Monday, October 15, 2012

Councillor Helen Morrissey

My friend and colleague, Cllr Helen Morrissey, one of the councillors for East Walworth ward since May 2010, died on Friday night after battling cancer over the past year.

Helen had been Chief Whip of the Labour Group since May 2011 and was the first woman to hold that post for at least 20 years.  She brought great humour and firmness to the role - she loved being involved in the politics and machinery of the council's decision-making process.

Helen stood unsuccessfully for election to the council in 2006 in East Dulwich ward.  She was disappointed not to have been elected in her home ward at that time, but threw herself with even greater commitment into the campaign in East Walworth in 2010 with her colleagues Martin Seaton and Darren Merrill.  The look of joy on her face when she won her seat was only surpassed by the absolute pride she felt in being a Southwark councillor.  She really believed in the importance and value of local government, and particularly in what Labour is delivering in Southwark.

Helen had suffered with an arthritic condition for many years, which sometimes meant that she was slower getting around.  But she always used this to her advantage - relishing the fact that some people underestimated her political acumen.  She was also a great cat lover - having given a home to many cats during her life.

She was a very funny person and could dissect a person or an argument with a real but warm wit.  Helen was liked and respected by people right across the political spectrum.  If she gave you her word it would always be kept.

Helen was absolutely committed to equalities and argued strongly for the rights of all those who were from a minority group or suffered with a disability.

She will be greatly missed by me and all of her colleagues in Southwark Labour.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Social Housing at Elephant & Castle

The master plan for the regeneration of the Heygate Estate site at Elephant and Castle has now been submitted by our development partners and will be decided by the Planning Committee in December.  The application includes a commitment to provide at least 25% affordable housing across the site - made up of 50% social rented housing and 50% shared ownership.

The commitment to 25% affordable housing reflects the agreement which we reached with Lend Lease in July 2010 after we had won the local elections that year.  Until that point the agreement between the council and Lend Lease included no minimum guarantee of affordable housing, it having been decided by the previous Lib Dem administration that this would be dealt with through the usual planning process.  Since July 2010 we have been criticised heavily by the Lib Dems in Southwark for getting the 25% guarantee and foregoing some previoulsy guaranteed payments from Lend Lease in return.

Southwark Council planning policy still requires 35% affordable housing to be delivered in large housing developments; but several factors have affected the ability of developers right across London and the UK to deliver this sort of level of affordable housing in projects.  Those factors include the economic slump since 2008 and the decision by the Tory/LibDem government to slash support for social home building.  Until May 2010 every social housing unit built attracted government support of around £120,000; that figure has now been reduced to just £25,000.  Both of these factors have impacted on the economic viability of major house-building projects.  As we have seen from recent government announcements, they are now proposing that developers can go back to local authorities to reduce the requirement for social housing in certain projects to zero.

Looking around London we can see the same impact.  At Battersea Power Station Wandsworth Council has agreed to just 15% of affordable housing in a major regeneration scheme; in Tower Hamlets the Council has agreed to 18% affordable housing at Wood Wharf; and at Earls Court Kensington and Chelsea have agreed to no affordable housing in the second phase of a major regeneration scheme.  All these councils want to see regeneration happen in their boroughs, but have been forced to accept hugely reduced levels of affordable housing after developers and their own planners have calculated the amount of affordable housing which is actually viable in those schemes.

All planning applications undergo an independently verified viability test which determines the level of affordable housing which can be delivered on a scheme.  In Southwark that test has been carried out in respect of the Heygate site and demonstrates that the amount of affordable housing which can be delivered is in the region of just 7% to 8%.  This is the amount of affordable housing which would have been delivered through the usual planning process - the approach which the Lib Dems were taking when they were in power and which they still urge us to take!  This means the difference between approximately 620 affordable homes which will be delivered under the 25% guarantee which Southwark Labour negotiated in July 2010 and less than 250 through the Lib Dem approach.

What is more we have also negotiated relatively low rent rates for the new social housing which will be delivered.  The Coalition - supported by local Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes - introduced "affordable rents" in 2010 - which for many are anything but affordable - but which enable housing associations and other social landlords to charge up to 80% of local market rent rates for social housing which they let.  Many housing associations have adopted this level of rent and on average most have set their new rent levels at between 65% and 75% of market rates.  In comparison the rent for a council home equates to approximately 35% of market rates.

At the Heygate site we have negotiated that rents for 1 and 2 bed homes will be no more than 50% of market rates and for homes of 3 bedrooms or more the rent will effectively be the same as council rent rates.  This means that there will be a genuinely mixed income community living in the new homes that will be built at the Heygate site.

