Thursday, 20 June 2019

Three fundraisers for Deptford

I realise not everyone has spare cash these days (and there are ways you can help these appeals other than by pledging) but if you want to support your local community here are three current crowdfunders that could have a real impact on Deptford.

Save the arches!
First up is actually a nationwide campaign led by Guardians of the Arches, representing tenants of railway arches all around the country who are being impacted by the sell-off of Network Rail's property portfolio last year to private investors.

Many small businesses and creatives in Deptford rely on the railway arches that run right through the heart of SE8 for affordable premises. Some tenants have already had significant rent rises imposed, and many fear that they will be unable to stay in the area if this pattern is not halted.

Guardians of the Arches are crowdfunding to pay for staff to support tenants and continue the campaign on behalf of small business owners across the UK. They are very close to their target but you will have to be quick if you want to donate, as the crowdfunder closes at midnight tomorrow (21st June).


Establish a Deptford dockyard visitor centre! 

The Lenox Project charity has been campaigning for some years to ensure that Deptford's incredible maritime and shipbuilding heritage is not lost when the Convoys Wharf development starts construction on Deptford's waterfront. Their long-term plan is to build and sail a full-size replica of the Lenox, the first of Charles II's thirty ships, that was built under the watchful eye of Samuel Pepys and launched in 1678.

After successfully lobbying during the masterplan planning application process, and being acknowledged in the conditions attached to the grant of planning permission for the site, they are now fundraising to establish a Deptford Dockyard visitor centre in the undercroft of one of the historic buildings on the foreshore next door.

This disused space has been offered to the charity at a peppercorn rent by Hyde Housing, which is responsible for the residential properties above ground. The space will have a workshop where the charity intends to build the ship's model and wooden boats, with some apprenticeships as part of this. It will also house dockyard-related archives and be a public space for meetings and events. But the charity needs to raise funds to restore the space, install toilets and other services, to make it accessible to all, and to fit it out for public use.

Their crowdfunder runs until mid-August, and it's 'all or nothing', so pledges are only converted if they reach their target.


Put the lights on at Deptford Cinema!

Down the other end of SE8, the independent, volunteer-run Deptford Cinema is celebrating its fifth anniversary and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £15k to upgrade its electrics. 

There's no denying that the cinema is a fantastic part of our local arts scene, with its diverse programming, great-value tickets and not-for-profit philosophy. 

Again this is an 'all or nothing' crowdfunder, and it runs until July 19th - get there quick if you want the best rewards. 

They can tell it far better and with much more pizazz than me, so take a look at their campaign via the link below...

Sunday, 31 March 2019

An undesirable turn of events

It's now five months since the sudden announcement that Lewisham's newly-appointed - and much trumpeted - chief executive Ian Thomas would be leaving, after just seven months in the job.

The council claimed that it was down to a 'change of direction' and that the decision was 'no negative reflection' on the then chief executive; other reports variously suggested it was either a case of egos clashing, or maybe Thomas was asking too many awkward questions.

According to Thomas' profile on Linked In, his achievements in just seven months in Lewisham included undertaking 'diagnostics' in children's services, IT, information governance and financial management; 'effective oversight of a major data breach' (anyone remember hearing about this? I don't!*) and he also 'developed Transforming Lewisham discussion paper to address medium term budget gap'.

I can imagine quite a few awkward questions had to be asked in pursuit of answers to some of these.

Copyright Kingston Council

Scroll forwards to March 2019 - Thomas has a new job as chief executive of Kingston on Thames, and some prestigious letters after his name, and Lewisham council is again starting the hunt for a new chief executive.

This week's council AGM includes an item to agree the procedure for recruiting and appointing a new chief executive, and to give officers the go-ahead to start the process without delay. If the item is approved, as seems very likely, recruitment to the post will start immediately, with ads posted and an agency appointed to draw up a long list of candidates.

According to the proposed schedule, the new chief executive is not likely to be in the post until November at the earliest, possibly not even until next February. These procedures take time, candidates have to be ratified by full council, and some may have six month notice periods to work out. (Assuming anyone applies, that is, given the treatment handed out to the previous incumbent.)

