Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Vauxhall Island Site consultation debrief (the short, ahem, version)

First off, I think it's fair to say that the representatives of Kylun Ltd did a good job on the consultation, held today, about the Vauxhall Island Site.  You'll often hear me moan about lack of consultation or poor consultation, but if other developers were to imitate their method (provide lots of spokespeople, hand out comment forms, ask for suggestions and initiate conversations), there'd be considerably less cause for complaint.  I still feel that more could be done by Lambeth Council in terms of master planning, but don't we all?  The consultation wasn't all perfect and plain sailing of course (it rarely is), but I'll come to that...  Holding the exhibition at Vauxhall City Farm seemed to work well, and when I attended during the afternoon, the room was absolutely packed, demonstrating plenty of local interest in the proposed development.  Also, the people who attended appeared to be from diverse sectors of the community, which indicates good dissemination of information (it might just have been a sunny day, of course). Additionally  (a huge plus point), Kylun ensured that the architect was on site to be questioned, and there were more than enough other staff to answer questions too.

I think that most residents are agreed that Vauxhall would benefit from investment.  Most residents would likely agree that there is space in Vauxhall for new residential/commercial/industrial development.  I want to make it really clear to my detractors that I'm not against development and investment, I just think that development does not always mean very tall towers.  I believe that many local residents offer most resistance on the matters of housing type, style and building height.  I spoke to one resident, present in the area for 40 years, who felt that existing Council tenants were being squeezed out of the area, since much of the new residential provision was "affordable" housing, and not Council housing.  Another attendee just disliked tall buildings, noting that existing residents in and around Vauxhall were being encroached upon (eg. loss of light), or having their space diminished (eg. heavier wear and tear on Vauxhall Park, and no supply of additional green space).

But if we're pragmatic (and I rather think we have little choice), we must acknowledge that there is no Lambeth Council masterplan and we must make the best of a bad job.  Lambeth Council simply assess each building on its merit, without weighing up any other developments in the pipeline.  There is no real town planning, just advisory documents.  Even our MP, Kate Hoey seems powerless to do anything, based on her recent comment, "Whilst I don't like tower blocks there is unfortunately a tendency for these to be supported".   Erm, isn't the MP meant to be able to resist their support, based on correspondence from residents?  If Vauxhall centre isn't to become entirely market-driven and haphazard, we either need pressure put on Boris or pressure put on Cllr Steve Reed to form a plan for Vauxhall.  Surely that's why our MP exists?  Anyhow, since she doesn't appear to have weighed in, it falls to us as residents to argue for as much sensible building (fair room sizes, shorter buildings) and investment (parks, transport, facilities) as possible.  It's in Lambeth Council's interests to keep granting permission, and about the only people that might feasibly be able to insist on a sensible volume of development are TFL.

I've taken photos of all of the display boards (for people who couldn't attend) and for the historical record.  (You'd be surprised how many hits I'm still getting for the 8 Albert Embankment Exhibition page). Kylun have now provided me with the original Vauxhall Island Site pdf, so feel free to download that instead of looking at my bad photos!

1.  Regenerating Vauxhall Cross
Kylun Ltd are backed by oil money which (according to a company spokeswoman) does not mean that they have infinite resources, but presumably does mean that they're free to proceed in the knowledge that the money isn't going to disappear!  It's just as well, since they're setting themselves a bold task of "creating a new heart for Vauxhall".  Kylun's architect argued that this building is in the centre of all of the proposed new development for Vauxhall.  You might think that, as such, it would be the tallest building of them all, but that's where some post-recession, post-Livingstone pragmatism comes in.  (If you're interested, the tallest Vauxhall building (so far) prize goes to the St George Wharf Tower, at 181 metres). The original Vauxhall Island Site proposals (never validated by the council) had the building at 180 metres.  Vauxhall Sky Gardens, which has been permitted by Lambeth, is 120 metres tall.   The GLA's planning policy states that a building of 150 metres on such a site would lead to minimal impact on world heritage (aka the Palace of Westminster).  The Bondway proposal was 150 metres tall, but was refused (likely on other grounds).  In developer terms, that means that there's between 120 metres and 150 metres with which to gamble.  As such, the Vauxhall Island Site proposal is playing it safe with a cool 140 metre proposal.  They have consulted with the Mayor's office.  So much for Boris disliking tall buildings.  I suppose he'd argue that he managed to shave 40 metres off the top, but that's not really something to boast about.  If you want a comparison to know how the finished product would look, the Strata Tower in Elephant and Castle (including wind turbines) weighs in at 147 metres tall.  I like the way that the second tower (which I haven't mentioned as it's a bit smaller) is hidden, in the picture, behind the first.

2.  A background to the site.
I think we'd all agree that the site has lain empty and derelict, and that the current advertising hoardings are unsightly.  Quite why anybody would choose to live in the middle of the interchange is beyond me, but perhaps by the time the building is finished, the Vauxhall gyratory will have been removed in line with TFL's new vision for the future (rather embarrassing when Vauxhall's gyratory is barely 5 years old).  Were that to happen, and considering the landscaping that Kylun have in mind (see below) it might potentially be a much more pleasant place to live.  Certainly, I can't see most people objecting to further retail development in the area, since the current shops (on Kennington Lane, Albert Embankment and South Lambeth Road) simply don't create a particularly effective centre.

3.  The proposal
My favourite line on the above board has to be the one in which they effectively say that their 41 storeys is "elegant" compared with the 50 storeys of St George Wharf :-).  It's developer speak for "they were allowed to build even higher, so let's be reasonable because our building is a whole 9 storeys shorter" :-)   I like the idea of a glass canopy, linking the two buildings, as I think that's quite a positive way to protect us from the elements when passing through Vauxhall towards public transport.  More importantly, they are to be "open, public space", something that many developers don't seem to value.  That's good news, at least.  I also highly applaud the "improved pedestrian routes" to other parts of Vauxhall and Nine Elms, but it's difficult to know how this might be achieved, bearing in mind the gyratory (subways or bridges, perhaps).

One criticism here is that at today's consultation, the public were asked to comment on paper about the "affordable" housing section of the scheme.  Unfortunately (you can see from Board 3), it wasn't clear how much of the scheme would actually be affordable housing, thus making it rather difficult to submit comments.  When I pointed to the missing data, I was told that they wanted to hear how important the public felt affordable housing to be.  I asked if they'd re-consult once they'd decided on percentages, but I got the impression that they will not.  It all depends what people have written on the comment forms (it seems).  Although, one fellow Twitterer was given a "30% affordable, but not in writing" response, which I didn't get.  I suppose that's a fair gamble, given economic hard times.  The same perceptive chap has also pointed out that the promised "sky bar" doesn't quite make the sky, on account of being at the 10th floor level.  Nevermind.  Note also the refusal of Lambeth Council parking permits to new residents and the complete absence of parking for any other than disabled drivers (this may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view).