I hope that the economic climate will improve to such an extent that later detailed planning applications for the Heygate site will mean that more than 25% affordable housing can be delivered.  But it is clear that there is a long way to go to lift the scheme above that point given that we have a starting point of only 8% on planning viability tests.

And it is also clear that simply standing on the sidelines demanding 35% or more affordable housing is utterly unrealistic.  The only reason we are going to achieve 25% affordable housing at this time is because Lend Lease have a cast iron contractual obligation - negotiated by us in July 2010 - to deliver that much.

So this is no "sell out" by the Council for the regeneration of the Elephant.  This is not the Council being weak in the face of a large developer.  It clearly shows that the Council under this Labour administration has been strong and it has been right.  I am genuinely appalled when I imagine what situation we might be facing if the Lib Dems had remained in power in 2010 - or if they were in charge now.  We would either have a tiny level of affordable housing at the Elephant & Castle or we would once again be mired in the dither and delay which was the hallmark of their entire approach to large regeneration schemes - unwilling or unable to make a decision.

Southwark's Labour administration is determined to deliver on the regeneration of the Elephant & Castle; to deliver on a scheme which has been discussed since 1998 and which the people of Walworth deserve to achieve the renewal of their area.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Olympic Victory Parade - Why isn't it coming South?

Team GB will celebrate its' success at the Olympics and Paralympics with a parade through the streets of London on September 10th.  It should be a magnificent occasion, and give many Londoners an opportunity to congratulate the stars of London 2012.

When I first heard about the Olympic Parade on the 8th of August I asked the Mayor of London and others to ensure that the route reflected the wonderful legacy of the games by bringing it south of the river.  The traditional route for parades of all kinds seems to be to and from Westminster and the City of London.  That's great, and reflects the history of our city.

But if London 2012 has demonstrated anything it is that London has changed and is changing.  The regeneration of East London will be one of the lasting impacts of these Olympics and Paralympics - a whole new and exciting part of our capital city is emerging.  And some of the most iconic images of this Summer have come from the south of the river, where another new part of London is being delivered.

From Tower Bridge and Potters Fields - the only Olympic and Paralympic Live Site - to City Hall, the Shard, The Globe, Tate Modern and the London Eye - we now look south of the river for some of the most iconic sites and sights of modern London.  Even cab drivers no longer see anything south of the Thames as a "no go" area!

So the Olympic Victory Parade should have celebrated the new London as much as the historic parts of our great city.  An imaginative route could have passed over either Tower Bridge or London Bridge and crossed back over Southwark, Blackfriars or Waterloo bridges to bring the celebration to all Londoners and underline that these Olympics and Paralympics are about that new regenerated London which was the essence of the successful bid in Singapore in 2005.

I am disappointed that the Mayor of London has not shown imagination and leadership on this issue.  It would have been a wonderful and fitting opportunity for our Olympic heroes to be honoured by Londoners on both banks of the Thames.

It's not too late for the "powers that be" to change the route.  They should do so and demonstrate that they are in-touch with modern London.

But whether the route is changed or not, September 10th will be an amazing celebration of the dedication and achievement of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes.  South London will salute them - even if we've got to cross the river to do so!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Policy Exchange on Council Housing

The right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange, has published a report today entitled "Ending Expensive Social Tenancies".  It is an unfortunate title for a paper which raises some interesting questions which we have to grapple with in Southwark.

Firstly, the blanket policy proposed by the paper of selling-off all council properties above a certain value is flawed and would undoubtedly lead to the removal of genuinely affordable social housing from certain areas.

But the concept of making sure that your assets are used well to ensure that you are tackling the serious problem of a shortage of affordable council housing is worthy of consideration.  It is one of the motivations which lies behind our proposal of accepting "in lieu" payments from developers rather than requiring them to deliver on-site "affordable housing" where that "affordable housing" is anything but.  On one site in the north of Southwark a person would have had to be earning in the region of £80,000 to be able to afford the payments on the affordable housing which would have been delivered under the scheme.  We think it is better to take a payment from that developer - equivalent to over £100,000 per habitable room that they should have delivered - so that we can build genuinely affordable council housing with rents closer to £100 per week.

The fund of £100 million that this will generate will deliver 1000 new council homes in Southwark - more than have been built in all of London in the last 10 years.

We have also been criticised for selling council properties where the cost of refurbishing that property for future tenants is uneconomic.  This probably comes closest to the Policy Exchange proposal, but is very different from it and is really no more than a pragmatic way of partly funding our Warm, Dry and Sage 'decent homes' programme.  We are committed to investing £326 million in our council housing between now and 2016 - the largest programme of any social housing landlord in the country.  But we cannot pay for that just by hoping that it will be paid for!  So where the proper opportunity arises we have agreed to sell some more expensive council properties in order to partly fund those works.

