Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gloria Taylor's Funeral

I have just attended the funeral of Gloria Taylor. It was a poignant and moving service, especially seeing the faces of her husband Richard and her two surviving children. In every tribute that was paid to her the word "dignity" stood out.

There is no doubt that a part of Gloria died when Damilola was murdered, but her reaction to that terrible event did inspire many people and was a lesson in how we should find strength through adversity. How else to explain the presence of so many people today, from Harriet Harman to the Archbishop of York; Sir Trevor McDonald to Baroness Scotland; present and former Assistant Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, and the many many friends and family members whose lives Gloria had touched.

Harriet spoke and paid an eloquent tribute to Gloria during the service, concluding by saying how proud she and so many people were of Gloria and Richard.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sainsbury's and Abbotswood Road

Last night the Planning Committee met to consider an application by Sainsbury's for retrospective planning permission for changes it has made to its store on Dog Kennel Hill. There is no doubt that Sainsburys have acted very badly in respect of this matter - they were given planning permission in 2004 for a mainly glass extension to the store and built something completely different with timber cladding.

At the same time they changed the road layout into the store, which has caused huge problems for the residents of the St Francis Estate, who have found it nearly impossible to drive out of Abbotswood Road at times when the store has been particularly busy.

The proposals before the Planning Committee last night involved changing the current road layout to provide a mini roundabout; the installation of some glazing in place of the timber at the store front; and landscaping the car park to include a greater number of trees.

After two hours of presentations and debate; including submissions from local residents and my colleague Veronica Ward; concluding at 10.30pm the Committee voted to approve the plans, with a condition that the mini-roundabout should be trialled for a year to see if there is a genuine improvement for the residents of the St Francis Estate.

I still have some concerns about whether the mini-roundabout will be an effective solution for the traffic management problems, but I hope that it is some improvement. If the Committee had rejected the proposals last night local residents would have had to wait at least another year for alternative proposals to be implemented. So it was a case of the 'least worst' option going ahead. I hope that the works to install the mini-roundabout will begin soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nick Clegg was a Conservative!

I was intrigued to read this story from Greg Hands MP, particularly as Nick Clegg has denied having a Conservative past! But it seems that he did belong to the Cambridge University Conservative Association.

The more I see and hear about Nick Clegg the more I think that the LibDems have made a massive mistake in making him their Party Leader. After just two years in Parliament he simply does not have the experience and has not been tested. Being caught out lying on the issue of his political past must make his colleagues despair - but I suppose for the Southwark LibDems who are all too eager to be in coalition with the Tories it might be considered good news!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Camberwell Grove - Latest

I preface this entry by saying, "Don't blame me, I'm only the messenger". Or to be more precise, only the observer and correspondent with various council departments and local residents!

As residents of South Camberwell may have observed the works to limit traffic over the temporarily repaired railway bridge on Camberwell Grove are nearing completion. Two points of concern are the awful green railings installed in the middle of the road and the narrowness of the traffic lane.

On the first point I am hoping that the railings will be painted so that some attempt is made to blend them into the surroundings of the conservation area where they are located. I have been in touch with council officers and await a response! The whole installation of traffic lights, concrete blocks and railings looks like an exhibit for a road furtniture company rather than a sensible traffic 'solution'.

And despite the fact that we were told that traffic had to be able to turn from McNeill Road south into Camberwell Grove, I am not sure how many cars will be able to make that turn and pass safely through the incredibly narrow lane now permitted for cars and vans. The lane looks incredibly narrow now that it has been installed and I am sure that there will be many bumps and scrapes when the road reopens as unwitting drivers try to squeeze through! All of which is no bad thing for those residents who wanted to keep the road closed or who hoped for a more inventive use of the road when it was re-opened. But I anticipate that residents of nearby roads will not see the huge reductions of traffic that they were hoping for.

Boris Johnson on East Dulwich Estate - "Who would want to live here?"

Apparently the Tory Mayoral candidate visited the East Dulwich Estate on Dog Kennel Hill on Saturday morning. After looking around the Estate at some of the brilliant work being undertaken by residents at the Albrighton Centre, and visiting some of the blocks which are being regenerated the bemused Boris was heard to comment "Who would want to live here?".

Well Boris, a lot of people have chosen to live and remain on the East Dulwich Estate because of its sense of community, and because of the possibilities which the physical regeneration work offers for improved living conditions.

His comment was an insult to the residents of the Estate, and demonstrates how this Henley Tory is not fit to be Mayor of London.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gloria Taylor

I was very sorry to learn this morning that Gloria Taylor, the mother of Damilola, had died suddenly last night.

Gloria and her husband Richard were guests of Southwark Labour Group at a fund-raising event for the Damilola Taylor Trust last November, where we raised £5,000 for the on-going work of the Trust.

