Thursday, November 30, 2006

LibDems want Hairdressers to Fight Crime!

Seriously - you could not make it up! I laughed out loud today when I read in Southwark News that the current Leader of the Council proposed using hairdressers in the battle against violent crime in the borough. Well it has been another difficult week for him!

So is Cllr Stanton proposing that we have crack patrols of hair stylists ready to shampoo and set at the scene of a serious incident? Can we look forward to a short back and sides from elite barbers when we are next threatened at knife-point?

Sadly not! His proposal for their part in the fight against crime is that they should be used to spread the word about how safe Southwark is!

As my colleague Cllr Paul Bates observes in the Southwark News, "Many residents of the borough will find the leader of the council's statments that hairdressers are the answer to crime a little bizarre". Quite!

One of Southwark's new crime-fighters in action!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Albrighton Centre Chaos

Work to refurbish and expand the Albrighton Centre on East Dulwich Estate should have begun in early 2007 and have been completed by the Summer. The work would have extended the centre with the addition of an extra floor providing much needed additional space. The precise extent of the works has been carefully considered by the members of the East Dulwich Estate Project Team ('EDERPT') at many meetings over recent years.

So it was a truly awful surprise to hear at last night's meeting that a structural survey of the Centre has revealed that an extensive steel frame will now need to be built around the Centre as the current structure cannot bear the weight of the additional floor, and that the works will now take 12 months!

To a layperson like me it does seem that the cart may have been put before the horse in this case - why a structural survey was not carried out earlier is incredible.

The impact of this news is significant. If the Project Team had known originally that adpaptation works were going to take up to 12 months they may well have decided on a new-build project for the Albrighton - which would provide better value for money and have taken only 8 months. However, the Team decided to support the adaptation route as it would mean a quicker delivery - 6 months - and demonstrate some early physical regeneration of this Estate to its many residents who have become so disillusioned with the process since it first began in 1998.

I am personally very disappointed by this development and will be working together with my fellow councillors, EDERPT and excellent officers like Tony Hunter to find a way to get this project back on course as soon as practicable, with a solution which meets the needs of the East Dulwich Estate.

Cllr Danny McCarthy

Labour is now the largest political group on Southwark following the decision of Cllr Danny McCarthy, a councillor in Cathedrals Ward since 2002, to resign from the LibDems. Danny cites as his principal reason for resigning the fact of the alliance between the Tories and LibDems in which the LibDems have given up the crucial portfolios of housing and resources. However, from conversations which I have had I know that Danny has been greatly hurt by the vicious way in which he has been treated in recent weeks by his erstwhile colleagues in the LibDem group. It seems that the vicious personal side of the LibDems which was so evident when Charles Kennedy was forced out as Leader of the LibDems nationally is alive and well amongst Southwark LibDem members.

In a truly amazing outburst the current Leader of the Council has called on Danny McCarthy to resign his seat and stand for re-election in a by-election. This outburst is amazing because as Danny has rightly observed, no one in Southwark voted for the Tory / LibDem coalition in charge at the Town Hall, and if Cllr Stanton is so concerned about the wishes of the voters perhaps he should put that coalition to the test in a public vote. After the chaos in the borough's housing department, the £120 million call-centre in meltdown and the Thatcherite Tories being given a free rein to slash council budgets, I am fairly confident what the public reaction would be!

Danny will sit as an independent councillor for the time being, but I hope that we will be able to meet his ambitions and welcome him back into the Labour Party in the near future.

So the current state of the parties is Labour - 28; LibDems - 27; Tories - 6; Green - 1; Independent - 1

Monday, November 27, 2006

Debate.....what debate?

After the public meeting we held on the changes to housing management in the borough my colleagues and I submitted a request to the Mayor for a Special Council Assembly to discuss the motions we were proposing. Although we regard the issue as urgent the Mayor (no doubt under political orders)has ruled that the Special Assembly will take place AFTER the regular Council meeting on 6th December. This means that our motions will not be debated until around midnight!

The issue of housing management is of concern to very many tenants and leaseholders across the borough. This is confirmed by the fact that 2 Area Housing Forums have rejected the changes and very many individuals have been in touch with myself and my colleagues to express their anger over the way in which this process has been handled by the Executive.

As a Group we have never said there should be NO changes to the way housing is managed in Southwark. What we do say is that any changes should only have been introduced after a period of consultation with tenants, leaseholders, officers and councillors. I still think that it is amazing that we will have no dedicated Director of Housing in Southwark, despite the fact that we are the country's biggest landlord.

So the decision to delay the debate on our motions until midnight is another example of this Tory/LibDem Executive trying to stifle discussion of an important issue and exclude the wider public from the decision-making process. If the changes which Cllr Humphreys and his LibDem colleagues are proposing are so robust and cannot be properly criticised why will they not debate them at a proper hour - or better still on another day at a time when the public can attend.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Southwark's Housing Crisis

Last night I spoke at a packed public meeting which was called to discuss the recent changes to housing management in the borough. Although the council is the landlord of nearly 60,000 properties we no longer have a dedicated housing department, which has effectively been abolished and its responsibilities scattered amongst various other departments of the Council such as Environment, rubbish collection and Social Services.

What is perhaps more astonishing about the changes is that they were introduced without any warning, discussion or consultation - even by the Executive who are supposed to make these sorts of decisions!

Only two Executive members seem to have known anything about the changes before they happened - the current Leader Cllr Stanton and his 'A-list' Tory Deputy, Cllr Humphreys. Neither of these seems remotely concerned or apologetic for the outcry which their changes have incurred, with Cllr Humphreys arrogantly determined to press on with "Phase 2" of his Thatcherite plans for Southwark's housing.

Last night's meeting was absolutely united in its oppostion to the changes and the manner in which they had been introduced. At the conclusion of the meeting I indicated that the Labour Group would be calling a Special Council Assembly meeting to discuss the changes. I hope that this will take place within the next 10 days - it certainly cannot wait until the next Council Assembly on the 5th of December.