4.  Improvements to the ground level environment
Let's face it, anything that is done on this stretch to amend ground level environment has to be an improvement on what's present at the moment.  It's not exactly a site upon which local people go and have picnics!  There's  another mention of the canopy, but no actual details (other than that) about what sort of ground level improvements would be made.  Kylun have tried to take into account residents concerns re. wind tunnel effects by streamlining the towers, but I've no idea whether that really will prevent wind tunnels.

5.  A vibrant mix of uses
Quite oddly, the poster says that "employment-generating space is a key aspect of Kylun's proposals", and yet retail/office space is certainly nowhere near a dominant part of the scheme.  I think that's a good thing, as office space hardly seems lacking at Vauxhall, but I don't understand why they've said it's "key".  I tend to think that additional shops will lead people to spend longer in Vauxhall area, so expanding retail space ought to benefit existing local restaurants and businesses.

In terms of recreation and local space, Kylun are looking to work with Spring Gardens, soon to be re-named Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens which suggests that they're not doing anything with Vauxhall Park, but then they mention the possibility of contributions to improve Vauxhall Park nearer to the bottom of the poster.  In my view, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens would benefit from investment.  There are also some mystery community benefits on the way, but these are not stated, although there are a few ideas eg. extra funding for Vauxhall City Farm, funding for public art both inside/outside the building, and new links to cycle routes in the area.  Anything that could be done on the Vauxhall interchange to make life easier for cyclists would be close to miraculous!  Maybe a cycle route across the island site, allowing cyclists to bypass the gyratory would be worth focusing on.

6.  Delivering jobs and employment
I'm rather sceptical of the ability of new buildings to "deliver jobs".  New buildings tend to deliver empty office space, but actually, this proposal has only a small amount of commercial space, so that's not really a concern. The major job provider, I imagine, will be the hotel in one of the blocks.  Other than the budget Comfort Inn, there aren't any others, so it makes sense to be the first off the ground.

On this drawing, I want to look more carefully at the building make-up (click the photo to enlarge, and then zoom in).  One of the Kylun members of staff stated as follows:  In the building on the left (the shorter), the area marked in orange will be a children's ball park, and an unknown space (awaiting community input).  The blue marking near the bottom will be offices (over three floors).  The green marking is "some residential mixture" which I initially assumed would be the affordable housing, but the member of staff wouldn't commit.  At the top of the same building, the purple marking represents the top four floors, which will be private residential housing.  The penthouse has been replaced with a kind of open, shared garden space for residents.     

In the tower on the right, the entire upper section of the building (marked in pink) will be private residential housing.  Just under that on the 14th floor is the skybar (open to the public).  Below that (marked in purple) is the hotel.  The larger purple ground floor space represents the hotel bar/entrance, and on the first floor, there is the hotel restaurant.  The larger pink ground floor space represents retail space, and the larger pink first floor space will be an ordinary restaurant.

One particularly impressive point to note is that Kylun are setting up a Community Liaison Forum, once planning permission has been secured, a community news letter and a 24 hour phone number so that contractors can be contacted.  These are great ideas which positively predispose me to recommend this building over others eg. Bondway.  I think that some of the residents awaiting the completion of Strata (aka The Ladyshave, at Elephant and Castle) might have wished for a community news letter or even a website, letting them know how the building was progressing.

7.  Community amenities and a blank canvass
This one was quite fun.  The community were allowed to suggest lots of ideas for the empty space on the third floor.  I tried to suggest that the space (or some other space in the building) be used to house a public residential swimming pool, but my suggestion did not go down too well.  Apparently, there's not room in the development, and the very large underground purple space on the diagram is going to be used for servicing the hotel, and not a pool.  I don't know if you can read the suggestions on the post-its, but they were listed; cinema, public library, performance space, cafe, gym, discussion area for local groups, climbing wall, art exhibition, community centre, job centre, swimming pool (x 3), squash courts, artist studios, performance space.  My personal favourite (other than swimming pool) is job centre.  Can you imagine?  Lots of nice posh flats, and a huge job centre, visited by the great unwashed.  Yeah right!  One member of staff was very keen on a ball pool for children and this is listed as "soft play area" in the helpful suggestions.  Umm, you'll notice that the helpful suggestions don't include swimming pool either.

8.  Vauxhall Island site in context
I'm happy that they've done the modelling of the building(s) by taking South London views into consideration.  Considering that we've an ugly great 140 metre tower coming our way, I think I'd have to say that it's more attractive than some eg. Bondway /and/ St George Wharf Tower.  I know that's not saying much, but it doesn't look any worse than the Elephant's Strata, I don't think.  Their "independent study" modelling indicates that the scheme doesn't raise issues in terms of light on residents or parks, and the overshadowing effect on the parks is "minimal".  Vauxhall Park is unaffected and Spring Gardens is only affected on the south-west corner from September to March.  Fair enough, I suppose, and credit to them for ensuring that the parks aren't badly affected.

Due to some well placed trees, the building will hardly be noticeable from Fentiman Road.    Compared with St George Wharf, it rises up quite majestically over Spring Gardens.  I wish we knew what other buildings will appear as it's hard to put it into perspective.  Unfortunately, from Bonnington Square, it looks quite scary.   In fact, if I lived in Bonnington Square, I'd object,but not sure what good it would do.

9.  Vauxhall Island site in context continued...
This board is one that often gets trotted out in various guises.  It's all about how particular buildings will look (often accompanied by strange angles) from north of the river.  As if we should care about north of the river.... Anyway.  I digress.  I shan't be too mean on account of the fact that Kylun have dedicated lots of time to modelling the impact south of the river.  Compared with Millbank Tower, it's barely visible from Parliament Square, which is the view that concerns most people.  I'm not keen on the view from Millbank Road, but then we can't see Vauxhall Sky Gardens or St George Wharf or the proposed Bondway on the modelled photo either, and I suppose those would give the towers some more proportion.

10.  A sustainable, energy-efficient development
Sadly, it doesn't have the turbines (so the service charges should be less), but they are planning on solar photovoltaic electricity generation.

11.  Next steps
Plans will be submitted to Lambeth this summer.  If they like it, (and there aren't any other major oil spills) ;), the first residents could move in around 2015.  Feel free to phone Kylun with questions on: 0845 543 8968 or email vauxhallconsultation@camarguepr.com

I couldn't resist taking a photo of that cheeky chappy, David Boardman, taking photos of the model.  He's the Kennington Association's planning forum chair, and he speaks, quite naturally in terms of hectares per thousand people about green space, density, transport etc. in the way that you and I might discuss buying milk at the local supermarket!

On the model, the two Vauxhall Island towers are in brown.  The white monstrosity at the front is the St George Wharf Tower.  In the background, behind the brown towers, you can just see what I think is the proposed Bondway development.

