Monday, 31 January 2011

Police tape around Walnut Tree Walk and Ethelred Estate

As I travelled into Kennington this evening, I noticed police tape surrounding much of Kennington Road, south of the Imperial War Museum with a policeman guarding the area.  A number of residents were denied entry to their properties in the location.  I received an email from a reader (thank you) stating that late this afternoon two muggings took place in Kennington.  (This is an unconfirmed report, and I've not yet managed to corroborate it).

The first mugging occurred in the lift between Scotson  House and Vantry House on the Ethelred Estate.  The victim was male.  The culprits were two young men who were seen wearing hoodies and face masks.  Shortly afterwards, another person was allegedly mugged on Walnut Tree Walk, although since (as of 11pm this evening), police are still at the scene, there is a possibility that the incident was more serious.

If you have any further information, please contact Kennington Police Station on 0300 123 1212.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Kate Hoey twists the knife into Lambeth Council and Cathy Deplessis steps down as chair of Lambeth Living

Readers affected by the ongoing saga of Lambeth Living (the Arms Length Management Company who manage all of Lambeth Council's tenancies and leaseholds) are probably now aware that Cathy Deplessis, Chief Executive of Lambeth Living stepped down two days ago on the 26th January.  Her resignation appeared to be mired in controversy, since it was denied as late as 4pm on the 26th and only confirmed during the Lambeth Living Board meeting of the same evening.  Ms Deplessis' departure follows hot on the heels of the Christmas Eve resignation of David Thompson, Lambeth Living's Officer in Charge of Major works.  I am guessing that Lambeth Living might have become unmanageable.

I refer interested readers to an excellent piece in the Streatham Guardian which reports that immediately after the resignation of Ms Deplessis' was announced, another board member, Chris Robertson, also tendered his resignation.  According to the Streatham Guardian, Mr Robertson claimed,
"I stood for election with the sole intention of representing the best interests of Lambeth residents. It has become clear in recent months that Lambeth residents are not being represented by the board and decisions are made without any reference or information to the board."
In a House of Commons debate on housing yesterday, Kate Hoey made damning remarks about Lambeth Living, and questionned whether government money might not best have been spent upon poor standard housing, rather than on Lambeth Living itself:
I would not want hon. Members to think that all ALMOs have been wonderful successes. The ALMO in Lambeth, Lambeth Living... has been pretty much of a disaster. The chief executive is leaving this weekend and the deputy left just before Christmas. The tenants in Lambeth are in a ridiculous situation. Their ALMO was going to get them a two-star rating. That did not happen, and the tenants are now left with huge amounts of very bad housing with no one wanting to do anything about it. The ALMO, therefore, was not the answer; the answer would have been to put the money directly into the estates that really needed it. Lambeth has some desperately bad estates. They need the money and I am not sure that spending money just on ALMOs made any difference.
Kate Hoey further spoke of her frustration as an MP at being constantly confronted by constituents at her surgeries, who live in over-crowded accommodation because she knows that so little can be done to resolve their issues.  Then, since the opportunity arose, she did the usual and slated Lambeth Council itself, damning its entire culture, whilst speaking out to protect the workers at the bottom of the pile:
"Lambeth is one of those boroughs in which politics change, council leadership changes and coalitions form-we have had it all during my time as a Member of Parliament -but one thing that does not seem to change is the culture and how it is run, particularly in terms of housing... 
I add my thanks to the people at the bottom of the structure-those who do the cleaning on the estates, particularly those who are in-house. Despite all the changes at the top, in which they never seem to be involved, and despite all the factors against them, they try to deliver good services, where they can. They are at the sharp end where the cuts will come, which will not affect the people on £250,000 a year-the directors and assistant directors of which we seem to have so many, who get huge amounts of money that never seems to be cut."
I'm quoting Hoey's remarks extensively, partly because I think she is right about the Council, but partly to outline how convienient a strategy it is to continually blame a whole succession of leadership in Lambeth.  I'd have thought that since this insightful and telling Hoey Report from Brian Deer in 1993, Hoey might have been able to wield some of her influence to make improvements within the Council.  The Council has been (except for the brief spell under the Lib Dems) under Labour control for years, and Hoey is a member of the Labour party.  It seems somewhat disingeuous for an MP who is known and admired for her work amongst local people, to be forever palming the institutional blame on to others.  Am I being unfair?  Is there anything Hoey could have done?  And if there isn't, then how might politics in Lambeth be fixed?

Anyhow, that's not all.  During her speech, Ms Hoey referred to an estate which is likely to be in SE11 (or possibly the western boundary of SE1) on account of it being  "a 10-minute walk from the House of Commons" in which "the windows are falling out".  Does anybody know which estate she has in mind?  In an attempt to have this blog focus on issues pertinent to all local residents, it seems only fair to record this information.  If your windows are falling out, or you know somebody whose windows are falling out, I'd be happy, with permission, to come around and photograph the damage and continually witter on about it until it is fixed.  Your local councillor should be aware of the issue, but it's worth making continuous noise about it.

