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.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What's going on with Mountsfield Park?

View from Stainton Tea Rooms
Originally uploaded by clogsilk.
Mountsfield Park should be one of Lewisham's best parks. It's big, it has wonderful views, a good (if a little tired) main playground, football pitches and tennis/bowls.

What it doesn't have is a permanent cafe. Stainton Tea Rooms opened a couple of years ago out of a portacabin in a lovely location under a beautiful old tree. It started well, and, despite the slightly dodgy toilet facilities, I enjoyed many afternoons there with my kids and friends.

Look at places like Manor House Gardens and Hilly Fields and you can see the benefits of a permanent cafe. They bring more people into the park and make the parks feel like places you'd want to spend time, rather than secluded no go areas.

Last year GroundWork London ran a consultation about Mountsfield Park for Lewisham Council, looking at what people wanted from the park. A cafe had strong support from 83% of respondents. I'm also led to believe that there is a ring-fenced budget of perhaps £400,000 to fund it.
So why did we hear (me via the medium of twitter, I wasn't actually at the meeting as I was listening to Boris waffling on at the State of London debate) at a meeting of the the friends group last night that another feasibility study is to be carried out on siting a cafe in Mountsfield Park? Now, call me silly if you like, but this seems like a monumental waste of money in these times of austerity. If we have that money waiting lets get the cafe built. Build it and they will come as the saying goes.

Manor House Gardens got its cafe in 2000. It's 2013 and Mountsfield Park is still waiting. Come on Lewisham Council, what's going on?

Friday, May 31, 2013

What I read on my holidays....

Getting away from it all for a few days meant I had the time to read all the book club books I had outstanding, plus 7 more books on top of that. Here are some short reviews:

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

** spoiler alert ** Where to start with this? I found it hard going to start with, but got into it about 1/3 through. I didn't like Diary Amy, and always felt a large amount of sympathy for Nick, although he wasn't exactly likeable himself. I never thought he'd killed Amy, which means I wasn't surprised by the turn the book took when it became clear that she'd faked Diary Amy and her own death. I'm still not sure what the big twist was everyone talks about - the switch from Diary Amy to real Amy happens too soon in the book for it to be that, surely? And it was obvious she was going to kill Desi, she'd shown herself to be capable of anything by then. Her pregnancy announcement at the end was also not much of a surprise...

I thought the descriptions Nick gave of the affair with Andie were interesting, and gave a different perspective on him. Was that supposed to make us dislike him, I wonder? It really just made me feel sorry for him. Are we to assume Hannah, as mentioned in one of Amy's diary entries is made up, as Nick categorically states Andie was his only affair, or do we assume Nick is lying?

I was left hoping that Nick somehow managed to escape from Amy's clutches, the idea that their baby could solve what was desperately wrong with their relationship is just too horrible to contemplate. That poor poor child!

Kill Your FriendsKill Your Friends by John J. Niven
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One of the most horrendous books I've ever had the misfortune to read. And he doesn't even get his comeuppance in the end, which is about the only thing that could have saved this book for me, though I doubt even that would have done it. Grim grim grim, revelling in the worst kind of racist, sexist awfulness. Someone will no doubt now tell me it's satire and I've missed the point but I don't care! Horrible.

The Taming of the ShrewThe Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure how one reviews Shakespeare, but this is entertaining enough... A bit sexist though ;)

The Damned UtdThe Damned Utd by David Peace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely superb. A must-read for anyone with even the vaguest interest in football and with lots of bonus Huddersfield Town material to boot.

The Thief's JournalThe Thief's Journal by Jean Genet
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite the fact that this seems to jump about all over the place and doesn't really have a narrative as such, I did enjoy it. I particularly enjoyed reading the descriptions of old Barcelona, which the author brings to life very well. I wish I could read it in the original language because I can't help feeling a few things were lost in translation with the version I was reading (which oddly has the footnotes interspliced at random points in the text.)

I warmed to the author greatly through reading the book, despite, or perhaps because of its haphazard nature. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book though, all things considered.

Where's Your Caravan?: My Life on Football's B-RoadsWhere's Your Caravan?: My Life on Football's B-Roads by Chris Hargreaves
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a quick and easy read for anyone who is interested in football and has ever followed lower/non-league teams. I'd say it probably doesn't have a lot of general appeal beyond that though. It could have benefitted from a bit more editing, although I suppose leaving it more 'as is' gives it a more honest feel.

