Posts Tagged ‘Lewisham Centre’

Courthill Road to get a green man in 2012

December 27, 2010

It’s with immense pleasure that I can report that on 15th December in a written reply to Caroline Pidgeon AM the Mayor of London Boris Johnson outlined the timetable for a green man crossing at Courthill Road.

Courthill Road junction
Question No: 3876 / 2010
Caroline Pidgeon
In answer to a previous question on Courthill Road junction in Lewisham (Question number 2981/2010) you stated: “Traffic modelling and discussions with key stakeholders are continuing to this end, and are scheduled to be completed by the end of this calendar year.” Can you please provide an update as to how far this modelling and discussions has actually progressed and how close Transport for London are to finding more ”radical solutions” as an alternative to providing pedestrian facilities at this junction as requested by current and former ward councillors and many local residents.
Answer from the Mayor
TfL is developing a design proposal for Lewisham High Street at its junction with Courthill Road.  Part of this proposal is to introduce a “green man” pedestrian crossing facility on Courthill Road.  I went out on site with TfL’s Chief Operating Officer London Streets and Heidi Alexander before she became an MP. The traffic modelling is completed and the preliminary design will undergo a road safety audit which is planned to be completed in January 2011.  Consultation on the scheme is planned for early in the New Year.  As the proposals include banning some movements at the Courthill Road junction, with displaced traffic being diverted onto other local roads, feedback from the consultation process will potentially affect not only the final outcome but also the timescales for delivery.  If a viable scheme can be developed, TfL has provisionally programmed detailed design to commence in the summer of 2011 with works commencing early 2012.

This is the result of  the coordinated pressure that residents of Lewisham Central have put onto TfL over a number of years, thanks to all those that helped towards this result. This blog has a Courthill Road tag to read about some of those efforts.

For now, until the traffic lights are actually in place, let’s still cross it with extreme caution, I was almost run over yesterday and the railings on one of the corners have just been replaced after someone smashed into them.

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.

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?

It’s regeneration, but not as we know it

January 29, 2010

Lewisham Labour decided that ahead of elections this historic parade must be demolished because it will 'make a difference' and also 'create a good impression'.


Mayor Bullock decided that the once fine Victorian row of shops that now stands in front of Lewisham Police Station will be demolished and the site will be “landscaped”. Drunks and those waiting to sign on the offenders’ register (another town centre feature we must thank Lewisham Labour for) will have a nicer place to hang about.

I must confess that I have a soft spot for that parade, I always thought that although unassuming and unremarkable it still is positively handsome and provides much of what ‘sense of place’ exists around Lewisham Centre. Looking at it one immediately understands something about Lewisham’s past, in fact as this period photo shows it was an element of the original market square.
But now where once were shops and prosperity only a boarded up ghost of a better past stands, and despite the fact that the Council’s plans for regeneration of the town centre may fail to materialize for who knows how long, the Mayor’s decided that he’s seen enough of it and it must go, now, or better, in the next few months, which incidentally coincides with next elections. Activity, activity!

From the Mercury:

Lewisham’s deputy mayor Heidi Alexander said:
“Whilst the big redevelopment of the town centre is taking longer than expected due to the economic climate, it’s important that in the interim we create a good impression in Lewisham.

“The temporary landscaping which the council have agreed to fund are going to be make a huge difference to how the town centre looks and feels.”

Taking longer than expected due to the economic climate?
Taking longer than expected due to the economic climate?

The Lewisham Gateway development received outline planning consent in April 2006!
With a buoyant housing market and a planning consent in the pocket works should have started soon after. If nothing’s happened since the fault is entirely of Mayor Bullock and his unquestioning Lewisham Labour group. The housing crisis only arrived 2 years after planning consent was given.

Labour promise of £200m of private investment to redevelop the area has been replaced by a £200k bill for the tax payer to demolish what was once a fine row of shops.
Elections are coming and Lewisham Labour have nothing to show for the years of announcements and the millions of public money spent on the fabled Lewisham Gateway project. That parade is a corpse and must be removed from the scene.

Fair Rents For Pensioners

January 28, 2010

Cllr Dave Edgerton started a campaign to help a number of pensioners that are charged rather extortionate rents from their registered social landlord. As he found:

Pensioners living in sheltered accommodation owned by Registered Social Landlords rents can vary between £90 and £150 a week. Often a weekly service charge is also added. Many of the pensioners have worked hard all their lives and have saved towards a pension. This is being swallowed up by the high rents. The average charge for similar housing owned by local authorities is £60 a week.

One of the Registered Social Landlords involved in the practice is Merchant Taylors, one of the twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London, hardly in need of cash, and yet asks to its guests rents of £90 and £95 per week. In-Touch, which is the supporting people division of Hyde Housing asks up to £150 a week plus service charge.

