Thursday, March 13, 2014

How likely is it Lewisham council will go 'all Labour' in May?

Since the 2006 council elections the make-up of Lewisham council has changed quite significantly, despite being led throughout this time by Labour mayor Sir Steve Bullock.

After the 2006 elections, the 54-strong council looked like this:

Labour           26
Liberal Democrat 17
Green             6
Conservative      3
Socialist         2

A mix of parties and some strong opposition to Labour as the largest (but not the majority) group on the council.

Fast forward to 2010:

Labour           39
Liberal Democrat 12
Conservative      2
Green             1

A clear majority for Labour, but at least with an opposition party with a reasonable number of councillors. Since then 1 Conservative and 1 LibDem have defected to Labour and one LibDem stood down to be replaced with a Labour councillor in a by-election. This leaves the current council looking like this:

Labour           41
Liberal Democrat 10
Conservative      1
Green             1

The observant among you will notice this adds up to 53 not 54. This is because there are currently only 2 councillors in Evelyn ward following the death of Councillor Sam Owalabi-Oluyole in January. A by-election wasn't held to fill this position for obvious reasons.

Already Labour have 41 councillors of the 54 possible positions available - how likely is it that the whole council will turn red in May? I thought I'd have a go at working this out using some of the 2010 and 2006 ward voting stats and a bit of a magic cauldron. Why go back to 2006? Well, the 2010 elections coincided with a general election so the turnout was up (60% compared with 33% in 2006), and these votes tend to go towards larger parties where people are also voting on national issues. I think we can assume we'll be heading back towards a turnout of about a third this year.

My first assumption is that Labour will retain all 41 existing council seats, and will add the missing seat in Evelyn, giving them 42 seats to start with.

Where are the current opposition party seats?

The Green party councillor, Darren Johnson, is stepping down from Brockley after 12 years. This leaves this position wide open for Labour who took two of the Green party's three seats from them in 2010. I think we can assume that without Darren's name, the Greens won't hold onto the third in 2014.

The Conservative councillor, Chris Allison, is in Grove Park, where she was originally accompanied by David Britton. He's since gone to Labour - how likely is it Chris will lose her space on the council come May? Well, in 2006 the Tories had all 3 seats in Grove Park and in 2010 the winning Labour candidate, Suzannah Clarke, polled more votes than Cllr Allison. So... I am going to speculate that this seat will fall to Labour as part of a national swing away from the Tories. This would wipe out the Tories in Lewisham altogether.

What of the 10 existing Liberal Democrat councillors? Where are they located? All 3 Downham councillors are currently LibDems. Two of three councillors in both Forest Hill and Lee Green are currently LibDems and there are lone LibDems in Blackheath, Crofton Park and Whitefoot.

In Downham, the Labour candidates in 2010 were the next three highest polling candidates after the LibDems, with the top Labour candidate scoring only 23 fewer votes than the lowest polling LibDem, Jenni Clutten. I believe she is stepping down, so that may well open up at least one opportunity. I'm not sure (though perhaps I should know) if Duwayne Brooks plans to stand again, as he is standing for mayor (that in itself doesn't stop him standing for council election too). His name may get him elected again. Julia Fletcher has her eyes on Heidi Alexander's seat in Parliament, though I don't think Heidi will be having too many sleepless nights about that.

Lee Green has been a bit of a flip-floppy ward in recent times, with numerous by-elections and swings to and from the LibDems to Labour and back again. I used to live there, and actually the LibDem councillors were great at that time. They've mostly moved on since and at the last election the results were pretty finely balanced, so I think these two seats will fall to Labour.

Forest Hill isn't a ward I know an awful lot about, despite enjoying a fair few evenings in the Hob performing with my choir. At least one the the current LibDem councillors (Philip Peake) is stepping down. The highest polling candidate in 2010 was Alex Feakes, who seems to be a busy chap if his blog is anything to go by. Perhaps he will hang on if he decides to stand.

