Friday, 8 May 2009

Former Lilian Baylis site and difficult hustings questions

I promised yesterday that I'd post about the former Lilian Baylis site and political parties. The history of the topic is now tedious and long. The reason it's so important in the local election is that there is both considerable support in favour, and considerable consternation against the All Nations Church (ANC) bid to own the former Lilian Baylis site. Nobody is talking much about that because nobody knows exactly how many ANC constituents there are in Princes ward (to gain votes from if one supports the proposals), or exactly how many LGBT votes one would lose in Prices ward by supporting the ANC ownership possibility. So it's a bit of a problem for the local candidates.

There are a number of questions that I suggest the public ask at potential hustings:
1. Do you support the bid of the ANC to own and act as lead partner at the former Lilian Baylis site?

This is the key question. Labour (so far) appear to be supporting this end, and are thus likely to garner the support of the ANC when it comes to winning votes, but are they doing so by sacrificing the LGBT populace opinion? On the other hand, would the Lib Dems, Conservative or Green party really be able to do any better?

2. How would you respond to the fears of the local LGBT community who are concerned about a public asset landing in the hands of an organisation that (whilst currently respectful towards them) might struggle to hold that homosexuality is a sin, at the same time as welcoming LGBT meetings at a public space?

3. Do you consider it better for the site to be held in trust with a local organisation or for it to be owned by a group, such as the ANC, outright?

4. What form of oversight would you like to see put in place to ensure that a former council building remained in inclusive community use?

5. At a time when council house rents are rising (and housing is scarce), is it possible for the site to be partially sold off for public use, at the same time as redeveloped for ANC, Ethelred and SAZ use?

See below for a very potted history. I'm just quoting some of the main bits that I've found, but I'll elaborate if any commentator says I've forgotten anything major.

1. In January 2005, the Lilian Baylis School moved to a new building.

2. The Lambeth Council Unitary Development Plan (proposed by the Lib Dem council in 2005, but published by Labour unchanged in 2007) says of the former LB site: "(b) Appropriate proposals for the Grade II listed Lilian Baylis school and its grounds would be supported... to enable redevelopment of the site for a mix of uses, including a mixed tenure housing scheme, community and leisure uses."

Labour welcomed the idea, in 2007 (proposed by the Lib Dems), that the site might be used for (amongst other things), housing. There were some older proposals for the site under the Lib Dems (which did support demolition of it), but these were not approved by the Lib Dem Council of the time and the above Lib Dem proposal went through unchanged by Labour.

3. Lambeth Council community consultation published by external agency in February 2006. Unfortunately, response rate was only about 17% and local people wanted the site to be used for leisure, housing (public, not private) and community purposes.

4. On 16th March 2006, the RCDT reported breakthroughs made at the Area Committee meeting by the then local Lib Dems who argued in favour of:
"a. Keeping part of the Lilian Baylis site for community and sports facilities for local people
b. Keeping a gymnasium if possible- and all potential purchasers to consider keeping the gym
c. Money from the sale of the site to go to new recreation centre and swimming pool in North Lambeth
d. Further consultation with local people about what’s on offer and what’s best for the community
e. A local project board, including residents and local groups, to oversee community provision on the site"

5. The "breakthrough" terminology used by the RCDT was disputed by Labour's Sam Townend (the naughty one) , who argued that an Area Committee can't make decisions, that the statements were ambiguous, that there was no "breakthrough" and the RCDT was being party political. The RCDT then requested a statement from Sam about the Labour position (this is made in March 2006, and involves two councillors still in position in 2009):

"‘We are committed to retaining and enhancing the current community, leisure and sporting uses of the site and adding to it educational and other social uses of the site by and for local people. Importantly the retention for the use by the community of the three gyms and sports hall. We want to see an expansion of the uses of the site by local people including potentially by Ethelred nursery..., use of the education facilities...... and the Sports Action Zone, and the large number of other local community organisations... We won’t allow the loss of the open playing spaces if at all possible. This does not mean that the site necessarily has to remain or entirely remain in the ownership of the Council. My preference would be for ownership to be transferred to a Community Trust, run and managed by local people. This obviously depends on if there is sufficient interest and commitment from people to carry out this work.... We would also like to see Ethelred TMO residents play a role in such a Trust as the site is in the middle of their estate."