It’s a great injustice and Cllr Dave Edgerton is right in raising the issue, he started a petition that you can sign here.

Roadworks at Loampit Vale

January 27, 2010

TfL has communicated that major roadworks on Loampit Vale will start on 1st February and will complete by 12th March. These are non-essential maintenance and are done to solve the problem of road drainage and will be a major disruption for traffic and bus service for the period involved.
Brockley Central has more details.

I wonder, does TfL knows that just there a major development is supposed to start? There Barratt should not only build hundreds of flats and a leisure centre, but also provide new pedestrian paths and also new bus stops.
Is this a case where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand’s doing?

Maybe the timing of these works is a couple of years off the mark and those money would be better spent elsewhere, like providing pedestrian crossing at the various dangerous crossings around the borough, like Courthil Road, also belonging to TfL. But those are money for pedestrians, not cars, so Boris’ TfL may not see that as much useful.

Unless TfL has information that the Loampit Vale development won’t happen anytime soon, but in that case they could tell us as it would be an information of extreme public interest.

Open waste discussion

January 13, 2010

Lewisham Council’s Head of Environment wrote an extremely interesting guest post published today on Brockley Central.
There he outlines the thinking behind Lewisham’s waste strategy and also announces the just introduced and excellent mattresses recycling scheme:

To use the service, residents can obtain a special sticker from any local Lewisham library or from Lewisham Council’s Access Point in Laurence House, Catford. The sticker is then placed on the mattress.

The mattress will be collected on the same day as scheduled refuse and recycling collections. Residents just need to make sure the mattress, preferably with sticker attached, is placed near their refuse bin the evening before collection day.

As in his post he specifically referred to the benefits of incineration vs. landfilling vs. biomass and so on I interacted with a comment asking him about kitchen waste:

Thanks Nigel. Great initiative for the mattresses. And of course kudos for the openness.

Nigel, you are probably aware that I’ve investigated issues around recycling of kitchen waste (what the Daily Mail elegantly calls the slop bag).
According to answers I received from Council (thanks) it appears that kitchen waste amounts to about 30% of collected household waste, it costs £1.2m in gate fees at SELCHP and being largely made out of water it hampers the efficiency of the SELCHP with a loss of potential earning from the sale of energy produced on site of about £2.5m.
I had suggested that those money could be used to pay for a composting service, generating a good number of local jobs too but at last Council was told that there are contractual and legal barriers that prevent a switch from incineration to composting but no detail of what these barriers are was given.
Can you please explain what these barriers are and what proposals are you considering to deal with kitchen waste in the future?

The reply reiterates the invitation to meet and discuss the proposal I received as part of the reply to my question about it at last Council meeting:

Hi Max, I was interested in your proposals and I think (hope!) we offerred to sit down with you and talk through some of the assumptions. As for future plans on Kitchen Waste, my understanding is that we’ve shown support to Greenwich in their bid to build a AD plant in the borough (there’s a bit more detail in the waste Strategy, I think). The really big issue for Lewisham is our fragile waste infrastructure (we could really do with our own Waste Transfer Station, that would also help bump-up our recycling rates), so our future plans will need to involve close work with our neighbouring boroughs, particularly Southwark and Greenwich. But please take up the offer to come and discuss your ideas with us. Nigel

In the past hour me and Nigel got in touch and this meeting is now being arranged.

If you want to know more about my proposal just see the posts tagged SELCHP.

Nigel Tyrell also has a blog that in unofficial way talks about waste management in Lewisham:

The Love Lewisham blog is managed by Nigel Tyrell, Head of Environment for the London Borough of Lewisham. It is mainly an area for updating friends of Lewisham’s Environmental services (but I might stray away from the ‘day job’ every now and then!). I hope you find it useful. Please note that the views expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the views of the London Borough of Lewisham.

New Pool to miss Olympics

December 31, 2009

The Loampit Vale website homepage have not been updated in last few weeks, it still says:

Loampit Vale was granted planning permission at a Strategic Planning Committee meeting on 10th September 2009. Barratt Homes hope to start on site before the end of the year.

And unless works start in the next few hours before midnight this hope of Barratt will not realize.

Earlier today I passed by Lewisham Shopping Centre’s car park and from there there’s a good birds’ view of the site, I didn’t have a camera with me today, but apart from the seasonal colour the site looked exactly as it did a few weeks ago when I took this pictures in October.
Works have not started and the reason is clear, the business case for the Loampit Vale development stands on a 24 storeys high tower of one bedroom flats, and last week the Times told us that:

The effect of troubles in the City can be seen in the performance of the boroughs: Greenwich, a sought-after area in South East London within easy reach of Canary Wharf and popular with younger professionals and families employed there, has suffered this year, dropping 8.7 per cent.