I know that I'm forever banging on about transport, and I did raise this point at the consultation when I asked what Kylun would have to contribute to the pot to improve transport infrastructure eg. the new Northern line.  It seems, that that little point is up to TFL.  In the meantime, Kylun are in discussuion with TFL (see board 3) about "opening a new entrance to Vauxhall Underground Station".  Is it me, or is Vauxhall underground station going to be a huge warren of "extensions" and "entrances" that act as holding pens for a huge number of frustrated commuters, unable to move, due to the Victoria Line being at capacity?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Police incident in Kennington on Black Prince Road / Hotspur Street

I've had an email from a Kennington Park Square resident, wanting to find out if anybody has more info. concerning the following disturbance:

At about 9:30pm last night (22nd May), there was a police incident on Hotspur Street between Aragon Court (the new Kennington Park Square development) and Manley House.  At least two police vans, three police cars, one ambulance and about twenty or so police officers were present.  The word on the street is that one of the Kennington Park Square residents was mugged outside of the Black Prince pub (but this is speculation).  Due to the number of police called, that there is further speculation about whether a weapon was involved.  Much of the police activity centred on the balconies of Manley House, with a considerable number of police officers restraining a youth, amidst a crowd of onlookers.

Despite the size of the incident, apparently very few of the Kennington Park Square inhabitants were aware of the disturbance (it was a warm night, so I suspect that many people were still out and about).  The resident who emailed is concerned about the close proximity of their home to a suspected mugging, and further concerned that it happened so near to such a busy pub.  Do any blog readers know what took place?  Did anybody witness any trouble yesterday night?  Does anybody know whether the victim is ok?  Please contact the Met Police with further info. on 0300 123 1212, if you observed anything, but feel free to leave a comment here too.

With the advent of summer and the arrival of this warm spell, it seems likely that many SE11 locals will walk back to their homes late at night and it's known that warm weather correlates with gang / criminal activity in Lambeth.  I'd urge all local residents to be extra vigilant and contact the police if worried.  In general, the fear of crime tends to frighten people more than it ought, considering that the number of violent crimes that take place are quite low. That knowledge obviously doesn't stop us being afraid, especially if one happens to witness an incident or its aftermath, but we may all need to do more to build a stronger community locally.  I suspect that this is very definitely the case where a brand new set of homes, designed and priced for young professionals is placed back to back with a building on an estate that has already hit the headlines due to previous crime.   

If anybody has any ideas on how locals might encourage cohesion between different members of the community, now would be a good idea to share them.  I posted on this matter last time there was an attack on Glasshouse Walk, and I strongly believe that if we're able to meet together and get to know one another, the levels of crime will decrease.  My belief is backed up by a 2006 Home Office study, which states, 

"A sense of community rather than a sense of attachment is the most important predictor of lower levels of crime. This is good news for areas with high population turnover, particularly because this sense of community is not only linked with lower levels of violent crime (the type of crime most often linked with social control), but also with other types of neighbourhood level crime such as burglary from dwelling, theft of and from motor vehicles and the overarching ‘all reported crime’ measure."  
I'm not sure how to go about increasing our "sense of community", but maybe readers will have some ideas...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Battersea tube, Vauxhall Waitrose and the CS7 superhighway

There is lots of road digging underway around the junction of Kennington Park Road and Kennington Road.  Indeed, a new sign has appeared on Kennington Park Road, alerting us to the fact that the CS7 cycle superhighway (err, paint splodge) is imminent.  Also, there are lots of strange containers on the island outside Oval tube station.  However, it's not clear whether the digging and containers relates to the cycle superhighway or the ongoing Victorian water mains replacements, or just the eternal road digging that TFL, BT, Thames Water and British Gas (or whoever) like to inflict upon us.  The CS7 start has been "imminent" for some time but it seems that perhaps the CS7 TFL schedule is running slightly late (do take a look at the start dates for some idea of when your section was meant to be begin).  I'm expecting to exit Kennington tube any day now and see the CS7 in its full glory and blueness.  Of course, it's not in the slightest bit safe.  Stockwell News reported (and has videos) of a barely avoided collision on a "test" part of the route, and it will only be time before a cyclist assumes they're safer on the blue road, and is involved in a fatal accident.  I don't write those words lightly, but I think the creation of the Superhighways are rather rash ideas when they do not give cyclists the room they need to co-exist with buses and cars on trunk routes.

Speaking of the tube, there are rather a number of different stories flying around at the moment.  Whilst I was away, one Tweeter asked whether the proposed Northern line closures had disappeared on account of Boris' dissolution of the Private Finance Initiative with Tubelines.  It's really quite an astonishing story, and will result in TfL basically buying out Tubelines.  Apparently, London Assembly member Caroline Pidegon thinks it's good news and Boriswatch hasn't said anything about it, being more concerned with the vanity factor of Boris' new routemaster so I'm concluding that perhaps users won't suffer the closures after all.  On that note, I've been wondering when the 453 bendy bus to Lewisham is due to be de-commissioned and replaced with something less bendy, but I don't really want to draw attention to it. Its replacement (unless it were replaced with something uber-frequent) would never have the capacity.  It's currently a seriously stuffed bus, and it would be bad for passengers were it replaced with something smaller.  (So cyclists on this South London route must suffer).  Also, I suspect the fact remains that Boris has no love for South London so he's not particularly interested in transport down here.  Don't move to Peckham or Camberwell if you can help it, since the tube isn't coming any time soon.

But, some remedial measures will need to be introduced due to solve over-crowding.  In an under-reported article, I note that Boris has approved the suggestion that the Northern line be split at Kennington to impreove service on the Charing Cross branch.  It will mean that all South bound Charing Cross trains terminte at Kennington (although a lot of them currently seem to do so).  London Travelwatch have said "It's not the perfect solution".  Oh dear.  And that of course begs the question about whether the station will need to be closed to enable those works to be carried out!  Inevitably, the answer is "yes", so if we don't lose out on account of Tubelines closing the station, we risk losing out through the increased line capacity.  Perhaps it won't need to be closed to make the amendments, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

If Kennington travellers avoid disruption for the above reasons, it will be a miracle. I hardly think, however, that they can avoid future closure were the Battersea section of the Northern line to be built!  And, apparently, consultation from Treasury Holdings about the Battersea tube extension began yesterday.   Check out the full Battersea tube consultation leaflet here.  Don't get too excited.  It seems that they're consulting on a number of routes, route 1 looks as though it's a direct route to Battersea Power Station (possibly via Oval).  This involves less hassle, and is most likely to be the cheapest.  But, oh dear...  What about the proposed stop at Nine Elms?  That's Route 2.  It might cost a bit more to build a new tube station, but if we don't petition hard, Vauxhall is going to be packed (see below).  However, do look carefully, route 2 involves a South Nine Elms stop (on top of Sainsburys car park), which doesn't look to be so near the embassy.  Can't see it getting off the ground.  Route 3 is interesting, and one I hadn't considered.  It would connect Kennington to Vauxhall and then send Vauxhall on to Battersea, and Vauxhall would act as a hub.  But think of the congestion already at Vauxhall.  Wouldn't it make things worse?  And finally, there's route 4, which might be known as the US Embassy Express, which would link Kennington to Nine Elms North and then to Battersea.  This will probably be favoured by the Embassy themselves, who will have to cough up some of the cash.  Anyhow, this is just the consultation stage.  Remember what happened to the Cross River Tram, despite all of the consultation...

