Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Un-co-operative Lambeth Council: Friends of Lollard Street Adventure Playground, Kennington found it closed this morning


Playground closed sign taken from http://2.bp.blogspot.com/__oAMmP-IOX4/S5e56iBSsCI/AAAAAAAACQo/JqdqMBHPpq4/s320/Playground_Closed_by_sullivan1985.jpg
 
I'd just like to draw readers' attention to a letter on Lollard Street Adventure Playground published on the Kennington Association news blog this morning from Anna Tapsell who is both chair of the Kennington Association (KA) and Treasurer of the Friends of Lollard Street Adventure Playground (FOLSAP).
FOLSAP have been working for some time to prevent the closure of Lollard Street Adventure Playground and to think about how it might be run in future, given the reality of Council cuts.

It seems, according to the letter, that the Council agreed at a meeting on June 16th that £45,000 was available to potentially be allocated to a local management group were they to put forward a viable business plan.  FOLSAP report that they did develop a business plan, but were later told at a meeting on 18th August that, contrary to the previous information, £45,000 would not be available to a local management project. 

Clearly the Lollard Street Adventure playground project had to go to tender, but FOLSAP are alleging that their experience with the Council has not been one of co-operation.  Given that our Co-operative council are not appearing terribly co-operative, perhaps constituents of other councils should take heed.  FOLSAP say the process began too late and that councillors/officers have presented mixed and non-transparent messages.  They raise a question as to the "propriety of the tender process"

In Lambeth, the letter asserts, having such playgrounds open is a "safeguarding issue", given that many parents leave their children there in place of after-school care.  Most worryingly, when Ms Tapsell visited the playground this morning, she found:
"just a scrawled ungrammatical note pinned to the gate saying that it would be closed this week. No explanation or other information about when it might be open. Two little boys were there with their table tennis bats. Their parents were back at work."

Additionally, the playground will now, according to the letter, only be open for one session on a weekday!  It won't be open on Saturdays at all.  Back on 7th April, at the KOV meeting, Cllr Harrison re-assured local residents that Lollard Street Adventure Playground would not be closing.   Arguably, one could liken a playground that runs for only one session a week to a closure in everything but name. Moreover, there are still questions to be asked about why it's closed this week, and why no information is available concerning its re-opening.  Indeed, opening the playground for such limited hours is likely to lead to it becoming less popular.  See the case of the Kennington Park Adventure playground in which two playgrounds will merge on to one smaller site to make way for housing, given alleged non-use of the land... where is it?  Ahh, yes, this is what I wrote back in September 2010:
The defence offered (by the architect) in favour of consolidating the [Kennington Park] site was that the One O'Clock club only opens for 3 hours per day for 4 days per week.  The One O'Clock club is apparently "not well used" (at peak times, the architect suggested that 20 children use it)...
Even more worrying, given recent civil unrest near these parts, is Lambeth's failure to understand that adventure playgrounds are a public place off the streets for children and young people to gather.  To fail to allow local organisations any say in the supposedly mutual process of running facilities is distinctly un-co-operative and short changes residents.  Short-term cost cutting of youth services will likely only lead to further social unrest.  A recent report from the Department of Education notes that a quarter of excluded primary school students expelled in 2009-2010 were from Lambeth.  There's no point in having police officers visit primary schools to warn children away from gang life if no alternative facilities are in place for their use and their parents are not at home to supervise on account of being at work.

It would be really good to see whether our MP still has any teeth when it comes to influencing the local authority and working for the good of less-affluent north Lambeth residents.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Consultation for Vauxhall Swimming pool and student apartments on 30 - 60 South Lambeth Road



(Image retrieved from Google Maps 22nd August 2011 ©Google 2011)



(Image taken from developer Downing's Vauxhall site)



A two day consultation event will be held in September concerning a planning application on 30 - 60 Lambeth Road, SW8 for 580 student apartments and leisure use, including a 20m x 9m swimming pool!! The site is waste ground at present and used for car storage, so it won't be missed. The complex would be located almost opposite Vauxhall Park.

The suggestion of a swimming pool has been raised repeatedly by local residents and is an exciting possiblity, but we know from other sources that swimming pools are very expensive for local authorities to run (with real costs per visit in the region of £12) so we'll have to see what happens... It's not clear whether it would be a council-run facility or a private facility which would be open to local residents.

The commerical property developer, Downing would be developing the site, and according to Oval News, want to submit a planning application in Autumn 2011. The good old Labour councillors of Oval Ward didn't mention the swimming pool aspect on their blog, which is strange, but maybe they didn't spot it... The developers even have a Vauxhall blog up and running for plans concerning their new site: http://www.downingvauxhall.blogspot.com/

According to the information I've seen, the swimming pool would be at lower ground-level, visible from South Lambeth Road (could be interesting if they move the bus station there), with the student housing on upper floors. The information I have doesn't mention how high the planned building will be (it mentions the fourth floor, but no higher). They'd have to go some way to beat proposals such as the defeated Bondway and the St George Wharf Tower... I think the development falls within the VNEB development area.

The consultation will be held at Vauxhall Christian Centre (105 Tyers Street, SE11) on Thursday 8th September (4pm - 8pm) and Saturday 10th September (11am - 4pm).

This is a consultation not to miss! Perhaps they're hoping that the swimming pool suggestion will entice locals so much that we will completely fail to notice that student accomodation can be disruptive for local residents... To be fair though, there isn't much residential housing nearby (Langley Lane and Lawn Lane perhaps). Surely it wouldn't present residents with greater disturbance than that currently presented by patrons of Fire though?

Edit 22:02 on 22nd August: Vauxhall Society have since published their article on 30-60 South Lambeth Road which is apparently proposed at "32-storey or so" (would be useful to have that clarified). I didn't know that the building was proposed to be that high when I wrote my article so I have not put their negative slant on it. I'm sort of resigned to Vauxhall turning into Sky Scraper corner now. I reckon Downing will ask for 32 storeys and be granted about 25. Obviously, a tower that tall is likely to cast shadows over Vauxhall Park, which will probably cue a renewed "shadows over the park" debate. However, I'm inclined to think more local people will be swayed by the swimming pool than they will be the shadows argument, so kudos to Downing for being quite clever with this proposal. Kylun want the Triangle site to contain a 41 storey tower, and all we'll get is a cinema and champagne bar. Downing only want 32 storeys and local residents will get a whole swimming pool...! Anyhow, readers MUST go and check out Vauxhall Society's article because somebody has a lovely way with words. They say:

"Isn’t the ‘street scene’ perhaps animated enough around Vauxhall Cross, some might ask, without drivers being distracted by kerbside vistas of aquatic romping?"
I'm rather in favour of a slightly reduced tall tower (25 sounds reasonable, right?) but I definitely support the aquatic romping. Vauxhall rather lacks aquatic romping at present...

New St George Wharf Pier at Vauxhall to open mid-September



I had a nice little post planned for this morning on the new pier at St George Wharf in Vauxhall, but the lovely Tradescant Road blog has pipped me to the post, accusing me of *horrified shriek* edging my way into his SW8 patch! I am so naughty... But who wants to let a small matter of a postcode interfere with interesting local goings on? So, do go and read his post, where he has purloined some photos taken from the pier itself looking back towards St George's Wharf.

You'll see above two unique photos, (captured by my fair hand on Friday night in the face of hundreds of bemused drinkers from Oval cricket ground). The pier isn't quite finished yet and is still boarded off from the general public . I think it needs a few finishing touches as there appeared to be a bit of building detritus still in place. Naturally, I've done a bit of digging and have been told that the pier is to open officially in the middle of September.

Thames Clipper Services will run from the pier and frequency of boats will also be announced in mid-September. Oyster Pay as You go card holders will receive a 10% discount on Clipper tickets and travelcard passengers are entitled to 1/3 off of Clipper prices. I've not been able to determine whether any other services will use the pier, but I'm pretty excited about its opening...

