Friday 30 September 2016

Evelyn ward by-election; runners, riders, and Ray.

It would be foolish to suggest that things are ‘hotting up’ for the by-election in Evelyn ward, which was prompted by the death of long-serving councillor Crada Onuegbu, but there are certainly signs that the outcome of the 13th October vote will hold more interest than usual.

I don't doubt that Cllr Onuegbu cared for her electorate as people, and certainly before she became ill, she was often in attendance at local community events and meetings. For whatever reason, however, she did not feel it necessary to resign her seat when she became too ill to carry out her duties, and this situation persisted for so long that it prompted complaints to the council about her lack of attendance, enhancing the general feeling of disenfranchisement in Evelyn ward.

Evelyn ward’s relationship to Deptford is rather like Deptford’s relationship to Lewisham, but magnified by ten. Largely made up of vast swathes of housing estates interspersed by industrial land, and on the outer reaches of the borough, sandwiched between the watersides of Southwark and Greenwich, it has lain forgotten for many decades. But as the industrial land is gradually hived off to be developed for housing, and existing residents see very little benefit coming back to their communities, the level of discontent has been rising, council decisions are being more closely scrutinised and regularly challenged by residents, and new groups have formed to promote the interests of the forgotten corners of Deptford.

Little wonder then that the forthcoming by-election has prompted an independent candidate to throw down his hat alongside the usual suspects. Scott Barkwith, who is standing under the banner of Independent Evelyn, has been a very active member of the Deptfordfolk group (Friends of Deptford Park & Folkestone Gardens) since its launch, and wants to challenge the borough’s largely supine approach to representation.

Clearly with Labour having a huge majority on the council there's a limit to what an independent councillor (or a councillor from any opposition party for that matter) could achieve borough-wide, but on a local level it would be refreshing to have someone who would assist local groups in campaigning for improvements in the ward in addition to turning up at community events and pursuing casework on behalf of individuals.

It's a very short period of time for any independent candidate to build up sufficient recognition across the ward - but with voter turnout likely to be low, perhaps Scott's existing profile as a local campaigner will be enough to see him through?

From the field of six candidates, Scott is one of only two who actually live in the actual ward - no great surprise there as few of our elected representatives have done so over the years and neither of the incumbent councillors do. The other resident candidate is Joyce Jacca who is representing the Labour Party - for once Labour has put up a candidate who is known and active locally, perhaps responding to the discontent that has been voiced over recent months. Joyce is on the photo above, which is the one that Lewisham Labour chose to accompany its announcement, although they failed to point out which of the women on the picture is Joyce (she's front left if you can make her out!).

Two of the other candidates are fairly well-known in Deptford - one not necessarily for the best of reasons.

Ray Barron-Woolford is standing as candidate for People Before Profit - despite the fact that he seems to think the creation of a parish council is the only way that Deptford can become glorious again. On the surface, his many initiatives suggest he is a tireless local campaigner, but it's hard to banish the suspicion that the main purpose of his heritage festivals, parish council, food bank, books and so on is purely for his own self-promotion, considering the amount of time he spends bragging about his many achievements.

When he stood for a council seat in New Cross ward in 2014, Vice magazine did a great piece on his political background, revealing that he'd crossed the spectrum from one side to the other during his 'career' as a politician.

His campaigns always highlight his 'good works', and rarely mention his day job, which is running an estate agency - formerly Housemartins, now relaunched as London & Country (we'll come to that in a minute). When he does mention it, he claims it as 'the UK only social enterprise estate agency' (sic), whatever that means. In practice it's a private company limited by shares, and with a single shareholder, Ray Woolford.

He claims that his estate agency funds his 'charitable' work, although again there is no proof of that. The 'We Care Food Bank Charity' is not a charity at all, it has no charitable status (the website  has been claiming 'charity number applied for' ever since it was launched) and in fact it is not even a registered company.

Similarly the locally-infamous Deptford Heritage Festival was claimed to be a fundraiser for his local good works, but no proof of that was forthcoming. After criticisms of the first festival and presumably some scrutiny of where the money went, he published a vaguely-worded page about festival costs, with promises of more information to be published once ticket agency payments had been made. No further details were forthcoming.

To get an insight into the tangled business affairs of Ray Woolford you only have to start digging around at Companies House. Under his various monikers (Raymond David Woolford, Raymond Barron-Woolford) and his multiple registered correspondence addresses in London, Oxfordshire and Bristol, he's held offices at quite a few different companies, from the famous 'Come the Revolution' cafe in New Cross Road which came to a sticky and sudden end to a short-lived four-month stint as an officer at the 2000 Community Action Centre in 2015.