Confessions of a New York Taxi DriverConfessions of a New York Taxi Driver by Eugene Salomon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is based on a blog called Cabs are for Kissing and is a beautifully written and sympathetically edited selection of vignettes from the author's time as a taxi driver in New York City. It made me laugh and cry in almost equal measure and was a delight to read from start to finish. Perfect.

KrabatKrabat by Otfried Preußler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this, kept me guessing to the end.

The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Funnily enough I didn't enjoy this as much as the book it inspired: Florence and Giles by John Harding.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Catford South Assembly, 6th June

The next Catford South ward assembly is being held on 6th June at St. Laurence Community Centre, which is on Bromley Road. If you live, work or study in the ward then this meeting is open to you and according to the leaflet which dropped through my door this morning will cover the following things:

An update on Conisborough College students' feasibility study on improving the area around Sandhurst Rd/Sangley Rd/Muirkirk Rd. Some of the Year 8 students will make a short presentation on their work so far.

An update from the Lewisham public health team, newly moved into Lewisham council, on work on health and wellbeing in Lewisham and (possibly) also an update on the Lewisham A&E situation.

Feedback on topics raised as priorities for the area at the last assembly will also be given, along with an update on how ward assembly funding is changing in 2013/14 and how to bid for funding for projects for the area (based on the 4 priority areas identified - streetscape and environment; activities for children and young people; antisocial behaviour and crime; roads, transport and parking.)

Contact Lucy Formolli, who is the Catford South Assembly officer at the council if you want more information. (email, telephone 020 8314 6314).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Impact of fire station closures in Lewisham and Greenwich

Boris Johnson plans to close fire stations in New Cross, Downham and Woolwich as part of budget cuts designed to save £29m over two years. Since the proposals were announced, the London Fire Brigade has published a document setting out the impact on response times of fire engines at ward level. The document is quite dense and contains a couple of enormous tables so I thought I would try to distil out some of the impacts on the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich.

This News Shopper article pointed out the impact in 5 wards across the boroughs today, but I think it's worth looking across all wards to see the total effect. It's worth pointing out that a significant number of wards already have response times that fall outside the target time of 6 minutes for the first appliance. (I haven't looked at the second appliance times because I think that's confused by the fact that not all fires will need one.)

The four columns in the tables of response times for the first appliance below are:
2011/12 fires 
2011/12 all incidents 
Current Performance (3 Year Average) (minutes)
Post LSP5 Performance (minutes)

Bellingham                 57 177 06:29 06:55 
Blackheath                 37 189 04:48 04:54 
Brockley                   44 253 05:28 05:41 
Catford South              19  94 05:29 06:13 
Crofton Park               41 180 04:01 04:07 
Downham                    63 166 05:54 07:38
Evelyn                     49 343 04:32 04:37
Forest Hill                38 178 05:41 05:45 
Grove Park                 67 187 05:10 06:27 
Ladywell                   38 129 04:56 05:01  
Lee Green                  20 131 04:29 04:35
Lewisham Central           56 470 04:06 04:11
New Cross                  72 298 05:04 05:31
Perry Vale                 34 179 04:16 04:22 
Rushey Green               77 252 04:46 04:53
Sydenham                   44 206 06:14 06:21 
Telegraph Hill             44 206 05:15 07:24
Whitefoot                  73 191 05:08 07:57 

Abbey Wood                 91 220 06:24 06:28
Blackheath Westcombe       98 223 06:03 06:07 
Charlton                   37 138 05:45 05:55 
Coldharbour and New Eltham 35  96 06:16 06:19 
Eltham North               31 110 05:11 05:17 
Eltham South               50 142 04:51 04:56 
Eltham West                43 106 05:53 05:57
Glyndon                   116 255 05:17 05:23 
Greenwich                  51 317 04:24 04:28 
Kidbrooke with Hornfair    48 135 06:34 06:43 
Middle Park and Sutcliffe  41 155 05:07 05:11 
Peninsula                  67 306 05:20 05:27 
Plumstead                 101 214 04:48 04:54 
Shooters Hill              64 148 06:35 07:01
Thamesmead Moorings       120 256 07:07 07:13 
Woolwich Common            93 328 05:32 06:36 
Woolwich Riverside        112 452 04:57 07:26

(Source: Ward impacts of changes to fire stations and engines)

I've highlighted in red those wards that will be outside target response times following implementation of the London Fire Safety Plan 5. Those in italics are already outside target. So in Lewisham the number of wards outside target increases from 2 to 7 of 18 wards and in Greenwich the increase is from 6 to 8 of 17 wards. I'm no expert, but this doesn't look particularly safe or sensible to me, and not just because I happen to live in one of the affected wards.