On a related note, Lambeth Council seem to have finally produced a document which concludes by stating what we all knew...  The Victoria line is at capacity.  Well, duh! But it's still ok to build the Nine Elms development (which will have the same population as Welwyn Garden City) on account of the fact that we could extend the concourse at Vauxhall. The document actually says, "The proposed works to Vauxhall Station, seek to reduce station congestion and improve public realm around the station by bringing the arch to the south of the station (former car rental office) into use as an extension to the existing concourse."  There are two slight problems.  The building that might be intended for the concourse extension is currently mooted to be the site of a new supermarket.  Perhaps it could be both.  But if the Waitrose rumours are true, I can't see the Waitrose shoppers loving to share their shop with the over-spill from Vauxhall tube station.  And, secondly, note that extending the capacity at Vauxhall Station doesn't actually increase the capacity of the Victoria line.  So there's not really any net gain, other than creating a holding pen for travellers.

How do we know about the supermarket? Mr OBB and his new posh neighbourhood watch club, were visited by the unassuming Clive Fraser of Lambeth Planning.  I'm not sure what Clive did in a previous life, but it must have been something really bad, since he's the chap that Lambeth Council send out to be their "public face of planning".  He's terribly nice.  But being terribly nice does not prevent more tall buildings appearing at Vauxhall when the transport infrastructure is currently at capacity.  I hope we'll see an improved  Vauxhall planning strategy that does more than just endorse the previous Mayor's contention that Vauxhall is a place for tall buildings (not that Boris has objected) from Lambeth Council.  We really need a sensible town plan for Vauxhall (rather than just a Supplementary Planning Document) so that we can review the developers' applications all at once, rather than one at a time.  How many more tall buildings are to be permitted before Vauxhall tube has to be made entry only in the morning, at peak periods?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Leafy Lambeth Leans Leftier with Labour Love-in - local elections

I'm afraid I've been away for the week, sunning myself on far-off shores, so have failed to provide anything of an analysis of the local elections.  The election night itself, and the post-election summary have both been covered exceedingly well over at Onionbag blog.  I was particularly keeping an eye out on Bishop's, Princes and Oval wards, since they're pertinent to this hyper-local patch.  I made a few Twitter predictions, but I hope nobody placed any bets as a result...!

I predicted that Princes Ward would stay Labour on account of the fact that none of the Lib Dem candidates really appeared in the ward before the election itself.  In that prediction I was correct, but that was my only correct guess.  Particular congratulations should go to Cllr Mark Harrison, who despite only winning his seat at the by-election last year, actually received the highest number of  votes in the ward.  It seems his hard work has paid off, and as a regular commentator here at Lurking about SE11, I'm quite relieved (in a non-partisan manner) that he's still around.  I was somewhat surprised that the Green Party's Joseph Healy did not receive a more substantial vote.  Dr Healy was present at all of the hustings, had a good online presence and has been dragging himself around campaigning locally.   Nobody had really heard of or from his colleague Dr Butterworth before the election, and yet she was awarded a greater number of votes.   Very strange.  I'm still convinced there might be something in the Onionbag's first-in-the-alphabet theory.  Anyhow, happily Joseph has said that he's going to keep blogging in some form, which is encouraging, as additional constructive political criticism is always good for democracy.  In Prices, the Tories also increased their percentage of the vote from 2006, but only very marginally, and the national elections might account for that trend.

I thought Bishop's ward might be lost by the Lib Dems to Labour (I was utterly wrong, since there were nearly 200 votes between the trailing Lib Dem and the leading Labour candidate), so Bishop's remains stubbornly Lib Dem.  I've got this vague hypothesis that Bishop's (surely a wealthy ward?) is only Lib Dem on account of the fact that none of the residents will allow themselves to vote Tory (since they live South of the river in the dangerous urban inner-city that is Bishop's ward), but neither can they bring themselves to vote Labour...  Why any Tory with any political ambition would live in Lambeth is somewhat beyond me...  Lambeth must be one of the few places in the country which can veer further towards the left at a time when everybody else was figuring how to get rid of Gordon Brown.

I also thought that Oval Ward would remain Lib Dem.  Arguably, that guess was closer to the end result, but since Labour now have two new Oval councillors, and the Lib Dems have kept only one seat, it seems that I was wrong!  It was a hotly-contested seat, with several re-counts and a late night for all involved, but Oval now sits very firmly in the red camp.

I'm afraid I must admit to more incorrect predictions.  How wrong could I have been?  *hangs head in shame*  I even predicted that Lambeth Council would be hung.  Well, it is.  Of sorts.  It's responsible for its own public hanging, for those readers who had hoped there might be some viable opposition against the Labour stranglehold.  But in terms of votes, I've done a quick map analysis of the 2006 elections (left hand map) and the 2010 elections (right hand map), and you can see the map has gone several shades red-er, but more interestingly, it has become stripier too:

By stripier, I mean that a larger number of wards are now represented by more than one party.  In 2006, only Herne Hill and Clapham Common had wards with split votes.  In 2010, Thurlow Park, Clapham Common, Vassall and Oval are all wards that will have to work out partnerships for the common good.  I wonder whether Clapham Common will continue to act so accurately as a barometer for the country as a whole.  If David Cameron and Nick Clegg fall out of bed, will Clapham return to Labour and the Lib Dems?  Maybe home-owners should use this map to figure out where to buy property.  If you bought in Clapham Common, you've done well, since everybody else did too...  Perhaps the Tories will shift their focus from the south-east corner of the Borough to the west.  I'm hoping too that the Greens won't give up on Lambeth as a lost cause.

Anyhow, all of this talk of a Lib-Con partnership at a national level matters not a jot for SE11-ites.  If you find yourself living in SE11, it's with Labour you'll be contending for the next four years.  That means, we need to focus on their election promises.  Only, I can't find them online.  Does anybody have any of the literature created by Bishop's Lib Dems, Princes' Labour or Oval Labour/Lib Dems?  I've found an Oval Labour postcard, but it doesn't really contain any promises.  Likewise, the Bishops' Lib Dems appear to have written to everybody, but I can't see that the letter contains any policy.  The Straight Choice website has a Vauxhall Labour leaflet, which will have to be used for the purpose of glimpsing the future:

1.  Council tax has been frozen for two years (good move).  But that, of course, does not really point to what will happen in the years to come.

2.  Labour seem to be planning a "borough-wide hit squad".  Jean McCarthy (quoted in the literature) is usefully a Princes resident, so I'll keep my ears open for any additional bobbies on the beat in Princes that might help reduce local crime.

