Posts Tagged ‘Lewisham’

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.

Lewisham primary schools short of 543 reception level places

March 26, 2010

6.16 As of the end of January 2010 cut-off date, 3699 First Preference applications had been received on time for the 3156 Reception places available.

It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact of the numbers revealed in the Mayor and Cabinet papers of 24th February (link to document) and that the South London Press reports about today.
The sobering news is that next year Lewisham will be short of 543 reception level primary school places.

If we weren’t so close to an election the Mayor would have to be forced out of his seat for his inability to face up to the most basic needs of the community he is supposed to look after.

This report to the Mayor is full of explanations about why we are where we are, but on the side of the administration there are no excuses, the fact is that they saw it coming, and didn’t rise to the challenge.

Over 500 children and families will suffer greatly. A whole generation of Lewisham’s children will receive a reduced service, overcrowded classes, not enough teacher’s attention, insufficient play area. All of this at that most crucial stage of their education. As I said, the consequences are immense.

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 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…

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.

Lewisham Central Labour Party Activists lying barefacedly

February 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go away!”

Dodging Courthill Road

February 18, 2010

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

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

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

Answer from the Mayor:

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

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

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

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

Brief Encounter

February 11, 2010

Brief Encounter

Sunday 14th February

6 pm

the Station Pub

Staplehurst Road SE13

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

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

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

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

Book your seat by emailing contact@hithergreenhall.org.

Doing Civics in the 21st Century

February 9, 2010

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

Thanks to Brockley Central for the tip.

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?

Catford deal closed

February 3, 2010

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

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

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

What next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pathetic excuse for lack of primary school places

January 29, 2010

From South London Press:

Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock said: “The main reason for the extra demand is the housing market.

“People who are living in properties in Lewisham who had every intention of moving are now stuck and need to find school places here.”

Pathetic isn’t it? He knew that there was a shortage coming, I knew there was a shortage coming coming for sure, everyone knew there was a shortage coming.
That warning gave the opportunity to plan ahead, the Council didn’t take the opportunity.
In the light of the projections in primary school needs the Council should have reviewed its plans at least a year ago but they left it to last minute and the consequences will be paid by the children and their families starting with the beginning of the next school year.

If there is a thing that’s worse than a lack of secondary school places is a lack of primary school places, and when the data about this shortage emerged the decision to close Lewisham Bridge Primary to demolish it and re-open as an all through primary and secondary combined to include a reduced primary provision on site should have been reviewed.
What we’re now facing are overcrowded primaries and possibly parents being forced into long term stress to bring their children to school somewhere away from where they live or work.

Allow me a little “I told you so” moment and link to a comment I left at Brockley Central on 28th April 2009 when I wrote:

Another issue is that when the decision to use Lewisham Bridge Primary as the site for the new secondary was taken part of the motivation was that the number of children attending it was dwindling and it would have been sized down anyway.
At the time I attended the meeting of the decision and it was reported to the Mayor that the Head of the school had indeed asked for a reduction in size of the school.

Now we have new projections for needs of places at primary schools and the forecast is that we’ll need many more primary places than available so if the plan goes ahead then the Council will have to start thinking about a new Primary too, that means spending for building two schools instead of one.

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.

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.

Mum’s Cafe to open this week

January 24, 2010

This sounds like excellent news for parents of young children in the area, it’s in Manor Lane, Lee, just outside the borders of Greater Hither Green and at a very reasonable distance from much of Lewisham Central.
From this week’s South London Press:

Rhubarb and Custard will open its doors at the end of the month and, as well as the usual coffee and tea, there will be pottery classes and chocolate-making for the kids while their folks relax over a brew.

The cafe is the brainchild of Louisa Gillespie, 37, Marion Cattanach, 40, and Lucy Hunter, 39, who met outside the school gates picking up and dropping off their children from St Winifred’s Nursery and Infant School and Junior School.

The trio then met Anna Ferla, 41, over coffee in Blackheath, and the four women, from Lee, together cooked up the idea of Rhubarb and Custard in Manor Lane, Lee.