But hang on a minute. Item 4.9 of the report gives a hint of what might be in the minds of those driving the new recruitment process, as can be seen in the extract below (my emphasis).

If an appointment were made, there would then be a need to obtain clearances, and for formal offer and acceptance before the successful candidate (if external) could serve notice to terminate their current employment, which may be 3 or 6 months depending on their existing contractual position. It is possible therefore, (if an external appointment were made) that a new Chief Executive may not be in post until November 2019- February 2020.

It does seem odd to mention this explicitly - surely any fool knows that an internal appointment could be in the post much quicker? Why bother mentioning it, unless of course you want to plant the idea in councillors' heads, perhaps prepare them to agree that an internal candidate would be preferable given that they could be appointed quickly and start getting on with the job.

With the cause for Thomas' departure still no clearer outside of council circles, it would seem entirely reasonable for the recruitment and appointment procedure to undergo thorough scrutiny, to iron out any potential issues that might contribute to a repeat of what Private Eye referred to as 'Lewishambles'. Given that the process is expected to cost around £35k, it is important that they get it right this time.

Luckily the premature departure of the chief executive has already been scrutinised by the council's auditors, whose 'Value for Money' report was discussed by the audit panel last week. The report by Grant Thornton refers to it as 'this undesirable turn of events' and notes how it 'consumed additional management capacity at senior level' that 'could have been utilised and directed towards the other significant challenges the Council faces, particularly given the significant issues with transformation governance that need to be addressed.'

'There may be lessons to be learnt in respect of this matter. Members should reflect on what those lessons should be and how future recruitment can be undertaken to minimise the risk of recurrence,' the auditors conclude.

So how are council officers and councillors addressing this urgent matter?

Acting chief finance officer David Austin made no mention of the comment in his report to the audit panel, other than listing it alongside the other recommendations. He certainly did not feel it needed a response. I assume he thought councillors were sure to 'reflect on what those lessons should be' without having to be told to do so.

But it's difficult to know whether such confidence in elected members is justified. The recommendation to council this week, which sets out the proposed recruitment process for this post, is almost a carbon copy of the process by which Ian Thomas was recruited.

One notable difference is that the advisory panel which will be responsible for shortlisting and interviewing candidates has been cut from nine to seven members. I have no idea what lessons this suggests members have learnt their careful reflection on what went wrong in the previous process, maybe they will enlighten the electorate at this week's meeting.

(*updated - obviously the council wasn't the only one asleep on the watch at the time )

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Small, dark, polluted: welcome to your new home at 1 Creekside

On Tuesday Lewisham Council's strategic planning committee will meet to consider the planning application submitted for the corner of Creekside and Deptford Church Street, opposite the Bird's Nest. With approval being supported by the council's planning officers, I took a closer look at the details of the report and was concerned about what I found.

I'm not talking specifically about the recommendation to approve, but about whether the report represents a fair and independent assessment of the case, and whether aspects of the development that have been raised as concerns, either by the public or by the planners themselves, have been adequately addressed.  

wrote about this application when it was submitted last year, although not in a great deal of detail (there is more on Crosswhatfields here). It is notable as being partially on land formerly owned by the council. This strip of land, which is currently full of trees, was sold to the developer Bluecroft, current owner of 1 Creekside, in exchange for commercial space in the development that the council will receive on a long leasehold. 

The purpose of the planning report is to summarise the planning application, put it in context, explore whether it meets national and local planning regulations, and also report on objections received from statutory bodies and the public and how/whether they have been addressed. Applications for developments on this scale involve a large number of documents - this one has 76 - and it would be optimistic to expect councillors to have read and understood all of them (although us bloggers occasionally make a good stab at it).  

Councillors do not often go against the recommendations of the officers, and in my experience the level of debate and scrutiny at planning meetings varies considerably, even for developments on the scale we are seeing regularly around Deptford. 

So committee members are likely to rely quite heavily on the assessment of officers in making their decision whether to approve or not. 

I've read a fair few reports written by Lewisham's planning department and they certainly vary in quality, as well as the extent to which they cover all the bases. It does increasingly seem that planning officers are making judgement calls themselves, rather than supporting further scrutiny of plans, or highlighting issues that councillors might want to question at committee stage.