With tenants and leaseholders experiencing serious ongoing problems with the £100 million Call Centre; with one of the borough's major repairs contractors going bust without warning or explanation leaving jobs unfinished, and with the latest changes to the ex-Housing Department, it really does seem that the shaky Tory/LibDem coalition in charge at the Town Hall has lost its grip.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Newington Reference Library

Last night I attended a public meeting to discuss proposed changes to Southwark's only reference library, which is based in the Newington Library on the Walworth Road. In a well-intentioned attempt to make the library accessible to all and compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act the Council have proposed that the library situated on the first floor of the building should be closed and partially re-sited to the ground floor.

The public can currently have access to 8,500 books in a remarkably light and airy library on the first floor. Under the proposed changes the number of available books would be reduced by approximately 80% and access to the available remainder would be in comparatively cramped conditions on the ground floor.

Cllr Stanton, the currrent Leader of the Council, argued that the alternative to these proposals would invovle the installation of a lift from the ground to the first floor at a cost of £400,000 which the Council could not afford. Although users would not be able to browse through all of the books they would be able to ask library staff to retrieve a particular book if they wished.

Those who attended the meeting and use the library were uniformly opposed to the proposals. Part of the joy of browsing through books in a library is finding a book which you did not know existed. This would be lost under the current proposals and I have no doubt that people would be deterred from using the library as they presently do.

I do not think these proposals have been thought through, and the users of the library should not be placed in the position of having to effectively argue against DDA compliance in order to retain their current reference facilities.

Also I am not sure that the options are as limited as presented by the Council. There are many government and public buildings which are DDA compliant but which have not installed major passenger lifts. It really is time to look again at these proposals and find a solution which suits all users and potential users of the library.

The current proposals can be found here

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Camberwell Grove Update

At last night's Camberwell Community Council Andrew Downes, of the Council's Transport Group, gave an update on the collapsed rail tunnel in Camberwell Grove, which is causing the road to be blocked at its mid-point.

Apparently the tunnel is constructed of brick and iron beams. One of the iron beams has a crack in it which could cause a catastrophic failure if action is not taken. Repairs to iron beams such as this are normally carried out before the beam has actually cracked, but in the case of the Camberwell Grove tunnel matters have gone one stage further already! Andrew informed us that Network Rail intend to carry out the repairs to the tunnel in February 2007 with the intention of those repairs being completed in March 2007.

Even when Camberwell Grove is re-opened it will still be subject to a 7.5 ton weight limit which will need to be strictly enforced. This will have to be done by some width restriction measures being taken on the approach to the bridge in order to ensure that no over-weight vehicles can pass. A long term solution to the problem will only be brought about with a complete replacement of the tunnel - which will cause major disruption to Camberwell Grove and trains on the line to and from Denmark Hill.

So we can expect Camberwell Grove to re-open to vehicles with new width restrictions on the road in March/April next year.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Black Business Awards

On Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending the Black Business Awards at the Hilton in Rotherhithe. The event is organised by the Black Business Initiative under the inspirational leadership of Sunny Lambe and is supported by many organisations across Southwark.

The awards prove that with the right support and in the right economic conditions small and medium sized businesses owned and run by black and minority ethnic entrepeneurs can really succeed. The evening also featured and celebrated black entertainment, with the brilliant Gina Yashere acting as host for the evening.

Too often in recent years in Southwark the story about the Council's involvement with BME businesses has been negative. This event simply showed that with a little thought the Council can be a positive force.

It was also great to meet and hear from Tim Campbell, the winner of the first series of The Apprentice. Tim has made a real success of working for Sir Alan Sugar and is hoping to pursue his own business opportunities in the near future.

I presented the award for Social Enterprise to RAP, an organisation working with young people.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Labour Conference 2006

A belated entry following last week's Labour Conference! Overall I think it is fair to say that given the difficulties leading up to conference, it was a highly successful week for the Party, with the mantra of renewal and change on the progressive left being repeated by every speaker.

There were clearly some highlights in the main hall - Tony Blair's valedictory speech reminded everyone yet again of what a superb Leader he has been. Other parties may snipe and sneer about Tony Blair, but the election results he has delivered for the Labour Party are the true testament to his political skills. I thought that Gordon Brown gave an excellent speech which began to explain what his vision for Britain is. He is a politician of substance and has a real record of achievement. I think he will be a welcome contrast to David 'Blair-lite' Cameron.

Bill Clinton's speech on Wednesday morning was also a highlight. His warning to the party that change and progress are the only way forward was a welcome reminder as we consider the future leadership of the party.

And last but not least John Prescott's final speech as Deputy Leader was a real triumph! It is really difficult to imagine any of the current contenders for the Deputy Leadership putting together such a tub-thumping speech! "Traditional values in a modern setting" was once again the core message from Mr Prescott.

Prezza and the band

Away from the main Hall it was good to see John and Pauline Prescott dancing at the Amicus reception!

Peter & Pat Hewitt
And I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to Patricia Hewitt about the "cuts" to Southwark's PCT budget ahead of her meeting with Tessa Jowell and Harriet Harman. She explained to me that the £21 million was effectively being used as a loan to the PCTs who had overspent and that they would be under an obligation to repay the money to Southwark. However, there remain real concerns in the short-term and I told the Health Secretary that it was wrong for Southwark to be penalised in any way for the profligacy of others.

Following the conference I have also written to Ruth Kelly about Southwark's appeal against her decision on the 'Downtown' planning application. I met Ruth Kelly at the conference but for obvious reasons we were not able to discuss the particular issues surrounding 'Downtown'. In my letter I have echoed the views of the campaigners, and asked that she visit the site in any event before making any further decision on this application.

I also met with Ken Livingstone and other London Labour Leaders to discuss the proposed GLA Bill which will give the Mayor increased powers in various areas. I think that this will be the start of a useful discussion with the Mayor.