6. Elections were held in May 2006. All three Lib Dem councillors were voted out. 3 new Labour councillors were voted in. Until May 2006, Lambeth Council (Lib Dems / Conservatives) apparently wanted to sell off the former Lilian Baylis School site on Lollard St. However, it does appear (above) that despite wanting to sell it off, they also wanted to retain it for use by local people.

7. On 17th March 2008, the Lambeth Council (Labour) agreed: "that All Nations Centre be placed ‘at the centre of any development at Old Lilian Baylis as a lead partner with security of tenure on an appropriate part of the site consistent with their needs.’" Quite an important statement, but nothing is said about ownership.

8. The Council (Labour) declared in January 2009 that it has chosen 3 "partners". These are: All Nations Church, Ethelred Nursery and Sports Action Zone (SAZ). It's leaflet is sketchy. It does not mention any issues related to ownership, governance or oversight. It does not mention relations with local community organisations. It has lost sight of many of the original organisations that might once have been involved. Are the Ethelred TMO still involved?

I made a mistake here in thinking that Mark Harrison (Labour) was attempting to save the site from the Council's plan in January 2009 and do something new (that was my error), but he has asserted here that he is campaigning in support of ongoing Labour council plans, and is concerned that, "The Lib Dems have recently been heard to be talking about selling off the site and abandoning the negotiations to set up a community trust to buy the site.". I've asked for clarification on that point, and I doubt we'll know any more until the Lib Dems answer their questions.

It's all rather unfair on Mark because he's the only one publically proposing any substantive policy so it looks as though I'm picking on him, which I don't intend to do.

Phewww.... sheer exhaustion has set in... Quite frankly, I'm surprised that four years have passed (part Lib Dem control, part Labour control), and that nothing appears to have happened. The current Council has proceeded with their campaign despite only a 16% community response to their consultation.

Have any readers got far enough to make any comments?


Rob Blackie said...

I'm just astounded that the site is still empty. That's over four years that a site worth, I'd guess, tens of millions of pounds has laid empty.

To give a feel for that if the site is worth £10m then the council is likely to be losing £500,000 a year (about what £5 on council tax raises as I recall).

Still the Beaufoy Institute just across the Ethelred has been almost unused for even longer.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe Labour are letting the All Nations Church have the site. They are so homophobic and are refusing to work with the other community groups in the area. And I'm horrified at the idea of thousands - literally thousands - of people coming to 'prayz da lord' every Sunday.

Three wheeled one said...

As a Christian myself, but with a radically different theology than the ANC, I have less issue with the ANC having the site and no issue with people worshiping on Sundays. In a multi-cultural society, I don't expect everybody to agree and I think civic dissent is important. I don't think the fact that an organisation is religious means that a building can't be given over to it for its use and I'm glad that Labour agree, but I think all parties need to be more upfront about whether they stand on ownership issues.

I also think the site is too large to effectively be given over to one organisation. I'd like to see the ANC have part of it, and more of the rest used for community activities, sport, housing etc. I don't see why the ANC need to have the whole thing. In fact, the space on the site could be far better used weren't people trying to preserve the listed monstrosity :)

Anonymous said...

I think its important that the Ethelred TMO have an impute into who is involved on the site as its the residents that the site most impacts on and Lollard street residents. But guess what, no consultation for us. I also heard the TMO voted against the Partnership as it was to exclusive and leaves out a lot of other community groups, including KOV,KA RCDT, and the TMO. How did labour come up with the three partners? How is the governance going to work? and sorry but why cant it be a multi faith organisation? why cant other organisations get involved? and why doesn't labour have the answer? BECAUSE THEY JUST DON'T KNOW..... No body on the Ethelred wants the ANC here as the impact on our lives will be too great, and we want it for local use. not for people all over London.

PS they are homophobic as my friend lives near the present site and every Sunday it causes many problems for the residents. Including cars blocking access roads.

Michael said...

Thank You Three wheeled one for providing some background on what you say is indeed a complicated issue.

To say that the present site remains unused/empty is not the case.

My own children currently enjoy a number of activities at the Lillian Baylis Old School site, most recently they have benefited from free swiming lessons in the temporary swimming pool and Circus Skills classes to name just two.

