Archive for the ‘locals’ Category

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May 8, 2010

It’s the day after elections, and despite the fact that my wife and daughter came out as the biggest winners it’s no time to rest. In all frankness I hate elections and I’m glad it’s finished, we can go back to think about real issues.

As I already wrote Lewisham Council is tendering a major contract for the running of most of our leisure centres. I write it here again to avoid it being buried under the electoral posts.

Because this is really important, it’s an opportunity that comes round only every few years, we must set up our local social enterprise to run the centres, just like other boroughs did. Local talents working for the local community and re-investing all receipts in our community assets.

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Lewisham Leisure mega-contract needs fresh re-thinking

May 5, 2010

Two contracts with leisure operators to run almost all the leisure centres of the borough are to expire soon and Lewisham Council is now advertising a major long term contract to run them all on a long term basis.

The London Borough of Lewisham is seeking a partner to enter into a contract to manage, operate and maintain a number of existing leisure facilities (“the existing facilities”) together with 2 possible new facilities (“the proposed facilities”). The existing facilities comprise of the following leisure facilities : The BridgeLeisure Centre and Indoor Bowls Hall (Kangley Bridge Road, Lower Sydenham, London SE26 5AQ, UNITED KINGDOM); Ladywell Leisure Centre (261 Lewisham High Street, London SE13 6NJ, UNITED KINGDOM); Wavelengths Leisure Centre (Giffin Street, Deptford, London SE8 4RJ, UNITED KINGDOM). The proposed facilities are Forest Hill Pools (Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3HZ, UNITED KINGDOM) designed to replace the formerForest Hill Pools on the same site, and a new leisure facility development at Loampit Vale designed to replace the existing Ladywell Leisure Centre.

The Council proposes to award a 10-15 year contract in relation to managing, operating and maintaining the Existing Facilities with options (exercisable by the Council during this term) to require the partner to manage, operate and maintain the Proposed Facilities (such additional requirements to be performed within the 10-15 year term). It is estimated that the services in respect of the Proposed Facilities (if the option is exercised) will commence in the second year of the 10-15 year term.

Having watched closely how the leisure centres work in Lewisham I can surely say that there is a need of a serious re-thinking before committing to something like this.

The way this works now is a complete muddle, with results like the legionella bacteria crisis, when following discovery of the bacteria in the showers at Ladywell these were shut down by the contractor following an order from the Council (but allegedly without the knowledge of the Cabinet Member for Community). The result of this decision was that people couldn’t shower before swimming and therefore the water of the pool was becoming infested with other equally harmful bacteria.

The root cause was of course neglect, and at the root of that lack of funding for repair and maintenance.

This is a unique opportunity to re-organize these services so that they are maintained to the level they should be. It is also an opportunity to involve the local sport talents and clubs and develop a long term plan of sport development for the borough to make use the current local infrastructure to its full potential.

The first question to ask ourselves is how can we use these facilities at their best, and then look for the best way to run the centres to serve that plan.

Maybe Lewisham can set up its own social enterprise, 4 centres are already an economy of scale, that’s how Greenich Leisure started, they now run 70 leisure centres. Why provide profits for shareholders when we could be reinvesting in our community assets?

Because as the tender tells us there are money to reinvest, almost £2m per year:

Historic third party income levels in operating the existing facilities has been in the region of 1 940 000 GBP per annum (excluding VAT and the Council’s management fee). It is projected that income may not meet expenditure to manage, operate and maintain the facilities, thus, the contract awarded may involve a level of management fee payable by the Council. Further financial details will be provided in the tender pack and other procurement documents.

It can also be the way to keep services going and dodge those cuts that no doubt will soon hit our budgets.

A Countdown Bus Stop for Hither Green

April 5, 2010

Transport for London (TfL) is currently consulting on the location for 2500 new countdown displays for bus stops to be rolled out across London next year.
The map of the locations for Lewisham has been published, unfortunately not one of these displays has been allocated to Hither Green Lane (click on map to enlarge).

We Lewisham Central Liberal Democrats think that there is a strong case for one of these displays to be placed on Hither Green Lane, we also think that we fit well one of the criteria chosen by TfL for eligibility, that of interchange value, especially when including walking as an alternative, a mode of transport that’s often only praised but not actually promoted through transport strategies.

In fact many waits for the bus on Hither Green Lane are either made to go to Lewisham Station for the DLR or to Lewisham Market, both places that are in reach by walk and a decision to walk could often be made if the time for the wait was known.
What instead currently happens is that people dithers in indecision indefinitely, until, often much later, the bus arrives, and many times when it does it’s overcrowded.

We also have a train station, which obviously increases the interchange value even further, as many people do take a bus after the train and this means that a countdown display would be of value also to people living beyond the immediate vicinity of the bus stop.

