Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cabinet Meeting - 28th January

Yesterday Southwark's Cabinet met with a packed agenda and took really important decisions on council tax, council rents, the future of the Aylesbury Estate, the delivery of our 11,000 new council homes and planning guidance for Blackfriars Road.

On council tax residents will benefit from another year of freeze - we will have frozen council tax for all 4 years of our Labour administration.  This is good news for residents at a time when virtually every other bill keeps going up.

On council house rents we rejected a recommendation that we should increase them by 5.4% and limited any increase to consumer price inflation - or 2.7% only.  Again helping some of the most vulnerable in our borough and keeping the average council rent for a 2 bed property below £100 per week.

We accepted a report on how we might deliver our commitment to build 11,000 new council homes over the next 30 years and tasked officers to work up even more detailed plans.  It is worth repeating that our commitment to build 11,000 new homes is more than any other council has committed to - but it is a commitment which we know with confidence we can deliver.  As the government continues to encourage Right to Buy, removing housing from our stock for rent, we are building more genuinely affordable housing for those people on low incomes who need to be able to live and work in central London.

After 16 years of promises and false dawns, we were able to announce that our partners in delivering the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate will be Notting Hill Housing Trust.  Over the course of the next 15 - 20 years NHHT will work with Barratts to build 3500 new homes for Southwark and London, 50% of which will be new genuinely affordable homes.  Just 3 years ago the government withdrew PFI funding from the regeneration of the Aylesbury which left us without a business plan or any prospect of delivering what residents had been promised.  To have progressed matters so far and so fast is testament to the commitment of residents, officers and politicians involved with the project.  Great news for Southwark!

And we agreed new planning guidance for the Blackfriars Road.  This was not supported by residents who attended the meeting and addressed us, but I hope that they will understand that we are only trying to bring some order to a potentially complex set of planning applications and building projects on sites along and adjacent to Blackfriars Road.  Our recent experience with the Mayor of London's decision to call-in and grant permission to a scheme at 399 Rotherhithe New Road is a clear indicator that we as a council and a borough cannot just sit back and hope that the world will go away if we pretend it isn't there.  There is a great deal of interest in Blackfriars Road - and it has the potential to be an amazingly exciting boulevard for Southwark and its' residents.  With new proposals from TfL to make the road safe for all road users and 19 projects in or having been granted planning permission, it was important that we tried to coordinate the appearance of the road.  The new guidance does just that.

Ruskin Park House & East Dulwich Estate

This past weekend Veronica and I spent time with colleagues Sarah King and Chris Gonde visiting Ruskin Park House and the East Dulwich Estate.

At RPH residents seemed incredibly content.  A new heating system is due to be installed which has the overwhelming support of the residents there.  It is an extremely well-run and managed block, and some of the historic issues over major works and heating from a few years ago now seem like a distant memory.

On East Dulwich Estate residents were pleased to see us and discuss continued progress being made.  Two elements of the estate's regeneration remain outstanding - the refurbishment of Badminton House into much needed renewed council homes and the environmental works right across the estate.  But both are due to get underway in the next few months.  The estate's regeneration has been a long time happening, and hopefully these final works will really mark the start of a new era in its role at the heart of South Camberwell.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A New Kitchen and Bathroom for Every Tenant

This week Southwark Labour announced one of its key pledges for the local elections - to ensure that every council tenant has a good quality kitchen and bathroom as part of the second phase of our Warm, Dry & Safe programme.

The Warm, Dry & Safe programme is a £326 million project investing in getting the basics right in all of our council properties and is due to complete in 2016.  Many residents have already benefitted from having new windows, doors, roofs and electrics fitted.

But any good landlord needs to continue investing in their property to ensure that their tenants have the best quality homes possible.  That is why we have pledged to start rolling out the kitchen and bathroom programme from 2016 onwards.  It is good news for all of our 39,000 tenants.