Friday, 19 August 2011

Working out in Kennington and Oval: New gyms and things

The Gym Group probably consider that their budget gym in Vauxhall has performed well beyond their expections. Last I heard, the £15 per month Vauxhall gym (tucked at the bottom of the St George Wharf building) was completely full and even had a waiting list.  Poor Paris Gym (men only) must have felt the squeeze, since they were the only gym on the block in Vauxhall for a long time.

Due to over-balancing the books in Vauxhall, it's not surprising that The Gym Group have applied for planning permission (11/01811/FUL) for a gym on 131-143 Clapham Road in (what I think is) the new Galliard development (near Caldwell Road).  That's quite a long way down for SE11 residents, but might be useful for readers in SW8 or SW9.  Permission has not yet been received, but I'll keep an eye on that one.  I don't imagine it will be contentious.

To date though, the SE11 heartland of Kennington has been without a gym.  I've often felt that was a missed opportunity because it's a bit of a trip up to the Fusion Centre on the Elephant and Castle roundabout... Most residents seem to trek across to Vauxhall.  But in March this year, I was really pleased to see that a rival budget gym, Pure Gym, announced they'd be opening a branch in Kennington Park Business Centre (opposite Kennington Park and Oval tube station).

The Pure Gym planned for Kennington Business Park opposite Oval Station has moved its opening date from Summer to Autumn and have announced an official launch date of October 27th.  That's positive news, and I imagine a gym there would be very popular.  It's a busy junction hub.  I've had contact with a representative from Pure Gym, and thus can confirm the following details:

The gym will measure 20,000 square metres with 220 pieces of equipment and they claim to run over 40 free classes each day.  Kennington/Oval Pure Gym will be priced at £24.99 per month with a £25 joining fee.  BUT... If you join during the promotional period (usually up until a week before opening), you'll pay £19.99 per month and a £15 joining fee.  Certainly sounds like a good deal although slightly more expensive than its rival's offering.  If you're worried about joining a gym before it opens, they offer a seven day money-back policy so if you don't like it when it opens, you can get your money back within that time period.

So, a new bike shop (Balfe's bikes) for Kennington and a new gym for Oval.  Not bad for an area which used to be very empty.  I suppose that's gentrification (of which I have mixed views) in action.  I know people keep asking when the Waitrose will arrive (and there were rumours that seem to have died down about one near Vauxhall Station), but I think independent shops and restaurants are just as important and should be celebrated.  What I'd really like to see is a new lease of life for Lambeth Walk...  Any takers?

Another cycle accident in Oval: Cricketer pulls across bus lane hitting cyclist

(Image taken from Precision claims website on 19th August 2011)

The Sun reports a cycle accident in Oval yesterday as England cricketer, Andrew Strauss was involved in a car accident with a passing 25 year old cyclist.  An eye witness estimated that the cyclist was travelling at about 20 miles per hour when he hit Strauss' Jaguar.  According to the Sun, the accident likely wrote off the bicycle in question and left a hefty dent in the car.

Fortunately, neither the driver nor cyclist was injured.  It's not entirely clear from the Sun's article who was at fault, although the Sun does report that Strauss pulled across the bus lane. 

The accident took place not far from Oval station where cyclist Catriona Patel was tragically killed in an accident involving a lorry in June 2009.

I'm trying to keep a close eye on accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists in and around SE11 (Kennington, Oval or Vauxhall and outskirts).  I'd be grateful if readers could leave a comment or inform me on Twitter @SE11_lurker of accidents witnessed in the area.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Unattractive column and landscaping at Spring Gardens cost over £300k and approved on delegated authority

Freedom of Information requests have become an increasingly valuable tool in the armoury of inquisitive locals.  Last month, following a brief Twitter discussion concerning who might have agreed to the recent installation of the large unattractive columns outside Vauxhall Spring Gardens, I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Lambeth Council asking for project costs and a list of consultees.

I received a response today confirming the total cost of the pillars was £181,586 (construction cost £134,908 of that).  The total cost of the landscaping at the base of the columns was £137,376.  The grand total project cost was £318,943.  The money was taken from Section 106 contributions, so, unfortunately, it is unlikely that the cash could have been spent on local jobs or services, but even still...  Do readers think that is a reasonable cost for the job?  That's a genuine question.  I've no objection to the landscaping (only the pillars), and I believe in paying people a fair London wage, but does that justify the total project cost?

Eight local community groups were theoretically consulted.  Letters were sent to 27 neighbouring properties.  Although the Lambeth Planning reference 09/02510/RG3 indicates that there were 19 consultee comments, the FOI notes that only one objection was received within the deadline (objecting to potential height of trees).  One objection was received after the deadline concerning replanting the mulberry trees, but wasn't taken into consideration due to being received late.  One indication of support was also received, but details weren't included in the FOI response. 

Local readers might also remember the furore surrounding the felling of the Mulberry Trees related to this project that even attracted national press attention, but which was then vigorously refuted by Eamonn McMahon of Friends of Spring Gardens.

Hyperlocal media will hopefully continue to act as a means of ensuring accountability on the part of local authorities, councillors, officers and also local organisations.  But lack of apparent response from some organisations shows that even with the levels of concerned residents that live in the area, it is still possible for some bad design decisions to be pushed through.  Of course, I say "decisions", but this particular planning application was decided on delegated authority, which means it would have been rubber stamped by an unelected officer.  It's not a good example of local democracy in action.  A positive response from only one local group and an officer's report appears to be all that were needed for the spending of over £300k.

The groups the FOI correspondence listed as consulted were:

Association of Waterloo Groups - No comment received
Vauxhall Society - No comment received
Manor of Kennington Residents association
Waterloo Action Centre - No comment received
Waterloo Community Development - Chose to make no comment
Kennington Association - No comment received
Friends of Spring Gardens - Support was indicated
Vision for Vauxhall -No comment received

It's hardly surprising that the three Waterloo groups either made no comment or didn't respond.  I can understand why Waterloo residents wouldn't be interested in Spring Gardens and I'm not sure on the reason for their being consulted.  It's not surprising that Friends of Spring Gardens responded affirmatively, but one wonders whether they actually viewed the plans for the columns before their installation.  I have checked with Kennington Association and Vauxhall Society about whether they received consultation documents as I was surprised to see that they didn't respond.  Vision for Vauxhall no longer appears to exist, so checking with them is now impossible.

The most recent correspondence received from Ruth Smithson (who responded in a good and timely manner) notes:
"...my colleagues within parks wish to add that the works were funded by S106 monies. These are funds obtained through legal agreements commonly referred to as Section 106 Agreements (S106), after the relevant section in the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act..."
The delegated officer's report, sent to me as part of the FOI response indicates in the top left corner "S106 Agreement Involved:  No".  (Edit: 19/8/2011):  Cllr Mark Harrison has clarified in the comments that  no Section 106 monies were needed as a contribution from the building of the columns.  Thanks to Cllr Harrison for clearing up my confusion.

For more information, you can see the full FOI request and associated documents here.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

8 Albert Embankment - planning application resubmitted

(All photographs in this post taken from (C) Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands drawings on Lambeth Planning portal)

Plans for demolishing and replacing the Fire Station at 8 Albert Embankment have been resubmitted and consultations sent out locally.  The original 2010 Fire Station consultation (complete with photos of the display boards) on the 8 Albert Embankment proposal can be found here.  The plans for 8 Albert Embankment will significantly change local landscape on account of the fact the development involves seven new buildings.  If you wish to comment on the new proposals, you can click "Submit Comment" from the 2011 application here, but you must comment by the 16th September 2011.  The proposal has received 84 comments to date.

The 2010 planning process stalled when, amongst other objections, local Princes ward councillors noted that the plans submiteed by developers proposed only 10% affordable housing (Lambeth target is 40-50%).  Lurking about SE11 hosted the original discussion on the proposal and Transport Mark and I had a discussion over whether any additional transport was required for the development.  Also, I seem to recall that some Londoners objected to adding an extra layer on top of the current building on account of architectural aesthetics and the potential view from Westminster.