3.  "Kate fights for local pool facility" reads the headline on the literature.  But it's not clear where Kate has been fighting that particular battle, unless it was for the laughable 12 metre swimming pool.  The leaflet then goes on to mention the former Lilian Baylis hub, which I will continue to focus upon.  I was unaware (but hopeful) that a pool was planned for the site.  In the meantime, I'm still waiting to hear news of the officers' report (see comments) on the site that Cllr Harrison was trying to procure back on the 18th March.

The above leaflet has more of a Hoey-esque focus, so it would be good if the Princes, Oval and Bishops election winners could leave some comments about their aims and ambitions for the next four years.  Links to election campaign literature is very much welcome, as I don't seem to have received much.

The SE11 Lurker is not impressed by the Lambeth Labour Lefty Love-in at a time when the rest of the country has returned a hung parliament.  I'd like to see a more transparent council, with document digitisation and the opening up of non-confidential Council papers, as they pertain to our individual wards.  There has been some stinging criticism made recently of Council officers, and I'd like to know how Councillors think internal bureaucracy might be better scrutinised by the electorate, who pay the officers' wages.  I will personally continue to demand local political accountability by focusing on the following:

1.  Former Lilian Baylis site - This now needs public consultation, or failing that, to be turned into a community facility that has more longevity and investment than current SAZ meanwhile use.  A swimming pool would be great, but the building needs over £10 million worth of repairs, and we're still waiting to hear what Labour's "community hub / John Lewis model" looks like.  Has a preliminary paper been written on the topic?  When might it be viewable?

2.  Former site of Beaufoy Institute - It would be good to see discussions about the future of this site, especially if it is to be an educational establishment, made public early.

3.  Re-zoning Kennington tube from Zone 2 to Zone 1 - I know Caroline Pidgeon has raised questions about this, but it's one for the Mayor. I'll also be closely observing tube closures and news about transport improvements.  I've seen some good news for the Northern line, which I'll write about shortly, but South London desperately needs improved transport infrastructure.

4.  Additional River Thames piers in Lambeth - Another one for the Mayor, but this would be a rather inexpensive means of improving the transport infrastructure for those in Bishops, Princes and Oval wards.

5.  Further development of Mayor of London / Lambeth Council planning documentation - It's not enough to keep blaming the Mayor's plan for permitting tall buildings, when the Vauxhall Supplementary Planning Document could be used to keep the ambitions of wayward developers in check.  Vauxhall should benefit from development and regeneration, but such development must occur as a result of proper town-centre design, instead of developing through ad-hoc developer planning applications.

6.  Council housing issues / leaseholder charges - The less said, the better, but I'll be reporting on any correspondence I receive re. the performance of Lambeth Living.

7.  Cycle issues - I will keep focusing on the development of the Cycle Superhighways, and on cyclist injuries/fatalities and on the development of local cycle routes/facilities.  The 20mph speed limit campaign could probably use some attention, so that's something that's worth keeping an eye on.

8.  Crime - Dangerous dogs, gangs, petty theft, burglary etc. will all be monitored, and there's no reason that we couldn't see a reduction in crime by closer resident co-operation.  Would be interesting to see if the Council have any local initiatives that might help with this, other than just increasing police presence.

9.  Green issues / recycling - I'll be looking out for an improvement in recycling levels within the Borough, as well as news on allotments/growing and healthy living.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Kate Hoey holds Vauxhall constituency

Unsurprisingly, Kate Hoey has won and held the Vauxhall constituency for Labour.  That is unsurprising.  Well Done, Kate.

But she's also already made a spiky proclamation (there's a surprise), with one source claiming that she announced at about 12:30 last night, "if the results are as they look tonight, Gordon will go very, very quickly."  I don't think Kate would be too upset by that result, as there's not a lot of love lost there.

What /is/ interesting is that according to the BBC, the Conservatives improved on their share of the vote in Vauxhall by 7% (with Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens all losing some of the vote).  Does that reflect the changing demographic of the constituency?  Is it a result of the boundaries having changed?  Or, is it part of an un-South London-like Conservative swing? 

Repeating the story in the rest of the country, there was an upsurge in the number of people coming out to vote in Vauxhall.  Turnout was at 57.7% this year, up from 46.9% in 2005, but that doesn't sound particularly high to me.  By comparison, in 1992, 62.4% of the constituency turned out to vote.

Even despite our extensive and colourful list of candidates (somebody was supposedly present at the Vauxhall result, in a fox outfit), support for minorities was low.  After the extensive online Drinkall campaign, I'm surprised that the anti-capitalists won fewer seats than the Socialist Party of Great Britain.  The English Democrats (despite failing to appear at the hustings) came 5th, winning more votes than any other of the small minority parties.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Princes and Oval Ward hustings - what the candidates think

One of the difficulties with the Princes and Oval Ward hustings was that whilst plenty of candidates were present, only one representative from each party was able to speak.  The speakers tended to be the best that each party had to offer, and so delivered a more impressive (but less amusing) debate than at the Vauxhall constituency hustings.  There was no English Democrat present (disappointing, as they can offer some quite unique perspectives), so representation was from the usual selection of red, yellow, green and blue politicians.  Princes Ward was over-represented with Mark Harrison (Labour), Joseph Healy (Green) and Michael Poole-Wilson (Conservative) all speaking, which meant that the only Oval ward candidate at the front was the long-standing and somewhat rambly Andrew Sawdon.  In fact, I began to suspect that it would be fantastic were a multi-coloured selection elected to represent both wards, since I felt that each of the candidates' offerings contained some merit worthy proposals.  Healy deserves a special mention for appearing at Vauxhall hustings and Princes hustings, and being equally clued up for both.  Thanks should go to KOV for organising the hustings and to Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre for the venue.

The evening began with introductions and quick requests to all candidates to reveal which cabinet position they most coveted within Lambeth Council, were they to be given the option to take one up.

Dr Healy (Green) kicked off the proceedings and highlighted three issues that the Greens consider important for Lambeth.  The first was "twenty is plenty", a proposed national scheme whereby all of the roads controlled by the Council in an area would have a 20mph speed limit.  The second policy was the suggestion of a London Living Wage for all Council employees.  Lastly, Healy considered that the ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) had been an utter disaster, and proposed that council housing in the borough be returned to democratic control.  Due to his work with a disability organisation, he would like the Cabinet post of Health and Social Care.

Next up was Michael Poole-Wilson, whom I find considerably more impressive than Glyn Chambers (perhaps that is not saying much!).  The first priority for the Conservatives was Housing.  Poole-Wilson bounced off Healy's point that the ALMO had failed.  He added that social housing in the borough had been a failure as a result of rents and services charges having risen disproportionately compared with services offered, and also noted the scandal of empty properties in Lambeth.  The second Conservative priority was school places, which are considered not plentiful enough.  The last Conservative priority is to combat waste, not just resolving empty housing issues, but looking into 6 figure council officer salaries and non-performance related bonuses.  Finally, the Conservative candidate finished his opening gambit with the contentiousness issue of Lambeth Living, which the Conservatives would like to see abolished.  Poole-Wilson would take the Lambeth Council Cabinet position for Housing.

