Archive for February, 2010

A Grand Day Out (two actually)

February 26, 2010

Waiting for our turn to "tip" the lorry at the MRF

In the past few weeks I had two close encounters with the Environmental services of Lewisham Council.

The first took place on Monday 25th January, there I met the highest echelons of the environmental services, namely the Head of Environment at LBL Nigel Tyrell (of Love Lewisham fame), and the Strategic Waste and Policy Manager Sam Kirk. As if that wasn’t enough there was also Steve Brown, who is the Managing Director of both the SELCHP (South East London Combined Heath and Power) and MRF (Materials Recycling Facility), two major operation for waste treatment.

I can’t stress this enough, but I am really grateful for their precious time and the opportunity afforded me. The meeting emerged as a follow up to my questions to Council about kitchen waste and its suitability for a power from waste plant (I’m told this is how the place formerly called incinerator should be called from now on) like SELCHP.

The meeting lasted for 1 and 1/2 half hour, so besides my proposal for kitchen waste we also discussed many other aspects of waste collection and treatment, mostly, why the SELCHP is not delivering heat besides power and what’s needed to make this happen; what recyclables are collected and all the problems connected with the practicalities of the service; how to educate and involve more people in aiding a more efficient service and emerging policies and various best practices. The discussion also touched on the subject of Council’s core services and the growing opportunities for partnering with an expanding private sector delivering environmental services.

In all an open wide discussion and for me a lot of food for thought.

Now,  before I move on to the next encounter with the environmental services let me touch on my kitchen waste proposal. The idea is good and they really evaluated it, there is unfortunately a physical limit that I didn’t know of that makes it at present impossible, and that’s the capacity of the turbine at SELCHP to produce more electricity that it currently does. The fact is that the turbine is already working at full capacity, and this means that even increasing the caloric content of the combusted you wouldn’t extract any more energy, and therefore no increase in revenue from sale of that energy to then pay for the composting. I asked if an extra turbine could be retrofitted then, and the short answer is that in theory yes, a problem could be the size of the site, that may not be big enough.

So, it’s still a decent idea, it’s not applicable now and it may never be applicable to SELCHP in particular, but if we must build more power from waste plants it would be worth considering that they can deliver much more energy than the past generation does by being more selective of the materials combusted, something that could be achieved through means of market by applying different gate fees for different materials as is the case in some countries that have a more advanced policy of waste treatment.

Anyway, towards the end of the meeting a proposal came, to join a crew of Bin Men and see for myself what a collection of recyclables is for real. And that’s how it happened that I became a Bin Man for one day. And I loved it!

The day, Wednesday 24th February, the place, Wearside Road Depo, I am greeted by Alvaro Espinosa, operation manager, “I had two eggs for breakfast” I tell him “you should have had six” he replies.

After receiving my steel capped boots and hi vis vest I receive my bin man induction, I am instructed on the controls of the bin lorry, how to latch the bin and lift it, domestic bin, commercial bin, and all safety procedures which include the  recommendation “and when the bin comes down it’s best to stand to the side, they don’t normally fall, only when you’re looking away”. Then off to join the crew in Forest Hill, Tom, Noel and Krzysztof.

The level of job satisfaction is surprisingly high, Bin Men are environmentalists, and of the practical kind. The older guys saw our society getting more wasteful through the content of our bins, and they have a lot to say about it, because they do a lot about it. The phrase “getting down and dirty” was never truer, they open every bin and check its content to avoid contaminating the rest of the lorry. Unfortunately people throw all kinds of unsuitable material in the recycling bin. Like this packet of bacon, which is quite obviously neither made of paper, tin, plastic or glass, and together with similar items has the potential to send a lorry of recyclables back to Lewisham to be incinerated.

I actually very much enjoyed the job itself, there’s a lot of running and it’s teamwork, it strongly reminded me of basketball. In fact the crew loves the action. I spoke with one manager that made a career from Bin Man up and moved in the office, he still sometimes go out with the crew, for the workout and the excitement.

Here are two little action videos, the Lorry Hop and the Bin Man Run, to show the appeal of the action.

And here’s Krzysztof doing a reverse in a narrow road clogged by parked cars and road works that Jeremy Clarkson can only dream of.

Here we are in the lorry driving down to Nathan Way to “tip”  the lorry. Chatting about contaminated loads and rounds of collections, the radio tells details of dog fouling, the other side of the Love Lewisham service.