Housing stock should not be static or preserved in aspic for eternity; it needs to be dynamic and responsive to the needs of the changing community it serves.  Over 40% of all new housing built in Southwark in the past 2 years has been affordable housing.  This reflects the growing demand we face in the borough - with 20,000 people waiting for a council home - but also underlines our commitment to ensuring that we have genuinely mixed communities across Southwark.

This is where the Policy Exchange approach goes horribly wrong.  You do not need to choose between purely private or purely social housing in an area - you can have both.  But you have to be imaginative and properly use your resources.  We might not have affordable housing within certain premium developments in the north of the borough, but we will have new genuinely affordable council housing just a short distance away.

For 8 years when they ran Southwark Council Simon Hughes and his local Lib Dem councillors fretted and moaned about council housing in Southwark.  They had no idea how they were going to fund 'decent homes' works; they had no timetable for doing those works; and delivered no new council housing for Southwark.  I am proud that Labour in Southwark has a fully funded and timetabled programme to bring all our council housing up to an acceptable standard by 2016; I am proud that we are thinking about the long-term with our Housing Commission which is looking at how we retain and maintain our council housing for the next 25 years after 2016, and I am proud of our commitment to build 1000 new council homes.

Being in government, whether local or national, is about taking decisions, showing leadership and solving problems.  It is too easy to sit on the sidelines like Simon Hughes and pretend that you are in opposition when you are in government; pretend you are providing leadership when you are providing none; and criticise those who provide the leadership and take the decisions which you are incapable of providing and taking.

Southwark is an exciting and optimistic borough; where our housing problems provide as many opportunities as challenges.  Whilst Policy Exchange's solution isn't right for Southwark, it places the focus back on the future of council housing and building new homes for people who need them at rents they can afford.  The debate it has provoked is needed now more than ever.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Southwark's Olympic Legacy

When Labour won the local elections in May 2010 we were determined that Southwark should have an enduring Olympic legacy after the 2012 games.  The previous Lib Dem / Tory administration had taken an approach of grudging indifference to the Olympics, and seemed to be of the opinion that the games would be an expensive regeneration exercise for East London which had nothing to do with Southwark.  They even asked questions in Council Assembly about how difficult it would be for a resident of Peckham to get to the Olympic Park compared to someone travelling from Paris.

As we have seen after the last two weeks of sporting excitement such a grudging approach was absolutely wrong.  Many Southwark residents attended the Olympic venues and countless others have enjoyed the big screen at Potters Field next to Tower Bridge, or many of the other Olympic activities which have been taking place across the borough.

And when the Olympic torch passed through Southwark on the 26th of July 161,000 people - more than half the population of the borough - turned out to cheer it on.

At the end of 2011 we announced the ten projects which will each share in the £2 million of capital investment to leave improved sports facilities for Southwark residents - from the £400,000 to be invested in the historic Herne Hill Velodrome to the £490,000 for Camberwell Leisure Centre's sports hall; and from the £150,000 for a new BMX track in Burgess Park to the £375,000 to be invested in football facilities in Peckham and Nunhead, the 2012 games have provided a real opportunity to upgrade some of our sporting facilities.

But more than the capital investment, we also worked to ensure that Southwark was ready for the Olympics, bringing together organisations and individuals from across the borough to look at the cultural offer which was available; to coordinate volunteering opportunities; to encourage healthy lifestyles and to promote involvement in sport.

We took advantage of the opportunity we were given as a council to purchase Olympic and Paralympic tickets, and as a result some of the children we care for as a council and 50 other residents nominated from across the borough have been given the opportunity to attend Olympic and Paralympic events.

The motto of the London 2012 games has been "Inspire a Generation", and in Southwark we have embraced that approach in order to make sure that 2012 was not something which happened to other people in other parts of London.

And as we look to the future we will work to ensure that the progress that we have made to date, of inspiring a generation - and people of all ages - in Southwark to enjoy the Olympics and Paralympics and live happy and healthy lives in the future continues to be delivered.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Thames Tunnel

On Monday the 'Save Your Riverside Campaign' will be holding a public meeting at City Hall to discuss how to take forward the campaign to save Chambers Wharf, a site which Thames Water has continued to identify as a tunnelling site for the Thames Tunnel Supersewer.  Thames Water's preference for the site means that local residents and schools face the prospect of at least 7 years of 24 hour a day drilling and tunnelling works on a site just yards from their homes and schools.  Some have likened the proposed works as similar to having the Channel Tunnel main site outside their bedroom windows.