Lib Dem Cllr Sawdon noted that Lib Dems "take up local issues, working on behalf of local constituents on very localised problems".  I was wondering whether he was taking his cue from the League of Gentlemen, "this is a local shop for local people", but I'm afraid not!  Policy-wise, Sawdon mentioned housing and the total disaster of the re-structuring which resulted in the ALMO, which he maintained the Lib-Dems have always opposed.  Sawdon admitted that the Lib Dems were prepared to get rid of the ALMO, but that it is "hard to squeeze toothpaste back into a tube".  The Lib Dems are also determined to end the "scandal of empty properties".  Secondly, Sawdon mentioned the planning issues re. the huge Nine Elms development area and the question of how the mechanism for providing transport, social infrastucture and school places would be implemented.  Sawdon would take the Cabinet position for Transport.

Last up was Mark Harrison (Labour), the current (and most recently elected) Councillor in Princes Ward. Mark began by noting that "housing isn't where we want it to be at the moment", but housing aside, argued that Labour was standing on a strong record.  That record included freezing council tax, cutting £30m of waste and re-stabilising council finances.  Harrison noted that youth and road/pavement spending had been doubled, the safer neighbourhood teams had been boosted with PCSOs funded by the council, and failing services such as housing benefits and planning have been transformed.  The Council have opened 3 new schools so that the shortage of secondary school places was ended (although he admitted that there's now a primary school issue). The GCSE results in Lambeth are up, and better than the national average. Somewhat controversially, he noted that the Council had prevented the sell off of the former Lilian Baylis, and allowed SAZ to use the site (more on that below!)... In terms of Labour's priorities, they plan to keep council tax low, fund a police "hit squad" to tackle anti-social behaviour, invest in roads/pavements, cut carbon emissions by 20% and upgrade ten thousand homes which should hopefully lead to the ALMO's improvement to unlock central government funding. He'd take a cabinet position in Housing.

There then followed a series of questions, or general rambles which sometimes emerged into questions, and sometimes just turned into general moans.  Such is the nature of local democracy.

Qn: "How do you plan to change the relationship between the Councillors who are the policy makers, and the officers who don't carry out what they're supposed to have done?"

Healy (Green) noted that his colleagues who attend council meetings had seen the undisguised contempt that the council officers had for councillors and he would want to address this.  He borrowed one of Kate Hoey's points and argued that the top grade Council Officers are paid disproportionately high salaries, and felt that pay should be performance related.  He was concerned that council officers are able to insulate themselves from the complaint process.

Poole-Wilson (Cons) agreed on the problem, which he argued lay partly with pay disparity.  He'd focus on attaining buy-in from residents about whether they wanted an ALMO through a ballot.  He also suggested that pressure could be put on officers by publicising individual examples of malpractice, such as the neglect of removal of asbestos.

Sawdon (Lib Dem) also thought that very well paid top level people was a problem with the creation of the ALMOs, and that front line housing staff suffered demoralisation as a result of the reorganisation.  He noted that front line staff need to be remotivated, and tenants and leaseholders on estates need to be re-engaged. The Lib Dems want to restructure the ALMO on a more local basis and to reduce management costs.

Harrison (Lab) considered it a good question, that if councillors knew the answer to, would transform the Council overnight. He also admitted that officers aren't always as responsive to councillors or residents as the Council would want them to be. Harrison thinks the way to change that is through persistence and courtesy (I'm not convinced that that will work as effectively as targeted redundancy!). Harrison agreed with Healy re. performance related pay, but said that union opposition would need to be overcome, and there'd be a risk of demoralising the officers by changing the workforce structure. He said that Labour had set up a commission which has reviewed how staff could be encouraged to positively improve performance and services, rather than being told what to do.

At that point, the chair digressed somewhat and gave all of the candidates a lecture about the officers being unresponsive to councillors and the public. This caused Healy to point out that Southwark were using Lambeth's ALMO as an example to deter Southwark voters from voting Labour. Harrison pointed out that there was a £750m housing black hole in Southwark, before being told firmly by the chair that she wasn't interested in Southwark!  Poole-Wilson then interjected by commenting that he would extend Labour's ward purses to estates and also put empty council properties back into use. He suggested that companies could renovate empty properties, and then share the rent earned between the improvement companies and the Council. (One fears that the Council would become heavily reliant on such companies, and it would de facto privatise the public housing sector, but it was one of the few innovative proposals put forward at the hustings.)

Qn: "We've had two KOV meetings on the Nine Elms Opportunity Area. This matter incorporates transport issues, and we wonder whether pressure would be put on local parking or cause Section 106 money to be diverted to transport instead of local areas? Could we have opinions on that?" 

Healy (Green) raised the issue of the American Embassy and potential security issues. Healy is suspicious that the only reason the Northern Line is being extended to Battersea is to enable US diplomats to travel to work more easily! Cllr Thackeray (Green) introduced a motion in the Loughborough Junction area to encourage Section 106 money to be spent as local residents desired, and the Greens would look to extend that policy.  (I felt that this didn't really do justice to the questions about the extent of the Nine Elms plans and local objections to tall buildings.)

Harrison (Lab) thought that "part of the problem with planning is that it's split between the Mayor and Lambeth."  He seemed to suggest that tall buildings were not the Council's fault because it was Mayor's decision to put tall buildings at Vauxhall, and "there's not a great deal that Lambeth Council can do about that". He was heartened to see local organisations involved with the planning process and wanted to ensure the planning department's full engagement with such groups.

This caused Cllr Sawdon to leap into action. "It's not wholly true that the Mayor decides everything", he announced with previously unknown vigour.  "The principle of planning is supposed to be that the Mayor decides the broader strategic issues, and the Borough decides the more detailed local aspects and the individual planning applications."  Straight from the horse's mouth.  So, what has gone wrong, I wondered?  Why are we faced with this influx of tall buildings?

Sawdon continued..."If you take the Vauxhall area, the London Plan had a broad brush approach from London planners as it had been developed under Ken Livingstone, for clusters of high buildings at Vauxhall. It was then legally speaking for the Borough to develop the Supplementary Planning Document to turn that into detail.  What happened was inherently political. The Supplementary Document was put on hold whilst the Council waited for the Mayor's view, which has resulted in the existing applications coming forward rapidly without a framework in place."

I felt that this was an incredibly strong answer (although I've cut out rather a lot of waffle).  Planners, please take note.  Sawdon also added that he felt that there's nobody within the Planning Department who is employed to engage with people in the development of a vision for their area, and he placed the blame firmly at the feet of the politicians.  (I'm rather presuming that he must be referring to the Labour politicians, since he is also a politician, but it wasn't clear...)

Poole-Wilson (Cons) wanted to tap into the expertise of local organisations (which is either a very wise answer, or veering towards the John Lewis model).  As a Tory boy, he quickly jumped to the rescue of Bo Jo by placing the last tall building decision firmly into the lap of  John Prescott!