Finally there and I’m told how long we have to wait. It’s an incredible situation but Greenwich lorries have preference and so Lewisham lorries wait up to 2 and half hours, watching the Greenwich guys passing in front of us and that’s exactly how long we had to wait too.  This situation occurs because Lewisham has only recently switched to deliver the recycling directly there, it used to tip the lorries in another depo that would then bring the rubbish to Nathan Way overnight on larger trucks but this was too expensive, I’m told that a better contract is being negotiated so that Lewisham lorries don’t have to endure this absurd wait for much longer.

Anyway, since we had to wait at this point the Asterix that I had found neatly piled inside a bin in Forest Hill came handy indeed. I think I correctly applied the hierarchy of waste disposal here, reuse, reduce, recycle. Asterix, re-used, not re-cycled!

And here’s what the view from the window was, the monster trucks of the MRF in action among the plastic eating seagulls of Nathan Way. Fascinating, but not for 2 and 1/2 hours.

This is instead the view of the rear of our truck after it finally unloaded its 8 tons of collected recyclables on the floor of a warehouse inside the MRF. It will be checked through and if despite all efforts it will be found contaminated it will be sent back to Lewisham. And that happens quite often.

But that’s only more reason to think up better ways to educate those few that  rather mindlessly spoil entire truckloads of collected recyclables with used nappies, rotten bacon and alike.

We also need to widen the range of recycled materials and of course I still think that all compostable material should be composted, not burnt.

It’s a great challenge, but there are also great opportunities ahead, like with the mattrasses scheme, where a private operator approached the Council and asked to partner and take care of mattrasses. They found a way to make money out of them and they make the Council services virtually bigger without adding burden to the taxpayer. Waste is a resource and we must improve our recycling.

We have in Lewisham an imaginative management and a committed workforce,  and yet the recycling rates lag behind many other boroughs. Is it because we rely heavily on the SELCHP and the materials extracted there don’t make good to the statistics? Or is it because we lack sufficient political support to the work of the environmental services? Maybe it’s a bit of  all of this, but frankly I find it really bizarre that Lewisham’s Cabinet doesn’t have a dedicated member for Environment.

We have a member for Customer Services, which include both Environment and Housing, two huge portfolios held by only one person. On housing, Lewisham is a notoriously poor performer, recently the Council lost £150m for home improvements that had already been allocated to them for failing to achieve adequate rating. As for the Environment indicators, the poor recycling rates recorded do not express adequately the efforts made by the services. All this tells me that this unwillingness to commit sufficient political attention to what happens on the shop floor has been a mistake.

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You read it here first

February 25, 2010

At last night’s Local Assembly for Lewisham Central ward, among the other presentations of community groups there was one update on the state of the developments at Town Centre delivered by no less than Mr John Miller, Head of Planning of Lewisham Council.

The news is that the Loampit Vale development is now due to start in “spring/summer 2010” with the delivery of the Leisure Centre now forecast for the first half of 2013. That’s after the London Olympics. As readers of this blog knew already.

The other information given about the developments is that the Gateway is not anymore viable and the Council will now wait until the economy improves to restart talks with developers. Whenever that is.

Lewisham Central Assembly on Wednesday 24th February

February 23, 2010

An important community appointment for this Wednesday 24th February, it’s the Lewisham Central Ward Assembly and takes place from 7 pm to 9 pm, at the Methodist Church in Albion Way SE13 6BT.

I’ve been involved with the Assemblies as a member of the coordinating group for 2 consecutive years, since the local assemblies were set up in fact, replacing the old Area Forum meetings, and I’m glad I took part to this process and I hope my small input in trying to organize meaningful meetings helped towards better outcomes.

I always felt that in the beginning the assembly meetings were rather  over-structured and somehow lacked the spontaneity of community meetings, the set up was that of tightly managed workshop types of situation and since the results were apparent only at the following meeting those that saw only one may have missed the meaning of it all. The way the meetings work has since been reviewed and it’s now a good mixed bag of discussions, public notices and even free roaming around the buffet table.

What has happened though is that through group discussion 5 priorities for the Ward were identified:

  • anti-social behaviour and crime
  • lack of facilities for young people
  • lack of amenities
  • environment
  • traffic

Bids for funding that met at least one of these priorities were encouraged and this time there’ll be presentations on the outcome of some of the successful bids for the Assembly Funds, so be ready to hear about:

  • Hither Green Community Association – Hither Green Signage, Hither Green Week ad Station Regeneration;
  • The Ahoy Centre – Youth boating project;
  • 4th Lewisham Scout group – Yard play area;
  • Grenada Benevolent Society UK – Talent and Cultural Show; weekly social events for elders and Christmas Party;
  • LBL Youth Serice – Mural project and Youth Village;
  • Tamil Academy of Language and Arts – cultural awarness classes;
  • Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society (HGCHAS) & St Swithun’s Church – Cinema Day;
  • New You Health Camp – Boot Camp fitness day.

