28 February 2010

Making lower Forest Hill Road cleaner, greener and a better local shopping street

Horrid isn't it!

That's what many residents on or near the lower part of Forest Hill Road kept saying to me as they pointed out how tatty and untidy the lower part of Forest Hill Road is. They also mentioned that, with a bit of effort, this could be a small but attractive shopping area. I'm a big fan of Si Mangia and the Herne Tavern and the Co-op is a much needed store too. It would not take much to make this well-used row of shops a great 'hub' for local residents.Based on these comments and the clear level of support from local residents to improve the area I submitted a 'Cleaner, Greener & Safer' bid to the council, back in January. In my bid I asked for the street to be tidied up, the old rusty bollards to be replaced, proper designated areas be created for bins, some planting and for the odd shed building by the bus stop to be repainted and repaired.

Lots of residents signed my petition as they were keen to support the proposals. Now I just need a bit of luck tomorrow as I'll be presenting the idea to the council and trying to persuade them to invest some money in this neglected corner of Southwark.

25 February 2010

A chance to tell the council what you think about Peckham Rye's parks and green spaces

With Peckham Rye Park and Common right at the heart of our area why not tell Southwark what's good and bad about Peckham Rye, how often you use it and what might improve it? You have until 30th April to fill in this online survey from the council.

Many of you will be aware of the plans for a new One O'clock Club and new changing rooms and pitches for local sports clubs. This survey is another good opportunity to tell the council to get on with this much needed work. Of course, the Rye isn't the only green space in our area, so if you're a fan of One Tree Hill or Brenchley Gardens or Nunhead Cemetery then this is also a chance for you to express your opinions. Southwark's website says that information collected from the survey will be used to inform future council decisions related to parks and open spaces.

For those of you in the East Dulwich part of the ward, you may also be interested in the Goose Green consultation that is currently taking place. This consultation is particularly looking at the installation and subsequent removal of the fence that restricted the area which dog walkers could use. You can find this survey here. This consultation runs until 31st March.

23 February 2010

Do you want free meals for primary school kids in Peckham Rye?

Tonight, Southwark Labour will propose an alternative budget to the one put forward by the Lib Dems and Tories. This will make it crystal clear what the differences are between your local party candidates. Southwark Labour's proposals would cut wasteful spending on consultants and introduce free school meals for all primary school children.

Our part of South London currently has the highest levels of childhood obesity in the country, along with high levels of child poverty and relatively low levels of school attainment. Your Peckham Rye Labour candidates believe that if we are to improve the life-chances of Southwark’s children and defuse the obesity time bomb we must take some bold decisions.

Giving every primary school child in our borough a free, healthy school meal at lunchtime would remove the stigma of free school meals for those 1,800 children who are currently entitled to them but don’t take them up. It would ease the burden on those families who live just above the current level of entitlement for free school meals. And it would guarantee every child a healthy, balanced meal at lunchtime, where – according to recent research – currently only 1% of packed lunches meet the government’s nutritional standard for school meals. For the record, this measure is being strongly opposed by Peckham Rye Lib Dem and Tory candidates. Why? I wish I could tell you.

So if you think that free school meals for all primary school children is the right choice for Southwark then sign our petition here.

20 February 2010

The Lib Dem-Tory poster campaign that achieves nothing but waste

I'm not, in principle, against councils spending money on posters and communications. Local authorities provide a whole host of services to residents and that sometimes requires them to venture into the world of advertising and marketing. It's tricky territory for them because they leave themselves open to the accusation of wasting money and/or spending public money on propaganda. But when it is done responsibly, there are occasions when getting the message across in this way is justified.

An example of the kind of campaign that I think is OK would be the "Well done to Southwark School children on their exam results" poster campaign that the council ran last year. Many of our local state schools suffer from an undeserved poor reputation, when in fact they are good schools filled with excellent teachers. The campaign gave a positive message to local kids about their achievments and told local parents that some local schools were doing well. Other examples of justifiable campaigns would be on voter registration or the collection of council tax.

But when local councils start pumping out political propaganda, just before an election, and paid for with public money, I draw the line. Southwark's Lib Dems and Tories have decided to run a "My council" campaign which does nothing but mislead residents of this borough into thinking their council is wonderful, superb and downright brilliant. As regular readers of this blog will know, Southwark Council was recently rated as the worst council in inner London.