Thames Water had previously undertaken a consultation with regard to their proposed use of Chambers Wharf which had been met with a really cogent and well reasoned campaign.  It was incredibly disappointing that Thames Water appeared to pay absolutely no attention to that campaign or modify their proposals in any way.  Whilst the Tunnel is probably a necessity, it is certainly not necessary to blight peoples homes and lives for such an extensive period.  Other possibilities exist which mean that Chambers Wharf would either not have to be used at all or certainly not as a main drilling site.

Hopefully the public meeting can continue to concentrate the minds of Thames Water's bosses on finding a solution to this problem which at least demonstrates a spirit of compromise.  It is unacceptable for a publicly funded monopoly to act in a way which appears to take absolutely no account of the views of the people who they purport to serve.

A New Chief Executive for Southwark

In two weeks time Southwark's Council Assembly will have the opportunity to approve the appointment of Eleanor Kelly as the new Chief Executive of the Council.  Eleanor has been the Acting Chief Executive for the last 5 months and has been the Deputy Chief Executive at the Council since 2008 - an appointment by the previous council administration.

Eleanor brings real experience and knowledge to the role, with recent experience leading for the Council on some of our most important regeneration projects at the Elephant & Castle and the Aylesbury.  She will continue to have responsibility for regeneration in her new role.

What is most important is that Eleanor's appointment will be good news for the people of Southwark.  She has a passion and commitment for our borough which will mean that she will always go that extra mile to get the best deal and provide the best service for the borough's residents.  She will be a great appointment.

A Development Partner for the Aylesbury

Yesterday evening we launched our search for a development partner for the Aylesbury Estate.  For a project which is due to last over 20 years, with 4,200 homes to be built - 50% of which will be affordable housing - it is crucial that we have a strong partnership which can endure and create a new and exciting part of Walworth to replace the current Aylesbury Estate.

At the time it was built in the 1960's the Aylesbury was seen as the answer to many of the problems which existed in poor quality housing in the area.  Inside toilets and bathrooms were fairly revolutionary for the new residents of the estate, and the generous room sizes were in sharp contrast to the often cramped conditions in the houses that the blocks replaced.  But the answers which the Aylesbury provided were soon overshadowed by the problems which were inherent in the design of the huge monolithic and brutalist blocks.  The previous street pattern was replaced by long corridors and above-ground walkways, which paid little regard to the human desire to travel at ground level and have neighbours and communities within easy reach.

Since the mid-1990's the Council has sought to find a way of regenerating the Aylesbury to overcome those problems and its' negative image as a problematic crime-ridden estate.

Some of the early housing which has been built on the fringes of the Aylesbury has already begun to demonstrate how this part of Southwark can be transformed.  With so many developers and Registered Social Landlords interested in joining with us I hope that we will have a strong and competitive process over the next 18 months to find a partnership which will deliver a genuinely new sense of place and community.  With new outstanding schools already in the area, and with the massive investment in Burgess Park, which is due to reopen next month, I am confident that the best is definitely yet to come for the Aylesbury.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Mayoral and GLA Elections

Perhaps the biggest surprise of last week's Mayoral and GLA Elections in London was the fact that Ken Livingstone came so close to victory. None of the polls that I had seen were predicting a 3% margin of victory for Boris Johnson, so Ken clearly made up some real ground against his rival during the campaign.

But on the whole I thought the Mayoral campaign was disappointing. With a city as exciting as London it was surprising that neither Ken nor Boris were able to set out a vision for what they wanted to achieve over their 4 year term of office. Boris looked completely stumped when he was asked what his "big idea" was in a BBC London interview; and it was only after a lengthy pause that he came up with 'driverless tube trains' as a response. Ken came closest with some nods towards affordable transport and improved education and employment prospects, but it was all fairly slim stuff. A mayoral contest should be about candidates setting out how London will be different after their 4 years in charge, and I was hoping and expecting some discussion about that 'vision', with ideas similar to those being espoused by Mayor Bloomberg in New York, who is looking to move the City's economy away from an over-reliance on the financial services industry.

Val Shawcross did amazingly well in the Lambeth and Southwark GLA seat, increasing her majority to over 52,000. Val has been a good and effective representative for the two boroughs and it was pleasing to see her returned so comfortably. Val has shown strength and leadership in South London over the past 12 years, and long may that continue.