I here declare a personal interest as my daughter has just turned 4 and therefore pottery and chocolate making sound very interesting indeed.

The Cafe opens this Friday.

P.S.: I wonder if the name of the cafe has anything to do with the animated series Rhubarb and Custard. The author, the great Bob Godfrey lives in fact not far away in Blackheath.

Ladywell Pool looking for a new manager

January 21, 2010

Centre Manager

Salary: Circa £28,000
Company: Parkwood Leisure
Location: Lewisham , United Kingdom

These are exciting opportunities to join one of the UK’s largest and most successful providers of Health, Leisure and Community Services. Operating in excess of 80 leisure facilities nationwide, we are now looking to recruit Managers to ensure we continually develop and maintain high quality customer services, whilst enhancing customer participation and enjoyment…

More details here.

Jolly Farmers up for grabs

January 21, 2010

A sad news and a great chance for anyone wanting to take on Lewisham’s best pub and keep it going “just as it is” please.
This photo was taken from a mobile phone and it’s not that readable so I transcribe it here:

To all our customers

We regret to inform you that on 24th Jan our lease with Enterprise comes to an end and after considering all our option we have decided not to renew it. If Enterprise find a new tenant we will leave on the 25th. If they don’t find a new tenant by then, and provided we can agree a short term deal, we may stay for a while longer.
We will sadly be living in the near future but would like to assure our customers that we will continue to run the pub in a professional manner, until we do so.
We would like to thank you all for your custom over the past 15 months and wish you all the best for the future.

Les & Helen

And so this coming Monday there will be what could be the last folk jam sessions at the Jolly Farmers. Good things never seem to last for long.
I was there two days ago and again it was fab, just as the last time I was there there were Flakey Jake and Jim Radford that were joined by a surprising number of other folk musicians.
There’s a rare atmosphere there right now and this coming Monday there’s a chance to savour it that may not repeat for a while, although I really hope in a smooth transition towards a new management as nice as this one.

All readers of this blog are warmly invited to join me there this coming Monday.

Southeastern invites Lewisham Lib Dems for talks

January 20, 2010

Lib Dems didn't reduce service because of snow. Petitioning at Hither Green Station. From left: Pete Pattison, Halina Bowen, me.

This Monday 18th January Southeastern Railways wrote to the leader of the Lewisham Lib Dem group Cllr Chris Maines, the letter had a title written in bold characters: Liberal Democrat Petition!
In the letter Southeastern proposes to meet with us for discussions, and so on Monday night me, Tam Langley and Chris Maines met and decided our platform of requests for Southeastern.

We decided on a number of issues to raise, including refunds to season ticket holders, but we also agreed on a very important central point that we need to make, that we need confidence in Southeastern’s ability to deliver a dependable service and this is only achievable if the traveling public (I hate the word “customers”) are allowed to question the company’s operational decisions. We need a voice of the stakeholders that is kept informed and has weight. Something that does not exist in the current set up.

The terms of the franchise agreement between the Department for Transport and Southeastern is such that for the next few years Southeastern will receive progressively decreasing subsidies, the subsidy was £136m last year, it will be £116 for the year starting on 1st April 2010, dropping further to £71m for 2011, then £24 for 2012 and ultimately becoming a premium to pay to the Government in the last year of the contract when Southeastern is supposed to give back £18m.

In 2009 the company made an £18.3m profit, which is a long way below the £76.8m achieved the previous year, and worryingly much of it has been achieved through large scale redundancies (link):

Operating profit* was below the exceptionally strong result for last year but broadly in line with the franchise bid. This was partly achieved through a significant cost savings programme which Southeastern started in the first half of the year, including a reduction of up to 300 positions which incurred an exceptional charge of £1.9m, procurement savings and other efficiency savings which in total are estimated to have saved nearly £10m compared to last year.