The campaign means that you are paying for hundreds of posters to be put up on bus stops and phone booths across the borough which say "My Council . . . is working hard to improve our parks and green spaces." (or some variation on this theme) The implication here, is that there is something remarkable about a council that does things like "work hard to improve parks". They might as well run a poster campaign saying, "My Council . . . sometimes collects the rubbish from people's homes." It's just vacuous nonsense, which is sadly wasting thousands of pounds which should be invested in improving services.

We're working on finding out exactly how much this ridiculous campaign has cost, but in the meantime, I thought I'd balance things up a bit by producing my own version (see below). I can confirm that no public money was wasted in the photoshopping of this photograph.

18 February 2010

Peckham Rye Labour pledge free school meals for all primary school children

If Labour is able to take control of Southwark council in May, all primary school children will receive free school meals. This important announcement means that young children in our borough will be given the boost of a healthy meal in the middle of the school day.

This is a superb, progressive policy that Victoria, Renata and I are very proud to be campaigning on. It will help poorer families living in our borough, by removing the stigma and social barriers which continue to be attached to recipients of free chool meals. Providing a healthy and nutritious midday meal will make a huge difference to those 1,800 pupils who are already entitled to free school meals but do not take advantage of that entitlement.

It will also save every family £7.00 per week, per primary school child. With a recent study by Leeds University showing that only 1% of packed lunches taken to school contain the nutritional content that a child needs, the importance of this policy to children should not be under-estimated. This is a policy which cuts across boundaries of class and income, and addresses the critical problems of childhood obesity and ill-health.

17 February 2010

343 Consultation - more buses not popular with some of our Telegraph Hill neighbours...

We were recently delighted to learn that Mayor Boris Johnson had listened to our calls to improve the frequency of the 343 bus in the morning peak.

However, it seems that some of our neighbours in Telegraph Hill are less pleased with this outcome. Opinion in Brockley seems to roughly come down in favour of an improved service.

As an Ivydale Road resident without a car, I am massively dependent on the 343 to get around and I use it most mornings to get to work. However, as an Ivydale Road resident I also suffer the noise and vibrations that the double deckers cause.

On balance, given the huge overcrowding along the route, I think a double decker is the only practical option. Splitting the route in Peckham (presumably in the Rye Lane area), with just a single decker running on to New Cross Gate would mean the loss of a great 'through' bus service that many Peckham Rye ward residents rely on. It's also foolish to think that the overcrowding starts at Rye Lane - at rush hour the bus fills up very quickly along Ivydale Road, Cheltenham Road and along Rye Hill Park.

The suggestion of some Telegraph Hill residents, that some of the double deckers turn round at the roundabout at the top of Telegraph Hill, would mean that we would end up with a bus that goes nowhere, rather than a bus that is handy for New Cross Gate Sainsburys (why can't it terminate at the supermarket?), handy for catching buses on to Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham and very handy for pupils at Haberdashers' Aske's.

Solutions to the vibrations and noise on Jerningham Road could include resurfacing or the replacement of the current speed bumps with less noisy traffic calming measures (as per Ivydale Road's 'pinch points' though I know these are already proving unpopular with many residents....) Or I like the suggestion that this route could be one of the first to get fuel cell buses which make less vibrations.

As it is, the current proposal on the table from TfL is not about spliting the route, rather it's just whether you want two extra buses in the morning rush hour (heading into London) and possibly an improved service in the evening peak. When the route is retendered in 2011, there is a possibility that the frequency will go from the current 9bph to 10bph throughout the day.

If you feel strongly about the route I would urge you to contact TfL on STEngagement@tfl.gov.uk with the subject ref is MH/T335/Stage2/R/0110. The deadline for comments is Friday 26 February.

16 February 2010

Southwark must make fire safety a priority in Rye Hill Park

Whilst out talking to residents of Rye Hill Park Estate last week, we came across several who were worried about the access to their communal balconies being blocked off by the council.

The residents we spoke to were concerned that this could prevent them from escaping if a fire broke out. A fire could block the escape route down the blocks' staircases, so the balconies would provide an alternative escape route. But locking the doors would means residents risk being trapped with the fire brigade unable to reach them.

Following the tragic fire in the Lakanal House, local residents living in Southwark council blocks want to feel safe in their homes. They want to know that every possible escape route is accessible and that the council is making fire safety a top priority.