It's possible the clue is in the first item of the report's conclusion: 'The development proposes 56 residential units, which represents 4% of the annual Lewisham housing target of 1,131 units. This has significant weight.'

The application proposes clearing the land of trees and the existing buildings - a house and a commercial property most recently occupied by an MOT business - and replacing it with two towers connected by a lower building, which will contain commercial space over the lower floors, and 56 residential units (64% for private sale, 16% for shared ownership and 20% 'affordable' rent (this is not the same as social rent, it can be up to 80% of market rent)). Although the inclusion of residential property is contrary to the local plan, which allocates this land for employment use, the planners conclude that this is acceptable as there will be employment space at ground level. 

The shared ownership and affordable rented properties will be in the lower tower next to the Crossfields estate, the private units will be in the south tower on the corner of the two roads. They will have separate entrances, a practice which high-profile politicians of both sides have said should be discouraged, but which is not highlighted as an issue by the report. 

Even though the detail of the report itself mentions issues with the size of the residential units, the limited outlook that some new residents will have, the impact of the building on adjacent residents, and the quality of air at this site, where people have outdoor space in the form of balconies overlooking the road and no green barrier between themselves and the traffic, the main statement of the report's conclusion relating to the quality of the housing being provided is 'The homes are of a high quality, meeting and generally exceeding minimum standards'. 

It's disappointing that 'meeting and generally exceeding minimum standards' is all we can aspire to these days, especially when some of this land is publicly-owned. 

Let's take a closer look at the detail. 

Size of housing
There are national standards for how much space residential units should provide for their occupants. For a one bedroom flat designed for two occupants, that space is 50 square metres; for a three bedroom flat for five occupants it's 86 square metres. 

The report notes that four of the 56 units fall below these minimum standards - two of them are one-bed units and two are three-bed. But 'the shortfall is only 1sqm' and because the bedrooms and private amenity space (balconies) are big enough, this can be excused. 

Outlook and privacy
National design standards expect new developments to provide a 'satisfactory level' of privacy, outlook and natural lighting for residents. Of course what is a 'satisfactory' outlook to one person might be objectionable to another, but in general terms most people don't want to look out and only be able to see the wall of another building. Unfortunately that's what some people in this development will be looking at. 

Item 7.57: 'A minor (unstated) number of units will have an outlook confined towards no 3 Creekside, however given the urban nature of the development context and the limited (unstated) number of units affected, the outlook is considered to be acceptable to all units'.

Here's a good example of how the wording of the report sways subtly away from neutrality. Item 7.68 of the report states: 'Out of the 55 living/kitchen rooms tested [for daylight and sunlight], the analysis identified only 8 shortfalls against the BRE Guides.'

Why 'only'? Why not simply 'the analysis identified 8 shortfalls'

This section of the report continues in a similar vein. Some might say defensively so. It does not seem to have been properly proofed, so much so that I'm not entirely sure in some cases whether the argument is for or against. I've quoted directly for that reason.

'Most of the shortfalls highlighted are modest and can be considered to be acceptable in this urban context'. 

'Whilst there are 14 bedrooms falling short of the ADF [average daylight factor] criteria, after considering the impact of balconies, only 6 bedrooms fall short of the above 80% daylight distribution criteria'.

'Some rooms see shortfalls against the BRE Guide annual sunlight aspirations simply due to modest areas of single aspect design or because some windows face away from due south'

'A total of 22 rooms of 147 rooms tested, all will meet the BRE Guide annual APSH test. Out of these 22 rooms, 13 are bedrooms where sunlight is less important to these rooms.' [sic] 

Impact on neighbouring properties
Residents in some of the blocks on Crossfields estate will lose light if the new building goes ahead, but that's tough because you live in a city, according to the planning report.

Item 7.146: 'Cremer House does experience limited shortfalls in daylight levels to some rooms. However only two rooms experience a loss of daylight that exceeds the recommended BRE levels of tolerance. In the context of the urban location, that dwellings in Cremer House the planning harm is considered to be limited in extent and supportable' [sic]

In the application document that provides renderings of how the new development will impact on the existing buildings, only a 'wire frame' rendering has been provided to show what it will look like from Crossfields estate. The picture below shows the outline of the building in blue.