Petitions against the cuts are available and I recommend you sign them:
General petition against the cuts
If anyone knows of a New-Cross-specific petition I'll add it!

You can also respond to the consultation here until 17 June.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Recent Reads: The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody BonesThe Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It's hard to describe just how much I disliked this book. It's not that I dislike books with unreliable narrators, I've read plenty that I enjoyed, not least Florence and Giles by John Harding, but I found Tristan Hart one of the most unlikeable lead characters I've had the displeasure to encounter in a long time. The language of the book is tricky and a bit irritating at first, but you can get over that. It is simply that Tristan is a spoilt brat, if a genius, and it's this, not his mental illness, that makes him objectionable. And that's before we get onto the way he treats women!

View all my reviews

Recent Reads: The Lives and Loves of Hana Lee by KP Webster

The Lives and Loves of Hana LeeThe Lives and Loves of Hana Lee by KP Webster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this quite well in the end, despite having to skip through the last 20% at great speed in order to get it finished in time for malbec club (yes I was finishing it sitting at the table in Mr Lawrence's...)

The first two or three chapters set the story up nicely, and I think unfortunately the story itself didn't quite live up to its early promise. I found Gabby an irritating character, although clearly necessary to the story.

I also felt there were a few too many anti-men sentiments peppered throughout the text that didn't really add to the story, in fact they became quite jarring and irritating as the story went on.

It was easy to read, and quite a page turner - I liked the way the story flipped between past and present from chapter to chapter. I think my favourite parts of the book were the bits from the 1800s in Paris, I felt perhaps the author ran out of steam a bit by the time Hana got to Japan/America.

The sex is better written than 50 Shades of Grey...

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lewisham is the UK's least peaceful place

Well it certainly was last week when I read the BBC report that a new UK peace index had worked out out that that I live in the country's least peaceful borough.

The index consists of 5 separate indicators:
  • Homicides per 100,000 people
  • Violent Crimes per 100,000 people
  • Weapons Crime per 100,000 people
  • Public Disorder Offences per 100,000 people (used as a proxy for fear of crime, rather than using data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, which isn't (as far as I know) robust to local authority level, though it's certainly more accurate than recorded crime figures)
  • Police Officers per 100,000 people (not including Policy Community Support Officers (PCSOs).)
So all parts of the index apart from Police officer numbers relate to recorded crime statistics, which are not known for their reliability. The UKPI report claims that while recorded crime figures underestimate total crime, they do so in a uniform way across areas. They don't provide a reference to back this up, and I'm not convinced myself.

Each of these 5 indicators is given a score from one to 5 depending on its value and then the indicators are weighted and combined to produce the overall index where 1 if low and 5 is high. The weights are as follows: Homicide 26.7%,  Violent Crime 26.7%, Weapons Crime 13.3%, Public Disorder 13.3%, Police Officers 20.0%. So a fifth of the index is accounted for by police officer numbers. It isn't clear whether a high number of officers is considered good or bad, but it's worth noting that Lewisham borough contains Britain's largest police station, and this police station is located in Lewisham Central ward, which the report notes accounts for the majority of the crime recorded in Lewisham... Alarm bells are ringing already!

The method used to work out the index is pretty standard, but most other indices used in social research either have a lot more indicators feeding into them (eg the indices of deprivation have 38 separate indicators) or are based on a range data, eg Townsend and Carstairs scores. The Townsend score is made up of four variables from the Census:
  • Unemployment as a percentage of those aged 16 and over who are economically active. 
  • Non-car ownership, as a percentage of all households. 
  • Non-home ownership as a percentage of all households. 
  • Household overcrowding. 
Carstairs, developed to avoid the use of households as the denominator, uses the following four Census variables:
  • low social class
  • lack of car ownership
  • overcrowding
  • male unemployment

What you'll notice about these indices is that they contain variables that differ from each other in what they are trying to measure, though all cover different aspects of deprivation. The variables going into the peace index all relate to different types of crime. Nothing else (apart from the odd choice of police officer numbers) is considered.