So on the whole a productive conference!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Interesting Times for Southwark Labour Members

On Friday Harriet Harman confirmed that she will be a candidate for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party when a vacancy arises. Harriet has been the MP for Camberwell and Peckham since 1982 and has been instrumental in raising the number of Labour's women MPs from 17 to 97 and modernising the Labour Party during the 'wilderness years'. At the next General Election parliamentary boundaries will be re-drawn and South Camberwell will become part of Camberwell & Peckham after many years as part of the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency. So we have an interest in Harriet's progress.

Of course, if today's newspapers are to be believed it seems likely that the current MP for South Camberwell, Tessa Jowell, may also be throwing her hat into the Deputy Leadership ring later this week. I have not spoken to Tessa so don't know yet whether there is any truth in this report. However, it is really exciting for Southwark Labour Party members to know that we have such prominent government figures locally who will be helping to shape the next decade of Labour politics.

I agree with Harriet's comments today that the Party should use the forthcoming leadership contest to debate policy and renewal, and should not be afraid of that debate. I hope that members will become engaged with this process. And if you're not a Labour Party member but would like to be involved in that debate - why not join us?

Good Sense on Downtown

Last Wednesday we held our September Council Assembly and debated a number of issues concerning the borough generally - including proposed cuts of up to £20 million to the local Primary Care Trust budget. Southwark has an extremely good record of delivering services on budget, and the Council was united in calling upon Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, to review her decision on this issue. Harriet Harman and Tessa Jowell will be leading a delegation of Southwark and Lambeth MPs to meet the Health Secretary on the 21st of September, so I hope they will have good news to report following that meeting.

Council Assembly also heard from a deputation from the Downtown Defence Campaign. Downtown is an area in Rotherhithe which has a long-established community and relatively low density housing. However, the Liberal Democrat administration in Southwark took the decision to sell land at Downtown to Barratts the builders who submitted an application to build on that land. The DDC was formed to oppose that application and the development of the land and they were delighted when the Council's Planning Committee and the Planning Inspector refused the application. However, our very own Ruth Kelly, Local Government Secretary, overturned the Planning Inspector's decision and gave the 'go-ahead' for building on the land up to 6 storeys high.

The DDC's deputation was supported by a motion from local Rotherhithe councillor Lisa Rajan. During the course of the debate on the motion it became clear that the Council's deadline for challenging Ruth Kelly's decision by judicial review proceedings has to be submitted by this Tuesday, 19th September. The decision on whether to issue proceedings lay with Paul Evans, the Director of Regeneration.
As the debate had centred on the erosion of local democracy the Labour Group decided to propose an amendment calling on the LibDem Tory Executive to hold a special meeting in order to consider taking the decision-making power back from Mr Evans so that the decision to issue judicial review proceedings would lie with the elected representatives of the borough.

I have to say that the LibDems and Tories were caught completely off-guard by our amendment - which was merely reflecting the debate and the legal advice which we had received - and reacted with incomprehensible anger. Cllrs Humphries and Thomas descended into incredibly pompous and partisan attacks on the Labour Group which must have left the Downtown campaigners utterly bewildered.

Although our amendment was rejected good sense has now prevailed - and amazingly, the LibDem Tory Executive will be meeting tomorrow (Monday) to decide whether to issue judicial review proceedings! Had Cllr Humphries taken a few moments to think on Wednesday rather than react in a knee-jerk way, our amendment may have passed. However, at least our objective has been achieved, and I hope that proceedings will be issued.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dr Ola and the Labour Party

Last Wednesday I was telephoned by our local newspaper, Southwark News, and asked to comment on the news that former LibDem and Labour Councillor Dr Ola had rejoined the Labour Party and was ready to pose for photos with his letter from Tony Blair welcoming him.
A couple of phone calls later, but sadly after the newspaper had gone to print, I was delighted to be able to confirm that Dr Ola would NOT be joining the party. In fact his application for membership had been rejected after representations were made by the local Camberwell and Peckham party. Dr Ola should now have received a letter informing him that his application had been rejected.
Dr Ola had lost any chance of joining the Party after he stood against Labour candidates in the local elections this year - and may well have cost us a seat in Chaucer ward where we came within 8 votes of winning.
But Dr Ola's ill-judged homophobic comments before the local elections also raised a serious question mark over whether he could truly be a member of the modern Labour Party. Whatever one may think of Tony Blair's government, I believe that its radical policies on equalities will be seen as one of its truly lasting legacies - and Dr Ola's comments before the local elections were clearly incompatible with the government's approach.
So I'm pleased to report that Labour remains a consistent and progressive party. I do get concerned that with the rantings of some local bloggers, residents might think that politics is only about personality. It is not and should not be. It's about policy and how policy can change people's lives.
Yesterday I was really inspired by Tony Blair's speech to the Progress conference. His analysis of Labour's need to identify the priorities for the next decade and offer policy positions to deal with those priorities is fundamental. I still think that the main opposition parties struggle to deal with the fact that we are approaching 2007 and not fighting the same battles as 1997. The Tories under David Cameron are working to identify the issues - but seem bereft of any policy response which takes heed of the fact that modern politics should be underpinned by social justice. And I simply do not know where the LibDems are. There seems to be some thinking about progressive taxation but they certainly do not seem to have identifed their political priorities or what they hope to achieve in response to those priorities.
Security and migration; pensions; democratic reform and the fact that everything we do in Britain is affected by and has repurcussions for our near and distant neighbours are some of the real challenges we face. I'm looking forward to the debate within Labour on these and many other policy issues in the months ahead!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A bit more about those ASBOs

Last night I chaired our local Neighbourhood Police Panel. The agenda covered a review of the priorities which the Panel had set for our local Safer Neighbourhood Team in July and which included tackling the continued anti-social behaviour on the East Dulwich Estate. The Police reported that since the identities of the four young men subject to ASBOs on the Estate had been revealed in the South London Press together with their photos and the terms of their ASBOs, a number of residents on the Estate had come forward to inform the Police of other breaches. These residents - who had been unaware of the ASBOs before the SLP published the details - were now willing to give statements to the Police.
I will resist the temptation to say "I told you so", but it does appear clear that the public response to so-called 'naming and shaming' has been positive and resulted in an increase in community involvement in enforcing the ASBOs on the Estate.
What was equally interesting was the reaction of the other local residents on the Panel last night to this news. Put simply they wanted to know why the Council was not telling the community when ASBOs had been obtained and what the terms of those ASBOs are?
I cannot offer any rational answer as the benefits of giving the public this information seem overwhelming. So perhaps it is time that the LibDem / Tory coalition in charge of Southwark sorted out its muddled thinking on this matter, stopped posturing and started valuing our residents more than their failed political dogma. Come on Cllr Stanton - you've lost the argument on this one!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Naming and Shaming" Debate