The original 2010 proposal can be seen at 10/00318/FUL and the current 2011 proposal is 10/04473/FUL.  Let's see if there are any superficial differences.  Initially, we had:
"Demolition of the brigade workshop/office buildings to the rear and construction of 7 new buildings ranging in height from 5 to 16 storeys for mixed use purposes...  To provide a total of 360 residential units, 7,214sqm of commercial floorspace and 181 parking spaces."
Now we have:
"Demolition of the brigade workshop/office buildings to the rear of the fire station. Construction of 7 new buildings ranging in height from 5 to 15 storeys for mixed use purposes... The development would provide a total of 276 residential units, a 2,721 sqm fire station, 8,554 sqm of commercial floorspace (use Class B1), 696 sqm of retail/A Class floorspace and 161 car parking spaces."
It appears that they've lopped off a storey, so the building has been reduced from 16 storeys to 15 storeys.   84 residential units and associated parking spaces have been lost.  It seems that they're making up for a loss of residential housing with 1340sqm of commercial floor space.

Indeed, the fine print confirms as much, since the associated Addendum notes:
"In broad terms, the revisions include a significant increase in commercial use and a reduction in residential use from the scheme submitted in December 2010.  These revisions are as a result of discussion with the Council with regard to the appropriate balance of uses across the site."
Also, following discussion with English Heritage, the width of the roof on building A (the fire station on Albert Embankment) will be decreased.  The section in the orange boxes on the photo below will be removed:


The additional storey was removed from building D, which will sit behind the Fire Station (building A) and poke over the top when viewed from the north.  Removing a storey will improve this slightly).  Floors one and two in the orange box below will be residential, instead of commercial as in the original plan.  There are more diagrams in the Addendum showing how the commercial space has been replaced and added on a different building.  Here's how Building D will now appear next to the beautiful Royal Doulton Building.

Any throughts from readers here?

Letter from Princes ward Police Sergeant concerning recent riots

The chair of VGERTA passed to me a letter from Robert Lockyer, the Police Sergeant of Princes ward Safer Neighbourhood Team. 

Kennington, Oval and Vauxhall are spread across Princes, Oval and Bishop's Wards (and a bit into Vassall ward too).  I'm afraid I don't have police letters from any of the other wards, but if you have one, feel free to send it on if the contents are significantly different:

Princes Safer Neighbourhood Team
Kennington Police Station,
49-51 Kennington Road,
London
SE1 7QA

11th of August 2011

Dear resident and member of community,

I write you to as the Safer Neighbourhood Sergeant on the Princes Ward, which is the local
Policing team dedicated solely to policing your area.

As you will no doubt be aware London has suffered unprecedented occurrences of
spontaneous crime and disorder over the past few days, which has unfortunately been
caused by some people who live within the borough of Lambeth and may be local residents
within your ward.

You will be pleased to know that there have not been any such incidents within your
community, but I am appealing for your help to bring the perpetrators to justice and to inform
us of any criminal activity or disorder you feel may occur within the near future.

The persons responsible have caused much pain and suffering to many people, businesses
and business owners across London, and any assistance you can give in identifying anyone
that you believe was involved will be greatly appreciated.

In particular if you saw or see any members of your community carrying or offering for sale
any electrical or clothing items or any goods that did not look like they were procured in the
usual manner, please let us know.

I encourage you to contact us directly or indeed via Crimestoppers, which you can do anonymously.
Crimestoppers can be contacted either online at http://www.crimestoppers.co.uk/ or by telephone on 0800 555 111.

As a reminder all emergencies or incidents of crime which are happening ‘now’ should be
called through to Police on 999.

All other non-emergency incidents can be brought to the attention of us on the dedicated
Princes Safer Neighbourhood Team mobile on 07920233835 or landline 0208 721 2627.

You can also call the dedicated Metropolitan Police non-emergency number on 101.
Please report anything suspicious to us and help look after your community.

Yours sincerely,
Sergeant Bob Lockyer 59LX

Musical face of youth in Kennington: defying the stereotypes



This Friday (19th August) at 7pm at St Anselm's Church, there will be a performance of music, written by young local community members.  If you want to attend, email luke@musicinprisons.org.uk 

The event is organised by Pathways SE11, whose mission is to divert Kennington youth away from crime.  More info here on Pathways SE11.  Click on poster above for more details.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Vauxhall Gyratory: Greed, irresponsibility and entitlement.

(Photo taken from Tradescant Rd blog)

In a post-riot London, whilst our current Prime Minister is waxing lyrical on greed, irresponsibility and entitlement, Lurking about SE11 continues to think about local matters.  "Local" names where we're brought up, how we're socialised, who we talk to and how we learn to interact with others.  Smart phones, iPads and technology aside, our built environment, communities and neighbours are where we learn to discover shared goods.  On a positive note, I'd like to point to a great photo from Vauxhall City Farm, applauding the efforts of Clapham residents to repair their local community.  But just over a mile away from Westminster, in Vauxhall, decisions will need to be taken that speak into what sort of city we'd like London to be.  The future of the Vauxhall gyratory remains a tiny decision for politicians, but a massive concern for drivers and residents, cyclists and businesses.

Listening to the voices on the ground is something that both politicians and decision makers will need to do in the days to come.  Readers might suggest that it is fatuous to try and draw links between riots and city planning, but much of the issues boil down to who is being heard.  Anybody who has attended a local consultation will understand that the question is always whose voice counts?  Concerning our own gyratory, we must ask "who is being greedy given the current road layout?",  "who is being irresponsible in the face of death?" and "to whom is entitlement owing?".  These are the questions David Cameron wants us to think about concerning rioters and bankers, but they affect ordinary people in their daily routines too.

Plans concerning the Vauxhall Gyratory, are slowly chugging through the wheels of local government.  Val Shawcross (chair of Transport Committee on London Assembly) confirmed at the end of July that Lambeth Council are now to work with TFL to carry out a "Vision for Vauxhall" exercise on an improved public space and transport plan for Vauxhall to add to the VNEB OAPF.  Val Shawcross is "hopeful" that this might lead to a "better pedestrian and cycling environment" for the whole area, as opposed to it remaining a "motorway blighted backyard" (private email).  There are currently no dates for the proposed consultation.  At present, we know that Lambeth Council and Val Shawcross both support the removal of the gyratory, but there are concerns about Boris' "traffic smoothing" policies.  When you read "traffic", in that phrase, you need to think vehicle rather than pedestrian or cyclist.

Ms Shawcross may well be hopeful, but I am not, mostly because the exercise is to involve TFL.  I regularly drive through Vauxhall, tube underneath it, bus into it, walk across it and wheel a Boris bike through it (I daren't ride through the interchange) so I  know my subject.  We all know that there are bad cyclists and bad car/lorry drivers.  It is the latter that tend to be involved in accidents that kill people.  Cyclists very rarely kill other road users.  And yet, despite their road use, they are not given anywhere near the amount of road space they require at Vauxhall.  Cycle London has pointed out that 20% of Vauxhall southbound traffic between 5pm - 8pm and 20% of Vauxhall northbound trafiic between 7am-10am is cyclist traffic.  Cyclists are not given 20% of the space, and this gyratory remains nasty, brutish and full of traffic looking to escape the congestion charge.  Something has to give, so let's raise David Cameron's first point.  Who is being greedy?  Before we move on, I urge you to read Cyclists in the City's post on the proposed cycle superhighway to pass through Vauxhall from Peckham to Victoria and the followup after his walkaround with TFL.

A number of angry emails continue to pass through my inbox, and one (or maybe several) anonymous commentators want me to oppose options concerning removal of the Vauxhall gyratory!  I am not clear that any of us fully understand the proposed options, but I cannot see that retaining the gyratory aids anything other than vehicular traffic.  It is time for south Londoners and residents (especially those that live on the gyratory) and cyclists to ask for their requests to be heard.  Vauxhall interchange is a blight upon Vauxhall, particularly given the pollution levels in the area.  Nobody wants it in their backyard.