Kate Hoey also took aim at local contractors, who are apparently akin to cartels:
"It is usually the same old companies that get the jobs anyway. All those people go around tendering against each other and operating cosy little cartels. It often ends up with someone getting a lot of money, and sometimes the standard of the work is not adequate."
But really, I fear that perhaps Steve Reed and Kate Hoey are actually in agreement with one another, since Hoey's strategies for fixing the mess sound a lot like the co-operative Council's.  (Remember no area will be witheld from the Co-op Coucil strategy, and much of it involves volunteers and people with initiative...)
"It upsets me that we have many empty flats and homes in Lambeth. When a tenant moves out or dies, their home is empty. Suddenly, that home cannot be let, because it is not up to decent homes standards, even though someone was living there two or three weeks ago, which is absolutely ridiculous. We should be able to allow people with a bit of nous who are on the housing waiting list to go in and do their work, like the old Greater London Council used to do. As long as the electrics and the health and safety are right, I do not see why anyone should not be allowed to go in and take the flat."
So far, so good, right.  Doesn't this sound like the return of the much vaunted volunteers, who are all going to spring out of the woodwork to form the Big Society?  Quite frankly, I'm sure we could find a team of local volunteers who'd be interested in helping redecorate empty properties from time to time.  This is certainly something that the charity Kids Company do periodically.  Unfortunately, it appears that the Council is not quite that co-operative yet and 10 properties were sold in 2009 for £1.68 million... The end of 2010 showed another £2.63 million made by Lambeth as they sold off another 13 council homes.  So maybe Hoey and Reed aren't singing from the same hymn sheet, since Hoey strongly states that this is unaccaptable. 
"Instead, we have flats sitting empty for months and even years. Then the council says, "We had better sell them off now because we cannot afford to make them good." It is absolutely scandalous, and I hope that the Minister will say that he will encourage such a route."
The coffee morning being held at St Anselm's tomorrow with Leader of Lambeth, Steve Reed and Kate Hoey both present in the same room should be rather interesting.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Changes afoot at Kennington Park Business Centre

I've heard that changes have been on the cards at Kennington Park Business Centre for some time, but no further details were forthcoming.  The Kennington Business Centre has potential to be turned into a small local retail/commercial hub, which betters takes advantage of passing trade (at the moment, it's quite "closed", and although it contains a (weekday) restaurant, most people don't realise.  Consequently, I hope the following application is viewed positively. 

A development application (10/04188/FUL) has been submitted requesting permission as follows:

Landscaping / public access
* Provision of a new landscaped public realm accessed from Brixton Road
* Alternations to the main entrance of Canterbury Court from the existing courtyard. 
* Change of use to ground floor of Canterbury Court to shopfront elevations on to Camberwell New Road

Canterbury Court
*  Change of use to ground floor of Canterbury Court to provide Retail / Financial Services / Restaurant floorspace (2,085 sqm)
* Change of use to ground floor of Canterbury Court to provide Leisure floorspace (2,015 sqm)
* Change of use to ground floor of Canterbury Court to provide commercial floorspace (365 sqm)
* Change of use to first floor of Canterbury Court to provide commercial floorspace (2,382 sqm)

Chester House
* Change of use to ground floor of Chester House to provide Retail / Financial Services / Restaurant floorspace (115 sqm)
*  Erection of new single storey to Chester House to provide Retail / Financial Services / Restaurant floorspace (47 sqm)

Chichester House
* Third floor roof extension to Chichester House to provide commercial floorspace (886 sqm)
* Demolition of existing entrance block to Chichester House and Chester House and erection of a new 4 storey entrance extension

And on the same site, guess who wants to open a new store?  Yup, you guessed it... our favourite supermarket giant wishes to further expand the Tescopoly.  Stockwell News reports plans for two new Tesco stores on Brixton Road, one at Kennington Park Business Centre and the other further south on the junction of Caldwell St (opposite Vassall Rd).  See more at, "Is Tesco eating Stockwell?".  Perhaps I should refrain from further comment on the basis of Dave Hill's article earlier this week in which he castigated those who have their shopping delivered by Tesco and yet criticise Tesco's ever expanding empire of Express stores.  Oh no, guilty as charged!  Dave suggests instead that people "reduce their dependency on supermarkets and spend more at the local independent shops they value".  Time to start shopping at Londis...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Local Councillor Coffee Morning (Princes Ward) & Cinema Museum exhibition on history of Wellington Mills and Cooper Close

I've been asked by the Princes Ward Councillors to publish a reminder that they're holding a coffee morning at St Anselm's Church Hall (Kennington Cross) on Saturday 29th January from 11am – 12:30pm.