Last Friday the South London Press ('SLP') printed the names and photographs of the four young men who are subject to ASBOs on the East Dulwich Estate. The decision to publish the information together with details about the terms of the individual ASBOs appears to have been the result of the increasing concern which residents on the East Dulwich Estate have expressed about the failure of the Council and Police to enforce the terms of the ASBOs - and the fact that so many residents on the Estate were completely ignorant of the fact that any ASBOs had been obtained. I have previously called on the Council to keep the Estate's residents informed but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
The SLP's decision to publish the details on Friday gave me no pleasure - I believe that it is primarily the Council's role to keep local residents informed of issues concerning anti-social behaviour in their communities and that the local newspapers should not need to be used for these purposes. But I believe that my view as to the need to identify individuals subject to ASBOs and the terms of those orders is shared by the majority of people across Southwark and by the borough's Police Commander.
An idea persists that ASBOs and implementing them is in some way illiberal. I disagree compeletely with this argument as it simply places the rights and freedoms of those who are subject to ASBOs above the rights and freedoms of their victims and other affected residents. Society is not perfect and sadly there are occasions when some people fall into circumstances which cause them to be alienated from the mainstream. This alenation can manifest itself through criminal or anti-social behaviour. But would we be helping these people if we simply forgave them their behaviour and took no action or would we, in fact, be condemning them to an ever-increasing cycle of alienation? Whatever we may think at times we do have a developed and effective sytem for helping those in need in the UK, and this system of support and help - manifested in so many government and voluntary agencies - is there if people seek its assistance. Sometimes it can be the intervention of the Police and courts which connects people with the support systems they need. So if we accept that we do have an effective support system, we must also recognise that it is necessary to have a system for punishing wrong-doers and those who indulge in persistent anti-social behaviour. Crudely put, there can be no carrot without the stick!
We hear a lot of complaints about the illiberalism of this government - but people are rather more reluctant to praise the record investment which has been made in so many of the country's most deprived communities - including our own, and the genuinely positive effect which that investment is having.
In so many ways we live in more liberal times when genuine equality and equality of opportunity are cherished. Let's not forget that before condemning ASBOs too readily.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Goose Green - Public Consultation

In May this year Veronica and I conducted a survey of residents in South Camberwell who lived near Goose Green concerning some of the changes which had been made to the Green over the past 12 months. We used the results of that survey to draw the Council's attention to a number of issues which we believed required attention - such as the colour of some of the new railings and the dedicated 'dogs area'.
Now it seems that the Parks Department has used our survey as the basis for a wider public consultation - which has a closing date of 4th September!
So if you are interested in the future of Goose Green please take a few moments to complete the questionnaire and return it to
The picture shows Goose Green in about 1905.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Imperial Gardens - the Case Continues

Over the past 4 years Southwark Council has faced criticism and claims arising out of the closure of the Imperial Gardens night club in Camberwell New Road. Imperial Gardens was forced to close as a result of planning approval being given for a residential development on an adjacent site to be built by Fairview Homes. The owners of Imperial Gardens were not notified of the planning application submitted by Fairview Homes, and the existence of the club was not brought to the attention of the members of the Planning Committee considering Fairview's application - despite the fact that Imperial Gardens had planning and licensing applications pending with the Council for a number of years! The Local Government Ombudsman, the District Auditor, the Council's own Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Lord Ouseley have all considered the issues arising out of the case, and all found the Council to have failed the owners of Imperial Gardens in one way or another.
Raymond Stevenson and Lucia Hinton, the owners of Imperial Gardens, have now commenced a High Court action against the Council seeking damages. Given the numerous procedural failures by the Council which have been highlighted in this matter it would be surprising if the Council was not at severe risk on the issue of liability - but of course it would be wrong for me to pre-judge this claim!
However, the case of Imperial Gardens has been seized on by Mayor Ken Livingstone and many others as highlighting the failure of Southwark Council to treat all of the residents of the borough equally - and in particular treating our Black and Minority Ethnic communities in a discriminatory manner. Real damage has been done to the Council's image amongst these communities - who comprise about 40% of the borough's residents.
Over the past couple of years I have called for greater political leadership on this issue from the LibDems, but every time my calls have been ignored. So we are now at the stage where a protracted legal process seems inevitable - and the damage to the Council's image and relations with nearly half of the borough's residents is undermined.
It's never too late to take a lead on issues such as this - I just hope that someone in the current Tory/LibDem coalition finds the time to provide that leadership soon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A New Chief Executive for Southwark

Southwark Council's new Chief Executive will be formally starting work on the 1st of September but she is already working hard at getting to know the borough and the issues which it faces. Annie Shepperd has moved to Southwark after three years at Walsall MBC and has worked previously in Liverpool and Bath.
I know from conversations with her that Annie is particularly looking forward to tackling some of the major regeneration projects in the borough, particularly those at the Elephant and Castle and the Aylesbury Estate. In respect of both of these projects I know that the tenants and residents who will be most affected have felt disconnected from the decision-making process, with the council really failing to keep them informed of the latest news about the regeneration processes.
So whatever Annie Shepperd can do to improve these lines of communication will be welcomed by myself and my fellow Labour Councillors.
We certainly look forward to working with Annie over the years ahead.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Anti-Social Behaviour.