Mr Lewis said: “The oversupply of new-build property around the Cutty Sark and Woolwich Arsenal has partly been to blame for the dip in prices.” The nearby areas of Lewisham and Tower Hamlets, also well-supplied with recently built apartment blocks marketed at first-time buyers, have also underperformed.

Three months ago, immediately after the Strategic Planning Committee unwisely voted in favour of planning consent to this scheme (Labour members for, all others against), I made here an analysis and a prediction. The analysis was that the developers are not in any hurry to start works, the prediction was that in the future a revised planning application to cut on amenities and affordable housing will be submitted.

And the fact that all was not well and that risks were high should not have been unknown to the committee members, in fact almost one year earlier, in November 2008, Sir Steve Bullock received this item telling him of a revised timetable for the delivery of the leisure centre:

5.2 Since the Mayor and Cabinet decision in July officers have been negotiating with Barratt a revision to the key terms which were proposed by Barratt in response to changing market conditions and the current economic situation with respect to the availability of credit. Other issues were also raised by Barratt but these did not result in the need to make any changes. As a result of this it has been agreed to extend the time Barratt have to deliver the new Leisure Centre from 24 to 36 months as Barratt had indicated that this was the only way they could continue with the scheme. The result of this deferment is to provide a cashflow for the scheme that is viable and enables them to continue with the scheme. Following this change contracts were exchanged with Barratt on 30th October

5.3 The time taken to negotiate the Development Agreement with Barratt had already pushed the programme back from an original planned completion date for the Leisure Centre at the end of 2010 to June 2011. This completion date was based on an assumed planning consent late January / early February 2009 with 6 months to complete outstanding S106 and Housing Corporation funding issues and clear the Judicial Review challenge period. On this basis, it was anticipated that the Development Agreement would become unconditional in June 2009 with Barratt then having 24 months to deliver the new Leisure Centre. The parties are still working to the original timetable for the Development Agreement to become unconditional. However, the 24 month period has now been extended to 36 months. Adding 12 months (on the basis of a June 2009 unconditional date) means an anticipated date for delivery of the new Leisure Centre not later than June 2012.

June 2012 is of course Olympic time for London and a new pool to celebrate it would be a great boast for Lewisham Council, but looking at the calendar today, reading the market situation for one bedroom flats and what the Mayor’s papers say about how long it takes to Barratt to build it I don’t think that anyone would bet a single penny on it happening.

Letter in the South London Press

December 6, 2009

On Friday the South London Press published this letter of mine about the new pool at Loampit Vale.

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.

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.

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.

Shopping for Community – with PETITION

November 5, 2009

info-kiosk
When a couple of weeks ago I tried to leave some leaflets for the Hither Green Cinema day at the Riverdale Shopping Centre I realized that the information kiosk had been replaced and the new one didn’t have a display rack for leaflets besides the space provided for the Shopping Centre own leaflets (see photo).
At that point I asked the man at the desk if I could just leave my leaflets there, on the desk surface. This request made him clearly uncomfortable and rather than saying no he directed me to the management office to ask for permission.

The management office is not very conveniently located for the public, especially on cold and drizzly days like that one, it’s outside the shopping centre, next door to the toilets, and you can only speak to the management through an entryphone.
Anyway, someone eventually answered and through the entryphone I asked this person if I could leave my leaflets and briefly explained what were they about.
The answer that I received was that I couldn’t because if they let me leave my leaflets then they would have to also allow “all and sundry”.
Let me now quote from the Shopping Centre’s own website at the page entitled “community”:

Lewisham Shopping Centre is located at the heart of Lewisham and seeks to plays its part in supporting local charities and initiatives. We seek to assist by offering:

• Display space in the Central Square to promote your organisation or cause…

I now wrote to the management, pointing at this contradiction between their alleged commitment to support the local community and their decision to replace the kiosk with a new one that doesn’t have space for leaflets other than the Shopping Centre’s own literature and asking for the display space to be reinstated.

It is a fact that for many the shopping centre is also a social space, and an important one, many pensioners and youths spend a lot of time there, but also other segments of population visit it regularly.
That display of community notices was an effective mean of communicating across the community, especially for those that don’t have internet access and the management’s decision to remove it flies in the face of their alleged commitment to support community initiatives. Let’s hope that now they will think again.

_____________

A bit of good old community pressure may help them focus minds, so please add your name to the petition.

Out and about with James – weekend roundup

October 26, 2009

Jamie_Billboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rising-Sun-SLP

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

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

Savings and pressures

October 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vince at the conference

September 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later in the speech he also says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loampit Vale application approved

September 11, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loampit Vale development goes to planning committee this Thursday

September 8, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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