What of the wards with only one LibDem councillor? Well, Whitefoot has already rejected the LibDems in one by-election so I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest the other will go this time. Crofton Park and Blackheath seem pretty close run places between Labour and LibDem so these are hard to call. Of course, Amanda De Ryk saw the writing on the wall in June last year and jumped to Labour before she was pushed out altogether...

So, it's not an exact science but I reckon that the make-up of the council after the May 2014 elections will be:

Labour           50
Liberal Democrat  4

What do you think? Have I been too generous to the LibDems? Unfairly dismissed the Greens and the Tories? Think that People Before Profit will storm to victory across the borough? Can you do better? Let me know what you think and we can see who's right come May 22nd!

Trying to decide how to vote? You might be interested in this report on councillors' absenteeism from Alternative SE4.

(p.s. I'm not bothering to speculate on who will be mayor, I think that's pretty obvious, despite this gem from Duwayne Brooks on Tuesday:

Friday, February 28, 2014

Lewisham (and beyond) Bloggers Meet-up 14 March 2014

Mr Lawrence

We've not had one of these for a long time, but a few of us still blog occasionally (!) and were talking about having another meet to catch up and chat. We also thought it might be nice to expand slightly beyond the blue borough, as we have done before.


The next Lewisham and SE London Bloggers Meet-up details are:

7:30pm onwards
Friday 14 March
Mr Lawrence's Wine Bar, 391 Brockley Rd, London SE4 2PH

Hope to see you there and if you can't make it, hopefully there will be another one soon!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Human Scale - Thoughts from a 5 year old

262/365 Night cycle

Last night I and 1,100 others packed into the Hackney Empire to watch a screening of The Human Scale - a film by Andreas M. Dalsgaard about how cities work. It focusses around the work of Danish architect and professor Jan Gehl who has studied human behaviour in cities through 40 years. He has written several books on how modern cities work against human interaction and intimacy, and argues convincingly that we can build cities to take human needs on board. The gist of the film is that when we plan on a human scale, rather than on a scale for buildings or cars we improve our cities and that it's actually cheaper to plan for humans than cars. The film covers case studies from various cities around the world, looking at mistakes that have been made, and in some cases how they are being corrected.

It was an absolutely fascinating film, and inspiring as to how cities can be changed to work for people not cars. We then had a panel discussion, which was a little less so! It was chaired by Dave Hill from the Guardian, who made a good job of getting questions from all levels, including our own up in the Gods. All of the participants, including Gehl himself unfortunately, seemed to fall into the trap of believing some of the nonsense we've heard spouted recently that London's streets are too narrow to adapt for cycling for example. This is of course only the case if you continue, as TfL seem to be doing, to prioritise the movement of cars and motor traffic over the movement of people.

The other thing Gehl picked up on, which is spot on, is the difficulty that the Mayor of London has compared with, say, the Mayor of New York, that he basically has next to no powers to make the 32 boroughs and the City of London actually do anything. This means that for change to happen we are dependent on people in the boroughs being forward thinking and open to making brave changes. I think it's fair to say on that that some boroughs are braver than others. You can see an example of this in the allocations of money for cycling recently granted to boroughs, based on their own bids for cash. The disparities in funding show the disparities in ambition. Of course Boris himself spouts grand aims about cycling and so on, and then in the next breath backs ridiculous road building schemes that forget that people actually live and go about their daily lives right next to the pollution spewing out of these monstrosities. And Lewisham council's lack of ambition for a cleaner healthier borough shows in their unwillingness to back a 20mph speed limit on the borough's roads, despite all the evidence of the benefits this would bring. (To give them their due though at least they see a bit more sense than their neighbours on daft ideas about expanding roads!)