The other thing that annoyed me about the peace index was its undue focus on the top and bottom areas. Lewisham and four other areas are picked out and discussed in detail. Lewisham's score was 4.529, Tower Hamlets 4.360. Lewisham's neighbouring boroughs of Southwark and Greenwich scored 4.314 and 4.002 respectively, yet these areas are not discussed at all, and no indication is given as to the confidence we can put on the figures. Confidence intervals are not shown, if they were calculated at all, so we have no idea whether or not the figure of 4.529 is statistically significantly different from the 4.494 scored by the second placed borough, Lambeth. My guess would be it is not, and one thing I would be willing to bet good money on is that these numbers will vary a lot by area on a year to year basis.

Still, people love a league table, reliable or not, so the press and public were all over this story last week and of course Lewisham council's very own rentaquote was on hand to call for the Mayor's resignation over the figures. I'd argue that this is a disproportionate reaction and the Lewisham is no worse than other inner London areas. One of our local MPs, Heidi Alexander, has a more measured approach arguing that, "for most people, most of the time, Lewisham is a safe place to live." That doesn't mean that things shouldn't be done to tackle youth and gang-related crime, but these initiatives need to cross artificial borough-based boundaries and look across London for solutions, and this is where league tables simply do not help. Organisations such as the Jimmy Mizen foundation are working tremendously hard to put a stop to youth violence and these simply don't get a mention in the peace index report, which prefers to start its section on Lewisham with a reference to something which happened in 1977. By all means use data to start a debate, but at least make sure it's robust, and that you do your research into what's going on the ground now, before pontificating!

If this index is produced again next year, lets see just how different the figures are year-on-year before singling out Lewisham for criticism!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Recent reads: Capital by John Lanchester

CapitalCapital by John Lanchester
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started promisingly, with an interesting selection of characters all living in or connected to Pepys Road, a fictional street in Clapham somewhere. I almost wished it had been set in the real Pepys Road, which is in New Cross, but never mind, Clapham probably fitted the story better.

I enjoyed reading it, and the story went along at a decent pace, but in the end I didn't find the characters deep enough to care about too much, except perhaps Zbigniew and, surprisingly, Roger, the investment banker whose heart just wasn't really in it and who had to put up with Arabella, his wife and probably the most obnoxious character in the book.

The postcards idea was an interesting thread that drew the whole thing together, but in a way I'm not sure it was needed and when all of the loose ends were tied up at the close of the book, I was left thinking, "oh, ok, that's it then." I'd basically worked out what had been going on with the postcards well before that and there was no twist in the tale.

Still, it was a nice easy read, it was 20p on kindle and would probably make quite a good book club pick for any London-based book clubs.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 18, 2013

Trends in homicides in England and Wales: comparison of death registration and police report data

This paper was originally written by my former colleague, Cleo Rooney, and me for the WHO Family of International Classifications Network meeting held in Reykjavik on 24-30 October 2004. It used to be online at but that URL no longer works so I'm putting it online here so it isn't totally lost to the world!

Title: Trends in homicides in England and Wales: comparison of death registration and police report data
Authors: Cleone Rooney Clare Griffiths
Purpose: For information.
Recommendations: Further work is needed on improving the international comparability of vital statistics on homicide.
It is difficult to produce timely statistics on the annual number of deaths from assault from vital registration data. Full information about these deaths only becomes available after legal processes, which may take many months to complete. This can mean that these deaths are not registered in time to be included in annual statistics, or that they are registered before the cause of death is known.

In England and Wales, up to half the deaths eventually classified as assault (X85- Y09) may not appear as such in the original annual statistics. Deaths being investigated as homicide and registered before the cause can be certified fully are assigned a temporary underlying cause code of Y33.9 (E988.8 in ICD-9), and a manner of death code indicating that the verdict is still 'pending investigation'. These are identified as 'probable homicide /assault' in ONS mortality statistics, but not in WHO or EUROSTAT publications, which cannot accommodate such national departures from standard ICD coding and tabulation.

We have compared vital registration and police statistics from the Home Office to derive best estimates of numbers and patterns of deaths from homicide in England and Wales. Both data sources give similar pictures, and confirm that ONS figures on 'homicide and probable homicide' are consistent with statistics of deaths reported to the police / being investigated as homicide.