These numbers scream one word: warning!
In the good years large subsidies have been transformed into dividends for the shareholders and when the subsidies decreased workforce was instead sacrificed to provide a profit, but the margin is reducing and if this trend continues Southeastern at the end of the franchise will have neither money nor men and it may return to the Government a dead horse.
The recent decision to run a reduced timetable for adverse weather forecast is in effect a self-audit. The company showed no confidence in its own capacity to sustain the service. Where in the past an adverse weather forecast would have moved management to decide for increased trains on the track to prevent ice from forming, this time it decided for reduction of service. This went against industry standard practice and the fear is that it did so because it didn’t have the capacity to adequately respond to an adverse weather situation and knew it.

The original sin was obviously that of the Labour Government that set up an agreement that doesn’t deliver enough for the traveling public and apparently only makes it worthwhile for the franchisee if costs are cut to such a degree that the system starts to creek (although the past large dividends may say another story).
Recently Southeastern delivered increasingly poorer results both in terms of punctuality (90.8% in 2009, was 91.1% in 2008) and customer satisfaction (76% in 2009, was 79% in 2008), this affair of the reduced timetable is just the straw the broke the camel’s back.

We need a review of Southeastern’s working practice to happen transparently and with the involvement of the traveling public. We must regain confidence in our train service.

The company is due an explanation to the GLA transport committee, and crucially is due a renewal of the contract in 2012, something that it should not take for granted (link) . It’s time to put maximum pressure to bring some positive change to the way it operates.

The issue must not drop off the agenda, that’s why we Lib Dems will keep on collecting signatures on our petition that asks Southeastern to recognize the poor performance and apologize by giving the equivalent of three days of subsidies to Network Rail.
Despite the fact that service level has dropped this year shareholders will receive a dividend and managers a bonus for delivering a profit.

By signing the petition all those that have been let down can unite their voices and deliver a strong collective message to Southeastern.
Our initiative is working! The message already reached the intended ears and Southeastern now invited us to talks.

It’s of capital importance that these talks are meaningful, we must keep up the pressure now, the petition goes on.

Last week I spent twice two hours outside Hither Green Station with a campaigning table and a clipboard and collected hundreds of signatures. I spoke with many that lost days of work and even days of wages.
We must act if we don’t want to see this situation repeating and the service deteriorating. We just cannot afford it.
Sign the petition.

Sign the Southeastern Public Refund Petition

January 12, 2010

These days the Southeastern Railway website opens with a photo of a man holding an enormous watch in front of his face, the caption says “it’s time for change”. At seeing it many will think “indeed”.

There’s a widespread feeling among South East London commuters that last week suffered the consequences of the 3 days of severely reduced timetable, they feel badly let down.
As freight and high speed trains were running seemingly as normal, commuter trains operating on the same lines were few and far between and so overcrowded that one could hardly fit in, if at all. Many couldn’t go to work, self-employed lost income, countless trips had to be cancelled. Central London was almost out of reach from many areas of South East London and Kent.

It wasn’t an exceptional weather, temperatures were just below zero and only a few inches of snow fell over a few days. That’s a normal winter weather, as normal as it can be, and services should be able to stand that.

Southeastern underperformed so badly when compared to all other operators around London that measures must be taken.
That’s why the Lib Dems are now collecting signatures on a petition that aims at giving a strong message to Southeastern: put your house in order!
When a company accepts a £136m public subsidy to run a public service it must provide the service all year round, it must have measures in place to run the service in normal winter weather and since the railway is an essential and strategic service it must be prepared to make an effort even when providing the service is not easy.
Last week Southeastern threw in the towel even before the match started.

Today we ask Southeastern to return a share of that subsidy equivalent to 3 days of service (£1.1m) to Network Rail to be invested in improvements at stations served by Southeastern. It’s a practical way to compensate those that for 3 days have been inconvenienced and to publicly acknowledge that it must do better if it wants to keep on running this strategic public service.

Please either download the petition sheet, print it and collect signatures at your workplace, home or at the station or sign online. Improve your train service.

TfL’s reply about Courthill Road – cars first

January 11, 2010

A few days ago I received from TfL the reply to my enquiry about the Courthill Road junction and you can read the full letter here.

