11 December 2009

Bog standard update (Part 2)

The Kafkaesque saga of the former public toilets on Peckham Rye Common (East Dulwich Road) continues unabated. For those of you not familiar with this situation, here's a very brief summary. Earlier this year, Southwark Council decided to rent out this building as a commercial venture. Without stopping to check if they were allowed to do this with a property that is situated on common land, they advertised for tenants. Someone responded saying they wanted to open a cycle shop and the council agreed. Since then little has happened and the building remains closed.

Four months ago at Nunhead and Peckham Rye Community Council, a number of local people, including myself, Victoria and Renata asked officers why they had not checked on the legal status of the common land and why the building could not be put to community use or even reopened as toilets. "We'll come back to you" they said. Since then they have consistently failed to give a straight answer to these questions. Meeting after meeting has taken place and they have simply ignored us.

So at Wednesday's Community Council meeting we had the latest installment. Officers returned with this report (page 25) on the situation. What you'll notice straight away is that it fails to answer the central question. Is the council allowed to rent out this building? Reading between the lines I think their view is 'We can probably get away with it, but we're not entirely sure.' When I asked for a verbal answer, all we got were vacant looks and further promises to "look into it".

One part of the report is particularly is laughable. It states that one of the restrictions on the land is that developments must be "essential facilities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation..." It goes on to say that, because the council is trying to rent the building out as a cycle shop, it meets this condition. Get it? People ride bikes outdoors! See what they did there?

Anyway, an additional update from officers was also given stating that the cycle shop owner had now pulled out, and that other tenants were now being considered. In short, they are going ahead irrespective of the views of local people, the community council or possibly even the law of the land.

Labour Councillor Gordon Nardell proposed setting up a sub-group of interested parties and local residents to put alternative proposals to the council on how the property might be put to good use for our local community. I've asked to become a member of this group which I hope can now become the focus of a campaign to stop Southwark council from trying to make money out of a community building sited on historic common land.

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