Work by the International Collaborative Effort on Injury Statistics(1) suggests that the quality and completeness of deaths registered as homicide may vary considerably between countries. Policy makers and pressure groups use these data for international comparisons. More work is needed to improve the comparability of these data and to educate users about these issues.

In England and Wales, all suspicious deaths must be reported to the coroner for investigation before they can be registered.(2,3) If the police report that charges are to be brought against anyone in relation to the death or that the death is being investigated as homicide, the coroner adjourns the inquest to await the results of investigation and legal proceedings. Since 1978 it has been possible to register deaths at this point – known as accelerated registration.(4) ONS assigns a temporary underlying cause code of Y33.9 (E988.8) to these deaths. Since 1993, ONS has also coded coroner’s verdicts or 'manner of death'. These adjourned inquest deaths are assigned a code indicating that the verdict is 'pending investigation'. The coroner will normally update ONS with the final verdict and cause of death when these are known. This process can take months, or even years. This means that up to half the deaths eventually classified as homicide/assault (X85-Y09, E960-E969) may not appear as such in the original annual statistics.

For deaths since the beginning of January 1993, ONS updates the coding on its dynamic national mortality database when further information is received. Deaths on this database coded to Y33.9/E988.8 at any given time will include:

(a) deaths where an inquest has been adjourned as described above. Most of these will eventually be recoded on receipt of further information, and all but a few will be recoded either to homicide or to land transport accidents.

(b) a very small number of deaths registered after a completed inquest which delivered an 'open' verdict and a cause of death of injury or poisoning which could not be assigned to any more precise code. These deaths will retain the Y33.9/E988.8 code for underlying cause of death.

Methods of producing statistics on homicides
There are therefore several different ways of examining homicide trends in England and Wales,(5) using the number of deaths coded to:

1. X85-Y09 (E960-E969). This is the basic ICD classification, to which all homicides should eventually be assigned.

2. X85-Y09, plus Y33.9 (E988.8). This takes account of accelerated registrations, as described above. This is a simple adjustment, which can be done using published figures by underlying cause, without requiring knowledge of the progress of inquest proceedings. It will include a handful of deaths which were probably not homicides, since the inquest verdict was 'open'.

3. X85-Y09, plus Y33.9 with a pending verdict. This allows more exactly for accelerated registrations which are likely to become coded to homicide.

[Note that in 2007 ONS changed the code it used for deaths where the inquest was adjourned to U50.9 in order reduce the possibility of confusion in suicide statistics. This means the best estimate of homicide deaths is now obtained by using X85-Y09 plus U50.9]

Comparison of ONS and Home Office data
Home Office (Justice Department) figures are based on the year in which the offence was first recorded by the police, which may not be the year that the death occurred or was registered. The initial number recorded for the year may subsequently be reduced as a result of decisions by the police or the courts that no offence of homicide took place.(6) Revised figures which take account of these changes are published regularly.

* As at 23 August 2004
** includes homicides by Harold Shipman in the year they occurred
*** As at 13 November 2003
Source: ONS and Home Office

ONS deaths data are now tabulated by the year in which they occurred, so the figures cannot be matched exactly with Home Office data. However, they do show very similar patterns and trends since about 1960 (Figure 1). In the 1950s numbers from death registrations were considerably lower than homicides recorded by the Home Office, and may have been incomplete. The closest correspondence is between Home Office figures for deaths initially recorded as homicide, and ONS 'total' figure – that is the sum of deaths certified as homicide, and coded to X85-Y09 in time for routine annual publication and deaths certified after adjourned inquest coded to Y33.9.

Figure 1 also illustrates the variation which may occur in ONS annual figures due to differences in how long after the end of the data year the data are extracted and analysed. The number of deaths coded to homicide in the 1993 annual publication was among the highest ever, whereas the total including E988.8 'pending' was similar to other years in the early 1990s. The reason is that the annual extract for 1993 was taken 15 months later than usual, because of changes in ONS computer systems. By that time, ONS had received many more updates on accelerated registrations than would be usual.

Patterns of homicide in England and Wales

Death rates due to homicide are generally higher in males than in females, this difference being greatest in young adults. Rates among children and the elderly are more similar between males and females (Figure 2). The highest homicide rates in both sexes are in infants. Rates for young men have increased between 1993-1997 and 1998-2002, as have rates among infants of both sexes. In other age groups, rates have remained similar between the 2 time periods.