Many local children are using the site on a daily basis, whether through their schools or other organised groups; and perhaps more encouraging by individually choosing to pursue their own hobbies at the site.

As this is a discussion about politics and who said what and who has done what, then it is surely the Labour Party that can and should take some credit here.

Firstly, Kate Hoey MP was key in securing the Sports Action Zone for the area. And it is a Labour Government that has provided the money and support for these intiatives(make no mistake - there was no such thing as a sports action zone before 1997).

Secondly, it is because we had three Labour Councillors and a Labour Council that we are even in this position to be talking about the future of the site. This site was to be sold off for private housing. That was stopped and now at least we can talk about the future community use and involvement of this key part of the ward.

Thirdly, another key element of this site is the relocation of the Ethelred Nursery and Children Centre. Again it is important to note that Children Centres were and are still opposed by the Tories.

The Ethelred Nursery, a Lambeth run Nursery, has an outstanding OFSTED report, is popular among parents and children (including my own) and its move to this site will enable many more to benefit from its excellent services. I certainly do not recall any plans by the previous LibDem/Tory Council to improve or expand on that provision.

We are within touching distance of providing a long-term solution for this site, that will provide valuble community facilities and support services.

You are right to raise the questions relating to All Nations Church, but I'm sure that these are ones that can resolved. Clearly whoever is to be the Council's partner/provider will need to show that they are inclusive and able to appeal to the whole community.

Anonymous said...

I think it’s disgraceful that the ANC after failing to buy the site from the council are now going to get the site for free – thanks to our Labour Council. Labour haven’t bothered to speak to the local people; Ethelred TMO, Lollard Street Residents, Emmanuel House, Denby Court, Lambeth Walk and Fitzalan Street. All these residents will have to bare the brunt of what happens to this site in the future. It’s a real shame that we’ve lost the fighting spirit that stopped Labours Project Vauxhall, the decimation of Lambeth Walk Open Space and the sell off Vauxhall Primary School.

However, if you dare question ANC use and/or ownership of this site you’re accused of being racist! Be under no allusions ANC will become a super church on this site with the same foot flow and cars as Tescos!

PS. Lets just be honest, the followers of this church are more than likely to be homophobic
PPS. Labour needs to stop being so bloody PC and pandering to this minority group who nobody seems to know how many of their members actually live here
PPPS. What about the white working classes who live on the Ethelred and our needs or don’t they matter anymore? It looks I’ll be voting for the Liberal Democrats for the first time ever, as Labour have clearly abandoned us!

Open minded said...

Anonymous is doing a very good job of coming across as irrationally prejudiced against the ANC. I'm not a Christian, and I'm gay; but I don't have a problem with an evangelical church providing community services as long as they sign up to a code of conduct that enshrines respect for equality in what they do. If they are being homophobic in their provision of services that would be terrible- but where is the evidence that they are?

There is no plan to simply give them the site- they will need to pay for the site, and sign up to become part of a community trust that follows guidelines set out by the Council, and that cooperates with the Sports Action Zone and Ethelred Nursery.

At the moment negotiations between the three stakeholders are in the early stages, and as they are the groups that will provide services on the site they are the people who need to be involved in discussions at the moment. The TMO and local residents should definitely be better consulted and more involved, but Anonymous is whipping up hysteria that has more than a hint of nimbyism, and perhaps even racism.

Anonymous said...

Like open minded I'm gay too! However, I remember when the old Bingo Hall was used by a large church group prior to planning consent for the awful development we now have. The fuss that was made by those of our fellow neighbours on the Kennington Road was unbelievable!

So why when those of us who are less well off, dare to say not in our back yard are we forced to be all embracing!

If simply stating that something is not appropriate given the location of the site to local residents and the potential impact - doesn't make a person racist! I'm just no longer prepared to be as PC as everyone else pretends to be!

Racism is far more complex and quite frankly you do the term a great disservice...

Open minded said...

I would say that NIMBYism is bad in any area, rich or poor.

There are certainly potential issues around parking and noise if the site is used as a church, but none of those problems are insummountable. The Council can do all sorts of things to reduce the impact - such as special Sunday parking restrictions, limiting the congregation size, and working with the ANC to encourage their congregation to use public transport.

By all mean draw attention to potential problems, but objecting on the basis you don't like happy clappy churches isn't really good enough.

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