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.