Comparison with European Union data
Table 1 shows a comparison of homicide rates in the EU15 countries from Key Data on Health 2002, based on annual published data. We have also added the England and Wales rate based on the best estimate of homicides described above. Clearly, the ranking changes considerably when corrected figures are used. England and Wales had the 6th highest rates in men and 5th highest in women, compared with the ranking for the UK on published data of 14th and last respectively. As Scotland and Northern Ireland have higher homicide rates than England and Wales, UK rates would show an even greater difference. However, this comparison ignores any differences in data from other countries. A recent study of the comparability of cause of death statistics in the European Union(7) found that death rates could vary substantially due to differences in certification practice and laws. This particularly applies to external causes of mortality, such as homicide and suicide, where legal definitions also come into play.

Table 1. Age-standardised homicide rates per 100,000 population, European Union 15 countries, 1998

The need for better international comparisons
Work by the International Collaborative Effort on Injury Statistics suggests that the quality and completeness of deaths registered as homicide may vary considerably between countries. Comparisons of homicide rates in countries participating in the ICE(8) showed that rates in England and Wales were lower than those in Scotland, New Zealand, Israel, Australia and Canada even after including adjourned inquest deaths. They were higher than Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and France. However, French death registration figures probably underestimate homicides and other injury deaths because INSERM does not have access to cause of death information on deaths subject to forensic investigation.(9) The directly age-standardised homicide rate in the USA was six and a half times that in England and Wales.

Policy makers and pressure groups use homicide data for international comparisons. More work is needed to improve the comparability of these data in international publications and to educate users about their use.

1 Rooney C, Warner M, Fingerhut L. Results of the ICE on injury survey of death certification and vital statistics. Proceedings of the International Collaborative Effort on Injury Statistics. Volume III. Washington DC, June 1999.
2 Coroners Act 1988
3 Devis T and Rooney C. Death Certification and the epidemiologist. Health Statistics Quarterly 1, pp 21-33, 1999.
4 OPCS Mortality statistics England and Wales; Deaths from injury and poisoning; 1978. HMSO: London, 1980.
5 Rooney C and Devis T. Recent trends in deaths from homicide in England and Wales. Health Statistics Quarterly 3, pp 5-13, 1999.
6 Home Office. Criminal Statistics: England and Wales: 1997. TSO: London, 1998.
7 European Commission DG SANCO agreement. Comparability and Quality Improvement of European Causes of Death Statistics. Final Report. Centre d'épidémiologie sur les causes médicales de décès. Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale, July 2001.
8 Fingerhut L, Cox C and Warner M, International Comparative analysis of injury mortality: Findings from the ICE on Injury Statistics. NCHS Advance Data No 303, October 1998. NCHS, CDC, US Department of Health and Human Services.
9 Lecomte D, Hatton F, Renaud G, et Le Toullec A, Les suicides en Ile-de-France chez les sujets de 15 a 44 ans; resutats d’une étude coopérative. Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire 2, pp 5-6, 1994.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Born in Lewisham

The next event for the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign is a Born in Lewisham Hospital 'hands around our hospital' this Saturday 16th March. The plan is to assemble in front of the hospital at 2pm, with the chain starting at 2:30pm followed by events and music from 2:45pm to 4pm. The campaign say If you, your children, your sister or brother, your boyfriend or anyone you know was born in Lewisham Hospital – or if you to continue to defend the services at our hospital come along.

The Millwall bus and mascot will be there too if Millwall are your sort of thing.

The campaign are also asking you to share your photos for the Born in Lewisham Hospital Hall of Fame. The photos can be of you, if you were born in Lewisham, your grown up children or grandchildren, as long as you have permission, or your own young children and babies.

Both my children were born in Lewisham hospital and I've written about my experience with James elsewhere. With Claud things ran a little more smoothly, but I'm grateful to the hospital for looking after me and them on both occasions.

Unfortunately we can't be there on Saturday, so I'm sharing my photos here instead and encourage you to share yours with the campaign too by emailing the campaign with your photos at

James then:

James now:

Claud then:

Claud now:

Friday, March 08, 2013

Boris's disaster in Catford

Last night Boris held one of his People's Question Time events in Catford (because he has to rather than because he wants to). Let's just say it didn't go too well for him....

