Monday, May 25, 2015

Pollution monitoring in Catford and Hither Green - some shocking results

Back in February a small group of us undertook some air pollution monitoring in Catford and Hither Green (basically covering the Corbett and Culverley Green estates and slightly beyond). This was made possible through funding and support from Mapping for Change. We put up 30 nitrogen dioxide monitoring tubes - that look like this:

We put them on lamp posts and other street furniture, left them up for a month, took them down then sent them off via Mapping for Change to a lab to be analysed to determine the level of nitrogen dioxide in the air in that area. The results are in the map above. Anything between 30 and 39 is amber and is considered moderate air pollution. This would be considered harmful to health. You can see that the level outside Torridon Infant School is 34.

The level outside Rushey Green school was 36.

Anything 40 and above is above the EU legal limit. You can see that there are a number of places where the nitrogen dioxide levels exceed 40, mainly on the main roads such as Rushey Green, Bromley Road, Verdant Lane, Hither Green Lane and Sandhurst Road. What these all have in common of course is that they are on bus routes and our buses are unfortunately some of the worst polluting vehicles on out streets. Hazelbank Road also came out as red, this is a road often used as a rat run by drivers wanting to avoid the South Circular.

Ah yes, the South Circular. You'll see that some of the circles on the map are black. These are places where pollution was more than 1.5 times the EU legal limit - and these are all on the South Circular road. Those of us who live here know that the traffic on this road is horrendous and that it is snarled up at all times of the day and sometimes night! Now we know that the pollution on this road is harming our health.

Low emission zone? Ha ha.

Incidentally, Lewisham Council monitors air pollution across the borough and publishes a report annually on it. The area we covered is in two Air Quality Management Areas - which means the council recognises there is a problem and is supposed to take steps to actively reduce pollution in the area. However, it only monitors three locations in our area at present, and none of these are in the most polluted places. Incidentally, the council monitors outside Torridon Junior School and the results the council is showing for that location over the years are very similar to what we found outside the Infants. This is not a new problem.

When we got the results we were shocked, so we went to the papers with our findings. We had articles featuring our work in the South London Press and News Shopper:

Since then I've arranged to meet with both the council and our MP, Heidi Alexander, to discuss the results and consider what can be done about air quality in our area. I'd like to put pressure on Transport for London to speed up the introduction of hybrid buses on routes through residential areas like ours and I also want the council to consider stopping rat running traffic on roads like Verdant Lane and Dowanhill/Hazelbank Roads. It was also announced last week that councils may be able to opt in to the ultra low emission zone when it is introduced in 2020, and I think Lewisham should definitely do this if that becomes possible. I'll report back on the results of my discussions in due course!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The General Election in Lewisham East

(picture from Heidi Alexander on Twitter)

It won't have escaped your attention that there's a general election coming. Unless of course you live under a rock. I live in the Lewisham East constituency so that's the one I'm going to write about here. You'll have to look elsewhere for your Lewisham Deptford and Lewisham West and Penge cutting edge analysis I'm afraid.

(picture from wikipedia)

What do we know about Lewisham East? Well, it's formed of the council wards of Blackheath, Lee Green, Grove Park, Rushey Green, Catford South, Whitefoot and Downham. These wards returned 21 Labour councillors at the last local elections.

Historically the seat was Conservative from 1983-1992, when it was held by former Sports Minister Colin Moynihan (a name that might be familiar to the real politics geeks amongst you.) Interestingly, the Conservative victory in 1983 was largely as a result of Labour losing votes to the SDP, whose candidate was Polly Toynbee. In 1992 it was won by Bridget Prentice and when she stepped down in 2010, Heidi Alexander took the seat. Heidi had previously been a councillor in Deptford, and, fact fans, is 40 during this election campaign, being only a couple of months younger than me.

I had a look back through the election results from 1992 to 2010 using the amazing Political Science Resources website by Richard Kimber, to produce a couple of charts with some interesting info about previous results. Did you know, for example, that only four parties contested the seat in 1992 - Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and the Natural Law Party. In case you've forgotten the Natural Law Party here's one of their party political broadcasts to remind you:

Genius. Who could forget yogic flying?

And did you know that one James Cleverly, London Assembly member for Bexley and Bromley, contested the seat in 2005, gaining 7,512 votes for the Conservatives?

Here's a chart of the historical results. I've included "did not vote" as a category.