His first estate agency - Housemartins Estate Agents, which was founded in 1999 - ran into trouble a couple of years ago. First signs of this were a year ago when Ray applied for his (wholly-owned) company to be struck off the register. Had his application succeeded, any outstanding creditors would have received nothing. But an objection was received, and subsequently it became clear that he'd had some kind of tangle with the Austrian Olympic Committee. In January of this year, following a petition to the High Court in Bristol from the solicitors of the aforementioned organisation, an order was made to wind the company up. The mind boggles as to what shenanigans preceded this - presumably some kind of disagreement relating to rental accommodation provided during the 2012 Olympics? - but when Ray is involved, preposterous is the new normal. Hence 'the UK only social enterprise estate agency' has now been relaunched as London & Country.

You can follow Ray on Twitter, but he's quite twitchy with the blocking button so do be sure not to challenge anything he says.

The other name that people might recognise locally is the Green's candidate Andrea Carey Fuller, who's been involved in setting up the Deptford Neighbourhood Action group and getting the neighbourhood plan off the ground. She's probably better known in New Cross though, rather than Evelyn, as most of her attention has been focussed on Tidemill.

At the last council elections the Tories did not even bother to field any candidates - they've wheeled one out for this election. I see from the election literature that turned up today that James Clark is keen to prevent overdevelopment of Lewisham's waterfront. Horse, stable door etc.

And what a road sign to choose for your photo shoot. I had to look it up to find out where exactly it was in Evelyn ward. Don't worry, I'm sure there's nothing significant in the choice.

Finally the Lib Dems have a candidate, Lucy Salek. In the last by-election their candidate polled slightly higher than the Tories and Ukip, who were neck and neck.

It will be interesting to see what happens. At the last full council elections the Labour councillors were elected with comfortable majorities of at least a thousand votes each. But this is a by-election and turnout at the last one in Evelyn (when the winning candidate was deselected after just three months) was so pitiful that if it's repeated, anything could happen.

In the by-election of May 2013 just 16% of the electorate could be arsed to go to the polling station. The Labour candidate polled 978, and People Before Profit's candidate (not Ray this time) came second with 404. The others trailed with just over 100 each.

The choice of several credible, locally-known candidates could potentially split the Labour vote and may make the final result a lot closer. But having a stronger choice might also motivate more people to vote.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Tidemill School & Amersham Vale redevelopments go to committee

Contentious plans to redevelop the old Tidemill School, gardens and adjacent housing on Reginald Road are due to go before Lewisham's strategic planning committee this Thursday 29th at the civic suite in Catford. Objectors will be present at the meeting both outside the building, where they intend to stage a peaceful protest, and inside where they will speak out against the plans and ask for the decision to be deferred.

At the same meeting the committee will consider plans for the associated development at Amersham Vale, on the site of the former Deptford Green School.

I've written about Tidemill before, causing a bit of a hoo-hah by revealing that the claims the council was making for the number of social/affordable housing units the development would deliver were overstated.

The council responded with a statement which you can read at the bottom of the original post, but my point is still valid. The current application for Tidemill is for 209 units; 175 private and just 34 'affordable', not the 78 that the council is trumpeting. The mix that the council is shouting about will only happen if the developer manages to access some mysterious, unspecified 'grant' funding which will subsidise it.

As the committee report states: 'The delivery of this uplift in affordable units is dependent on grant funding being secured by the applicant.' 

While the agreement commits the developer to make 'reasonable endeavours' to secure this unspecified funding, I am sure there are many circumstances beyond the developer's control that could derail the process. It's great to be optimistic but the council's statement that this development 'will provide' 37% affordable housing looks a little threadbare.

There have been a great many objections to the redevelopment plans, including anger at the loss of the green space of the former school grounds; objections to the height, proximity and overlooking/overshadowing impact the new blocks will have on existing housing such as Frankham House and Princess Louise Building; complaints about the lack of consultation from residents of the Reginald Road housing whose block is to be demolished; objections to the creation of gated public space; concern about the demolition of the caretakers house (the smaller building next to the school) and so on.

Some of these objections have been addressed, with the revised application showing amendments to certain blocks to reduce the proximity to existing buildings, and some of the overlooking issues. But objectors say that loss of light and overshadowing is still a major issue.

The loss of the gardens will mean quite a significant habitat reduction in the centre of Deptford. While we have plenty of public space, much of it is hard landscaping with trees, which is of limited interest to wildlife. The open space that will replace the Tidemill garden will also feature a lot of hard landscaping and a few manicured lawns - a pitiful substitute for the existing sprawl of green.

Over at the Amersham Vale site it's a similar story in terms of affordable housing. The proposed development will create 120 flats in blocks of up to five storeys high. Of these 120, only 19 will be for shared ownership/social rent - again the council is banking on the developer being able to achieve grant funding to subsidise additional 'affordable' units and improve this ratio from 16% to 32%. If the grant is not forthcoming, the ratio will remain pisspoor.