At  this coming meeting there will be a review of the priorities and suggestions for new priorities to focus on are welcome.

Words fail me

February 22, 2010

Lewisham Council in South London, whose chief executive Barry Quirk earns £188,000-a-year, spent £10,635 for six senior managers to visit £200-a-night Rowhill Grange Hotel & Utopia Spa in Kent to discuss ‘strategic leadership, management delivery and ongoing service improvements’.

Read more

Labour’s got to go! Labour’s got to go! Labour’s got to go!
They really think they own the Town Hall and all its content.

Another disturbing report on Lewisham Hospital

February 21, 2010

A new and deeply disturbing piece of data has been released to the public thanks to the charity Action against Medical Accidents(AvMA), who with a Freedom of Information request put to the Department for Health unearthed the list of NHS Hospitals and Trusts that fail to fully comply with the Alert system of the National Patient Safety Agency(NPSA), an NHS office set up 8 years ago to analyze identified cases of medical blunders (official figures say over 3,500 people die each year for medical blunders, but independent experts say the true figure could be 25,000) and send out alerts to NHS Hospitals and Primary Care Trusts to prevent the same mistakes being repeated.

These alerts compel Hospitals and PCTs to act on the alerts and communicate back to the NPSA by a given deadline.
There have been 53 such alerts issued by December last year and astonishingly Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust failed to return a report of compliance for 31 of them, Lewisham PCT for 30 of them.

Nationally speaking Lewisham Hospital is the second worst offender and Lewisham PCT is the fourth (Greenwhich PCT is also joint second with also 31).

This is the second time in only three months that Lewisham Hospital is singled out for poor performance after it scored again 3rd from the bottom in Britain, again for patients’ safety, in the Dr Foster’s Hospital Guide 2009.

The News Shopper enquired with Lewisham Hospital and a spokesperson gave a very poor comment:

“Our Trust does not sign off the alert as complete until all components are fully investigated and assurance has been given that any relevant changes to practice or equipment have been made.

“This demonstrates a high level of attention to patient safety issues internally.

“However, we acknowledge that the hospital has fallen behind on reporting our compliance to the national database.”

And this is what Lewisham Hospital said instead to BBC File on 4 (link, mp3 18Mb) broadcast on Mondy 16th February:

“We acknowledge that the hospital has fallen behind on reporting our compliance to the National Database, the Trust is channelling more administrative and clerical support to the reporting system with which we must comply.”

One wonders, is it because, as they said to the BBC, they lack clerical staff to fill forms to send to the NPSA or is it because, as they said to the News Shopper, they comply so accurately with alerts that it takes them forever?

I actually imagine that these forms would be reports by practitioners, those that make the changes, not clerical staff, who else could say if the medical working practice had changed? I really think that what said to the BBC is a bit of PR nonsense.
And I am also greatly unconvinced that this is sign of a “high level of attention to patient safety issues” as said to the News Shopper. If anything it shows that they are slow to respond.
These alerts can save lives, to act on them quickly is important, that’s why they’re called alerts at all.

The Patient Safety Report tells us that alerts are only issued on evidence that the identified malpractices:

(a) are a serious threat to patient safety, usually based on repeated loss of life or damage to health

(b) can be addressed through practical actions, which are evidence based.

Information about which patient safety issues meet these criteria may come to the National Patient Safety Agency as a result of reports of incidents to its National Reporting and Learning System, or through other reports or evidence given to or gathered by it. Issues are carefully assessed for seriousness and the practicality of addressing them before it is decided to issue a patient safety alert on the subject. There is consultation with experts on both the need for an alert and the content, including the “required actions” which the alert asks recipients to make, and a realistic deadline for NHS trusts to complete the required actions.

The report includes the full list of flaunted alerts and the first one on record where Lewisham Hospital failed to report about implementation goes back to June 2004, 30 more followed.
There’s obviously something that needs change. Lewisham Council has some powers of scrutiny over this through the Healthier Communities Select Committee, and I really look forward to hear what they’ll do about it.

Lewisham Central Labour Party Activists lying barefacedly

February 20, 2010

I was going home earlier today and saw some Labour Party canvassers, just by my doorstep.  and after introducing myself I asked them:

“What’s your line about the war? What do you say when they ask you about the Iraq war?”

“Joan Ruddock voted against!” Was the assertive reply.