Item 7.149: 'The proposal meets the policies above in the case of nearly all dwellings assessed, resulting in material harm to the living conditions of future residents in terms of inadequate daylight and sunlight. This harm cannot be mitigated; however this is a planning harm which, when balanced against the proposal's other planning merits and the context of the site, is not considered a reason for refusal.'

Pollution and air quality
Perhaps most shockingly, air quality and pollution is highlighted as an issue for the future occupants of both the commercial and the residential units. 

For some reason this fact does not even merit a mention in the conclusion of the officers' report.

It is highlighted in the report but considered as having been adequately addressed by imposing a series of conditions, such as fitting an air filtration system for those living on the lower floors, warning them not to open their windows (or presumably use their outside space) when pollution levels are high, and ironically, given the number of trees that have been felled in Deptford in recent months, and the fact that this development will require the removal of many more, seeking a financial contribution towards the cost of planting new trees on the streets surrounding the development (there is no space on the actual site for greenery). 

'Predicted annual mean Nitrous Dioxide concentrations in 2016 and 2021 indicate that the annual mean objective (40 microgram/metre cubed) would be exceeded across the first floor' says item 7.222. 

The first floor includes 3 three-bed apartments each designed to house five people, 4 two-beds for four people, and three one-beds for two. 

All in all, an estimated 37 residents will be living in conditions where opening their windows or using their outside space would put them at risk of pollution-related illnesses. Seven of these properties are highly likely to be housing families, potentially with young children. 

I wonder how comfortable committee members feel, being asked to approve new housing which poses such health risks? 

Of course Deptford Church Street is lined with residential properties - several of the blocks on Crossfields estate face onto the road. But these properties are set back some distance, they are separated from traffic by a substantial number of trees, which are known to act as a pollution filter, and they are all dual aspect properties with their entrance doors opening onto communal balconies on the opposite sides of the blocks. With the 1 Creekside development being squeezed onto such a small sliver of land, the residential properties will be hard up against the pavement, and almost all of those facing the road have no other windows they can open if they want some 'fresh air'. 

The report states: 'It is therefore considered appropriate to apply a planning obligation to ensure that occupiers/residents at these (lower three floor levels) are notified of the potential air pollution risks to human health. This would be likely to take the form of marketing information, leasehold clause and welcome pack.'

Welcome to your new home! Just don't open the windows or use the balcony, even if you are feeling claustrophobic because it's slightly under the minimum size requirements and doesn't get a lot of light. We wouldn't want you to die of pollution-related illnesses, that would be bad for business. 

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Tidemill security costs in full

As the trees in Tidemill Garden were trashed last week, following the conclusion of the final stages of the judicial review and the handing over of the site to developer Peabody, Lewisham Council revealed that the eviction and subsequent months of 24-hour security had cost the council a total of almost £1.4 million.

This information came in response to a public question at last week's council meeting. In his written reply, councillor Paul Bell, the cabinet member with responsibility for housing, stated that the council had 'expected that any ongoing security would be very short-term'. Whatever advice - if any - they were acting on was ill-considered, perhaps even negligent.

As many observers (myself included) stated at the time, the council acted impetuously and without considering the potential consequences. Yet it was obvious to anyone who stopped and gave it more than a moment's thought.

Once the eviction had been carried out, the council found themselves in the expensive position of being obliged to pay for 24 hour security around the perimeter of the site to prevent it from being occupied again. With legal procedures still under way, they were not able to start clearing the site until the final judgement was delivered.

Hence the council confirmed it has spent £1,372,890 on securing the Tidemill site since 29 October - a sum that no doubt will have to be found from elsewhere in the council's already stretched budget. A cost that could have been avoided if our elected members and their paid officials had given it more than a moment's thought.

During the eviction, questions were raised about the behaviour of some of the staff from County Enforcement, the private firm hired by Lewisham to carry out the eviction and provide 24-hour security. They covered their faces with masks, did not display proper ID, and were even witnessed assaulting members of the public. Reports of such behaviour did not raise any eyebrows at the council - none of them were present that day, after all, so it was clearly easily dismissed as hysteria and/or fabrication.