In both these cases a known wait would often result in reduced overcrowding on buses and an increase in pedestrian journeys, both very positive results from the point of view of transport planning, and it’s with this argument that we ask for a countdown display for Hither Green. Our proposed locations are Hither Green Lane and Springbank Road.

TfL is consulting with Councils, not individuals (click here for the consultation documents pack), but we decided that we will make a representation anyway and we also found a powerful advocate in Caroline Pidgeon AM, who is the Chair of the Transport Committee at the Greater London Assembly and will support our case.

Please add your name to our petition, and if your personal experience is one where a countdown display would clearly be of benefit then please tell us about it in the comment box so we can submit it as a sample case.

What’s cooking?

April 1, 2010

Totally unannounced Jon Jacob walked in, he was holding a camera.
Why are you doing this?
He kept asking, over and over again.
I was evasive.

Read more on Thoroughly Good.

TfL in partial agreement on Courthill Road

March 17, 2010

I received further correspondance from TfL about my enquiries asking clarification on their position regarding the Courthill Road Junction.
This latest letter, that I received last week, has some very interesting points indeed, and I’m much delighted to read that they agree with the point I raised about the context of the junction and how a pedestrian traffic light here would only delay traffic to the next junction and traffic light, that in both directions on the Catford to Lewisham route is very near indeed:

You are right, this section of the A21 between Courthill Road and Catford Town Centre is a particularly busy route. However, the impacts of installing a pedestrian crossing at Courthill Road cannot be viewed as simply holding a queue at one location rather than another. We must be sure that any queuing created as a result of this pedestrian crossing does not have significant impacts on other neighbouring junctions, not just on the A21 but also on local borough roads.

So, it seems that the concern here is about Courthill Road and Withburn Road and whether a pedestrian light would make queses there longer than the current situation (note to self, ask to Head of Highways of Lewisham Council what he’s heard about this).

Later on TfL also says that:

As part of our previous investigations we built a model which replicates the operation of Courthill Road junction and nearby Ladywell junction which are both linked operationally. We are now testing the impacts of any changes of the junction to identify whether they are acceptable to both Transport for London and the London Borough of Lewisham.

And that’s encouraging. Read the full letter here.

P.S.: at point 1 the letter mentions an attachment with details of the recorded accidents. The attachment was actually missing, I have asked for those data again, both to TfL as well as to other contacts at City Hall and I’ll post that data here as soon as I receive it.

Gym opens in Hither Green

March 16, 2010

Looks like my hopes for the OLF Training Centre have realized:

What is the OLF Training Centre?
The centre was orignally set up for our exisiting business of education for th fitness professional. However, when we moved to Hither Green we soon realised that the area was in need of a gym! So we put our heads together and cmae up with the following…..

Hurrah! Read more here.

St Mungo’s & Safer Neighbourhood Team joint event

March 13, 2010

St Mungo’s, the very large homeless hostel of Arlington Close (off Ennersdale Road) is hosting an open day event in conjunction with the Safer Neighbourhood Team for Lewisham Central.

This event is set for next Friday 19th March, 4pm to 8pm.

In the words of PCSO Andy Griffey:

This will give you a chance to look around the hostel and see what work is carried out and ask questions, and speak with staff. The meeting will also give you the opportunity to meet members from our team and learn more about Neighbourhood Watch Scheme which would like to start in your area.

This is a very welcome event, at the latest Safer Neighbourhood Panel meeting we were told that they had just established a positive line of communication with the hostel and this initiative is evidently the first fruit of that forward attitude of the local SNT team.

Lewisham Labour member deceiving the public on Council Tax

March 12, 2010

There is an interesting letter in this week’s Mercury, it’s signed by a “Neil Watkins” who declares he just moved to this Borough.

A quick Google of the keywords Neil Watkins and Lewisham and Labour clarified further where he comes from. A rank and file Labour Member whose Facebook profile puts in the UK Parliament network. Possibly a young researcher.

Here’s what he writes:

I received a leaflet from the Lib Dems complaining about the level of council tax in Lewisham.

I’ve recently moved to the borough and I can tell you that the boroughs with the highest council tax in London, Richmond and Kingston, are Liberal Democrat-run.

Kingston’s Band D rate is 30 per cent higher than Lewisham’s, so I think a bit of perspective is required.

Everyone in the UK pays council tax, so it’s worth knowing where we stand.

We all know that what the Liberals say and what they do in power are two different things, but let’s hope we never have to find out in Lewisham.

Neil Watkins, Blackheath

Now, since Mr Watkins is so politically aware, he must also have spotted that the Libdem literature informs people that Lewisham has the highest Council Tax of all Inner London Boroughs.