I remain unhopeful because we know that even with cross-party support and London assembly support and a huge recent protest, Blackfriars' bridge cyclists were not heard.  So, here perhaps is a good time to raise David Cameron's second point.  Who is being irresponsibleLondon Cyclist weighed in with a good answer concerning Blackfriars Bridge when he noted,
"I’m proud to live in a city where despite the Mayor saying “more needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge”, despite unanimous support from all the political parties of the London Assembly, despite expert recommendations for 20mph speed limits on all of London’s central bridges, despite growing pollution levels and despite mass protests by cyclists, we have a transportation authority that can override them and do what it knows is right for London." 
The most recent published info. on ideas for the Vauxhall Interchange from TFL is found in TFL's Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersa report, catchily named, "Public Realm & Highways Modelling Study".  The relevant pages are p40 - p48.

There are seven options outlined in the report. Four options concern removing the gyratory and returning it to two-way working.  The other three options propose leaving the gyratory as stands...   My guess is that TFL will push for one-way working because even the minimum two-way working plan requires 31% reduction in morning peak-time vehicular traffic.  Despite the fact that it is clear that vehicle drivers are the greedy party, and despite the fact it is clear that TFL are the irresponsible party when it comes to addressing cyclist and pedestrian concerns, the question remains concerning entitlement, and those to whom is's owed.  Is entitlement owed to cyclists?  Residents?  Commuters?  Pedestrians?  Public transport users?  This is an eminently political question and there is no one good answer.  But I suggest politicians and TFL planners ask themselves the question, "would I be prepared to live and raise children on the Vauxhall gyratory?"

I have provided a summary of sketchy TFL options for Vauxhall gyratory, but it's rather difficult to imagine unless you know the roads and their names exceedingly well.  The diagrams in the document are not currently helpful (unless zoomed in closely) and contain too much detail to see traffic flow.  Ideally, diagrams would show basic arrows indicating traffic movement.  If anybody wants to email me simplified diagrams, I'll add them.

Removing the gyratory and return to two-way options

1) Remove South Lambeth Rd from gyratory and relocate the bus station to South Lambeth Rd.

Advantages summary:  
A new public square at the Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with option 2, 3 and 4), simplification of Vauxhall Bridge and other junctions (helps cyclists) and additional public realm at Southern end of Albert Embakment. 

Disadvantages summary: 
31% reduction of traffic required in morning and 21% reduction required for the evening, affecting network capacity and increasing congestion.  (Not clear if that's car/lorry traffic or bus capacity?).  Also traffic delays, bus delays and reduced bus station capacity.

2) Two-way with simpified layout at Nine Elms Lane / Wandsworth Road
You're going to have to go and look at the document diagram for more info. on this!

Advantages summary: 
Link between interchange and new linear park.  Carriageway reduction on Wandsworth Rd. New public square at Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with options 1, 3 and 4).  Changes to Wandsworth Rd and Nine Elms Lane, Albert Embankment and Vauxhall Bridge would reduce accidents and improve cycling conditions (same as option 3).  Wouldn't need to move the bus station. 

Disadvantages summary:
Traffic reduction of 40% of current capacity in morning and evening which would produce congestion and delayed bus journeys.  But...  the bus station structure (is this the ski slope?) would need to be removed (as with option 3) and the bus station capacity would be reduced. 

3) Two-way with Buses and Cyclists only in Parry Street

Advantages summary:
Improvements for pedestrians crossing Parry St and other junctions, due to two-way working.  A new public square at Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with options 1, 2 and 4).  Changes to Wandsworth Rd and Nine Elms Lane, Albert Embankment and Vauxhall Bridge would reduce accidents and improve cycling conditions (same as option 2).  New uses for arches in South Lambeth Place.

Disadvantages summary:
Traffic reduction of 36% required in morning and 31% in evening, affecting network capacity and increasing congestion. Buses experience delays. Bus station structure would need to be removed (as with options 2 and 4).

4) Two-way with Buses and Cyclists only in Wandsorth Rd

Advantages summary:
Improvements for pedestrians crossing Wandsworth Rd.  Reduced carriageway improving public realm. A new public square at Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with options 1, 2 and 3). Simplification of Vauxhall Bridge junction which will help cyclists.  Improvements for pedestrian crossings.

Disadvantages summary:
Vehicular traffic reductions of approx. 50% required in both morning and evening(!!!) affecting network capacity and increasing congestion. Buses experience delays.  Bus station capacity reduced and structure would need to be removed (as with options 2 and 3)

Options for one-way movement

5) One Way:  Do Minimum

Advantages summary:
Improvements to pedestrian movements by adding pedestrian crossings, introduction of contraflow cycle lane on Harleyford Road and a nearside bus lane on Vauxhall Bridge to benefit cyclists.  Has negligible impact on traffic or bus station capacity.

Disadvantages summary:
Loss of one bus stop, no improvements to public realm or increase in public space and increased pedestrian congestion.

[Hmm, that options looks atrocious really, doesn't it?  Might as well be called "do nothing"!]

6) One Way:  Do something
This involves moving and relocating the bus station next to railway viaduct, replacing existing buildings. 

Advantages summary:
Improvement to cyclists by simplification of Vauxhall Bridge/Albert Embankment Junction.  Consolidated public realm and new public square at Undegeround station entrance.  Removal of buses from South Lambeth Place, making it a shared cyclist/pedestrian route.  Widened footways on South Lambeth and Wandsworth Rds.  Introduction of contraflow cycle lane on Harleyford Road and a nearside bus lane on Vauxhall Bridge to benefit cyclists.

Disadvantages summary:
10% reduction of vehicular traffic required in the mornings.  Existing buildings would need to be removed.  Bus station is completely separated by entry and exit routes from Underground station.  Bus station structure would need to be removed and capacity reduced.  Increased pedestrian congestion.

7) One way: Do something (else)
Consolidation of Public Square at Vauxhall undeground station, but with retention of bus station.  Bus station will become shorter to allow buses to enter from Kennington Lane.  New pedestrian crossing on Wandsworth Road.

[Option 7) should probably be looked at carefully.  The study notes that parts of this option were added at quite a late stage, making it a likely strong contender for TFL]

Advantages summary:
Improvement to cyclists by simplification of Vauxhall Bridge/Albert Embankment Junction.  Consolidated public realm and new public square at Undegeround station entrance.  Improved conditions for cyclists by reduction of left turn from Wandsworth Road on to Vauxhall Bridge Rd.  Increased public realm.  New crossing from St George Wharf to central gyratory area.  Lots of additional pedestrian crossings. Introduction of contraflow cycle lane on Harleyford Road and a nearside bus lane on Vauxhall Bridge to benefit cyclists.

Disadvantages summary: 17% reduction of morning vehicular traffic, and 8% reduction of evening vehicular traffic.  Reduced bus station capacity.  Pedestrian congestion likely to increase in vicinity of Nine Elms Lane, Wandsworth Road  and bus station.  Train station entrances remain separated by carriageway.  Bus station separated from underground station, requiring pedestrians to cross busy carriageway (ARGH!)

Now, those are my written sketches.  If you've managed to make it this far, I congratulate you.  I think it's time for a public consultation, but I challenge people to continue to keep asking the question of entitlement.  Who benefits from what you propose, both concerning Vauxhall gyratory and in wider society, and do they deserve to benefit?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Beyond Kennington: A roundup of rioting

A quick roundup for posterity.... This morning, I along with hosts of other Londoners, are rubbing bleary eyes and wondering how to make sense of it all. Kennington was mostly clear of violence, but due to the difficulty of accurately naming places in London, you'd not have believed it from reading Twitter.

A cleanup of Walworth Road is being organised (is underway), although one report suggests there's not as much to do as was previously imagined.  If you're nearer somewhere else and you have some free time, you can take a look at your nearest cleanup from the cleanup map here.