The council had to be presented with incontrovertible evidence in order to take the claims more seriously - and this proved to be the firm's website - which boasts about its strike-breaking activities.
Bell has now confirmed that he has asked for County to be replaced and council procurement procedures to be reviewed, since the company 'does not fit' with the values of the council.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Council press release blames protestors for Tidemill eviction costs

The fact that Lewisham Council spent £105k in a single day removing four people from Tidemill Garden has just been revealed in response to a number of FOI requests, and the figures will be made public at tomorrow night's council meeting in response to questions to the council.

The council has refused to provide figures for the ongoing cost of securing the site since the day of the eviction.

But in a deeply cynical move, which will do nothing to improve relations between SE8 and Lewisham's elected representatives, the council has just put out the following press release, which I have reproduced in full.

Counting the cost of the Tidemill eviction 

Lewisham Council has revealed the £105,000 cost of evicting the Tidemill protestors in Deptford could help house more than 20 homeless families in temporary accommodation for an entire year. 

The Council gave the Old Tidemill Garden Group temporary, meanwhile, use of the garden back in 2012 on the clear understanding they would leave once the development of the site was ready to go ahead. The group agreed to this condition. 

The Council had to spend the money to remove campaigners and members of the group after they refused to leave in October. 

Councillor Paul Bell, Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “It is disappointing that the actions of some activists illegally occupying the site meant we had no choice but to spend this large sum of money which could have been much better used elsewhere for those in real housing need. 

“Our housebuilding programme is for the many, not the few, and we won’t let the actions of a small number of people stop us providing decent, secure, social housing for those who need it. 

“In the last three years alone private rents have risen by almost three times as much as earnings in Lewisham. We are fighting the housing crisis by building more homes at social rented levels and working with others to do the same. Tidemill offers an unprecedented amount of social housing and we cannot let those who wish to undermine the scheme for their own motives further delay these homes from being built.” 

The Council’s housing programme will deliver over 1,000 new social homes over the next four years with 117 due to be available for social rent at Tidemill. Overall, redevelopment of Tidemill and surrounding areas will provide 209 new homes, 54% of which will be social. There are nearly 10,000 people on Lewisham’s housing waiting list and over 2,000 households in temporary accommodation because of a lack of social housing in the borough. 

Cllr Bell added: “We are sorry for the residents who live locally and are caught in the middle of this ongoing situation. We are trying our best to resolve it.”

Tomorrow's council meeting, which includes not only questions about the Tidemill eviction, but also an item on the arrangements for replacing the sacked chief executive Ian Thomas, looks set to be a lively one.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Tidemill trees

Since the heavy-handed eviction of Tidemill Garden almost a month ago, the site has been guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a workforce of at least 50.

I covered this in my previous blog post, the contents of which came as news to many observers in the wider SE London area who were aware of the eviction but not the ongoing levels of security and associated cost. In the last few days, with fencing now erected around the site, the number may have been reduced but security staff still remain on the public land around the perimeter of the site, and there are guard dogs inside the former garden. With little to do, the dogs spend their days and nights barking - another unnecessary disturbance for neighbours.

There has been no official word on why the eviction took place when it did, given that there is still an ongoing legal procedure. Although the judicial review that campaigners funded was rejected, they are still going through the appeal process. Neither the council nor the developers is permitted to start work on the site until the legal process is complete.

Councillor Joe Dromey claimed on Twitter that the council is paying the cost of security until the appeal is heard, after which developer Peabody will take it on. As far as I am aware there is no specific deadline for the decision to be made, so no-one can predict what this will cost.

If the council really was concerned about the cost of evicting the campaigners and securing the site, why didn’t they wait till the legal process was complete before initiating this expensive procedure? With legal arguments out of the way, if they had been successful they would have been able to come straight in and take possession at minimal cost. Why choose such a provocative course of action?

Cock-up or conspiracy? Evidence certainly favours the latter, with no senior council members or officers willing to stand up and take responsibility for what is going on, and a deafening silence from Lewisham’s elected mayor Damien Egan.