The Lib Dems continued their national meltdown, although the result gave us our first glimpse of what has happened to their vote in Southwark. Remember, just 4 years ago the Lib Dems were targeting Lambeth & Southwark as a GLA constituency they believed they could win. As it was only 18,000 people voted for them and knocked them into a distant third behind the Conservatives. Brian Paddick's truly pathetic 4% in the Mayoral election must have local Lib Dems extremely worried. A lot can happen between now and 2014, but if the swings achieved on Thursday were repeated in our borough local elections Labour would win 60 of 63 seats!

Maybe, just maybe it is time for Southwark's Lib Dems to rethink their apparent strategy of opposing every single thing that we do as an Administration and convincing themselves that undiluted negativity and opposition represents an alternative vision for our borough?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Thames Tunnel

Last night Thames Water came to speak to the Governors of Riverside Primary School about the likely impact of the Thames Tunnel super sewer. I am the Chair of Governors at Riverside School, which has been rated the 10th best primary school in the country by the Sunday Times.

Thames Water have purchased Chambers Wharf immediately adjacent to the school for £76.6 million and it is now their preferred site for major tunnelling works during the course of the construction of the Thames Tunnel. One tunnel will bore from the site whilst two other tunnels will arrive at the site. In short this means that an area of our borough's riverside will resemble a major industrial site for 7 years, with 24 hour tunnelling works going on for at least 3 years. 90 lorries a day are expected to rumble past the school, with thousands of millions of tons of excavated material will be transported away from the site. As the Headteachers of the school have commented, there will be generations of children attending the school who will never know a primary education without the sound of major industrial works and heavy industrial traffic just feet away from their classroom.

The proposals from Thames Water are unacceptable. The site will be a blight on our borough and will jeopardise the success of Riverside and other local schools. I simply do not know how residents who live adjacent to the site, and who bought their homes believing that Chambers Wharf would be developed as housing, will cope with the massive disruption.

There are alternative solutions available. The Channel Tunnel was constructed without "stopping-off" points being constructed along the way. Hybrid boring machines exist which could do the job. Thames Water admit this, although a hybrid machine is not their preferred approach. They would prefer to blight an area, schools and residents who live next to Chambers Wharf.

There is still time to object to these proposals - please do so at

Charter School Admissions

Congratulations to local parents and campaigners for their victory in ensuring that the Charter School has to take account of safe walking routes to school in determining how close children live to the School for admissions purposes. For years the Charter have argued that Greendale is not a proper walking route to the school, which has meant that the calculated distance for children living on Champion Hill and East Dulwich Estates has been much further than the most direct route. As a result lots of children from those two parts of South Camberwell have missed out on places at the school.

The Charter School is a Southwark success story. From being an unpopular and failing school it is now regarded as one of the best state schools in our borough. So it is important that those children who actually live closest to the school should be able to benefit from and share in that success by attending Charter for their secondary education.

This is good news for South Camberwell and I have no doubt will be good news for the Charter School.

UPDATE - the route which Charter was failing to take account of was the road between Wanley Rd and Dylways. If Charter School had adopted a straight line approach to admissions - which is the method used in all local authority schools - this issue would never have arisen.

Cycling in Southwark

Over 2 months since I blogged, but a good time to talk about cycling in Southwark after the debate which we held at Council Assembly last week on the environment and transport.

Curiously the Labour Administration was accused of being anti-cyclist during the course of the debate by our Lib Dem opponents - which on the basis of the facts is simply not an accurate description. Firstly, our current target of increasing cycling from 3% of journeys to 4% across the borough is merely a continuation of the previous Administration's target. So if it wasn't good enough for the Lib Dems why didn't they do something about it during the 8 years they were in power? To my mind it is not a particularly ambitious target and I would like to see us revisit it very soon.

But I recognise that if we are going to persuade people to cycle and really increase the number of journeys made by bike, we need to make the routes for cyclists around the borough as safe as possible. That is why we met with Southwark Cyclists last week to discuss their plans for linking up parts of the borough with safe cycling routes, and why I will be meeting up with other cycling representatives in the near future to discuss their constructive proposals.

As a borough there is some good work which we are doing for cycling. As an Administration we have spent or allocated £2.677 million on cycling in the last 20 months and plan to spend nearly another £4 million on cycling infrastructure. One third of the money allocated from TfL to us gets spent on cycling and we have recently completed 100 metres more of safe cycle route on Southwark Park Road. We have installed 174 cycle lockers on housing estates and created over 1500 new spaces for on street cycle parking. A good start - but I recognise there is a lot more to do.

Cycling is a healthy and should be a safe form of transport around our capital city. My ambition is to see Southwark lead the way in delivering safe cycle routes and I look forward to working with cyclists to deliver on that ambition.