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).

https://www.facebook.com/lucyloveslife1/videos/260681608135901/


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 vols@pitpnxd.co.uk

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 https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-reginald-save-tidemill

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.



Monday, 4 June 2018

999 Club fundraising for a summer shelter

Deptford's 999 Club is crowdfunding to raise £20,000 to open a Summer Shelter to provide space for 20 homeless people each night.

Although they have already raised almost £6,000 they still have a long way to go and the appeal closes on 20 June 2018.

This will be the only shelter in Lewisham and one of only three night shelters open in London over the summer.


Most people are aware of the shelters that open up in winter to provide safe, clean and warm sleeping space for homeless people at a time when the weather is particularly bad.

Ironically in summer, homeless people find it even harder to find a safe, quiet and unexposed place to sleep.

With no door to lock behind them, 999 Club reports that homeless people are 17 times more likely to experience violence including being hit, kicked, urinated on, threatened, robbed, sexually assaulted and verbally abused.

Rough sleeping has a grave effect on homeless people’s mental and physical health resulting in an average age of death of just 43 for women and 47 for men.

Rough sleeping is a devastating experience – not just in winter but at any time of year.

The 999 Club wants to extend its night shelter so it can open this summer, and is crowdfunding to raise a further £20,000 to fund its summer shelter.
https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/summershelter

The existing night shelter runs at the 999 Club's hall in 10 week blocks. Traditionally night shelters run during the coldest months of the year but the charity is currently delivering a three-year pilot to extend this to provide year-round support. By 2019 their aim is to have the shelter operating for 40 weeks, across all four seasons.


It's not just about somewhere to sleep - the work of the shelter combines emergency accommodation with the wider support services offered by the 999 Club to empower people to change their lives.

It provides respite from sleeping rough which gives homeless people the space and opportunity to engage with the charity's other services:
- the day centre offering access to practical facilities, such as showers, laundry and internet access;
- advice and support to help with benefits and find and keep a home;
- employability support to access training, gain qualifications, get work ready and find a job;
- learning & activities workshops to gain new skills and increase confidence and self-esteem;
- personal transition service for highly personalised one-to-one support;
- health & wellbeing clinics to improve physical and mental health.

The night shelter provides each guest with a locker, mattress, bedding, towels and a welcome pack including essential items such as deodorant, razors and sanitary products. They are assigned a case manager who assists with securing any missing ID, accessing or maximising benefits, receiving healthcare, getting a job and securing housing.


Guests arrive at 7.30pm each evening for a nutritious meal cooked by a team of volunteers. During this time guests can also access laundry facilities, showers and computers before settling down for the night in the hall. They get breakfast in the morning and are encouraged to stay on during the day at the charity's Gateway service.

For more information about the service and the crowdfunding appeal, visit https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/summershelter

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Stephen Lawrence Centre fences to go!


It's not often that I am sufficiently moved to put an exclamation mark in a headline, but when I discovered that the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust had submitted a planning application for new landscaping around its building on Brookmill Road, and when I realised that this new landscaping includes TEARING DOWN THE FENCES, my heart sang.



I've always felt that this was a woefully unfriendly building - even finding the entrance door can be a challenge - and the fencing around it makes it look more like a Northern Irish police station at the height of the Troubles than the community building it is intended to be. This may be the reason I've never been inside. I don't dislike the building itself, just the overtly unwelcoming face it offers to its neighbours. 

Unfortunately the building was vandalised just a week after opening in 2008; the huge wall of glass designed by Chris Ofili was smashed by bricks thrown from outside the perimeter in what was dubbed a racist attack at the time. The fences failed to prevent the attack - finally they are going to be removed and hopefully the centre will start to have a more neighbourly relationship with the local area. 


First phase of the centre's reinvention was this week's launch of the new 'co-working' space which featured in Wallpaper magazine. It seems that the next phase will address the poor public realm on the site itself, and its relationship with Deptford.

There's not much in the way of renderings in the planning application, but the main change is going to be the removal of the steel fences and the gates, with just a low wall retained. A new pedestrian  route into the site will be created right in front of the building entrance, and a range of landscaping, picnic tables and raised planting will be installed within the site. On the Brookmill Park boundary there will be raised allotment beds.




I look forward to getting a full length view of the magnificent windows. 


Friday, 18 May 2018

Twinkle Park pond update


With Twinkle Park currently a no-go zone and work to reinstate the pond seemingly halted, comes an update from the Twinkle Park Trust.