Here are my collated tweets.

And I also recorded the whole thing. This was on a phone on my knee so apologies if sometimes the clapping and shouting of those around me gets a bit too loud! You can hear most of it though. It starts with the booing as Boris comes in.

Other write ups/links:


@darryl1974's audioboo of Boris getting a bit cross.

East London Lines

New Statesman

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Latest Lewisham Life

This could be just my reading of the latest missive from Lewisham Council, but I think the latest Lewisham Life enewsletter (Sign up to receive your own copy here) suggests that the Council going ahead with seeking a judicial review over the Lewisham hospital decision isn't totally certain.

At the last council meeting my understanding of the discussion was that legal advice had been received on the response to the council's pre-action notice (required in law before a judicial review can be sought) and that the advice suggested the council should go ahead and seek a judicial review.

However, the latest enewsletter says Before making its next move the Council is taking legal advice on responses to the pre-action protocol letter that it sent in February.

I hope this is just a question of timing and not indicative that a judicial review may not actually go ahead after all. Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Boris comes to Catford

(picture from Save Lewisham Hospital campaign)

Everyone's favourite Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is coming to Catford on Thursday to talk to us about

  • Growing London's economy
  • Housing
  • Transport and environment
  • Policing and community safety

(according to the GLA website, anyway. Somehow I think Lewisham hospital might figure on the attendees' agenda a little more highly, and this is People's Question Time after all....)

Registrations for the event have closed, which surprises me given that the main theatre holds 800 people (although perhaps we'll be in the studio theatre which holds 100). Doors open at 6pm, and if there are any spaces left then you can get in without a ticket from 6:45pm.

The Save Lewisham hospital campaign are planning to welcome Boris with a protest outside the theatre. They say: Gather from 6pm onwards outside the Catford Broadway theatre for this red carpet event! Boris Lookalikes, street theatre and much more.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lewisham Council agrees to issue judicial review proceedings on hospital decision

Tonight Lewisham council voted in favour of granting authority to proceed with judicial review proceedings to ask the court to quash the recommendations of the Trust Special Administrator of South London Healthcare Trust's report of 8 January (which recommended the downgrading of A&E at Lewisham hospital and the closure of its obstetric maternity services).

This follows the pre-action notice issued by the council earlier this month after Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, agreed to proceed with the recommendations as set out by the TSA. The pre-action notice stated the council's belief that to include Lewisham hospital in the TSA remit goes beyond what the law permits. The Secretary of State's response was that he did not agree with this view. However, Lewisham's lawyers believe the council have a strong case and it is worth proceeding with it.

The council has set up a legal challenge fund which members of the public can donate to to support the cost of bringing these proceedings. Should the funds not be required they will be donated to charity. Support the legal challenge fund here.

The vote came at a full council meeting which also discussed the budget for 2013-14 and recommended a 1.75% rise in council tax and accompanying budget cuts to meet the required savings of £21.3million based on the budget given to the council from central government.

Listen to the audio of the meeting here. (The discussion on the hospital runs from 41:30 to 51:50 and the budget from 58:10 to 2:04:20.)

Edited 5 March to update the council tax rise figure to 1.75% and not 1.5% as I originally heard.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Catford Town Centre Local Plan - Have your say

Lewisham Council has today published a further options paper as part of the Catford Town Centre Local Area Plan. This is a planning strategy document which sets out what developments should happen in Catford over the next 10 years. The plan will be used to assess planning applications for development sites within the town centre. It's a detailed document so obviously will merit a more detailed look before passing comment.

The council are consulting on the plans and anyone can comment. Copies of the document are available in the following places:
● the Council's website  
● all borough libraries and the Council’s AccessPoint, which is on the Ground Floor of Laurence House. 
● by contacting the Planning Policy Team on 020 8314 7400

Comments on the plan need to be sent to the council in writing: 
● By email to making sure that ‘Catford Local Plan Further Options 2013’ is the subject of the mail
● By post to Planning Policy, London Borough of Lewisham, 3rd Floor, Laurence House, 1 Catford 
Road, SE6 4RU

You can also attend a consultation event and fill in a questionnaire at one of these - at the moment they are the Catford South Local Assembly on 28 February at Conisborough College and at Catford Broadway Market on 3 March.