I was first aware of trouble last night when I was driving through the Walworth area at approximately 18:55.  As I pulled out of Manor Place and into Browning Street, I saw hordes of people running north up Walworth Road towards Elephant and then more scared people running up Browning Street.  I turned the car around further up the steet as I was trying to get down Walworth Road, only to see the flimsy orange police barrier knocked to the ground, and a number of police on Walworth Road milling around.  I decided not to stay around and gawk so I have no photos, and I headed back to SE11.

I spent much of last night on Twitter, trying to establish where/if we had any trouble spots.  The problem with Twitter is that completely untrue rumours spread very quickly, so much time was spent reassuring people that there were no real problems in Kennington.  On the whole, that's correct, although there's an area to the east of Kennington tube station slightly south of Walworth Road which some people call Kennington.  I've no idea what it's called, but some trouble over there gave the impression that we were over-run with rioters, when that was not the case.

After I returned home, the first Tweet I saw at 19:13 was:

At 19:32, @meccleshall Tweeted from Tesco on Kennington Lane to say that it was closing early and that shoppers had been asked to pay and leave.  At 19:33, @Nooskibooski noted that they'd seen two masked teenagers loading a TV into a black BMW in Kennington, but I was unable to discover which road. 

At 19:47, we saw a worrying Tweet about youths with ammunition in Kennington, but you'll note they were headed to Walworth Road, so can only assume that this was east of Kennington tube station.  Nobody else corroborated:

At 19:49, somebody Tweeted to say that Argos in Kennington was being looted.  I informed them that there was no Argos in Kennington, but from that we assumed that the Argos in Walworth Road was being raided.  Of course, that and other Tweets just sparked off more tweets about trouble in Kennington which various people disputed.  Kennington Park Road (A3) was said to be running smoothly with no traffic or queues.

At 20:06, we learned that "they" were now in Kennington, but since I couldn't get information on any given road, it was unclear to discern precisely where.  However, some Tweets at 20:07 and 20:10 re. Kennington tube station cleared up any misunderstanding.  I can only presume that trouble briefly escaped into Kennington Park Road because these were the only tweets about any issues escaping from Southwark over the Lambeth border (in Kennington) all night.  I retweeted to say that the tube station was closed:

But at 20:18, @Slicktony3000 (who was very helpful with information last night) reassured everybody that the only people he could see on Kennington Park Road were joggers!  So you can see that it was very difficult to determine whether any trouble was occurring at all (in the meantime, lots of panicky Tweets were all saying that trouble had reached Kennington).

At 20:31, after my request that people specify road names when they claimed problems in Kenington, @acediscovery said it was quiet in Alberta Street (just north of Kennington tube).  But at exactly the same time, @MsWildThyme tweeted to say that 8 riot vans and black armoured vehicles had been seen headed down Penton Place.  Other than that, it was quiet around the Pullens Estate.

I believe that's probably what generated these somewhat bizarre videos of riot vans on Walworth Road.  What on earth were they doing??

Another video was available here with some very scary screaming.  The video looked as though it had been taken from within the riot, with a voice asking the officers to "please calm down".  Unsurprisingly, it has now been removed. 

I kept Tweeting that we were experiencing no issues in Kennington, and that problems were acknowledged in Walworth Road when I caught a Tweet saying a stabbing had been reported on Kennington Park Road.  This turned out to be untrue and unfounded.  At 20:39, @msraddi said that riot police were running down Manor Place.  More messages were received to say that Kennington Cross, Kennington Road and Kennington Lane were fine (as they were all night).

At 21:11, @gilboise tweeted to say that Kennington tube was open, but at 21:13, @igster noted "kids in hoodies" screaming past Kennington tube.  At 21:34, @TheRealJimShady said that he'd driven from Clapham South to Kennington and noted no problems.  Was just breathing a sigh of relief, and wondering if there was time to take a break for dinner when alarming reports of a shooting appeared at 21:41:

Established that an exchange of gunfire was taking place somewhere on the Alberta Estate.  Various Tweets were flying around which generally corroborated problems in the area.  At 22:18, @Deskibel said a friend had heard gunshots on or around Alberta Street.

At 22:26, the Guardian issued more detailed reports about what had happened on Walworth Road.

At 22:54, Cllr Mark Harrison (@SE11) Tweeted that we should strongly support our emergency services at times like this.  I agreed, and re-tweeted. @Uber0ut noted that pedestrians were back on Walworth Road.  From there on in, we started to hear reports that Walworth Road had been entirely trashed.  Tweets came in suggesting that both Stockwell and Camberwell had escaped any trouble bar an attempted-car jack on Coldharbour Lane.  (Although this may nto be true because there appears to be a cleanup taking place in Camberwell this morning).  At 23:27, @JustinPDJ reported large numbers of police headed from Kennington towards Clapham (the rest we know about from the TV).  For the rest of the night, Kennington (which houses large numbers of police buildings and vehicles) was sirens as usual.

At 00:14, BT issued a Tweet only to call 999 in an absolute emergency due to immense pressure on the number.  We learned that a few riot police were guarding the remains of the looted shops in Walworth Road. 

Finally, I received alarming reports at about 01:02 from @SW8guy and @CarolineFW that there was a fire at Southbank club on Wandsworth Road.  There was a lot of smoke, but no flames visible.  The Fire Brigade were able to bring it under control. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

Former head teacher James Walker wins unfair dismissal claim against Lambeth Council

Back in November 2010, I ran a piece observing that the former head-teacher of Henry Fawcett Primary School, James Walker, had launched an unfair dismissal claim against Lambeth Council and the school's executive board for his dismissal in November 2008 shortly after he returned from work following a battle with cancer. 

Mr Walker was dismissed from his job as head-teacher on account of allegations of bullying and harassament from a staff member (Penny Bermingham), who was found by the Employment Tribunal not to be a credible witness.  Last Tuesday (2nd August 2011), Mr Walker (who represented himself) won his case, but the Evening Standard is reporting that he is giving up teaching and moving away from London.

The case was heard at the Employment Tribunal Court in West Croydon, and the Tribunal considered Mr Walker to have been treated with an approach that "bordered callousness". 

Mr Walker had worked in education in the Borough of Lambeth for 18 years (both as a Deputy Head and Head teacher), but the Tribunal found Lambeth Council had painted him in the most damaging light.  Mr Walker reported to the Tribunal that Lambeth had undertaken actions such as clearing his office, destroying his files and failing to specify their allegations agaisnt him.  The tribunal noted that Lambeth had failed to act impartially.  Mr Walker submitted that he was threatened with disciplinary action if he refused to resign the day after his first CT scan.

The judgement (Walker v Lambeth) accepted Mr Walker's evidence that he had not been aggressive towards Penny Bermingham.  A former staff member observed, "I witnessed Penny to be cruel during James's absence, humiliating staff and attempting to make them feel insignificant and worthless."

Beyond the injustice that was perpetrated upon James Walker, there is the matter of the effect upon Henry Fawcett school, which was taken out of special measures in June 2010.  Mr Walker said, "...Experienced and talent teachers have left, parents have lost confidence and needy children have been neglected.  It is a disgrace that Lambeth has used public funds to push me out of my job and I hope the actions of those responsible for this waste will be thoroughly investigated’".

The experienced teacher had previously been enjoyed a successful role at Lambeth, having been placed in charge of the Children's Centre attached to the school in 2005.  Indeed, his success in raising achievement at Henry Fawcett had previously been praised by the executive director of Children and Young People’s Services, Phyllis Dunipace and former secretary of state, David Milliband.

Unfortunately, by February 2009, Ms Dunipace wanted to remove Mr Walker from his post, and, it has been alleged in a press release issued by the family, commissioned a strategy for so-doing.

Interestingly, Ms Dunipace retired from Lambeth Council in summer 2010.  Penny Bermingham remains a teacher at neighbouring Ashmole Primary school in Oval.

One can only hope that Lambeth Council has measures in place to ensure that no case like this one can recur.  Nobody appears to have been painted in a particularly positive light, and Mr Walker is said to be leaving teaching and leaving London.  Our local children deserve better.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Lambeth Council axes Vauxhall Nine Elms community forums in favour of expos costing £7500

If you want to know more about the VNEB and the intensive development to take place in the area over the next 20 years, I recommend you take a look at the gigantic Mayor's Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area Planning Framework.