And that is entirely true, as it is true that Mr Watkins craftily manages to avoid refuting this fact (and if you read carefully you’ll also realize that he says he just moved in the Borough but not necessarily from Kingston or Richmond).

It is also true that all Outer London Boroughs bar one charge more than all Inner London Boroughs, and this is  due to the fact that they all receive much less Government Grants, also for the reason that they are wealthier, and since they must deliver the same services the difference can only be found through Council tax.

It’s a redistributive measure to make those that need more receive more and those that can afford more pay more, and in fact the two Boroughs that Mr Watkins chose to focus on are two very wealthy Boroughs indeed, that therefore receive a much lower government grant from central government to integrate the collected Council Tax.

For each resident the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames receives a yearly grant of £231, the London Borough of Richmond receives £150. The latter is in fact the London Borough that receives less grants than all other Outer London Boroughs.

The London Borough of Lewisham receives £715 for each of its resident!

In his letter Neil Watkins points specifically at Kingston’s Band D Council Tax and says it’s 30% higher than here. Let’s take a look at this specific.

First of all this is factually incorrect, to be precise it’s 24.7% (Lewisham is 1,351.92 and Kingston is 1,685.88), but mostly, since Lewisham Council receives for each resident a grant that is £484 higher than what Kingston receives then Kingston must have a higher Council Tax to deliver the services it must deliver.

If Lewisham had to add the same £484 to the tax it charges then Lewisham’s Band D would be £1835, 92 and that’s £150 above what Kingston charges.

Band D Council Tax for the London Borough of Richmond is £1,597.21 , and this despite the fact that it receives a paltry £150 of central grant per resident, that’s a staggering £565 less than Lewisham. If Lewisham would add that to what it charges then Band D here would be £1916.92.

In conclusion, after adjustment to consider the different Government Grant received by each Borough it emerges that the Labour run Lewisham charges a Band D Council Tax that’s 8.9% higher than Lib Dem run Kingston and 20% higher than Lib Dem run Richmond.

P.S.: to make this calculation I made here the assumption that each individual resident is also a Council Tax payer. This is not true because the Council tax is instead a tax on the property, and since each property is on average the residence of more than one person it means that Lewisham charges in real terms even more than that when compared to Richmond and Kingston.

Reducing Carbon emissions in Lewisham

March 12, 2010

This announcement has just been posted on the Hither Green Community Forum:

25th March 3pm – 6.30pm Low Carbon Zone Lewisham Central Launch Event
Lewisham NHS Hospital Education Centre (the Old Lewisham Library)

Lewisham has been successful in receiving funding from the London Development Agency to reduce CO2 output by 20.12% for an area in Hither Green and Ladywell. This is an exciting project that will bring together residents, businesses and organisations operating in the area to all reduce their CO2 output.

We would like to invite all community members to attend this highly informative event and hear from you what projects you would like to see happen in the area and how we can all work together to deliver a low carbon community.

For further information please contact us
Sarah Fletcher 020 8314 7234 or
Robert de Jong robert.dejong@lewisham.gov.uk
020 8314 7973

More pressure on TfL for action on Courthill Road

March 12, 2010

Last week’s crash on Lewisham High Street by the Courthill Road junction is reported in this week’s South London Press and the Mercury.

Following the accident I had a good discussion about what’s wrong with that place with the Lewisham reporter John Hugill, who then contacted TfL that told him:

we are currently investigating whether we can improve facilities for pedestrians at the junction of Courthill Road with Lewisham High Street.

I’m also pleased that the very important data that the junction saw 21 accidents in the past three years is now in the public domain through mainstream media.

Campaigner Max Calo said: “It’s the 21st accident on the junction in three years.

“TfL’s argument that they don’t want to have tighter regulation with traffic lights because it will affect car flow is wrong.

“When there is an accident you break the flow of traffic for hours because the road has to be closed, so their argument is wrong.

“The junction is occupied by cars most of the time so an emergency vehicle will find it very hard to cross there because there are always cars stuck in the middle.

“I can’t see why TfL can’t just give us campaigners what we want and make the road safer for both pedestrians and drivers.”

Read the full article here.

The wrong side of the track

March 10, 2010

Me and Cllr Andrew Milton have been pressing officers of the highways department about the lack of gritting at sensitive locations in Lewisham Central during the recent snowy and icy spells and one welcome but rather peculiar reply we received from highway officers tells us that:

The main entrance for Hither Green is in Staplehurst Road so that entrance automatically gets gritted, however, the other entrance in Nightingale Grove was not included so has only been gritted on request. We will make sure in future that both entrances to Hither Green are gritted, subject to salt stocks being available.