She truly personified dignity and courage in the face of adversity and her work with the Damilola Taylor Trust means that she will leave a truly positive legacy for the people of Southwark.

Her death is a terrible blow for Richard and her family, and also for the many friends she had across the borough. The thoughts of myself and my colleagues are with Richard at this time.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Why does LibDem Caroline Pidgeon defend Boris Johnson?

Members of the public attending Wednesday's Council Assembly may have wondered who the front-bench Tory spokesperson was sitting next to Council Leader Nick Stanton. By her votes and interventions this councillor signalled her support for the Tory Mayoral candidate Boris Johnson and all things Conservative - even to the extent of defending his indefensible position in opposing the Kyoto Treaty on Climate change.

Who was this Tory Councillor? None other than a LibDem candidate for the GLA, and any other elected forum that will have her, Caroline Pidgeon.

It is admittedly confusing being a LibDem - as their Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick is finding out. How can he possibly remember what their policy is in Richmond when it is different in Camden or Lambeth? And why on earth should be know who Nick Stanton is when Nick is one of only three LibDem Council leaders in central London!

But such confusion doesn't seem to afflict Caroline Pidgeon. On Wednesday she made it absolutely clear that she supported Boris Johnson and all his barmy ideas. In fact I cannot think of an occasion since 2006 when Caroline hasn't voted at Council Assembly to support the Tory party.

Maybe Caroline has realised that the LibDem Party under yet another hapless new leader is going nowhere and is lining up to defect to the Conservatives. In any event, she clearly demonstrates that if you vote LibDem you get Tory!

Southwark Housing in Crisis

Southwark's Housing Department is in crisis. Only this week one of the most senior managers in the Department has resigned, leaving the dangerous wreckage from the latest 're-structuring' in an even more perilous position.

So it was appropriate that Labour brought a motion to Council Assembly on Wednesday calling on Cllr Kim Humphreys; the Dulwich Tory in charge of Southwark's housing; to resign. A superb speech from Labour's Paul Bates left the Administration reeling as he catalogued Cllr Humphrey's failures - from the latest disastrous restructuring, which has seen the Council sack experienced staff only to rehire them as agency workers at twice the cost to the Council Tax payer; via the £300 million 'black hole' in housing repairs; to the recent judgement from the Audit Commission that our Housing Management system is failing and worthy of only one star out of four.

Only Council Leader Stanton and Tory Chief Whip Lewis Robinson were prepared to speak in defence of Cllr Humphreys, and in the case of Cllr Robinson it was clear that he was 'only obeying orders' as he put up a rather perfunctory defence of his boss.

In typical weak fashion not a single Liberal Democrat councillor got up to raise a single concern about the state of the housing department. It really is pathetic when a political group sells out so completely and utterly that they are unable to speak against their political opponents; in this case the Tories; for fear that they might lose one of their Special Responsibility Allowances. It really is the case that the LibDems no longer represent the interests of their constituents, but only represent the interests of themselves and their Tory mates.

But I suppose that so long as they can keep pocketing their cash why should they care if half of the borough's residents are left with a housing service which is in chaos? Who cares anyway? Well, myself and my Labour Group colleagues certainly do, and we will keep doing so until Southwark's tenants and leaseholders have the efficient and reliable service which they deserve.

Who needs democratic debate?

The Tory/LibDem administration pressed ahead with plans at Wednesday's Council Assembly to combine the Mayor-Making Ceremony with the annual Constitutional Council, and in doing so severely restricted the opportunity which opposition councillors will have to challenge proposed changes to the borough's Constitution. Until this year these two meetings of the Council have been separate, and for good reason. The Mayor-Making meeting; although controversial last year; is usually a meeting to celebrate the borough's first citizen and an opportunity for the new Mayor and their family and friends to enjoy the prestigious appointment.

In contrast, Constitutional Council concerns itself with the election of the Leader and the Executive, the appointment of numerous committees, elections for Community Council Chairs, and any proposed changes to the Council's constitution. I have never known a Constitutional Council take less than three hours - and often it has taken far longer. In recent years we have had to try and resist the Tory/LibDem plans to remove the rights of the public to bring deputations to meetings; the limiting of our oppotunity to ask the Executive questions, and a restriction on the length of council meetings. All of these changes have eroded the opportunity which we have had to hold the Executive to account.

It is now proposed that Mayor-Making and Constitutional Council combined should take no longer than three hours. This will have a damaging effect on both meetings. A Labour amendment to provide that Constitutional Council should have a clear three hour 'slot' was defeated by an Administration which appears increasingly frightened of facing its growing number of critics. More and more they are beginning to resemble a Soviet Politburo from the 1980's - waxen faced; fawning to the leadership and increasingly desperate to hold onto their positions whilst their Empire crumbles around them!

So another blow to democracy in Southwark, from unreconstructed Thatcherites and a party which laughably calls itself 'democratic'!