“No she didn’t, she abstained” I replied.

“No she was against, we checked!” They said nodding as one.

And so I went home and checked Joan Ruddock’s voting record online, and what do I find? Only confirmation of what I already knew, that the historical fact is that at the crucial vote for or against military action she was…absent!

And so I ran back, and told them, and guess what they said to me?

“Go away!”

Dodging Courthill Road

February 18, 2010

“My strong instinct is swerve. As the man says in Dodgeball – the world’s greatest ever film – dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge.”
Mayor Boris Johnson, September 2009
(link)

At Mayor’s Question Time of 27th January the Chair of the Transport Committee at GLA Caroline Pideon AM has tackled Mayor Boris Johnson on the issue of two dangerous junctions in Lewisham, both in need of a pedestrian light.
Mayor Boris dodged! Just as TfL has recently done when enquired about the Courthill Road junction.

Question No: 116 / 2010
Caroline Pidgeon
You failed to properly answer my question (3048/2009) about the Tiger’s Head and the Courthill Road junctions in Lewisham which I asked in October 2009. Following the immense delays in ensuring there are improvements in pedestrian safety at these two specific junctions at Lewisham, and also the significant direct representations that have made to you by Assembly Members, local councillors, Lewisham Council and members of the public, I would like to ask again whether you yourself would be willing to join me and look at these dangers that presently exist at these two junctions?

Answer from the Mayor:

In my answer to MQ3048 / 2009, I said that TfL would contact you to discuss this issue. As I understand it, the Director of Integrated Programme Delivery within TfL Surface Transport met you on 3 November 2009 for a discussion. As experts and highway authority for this junction, it is correct that TfL discusses this with you on my behalf. Should a site meeting still be required, please let TfL know.

I spoke with Caroline Pidgeon AM about this, and what seems to happen here is that either TfL or Mayor Johnson are being clever with words.
Caroline Pidgeon AM is Chair of the Transport Committee, and as such has routine briefing meetings with officers, including the one quoted in Mayor Johnson’s letter, but never, as the reply from Mayor Johnson says, she was contacted “to discuss this issue”.

And so let’s restate the invitation to Mayor Johnson, please come down to Lewisham and cross the road with us. You’ll find that in lieu of a pedestrian crossing the 5 fundamentals of dodgeball – dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge – come very handy indeed when crossing Courthill Road. Show us how a master does it.

You can also write an email to Mayor Johnson and ask him to join us in a crossing of Courthill Road.
——
p.s.: since I’m on the issue here’s the letter I sent to TfL in reply to their last correspondence on the subject.

Nightingale misunderstood

February 16, 2010

As I wrote last week, I asked Lewisham Council to grit a portion of Nightingale Grove in case of ice because of accidents involving cars that skid there in that specific spot as the road is both very steep and sharply curving.

I now received their reply and amusingly it’s based on an extract of the Council’s policy on gritting for…footways!

As you may have heard on the news media, salt stocks nationally are limited and supplies are now being managed by the government – in the case of the London Boroughs this is through the London Local Authority Co-ordinating Centre and Transport for London (LLACC and TfL), rather than local councils.

All highway authorities were asked by the government, on Saturday January 9, to reduce their salt usage and the advice from the Local Government Association for all councils across the country is that this will mean restricting treatment to priority networks only. Lewisham Council is carefully managing its reserves of salt to ensure that this priority network remains clear. This includes A and B roads and emergency services priority roads. This situation remains the case at present and the above will apply should there be further snowfall in the immediate future.

Footways are not routinely treated. However, the Council does have a priority list of footways for gritting including those in major town centres and local shopping centres, footways close to heavily used areas, such as schools, railway stations, hospitals and medical centres, those designated as “safe route to school” and other locations with specific access problems. Should there be further snowfall, gritting on these footways will be resumed as soon as adequate salt supplies are available again, starting with those at the top of the priority list.

Now, I understand that in the photo I sent them the dented railing stands on a footway, but this doesn’t mean that the cars that hit on that spot were traveling on the footpath!

I really didn’t think this needed explaining. You can never take anything for granted.

Anyway, I  replied to the Highways officers clarifying that it’s the road, not the pathway, that I’m advocating gritting. I also made a stronger and more explicit case and ended with a question, because I’d really like an answer.

It is a surprisingly trafficked road for pedestrians as it’s on the route to Hither Green Station for those coming from the Courthill Road side of Hither Green, so although technically a backstreet it’s a proven accident spot for cars and has substantial pedestrian flow.
Isn’t this reason enough for gritting the road in that point so that cars don’t skid and potentially hurt someone that’s passing by?