I think it's pretty clear who's going to win in 2015, unless all those Did Not Votes decide to do something very different. The only sign that there's a general election on when you pootle about the constituency is the proliferation of these signs in people's front gardens...

What's of interest, apart from taking bets on the size of Heidi's majority, is who is going to come second. I think we can expect the Lib Dem vote to collapse, as seen in the council elections when their vote share plummeted from 27% in 2010 to 9%. They got a 28% share in the general election in 2010 if you exclude the DNVs from the equation.

The chart above shows the 2010 election results, including only the parties expected to contest in 2015. I've left off the English Democrats as they only got 426 votes in 2010 and don't appear to be standing a candidate in 2015, thankfully.

The Conservative candidate is a Bromley councillor, Peter Fortune. I guess he might fancy his chances of coming second given past form and what's happened to the Lib Dems. However, this leaflet seems wildly optimistic.

They can't even get the name of the constituency right.

I've had no election literature from the Lib Dem candidate Julia Fletcher, until last year a councillor in Downham, or from the Green candidate Störm Poorun. I'm promised something in a couple of weeks from the Greens...

We'll gloss over the complete inability to spell my name.

The Greens got 16% of the vote in the 2014 council elections, and were the second party, so you'd think they might fancy their chances at second place in this general election. But in 2010 they polled 11% in the local elections, coming third behind Labour and the Lib Dems, but managed only 1.5% in the vote for MP. So it's pretty clear that local results aren't a huge guide to what might happen nationally.

It's been suggested to me that Lewisham East is on a list of constituencies where UKIP might come second. I couldn't find evidence of that on googling but if anyone wants to point me to it I'd be interested to see where the idea has come from. They polled less than 2% in the last general election here. They did poll fairly high numbers in the council elections last year in Whitefoot, Downham and Grove Park, to the south and east of the constituency where you might expect them to do well, but even there their vote share is nowhere near sufficient to see a leap in voters of the magnitude you'd need to put them second. The UKIP candidate is Anne Marie Waters, founder of Sharia Watch (nb she is listed as Anna Maria Waters in the nomination papers).

Taking the top six parties and including only the highest scoring person from each party at the council elections last year in the wards that make up Lewisham East, you get a vote share that looks like the above chart. This sees UKIP coming last, with a share of 8%. It wouldn't surprise me too much if this isn't pretty much the order of the parties come May 7th, although I'd expect the Tories to score somewhat higher than this.

People before Profit did quite well in the council elections in some of the wards in Lewisham East, and their candidate Nick Long seems keen and willing to answer questions (more than can be said for some of the other candidates) but if we're honest, this is a bit outside their main stamping ground of Deptford, Telegraph Hill and New Cross.

So there you have it. The state of play in Lewisham East. I'm expecting a stonking victory for Heidi Alexander, with the Tories in second. The Lib Dems will collapse and I think People before Profit and the Greens will increase their vote share from 2010 significantly. I hope we see nothing of UKIP.

Any predictions, readers?

Update 9 April 17:30: The Christian People's Alliance are also standing a candidate (the link is to Lewisham Deptford candidate Malcolm Martin, they don't have a page for the Lewisham East candidate, Maureen Martin), and the UKIP candidate is listed as Anna Maria Waters, not Anne Marie Waters, but I'm 99.9% certain it's the same person. Full list of candidates here.

Update 10 April 11:15: You can see what YouGov are predicting for Lewisham East based on a whole range of factors (not local opinion polls....) here.

Update 24 April 20:30: corrected an error in the 2010 election results that had transposed the Conservative and Lib Dem vote. Oops! Still think the Tories will come second in 2015 though.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Catford Bridge Tavern fire - some pictures and some speculation on what the future holds

On the evening of Sunday March 1, Catford residents started to hear via twitter that the Catford Bridge Tavern was on fire. As this pub was, for a short time, my much-loved local, I had to go down and take a look for myself. I took some photos and video, although by the time I got there the pub had been burning for around 3 hours and the flames had died down a bit. Eventually the fire was out by about 11:30, but fire fighters from all over south and east London were dousing down the flames through the night.

I cycled past the site on Monday morning on my way into work and it was looking in a sorry state. The roof was completely gone, as was most of the upper floor and the first floor also appeared damaged:

This photo taken from the edge of the police cordon shows that a lot of the back of the pub was also damaged:

London Fire Brigade are at the moment saying that the cause of the fire was not thought to be suspicious. Some on twitter suggested it might be lightning.

