the Ram pub that’s near the Council (and you’re welcome to join us too).

Other politicians present there were Ladywell Councillor Ute Michel, my fellow Libdem Candidate for Lewisham Central James Jennings, who actually spoke very well about how the centre of Lewisham is really “the centre” of Lewisham and if you mess up there you really mess up everywhere.

There was also a Labour Candidate for Lewisham Central, who only identified himself when asked to (shame, but not a surprise). Someone asked how to send a strong signal to Labour, “boot them out” I shouted, and I won’t apologize for that.

But besides the politicians there were plenty of ordinary people concerned about the effect of these developments for the area and willing to do something about it and work for an alternative.

A proper Cafe for Mountsfield Park

November 12, 2009

Bowling-Green

Mountsfield Park is one of the biggest green spaces in Lewisham, and in the recent years has been doing a steady progress, picking itself up from the its very own dark ages of degrade of not long ago.
Quite instrumental to this renaissance is the Mountsfield Park Users Group (MPUG), a group I attended since its very start.
One of the big projects that the group has always pursued was the establishment of a cafe, which besides quenching the thirst, facilitates a better use of the park and is essential in making the park safer.

Initially there was a very ambitious project led by the Council, asking for a few millions of Lottery Funds to restore part of the park to its original glory and at the same time building a bar and social space area.
This lottery bid failed, and so whilst we waited for a new bid and alternative funding streams to be pursued we managed to establish the current bar in a container which is much better than what it sounds, is very well managed and in just a few months made a big difference to the energy of the park altogether.

This Monday, the meeting of the MPUG was attended by officers from Lewisham Council that came with the news that they decided that there wasn’t much point in insisting with the Lottery Fund and that meant that the money held by Council as match fund could be instead spent immediately on a scaled down project for a Cafe in the park.

These are almost £400k and the place where the Cafe should go is the unused bowling green, that in this screengrab from Googlemap is the square on the top right, many visitors of Mountsfield Park never noticed it actually as it is completely shielded by conifers.
The bowling club ceased activity a few years ago, just like that, members aged and the club failed to attract young members, the green is still maintained in order by the contractors Glendale.
There was some serious work done by MPUG last year to bring back into use the bowling green, and a young enthusiast came forward to lead on this project, unfortunately vandals torched the hut that is absolutely necessary for the establishment of a bowling club. As we started looking for funds to remedy the damage this was torched again,  this time the damage was too extensive to be repaired, this was a blow because a case for funds for a new hut for a club that has ceased to exist is difficult to make. Then suddenly this Monday this proposal for a Cafe to be built there in very short times came. We were told that plans for the Cafe and landscaping could be presented by this springtime and works could be finished by April 2011, it takes a few months for plans to go through planning.

The only sting in the tale is that many of the conifers that surround the bowling green will have to be felled but that’s a necessity for the creation of a safe environment.  I asked if the trees can be uprooted and moved but the costs are so high that it’s just not possible, also the trees that are uprooted and moved very often die in short anyway. So the practical solution is to cut them down and replace them with new trees elsewhere in the park.

This is an opportunity that must be grabbed, money like these come round only once every few years and at the meeting we all voted to go for it.

One thing I said at the meeting is that we must make sure that this project is used to involve residents and users, that we can make it a community building moment, not just a Cafe building one.
By chance with the Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society we started working on a summer program of events to be held in parks and 3 weeks ago me and my friend Angelo visited the bowling green and took a few pictures of the site, at Monday’s MPUG meeting I mentioned this and how it could be used in a strategy to involve the local  community in this exciting project.

Sock puppetting wave hits Lewisham

November 11, 2009

A few days ago it was Darryl’s turn, yesterday it was my turn, only that this one is actually a bit worse.

The unadorned truth is that besides those that do it for the good reasons local politics is also the playground of a lot of big morons.

Sock-Puppet-1

Sock-Puppet-2

The last two commenters on this blog may have looked to the untrained eye just a strange mixture of naivity and odd information and misinformation but to me they looked more than that, and when I looked at the IP address and discovered they were coming from the same address, 62.49.122.51 I thought that it was really a bit too much of a coincidence. An IP lookup showed to be the registered IP of Free Word Centre, a conference and meeting centre with Cafe and wireless connection in Farringdon.