All three of the Princes ward councillors, Lorna Campbell, Mark Harrison and Stephen Morgan will be present.  In addition, Kate Hoey MP, Val Shawcross (London Assembly Member) and Steve Reed (Leader of Lambeth Council) will also be at the coffee morning.  I don't think I've ever known all of these distinguished figures together in one place, so it would be a great time to go and speak to them re. matters pertinent to the Mayor (TFL etc.), or to the Vauxhall Constituency or to the local ward.  Has anybody got any ideas for questions?

Also on Saturday, from 11am - 2pm is a chance to view the Cinema Museum (2 Duggard Way, SE11 4TH) and its collection.  You might like to take the chance to visit an exhibition about the history of two Waterloo estates, Wellington Mills and Cooper Close.  The info. I've received says it's a family friendly event, with activities for children, cartoons in the cinema and a face painter.  Tea and cake will be served in the cafe.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Mudlarking: trudging along on the bank of the Thames

A few weeks ago, Tradescant Road wrote an excellent post on the discovery of Mesolithic remains on the foreshore of the Thames.   The remains are around 6000 years old, which makes them the oldest known bits of rock in London.  Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear what they are, but whatever they are, we've got them in Vauxhall.  We could build a museum, and attract tourists to our very own M16, but unfortunately, the 6-pronged rock formation thing can only be seen at very low spring tides.  As luck would have it, today was a very low spring tide day. So... this morning I did a little lurking about on the bank of the Thames, taking pictures (with some other mad people) of some bits of Mesolithic rock, and also a bronze age (approx 3500 years old) jetty or bridge.

It's a really odd feeling, walking about on pebbles that are usually submerged, but I recommend others do it if there's another chance any time soon...  Perhaps I should have taken the advice of "viewing from Vauxhall Bridge", since mudlarking is an excellent way of getting filthy.  Maybe it's time to invest in some wellies.  Anyhow,  here are a few photos:

 Not having any idea what I was supposed to be looking for, I was first advised by a gentleman nearby that the Mesolithic remains were the two circular blobs you can see (the largest is near the bottom of the photo).  Naturally, I was regretting that I'd left my bed so early...

Fortunately, either the chap in question was wrong, or those rocks are additional pieces of the structure because I returned a little later to find a crowd gathered around two of the real Mesolithic rocks.  Also, a third rock was visible slightly beyond the second one in the water, but it was submerged and I wasn't able to photograph it:

This is more impressive.  This circular formation is thought to be a Bronze age Jetty or part of a bridge. (Vauxhall Bridge, or somewhere near is thought to be the oldest bridge in London.)

A lake of water left on the foreshore as the tide withdrew shows how uneven the river bed seems to be:

I like this view of M16 from the ground when it's usually only observable from the Thames:

One of the outlets from the River Effra (and also, presumably the sewer outlet).  I'm not sure whether this is the "Brixton" or "Clapham" outlet referred to in my post on the Tideway Tunnel.  We presumed that when the pressure rises from inside the gates, it pushes them open.  There was still a trickle of (clean looking) water running from this outlet and down into the Thames.  If you look carefully, you can see the "Effra" sign at the top of the handrail:

I like this photo because it shows somebody climbing down the ladder well below the line of the watermark.  (When he arrived at the bottom, we did advise that there was an alternative way up again via the ramp!):

This is another outlet on the west side of the bridge.  Again, I suspect it to be the sewer overflow outlet, but I'm not sure.  It could be another outlet for the hidden River Effra, but there's no sign to indicate that:

This piece of sky will soon be hidden by the St George Tower, so I wanted a shot from the river bank.  This view won't be available again (at least for a long time):

Could this be a Mesolithic mobile phone?  Or just one from the Bronze Age?

This structure (not to be confused with the Bronze Age jetty), I was told, is much more recent and likely to have been used by the ship building industry:

By about 11:30am, a crowd had gathered.  I reckon we saw about 50 people wandering around the foreshore today.  The duck bus did not stop to let the passengers take a look at the  bits of rock:

I assumed that these folk were going to sail over and take a look at the Mesolithic stuff, but they just sailed on by.  I don't think I've ever seen such a small sailing boat on the Thames.  You can see the north side of the Thames in this shot, but nobody was wandering about over there:  

In this photo, I was hoping to capture just how low the tide was today.  The water looked almost narrow enough to swim across at some points:

Incident on Oakden Street (leading from Bishop's Terrace)

An incident took place on Oakden Street at 18:30 last night, when a section of a house on the road collapsed.  Four houses on the street had their rooves and attics exposed as a parapet linking them together became detached.  At first, the cause was thought to be a gas explosion, but this claim was dismissed by the on scene firefolk.  Approximately 50 residents were evacuated and there were no injuries.

ITV news were present, so there's a report you can watch here.  11 fire appliances were called to the scene, and a crane was brought in to assess damage.

Photos from @disappointment here:
Stupid iPhone. I'll never get my dexter fletcher scoop o... on Twitpic Stupid iPhone. I'll never get my dexter fletcher scoop o... on Twitpic

And here's another photo from @mrsdog showing the crane:
and here's the crane dealing with the collapsed roofs on... on Twitpic

And here's how it all looked this morning in the cold light of day:

Business closures, business openings and a potential fire

This post is a brief update with lots of bits and pieces that people send me, and questions asked.  None of it quite warrants a post of its own.