The latest act of provocation from whoever is directing operations at Tidemill was the arrival of tree surgeons on the site last week.
They cut back all the overhanging foliage around the site perimeter, some of it heavy with berries that would have been a valuable food source for local birds this winter, and felled several young trees within the site. A neighbour speaking to the staff doing the work was told that they had also been instructed to fell the larger trees.


But after two days on the site, contractor Artemis Trees announced that they were pulling out of the job, without pay, having found out about the campaign and the backstory to the work they were doing. They were reported as citing ethical reasons for pulling out. 

Once again, official communication from the council on the subject has been nil, other than councillor Joe Dromey attempting to respond to some of the questions on Twitter. He tweeted a copy of a letter from fellow councillor Paul Bell that he said had been sent to residents - but seemingly not to those living opposite the site on Reginald Road. The letter makes no mention of the campaigners' legal action and unresolved appeal, preferring instead to paint them simply as troublesome protestors. 

Dromey also posted a letter that had been received from the bailiffs County Security, in response to complaints about staff covering their faces during the eviction. Eyewitnesses know that the 'skull mask' was not an isolated case - many of those carrying out the eviction covered their faces, and the only 'ID' they carried was a high-viz vest with a number on it. Given that the eviction of any site is potentially a contentious procedure, the council should have been closely involved in scrutinising how the operation was carried out and who was managing it on the day. Someone in authority should have been present to ensure that the procedure was followed to the letter.

Campaigners, neighbours and members of the local Deptford community are genuinely distressed at the utter lack of respect they are being shown by the council. Even if elected officials are not willing to engage with the campaigners, there is an overwhelming case for explaining their actions to the electorate and reassuring local residents that they are following due process.

This week it also came to light  that the council is recruiting an assistant director of strategy and communications to assist the mayor, who as we know is famously heading off in a  'new direction'. 

The job was actually advertised last month and initial interviews were due to be held last week. With Egan's remit officially covering 'planning, emergencies and communications' at least he will have one strand covered. 

"Communicating effectively with our residents is very important for the council," News Shopper's story quotes the council as saying. "Good communications informs and engages residents on all aspects of the council’s work."

Yes of course it does. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

Tidemill, Thomas and transparency

In times of austerity there are two things that councils should be particularly scrupulous about.

The first reads like a statement of the bleeding obvious. To be seen to be visibly wasting money is a massive no-no. When you are closing libraries, reducing children's services and slashing support for the vulnerable, any unnecessary spend or inefficient use of funds is going to rapidly attract the wrong kind of attention.

The second is more subtle, but in my opinion just as important. Communicating with your electorate about why you are making certain decisions, what alternatives you have considered, and why these have been eliminated in favour of a particular course of action is good practice and shows respect for the people you serve.

Transparency and accountability are qualities that all local councils claim to be striving for. But recent events over the last few weeks in Deptford and the wider Lewisham borough suggest that the council's 'new direction', under elected mayor Damien Egan, seeks to abandon any such worthy aspirations.

The ongoing saga of the Tidemill Community Garden and the proposed redevelopment of the land between Frankham Street and Reginald Road came to a head on Monday 29 October when more than a hundred bailiffs, police, dog handlers and dogs, and other assorted heavies turned up at 6am to evict four people from the garden. The community garden had been occupied since August when the council served a notice of eviction ahead of plans to start redevelopment of the site. Although a judicial review brought by campaigners was rejected in October, an appeal against the decision is still unresolved.

The arguments on both sides of the Tidemill case have been widely covered elsewhere, but my particular focus is on the disproportionate and heavy-handed action that has been sanctioned by the council, and the huge sums of money that have been (and continue to be) expended on clearing out and securing this space. 

Since the eviction on 29 October, staff from County Security have been guarding the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They surround the perimeter of the garden on Reginald Road and stand along the footpaths and car parks next to Frankham House and Reginald House. People living in the buildings that surround the site have bailiffs a few metres away from their windows at all times. 