But why 'thoughts from a 5 year old'? Well, this morning I was chatting to my daughter as we walked to school and she was asking about the film I'd been to see the night before. "Oh, you won't be interested in that," I said. But she continued to press for explanations, so I told her what it was about. "I am interested!" she exclaimed, putting me firmly in my place. So I asked her what three things she would do to improve Catford. These are her ideas:

1. Empty the bins and take them off the streets when they're empty so they don't smell

2. Put up signs everywhere saying "Welcome to Catford"

3. Plant more trees on the streets to get rid of the air pollution.

Add to that getting rid of a few more of the cars and I think we have the start of a plan.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Operation Safeway and me

(photo courtesy of bitospud)

In November last year, six cyclists were killed on London's roads within the space of two weeks.  This prompted the Met to launch "Operation Safeway", an initiative designed to put police officers at key junctions across London to dish out advice to cyclists and drivers about cycle safety. In Lewisham (to my eyes) this mainly seemed to involve standing around at Loampit Vale and at Courthill Road, occasionally talking to cyclists and ignoring drivers who stopped in the cycle boxes at these junctions...

A couple of weeks ago the police revealed the results of Operation Safeway. Lots of advice was given out as well as some fixed penalty notices for not having lights, cycling on the pavement etc. More FPNs were given to drivers than cyclists overall, which is something I suppose.

I thought now might be a good time to write about my own experiences with Operation Safeway and what happened next... I use both Courthill Road and Loampit Vale. At Courthill Road I cycle on the road. Despite it not being a particularly pleasant junction, I've never felt that unsafe there. At Loampit Vale it's a different matter. Shortly after I started cycling to work back in June a cyclist was killed at the junction there with the driver of the car failing to stop. The roundabout that has to be navigated if you're coming from Catford is also pretty unpleasant. But there's an alternative - the Waterlink Way, or London Cycling Network route 21, is Lewisham council's flagship cycling route. They even produce a fancy leaflet to encourage people to use it. It's also part of the national cycle network, which I believe is operated by SusTrans. When I cycle to work, I use LCN21 to avoid the roundabout, and cross using a pedestrian/cycle shared crossing at Thurston Road to continue on the Waterlink Way up to Deptford. This part of the route passes the new Glass Mill leisure centre and is shared space for cycling and walking.

I came across the police monitoring this route on 2nd December in the evening, when I was stopped by an officer who told me I wasn't allowed to cycle on the pavement there. I pointed out that it was shared space and was allowed to continue on my way. However, I decided to take it up with the council and London Assembly members, as I felt that if the police carried on telling cyclists they had to use Loampit Vale and the roundabout that would be dangerous. I emailed four assembly members and my local councillor on 3rd December. I had an immediate response from Caroline Pidgeon, Deputy Chair of the Transport Committee saying that she would take this up with Transport for London. Lewisham Council also took up the case with the Met. I also heard from Val Shawcross within a few days, saying that she'd had a number of similar complaints from across London and that she'd raised it with Boris's cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan. He'd also received a number of complaints. Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones also raised the issue in the assembly through the Police and Crime Committee. I passed the info on to the London Cycling Campaign too. They also raised it with the Met.

I heard from Caroline Pidgeon again last week when the Met came back to her with some further information about their briefings for LCN21. This is what they said:

"We have had at least one of the sites where our officer has misdirected cyclists from what was in fact a shared space on the pavement onto the road. That was brought to our attention.  One of the traffic inspectors visited the site and saw that we were wrong and we put it right for the briefing for officers there later." A full transcript of the session can be seen here – the discussion about cycling starts about half way through.

The Met have now provided further detail to say that:

"The additional briefing was specifically about the correct use of LCN21.  It was done by 2pm on 3 Jan.  It contained detailed instruction on LCN21 and how it operates at this location.  It also contained several photographs of the location and the signs.  The briefing also highlighted the circumstances of the fatality in June."

I hope that the briefing was done by 2pm on 3 December rather than January, otherwise we've had a whole month of the police sending people the wrong way in Lewisham...

I was impressed with the response from the council, LCC and 3 of the 4 assembly members who got back to me. And I'm glad that the Met have changed their briefing too. I'm still waiting for Len Duvall to reply to my email.