Business Closures
* St Aubyn's Holistic centre on Cleaver Street closed down (or appears to have done) in late December.

*  The antique dealer on Windmill Row (opposite Thai Ming) has sold, but construction appears to be taking place there, so that might yield something interesting.

* Finishing Touch on Kennington Lane (apparently, Kennington's longest serving hairdresser) closed on 3rd January and the building is up for sale.  (It's just on the corner of White Hart Street).

Business Openings
* The burned out old sandwich shop at 345 Kennington Road next to the Pizza Hut takeaway has a planning application on it.  According to a an email sent to me by a reader (thank you), it's been burned out for 20 years so it's about time something happened.  Unfortunately, it doesn't appear from the application 10/04211/FUL that any retail space is planned, and the proposal is for a some type of 4 room bedsit.  However, it's probably far better used for accommodation than left in its burnt out state.  It's still in the planning process so has yet to be agreed.

* A new bar has opened in Vauxhall, JD's place, at 353A Kennington Lane.  The interior is minimalist and quite funky with sprayed murals of Tower Bridge on one side and St Paul's and the city on the other.  Lunch is served from 12pm to 6pm (baguettes from £2.50) and dinner from 6pm to 10pm (burgers from £5.49), but when I popped in on Friday night, the music was so loud that I felt it was more a place to drink than a place to eat.  For pre-clubbing drinks and snacks, I can see it might be popular..

* Tesco on Kennington Park Road (around the corner from Toulouse Lautrec) opened in late December.  The site goes much further than I expected, and it's not a bad size for a small store.  I spoke to the folk next door in the fantastic Old Red Lion pub who think that business has improved as a result of the new store opening (which is one good thing) and I have to admit that I prefer Tesco to the previous store that was on the site.  Tesco need somebody to manage their community notice board, so go and feel free to speak to the manager if you want to do that.  Another plus point is that they've stuck a free cash point on the front of the store, and it's not easy to get cash around those parts.

* A new Londis has opened on Kennington Park Road opposite Kennington Park.

* The laundrette next to the funeral parlour on the corner of Kennington Road and Kennington Park Road is being refurbished and turned into something (not clear what yet).  That's quite positive as that row of shops looked quite drab.

* One reader tells me that the Old Amici's is alive with construction (I think this is the one on Kennington Road).  Anybody any further news?

* One reader wonders whether anybody heard or saw anything reported in relation to Costa Coffee, as apparently, the smell of burned coffee could be detected in the area and smoke was viewed from Lambeth Walk.  (It might just be normal operation.  Who knows?)

* The Ethelred Estate tower blocks have been reclad, and are now no longer a dingy brown colour.  They look very very good, and one of them had its scaffolding removed, only to be re-scaffolded to be cleaned when dirty streaks were revealed!  The towers are still mostly covered as we speak, but when they're finished, they're going to be impressive again.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Yoga in Vauxhall

Losing weight after Christmas or hoping to keep fit?  This is a quick note to let you know that yoga classes are due to take place on Tuesdays from 7pm - 8pm in the Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre on 100 Vauxhall Walk, SE11 starting 25th January and continuing until 1st March. 

£5 per class, or if you pay for 6 classes up front, it's £25.  See poster below for more details on how to register:

Friday, 14 January 2011

6 people stabbed / shot on Vassall Road last night - When we needed the Big Society, were you there?

It's slightly south of the SE11 area, but I was horrified to read the SLP report of 6 people shot/stabbed on Vassall Road yesterday at about 21:30 yesterday.  The SLP also state that the youngest victim was 14, but this contradicts the following from Stockwell Park Neighbourhood Watch.

Stockwell Park Neighbourhood Watch have stated that two of the victims were stabbed at about 20:41 on Cowley Road.  An ambulance was called, and whilst the crew were attending, two youths on bikes cycled past and firde several shots on a hand gun.  Consequently, four additional people were injured.  None of the injuries are life threatening and the ambulance crew remained unharmed.  After initial assessment, the police believe the incident was gang related and that none of the victims were "neutral".  (I take that to mean that they were innocent bystanders).  The victims are said to be within the age range of 16-18.  No suspects have been detained and police presence in the area will remain high to deter further violence.

I regularly defend this part of South London as a safe place to live against voices to the contrary.  Violence around here is sporadic and usually not against innocent bystanders, but that doesn't excuse it. Sometimes  the distance between Cleaver Square and Vassall Road seems huge.  Lambeth Council currently spend money on youth and anti-gang activities, and yet such funding is at risk in our new Big Society.  Does the funding make any difference?  After each stabbing or shooting, I always ask, "what can we do?".  And I'll keep asking it because I don't want us to stop being shocked. 