Others were a little more speculative based on the recent history of the pub. Briefly, in August 2012, plans were submitted to Lewisham Council to turn it into a supermarket - with a Tesco on the ground floor and housing above.

In November 2012 it briefly closed as Antic, who were running the pub at the time, were ordered out. However, Lewisham council put a temporary article 4 direction on the pub, preventing it from opening as a supermarket without planning permission being granted. This was confirmed in April 2013 and the pub went on to win SE London CAMRA pub of the year. However, at the end of 2013, Tesco threw Antic out and they went on to open the Constitutional Club, just down the road. In August 2013, Tesco sold the lease to Solitaire, who were refurbishing the pub with a view to reopening.

Before opening as the Catford Bridge Tavern in 2012, it had been the Copperfield and had numerous problems with antisocial behaviour, and was closed in December 2011.

So where are we now? Solitaire, the current holders of the lease, say they still intend to press ahead with refurbishment and reopen as a pub. They say they will be carrying on, subject to approval of their planning application for a pub and some flats above.

What protection does the article 4 direction give? Well, the direction is on the pub rather than the site.

However, since all an article 4 does is remove ‘permitted development rights’ for a property - meaning that any proposed change of use has to go through a planning committee - in reality this has no bearing on whether or not the refurbishment will go ahead. If the building is found to be unsafe and has to be demolished, building something else on the site will require full planning consent, just as change of use would do. Whilst Local Planning Authorities have the power to make and confirm their own Article 4 directions and do not require the Secretary of State's approval in this respect, the SoS does retain the power to cancel or modify Article 4 directions. So if Lewisham council refused permission to change the use of the site, the owners could appeal to the Secretary of State. This is unlikely, as Solitaire have said they intend to proceed with their application as planned, although it doesn't appear to have been submitted yet (at least I can't find it on the planning portal...)

So for the moment, we need to wait to see what the outcome of the investigations post-fire are, and whether or not the building is too badly damaged to be refurbished. This is the biggest risk to the future of the site as a pub, and in this respect the article 4 direction doesn't protect it. Watch this space.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ace's Bar applies for change of use

Ace's Bar on Verdant Lane has applied for change of use to class A4, from its current designation of A3 (takeaway) and A5 (restaurant) use. A4 use means a "drinking establishment" and would allow the bar to serve alcohol without requiring customers to also consume food. Last month the bar was ordered to operate as a restaurant by Lewisham's licensing committee after a license review following complaints from neighbours about late night noise and disturbance. Ace's can therefore currently only serve alcohol until midnight at weekends and 11pm on weeknights.

It seems pretty clear the current application is a response to this review and confirms the owners' clear intention to operate the premises as a bar and not as a restaurant. In one of the planning documents they state that they thought they already had an A4 license granted, though this does not appear to be the case from the list of planning applications associated with the bar from the council planning portal.

I've uploaded a copy of one of the supporting statements as the council website won't let me link directly to it. It can be accessed through the planning portal though.

In the supporting statements the owners say they are operating successfully as a bar at the moment and that the community are supportive of the use of the premises as a bar. This would appear to be counter to the evidence from the license review that was prompted following residents' complaints.

The owners say they want the bar to be a part of the community and be a place for local residents to socialise.

Comments on the application can be made until 10 March.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More through trains from Catford to Kentish Town are coming!

I'm late to this, but Govia Thameslink Railway, who run the trains through Catford amongst other things, launched a consultation on their proposed timetable changes for 2015 last year, with a closing date of 30 January.

The changes proposed for Catford are minor, so minor that they aren't asking for feedback on this part of the timetable change (see page 8 of this 29 page pdf)!  

In December 2015, they are proposing that early morning and late evening services which currently operate only between London Blackfriars and Sevenoaks will be extended to and from Kentish Town. This will provide Catford with extra connections through to St Pancras and beyond.

They propose no further changes in 2015.

From 2018 they propose that trains between Sevenoaks and London Blackfriars on Saturdays are extended to and from Kentish Town providing weekend connections to and from London St Pancras. This is also obviously good news, but one might ask why we have to wait so long? Presumably it's something to do with the Thameslink Programme.