Local residents will know that the East Dulwich Estate is due to undergo major regeneration over the course of the next four years. This regeneration will be hugely welcome as it may help to deal with some of the social problems which have arisen on the Estate due to a lack of funding over many years.
One real problem at the moment is the anti-social behaviour of a group of youths on the Estate who are all subject to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders ('ASBOs'). Despite the fact that the youths are subject to the ASBOs with clear terms about what they are allowed to do and where they are allowed to go on the Estate I have received numerous complaints from residents that the ASBOs are being breached on a regular basis - and nothing is being done to take enforcement action. Part of the problem is that only a few residents know about the ASBOs or have any idea what the terms of the orders are.
During the course of the local elections the Labour Party in Southwark complained on many occasions that the LibDem administration running Southwark Council was 'soft on crime', and in particular failed to use all of the powers which are available to tackle anti-social behaviour. During a visit to Southwark in January the Prime Minister called on Southwark's LibDems to use the powers the government had given and in particular, to 'name and shame' those who were subject to ASBOs. The phrase 'name and shame' throws up all sorts of negative connotations about stigmatising young people, but what it really means is identifying to the local community the names of those who are subject to ASBOs and what the terms of their ASBOs are.
Each ASBO is different - and is aimed at tackling the the particular behaviour or problems which the recipient has been causing. In order to effectively enforce any ASBO I believe that the community has to know what the terms of the orders are - so that they can act as the eyes and ears for the authorities who ultimately should be enforcing the orders. Home Office guidance and the Courts support identification of those subject to ASBOs.
If the ASBOs against the youths on the East Dulwich Estate are to mean anything the local community must know about them and be able to work with the local neighbourhood Police Team and community wardens to enforce them. It is time for Southwark's LibDem/Tory coalition to wake up to the demands of the community and 'name and shame' those who are subject to ASBOs. If they do not I believe that the problems of anti-social and criminal behaviour on Southwark's estates will not really improve.

Welcome New Readers!

As I thumbed through South London Press this morning I was delighted to read an article called 'Blog is no slog' - all about local councillors who have blog sites. As one of those whose blog address is given in the article I have no doubt that I will be inundated with new readers over the coming few days (!) - so if you are visiting for the first time - WELCOME. Please do add your comments if you agree or disagree with anything in the blog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Camberwell Grove Part 2

Quite a few people have been in touch with me about the continued closure of Camberwell Grove. I am afraid that despite repeated calls by both Veronica Ward and myself to the Council and Network Rail I have received no update on when the bridge repairs will be carried out and the road re-opened. So the news is there is no news!
Veronica and I are continuing to chase this matter and I will post further news, if and when I get any!

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Comment on the Lebanon

It will be extremely rare for me to use this blog to comment on international events, but together with so many others, I have been deeply moved by the tragic conflict which is once again befalling Lebanon. Although I do not think that all of the World's ills will be solved by achieving peace in this part of the Middle East, it would certainly remove many of the causes of grievance which fuel the terrorism and strife which have blighted this area for more than 50 years.
Some people argue that on too many occasions powerful Western governments have turned a blind eye to the problems of southern Lebanon, and this has been the case once again over the past two weeks. After 10 years of careful and tentative physical and political reconstruction the Lebanon is once again thrown back into a state of near-chaos. Friends who have visited Beirut over the past couple of years have commented on the vibrancy and excitement of this international city - regaining the reputation and infrastructure it had previously enjoyed.
There is a view that the recent Israeli action was disproportionate. Hezbollah have no doubt been a cause of provocation and danger to northern Israel, the long term interests of the Israeli people cannot have been well served by destabilising the Lebanese Government and strengthening the hands of Syria and Iran in the region. The loss of innocent life on all sides cannot be written off as just another one of those things that happens in the Middle East. It has been deliberate and painful, and utterly unnecessary.
Perhaps this crisis simply highlights the perceived failure of the United Nations to be regarded as having any real significance over the past fortnight. Strong and early intervention by the United Nations may have averted this crisis - but as an international body it currently lacks real credibility and will only ever be regarded as the World's policeman in future if ALL member countries support it at ALL times. The UN should not be used time and again simply to pick up the pieces after one country has acted unilaterally against another. We are constantly being told that we live in an increasingly inter-dependent World, yet at the same time some nations continue to act alone and without regard to their neighbours or to the wider effects which their actions will have. So now more than ever there must be a strategic role for the UN to play in averting conflict and crisis; to ensure that governments do not go to war without first using every possible opportunity for finding a peaceful solution.
Maybe it is also time for the US government to show some greater leadership on foreign affairs. Even the most objective assessment of recent performance would suggest that the Bush Administration does not have all the answers to some of the World's more intractable problems. So at the start of this crisis the US should have given the UN its full support in brokering a ceasefire and a resolution of this conflict. Unless the US government does begin to act in this way there will be no incentive for other nations to treat the UN or its edicts seriously.
If the Lebanese Government is unable to regulate the actions of Hezbollah they should be offered help to do so. If the Israeli Government is concerned that its northern borders are not secure, they should be offered help to strengthen those borders. But neither Hezbollah nor Israel should think that they can obliterate the other. I just hope that it does not take the loss of many more lives for that lesson to be learned.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Train Route Saved!

Great news for residents of South Camberwell who use Denmark Hill station! Word reaches me that our campaign to save the London Bridge to Victoria route has been succesful and plans to divert the trains to Clapham Junction or Battersea Park have been dropped by Network Rail. This was an issue which was picked up by former councillor Patrick Kelly who alerted Veronica and I to these proposals when he was reading a railway trade journal. Once we were alerted Veronica and I launched a petition and enlisted the support of Val Shawcross and Harriet Harman MP.
Although some other political parties joined in the campaign I can genuinely say that this was a Labour campaign!. Of course, we share the credit for its success with the hundreds of people who signed our petition and e-mailed Network Rail during the consultation period.
The formal announcement about this will not be made until August, but I have it on very good authority that the line has been saved and that it was due to our campaign! Who says you can't achieve anything in politics!