What makes the Staplehurst Road side the main entrance I don’t know, but the fact here exposed is that in the eyes of officialdom the Lewisham Central side of Hither Green plays second fiddle.

We have now won the promise that subject to salt stock being available it will be gritted in case of ice and snow, but this is only the start. We shall demand nothing less than full equality of status for both ends of the tunnel.

The Slow Hump

March 9, 2010

Speed humps are useful but not universally loved, Lewisham Council loves them so much that it even placed one in front of a wall at least once.

But now we have a new road feature, it’s the slow hump!

The pilot of this scheme is currently ‘on duty’ slowing down dangerous prams and wheelchairs in Mount Pleasant Road.

There used to be a tree there and the hump came into being as a result of roots pushing up the pavements, but a few months ago Lewisham Council cut down the offending tree and left behind an unspeakable mess. The tree was only cut at surface level, and the stump left in the ground patched up so badly that splinters are still visible piercing through the concrete.

Worse still, the root itself has been left in place, with the result that without the tree warning pedestrians don’t have visual notice that the surface is so uneven. Truly dangerous.

I saw another example of these kind of botched jobs around the ward, this is in Brightside Road, here instead of a hump there’s a volcano type of display.

I notified Lewisham Council of both, but I fear that even if we defeat the menace of slow humps today Lewisham Council will devise new ways to drive Lewishamites insane like…

Access for all campaign taken to government

March 8, 2010

Lee Green Councillor Brian Robson reports about the delivery of the petition signatures asking for better access to Hither Green Station, a much needed initiative to make a real improvement for our area, especially for people with disabilities. We able bodies sometimes forget how different the experience for the disabled can be. As this local wheelchair user testifies:

“Whenever I travel back from London I can only take the Orpington train because it’s the only one that stops at the one platform I can use. And if I’m traveling home from outside London I have to go all the way into central London just to get the Orpington train back to Hither Green. Opening up the ramps at Hither Green would make a huge difference.”

With thanks to all the Lewisham Central and Lee Green residents that in the past few weeks signed this petition outside Hither Green Station.

Police Car in collision in Lewisham High Street

March 6, 2010

BBC reports:

Two police officers and a member of the public were hurt when a car answering an emergency call collided with another vehicle in south east London.

The Metropolitan Police said the accident happened in High Street, Lewisham, just after 1000 GMT.

All three people were taken to hospital following the crash but the extent of their injuries is not yet known.

The marked police car is believed to have had its lights and sirens on when it collided with the Vauxhall Zafira.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “The circumstances of the collision are being investigated by traffic officers.”

Lewisham traffic was seriously disrupted today when following this accident at Lewisham High Street at the junction with Courthill and Whitburn Road the junction was cordoned off for hours (this video was taken almost three hours after the accident), effectively cutting the flow of cars and buses in two.

This time it was a police car in emergency to have an accident at this junction.
Police cars often go through red lights and take a risk when in emergency and sometimes the risk ends up like this, so one can say that this could have happened at any other junction.
Still, this is the 21st collision in about three years at this junction (five involving pedestrians).

Best wishes of a quick recovery to those involved.

Click on the Courthill Road tag to read more about this junction.

Loampit Vale rescued by £20.5m of Goverment’s cash

March 5, 2010

The Mercury reports an incredible turn of events for Lewisham Town Centre, the Housing Minister John Healey has in fact announced that the Government will give £20.5m to Barratt Homes to allow the development at Loampit Vale to proceed.

The Housing Minister justified the cash to Barratts with the motivation that:

We have used the power of public investment to ensure that even in the downturn we continue to build the homes the country needs.
But I want to make the best of every taxpayer’s pound, which is why I am requiring those benefiting from this extra cash to offer local job and apprenticeship opportunities.

I really thought that there already were incentives for local jobs and apprenticeships. £20.5m sounds a bit dear for just one development.

Could it be that the Housing Minister is helping the Labour administration of Lewisham to save the face before an election with quite a bit of our money?

The negotiation for this development was a masterpiece in incompetence, this deal was signed off during recession but using a financial model developed during the housing bubble.
Even a donkey would have known that it couldn’t work.
Not Mayor Bullock though, he signed off the transfer of the most valuable plot of public land in the Borough to a developer on the back of an unrealistic deal, and if after this mess the Government would not have intervened with an unprecedented £20.5m handout to the land developer we would have remained with that hole in the ground in front of Lewisham Station for years to come.

By the way, when Loampit Vale was approved I made the prediction that Barratt would have come back with new requests in order to proceed, on that count I was right. I thought that they would have asked for more storeys to be added or a reduction in social housing. I’d have never thought that it would have been an all out handout of tens of millions in cash.

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.

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.

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.

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!