We will work up details for the project if we are re-elected in May, but given our record of delivering on promises we make no one should be in any doubt that this is a serious pledge which we will keep!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Southwark Fire Station

A second post in one day!  But unfortunately dealing with the closure of Southwark Fire Station on Southwark Bridge Road last Thursday.  This closure was part of the programme of 10 fire stations in Central London closed by Mayor Boris Johnson announced at the end of 2012.

As a council we opposed the closure and joined other central London authorities in bringing a judicial review to challenge the decision, which seemed to have been made in the face of worsening fire statistics for our borough.  We found out just before Christmas that the challenge had been unsuccessful so the closures went ahead.  After serving the community for 136 years the last fire engine left Southwark Fire Station just after 9.30am last Thursday.  I was among the crowd which had gathered to thank all of those who had served at the station and to say goodbye to this piece of our history.

The last engine has been moved to Twickenham.

Given the increased density of building and population across Southwark it still seems madness that the Mayor has decided to close fire stations at this time.  I just hope that it is not a decision which anyone has cause to regret.

2014 - A New Year!

Someone sent me a message on Twitter a couple of weeks ago pointing out that I had not updated my blog for months.  So here is an update on a few issues, with a commitment to try and keep my blog a little more up-to-date.

Labour's Team for South Camberwell 2014
I am delighted to be standing again on May 22nd as a Labour candidate for South Camberwell.  I have been a councillor in the area since 2002 and it would be a great privilege to be given the opportunity to serve this part of Southwark for another 4 years.

My colleague in South Camberwell since 2002 has been Veronica Ward.   Veronica is not seeking re-election this year.  She has been an amazing ward councillor and I know so many people have been helped by her over the past 12 years.  But I have two great new candidate colleagues in Sarah King and Chris Gonde.  They have both been getting to know the area better over the past few months and I know that they will be great champions for South Camberwell when they are elected.

This year's local elections in London are on the same day as the elections to the European Parliament - May 22nd.

Cycling in Southwark
Before Christmas I wrote to Mayor Boris Johnson asking him to hold a summit of London Council Leaders with himself and colleagues in the GLA to explore ways to make cycling safer for all in our capital.  Last Autumn I proposed that there should be a rush-hour ban on HGVs entering central London - a "Cycle Safe Hour".  This still needs to be explored urgently and I hope that any summit will consider this option.

However, following the tragic death on Albany Road of Richard Muzira it became clearer that cyclists need to be and to feel safe at all hours of the day and night.  So I will be pressing for there to be a comprehensive route of cycleways right across Southwark and London - providing cyclists with effectively dedicated routes which will minimise any interaction with motorised traffic.

Dog Kennel Hill School & a new Primary School for the area
On 21st November I went to the opening of the new nursery classrooms at Dog Kennel Hill School.  The classrooms are a great new modern facility for the school - which already provides an excellent education to children from across South Camberwell.  DKH is also looking after increased pupil numbers due to the pressure which we have across Southwark and London for additional school places.  It is no surprise that so many of our outstanding primary schools are the first choice for so many parents and children.

In order to cope with the particular pressures in our area I have been working with Dulwich Hamlet School on their plans to open a new primary free school on the site of the former Bellenden School, at the junction of Bellenden Road and Maxted Road.  Dulwich Hamlet is an outstanding school and under the leadership of Sonia Case is doing a wonderful job for residents in Dulwich.  So I am confident that bringing that blend of outstanding leadership and achievement onto the Bellenden site from 2015 will be great news for local parents and children.  I hope that the Department for Education gets behind this proposal, and doesn't try to take the site for any alternative proposal.

But this Dulwich Hamlet proposal is a model which needs to be replicated further across Southwark - taking an existing good or outstanding school and supporting them to take their education to new locations where there is a shortage of places.  I think that there is also a role for the independent sector in the borough to demonstrate that they are putting something back into the community by becoming free school sponsors.