Playtower gets £400k to stop deterioration

February 12, 2010

The Budget Report has been approved by the Mayor, I’m reading it and will eventually comment as I digest it.

This paragraph caught my attention immediately though:

5.20 The Council owns two properties, Ladywell Playtower and Beckenham Place Park Mansion House and stable block, that appear on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register. Neither of the these buildings have a viable Council-related use and their listing and physical condition make them difficult development propositions. Officers have met with English Heritage to discuss Beckenham Place Park and will seek to bid for funding to undertake work to avoid any further deterioration. Officers will open similar discussions on Ladywell Playtower, but given the current condition of both properties, an allocation of £0.4m is proposed to undertake work to avoid further structural deterioration of the buildings.

These are £400k in addition to the £419k (and running) for 24hr security at the building.

When last November I received the  reply to my written question at Council and discovered that £419k had been spent on security I used my right to a verbal supplementary to ask the Deputy Mayor how that cost compared to what would have been spent to keep the building in use, allocating it to a suitable tenant, when a few years back the Ladywell Gymnastics Club relocated to Bellingham.

The question was dodged altogether with one of those warped reasoning that seasoned politicians master so well and involves answering another question that was not what was asked. In this case the Deputy Mayor decided to non-answer my question by saying that since the building was closed security had to be provided. Right answer to the wrong question or wrong answer to the right question? I leave that to you.

But, in the meantime what we have is a beautiful building that’s been kept as an eyesore for years and allowed to deteriorate. The Council has been dragging its heels, and at huge cost. There is a lesson here. Don’t leave buildings empty!

Brief Encounter

February 11, 2010

Brief Encounter

Sunday 14th February

6 pm

the Station Pub

Staplehurst Road SE13

Hither Green Cinema returns this Sunday with the first of a series of fortnightly cinematic appointments celebrating the very reason Hither Green exists as we know it: the railway.
And being Valentine’s day it’s all about railways and love.
The 1945 classic adaptation of Noel Coward’s play is a timeless story and just as involving as when it was filmed.

The film is followed by a themed pub quiz about films and a public vote to decide the next film aon the series’ calendar and everyone’s welcome to propose their favourite railway themed film.

Entrance is £3, participation to the quiz is £2.

Another initiative of the Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society.

Book your seat by emailing contact@hithergreenhall.org.

Careful!

February 10, 2010


This is Nightingale Grove SE13, that besides being the place where in October 1917 a bomb dropped by a German Zeppelin fell killing many, is also the scene of recurrent accidents when the road freezes.

If you look at the picture you’ll notice that the railing on the left is visibly dented, that’s exactly the spot that cars hit when they skid on ice there.
It’s a sharp bend and it’s steep, the perfect condition for an accident, in fact accidents do happen there.
I emailed to the Head of Highways of Lewisham Council asking to lay some grit on that spot when ice occurs again, and I hope they’ll do it.
It’s a surprisingly trafficked back street actually, as it’s on the route to Hither Green Station for all those walking from the Courthill Road area.

I post this today because the forecast say that it may snow and freeze again and so if that happens here are my advices for Nightingale Grove:
– if you walk through it use the path opposite the railway;
– if you drive through it pay special attention;
– if you drive to it, don’t park your car in front of the dent;
– if you work for Lewisham Council and are involved with grit, please spread some there if it freezes.

Doing Civics in the 21st Century

February 9, 2010

A conference on Civic Societies and apparently also on Lewisham’s Local Development Framework (already discussed on this blog here).
Next week Thursday 18th February, 8pm to 10pm, The Golden Lion, 116 Sydenham Road, London SE26 5JX.
More here.

Thanks to Brockley Central for the tip.

Will Minigolf save the Meridian South Piazza?

February 9, 2010

The Meridian South development in Hither Green was born under good auspices. Laying perfectly across the Greenwich Meridian line, it retains some of the features of the Hither Green Hospital that stood there before, a local architectural gem designed by Edwin T. Hall, also architect of Liberty department store.
To potential buyers Meridian South presented itself very well, and in fact it turned out a very nice place to live, it also has a beautiful central piazza, graced by a well kept green and truly landmark clock-tower. The piazza was supposed to host the bustling commercial heart of the development, making a peaceful place also a convenient one for shopping.

Unfortunately as the years passed all the commercial units remained empty and the settlers became familiar with the boarded up commercial spaces.
The problem of that place has been clear to me for a long time, and it’s one of planning, those business units enjoy no passing trade whatsoever. The development is rather enclosed, and although it’s not a gated community its design makes no effort to invite people from outside in, this is of benefit to the peace and quiet of the residents but it does not invite potential shoppers either.