As residents, bloggers, commuters and workers, what are our options to prevent young people from turning to crime?  What do we do about the disparity between the haves and have nots?  Is it disparity that is the problem here?  Are the residents who live in relative poverty having a chance to meet the residents who are affluent?  Where is the forum in which we can discuss these issues?  We have neighbourhood groups and residents associations, blogs, and newspapers, but how often do we meet people who are different from us?  Is our response to stay in after dark and to keep our heads down when we walk along our streets?  Do we know the young people in our midst, and how might our neighbourhood be a community that shares its gifts?

I maintain that these stabbings and shootings are not what define our area.  We're defined by our friendliness and our openness to celebrate and share cultural differences.  We're defined by the number of community groups and "friends of" groups that are regularly set up in our midst.  And then something like this happens, and we talk of youth, gangs, drugs, opportunities and education, but I'm not sure if we're seeing any change.  When we needed the Big Society, were you there, were you there?

For an 18th January update on this incident, please continue reading at Stockwell News.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Who is the weakest link in Lambeth? Which department would you cut this week?

Ever wondered what it felt like to be Cllr Steve Reed, our esteemed Lambeth Leader?  It's the 2011-2012 budget consultation.  You have to save £80 million over the next four years.  £40 million of that must be cut in 2011-20102 although you're fighting the government to prevent immediate (or frontloaded) cuts.  You know that jobs will be slashed.  You know that services will be be eliminated.  Education will suffer.  Elderly people won't receive care at home any more.  Crime will rise as police services will be cut.  Children's services will suffer, risking more Baby P cases.  The youth budget is at risk, wiping out the good work done to prevent knife crinme.  Preventative and education services will go, costing the Council more in the long run.  Recycling and rubbish collection will happen less often.  Peoples' calls to the Council will go unanswered for days.  It sounds horrendous.  What would you cut?  Who is the weakest link?  The real Steve Reed is seeking to protect the £5 million youth budget in a bid to prevent future youth offending.  Note how the Evening Standard have used a photo of the Triangle Adventure Playground,  currently at risk of eviction by Lambeth.

Thanks to a free service, You Choose, provided by You Gov, Lambeth have been able to set up a simulation so that you can try on Cllr Reed's shoes, and attain control of the budgets.  Figure out how you'd make £25 million of cuts.  You control the money being spent at the moment, and you're told how much save.  You are given a few ways to bring in income, but these really don't amount to much.  You're not allowed to raise Council Tax. The choice is yours.  Each time you make a cut, you'll be told who is impacted and to what degree.  I started by slashing lots of back office stuff and was warned that I couldn't sustain those cuts because Lambeth would drop below statutory levels in various areas, so I had to make frontline cuts.  When you've finished with the simulator, email Lambeth Council and tell them what services you want to see protected, and where you'd place fees.

Working on a similar premise to Dostoevsky, who noted, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons", I figured that the same sentiment is true for the most vulnerable.  I resolved, in my budget, to lessen cuts to children who require the intervention of social services and to preserve provision for the elderly and those who have learning disabilities...  How did I do?  Do you agree with me?

1.  In children's services, I only cut £5.36 million (reducing the current budget by 8.4%), but I reduced provison of care to vulnerable children, introduced fees and reduced opening hours to youth centres and stooed the youth offending services.  I also reduced in school support.  That sounds like a large cut, but the spend on children's services is huge at £63.88 million.

2.  In adult social care, I kept reductions as low as possible and similarly cut £5.74 million (reducing the current budget by 9.2%).  Unfortunately, this resulted in reduced care in peoples homes, helping them to dress etc. and remain at home and reduced funding for residential day services.  Again, it sounds like a large cut, but under the simulation, £62 million was spent on adult social care.

3.  I decided that "Corporate services and benefits" didn't sound important so I reduced the current budget by 22%, and saved £6.75 million.  Of course, this had the effect of reducing internal support severely, increasing the risk of fraud and produced "significant delays" in contacting the council.  I cut the performance, policy, equalities and research to the minimum, just enough to continue statutory provision and I increased the delay in processing benefit applications (but I only delayed it, rather than cutting it to the bone).  I also reduced the communication budget substantially, but that means there are less staff to focus on core campaigns.

4.  Next I had to look at streets, waste, recycling and consumer protection.  I reduced the current budget by 11.2%, and managed a saving of £2.74 million.  I had to stop the food waste collection pilot.  Our roads will be covered in pot holes because the highways are now only inspected once a year.  I ceased all food premises inspections and stopped product safety checks.  After that, I reduced the operational hours for the noise service.  It now doesn't work on week days.

5.  My next budget was libraries, sports, parks and culture.  Oh dear.  I'm a huge champion of libraries, so I didn't want to cut those.  And cutting sport would be a mistake.  I ended up cutting £2.11 million, much of it in parks, reducing that budget by 13.6%.  I didn't merge any libraries.  I had to restructure the sport and leisure department to deliver the same level of service at lower cost (eek, how does that work?).  Culturally, we're now unable to deliver any arts development.  (Argh, but remember, I was focused on reducing cuts to the children and elderly).  But parks took the brunt of my cuts, since I felt that having no wardens and increasing cemetry charges and reducing tree maintenace wouldn't actually remove the parks as a resource.  They could always be recovered at some later date, right?

