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.