Much emphasis is given by architect and planners to the “permeability” of a development. I think it’s fair to say that in this occasion that concept made it through only in part, but not enough to help trade in the development, but it’s a common feature of planning offices of Labour authorities to care more about housing targets than anything else, in fact not much of the original hospital would have remained if a local residents’ campaign wouldn’t have made that point effectively by involving CABE and ultimately forcing the planning department to protect at least some of the beautiful buildings of the former hospital as well as the precious mature trees thought to have been planted by a former superintendent and that protected by the hospital walls grew very well indeed (including a very rare Indian Bean tree considered the largest in the Country).

Quite obviously the development should have been planned differently, either by improving its permeability so that those units would have received increased footfall (but this would have obviously made the whole development less “nice and quiet”, a major selling point in its own right), or by placing the commercial units to the outside of the development altogether, either on Hither Green Lane or George Lane and adding commercial space to the existing shopping parade.
What it’s done instead is to add a whole new shopping precinct to Hither Green in competition with the two existing ones (Hither Green Lane and Springbank Road) that although not as nice enjoy a great deal of passing trade. And were you to open a business, where would you put it? Where it’s nicer or where it’s more likely to succeed?

But at the time this problem was not flagged up and all those that bought there were told that shops would have opened all around the piazza and in the biggest unit there would have been a gym.
In time only one shop opened, a Tesco Metro, and alone in the desert it remained for a long time, until last week, when the indoor minigolf opened!

When first word spread that an indoor Minigolf was going to open where a gym was expected instead many hearts sunk, and understandably too, but now it is here, and it’s a good one, and optimistically it may herald a new era for Meridian South.
Because whether you like it or not a good indoor Minigolf course is also a “destination”, and to an extent it may indeed put Hither Green “on the map”. It’s all down to marketing now, but among enthusiasts the word has already spread and in the first review of the course by someone in the know who travelled from Luton to play it we hear that:

“The course is the first full size Swedish Felt Minigolf Course that I know of in the UK.”

There you have it, Hither Green is now to Minigolf what Twickenham is to Rugby. We said it jokingly but it’s true. This is the gold standard of Minigolf, and it’s the only one of its kind in Britain.
And it’s not something that you buy off the shelf, as the owner says in his message to the minigolfing community:

My name is Nick, and I’m the manager of the course in Meridan South. I have spent the last 5 years designing and building the course, and then fitting out the unit. It had to be a Swedish felt run, as that’s what I used to play on back home when I was a kid (yes, I’m Swedish). I’m not too familiar with the lingo, but when you talk about A- or B- course I assume that it’s the size you refer to. It’s built according to the measurments for a competition course, the lanes being 90 cm wide, the greens 210 x210 and the holes 10.5 cm.
I have just recently managed to make contact with the BMCA, and of course I’d love to hold comps eventually, but may need a bit of help in organizing them.

So what next? Maybe a cafe. In fact rumours want that a cafe is in negotiation to open in another one of the units. And wouldn’t a Cafe benefit from the vicinity of a Minigolf? Of course it would. At that point the Piazza would have attracted its own footfall and maybe other businesses would want to open too, finally populating it with commercial life.

That would take some optimism, but who said that we must be pessimists? Surely this makes the piazza more rather than less likely to succeed. We have something to speak about, we must tell the world that the best indoor Minigolf in London is in Hither Green, only a ten minutes train ride from London Bridge.

It’s an opportunity to overcome the serious planning problem the Meridian South Piazza was born with. Unlikely as at first it may sound, the Minigolf may steer the Piazza towards that commercial vitality that so far eluded it.

Combating recession or fighting elections?

February 6, 2010

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it the case that the reason given for Labour’s decision to spend £200k on a temporary landscaping doesn’t make any sense?

Let me explain. If you read the Mayor and Cabinet item about this expenditure here’s how it’s motivated:

2.1.6 An allocation of £200k for temporary landscaping in Lewisham Town Centre to ensure that residents continue to visit the town and that demand for services and retail is maintained during the forthcoming programme of redevelopment.

There are two reasons why this doesn’t make any sense.

Reason one: if said programme of redevelopment was actually happening, the whole of the roundabout area would be dug up mercilessly for years and that little patch would be the first one on the list as that is where the centre piece of the new road layout to replace the roundabout would pass by. Only after that’s sorted the rest of the development can take place. In the light of this consideration this measure would not do anything to improve the area “during the forthcoming programme of redevelopment”.