The proposed buildings take up half the site - the remainder now being occupied by the newly-built Charlottenburg Park, itself intended to compensate for the part of Fordham Park that was annexed for outdoor space for the relocated Deptford Green School.

As the officers report points out, the arrangement of the blocks is sufficiently cramped/awkward that some of the new units are overshadowed by their neighbours, and four of them will not receive any direct sunlight in the winter. There is also one living-room window that will not receive the required level of daylight - let's hope the resident is a night worker.

With these two developments on the table and scrutiny of Lewisham's planning process currently rather keen, it will be interesting to see how the meeting on Thursday pans out. I doubt it will be dull, so if you are keen to find out more about how the planning process works without having to stick pins in your eyes to keep yourself awake, this is probably the meeting to go to.

Friday 16 September 2016

Deptford Open House

This weekend sees the annual Open House event where buildings all across London open their doors to the general public for a free weekend of seeing what goes on behind closed doors.

As a borough, Lewisham's offerings seem woefully few, but Deptford and environs has some notable opportunities to visit buildings which should not be missed, as well as a few walks.

Deptford Town Hall on New Cross Road is open on Saturday, 10am till 5pm and offers "lavish, nautically-themed baroque features" both inside and out.

Have a nebby* behind the great black gates of the Master Shipwright's House on Watergate Street - open Saturday 10.30 till 5 and Sunday 10 till 2, with promises of re-enactors, tea and cakes, and the presence of the Lenox Project and Sayes Court Garden community groups. The oldest remaining building of the former Royal Dockyard. If you haven't been here before, you'll be gobsmacked at what you've missed. If you have been before, you'll be back for more.

(*northern slang for 'nosey' where I'm from)

If the weekend is clear, there are always great views to be had from the top of the Seager Distillery Tower - certainly one local building where it's preferable to be in looking out. Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 10-1. There's usually a short wait to enter, as there's a limit on numbers at the top, but it's worth a look if you want to see Deptford from a different angle.

Walking tours include Sayes Court (pre booking online only), Pepys Park & Surrey Canal Linear Park (meet outside Deptford Park School on Saturday at 11am) and Deptford Town Centre (meet at the north end of the high street outside Boa Lang on Saturday at 2pm).

Despite the lack of places open in Lewisham, Deptford residents have Greenwich and Southwark not too far away so it's worth looking at those parts of the guide if you want something close at hand - and there's plenty a bit further afield that's worth travelling to.

One particular recommendation is the Deptford Creek Swing Bridge (or as the guide would have it, the Greenwich Reach Swing Bridge) where the architects and engineers who designed it will be present on Sunday from 1pm till 5pm. The bridge will be opened on Sunday at 3pm so if you've always wanted to see it swing without being inconvenienced, now's your chance!

Full information is online at

Tuesday 6 September 2016

The Deptford take-back: Old Tidemill Garden and Deptford Neighbourhood Action

This weekend sees plenty of action in Deptford with a whole day of community activity, entertainment, music and food at the Old Tidemill Garden for 'The Deptford Take-Back.

Many of the local community and pressure groups that have formed in the last couple of years are expected to be there - including main organisers the Old Tidemill Garden and Deptford Neighbourhood Action. The latter is holding its AGM at the event, and is looking to recruit new officers as well as invite people to get involved with its various working groups. 

There will be food from the Deptford People Project and lots of family-friendly entertainment. It's all happening in the gardens behind the old Tidemill School on Frankham Street from 11am to 9pm.

Monday 5 September 2016

Proposed revisions to Lewisham Gateway development; public consultation

While this is a bit out of my usual area of coverage, it may well be of interest to those in the south of Deptford/St John's.

The developer currently creating havoc in and around Lewisham station, Lewisham Gateway Developments Ltd, is 'consulting' on proposed changes to its master plan for the second phase of the work.

This involves the development of the land where the big roundabout used to be, remember those days?

In short, the developer wants to do away with some of the leisure, office and education provision and replace it with a bigger hotel and more flats.

Not only that, the proposal is to build taller (buildings proposed to be 77m will go up to 104m, those proposed to be 47m will now be up to 62m).

The developer's details suggest that the revisions will make it 'more slender' and 'open' as development. *check I'm wearing right glasses*. It's a master plan so it does not go into detailed design, instead covers things like planning use of the buildings, their footprints and building size, the location and orientation of roads etc.

Concerns have already been raised about the impact the increased building sizes will have on the habitat of 'Confluence Place' which seems to be the token green space for this huge redevelopment.

More details are online and there is a public consultation event in the foyer of the Glassmill Leisure Centre from 6pm to 8pm this Thursday 8th September.