Back in May, I wrote a post about why the Kennington Association Planning Forum think the VNEB proposals are fatally flawed.  Essentially, they think they've identified a £588 million funding blackhole in the infrastructure. £200 million of that is the value of land that the developers might have to purchase to ensure the area is brought up to Lambeth's minimum green space standard.  We've yet to hear how the issue of green space might be addressed...

In the meantime, a community forum for consulting the local community about the whole VNEB area was launched by Lambeth's Nine Elms Vauxhall Strategy Board.  An initial wide-area-community forum meeting was held in Jan 2011.  It was discussed briefly at the Kennington Oval Vauxhall (KOV) meeting in April, where Maureen Johnston noted that she'd been involved in discussions on behalf of KOV about the possible shape of the forum.  Later, a second community meeting took place in May 2011, (announced by Princes Ward Labour councillers) here.  I didn't make it to that, but the minutes indicate that much of the meeting was taken up with strongly worded requests by residents to remove the Vauxhall gyratory (more on that in the next post) and residents' opposition to the Northern Line Extension.  The Friends of Vauxhall Park also wanted to engage with working groups on the matter of the linear park. 

In the meantime, PAPER NO. SB 11 - 35 from the VNEB Strategy Board meeting in June allows:
"The previous approach for community engagement presented by Lambeth to the Strategy Board on 26th January 2011, involved setting up an area-wide community forum that would meet a number of times of year."
Sounds good.  Sounds sensible.  Area-wide meetings ensure that lots of stakeholders meet together to ensure that no area is getting a better deal than another.  And even better, as was agreed by the earlier forums...
"The proposals also suggested establishing themed community working groups alongside the strategy board’s working groups, that would then have representatives from the community sitting on them."
Perfect.  It would be possible just to go to meetings about areas of the strategy that you felt affected you eg. transport or school or health.  The experts in the community in each area would be able to attend specific themed working groups.  But, that is no longer to be because...
"There would... be an onus on community representatives to attend numerous working groups covering technical matters that may not deal with key policy issues and concerns they are most interested in."
Umm, no.  That was the whole point of the themed groups.  The report does note, correctly, that community groups don't work according to strict borough boundaries (thank goodness). It also cites resource issues, but aren't we all trying to learn to do things co-operatively and on a shoe-string?  The new idea doesn't look cheap.  Consequently...
"It was agreed that establishing a formal Community Engagement Group with community representatives and others partners should not be progressed."
Oh dear.  What might the real reason be?
"The likelihood is that such a Group would involve a small number of the more active community groups." and "it would risk excluding hard- to-reach groups."
Well, yes.  That's democracy.  That's co-operation.  If you're active and engaged, and attend meetings, and track what the council is doing, and submit feedback on planning matters, and attend library seminars etc. etc. etc. then, yes, a group is likely to contain engaged citizens who have something to contribute to their local community.  How dangerous!  How radical!  I acknowledge that the Council needs to work hard to contact and dialogue with hard to reach groups, but that shouldn't be at the expense of those who conscientously show up to meetings and participate...  So, what's the new plan?

"Therefore, an alternative approach is recommended where the Working Groups would present to the community at a variety of ‘events’ in or close to the Opportunity Area."

A long-term die-hard community activist friend of mine said to me, "oh yes, councils love Expos, where everybody turns up at different times and note inconsequential views on little post-it notes that people stick up on a board. These are often off-topic and later ignored.  It allows the Councils to say that they've consulted, but not have to sustain any deep level of engagement, participation or criticism with community groups".  Does that sound about right?
"The events would tend to be more informal than a conference or committee meeting with presentations but more like a ‘symposium’ with the aim of collecting the views on a key topic from a wide range of people..."
We can now look forward to two tiers of events.  Cross-borough VNEB expos and community style events costing £5000-£7500 a time (tier one).  Tier two (at least at the Lambeth end) seems at first to be slightly more acceptable, with a localised "Lambeth Community Forum" which will be shaped by existing forum leaders (probably Kennington Oval Vauxhall forum) until you find out that attendees are a rather select band of people... "by invitation to existing forum leaders and leaders of recognised community groups."  Great.

The Lurker isn't impressed.  Anybody know what's going on?  Well word on the ground is that it was due to Cllr Sally Prentice's move from Regeneration and Planning to Employment and Enterprise.  The new Regeneration and Planning Committee member is Cllr Nigel Haselden, so perhaps he's the one to ask.

Can anybody offer a defence?  The expo idea appears to me to weaken community group input and atomise attendee participation.  It will be difficult to establish consensus or disagreement, as people will just turn up and leave again without having to listen to one anothers' views.  Difficult questions and hedging answers won't be heard by an entire room of people, and it's not exactly possible to minute conversations at the Expos.  Very convenient.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Tea House Theatre is open(ish) - and you absolutely must visit...


So, I know, Tradescant Road beat me to it, and discovered that the Tea House Theatre had opened(ish) earlier this week.  He has a fantastic post with photos here.  Not to be done outdone, I had to pay a visit myself.

Well, wow.  What can I say?  The place is positively spiffing.  I even visited twice in one weekend (once for breakfast and once for afternoon tea).  Food is absolutely top notch.  Cakes are to die for (even rivalling @CakeHoleLondon at Oval Market).  Decor is exquisite (if still receiving finishing touches).  The other SE11 Lurker was insistent that I mention the fabulous finish in the lavatories too.  So, there we are... Staff are friendly and welcoming.  It was a little quiet, but that's to be expected, and business was reportedly good over the weekend.  And they're experimenting with the menu (of which I have a "this will continue to evolve") version to upload later.  It's currently the only place (I think) it's possible to get a cream tea (ingredients all fresh, homemade jam too) in Kennington or Vauxhall.

Tea House Theatre is currently open from 9am - 6pm, seven days a week.  They'll also be opening from 6pm-9pm on a Monday for Knitter Natter, for folk who want to knit, chat and drink tea.  They're happy to open on other evenings too for special-interest groups and would obviously like to build up a fanbase of  actors, artists and general tea-drinking Kenningtonian layabouts...

You'll love the teapots in their hand-knitted tea-cosies, and there was a great selection of tea which increased between visits on Saturday and Sunday.  If you don't like, tea, I recommend the smoothies.  Apparently, they will eventually offer coffee, but that won't happen for a while yet:


And if tea isn't enough, you can purchase some old fashioned sweet-shoppe goodness, weighed on old fashioned real scales (none of that digital nonsense here, thank you): 


By one of the fire places (just out of shot as not quite finished) is this fabulous gentlemen's drinking corner...  Looking forward to winter already.  Pass the port old chap:

 The new logo, to be emblazoned all over the shop.  They've not yet finished the lettering outside, but I expect this to feature prominently.  What I want to know is when the Tea House Theatre old-school-tie will be created.  And preferably a scarf in blue and gold too.

All I can say is that civility has returned to Vauxhall.  Fine bone china, and, dare I mention it, linen napkins.  Yes, linen.  This is a major competitor with Oval Market for lazy Saturday morning custom now.

In my bid to deliver you every last detail, I even photographed the rather attractive new bathroom.  You're right.  That probably wasn't strictly necessary, but with Tradescant Road hot on my heels, I'm clearly going to have to go just that bit further:

Tea House Theatre is slightly tucked away behind Vauxhall Spring Gardens, based on the site of the former Queen Anne strip pub, just next to Glasshouse Walk playground.

Yes it is true, no it isn't true: Michaela Free School debate continued (Part 2)

See here for Part 1 of the Michaela Free School debate, held on 18th July, in which Katharine Birbalsingh and a number of members of the school's steering committee made the case about why the proposed Michaela Free School would be good for Lambeth.  Part 2 in this post, is the questions and answers that arose as a result of the presentation.  I've added the names of questioners and people that added general views, where known, and have summarised questions and answers as far as possible and then grouped them next to one another.