If one were feeling churlish, one might also suggest that there is potential to run more frequent services through Catford, the service frequency can be pretty woeful! Still, it gets me to the football.

(Thanks to Darryl for the tip off)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Update on the Safer Brownhill Road campaign

I wrote back in October about the Safer Brownhill Road campaign, set up to try to make TfL take action to improve the safety of the crossing at Stainton Road and to install a crossing at Torridon Road. Natasha, who set up the campaign, was running a petition to TfL which was presented towards the end of last year. It was presented to the chair of TfL by Len Duvall, London Assembly member for our area and in the meantime Heidi Alexander, our MP, has written to TfL. Caroline Pidgeon, a LibDem assembly member who covers transport, came to view the junction and the crossing earlier this month.

Since that visit TfL have agreed to refresh the Stainton Road zebra crossing. They say that they have inspected the road markings at this location concluded that while they were not in urgent need of refreshing and were legible, they would be happy to add a refresh onto their programme of works for 2015/16. TfL also say they are investigating the lights in the zebra crossing posts and will take necessary action to make them brighter and therefore more visible to drivers. They are also exploring the possibility of adding two advance warning signs on the posts before the crossing to warn drivers. They say that they are hopeful of having these signs installed within the next 10 to 12 weeks. Keep an eye out!
In addition to this, TfL have agreed to carry out a safety assessment on the junction of Brownhill Road and Torridon Road to consider installing a controlled pedestrian crossing - this assessment will be carried out before January 2016.

In TfL's letter to Heidi Alexander from October 2014, from Leon Daniels MD for surface transport at TfL, they say the review of the Brownhill/Torridon junction will happen "within the next financial year", which I guess fits with Jan 2016. However, in an email sent from his office in December to Mark Morris, LibDem senior press officer, it is made very clear that this is "subject to change". TfL also state in that same email that "there were just two collisions in 2013 at this location that resulted in injuries."

This email was followed up by Mark at the beginning of this month with further questions about both Stainton Road and Torridon Road. TfL's reply outlines their plans for the Stainton Road crossing. They say that after recent events and the petition signed by local residents they will include this location in their 2015/16 annual programme of road safety reviews. As part of this, they will review the safety record of Brownhill Road, which includes the existing zebra crossing at its junction with Stainton Road. The study will also consider the viability of introducing a controlled pedestrian crossing at the junction of Brownhill Road and Torridon Road. This review will be completed by January 2016.

Natasha plans to push for the review to happen sooner, rightly pointing out that a year is an awful long time to wait. Watch this space, and well done to Natasha for getting this on to the agenda at all!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Don't mention the prefabs - Lewisham Council plans new "pop up" housing

Lewisham Council announced last week that it plans to put "pop up housing" on the site of the former Ladywell Leisure Centre, to provide temporary homes for 24 families, plus some community facilities. The plan is that the housing would remain on the site for no longer than four years. There would be eight ground-floor non-residential units.

The council have published some details of the scheme, including the following images, which I have downloaded from their website:

The units are constructed off site, which means that the first residential units could occupied by late summer. The units can also be taken down and used elsewhere, hence the term "pop up", which I hate with a passion, by the way. You can meet the architects on January 24th, at Lewisham library between 2 and 4pm.

It might not have escaped your attention that this is essentially pre-fabricated housing. I wonder why the council have shied away from using the term prefab? Could it be because it has authorised the demolition of the Excalibur prefab estate, which provided 187 two bedroom houses on its site in Catford? These houses were intended to last 10 years, but a large number still stand today.

However, the demolition has begun and in December I took a wander round the site to see what it looks like now.

A large part is boarded up, with signs like this at the gates.

Peer through the gates and this is what now remains:
This was Mordred/Wentland/Ector Roads, which once looked like this:
It looks very eerie now, with the lampposts and telegraph poles the only hints as to what was there.

 The former prefab museum is in a sorry state after last year's fire:

Though for the moment this artwork remains next door:
In December those behind the prefab museum decided not to look for a space to reopen in one of the prefabs that's still there. I assume the money raised by the kickstarter will be used elsewhere.

Some of the prefabs still look well cared for, like this one did a couple of years ago:
but others look more like this:
 Or this:

But, never mind, shiny new pop-up housing to house less than a seventh of the families that could be housed here. Yeah! Way to go.

All my prefab pictures are on flickr. I will continue to document the estate's decline, whether the council want me to or not.