Southwark Race Equalities Council

After the local elections my main concern was that a LibDem Tory coalition would have little regard for the centre of the borough - where they have no councillors and little electoral support. Of course it is also right that Camberwell and Peckham has the highest concentration of black and minority ethnic ('BME') residents in the borough, and it is often difficult for their voice to be heard - as we have seen over the past 4 years. So I was truly amazed to find that the Tory/LibDem Executive in Southwark had failed to nominate Labour's Cllr Tayo Situ onto the board of Southwark Race Equalities Council, but had instead nominated two LibDems from Bermondsey and a Tory from Dulwich. In their amazing defence of this decision, the LibDems claim their discrimination is justified on the basis of Cllr Situ's record of attendance at SREC meetings over the past 12 months. Forget the fact that Labour polled the highest number of votes in the local elections, has the highest proportion of BME councillors, and represents the greatest number of BME voters in the borough or that Cllr Situ is an influential voice in the BME community.
I think what shocks me most about this sort of decision is the arrogance and lack of sensitivity it demonstrates. Cllr Stanton could not be bothered to attend a public meeting organised by Operation Black Vote before the elections because he had another important appointment - canvassing in Brunswick Park ward! So the LibDems have a record on this sort of insensitive behaviour.
I am relieved that the Tories have seen sense and offered their place to Cllr Situ. But the shameful decision to exclude Labour's representatives from SREC should never have been taken in the first place.
The message really needs to sink in to the current administration - no one voted for a Tory / LibDem coalition and you have no mandate to do as you please. And the borough of Southwark certainly cannot afford a further deterioration in relations between the council and the BME community which we witnessed under the last 4 years of LibDem rule.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Local Government Association Conference

This week I have been beside the seaside in Bournemouth at the Local Government Association ('LGA') conference. The LGA is the voice of all councillors in local government and is currently chaired by a Conservative, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, as the Conservatives have the greatest number of councillors in England and Wales. I suppose that the theme of the week has been climate change, as it featured heavily in speeches by David Milliband - the Environment Secretary, and David "Dave" Cameron.
There really is a momentum behind this issue now, and after several years of rising to the top of political debate and then falling to one side I do believe that it will be an issue right through until the next general election. It is encouraging that so many politicians across the political spectrum are talking about this issue, and largely with a united voice on how urgent the need is to tackle climate change.
As was stressed at last week's Southwark Climate Change conference organised by Harriet Harman, every year which passes without radical action being taken makes the remedial action even harder. So I do hope that the political words will result in real political action in the near future.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Former Councillor Bowman

Until May 4th this year Cathy Bowman was the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader of Southwark Council with particular responsibility for the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle. This is a £1.5 billion regeneration scheme which will be vitally important to Southwark and the whole of South East London.
Cathy Bowman was defeated in the local elections, but within weeks she had been employed by a lobbying firm called Media Strategy with particular responsibility for a consortium called Oceancrest - one of the three bidders for the Elephant and Castle regeneration!
To move within days from being the person responsible for making decisions about the future of the E&C to being a person lobbying to influence decisions about the E&C is amazing - and does raise serious questions. Does she have insider knowledge which will improperly assist Oceancrest? Presumably Oceancrest think they are getting some advantage over their competitors by employing Cathy Bowman - what is that advantage?
If a Cabinet minister had been involved in a similar change of roles there would rightly be a public outcry over sleaze. Fortunately, it could not happen because of the provisions of the Ministerial Code. Perhaps the case of former Cllr Bowman shows how such a similar provision is desperately needed for local government.

Climate Change Summit for Southwark

Harriet Harman MP is hosting a Southwark-wide conference on Climate Change today at the GLA building. There is much more that can be done at every level of government to tackle this vital issue, so this conference is hugely welcome as it will bring together many people with knowledge about climate change and the power to do something about it. I believe that there is a lot more that can be done at the council level to improve our energy efficiency, particularly in Southwark. With huge regeneration projects being undertaken across the borough it will be important for these projects to lead the way on energy efficient build and design. Developers should be placed under an obligation to deliver schemes with renewable energy built in.
As the largest landlord in London the Council could also lead the way on renewable energy and energy efficiency in both council buildings and council housing. But at the present time there seems to be a reluctance to really explore the benefits of alternative energy sources or combined heat and power schemes on the grounds of cost. The issue really is whether we can afford not to take these measures. So I hope that today's conference leads to some positive and measurable results for the borough.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Camberwell Community Council

The first meeting of Camberwell Community Council since the local elections took place last night at the Camberwell Leisure Centre. The meeting was very well attended and was the first since Cllr Ian Wingfield became Chair. Ben Rose led a deputation of residents from Champion Grove and Maldon Close who are anxious to have their area declared a 'Home Zone' - where pedestrians and residents have priority over vehicles and all other traffic. The two roads are perfect for such a scheme but the current problem is a total lack of availability of funding to implement the scheme either from Southwark Council or Transport for London. Veronica and I will continue to work with Ben and the residents to try and progress the scheme as quickly as possible.
The Community Council meeting suffered from some of the same structural weaknesses which we have experienced since they were established - there was too much business on the agenda including too many presentations from officers! During the 'breakout' session which we conducted many residents said that they felt that the meetings are still conducted on a 'them' and 'us' basis - with a clear division between the councillors and the community. We do need to work harder to make sure that these meetings really do feel like community meetings and that the agenda is driven by the community and not simply by councillors or council officers.
In any event the next meeting takes place on the 27th July at Camberwell Leisure Centre. Although they are not perfect they are still a good forum for local residents so I do urge people to come along!

Monday, June 19, 2006

South Camberwell Police Panel etc.

Last Wednesday the South Camberwell Safer Neighbourhood Police team held a meeting in the boardroom of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club to launch the local ward panel. Every ward in London now has a Safer Neighbourhood Team of a Police Sergeant, two Constables and two PCSOs with funding provided from Mayor Livingstone's budget, and each of those Teams will be answerable to a panel of local people who will help to set and monitor the team's priorities during the course of the year.
The meeting was well attended and the next meeting has been set for July 18th when a constitution will be adopted for the panel and officers elected. You can find out details of the South Camberwell Team by going to the Met Police Site. Sgt Smith told the meeting that it was hoped to find an office in the ward within the next few months - which will really bring policing back into our community.
A reader has complained that I haven't mentioned the World Cup! As I think about it I've realised that my complete lack of tactical insight into the England team's approach to the tournament makes me perfectly qualified to feature on the sports pages of the national newspapers! Anyway, I'm cheering our brave lads on and hoping, but not expecting, eventual victory!
And by the way I should make it clear that I won't be commenting on Big Brother - although I did share in the nation's joy at Grace's eviction!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

That Block on Dog Kennel Hill!