I can’t know who this person was exactly but I have a justified suspicion about where this is coming from, I may be wrong but what a coincidence, just last Saturday a Labour activist told me:

“You won’t attack us personally, won’t you… we could say that Edgerton voted for the conversion of the Kids Korner into flats… but we rather not.”

As explained in these comments here.

So, Cllr Edgerton is on record as member of the committe that 2 years ago unanimously agreed to convert the Kids Korner into flats with a shop on the front (conversion that never happened because probably would not make much money), this after 2 unsuccessful planning applications were scaled down, the final application didn’t have much ground for rejection and following officers’ advice the committee voted in favour of conversion within the existing walls, after all it was a request for a change of use for a private property within planning policies and guidelines and back then there wasn’t anyone else around trying to rescue the building, so one could say why not?.

This is the planning application the trolling moron was talking about and my fellow Libdem Cllr Edgerton is the only committee member mentioned in the officers’ report because he declared an interest as a Councillor for the area.

Now someone in the Labour Party thought that this was a big deal and that it was worth mentioning it to me so that I keep quiet. The smoking gun!

Look how quiet I kept! Now choke on your peace pipe.

Shopping Centre gives more reasons to sign the petition

November 10, 2009

The Shopping Centre manager replied to my query about the leaflet’s rack (read previous post), here’s the reply in full. The reason he gives for removing the leaflets’ rack is that:

The information point within the shopping centre over time became overwhelmed with information which was not directly connected to the shopping centre. The information point became problematic with numerous issues regarding free newspapers, non-centre literature, bus and rail timetables, theatre leaflets and with members of the public being referred to it by the local library help desk.

As a result of the shopping centre refurbishment, a new information point was built to replace the old version. It was then decided that the information point would be solely  to provide information to our shoppers and shop units.

He also says that following my query the centre’s website has been updated so that mentions to the old rack have now disappeared.

And so here’s my reply:

Dear Mr Redden,

thank you for the reply.

I have to say, I think that the old leaflet rack  was particularly useful to many, you say that the library displays the same material, that’s true, but many people that do not use the library still come to your shopping centre.
May I ask you how many visits a day your centre receives? I’m sure I can find out how many the library has and then we can measure the impact of the removal of the leaflets’ rack.

You say that the people were referred to  the shopping centre by the library, well, that’s good, isn’t it? You surely want more people coming to the shopping centre and any referral surely benefits your trade and that of your tenants.

In your reply you mention “non-centre literature, bus and rail timetables, theatre leaflets” as some of the items you thought were a problem.
I honestly can’t understand what’s the problem with theatre leaflets and bus timetables, those are exactly the kind of information that I referred to as socially useful and that I think you’d well to display.

I have now started an online petition and hopefully if numbers will ask you to change your mind you’d reconsider.
http://www.gopetition.com/online/31890.html

All the best

Max Calò

I think that there’s only one way to conclude this post appropriately:

SIGN THE PETITION!!

A tale of two Lewishams and many Croydons

November 10, 2009

Maybe it’s me not knowing where to tweak the blog settings but my blogging platform WordPress doesn’t display incoming links from Blogger based blogs so here’s a quick note about two links to my previous post, the one about the public meeting on the town centre developments, that are worth reading.

Transpontine makes a fascinating consideration on Croydon as an established byword for botched urban development. Meanwhile on Brockley Central an eagle-eyed commentator reports spotting that our antipodean namesake Lewisham, Australia is also faced with the prospect of Croydonisation and a public meeting on the subject will also take place on Thursday 19th November, just as here in Lewisham, UK.

Public meeting on Loampit Vale

November 9, 2009

This coming Thursday 12th November, at 7:30pm at the Tabernacle, Algernon Road SE13 7AT there will be a public meeting held by the Central Lewisham Action Group, a group of residents that opposes the current plans for redevelopment of the area often referred to as Lewisham Town Centre although currently this area is still mostly a transport hub with a roundabout.

This promises to be a very interesting and lively meeting, many important issues will be discussed, I will be attending and very possibly say something too.

Speakers announced so far are Libdem Councillor for Lewisham Central Andrew Milton and Fran Rogers of Transition Brockley.

Rivers of electronic ink have already been poured on this subject but here’s a quick to recap of the main points to allow me to state clearly where I stand on this issue.