6.  Next, regeneration and enterprise.  I'm afraid that took a big hit.  I saved a mere £757k, but reduced the department by a shocking 24%.  It's only a small department, but I was trying to preserve services for youth etc.  Now, unfortunately, we will reduced investment in town centre management, local business promotion and job creation.  A small price to pay, but won't the recession be slowed by the fact that we're less able to assist with job creation?  I had to cut something!

7.  Finally, I took a look at community safety.  I slashed it by 19% (deciding that it was the police's responsibility), but it only had a small budget anyway, so I only sliced off £302k, nothing compared to the other departments.  Now Lambeth is unable to deal with drug and alcohol issues, and tackle offenders.  (And slashing my park rangers above isn't going to help either).

Positively, I was able to bring money in through events income (I did wonder whether there would be a department left to run the events), and through parking by £400k (ouch), but I chose not to raise fees for cultural services because that would hit sport.  I also managed to save some money by working more closely with health services (but that only netted 90k) and altered the way I provided social and welfare advice.  Note, I did not renegotiate Adult Social Care contracts or find efficiencies in Adult social services management costs.  I thought that those sounded like they'd make the care worse.  I also decided not to cut the few public toilets we'd got left.  The 175k saving was barely worth making.

The electorate are rightly angry.  Did I do the right thing?  What would you do?

The Con Dems are cutting local council budgets, but it was under a Labour administration that we ran up the debt in the first place.  Should we just keep blaming the bankers?  Welcome to the Big Society.

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens: £250k for a gold statue & Tea House Theatre refurb

(Photo taken from Tea House Theatre blog)

The Tea House Theatre (formely the Queen Anne strip pub) are moving ahead rapidly with their renovations.  They've got a new Tea House Theatre blog, where you can view photos of their renovation work and track their progress.  They've uncovered centuries of old wallpaper, discovered original fire places and cleared and cleared and cleared to reveal 1200 square feet of space.  It's very positve and will hopefully encourage further development of an "arts quarter" in SE11.

(Photo taken from Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens site)

What are they building on Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens?  Two 18 metre lit-columns to mark the entrance to the park.  Last night, as I was waiting for a lift outside Vauxhall station, I noticed that the two Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens "columns" appear to be surrounded by scaffolding, but progressing quite well.  They look a bit tall and rather strange in comparison with the surrounding buildings (reminding me of two down turned cigarettes), but art appreciation has never been my strong point.  What do readers think?

(Photos from Cinema Museum website and Bangalore.metblogs respectively)

Finally, how much does it cost to erect a statue of your favourite guru (or guruette) in Lambeth?  It appears that all you need is the backing of the Mayor and a £250,000 bribe (or, ahem, offering) to a local "friends of" group for regeneration of the Gardens.  Obviously, with looming council cuts, the money is attractive to the Friends of the Pleasure Gardens, but it does beg the question of whether local residents want a 3.5 foot bust (on plinth) of Basavanna, a 12th century Indian philosopher, on the Albert Embankment?  (I must make it clear that I'm not against public busts of important cultural figures from all over the place, and this Indian chap sounds like a thoroughly progressive guy, but I question the manner in which this has been proposed.  Which councillors would consider objecting and upsetting the mayor?)  It seems that the bust won't technically be in the Pleasure Gardens (which only accepts busts of local dignitaries), but on a grass verge opposite the Texaco garage which is not quite in the park, and therefore qualifies as an appropriate place for the statue.  Sounds a bit, well, below the belt...  Thanks to Vauxhall Society for the heads up on that story, and read more information about the proposal here.

All of this does lead me to wonder whether Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens might accept money for the often proposed (and somewhat unattractive) giant 20 foot outline of Charlie Chaplin that frequently does the rounds?  Will Charlie look down from the park on Basavanna?  And who will have the last laugh?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A new civic organisation for Oval

In addition to the Kennington Association, Vauxhall Civic Society, Riverside Community Development Trust, Lady Margaret Hall Settlement, Kennington Oval Vauxhall Forum and a gazillion "Friends of" groups, please put your hands together to welcome the recently relaunched Oval Partnership.  They're focusing on developing Oval Farmers' market in the grounds of St Mark's church and have recently launched a campaign to ensure adequate green space provision around Vauxhall, considering all of the new developments.  If you're interested in joining, no doubt there must be some method, but I couldn't find contact details or a form on their website.

I reproduce text from their recent email below and note that I may have more to conribute on the matter as I hope to attend local organisation VNEB consultation this evening.
The Oval Partnership is concerned that there is a real lack of additional open green space for all the proposed developments in Vauxhall. The proposed density of building and population is not balanced by an appropriate supply of green open space.  As the proposals for Vauxhall/Nine Elms are still in the development stage, everyone concerned needs to ask their local councillors to press Lambeth to make provision for some proper green space.