Southwark's Planning Committee met last night to consider a report on the block of flats which is being built on Dog Kennel Hill above Sainsburys and the Adventure Playground. The Report was extremely critical of the way in which the decision to grant planning permission for the block came about, saying that the reasons behind officer's support for the application was 'unconvincing' and that there had been clear breaches of the Council's own policies. One of the breaches concerned the amount of money which the developer was required to pay to the Council as a Section 106 payment or 'planning gain' towards building affordable housing in the borough. The Council's mistake means that the developer is paying over £100,000 less than they should be!!
The contextual drawings which were relied upon by developers in an application to the Council were misleading - showing the block as being only slightly higher than the existing houses on DKH, when in fact the drawing should have shown the block as nearly twice the height of the houses.
The Committee dealt with the Report extremely thoroughly, and the Chair, Cllr James Gurling added a recommendation that the complaints which had given rise to the Report should be taken further in order that the issue of compensation for the residents of Birdsall House might be considered. It is clear that the Planning Department is anxious that lessons are learned from this episode.
But at the end of the day the Report cannot remove the building - which is inappropriate for its position on Dog Kennel Hill, and which sets a terrible precedent for other developers anxious to cash in on this prime area in Southwark. I am afraid that this really might be an example of developers getting rich whilst the residents of South Camberwell suffer.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Camberwell Grove

Last Thursday evening Camberwell Grove was closed aprroximately half way up - and has remained closed since. Apparently Network Rail discovered cracking in the cast iron bridge main structural support which runs beneath the road at that point, which risked collapsing! Having made this discovery Network Rail asked the Police to exercise their emergency powers to shut the road, and this was done. At the present time I am told by officers at Southwark Council that Network Rail have given no indication how long this closure may last. I should stress that this road closure has nothing to do with any longer term plans for Camberwell Grove and traffic management on the road - and is purely an emergency measure.
There will be some planned works to the footways in Camberwell Grove beginning this week, which will be caried out by the council.
If you would like any further information about the works please contact Network Rail on 020 7922 2100

Friday, June 02, 2006

Was it something I said?!

I seem to have ruffled some Tory feathers by my last post! So for the sake of absolute accuracy and fairness I should point out that Cllr Humphrey's unfeasibly large desk is, in fact, the official desk of the Deputy Leader. So there we are! I hope that's all cleared up. It does seem somehow appropriate that at the present time the Deputy Leader's desk should be twice the size of the Leaders!
Concern also about the changes to the Council's constitution with regard to disposals of metropolitan open land. I will keep readers updated on what steps can be taken to challenge this as it has the potential to affect some very important green spaces in the borough such as Burgess Park and Greendale.
The East Dulwich Estate Project Team met last week and discussed the revised timetable for the works on the Estate. The timetable now shows that works will not begin until the 4th of May 2007! This is a real delay on the previous estimated start date of November 2006. Veronica and I will be working with the Project Team to ensure that there is no further slippage in this timetable.
The Project Team also supported a decision to build new homes on parts of the Estate which are currently open spaces. These new builds are necessary to make the financing of the regeneration possible, although I do have some reservations about the location of these 'new builds' and the extent to which they might encroach on those open spaces.
You can find out more about the work of the Project Team by going to the EDERPT site
This weekend Veronica and I will be out in the ward with our colleagues from the Labour Party distributing a 'Thank You' leaflet which will include details of our first few Mobile Surgeries. Do say 'hello' if you see us!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

That Tory/LibDem Coalition!

Well last night saw the first meeting of Council Assembly under the new Tory/LibDem coalition. And yes, the Tory Leader did look as smug as we had all expected! Although we knew about the coalition, there was something surreal in seeing Cllrs Humphreys and Eckersley on the front bench, being warmly welcomed by a 'delighted' Cllr Stanton!
But the evening's surprises did not end there. The first act of the new coalition was to cancel one of the scheduled Council Assembly meetings - due to take place in October. Council Assembly is the one occasion when we as an opposition, and members of the public, have an opportunity to hold the ruling Executive to account. Clearly the new Executive is not keen on this idea!
Virtually the next act was for the Tories and LibDems to vote to change the council constitution to ensure that any decision about the sale or change of use of metropolitan open land ('MOL') should be removed from Council Assembly and should be taken by the 10 members of the Executive instead! At a time when our green space should be valued more than ever, it seems incredible that the Tories and Liberals waved through a measure which ensured that the 53 other councillors in the borough should not have a say in what happens to that green space.
And the final surprise of the evening was Cllr Stanton's revelation that it was time for Southwark to build a new Town Hall! There are lots of priorities in our borough, but a new Town Hall at a cost of at least £50 million is not one of them! I expect that there will be an interesting debate on this issue over the coming months.
I had anticipated that the Tories might not be so keen on this idea - but it seems that office accommodation is one of their top priorities. Hard-working officers from the Council's Scrutinty Department have been thrown out of their offices on the 3rd floor at the Town Hall to make way for Cllr Humphrey's unfeasibly large desk! Oh yes, and there is just about room for the other 5 Tory councillors in their extensive suite!
Back to local South Camberwell issues in my next post with news about the new timetable for works on the East Dulwich Estate.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Week So Far!