After speaking to Rye Hill Park residents, it’s clear that they are very worried that some doors are being kept locked. This is a serious issue that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. We've asked local Labour councillors to contact Southwark to find out what is going on.

12 February 2010

Lib Dems claim they're not in charge in Peckham Rye

(A tweet from the Peckham Rye Lib Dems)

Peckham Rye Lib Dems are now claiming that Labour 'run' Peckham Rye (take a look above). When asked by a local resident "Am I right in thinking Lib Dems run Southwark but Labour run Peckham Rye?", a Peckham Rye Lib Dem candiate replied, "Yes you're right. For the next three months Lab run Peckham Rye. Then we take over..."

Given that, just like every other area in Southwark, Peckham Rye is run by the Lib Dem-Tory Executive it seems this is just the latest in a string of attempts to mislead people into thinking they've got nothing to do with Southwark's failures.

Of course, Peckham Rye does have three Labour councillors, who do a great job of representing our area and our concerns at the Town Hall. However this is very different from 'running' Peckham Rye. If only we could just opt out of the Lib Dem chaos!

In truth, the policy levers and almost all the money spent by the council are under the control of the Lib Dems and Tories. For the sake of accuracy and honesty, two small pots of money, the 'Cleaner, Greener and Safer Fund' and the local 'Community Fund' are devolved to local councillors. In reality this means that Peckham Rye councillors have control over about 0.01% of the council budget, but even this can only be spent on a narrow range of local projects.

No doubt Peckham Rye Lib Dems will claim that a pesky Labour Government in Westminster has failed to provide them with the resources to do their job. They'll tell you it really isn't their fault that Southwark was recently rated the worst council in inner London, that Southwark is the 6th worst council in the country for recycling, the 3rd worst for council tax collection and that it has a £700k hole in the housing budget... I could go on...

However, since coming to power in 2002, the Lib Dems have received year-on-year increases in their grant from the Labour Government. In fact, for all areas excluding education, government funding has increased by a massive 37% (which equates to an extra £50million each year). For education, the money from the Labour Government to Southwark has doubled in the same period.

Such sums of money could and should have been transformative for our borough. That the Lib Dems have squandered so much cash is no doubt the reason behind their tactic of denying they are in charge.

At a time when trust in national politicians is at an all time low, Peckham Rye political campaigners owe it to local residents to run an honest campaign in our ward. We'll continue to do that in our campaigning over the coming weeks.

Green Chain Walk Update: New Gates for Camberwell Old Cemetery

A couple of weeks ago I joined a Walk London guided walk of the Green Chain Walk's new extension from Nunhead to Crystal Palace. You can read more here.

The walk was a great chance to try out the extension, which passes through Peckham Rye ward, before the official opening in April. The route will start in Nunhead Cemetery at the Linden Grove gates, go through the cemetery, down Inverton Road, Merttins Road and Brockley Way and then head through Camberwell New Cemetery and past the Honor Oak Crematorium. It will then head along the the south side of Brenchley Gardens for a quick pull up and over One Tree Hill before going down Forest Hill Road to Camberwell Old Cemetery.

The walk will leave Peckham Rye ward at the rear exit of Camberwell Old Cemetery, at the junction of Wood Wale and Langton Rise. The route then heads towards Horniman Gardens from where it continues south, eventually joining the existing Green Chain at Crystal Palace.

I was delighted to find out that, with the walk using this rear exit of the cemetery, new gates will be installed. You can see the route as it passes through Peckham Rye ward and the location of the gates here:The design for the new gates is currently awaiting sign-off from Planning so they are unlikely to be installed until April or May. In the meantime a temporary timber gate will allow people to wander along the Green Chain during cemetery opening hours. Pictures of the current and new gates are here:A great additional to this corner of Peckham Rye ward!

I understand that it is the aspiration of the cemetery manager that the new gates will be powered remotely from the estate offices at Camberwell New Cemetery and will co-ordinate with the cemetery opening hours. Provision will be made for alerting the estate manager should someone get locked in the cemetery, in the form of a radio alert keypad.

The signage for the walk should be in place in time for the 'official' opening in April and this will include signage up to the walk from Peckham Rye Park although it isn't on the 'official' route.