The problem and green spaces promised so far: The greenery proposed to date is at best decorative and aptly called 'parsley' by ecologists. For instance, the linear 'park' in Nine Elms turns out to be no more than front gardens for the new buildings, and the Sainsbury's site's proposed open spaces are small and paved. The Bondway, Vauxhall Cross and Wyvil Road developments are not offering new green open space of any substance at all.

Why we need green open spaces neighbouring onto the new developments:  Green open spaces need to be close to the new developments, so that new residents can use them for (for instance) walking the dog, family picnics and sending children put to play football or family cricket. It is London's parks and green spaces that make this such a great city to live in, and without adequate provision of green open space Vauxhall will risk looking like Canary Wharf rather than a place designed for living.

Although Spring Gardens is being invested in, it is in practice too far from the new developments in Vauxhall for any of the activities described above.  Spring Gardens will not be the park of choice.  It is quite far to walk if you have any encumbrance or not much time. Instead, the park that will be used for family picnics, walking the dog and sending children out to play football, will be the one closest to the Vauxhall developments - Vauxhall Park. The same applies to lunch hours and office workers - of which there will also be a considerable increase in Vauxhall. This means that we are looking at standing room only on sunny weekends and busy lunch hours in the summer in Vauxhall Park.

The overall lack of additional green open space to counterbalance the proposed increase in density of building and population will have a negative impact on the Vauxhall area and its vicinity.  The purpose of allowing new development is to produce an general improvement of the area.  Without adequate green open space the hoped for improvements will not be forthcoming.

What you can do: Please can you contact your local councillors and ask them to lobby for additional and substantial green open space.  You can find your local councillors’ contact details on this link:

Ghislaine Stewart, Chair The Oval Partnership

The controversial closure of Offley Works and Starlight Academy's move to Peckham

In March 2009, the Guardian's Dave Hill published a piece on the potential closure of Offley Works, an LDA building in Oval.  Offley Works is in the middle of Offley Road and it housed, amongst other projects, the Starlight Academy, a non-profit youth programme designed to provide young people with skills in performance and drama, and potentially enable them to build a career in the music industry.  The closure of the site for redevelopment would have meant that Starlight and similar groups were without a home.  Fortunately, the Starlight Academy gained a reprise in 2009 (mostly due to an unfavourable economic climate, which put off impending building works) and were granted permission to stay for another year.  In February 2010 (just as the lease was up), a new lease was offered, but it was felt that this did not grant the Academy or Code 7 (a gang intervention project) enough security so they refused to sign.  The projects held fast in the Works until October 2010, when the LDA filed for possession, payment for continued occupation building at £878 per day(!) and court costs.  Starlight claim that by the time the LDA had got their act together to help them move, there was not enough time to raise necessary funds to finance their move.  It seems that on Friday 7th January 2011, the repossession order was enforced.  Rather worryingly, the judge also upheld the decision to regain the huge occupation costs against Starlight and Code 7, which threatens (from what they've said) to leave them bankrupt.

I received an email to say that the building was boarded up some time over the weekend.  Happily the Starlight Academy have found another home in Southwark, down at Peckham Settlement in Goldsmith Road (it doesn't mention Code 7, and there's nothing on their website, so I hope they're ok).  Starlight's new site needs repairs, and they're seeking help from the LDA, Southwark Council and the public to raise money.  What's not so clear is where any of the other projects housed within Offley Works might have gone.  Perhaps they've just faded away, or maybe they gave up some months ago.  I'll update this post if anybody can supply additional information.

Small local charities are part of Our Leader's Big Society vision, but they struggle to get a hearing.  Watch one of Boris Johnson's finest moments, caught on camera by Code 7, here, as he refuses to enter into discussion and brushes Code 7 off on to James Cleverley.  Mr Cleverley agreed to meet Code 7, but was later uncontactable.  I wish I'd heard news of the possession order prior to closure, since I believe these small projects are vital for promoting social cohesion, building the confidence of young people and providing them with a constructive space, instead of the streets, to  learn new skills.  I don't know whether our hyper-local blogs influence decision makers, but I can tell from various Lurking about SE11 stats that people from the LDA, London Transport and even the Houses of Parliament do visit, and we've seen encouraging progress on other matters by campaigning from local organisations such as the Kennington Association.  Please do email me if you are aware of other organisations under threat so that we can share local knowledge and work together to sustain our community.  Through sharing news, I hope we can figure out who is worth supporting. In the interests of fairness and balance, I should note that the Evening Standard published a damning piece on both Code 7 and Starlight back in June 2009 when it alleged:
"Starlight claims it has provided arts outreach training for young people at risk since 1997, and in Lambeth since 2006. However, there are no current courses shown on its website. Its listed telephone number is a mobile which was switched off, and it failed to respond to emails from the Evening Standard posing as a would-be student asking about outreach courses"
I don't have any insider information on this matter, and it should of course be noted Starlight and Code 7 came under Ken Livingstone's remit, so it's not surprising that the new administration under Boris are reluctant to give them air time.  Whatever the truth of the matter, it's clear that Starlight have a strong enough project that they've been given a home in Southwark.