As the Bank holiday weekend approaches I thought it would be good to review the week so far, and in particular the Constitutional Council on Wednesday night when Southwark's Mayor for the forthcoming municipal year was elected. In the event Cllr Paul Kyriacou was elected - a Liberal Democrat councillor somewhere in Bermondsey.
Labour nominated Cllr Lorraine Lauder MBE, one of the councillor's for Faraday Ward, which covers the Aylesbury Estate and the surrounding streets. Lorraine has been an outstanding councillor and has worked for her community over many years. For example, for the past 36 years Lorraine has not spent a single Christmas Day at home but has given up her time to help organise celebrations for 500 Southwark pensioners at Dulwich College with the Peoples Care charity - people who would otherwise be on their own at Christmas. What amazing commitment to the people of this borough!

Anyway, despite Lorraine's impeccable record and her service to Southwark as Deputy Mayor over the past 12 months, the deal between the 6 Tories and the Liberal Democrats meant that Lorraine was passed over. Perhaps just one early example of the way in which this unhappy alliance will deprive Southwark of the best over the coming 4 years?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bellenden Residents and DKH

Saturday was spent visiting two local groups and the shopkeepers in Crossthwaite Avenue. The Bellenden Residents Group ('BRG') covers an area crossing between South Camberwell and The Lane wards and is organised by Eileen Conn. On Saturday all the newly elected councillors for the wards were invited to attend the BRG at the Coplestone Centre and introduce themselves. It was great that all councillors attended including myself and Veronica Ward from South Camberwell, together with Mark Glover, Susan Elan Jones and Gordon Nardell from The Lane. It looks as if one of the major issues that the BRG will be concerned with is the proposed new tram depot for Peckham. There is a real fear that the depot may disturb the sympathetic regeneration of Peckham town centre and cause the loss of some newly built and proposed social housing. The alternative appears to be to site the depot at Kings Cross. More to come on this topic no doubt!
From BRG Veronica and I visited the Dog Kennel Hill Park Fun Day. Some dedicated local volunteers are working very hard to preserve the various characteristics of this area, which also appears to be threatened by the current proposals for the redevelopment of Greendale Playing Fields. I am sure that a solution can be found to this - but only if Southwark Council starts listening to local people! Some of the work done can be found at
Finally we visited Crossthwaite Avenue which has a parade of shops which are under serious threat from hugely increased rents set by the Council. The shops are a vital local amenity and unless the council's property department has an injection of reality, the shopkeepers will simply shut up and move out, leaving residents without a post office, newsagents, chemist, dry cleaners etc. Veronica and I will be meeting with the shopkeepers over the next couple of weeks to try and help them.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lambeth & Southwark Housing Association

Yesterday I chaired a meeting of the Lambeth & Southwark Housing Association ('LSHA'), a fairly small association which has about 250 properties across both boroughs. We are shortly to take possession of 13 flats in Steedman Street, which form part of the first phase of the regeneration of the Elephant & Castle. Some of the tenants who are due to be decanted from the Heygate Estate will be moving into the flats over the next few months.

Sometimes I think that housing associations get a bad press, but given the membership and commitment of LSHA's management board and staff I believe that we provide a really good service to our tenants. Small is beautiful?!

With all the development opportunities coming up over the next few years in Lambeth and Southwark I hope that we will be able to acquire more properties and continue to provide a similarly high level of service.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Last Night's Meeting

Last night's East Dulwich Estate Project Team AGM was quorate - but still only about 20 residents out of perhaps 700 from the Estate came along. I am sure that this does reflect some of the scepticism which exists about whether any progress will ever be made on the regeneration. On more than one occasion residents commented that they 'had heard this all before' when officers began setting out proposals and details of what works would be occurring and when. Next week's regular Project Team meeting will be crucial - as officers present last night promised to have available a full timetable and details of works. I think there will be justified uproar if that information is not provided. Stephen Govier was elected as Chair of the Project Team for the year ahead. I am sure that he will ensure that council officers are reminded of the urgency of this project, and Veronica and I are looking forward to working with him.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Comment on the Elections!

It would be wrong to start my blog without some discussion of the recent local election results. Overall Labour in Southwark did incredibly well. In the face of a poor night for Labour across London and nationally we increased our share of the vote to 40% and saw the Lib Dems collapse to just 33%. On the popular vote we achieved 11,500 more votes than them and took seats in previously the Liberal heartland of East Walworth. Sadly our significant majority in the popular vote did not translate into council seats and a stalemate of 28 seats each was the result, with the Tories collecting 6 and the Greens pinching a seat in my own ward.
It now looks certain that the Tories will form a coalition with the Liberals - in an arrangement reminiscent of the disastrous Lambeth coalition between 2002/06. With the Tories bagging the portfolios of Deputy Leader, Housing Management and Resources it really does look as if the Lib Dems have given up real power in Southwark for the sake of holding office. I have no doubt that the people who will suffer as a result of this arrangement over the next 4 years are those who continue to rely so heavily on council services, and who turned to Labour at this election.

East Dulwich Estate Project Team

Tonight the East Dulwich Estate Project Team will hold its AGM. A previous meeting was inquorate so it is hoped that enough residents will attend tonight to enable the meeting to take place. Frustration still remains high on the Estate as so many people are waiting for the long-planned regeneration to take place. Originally proposed in 1999, the regeneration project ran into objections from residents of the Estate as it involved demolition of up to 6 blocks. In 2004, after a long campaign, Southwark's Executive decided that the regeneration could proceed without demolitions and by an innovative use of void properties on the Estate for key worker affordable housing. However, over the past 18 months little progress appears to have been made on this proposal and long-promised repairs have not been carried out. Hopefully tonight's AGM will show that ther is some renewed urgency in the Council's atttiude to the scheme, following continued representations from Veronica and myself.

16th May 2006

Well at last I've decided to enter the blog age! Having seen the fantastic blog sites of some of my Labour colleagues on Southwark Council I thought that it was time to show that I could cope with this medium as well. I hope that I will be able to highlight issues of concern to residents of South Camberwell ward and keep people informed about some local campaigning issues. In the next few weeks I certainly hope to have some news on the future of the East Dulwich Estate, Greendale playing fields, Crossthwaite Avenue and threatened developments asound the St Francis Estate and Dog Kennel Hill. With my colleague Veronica Ward, I hope that we will be able to truly represent the interests of those who live in South Camberwell over the next 4 years.