The questions the Council are asking (taken from their website) include:

  1. Do you have any comments on the issues facing Catford and the opportunities this presents (Section 2)
  2. Do you support the Council’s vision, objectives and plans for key development sites in Catford? (Sections 3 and 4)
  3. Do you have any comments on the recommended or alternative policy options put forward? Particularly those for the key development sites? (Sections 4 and 5)
  4. Are there other policy options and/or alternatives you would like to suggest?
  5. Do you have any other comments on this document?
  6. Do you have any comments on the accompanying sustainability appraisal? (separate document - see link)

There is also a detailed traffic modelling summary, which proposes changes to how traffic is managed in the centre of Catford, where the A205 and A21 cross. It's complex to understand and will take a bit of reading and digesting.

The consultation period ends at 5pm on Friday 5 April 2013. The final version of the Catford plan will need to be approved by the government, after which it can be formally adopted by the Council. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Child Poverty in Lewisham and Greenwich: huge ward-level disparities

Yesterday the Guardian datablog published maps of child poverty data based on a report by the End Child Poverty Campaign. The campaign produced the data themselves and used the closest possible measure to that used nationally by the government (which is based on the percentage of children living in households earning below 60% of median income before housing costs). The figures presented are for mid 2012, although they've been calculated by applying national trends to local data from 2010, so are an estimate. (Interestingly the campaign say they don't have a local measure using the government's official definition, but this is published in the Public Health Outcomes Framework and on Local Health, both official statistics websites.)

The Guardian chose to present the data for Parliamentary Constituencies, presumably to link the numbers to a recognisable public face for each area, but the figures are available at ward level and reveal wide disparities within areas.

Just over 20% of children are living in poverty across the UK as a whole, and in London the figures range from 7% in Richmond-upon-Thames to 42% in Tower Hamlets and because housing is so expensive in London, if after housing costs figures were used, then these results would be much worse.

I decided to look at the ward-level data for Lewisham and Greenwich. The local authority figures are both 24%, just slightly above the national average figure. However, as soon as you break this down by looking at wards within local authorities a picture of big inequalities emerges. In Greenwich, Eltham North and Blackheath Westcombe have only 6 and 7% of children respectively living in poverty. The lowest figures in Lewisham are for Lee Green (14%) and Crofton Park (15%). And at the other end of the spectrum, Evelyn ward in Deptford has a staggering 37% of children living in poverty. The next nearest three wards each have 30%. Only Woolwich Riverside and Woolwich Common have figures above 30% in Greenwich borough (33 and 32% respectively).

Percentage of children in poverty,* Lewisham 2012
Ward                  number    percent

Lee Green                448       14
Crofton Park             488       15
Blackheath               479       17
Catford South            600       17
Forest Hill              584       18
Ladywell                 567       19
Perry Vale               842       22
Brockley                 701       23
Sydenham                 894       24
Grove Park               860       24
Rushey Green             821       24
Telegraph Hill           932       26
Whitefoot              1,193       28
Lewisham Central         991       29
Downham                1,265       30
Bellingham             1,291       30
New Cross              1,105       30
Evelyn                 1,679       37
*using the End Child Poverty Campaign data and definition
Source: End Child Poverty Campaign

Percentage of children in poverty,* Greenwich 2012
Ward                      number  percent

Eltham North                 148     6
Blackheath Westcombe         153     7
Shooters Hill                366    12
Coldharbour and New Eltham   352    13
Eltham South                 462    21
Kidbrooke with Hornfair      703    22
Plumstead                    893    22
Peninsula                    534    22
Greenwich West               708    24
Charlton                     827    25
Middle Park and Sutcliffe    822    25
Eltham West                  743    26
Thamesmead Moorings        1,544    27
Abbey Wood                 1,253    29
Glyndon                    1,287    29
Woolwich Common            1,530    32
Woolwich Riverside         1,528    33
*using the End Child Poverty Campaign data and definition
Source: End Child Poverty Campaign

Shockingly, if you take a look at where the best performing schools in Lewisham are located, it doesn't take a genius to work out where they might be... Brindishe Lee and Lee Manor schools both had 93% of their pupils achieving level 4 or above in English and Maths in the latest year for which data are available. Compare that with 71% at Deptford Park. And education isn't the only area that's affected by poverty, although it's certainly the one that is likely to impact most on likely future earning potential.

These figures should make anyone sit up and take notice and are also a reminder of what inequalities sit below the surface of figures presented at borough level.