Reason two: residents will continue to visit the Town centre regardless to what happens to that parade because they live in Lewisham and the centre is conveniently located. Lewisham Centre is not a shopping destination for people that don’t live in the borough, a point recently made by the shopping centre manager to the South London Press when interviewed about the soon to open Ann Summers outlet at Lewisham shopping centre:

“We haven’t really been too badly affected by the recent snow either, because we’re a local shopping centre and only a small number of our customers get here by car.”


In the same article we are also told that business at Lewisham Centre is going well:

a 17 per cent increase in customer spending compared with the same month last year, and a 13 per cent increase in customer footfall.


Which raises the question as to why Lewisham Council feels the urge to spend £200k to make that corner look attractive in order to sustain business at the town centre. It is hardly the case that Lewisham Council has £200k to spare.
And most oddly this budget has been found in the “Economic Recession Fund” budget, and it’s the greatest item of this list too, the whole of this package of measures sums up to £580k, the second biggest item is:

An allocation of £152k for improvements to high streets and shopping areas, which includes a grant of £52k from Communities and Local Government;

So, whilst £152k goes to combat the effect of the recession across all high streets and shopping areas of Lewisham (and £52k doesn’t even come from Lewisham Council budget), a substantially bigger sum will be spent on this item alone, the landscaping of a demolition site. To combat recession! Doh!

And what about the demolition money? We’re told that it’s the London Development Agency (LDA) that is carrying out these works, but what they forgot to tell us is that it’s Lewisham that’s paying, in fact the LDA has been holding for years about £9m that it received from Lewisham Council for works to regenerate Lewisham Centre, those money were originally part of the £15.9m Single Regeneration Budget allocated to Lewisham by the Government to redevelop the town centre and that in large part are still there unspent.
The LDA never felt any urge to demolish buildings unless redevelopment works are imminent (as the plan for an expensive “temporary” landscaping shows this is not the case here) so they’re obviously doing this at Lewisham Council’s request.

Could it be that the reason this has been decided is because elections are coming and works on site would induce people to believe that finally there is progress on the development? What a coincidence that this is happening just as an election looms.
Are these money being taken away from more useful measures to combat the recession in order to cover up a massive failure of Labour Lewisham that would no doubt damage Labour at the ballot?

Short stay car park for Hither Green Lane (with poll)

February 4, 2010

Lewisham borough presents a variety of local parades, some are very successful, some less so.
Today Brockley Central posted an item about Honor Oak Park, which is probably as good as it gets and should be used as a benchmark for what a local parade can aspire to, and discusses the implications of parking policies for the shops of the area. The Council has in fact revealed that preventing commuters from leaving their car parked all day there has helped shops.

I thought that this is also an argument in support of short stay car park to help shops on Hither Green Lane, that today can only draw trade from pedestrians as the Lane is completely surrounded by CPZ.
Some short stay car park for shoppers could be provided either on the side roads or by building parking bays on the Lane and in the past I have already put this proposal to the Head of Highways of Lewisham Council.

But is there popular support for this measure?

Catford deal closed

February 3, 2010

Lewisham Council has announced the completion of the purchase of the Catford shopping centre:

Lewisham Council has exchanged contracts in a deal that moves the renewal of Catford town centre a major step forward.

The deal will see the ownership of freehold and leasehold interests in and around the Catford Centre transfer from current owners, St Modwen Investments, to a wholly owned company set up by the Council to be called Catford Regeneration Partnership Limited (CRPL).

What next?

It is clear that what the Council wants to do is increase density, that’s what’s stated in the Council’s plan for the area, the shopping centre is a one storey building and this is for planners a huge opportunity. And since Catford is already an urban environment and we must build houses somewhere there’s not much that’s wrong with that, but of course the devil’s in the details.

Catford may not be upmarket, but it’s very lively, all the retail units are let out and working and the place is bustling with activity every day of the week. I believe that this is a richness that must not be squandered.
That area is the heart of Catford and as we know some open heart surgery procedures are a complete success but for the detail that the patient dies.
Do they want to retain Milford Towers? Do they want to scrap it and redo the lot? If so where and how will the residents be decanted? Do they have alternative sites for the shops that today utilize the units at Catford centre? The market?
The continued vitality of Catford must be the centre point of any plan.

Lewisham Centre is a flashing warning about what can happen when Lewisham Council wants to develop big projects and gets something crucial wrong.
Last week’s announcement that what was until recently a functioning shopping parade will be demolished to make way for a little garden is exactly the kind of risk that Catford starts to run with today’s announcement.
That demolition follows neglect, the neglect was caused by a false sense of security that a development would have taken place shortly. And now for quite a while there won’t be a new redeveloped centre and there won’t be the old parade of shops either. Only a “temporary” landscaping. A small fig leaf on a gigantic failure.