Disturbance to local community?
Qn from older man:  "I am a local resident and heard about this only yesterday.  Do we want a school where after 5 years, there will be 800 youngsters messing around here.  I don't want the school.  When you say, it will be good for the community, which community are you talking about?  You don't live here."

KB:  'I know that a number of local people... are concerned about children behaving badly around the estate.  We're keen on excellent discipline and high standards. I'll speak to you in more detail about holding children to account and involving parents in school. One of the big things is the extended day.  If children get out at 3.30pm, there's more of a chance that they're going to behave in that kind of fashion.'

Ndubuisi Kejeh (member of Michaela Steering Committee): 'I went to Archbishop Tenison's School, and I was in school when the old Lilian Baylis was on site. In my Year 7, we needed the teachers of both schools to intervene because the Year sevens of my school were the targets, and every day before and after school, we would be victims of robbery... If I didn't believe that the new school would have measures to counteract behaviour like that, I wouldn't be sitting here.'

How free are Free Schools?
Qn from a woman with an educational background:  'A lot of your information was wrong...  Schools have been free to make their own decisions since Local Management of Schools was introduced in 1988.  In every State School the decisions are made by the governing body, many of whom are parents.  Decisions are not made by the Local Education Authority.  A Free School... will be free from local authority constraints, but will still have to obey constraints of central government, which is worse, because it's removing accountability from the very parents you're saying you want to help.  Also...have you undergone the professional training to become a head teacher?'

KB: 'Over the years, some schools have gained more freedoms, but there are different types of schools with different levels and types of freedoms.  Free schools are like Academies in the way they run.  It is not the case that ordinary maintained schools have the same freedoms.  They're not free to have an extended day, they can't do that.'

Interjection from same questioner:  'Yes, they are.  I don't know where you get your information from, but you're incorrect.'

KB: 'Heads of schools that have become... academies will explain various changes that they've been able to make because of those freedoms. Ultimately, if however, what you were saying is true, then we're opening a school just like any other school.'

KB:  'I have the NPQH (head teacher qualification).  However, I may not be the head of this school.  It is proposed that I might be.  It all depends on the Department for Education.'

Anna Tapsell: 'Can I ask whether it is the Department For Education that appoint the head?'

KB: 'From what I understand.'  

Interjection from previous questioner:  'Well, that makes it very different from other schools, then.'


Do U.S. Charter Schools have track record?
Qn from young male with education background: 'I don't doubt your commitment towards education.  But if you look at what happened with Free Schools in America... a lot of schools became even worse sink schools.  In the system, some schools go ahead, and some drop behind because of the intake problem.  You're saying that having your school up here will not affect the rest of Lambeth... I'd like to know what mechanisms you have in place to ensure your intake would be representative of the area...'

Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  'You're right.  American charter schools are not an unalloyed success.  However, the ones that have been successful are the ones  that have been in extreme areas of educational deprivation. Kathryn mentioned Geoffrey Canada.  I'd also ask you to look at KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power program.  Both are in inner-city and difficult areas.'

Answer from young male with education background: 'Theose are one or two examples. My point is that the system does create an inequality between the schools being set up.'

Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  'KIPP and Geoffrey Canada are not one school, but seven schools.  You're right in that  not every charter school is succesfuly.  But what we can take from them is a model of success...  So if you're saying, "how are we going to do things?", we have an example...'

Discipline and ethos at proposed Michaela Free School
Qn from Fred (Ethelred Community Centre):  '... how are we going to contribute a wider understanding to all of the cultures, because the demography is getting wider and wider in our society..?  I have witnessed... that we are employing doormats (that's terminology street talk from the kids) at school. We see police in uniform at school gates.   I want to know what form of discipline is going to implemented to avoid what we have now.'

Related qn from Anna Tapsell: 'What is it in the ethos and philosophy of your idea that makes you confident that you can deal with all of the things that the gentlemen [Fred] has expressed and have a well-disciplined school?'

Ndubuisi Kejeh (Steering Committee): 'I've been privileged to have gone to schools with several different types of discipline. Although born and bred mostly in the UK, I did go to school in Nigeria where there is corporal punishment.  The difference between the schools I've attended is level of consistency. With consistency, after a while, you get a culture. What we would hope to do in this school is not cane people, but work with the parents and contact parents, and have a document that the parents would have to sign so that they were kept informed of what the child was doing. Also, what we'd do is in the first year is have year sevens only. From primary school. These children would be immersed in the new culture. Their parents would continue this culture. This, I think, is a very good way to try to discipline and make a culture.'

KB: 'We talked about high standards of discipline, high standards of expectation from the children, soft skills in terms of manners.  Sometimes if a school were to  exclude a naughty child for the day, but the school don't want them to sit at home and watch television, they send them to a next door school, and are reciprocal.  In that way, schools support each other.'

Qn from male teacher: 'I'm a teacher, and I teach maths.  I've never heard of such a thing.'

KB: 'Schools do it all the time.  This is one example.  I'm giving an example of ways in which schools support each other.  There are other ways.  St Martin's have done it.  Dunraven have done it.  Tenison's have done it.'


Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  'Part of the ethos would be provision of the extended day, until 5pm.  Another thing would be summer school.  There's lots of research about how pupils from deprived backgrounds fall back more over summer, so one of the things we want to do is have a two-week summer school.  Free schools do have a bit more freedom to adapt the curriculum to their pupils' individual needs...'

[Here it would be useful to hear from any teachers reading the blog on a point of fact.  Is it true that schools do swap "naughty" students for the day instead of excluding them and sending them home?  It seemed odd that some teachers prsent had not heard of the practice, but I've no idea whether this is common in Lambeth.]

Intake at proposed Michaela Free School
Qn from young male with education background:  I want to know about the intake.

Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  Free Schools have to abide by an admissions code.  We want to take the Fair banding route approach, so we ensure a representative intake.  The pupils who apply are split into 5 bands academically, and you take the same percentage from each band.  The Deapartment For Education decide the banding system on a nationwide basis.

KB: I admire your concerns. You're worried a free school will pop up, and all of the clever kids will want to go there..  I admire your sentiment because you're worried about the other schools.  But we want to implement banding.  We're not expecting all students to go to unviersity.  We would want to ensure our intake was completely comprehensive.  The committee are really committed to inner city kids.


Grateful parent
Woman sitting at the front:  My question has been answered.  I was going to thank you all for the wonderful work you're doing with the community... 

[I'm pretty sure this woman wasn't a plant from team-pro-Michaela, but she was the only person who wasn't from the committee/volunteer group who expeessed a positive view, so in the interest of balance, I've include it.]

Farcical Dispute with Councillor concerning Lambeth Secondary School Admissions
Cllr Mark Harrison (Princes Ward and chair of Scrutiny Commitee for Children and Young Peoples, Lambeth Council):   I challenge this idea that Lambeth has a shortage of 500 secondary places. That's not accurate.  About 500 pupils go to school outside outside the Borough, but that's not the same as  a shortage of 500 places.  We have a shortage of places in the south of the Borough.  But we have a site at Fenstanton Primary school, Tulse Hill, which we're turning into a new Academy that will meet demand pressures.  There is no shortage of secondary school places in the north of the Borough.  We have two excellent local secondary schools, Lilian Baylis and Archbishop Tension's, which are rated good with outstanding features by Ofsted.  Creating a glut of places in this area will have a negative effect on those two schools.  It's a waste of public money to provide places in a place where we don't need places, and it risks, one of the three schools becoming unviable due to pupil shortage.  I might be welcomiong a Free School if built in Streatham or Brixton or Norwood, but not up here.  It could do serious damage to others schools in the area.

Man in audience: Don't forget the new Academy opening at Durand School and the enormous new Academy opening on Archbishop Michael Ramsey site, bordering Lambeth and Southwark which will have a 50/50 intake.  We're also seeing a collapsing role at Charles Edward Brooke as children don't go there.  So this demand for places argument does need to be addressed.