Qn: "There will be a large residential increase in the area when expenditure on public projects will be limited, and investment in the Northern Line, will take years. There's a question of air pollution... What will you do to make walking and cycling not something hazardous, but something that is a non-polluting pleasure?"

Harrison (Lab) felt that Lambeth were going in the right direction. (What a relief!  It would be a nuisance for the local Council to have another Hoey-like thorn in the flesh that disagreed with them).  Harrison wants to remove the Vauxhall Cross gyratory and re-design to improve for pedestrians and cyclists. (Can anybody remember whose idea it was to install the gyratory in the first place?)  He supports a 20mph speed limit in residential streets.  Harrison (unsurprisingly) does not support Boris Johnson's attempts to cut down the time that pedestrians are given to cross the roads, just in order to keep vehicular traffic flowing.

Poole-Wilson (Cons) felt that bike hire schemes will help people who live in flats where bikes can't be kept. (I'm not convinced that these bike hire schemes will be affordable for all, but he didn't touch on that).  He felt that the Cycle Superhighway isn't perfect due to cars driving in them, but that they are a step in the right direction.  Sawdon (Lib dem) noted two recent deaths in Oval Ward and considered highway and junction design to be important. He added that a 20mph limit would make a great deal of difference, but there are issues in getting the Mayor and TFL to conceive that it's not just a matter of side streets, but the main routes.  (Lots more waffle, but rather short on substance.)

Healy (Green) mentioned that the EU is about to fine London's government because of appalling levels of air pollution and people dying from respiratory illnesses as a result.  He thought that single-use streets (an idea from Kensington and Chelsea) might be interesting, but was concerned that disabled and blind people be consulted about the effects of such ideas.  He commended looking into "new ideas" around "highway design", but wasn't any more specific.

Qn: "I am concerned about expense. There are two key things.  If you reduce the speed limit in an area, it's not expensive to put up signs.  There needs to be some attention to enforcement re. behaviour of cyclists and drivers so that everybody is given space. Would you commit to cycling to Council meetings at the town hall?

Poole-Wilson (Cons) committed to cycling twice to the Town Hall.   (I think he might have been deliberately ambiguous about whether he'd committed twice, or whether he intended only to cycle twice!!!)  He was enthusiastic about car parks housing vehicles for car share schemes.

Qn: "Labour have introduced the idea of co-operative government, and the Lib Dems have mentioned it in their manifesto. What would that look like more concretely?   It can be difficult to get people together to agree, and we're hoping that that's why we're electing councillors. Can we hear further from Labour about the Lilian Baylis hub, and from the Lib Dems?"

Harrison (Lab) was no more forthcoming in his response than Steve Reed has been. He uttered generalities about needing to be flexible and the dangers of imposing one size fits all model on groups. Labour are apparently "keeping an open mind about how we would introduce this over the next 4 years". Harrison promised a commission to see how the principles would be put in action.  He noted that the SAZ lease is temporary whilst a community group is established to run that site and asked anybody with problems accessing the site to contact their councillors.

Sawdon (Lib Dem) was more excited about the use of the co-operative model for sports areas on the basis that "there are a lot of people committed to sport."  He noted that the Borough's centre(?) is run by a company in Greenwich which is not responsive.  But instead of elaborating further on the co-operative model, he tried to get into a fight about Labour selling off the former Lilian Baylis to the All Nations church.  Fortunately, somebody interjected that both the Lib Dems and Labour have tried to sell off the site, and that whole row was stopped in its tracks!

Another person asked about whether, if local government made cuts, anything could be done to lead to greater efficiency? The chair, unfortunately, over-rode with an unrelated question about what proposals would be in place to strengthen the viability of local businesses.

Healy (Green) was not to be deterred, and returned to the John Lewis model of council, which he noted that Cllr Reed has presented as a new model plan in very simple terms.  He was concerned that enacting a John Lewis model across a huge council is very dangerous. He wanted to know why, with the possibility of 30% cuts, the electorate haven't had flesh on the bones?  He stated, "We've heard new model ideas before, and they sound impressive and glossy, but what is behind it?"  Poole-Wilson (Cons) jumped excitedly on to the bandwagon, "there has not been flesh on the bone re. the John Lewis council and people in the area don't know what Labour mean by it."  But he went on to differentiate himself from the Green Party, by saying that he's more willing to give it a chance, whatever is meant by it. (That felt a bit like having your cake, and eating it too!)  Poole-Wilson then approved the idea of a third-party run school, funded by the state in the Beaufoy.  (It's sometimes difficult to separate the Tories from the Labour lot in Lambeth).

Sawdon then wanted to talk about supporting business (probably because the Lib Dems don't really know what they mean by a co-operative council either.  He thinks that over the last 4 years, there has been focus on grandiose projects and wants to return to a more localised town centre approach when supporting businesses.  But Harrison (Lab) though that Labour's business-loving record had been superb, since Labour had invented a Cabinet member for Business and Enterprise, formed a help desk for businesses navigating the council, created business awards and focused on worklessness.  He noted that the Streatham hub deal had been signed and considered it well worth the years of negotiation (this was a riposte to Sawdon's criticism of the grandiose projects).  In any case, Streatham's hub does not really address the lack of leisure centres around SE11, but perhaps Harrison should be awarded merit points for reading out very long lists of Labour's achievements.

Qn: "In 4 years time, looking back, what would each candidate most want to have achieved?"

Poole-Wilson: Better housing, speedier repairs, charges and rents that match with the service provided.  (Good answer, delivered instantly.)

Harrison: Windows replaced in Vauxhall Five Estate, a community set up on former LB site, a school on the Beaufoy site and housing service transformed.  (Another good answer, and some of it is on the way to being achievable).

Sawdon: Cure the backlog of housing repairs, see the end of the holes in the road and the removal of local puddles. (I really thought that this was weak.  The "removal of local puddles" really was the phrase used, and I thought the Lib Dems might aim for something a little grander!)

Healy: All housing properly insulated, starting with pensioners, and a statue of Charlie Chaplin erected in Vauxhall Gardens. (Again, a weak closing answer, considering that some of his criticisms are very good.  Can you really compare being proud of potential transformation of the housing service with a Charlie Chaplin statue?).

Qn: How can a greater number of local residents contribute their views to funding priorities in their neighbourhoods under the Sustainable Communities Act? [This one was from the chair]

Poole-Wilson (Cons) wanted to focus on getting Councillor's voices heard above officers.  Harrison (Lab) was rather flummoxed by the thing, and jokingly suggested that it changes its name so that people had some idea of what it was.  Sawdon (Lib Dem) denied that a "Sustainable Communities Act" was needed, and argued that "a local council with the will to devolve budgets to local areas, which will enable residents to be in charge and decide what projects they want to see implemented" would be sufficient.

And finally, the question that is on the hearts and minds of every voter in Lambeth....

Qn: "If Lambeth Living is replaced, where would statutory notices be published? Would it be put in the South London Press?"