A very important element of the letter is the disclosure of the statistical data about the junction:

The number of collisions is higher than we would expect for a signal controlled junction similar to this in Lewisham. Our latest personal injury collision statistics up to the end of June 2009 indicate that there have been 19 injury collisions, in the last three years, with pedestrians having been involved in four of these collisions. I do not believe that the accident you mention in your letter that occurred in April is included in these statistics, for reasons that are not at all clear, but this would bring the total collisions to 20, with pedestrian collisions rising to five. These would appear to have occurred on all arms of the junction and we are therefore focusing our attention on seeking ways to improve pedestrian facilities for the whole junction, not just Courthill Road.

First of all the fact that 8 months after this accident happened TfL still has no record of it is a very worrying thing that casts a doubt over the reliability of their statistics altogether, especially in absence of an explanation.
Still, they have on record 20 injury collisions in the past three years alone, and 5 of these involving pedestrians! Isn’t that enough?

Evidently not, because as they go on explaining according to them it’s not that easy:

The fact that there are queues on all the approaches to the junction during peak periods with the current traffic signal operation is a clear indication that this junction is operating at its capacity limit. To provide pedestrian signals we would need to shut the entire junction down for traffic to enable pedestrians to have a free period to cross or we would need to re-phase the traffic signals and provide wider pedestrian islands to enable pedestrians to cross all arms of the junction at different times without being opposed by vehicles. If all traffic movements were to be permitted both of these options would have a significant impact on the amount of time that traffic currently has to move through the junction.

And later on the letter says that:

Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between the competing modes and it is important to understand that we, as a public authority, are governed by a number of other, sometimes conflicting policies, one of which is an initiative to “smooth traffic flow”. This seeks to reduce the delay and congestion along the Mayor’s network and presents particular challenges when the task is trying to integrate signalised pedestrian crossings into congested junctions like this one.

That’s the key, they want to help traffic flow, and pedestrians get in the way. Or so they think, only that it’s nonsense, because as I already said in a previous post the context of this junction is not a flowing route, this is between Catford and Lewisham. Traffic only flows to the next junction and it makes almost no difference whatsoever if you can go past this junction fluently in either directions because inevitably you’ll hit another one, and being this between Catford and Lewisham if you’re at peak time almost invariably it’ll be gridlocked.
When it’s not peak time you’ll have instead a decent ride, what will one extra pedestrian crossing add? Not much, especially since they’re all request crossing nowadays.

A tangent consideration here is due, two junctions down from Courthill Road there’s the Lewisham Station roundabout, that TfL agreed to redesign to allow the Lewisham Gateway development to happen. Now, I don’t think that there are many better ways to slow down traffic than to build a 20 storeys complex over a major roundabout.
I remember that when the consortium for the Lewisham Gateway admitted that contrary to all they had said to that point the new layout would slow down traffic then all of a sudden the talk was about “capacity constraint”, now it was a positive and even green thing. Slowing down cars to convince drivers to get on buses and trains instead. Only that the traffic going through the Lewisham roundabout, as also Lewisham’s Head of Planning recently recognized, is not a locally generated traffic, is a traffic that only passes through here to go from somewhere else to somewhere else and there’s very little that can be done locally to discourage it and therefore we can imagine that slowing that junction, which is truly a key junction for the area, will lead to an environmental worsening for what air quality and noise are concerned across all the arms of the junction, which means up Lewisham Way, Loampit Vale, Lee High Road and upstream towards Catford including also the Courthill Road junction of Lewisham High Street. But that’s ok for them. A pedestrian crossing on Courthill Road instead cannot be done.

Because that’s what I feel is the gist of this letter:

We will continue to investigate whether we can provide pedestrian improvements but this process takes some time. To comply with the other policy objectives we must be able to demonstrate that the introduction of signalised pedestrian crossings will not have an adverse impact upon traffic flow through the junction. If we cannot demonstrate this then, it is unlikely that we would be able progress any pedestrian improvements.

It’s taken them years to come to this point, where they know that there is a serious problem, they know that there are solutions and yet all they are prepared to say is that they’ll study the problem again!

How can they ignore that this junction leads to another clogged up junction whatever way you go? They’re TfL, these are their roads, they surely know this. Why don’t they act?