KB: Southwark also has a massive shortage of places. In actual fact, it's about 800 pupils who don't stay in Lambeth for school. That's because some of them choose to leave the borough. This year, there were 452 year 6 pupils who did not get a place at a Lambeth School.

Cllr Harrison: No, every young person who applied for a place in a Lambeth secondary school got a place.

KB: That's not true.

Cllr Harrison: That is true.

KB: That's not true.

Cllr Harrison: That is true.

KB: If you look at the figures, that just isn't true.

[I'd be intrigued to hear from both sides about which figures were used to determine whether all Lambeth year 6 pupils were given a place at a Lambeth School.  In the previous article in the Telegraph, Birbalsingh claimed 433 students Year 6 didn't get places, so I'm concerned about a lack of consistency in the way the figures are being measured.  Feel free to leave both sets of figures in the comments for further analysis so I can help readers with no educational background].


Cost of site and risk to local schools of enforced government purchase
Cllr Steven Morgan (Princes Ward):  You mentioned that bidding for the former Lilian Baylis site is closed but should [the government] have had a chance to bid, would they have been able to match the best bid?  As we understand it, the government's got a fund of about £50 million to buy sites and refurbish. Assuming £2.5 million were allocated per site and land prices are high in inner cities (where there's demand), they won't be able to build more than 20 schools... As a council, we're worried that they will approach us and won't pay market rate for the site, and will want a big discount.  The problem with that is that the money for the site is going to go back into education to the capital programmes for Lambeth schools. It will be other schools losing out if the government buys that site for cheap.  Can you confirm the government would pay market value for the site?  

KB: All I know is what partnership for schools told me.  The £2 million mark didn't seem unreasonable to them.  I can't say how much money is involved.  I don't know that kind of detail.  I am guessing that no more than 30 free schools will end up being passed through for 2012.  I gather there were 291 applications, but I suspect the vast majority get through the application process. Ppartnership For Schools are keen on talking to the council about the site.

[I already speculated in part 1 that I think the site is worth well over £8 million.  And I'm pretty sure repairing it will cost £10 million, so it may be that the site is unusable (it's said to be riddled with aesbestos).  But, politically, this will be very interesting...]

Council option to extend bidding time by 6 weeks to allow Michaela Free School to bid?
Michael Poole-Wilson (local Conservative candidate in 2010): 'My question is directed to Cllr Steven Morgan re. achieving market rate for the former Lilian Baylis Site.  Would you be prepared to postpone the tender process to the autumn so that you could see whether funding could be matched, or is it an academic question because you're going to give the site to the highest bidder before September.

Cllr Steven Morgan: I'd be happy to ask Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth to delay, if you can get Michael Gove to announce that he'll pay market rates for all sites they wish to buy tomorrow morning.

Michael Poole-Wilson (local Conservative candidate in 2010):  The site has been sat there, unsold for 5 or 6 years, so we're saying a few months more won't make a difference

Cllr Mark Harrison: It make a big difference because we need to realise the saving in year. We have budgeted to dispose of that site and bring in capital receipt which is going to be invested into the capital programme in the rest of Lambeth schools.

[Of course, it is quite believable, given the cost savings Lambeth and other local authorities need to find, that 6 weeks could make a difference (but it looks like a weak argument, given the amount of time the site has sat empty).  However (and this is a huge problem), it's not at all clear that Lambeth can sell in this financial year given (see below) because it appears they might need permission from the Secretary of State to sell the site.  And it's fairly obvious to most people that Michaela Free School has several well-positioned "friends".  I see a huge political row brewing here...  I reckon Lambeth will be trying to rush through the bidding process now, but it might make no difference if the Secretary of State refuses permission to sell!]


Question of importance of distance between student and school
KB: ...We want to help children to travel as little as possible.  If Lambeth has a school site in the south of the borough, then we'd like to consider it.  But there are no potential schools sites.  If you have a choice between a school in the north of the borough or no school at all, it seems crazy to choose no school at all.
Anna Tapsell:  My children were young in the days of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).  We didn't feel strongly about sending our children to school in Lambeth.  There was a lot to be said for the ILEA system because it gave parents an enormous amount of choice.  There is a history to all of this, which is not about neglect or good work, but what was left when the ILEA was disbanded.
View from woman at back of audience:  'We've gotten you to accept the need for places is at the south of the borough.  Actually, travelling from Streatham to here is a lot further than travelling out of borough to the nearest school.  When my kids went to school, the local Kennington primary schools were feeder schools for Pimlico school.  I don't see any problem with that.  I'd actually much rather they did that than had to travel down to Streatham for school, which is what you're expecting Streatham parents to do.' 

Dasiy (Michaela steering commitee member):  ' Crossing a borough boundary is not necessarily the be all and end all.   All I would say is that speaking to a lot of parents on the door step, for some of them, it isn't just that they live across from a borough boundary that happens to be on their street.  Some of them do feel that they're sending their children a very long way, to Battersea, to Croydon...'


Katharine Birbalsingh's relationship with teaching unions
Qn from young male with education background: Will you carry over your antagonistic/abusive relationship with the teaching unions into your management of the school?  Would you  continue to write in the national press about the unions and managing a school...?

KB:  I'm obviously entitled to hold opinions...  I don't know if what you say is accurate.  But you're entitled to your opinion.  I haven't really considered continuing writing yet.  That's way off in the future...

Answer from young male with education background: KB's views seem to have been imported from the American free school system... the idea that unions eer evil, and one of the reasons why schools are so awful.  I think that is a worrying attitude to take towards organised teachers.  Teachers' means of organisation is a means of ensuring the school is accountable, that their livelihoods and work isn't put at risk... 

Daisy (steering commitee member): I have been a union rep.  I do think unions have a role to play in education and in wider society.  One of the thing that attracted me, as a rank and file classroom teacher, to someone like KB is the support she gives to teachers facing the daily problems that teachers face in schools.  I can't answer about the national press... My perspective would also be that I'm not sure the unions treated KB very well either.

Suitability of former Lilian Baylis site
Anna Tapsell: Is the listing something that also affects the way in which any developer will look at it?
Cllr Mark Harrison: Yes. being listed dramatically reduces what you can do with the site.  The reason the Lilian Baylis moved is because the school building is not really suitable for a modern secondary school.


The future, given the closure of the site bidding process
Woman from team-pro-Michaela:  I'm a former chair of governors at a primary school, and this evening, I was planning to bring a parent-govenor with me... We had a big black plastic bag full of letters of support for this free school idea.  People couldn't care less about location of the school.  I live inthe centre of Brixton, and a lot of local children are going to Wimbledon.  The distance makes no difference whatsoever to us.  We just want to see something new.  We've seen a correlation between excluded children and ending up in crime.  We can get the support from the community.  We're not representing any particular political party.  We haven't got an axe to grind.  Why can't we give her the chance?  But what happens in a situation where Lambeth appear to have put the siteup for sale?

KB: Unfortunately, the councillors who are here seem to be confirming that they plan on making sure it's gone to developers before 6 weeks are through... I think it's a great shame.

David Boardman (Kennington Association Planning Forum):  The Deparment for Education are normally pretty sticky-fingered when it comes to educational land, and normally you need the Secretary of State's consent if you are to treat land as surplus to educational requirements.  Has the Sec of State consented to the sale of the site?  Has it been declared surplus to educational requirements?  

Cllr Mark Harrison:  Not to my knowledge.  And obviously that's an issue. As far as we're concerned, it is surplus to educational requirements.  It's a technical question.
Response from David Boardman: If you haven't an appropriate, necessary consent, then anybody can make representation to the Secretary of State to say, "wait a bit please"

Cllr Mark Harrison: That it has consequences for the rest of Lambeth schools that require investment from our capital programme.

Summing up
Anna Tapsell:  Thanks to all for coming.  The Kemnnington Association is a mixture of individuals with different views.  We'll go away and talk about this.  We learned a lot from you coming, so thank you to everybody for coming.  

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