The LDA have their own plans for Offley Works.  Apparently it will be redeveloped as "an employment-led mixed use scheme".  I'm unclear on whether that means residential live/work unit flats (which usually end up just being converted into flats) or some type of business park (a strange use since Kennington Park Business Centre and the Co-op centre in Mowll Street have available units).  The buildings are in a considerable state of disrepair and do need work, but this possession order business does not seem to be the best start for this LDA project.  Design for London have a good photo of the building (and surrounding area) from above.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Several proposed docks in Lambeth missing from TFL London Cycle Scheme Olympic Expansion

I'm not ready with any detailed posts just yet, but have stumbled across the following today.  Somebody submitted a FOI request re the Olympic expansion of the Boris Bike Scheme requesting details of the proposed new bike docks.  South London people might have been hoping for additional stops to Camberwell, Peckham, Clapham, Stockwell etc. but it seems (unsurprisingly, given the Olympics), that Tower Hamlets will be the real beneficiary, with Westminster gaining substantially too.  It will be interesting to observe the Boris Bike dock on Park Lane during the Olympics...  I fear for hapless tourists.

The Lambeth (Kennington/Oval/Vauxhall) proposed docks and extensions were catalogued in a magisterial post over at the Princes Ward (Labour) blog in November last year.  In that post, it appeared that nine docking stations were submitted for planning approval, but I wasn't clear about how quickly they'd be phased in.  I'm guessing that they'll now form part of the TFL Olympic expansion because they seem to be listed on TFL's proposed Olynpic expansion list except we're four docks short of the 9 submitted, and St Thomas' Hospital appears to have made its way back on to the TFL list:

1.  Kennington Cross/Sancroft St (extension) - On TFL list.
2.  Vauxhall Walk - carriageway - On TFL list
3.  Kennington tube - footway - On TFL list listed as Kennington Park Road
4.  Lambeth Road (opposite China Walk estate) - On TFL list
5.  Oval tube - On TFL list
6.  Baylis Road (extension) (outside Lambeth North tube) - This is not on TFL's list.  Is it being expanded as part of the original phase?
7.  Kennington Lane (underpass at Vauxhall Station) - This is not on TFL's list, and again, I'm wondering what has happened to it.  The scheme needs to be expanded more fully at Vauxhall Station.  Am I missing something?
8.  Albert Embankment - Lambeth Bridge footway - This is not on TFL's list, but I suspect that it forms part an original phase dock, and is probably one of the original "missing" Lambeth stations.  I expect it will be built prior to the Olympics.
9.  Cleaver Street/ Bowden Street - This is not on TFL's list, but again, I am guessing that it is part of the original phase and not part of the Olympic expansion, but I don't know.  Can anybody confirm?
10.  St Thomas' Hospital - This didn't appear on the list from Lambeth's Dawn Rahman, but it seems to be an addition to the TFL list.

I'd be delighted to hear from anybody that could explain why the proposed expansion at Vauxhall Station seems to have disappeared from the board?

Also, I'd like to quickly plug Transport Mark's  new spreadsheet which runs from the opening day of the Cycle Hire to 12th October 2010 and calculates revenue from various docking stations as a result of longer journeys.  It doesn't say anything remarkable about Lambeth usage except to note that the Concert Hall Approach dock (2) and Vauxhall Cross (15) rank well for income and have generated £3,670 of revenue between them.  Unsurprisingly, Lollard Street (ranking last at 345) has raised only £17.  It pays to be cautious about the placement of the docking stations.  I'm wondering whether I've missed something though because although that does not include subscription fees, figures like that seem too low to pay for the scheme.

Flood at the Hurley Clinic (and Happy New Year)

Firstly, I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all who read and comment on Lurking about SE11.  I've now returned for 2011.  As usual, there's lots of news and a full time job so don't expect any long posts until a little later in the week, as I need to read and catch up on local issues.  In the meantime...

You should all be aware that the NHS Hurley Clinic on Kennington Road has suffered some sort of serious flood, involving sewerage if the smell is anything to go by, and was (when I last checked) being pumped out and repaired.  They are seeing only emergency patients and are asking people to rebook non-urgent appointments.  They are still issuing prescriptions, but you might have to wait.  The clinic is expected to be out of action for two days (but it looks as though they're going to need new carpet, so it might be longer).  To their credit, the Hurley Clinic have set up a very tiny waiting room, and have people wandering around wearing bin bags on their feet, but there are queues of patients all being patient and sitting outside of the doctors' offices so if you're due to attend imminently, it might be worth trying to swap to the linked Riverside surgery in Vauxhall or something.

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