Update 30 Jan: Len Duvall's office contacted me to say they couldn't find a record of my email and could I please resend it. I did, pointing out that the issue was pretty much sorted for now. I received a long and detailed response about all sorts of things to do with cycling in Lewisham. But that's for another post.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Lewisham Cyclists meeting with Andrew Gilligan

I attended a special meeting of Lewisham Cyclists with the Mayor's cycling commissioner, journalist Andrew Gilligan, on Wednesday evening. It was held at the town hall, and attended by a good 30-ish people (by my hopeless people estimating skills anyway). I'm not sure if I've mentioned on this blog before, but I've recently started commuting by bike (see my trusty steed in the picture above). The catalyst for this was a Bike Breakfast organised at work (basically free croissants and coffee for anyone who cycled in, I'm a sucker for free food.) I'd tried the route a couple of times and took it from there really. Since then I've joined the London Cycling Campaign and have to say I'm pretty addicted. I've heard Mr Gilligan talk about the Mayor's Cycling vision in general before, so I was interested to hear what he had to say about Lewisham in particular.

Lots of people have written about their thoughts on the Mayor's vision, and they're all a lot more experienced at cycling than I am, so I won't attempt to summarise my views on that. But what was said on Wednesday was of much more relevant local interest. There have been three meetings between Lewisham council and Mr Gilligan, and both sides seem to think good progress is being made (there were three councillors at the meeting that I counted - Alan Smith, Darren Johnson and Philip Peake - and the council's cycling officer, the very enthusiastic Nick Harvey).

So what was said? Well, it was confirmed that Lewisham was *not* eligible to bid for mini-Holland money as it isn't counted as outer London (and it also doesn't count as central London, so it rather falls between two stools for a lot of the cycling vision). However, there are plans to do things with cycle routes in Lewisham - most notable the dreaded Cycle Superhighway 5 and the London Cycle Network Route 22. Mr Gilligan confirmed that they do plan to bring CS5 to Lewisham (though they will be calling it CS36, as it follows the route of the 36 bus for a bit, and the New Cross bit will happen first with Lewisham as an extension), however, it won't go to the route originally planned (which I think was down Lewisham Way) as the New Cross one-way system is too tricky to sort out. Instead they hope to do something involving Sainsbury's car park and a dedicated cycling bridge, which sounds difficult and expensive to my untrained ears, so we shall see what happens there.

Work on LCN22 should be done by next year and basically seems to involve some upgraded signage and a bit of rerouting in Catford to use the Waterlink Way. We wait with bated breath! Lewisham council confirmed that Network Rail will be doing works on the railway bridge that crosses Catford Hill and that they've asked them to widen it so that more can be done with the South Circular (which has a pinch point right about there).

Also discussed was the cycle hire scheme, and it was confirmed it isn't going to come out this far (despite Boris's wafflings to the contrary at the Mayor's state of London address back in June).

As an aside, it was again mentioned that Greenwich council has so far refused to talk to Mr Gilligan, although he did say he thought they might just about have agreed to meet with him, but he said quite clearly that until they do there will be none of the £900million+ money available to deliver the Mayor's vision coming to Greenwich. He also pointed out that CS4 will be the last to be delivered because of this refusal to engage and joked that they might end up taking it to Lewisham instead if the refusals continue. Watch this space on that one...

Overall I was pretty impressed, Mr Gilligan clearly knows his stuff - he could describe cycle routes road by road, and was totally clued up on the issues and routes in Lewisham. He was also pretty good at disarming his critics, which I guess is how he's got where he has, and he was also happy to take on board people's suggestions during the meeting. However, he was also very quick to point out that most of the things that the Mayor's vision wants to deliver rely on individual boroughs to deliver them (and then we're back to the problems seen above in Greenwich).

In summary, the vision is impressive, now we wait on the delivery.

Edited to add: the Lewisham Gateway development also came up as a problem area - previously there had been nothing for safe cycling through this area, which is a known thorn in cyclists' sides. Nick Harvey, Lewisham's cycling officer, said he has looked at the plans and had North-South and East-West cycle routes added to them. This sounds positive, but it would be good to be able to look at the plans to confirm exactly what's proposed. It's also good that Lewisham council now seem to be engaging with Lewisham Cyclists.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mountsfield Park: cause for cautious optimism

I attended a meeting last night between Lewisham Council's team working on parks and regeneration and the Friends of Mountsfield Park.