The cost has been reliably estimated at around £35k per day - on this basis, at the time of writing, the total cost is approaching £750k - three quarters of a million pounds. Awkwardly, this week the mayor and cabinet will be discussing more council budget cuts. 

The unknown is for how much longer this level of spend will continue, nor the process by which the council plans to take things forward. Communication from the council has been non-existent, other than individual councillors defending the development plans in general, and criticising the behaviour of the campaigners when asked by the media to comment. No statement has been issued to confirm who authorised the action, why the bailiffs did not give occupants of the garden the opportunity to leave the site peacefully, what it is costing, who is paying the bill, what the next stage of the process will be, when it will take place, and why they are spending a great deal of money to secure an empty site for an indefinite period.

Councillor Paul Bell (cabinet member for housing) is quoted as saying that he 'did not believe' that the eviction was heavy-handed and that it was a 'straightforward operation'. The fact is, he was not present, and nor were any of his council colleagues. My own eye-witness account and that of many other reliable contacts contradicts this.

The very same day that bailiffs were evicting people from Tidemill Community Garden, the following appeared on the website of the MJ, a weekly magazine for council chief executives: 
The chief executive of Lewisham LBC will stand down at the end of the year following a change of political control at the council. Lewisham has confirmed the departure of Ian Thomas was due to the change in direction by new Mayor Damien Egan and there was ‘no negative reflection’ on the chief, sparking concerns over ousting chiefs ‘on a whim’.

Say what?

This is the same Ian Thomas who was recruited to the post by the council earlier this year with great fanfare and of course, a press release. The post comes with an annual salary of 'between £175k and £185k'. 

The press release announced that his recommendation 'was made following a rigorous selection process by an appointments panel consisting of Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham and a cross-party group of eight councillors.' The cross-party group included Damien Egan, at the time a ward councillor but already selected as the Labour Party's mayoral candidate.

After being elected as mayor, Egan introduced Thomas on May 23rd using the following words:
"One of the personal pledges I have made is a commitment to electing more councillors from black, asian and minority ethnic communities. All parties should be committing to supporting the election of more BAME councillors and I will make it my mission through training, mentoring and through political pressure – that in four years’ time we are more reflective of the communities we represent. We have of course, fantastic BAME role models in our council who inspire many through their leadership. We welcome our new chief executive, Ian Thomas. Ian – welcome to Lewisham. I am looking forward to working with you to shape the future we all want to see for our borough."

Whatever has gone wrong in just five months is not up for discussion. Once again the council is remaining tight-lipped on the issue, although under pressure the pr department started referring to a 'change of direction' by the new administration under Egan, which presumably Thomas was either not invited to, or not keen on.

Meanwhile Private Eye's take on what it calls Lewishambles suggests that an infantile clash of egos was the issue, quoting one council source as saying it was 'dicks at dawn'. Now the former interim CEO is back at the helm and Thomas has gone on gardening leave, with no credible explanation of what has created this embarrassing and expensive situation. The council has to find the funds to advertise for and recruit a new CEO, not to mention cover any severance pay that Thomas may be due.

Neither of these decisions have gone down particularly well in Deptford, hence 'mayor's question time' at the recent New Cross Assembly at the Mulberry Centre became the focal point for a rather angry electorate.

A group of council staff in the audience voiced their concerns and demanded answers about Thomas's departure, while Tidemill protestors wanted to pin the mayor down on the rationale for the eviction of the community garden and the cost to council tax payers. Egan's late arrival from another meeting (with a police escort) meant there was little time for questions, which must have been something of a relief for him.

Members of the public were prevented from entering the room by the police, who claimed that it was at capacity. The film I've linked to below shows this was not true. Some of those left outside vented their anger by banging on the meeting room windows and trying to disrupt the meeting.

Most of the subsequent coverage focused on scuffles outside the venue afterwards, but I draw your attention to footage recorded by founder of the Deptford People Project, 'Lucy Loves-Life' who was in the audience. Her short film shows how the mayor responded to a simple question about provision for young people.

In the circumstances, a question that was neither about Ian Thomas nor Tidemill Garden should have been a gift to the mayor; an opportunity for him to win over his audience and convince them that he was a credible leader. Someone the audience could trust to make the right decisions even in difficult circumstances, someone who would listen and respond respectfully, and someone who would take responsibility for his actions and those of the council he leads.