The Mayor’s Transport Strategy states that it aims at:

Providing better, more attractive streets to encourage people to walk and lead active, healthy lifestyles

This was not quoted in the letter, they chose the other point of the strategy:

Improving road journeys and smoothing the flow of traffic

For TfL the Courthill Road junction is therefore primarily a place for traffic to flow and for us to keep on risking our lives, in other parts of London the other part of the strategy may apply instead, there they’ll be providing better, more attractive streets to encourage people to walk and lead active, healthy lifestyles.

I’m not impressed. Last year I asked Lewisham Council’s Head of Highways about this junction and what he told me was that according to TfL statistically it wasn’t a very dangerous junction and as funds are limited (and shrinking) other junctions had to be invested on first and Courthill Road wasn’t likely to be sorted out anytime soon.
But then TfL agreed to study the situation so that was a glimmer of hope. In that context this letter doesn’t sound good as it carefully avoids to commit to anything and specifically states that only if we don’t slow down traffic at all they’d provide a solution, which is obviously impossible because however minimal there would always be an impact, but it’s a compromise that we must keep on pursuing, because as TfL’s (possibly incomplete and completely contradicting what told last year to Lewsham Council) statistics now show, it is a dangerous junction indeed, and a strong case can therefore be made.
There are ways to design safe pedestrian crossing and keep delays to traffic to a minimum, this is in fact alluded to in the reply:

we would need to re-phase the traffic signals and provide wider pedestrian islands to enable pedestrians to cross all arms of the junction at different times without being opposed by vehicles

and that’s what should be done here.

And if you haven’t done it yet then please sign the petition for a safe crossing at Courthill Road.

Southeastern trains reduced also tomorrow. Why?

January 7, 2010

Well, it has been snowing, but not exceptionally, nothing like it was forecast, and yet South East London commuters are faced with trains that are few and far between and so overcrowded that you can’t get on.
The theory that’s been going around is that Southeastern is advertising an emergency timetable to avoid being liable to pay refunds and compensations in case of real severe delays because of weather do occur.
If this was true then it means that this timetable was written by solicitors instead of engineers and what should be run as a service is instead run as a pure business with utter disregard for the customer they serve.

Londonist journalist and Hither Green commuter RachelH that has been pressing Southeastern for a statement since yesterday finally received one and to the attentive and cynical reader it shines for what it does NOT say:

“The decision to run a revised timetable was made based on the advice from Network Rail, who has responsibility for the track and they decide what service we will be able to provide.

They were out overnight with de-icing trains and we also ran ghost trains around the entire network, not just in London.

To ensure that we were able to provide a reliable service throughout the entire day and have the right staff and rolling stock in place for the evening peak, when the worst of the snow and ice hit London, we needed to run the revised timetable from the morning, as it would have been almost impossible to implement at the last minute for the afternoon. Our trains also come into London from across Kent where they will, of course, also be subject to the snow and icy conditions found there.

We told passengers at the earliest possible moment on Tuesday of the revised timetable through texts, emails, station notices, onboard announcements, station announcements and providing extra staff at stations, as well as advising the media of the plans.

The revised timetable remains in place for today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) and we are asking passengers to check with National Rail Enquiries for services and to check when their last train home tonight will be.”

I may be over-suspicious but to me this statement looks like it’s been written a tad too carefully, it doesn’t say for example that the decision was taken by Network Rail, only that it was “based on Network Rail advice” but what this advice was is not told. It says that Network Rail “were out overnight with de-icing trains and we also ran ghost trains around the entire network, not just in London” but doesn’t say that they found the network to be unworkable, actually, if you think about it, if they were out with de-icing trains it means that the track is fine. The whole statement to me only reinforces the suspicion that this timetable was indeed written by solicitors instead of engineers.

And reading the News Shopper I found this very interesting comment:

jonandbilly, Lewisham says…
11:52am Thu 7 Jan 10
I live close to Lewisham station.

I think it’s strange Southeastern are unable to maintain a scheduled timetable yet freight trains have been thundering through Lewisham more or less as usual?