There are two adjacent yet distinct main developments that are supposed to be built near Lewisham Station and that already have planning consent, these are the Lewisham Gateway and the Loampit Vale development. Besides these developments very close to these two there are other large blocks on the horizon and also a few others that have just been built. These developments would bring thousands of new accomodations, a large amount of commercial space, a leisure centre, a school, a new road layout, a new bus station and more. All in a relatively small area, with all the repercussions on the environment and services that a development of this scale creates.

The Lewisham Gateway development should rise where today lies the roundabout plus quite a lot of land around it, edging the Citibank Tower on one side and including what today is the Lewisham Bus Station on the other side.
Planning application for the Gateway development was agreed in April 2006, works have not started yet.

The other development with planning consent is the Loampit development and I wrote extensively about it on this blog (link to posts on Loampit Vale).

I personally strongly oppose the Loampit Vale development mostly because it includes a leisure centre that is not built to a size sufficient to serve both the existing local community and the newcomers that would populate all those new developments. There would be many losers, mostly among the current users of Ladywell Pool.
This is a straightforward damage to the quality of life of the residents of Lewisham that use Ladywell pool that would have reduced access to swimming. I squarely blame Mayor Bullock and his uncritical supporters and associates for the inability to plan for sufficient leisure provision.

Regarding the Lewisham Gateway I oppose that too, but for different reasons, one more mundane reason if you will is that to my eyes that’s plain ugly. Despite the best efforts of the architects it still remains a massive bulk, and this is  due to the economics of the development, that burdened by an unusually high level of expenditure for the preparatory infrastructural work, to cover costs and allow a profit for the developers must include an enormous volume of built and no matter which way you turn it the bulk just doesn’t  go away.

To be more specific this development must pay for a new road layout to replace the roundabout so to create the space for the development, and that alone is 2 years of roadworks, then it must move some very large utility mains that run under the roundabout, move a river and a bus station. All this is mightily expensive hence the massive bulk.

My main reason for opposing it though is that I am not convinced that the design of the new road layout is a good plan for Lewisham. I fear it will transform much of the centre in a massive near constant gridlock and that’s surely not my idea of a thriving town centre.
During the years of planning for this project we were all told that this new system would not have had any negative impact on the traffic, there was an explicit firm guarantee that at the very least the impact would have been neutral, this guarantee was repeated at every stage of the process. Then when the study was finalized for planning consent the admission came that it would have been marginally worse.
Now, even assuming that the admitted marginal worsening would have been acceptable the fact remains that the traffic model was done on the Gateway alone, without considering the impact of the other developments around it and so what we have is a traffic model that implies the same amount of built as today, which is a semi-desertic half baked retail park and employment area where there are supposed to be tall buildings all around and a few thousands people living in them, plus a school for 600 children, a leisure centre, a new parade of shops in front of the station. There is a lot of extra activity associated with this plan and this would have a serious further impact on traffic. Think about Lewisham roundabout at peak time today, well, it will be substantially worse.

At the recent planning committee meeting on Loampit Vale the Head of Planning himself admitted that the traffic passing through the Lewisham roundabout is not traffic generated locally, that there’s little that can be done to alleviate it and that probably it won’t get any easier. And I ask myself, if the new traffic system is guaranteed to make traffic slightly worse than now, and this even without considering all the developments surrounding the Lewisham Gateway, what will this high rise traffic-ridden quarter be like to live in? The answer is that probably it won’t be that great. And so, because I don’t believe that we should build houses we wouldn’t like to live in, I oppose it.

Now, as I already said, the Lewisham Gateway has planning consent, so whether we oppose it or not it doesn’t actually make any difference, but there is a concrete risk that the project derails without any external help, just because the numbers don’t stack up anymore, and 3 and half years after planning consent we’re now beginning to be quite close to the moment the planning consent expires.
And if the Gateway wouldn’t happen then that land and adjacent large plots like for example Thurston Road could be at the centre of new planning considerations because the much trumpeted new Town Centre wouldn’t have materialized and a fresh thinking would be required.
Likewise the Loampit Vale development may not happen, but that in my opinion is more at risk of delaying or losing some bits (like part of the social housing) than to derail completely.

Anyway, it may not happen, but a degree of risk that the project derails exists, and for us Libdems it’s time to think about it concretely so that if after next elections we gain control of this Borough Council we can work on an alternative and of course we must start by listening around to what people would like to see there and what ways there could be to move the current scheme to a more desirable one.

So,  if you’re interested in these and other matters related to the developments at the fabled Lewisham Town Centre (schools for example) then you’d do well to attend this public meeting.