I invite you to make your own mind up about whether he was successful or not (and with apologies to anyone not on Facebook as I have only been able to find it available here).

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Party in the Park!

The fabulous and free Party in the Park is back in Fordham Park on 1st September with three stages for a host of local bands and musicians, community stalls and even a 'wellness' area!

The Tent City will focus on local housing issues with talks and workshops looking at the serious housing problems that many local people face.

The festival is descended from the legendary Deptford Urban Free Festival which took place in the park in the 1990s. It's still a free festival and still organised by volunteers, community groups and activists.

Want to get involved? Email

Saturday 1st September, 12 noon - 8pm.
Fordham Park

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Tidemill campaigners seek funds for judicial review

Deptford's Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! campaign is trying to raise funds on Crowd Justice to challenge Lewisham Council's decision to demolish the council homes of Reginald House and the community-run Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

The demolition is scheduled as part of a regeneration scheme of the Old Tidemill site in Deptford, London, and the community group wants to mount a judicial review against the Council's approval of the plans.

They want the council and its partners to redraw the plans in partnership with the community, so Reginald House and Old Tidemill Garden are kept, and as many social homes as possible are built on the land.

Alternative plans have been produced by the campaigners

Campaigners claim it is possible, and that they have produced alternative architectural plans to show it, however the Council have so far not pursued the alternatives.

They say: We need your support to expose how the Council is going against it's own environmental, housing, human rights, equality and air pollution policies, how they have abused the planning process to push the plans through, and the sham nature of their consultation process. And to force them to redraw these plans in partnership with the community, via a transparent and collaborative process.

The campaign's solicitor is Richard Buxton, an environmental and public law lawyer who is also concerned about social housing and social justice.

The group is trying to raise £10,600 by September 9th in order to pay for legal advice and explore the possibility of a judicial review.

For more information, or to make a pledge, visit

Monday, 18 June 2018

1 Creekside planning application

A planning application has been submitted for the corner site of Creekside/Deptford Church Street for a mixed use development of housing and commercial units.

The land on which the development is proposed, opposite the Birds Nest pub, is currently occupied by the MOT centre at 1 Creekside, and the adjoining unoccupied area which the council fenced off with hoardings a year or more ago. This council-owned land was sold to developer Bluecroft, which owns 1 Creekside, under a deal which will see the council leasing back the commercial space on a long-term basis to generate an income.

I hope that the council has fully tested the viability of its plan, given the amount of new office and commercial space in the area that is either still empty, or just coming on stream. A number of spaces in the Deptford Market Yard building right next to the station still remain unlet, with the starter units in the market yard itself exhibiting a fairly high churn rate.  New developments on Creekside such as the high-spec, high-rent Fuel Tank at Faircharm and the Artworks spaces at the other end of the Creekside (and the other end of the rental spectrum) mean that the market is becoming somewhat saturated. 

It's a fairly small strip of land and the council's commercial space is intended to occupy an overheight ground floor which accommodates a mezzanine level, so the buildings have to be quite large in order to accommodate just 56 residential units. No matter how you cut it, this is going to have quite an impact on its neighbours. The architects have split it into two 'cores' with the intention of giving it a bit more character than a single block.

They've incorporated a yard at ground level which goes through between the two cores and around the back to Creekside. The documents show all kinds of nice landscaping, although I'm not entirely clear what a 'rain garden' is and the landscaping is often the bit that gets cut back when the penny pinching starts. What is intended to be a pleasant space for those who use it, more often turns into a drafty, litter-strewn wasteland. 

Talking of aspirational landscaping, there are a lot of trees shown on the renderings. Past experience suggests that when it comes to actually planting trees outside new developments there are a myriad reasons why they don't materialise - and considering that this development involves the loss of trees on the existing land, let's hope that the planners are willing to enforce their provision if the proposal gets permission.

You can find the details of the planning application via the council's planning portal by searching the reference number DC/18/106708; the official deadline for objections has passed but objections can be submitted up to the date of the committee hearing at which the application will be considered.