Let’s not move on from one failure to the next one.

The plan for Catford must be desirable and realistic, and it must not unnecessarily deteriorate the environment way ahead of the new development taking place.
And transparency is the key to success. As a guarantee that those involved don’t start believing in their own spin, with all the results (or non-results) that we’re now seeing at Lewisham Centre.

Catford is highly improvable and the Council does well to pursue a change. But it doesn’t all start and end at the shopping centre and Milford Towers, let’s not forget of other even worse parts of Catford.
The Plassy Road retail island is one of the worst places to be in-the-world. It’s bad planning on steroids. Is not even an urban environment, it would only make sense on a motorway, and an energetic effort should be made to transform it. I hope that the Council is speaking with all occupiers so that it can be redeveloped. Personally I think that that should be as much a priority as the shopping centre site.

Another big site in Catford is of course the Dogtrack. I opposed the currently planned development as too dense for a cul-de-sac that gives on a nearly constantly gridlocked road. But the objection was not upheld and planning consent was given in October 2008. Now the crisis has put a halt to it, but for how long that? I’d much rather see it used for something else, whether employment, education or wonderful almshouses overlooking Ladywell Fields. How appropriate that use would be for that site? We don’t build sheltered accommodations anymore! We’ll regret that when it’s out time to hit the scrapheap.

But in Catford there is also a trail of neglect that is completely down to TfL that holds up the area by keeping its options open for a re-routing of the South Circular that’s been talked about for years but never implemented, and that’s possibly the largest stumbling block for Catford.
Catford is an important centre and it’s clearly lost its ways. For the shopping centre there’s now a single ownership and that’s a good thing, for the rest there are many heads to knock together and a big job ahead.

Southeastern replies to Caroline Pidgeon AM

February 2, 2010

The News Shopper has the story that Southeastern has replied to the Chair of Transport Committee of GLA Caroline Pidgeon AM that requested the company an explanation for the three days of railway mayhem at the beginning of January.

Here’s the original letter in full, it’s an 11 pages dissertation of the company Managing Director Charles Horton where he explains why Southeastern decided to operate the way it did. Frankly it doesn’t explain convincingly why it didn’t operate a better service.
What this does well is to clarify who took decisions and based upon what, and this clarification is found in the paragraph authored by Network Rail’s Kent Route Director Dave Ward:

In times of service disruption, it is Network Rail’s role to coordinate the industry’s response. Based on a detailed forecast predicting adverse conditions, together with dialogue from Directors at Southeastern it was my decision to request Southeastern to operate an amended timetable for the 6th 7th and 8th January. My decision was based on the forecast of adverse conditions, the challenges posed by operating electrical rolling stock on an infrastructure susceptible to rail icing and lessons learned from the 18th December 2009 where upon operating a full timetable in adverse conditions we experienced multiple train failures often leaving passengers stranded on freezing trains for long periods. It is the responsibility of train operators to put together an amended timetable, and on this occasion the timetable specified by Southeastern offered services into and out of London for essential travel based on resources available to Network Rail and Southeastern. We will jointly be reviewing the service on 6th 7th and 8th January including the service levels and hours of operation so that we can learn lessons, should the condition repeat in the coming year and beyond. I must assure you that my decision was not taken lightly, and was done to maintain our duty of care for the travelling public and the industry workforce.

So here you have it, Network Rail has all the information to assess what they and Southeastern can deliver and given what they knew they decided that a reduced timetable was best advised, but the extent of the reduction was completely down to Southeastern and despite the length of the response Charles Horton fails to convince that stopping service out of London at 8pm was needed. His assertion that the amount of service was measured against the reduction in demand on days with adverse weather also clashes with passengers’ experience that found trains overcrowded and insufficient to serve all those that were present at platforms.

We need to change the way this system operates, we need transparency, even in operational decisions, so that next time a reduced timetable is needed, it is measured against the need.

In the past few years large subsidies were handed out to Southeastern, and large dividends were distributed to the shareholders, if the capacity to run better services in adverse condition is not there then it means that shareholders may have helped themselves above what they should have, even at the cost of the company’s capacity to respond to not ideal situations.

All the reasons given by the Managing Director for the decisions they took bring back to one overarching consideration, the same consideration that Network Rail did, that the capacity of the company falls short of what’s needed to run a full service in bad weather.

Another reason to sign our petition.