The bad news is that the reinstatement of the park's pond is going to take longer than expected - but the good news is that the cause of the mysterious loss of water has finally been found (...and the question on everyone's lips is how the previous investigations managed to miss it!)

The official line is as follows:

The work started was due to be completed in mid-May but unfortunately there has been a delay which has resulted in work being halted until July, at which point we will finally get our pond back! 

In the first few days of work, as the vegetation which had taken root over the past few years was being cleared and the contractors began to tackle the liner, they found evidence of subsidence. In the months following the draining of the pond, the Twinkle Park Trust commissioned costly scans of the pond bed to be undertaken, none of which showed any conclusive results, so to finally have found the probable explanation for the water’s disappearance was a relief, but there was obvious concern that the discovery might jeopardise the entire project. 

Further examination quickly followed, and a dig around the area uncovered a brick structure with a void, into which some soil had collapsed. It seems that the pond was originally built on top of an old cesspit or well, which had been disturbed (perhaps by the building or utilities works, ongoing in the area at the time), causing a degree of collapse. 

Following advice from a range of architects and builders, as well as consulting with the project’s funders, the Trust has been able to determine a course of action which will see the safe completion of the pond restoration. Unfortunately, owing to the delay, our contractor was forced to move on to their next scheduled job, forcing our own building work to pause. 

The contractors are scheduled to return as soon as possible and are now expected to return to recommence the work on 2nd July 2018. The Trust is grateful for the assistance and advice we have received from all parties involved in the project over the past few weeks, and whilst we are naturally disappointed that this unavoidable delay has occurred, we are thankful that the project has not been threatened. 

Whilst we recognise that it is not ideal, we are sure that the surrounding community will agree that the return of the pond to Twinkle Park will be worth the price of a couple of extra months of fences and exposed soil.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Keep the Waiting Room in Deptford!

My favourite (and one of the original) of Deptford's coffee shops has launched a Kickstarter campaign to support a move to new premises.

The small-but-perfectly-formed Waiting Room is being forced to relocate as the landlord of the property wants to redevelop it and no doubt take advantage of rising rents. 

The good news is that they have a new premises lined up - one with more space and a garden, and they plan to open in the evenings as well. 

The bad news is that they've not had time to save up enough money to pay for the work that needs doing, new equipment and so on.

That's where us lot come in.

Show your love for Alec and Kev by pledging whatever you can to help them stay in Deptford High Street. Let's face it, it won't be the same without them.



(and even if you can't afford to give, it's worth a read just to learn the story of how the Waiting Room came to be....)

Monday, 9 April 2018

New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival 2018

Woo!

Very excited that one of my favourite local events is nearly here - the annual New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival.

Totally free, all run and organised by volunteers, and in some great venues across Deptford & New Cross - a fabulous example of our vibrant, enthusiastic, imaginative and fun SE community spirit.

Once again this year there will be a whole host of different films in venues ranging from the traditional to downright wacky, encouraging people to visit new parts of the borough and seek out the green spaces, churches and bars they aren't familiar with, in the pursuit of free entertainment.

Launch night kicks off at the Brick Brewery in Blackhorse Road with a showing of Get Out - Jordan Peele’s chilling satire on liberal racism in America. The bar will be open and food will be on sale, with a DJ and party after the film.



Watch in comfort at the Brookmill pub; put your energy into pedalling at the bike-powered park showings or watch a film somewhere you don't normally get to visit, such as Sanford Housing Coop or the Stephen Lawrence Centre.


On Facebook and on the web - and usually printed programmes to pick up a week or two before the festival from local libraries and cafes.

http://www.freefilmfestivals.org/filmfestival/new-cross-deptford/


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Twinkle Park to get its pond back

Twinkle Park at the bottom of Watergate St is one of the hidden secrets of Deptford - it used to be one of my favourite haunts in happier days when its pond was a beautiful centrepiece.


Sadly and somewhat mysteriously in October 2013 it sprang a leak and all the water drained out overnight.


Since that time the pond has remained empty, and has turned into a kind of grassy crater in the middle of the park. Not really what was intended.

So I was delighted to discover that the Twinkle Park Trust, which manages the park and neighbouring Charlotte Turner Gardens, has finally raised funds to pay for the pond to be relined and renovated.

Work on the pond is due to start tomorrow (Monday 9th April) and is expected to take about a month. Twinkle Park Trust is hoping to celebrate the reinstatement of the pond at its summer festival this year.