We discussed where the council are up to with progressing three aspects of the park's development: the community food-growing garden, the play/gym equipment, and the cafe. On all three of these there are definite grounds to be cautiously optimistic about the future.

Community food-growing garden
Twenty-two people have expressed an interest in being involved with this. It will be situated in the former bowling green area, which is between the George Lane/Stainton Road entrances to the park. The council will be bidding for pocket parks funding from the Mayor of London. They will be asking for £35,000 and this will be match funded from section 106 money. The total cost of the development of the community garden will be just over £75,000. The plan is to open up the site completely, removing the ugly Leylandii and hopefully retaining the existing low fence. There are also two containers on this site that are in reasonable condition and could be used as storage etc for the the volunteers' equipment. The bid will go in by the beginnning of August and we should hear by the end of September whether or not this has been successful.

Play and gym equipment
The council intends to put in a bid to the Marathon Trust for £67,000 and this will be match-funded up to £134,000 from section 106 money. This will be to put in some outdoor gym/trim trail equipment and to upgrade the play equipment. Not all of this work is dependent on receiving this funding, but whatever is received from this then does not have to come out of money that could be used for the cafe. The maintenance costs for this need to be low, so water play is pretty much out of the question. A drinking water fountain is intended to be provided though, as has been done in other parks.

The council's feasibility study has decided that a cafe in the park is feasible, which is excellent news. The next steps are therefore to engage consultants in planning and a tender setting out the specification will be prepared in August, with selection in September through a procurement process that will go into October/November. Further detail is then built into the plans, with user consultation, planning consents etc. The aim would be to get a contractor on board by August 2014 and the plan would then be to have everything ready by April/May 2015.

We talked about a range of types of building from shipping containers (which cost around £1,000 a square metre), through modular buildings (which cost around twice that) to bespoke buildings (which interestingly cost about the same as modular). The council has set a minimum size of 75 square metres. The Friends group unanimously thought this was too small, and the council stressed this is a minimum and more might be possible. The group was also pretty much agreed that they would prefer a bespoke building but that modified containers would probably be the best option if the bespoke option wasn't possible. There was a fairly lively discussion about the merits of the container option, but I think if it means the cafe can be bigger that's probably a good reason to go for it.

We also talked about management models, which also generated a lot of discussion, as did the issue of security and the age-old problem of anti-social behaviour. The plan with that is to try as far as possible to use the strategy employed in other parks of designing this out, rather than the more draconian (and ultimately pointless) option of installing CCTV.

It was a good and positive meeting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this now develops. The team that are working on this in the council have done some good things with other parks, so lets see what they can do with Mountsfield to turn it into the park it deserves to be. (and I hope this post doesn't come back to bite me in a few months...)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Update on Mountsfield Park

mountsfield park

Thanks to Anne (@LewishamGardens) for this update from the Friends of Mountsfield Park meeting that was held on Monday 17th June.

After last week's rather odd meeting with Sergio Olivares, Anne wrote to Cllr Damien Egan who forwarded her concerns to Martin Hyde, Head of Parks and Regeneration. As a result Martin attended Monday's Friends' meeting in place of junior members of staff. The meeting went well and was well attended (11 adults). Essentially once the apologies were over and assurances about the ring-fenced funding given, he held to the line that the cafe still may not happen - not because of funding squeezes but because of lack of interest.

Martin Hyde's meeting notes were distributed at the beginning of the meeting and formed the basis of all discussion. It was made clear to him (with passion!) that Hither Green is stuffed with community groups with skills and enthusiasm to bid for and win contracts. The meeting began with apologies from Martin for the unexplained delays and a statement that the department acknowledged the local frustrations arising from said delays and poor communication, especially since last autumn's Groundwork consultation. The department has been restructured since the consultation and there are now just two staff.

Procurement procedures have been altered and Groundwork lost out in this process. They had to reapply for a contract and didn't do so in time. Apparently last week's meeting with Sergio was a fact finding meeting for his feasibility study and wasn't supposed to be open to the public. (This still doesn't explain why Sergio hadn't been correctly briefed about the consultations though!)