Poole-Wilson (Cons) appeared to retract his earlier statement about abolishing Lambeth Living and felt instead that it could be replaced with a shorter newsletter, which did not include propaganda from Steve Reed.  Sawdon (Lib Dem) wholeheartedly agreed. He felt that newspaper ownership could be debated, but then came out with the most bizarre statement of the evening... "it would be a shame if all local newspapers were forced out of business by the withdrawal of local authority advertising, when they're often the only local independent voice"  Gah!  As though local newspapers would be forced out of business solely on the withdrawal of statutory advertising.  That seemed patently ludicrous.  Harrison came to the rescue.  "The statutory notices need to be put somewhere", he retorted. "The local press has a tiny circulation in Lambeth, and Lambeth Life goes to every home and ensures everywhere gets to see the notices.", he added.

Of course, that was like a red rag to a bull.  Various people immediately announced that they didn't receive Lambeth Life!! Another audience member suggested (in a bizarre hybrid of the Communities Act thing and the John Lewis model) that "local residents take control of the budget and Lambeth Life and put in it what they want!"  "Hear, hear" I nearly declared!  (After all, I can think of somebody who would make a great editor.)

But Healy jumped in with the last word by noting that lots of people don't receive the paper, at the same time as defending the need for a Council paper, and noting "there's a strange relationship in Lambeth between the South London Press and the ruling administration, as there have been recent tussles and police action."  Instead, Healy wants an independent council magazine.

The hustings enabled all participants to engage with audience members before the debate so there was lots of wandering around.  I was deeply unimpressed when I over-heard Sandra Lawdon (Lib Dem, Princes) admitting that she was not currently aware of specific issues affecting the ward, and would need to read-up on them were she elected.  I'm not sure whether that's quite the point, when trying to persuade local people to vote for you.  Other than Sawdon, the other two Oval Lib Dem candidates were not present and I didn't see any of the other Lib Dem Princes Ward hopefuls.  I was also rather unimpressed to hear that Marcus Letts, one of the Green candidates was down in Brighton, rather than appearing at his local ward hustings (what is it with these guys and Brighton?) and except for the ever-present Healy, none of the other Green candidates appeared.  I didn't notice Labour's Cllr Morgan or Cllr Campbell at the hustings (did anybody else?), although Jack and Jane (the Oval Labour folk) were present.  There was a good Conservative turn out, but I didn't manage to speak to any of them...

(Apologies for the delay and length in this report, but I hope its publication today might help anybody still wavering on which party to vote for.)

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Good news for Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre

Despite the impending public sector cuts hovering around the other side of the election, and the likelihood that the voluntary sector will feel the squeeze, Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre has been delivered some superb news in the shape of a brand new community centre.  The new centre is a number of years away from delivery, but contracts have been signed and the VGCC have been granted security of tenure at 100 Tyers Street (their current home) in the meantime (not bad for something that began life as a squat 25 years ago).

CLS holdings (a development firm) will enter into a partnership with VGCC and buy 100 Tyers St from Lambeth Council, in exchange for building the brand new centre nearby.  Thanks to Kate Hoey's introduction, the development committee of the VGCC pursued independent conversations with the developers over several years (it sounds as though initial discussions through the Council were not successful) and the deal has been completed.  Well done to all involved.  I know the discussions have taken years to come to fruition.

This is very exciting news for the Community Centre, at a time when social spaces appear to be in decline.  Hopefully the impending improvement of Spring Gardens (which is about to return to its old name, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens), will also be positive news for all who are to find themselves living and working in the shadow of the very tall buildings to be erected in Vauxhall.  I'm currently waiting for an email from Cllr Prentice for more information about the pillars that are going up aside the entrance of the park (could somebody prod her, if they happen to pass in the corridor?)

For greater detail, and to view a draft copy of the new lease, take a look at the VGCC news page.

Have some Madeira m'dear - Madeira Day 2010

As a result of the atrocious weather on Sunday, the entire Madeira Festival event was impressively shifted by one day. As predicted, it was a fantastic festa, and here are a few shots that captured the mood of the day (click  on any of them to enlarge, and email me if you appear and would like me to blur your face or take the photo down) :

Setting the scene:

Vegetarians, look away now:

Quite early, at about 1pm, everybody is enjoying themselves with beer, Tapas, and the odd custard tart:

Living in London, wearing Madeira:

Somebody, somewhere, with a flair for flower arrangements must have been up all night.  I often wonder who the nameless ones are, that put their energy into making beautiful things:

The Brass band.  I swear that at one point, they were playing the White Cliffs of Dover, but I could be mistaken.  An impressive troop:

The jester.  I've no idea who this chap was (or even what he was saying), but he appeared to be having a marvellous time, making an ass of himself:

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Whatever happened to the Lilian Baylis lot?

I'm still struggling through the Princes/Oval hustings write-up and will soon have photos from Madeira Day to upload, which I hope to publish ASAP.

In the meantime, I'm always interested in ways that communities might develop positive links with all of their citizens, including local young people.  For many years in the SE11 area (and beyond), the name "Lilian Baylis School" has been synonymous with "trouble", and it takes a long time for that kind of reputation to shift.  It appears, however, that recent(ish) investment in new school buildings and a new head teacher (Gary Phillips) have wrought rapid change at Lilian Baylis.  Yet, unless you have children at local schools, it can seem impossible to know what takes place in educational establishments at all.  Obviously, that's partly as a result of the draconian legislation, put in place with the aim of protecting children (aka CRB checks), which make it harder to volunteer with young people.  But perhaps sometimes Londoners scurry around so quickly, keeping ourselves busy, that we fail to notice the institutions that are shaping the next generation and we forget that we /are/ the village that could be raising the children.  If that kind of forgetfulness becomes a habit, the risk is that we stop knowing young people as our neighbours, and start seeing them as "a threat".  I don't want SE11 to be the kind of place that is afraid of youth, and I'd be intrigued to know whether readers have ideas for how to link residents with schools in a way that could be fruitful for both.

In the meantime, to demystify Lilian Baylis, and the hard work that goes on behind classroom doors, I've discovered a TV series (recorded at the end of 2009) which demonstrates the kind of pressure that the staff and Head Teacher are under to deliver improved exam results and an environment in which all children might thrive and prosper.  The series was originally shown on Teachers TV, which isn't available on all networks, so I'm pleased they're viewable on YouTube.  Whilst the episodes are quite long, I've found them to be a fantastic window into an entirely different world and well worth watching:

I'm not the only one interested in this vastly improved school. The Guardian have run a story this morning on recruiting staff for challenging schools, with a quote from Gary Phillips (the Lilian Baylis head) who noted, "What you want is people who are motivated by the challenge and by the moral purpose – and by that I mean we are here to transform the life chances of all our students. We have teachers from a real range of backgrounds, but it's about what they believe in and what they're prepared to do for the students."

I suppose I'm asking the same question about our community. How do communities transform the lives of /all/ of their citizens? Are people interested in that kind of enterprise any more, or is it a hopelessly old-fashioned way of looking at community development?

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