 (The current container cafe)

The council still need to be convinced of the business case for a cafe in the park. Mr Button, the current lessee, attended the meeting. He took questions for the first 10 mins. He stated that the cafe will be open from this weekend through until September. The current lessees have invested £18k in kitting out the container kitchen, but haven't made it pay. It has been documented many times on Twitter and in local forums that the container is not reliably open, hence it's not really surprising that it isn't attended (my note: and the toilets are awful - not great for families!). One meeting attendee claimed the container cafe has been closed since the end of last summer. Should the council decide there should be a cafe, the current lessees will not be bidding for the contract.

(a couple of Lewisham residents enjoying the container cafe when it was open...)

The bowling green site identified by Groundwork as a location for a new cafe may not be ideal as it is too far from the playground. A cafe would be better served on the current site, particularly as water and services are already on site (my note: I would agree with this, the current location is actually really nice, with the mature trees and good proximity to the playground).

Martin stated that no unsolicited applications have been made to run a cafe in Mountsfield Park. Bizarrely this forms the basis of the 'lack of local interest' claims, as there were several bids for Hilly Fields and over 40 for Mayow Park. The flaws in this assumption were pointed out! How does a potential investor know there is a lease available if no decision to build a cafe has been made, and no one has heard a word since the Groundwork consultation? In any case it turns out the Mizens have been in to see Martin about potentially running a cafe, but he had been reluctant because of the proximity of the Cafe of Good Hope. If a cafe does go ahead, a substantial rent holiday can be negotiated to offset initial start up costs.

The council also need to be convinced about the community food growing space. More expressions of interest must be submitted.

Additional funding sournces were also discussed:
  • Pocket Park funding from the Mayor of London. The second round of funding opened last month. Now the Blackheath application for a playground at Eliot Pits has been withdrawn, it leaves the way clear for Mountsfield Park to apply. Pocket Parks money would provide an additional £30-50k to the budget. This combined with £30k from the original £400k budget could mean up to £60k to redevelop the disastrous former bowling green.
  • There is a possibility of £20k more Section 106 money being put into the project.
  • There will be an application to the London Marathon Charitable Trust for funding too. This would fund new gym equipment as in Northbook Park (SE12).

This report on the Hither Green Urban Design and Development Framework was commissioned in 2006, costing an epic £50k, when the Council was clearly flush with taxpayer cash, was mentioned at the meeting on several occasions and appears to be a local bone of contention. The Staplehurst Road side was largely implemented (16:45pm note: although this report talks about Staplehurst Road it is only in the context of it as a part of Hither Green's shopping/station area, and the report notes that the improvements in this area have been as a result of work by FUSS and others and not the local authority per se) but the Hither Green Lane side where Mounstfield Park sits (with the exception of the establishment of the Hither Green Community Association) will probably never be implemented because of the current financial climate. A community centre for the west of Hither Green was promised and has never materialised. A new community-run cafe would go some way to address the issues referred to in the Report.

The chair of the Friends of Mountsfield Park, Rory McNally, now wants to plot a way forward starting with drawing up two strong business plans:
  1. Community garden/ food growing space.
  2. Social enterprise/ community-led cafe
There is a Council Officers Meeting on 24 June. Clare Pritchard and Sergio Olivares are to submit a feasibility study on a cafe for Mountsfield Park to Council Officers in the next week or so. Clare is the Lewisham Council Project Manager behind much of the fantastic developments in many of Deptford's Parks. Sergio is from the Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency. (This is the group behind the MVMT Cafe Greenwich). Officers will feedback to the Friends of Mountsfield Park, Councillors and to Heidi Alexander.

I will publish any information I get on my blog. Thanks to Anne for this report.

(As an aside to the cafe and community garden issues, sports changing rooms were also raised and a firm no was the answer. FA and Sport England League teams can't play official games at the park because of the lack of facilities- a toilet block and changing facilities. There is no money to build, maintain or staff a facility. Also discussed was the much delayed felling of some of the awful conifers around the bowling green. This may be brought forward in order to improve the look of the area, lift spirits, and discourage the vagrants who have apparently built shelters onsite.)