11 February 2010

A new community centre for Nunhead

Blog readers and Nunhead-siders will know that back in November, at a meeting of the Nunhead Community Forum, Nunhead was promised money for a new community centre. As a member of the Forum's executive committee, Renata has been involved in the campaign to get the old centre reopened and, more recently, to secure a new centre (following a Forum decision that this had become the best option to pursue).

At the Council's annual budget meeting this week, there was, at last, a promise of £600k to build a new centre next to the Old Nun's Head Pub (on the soon to be vacated Early Years Centre site). The new centre will in fact be self funding as the old community centre site will be sold off to developers and the new centre will only take up a portion of the Early Years site, again the rest will be sold off by the council.

This is a compromise but with limited money available it seems that this is the best offer that the council is prepared to make. Speaking at the Peckham Rye and Nunhead Community Council meeting on Monday, Cllr Tim McNally, the Lib Dems' finance chief, gave assurances that the council would allocate a project officer for the new centre who would help the community secure match-funding. This will ensure a bigger and better centre.

Well done to the Nunhead Community Forum, local residents and the Nunhead councillors for all their campaigning on this. It's secured what should be a great community asset that will benefit many Peckham Rye residents as well.

9 February 2010

Private Eye cover "bonus culture" at Southwark

Taken from the Rotten Boroughs section of the most recent edition of Private Eye.

8 February 2010

The "secret" sell-off of Peckham Rye's community buildings

I've just arrived back from the latest Nunhead and Peckham Rye Community council meeting. It was, once again, a lively meeting in which a number of important local issues were discussed. However, there was one piece of news which will give rise to significant concern among local residents.

The meeting was addressed by Cllr Tim McNally, the Lib Dem Executive Councillor for Resources, on the council's policy on community buildings. A very revealing moment came when Cllr Gordon Nardell asked Cllr McNally if a group of local residents concerned about local community buildings (which he chairs) could have some information. Cllr Nardell asked for a list of non-housing properties in the area which the council is considering disposing of.

That was all he wanted. A list of local, publicly owned properties which the council is thinking of selling or renting out. As the representative of a party which claims to support openess and accountability, you'd think Cllr McNally would have agreed to the request automatically. But he didn't. Instead he mumbled something which included the words, "borough solicitor", "legal advice" and "commercially sensitive information" and then jumped back into his seat hoping nobody had noticed what he'd said.

Essentially, he was refusing to tell local people which of their local community buildings and assets they can expect to be sold by the council. At the same time though, he is happy to discuss disposals with property developers. This means that the first residents will hear about what is going to happen to local council owned buildings is when the Council's property department deigns to tell us what is going on, often when a deal with developers is already done. This is precisely what lead to we original debacle of the Peckham Rye Common toilets.

Cllr Nardell was very quick to say that he would be speaking to the borough solicitor directly to check that this was indeed the advice he had given. Depending on the outcome of those conversations, we may need to do a little digging of our own in order to get around Cllr McNally's plan for secret sell-offs. Your Peckham Rye Labour Candidates believe that Southwark should be honest and open about their plans for our area, not hiding behind solicitors in the hope of avoiding the views of local people.

5 February 2010

East Dulwich Lib Dem Councillor backs undeserved bonuses

Regular readers will be aware that Southwark Lib Dems are proposing to pay massive bonuses to the most senior council officers despite Southwark recently being rated the worst council in inner London. The Lib Dems seem happy to reward failure and are not holding senior officers to account. To put things in context, 17 council officers in Southwark are already earning more than £100,000 per year.

When local residents complained that it was wrong for the Lib Dems to pay lump sums to council bosses when services were failing, the response from our local Lib Dems was, apparently, ‘so what?’!!

Posting online, East Dulwich Lib Dem Councillor James Barber, refused to accept that those of us watching our pennies and keen to know that our council tax is being well spent, might be annoyed about this. He defended the policy by simply saying:-

“As for bonuses, so very senior managers have performance management pay, and some have delivered larger back office savings than expected.”

So that’s fine then. Worst council in inner London, 6th worst recycling rate in the country, £700 million hole in the decent homes budget, primary school admissions in a mess – here you go guys and gals, have a bonus!

This just won’t do. It’s time East Dulwich and Peckham Rye Lib Dems listened to local people and recognised the anger that is out there about the way they are running the council. Paying council bosses bonuses is exactly the wrong message to be sending out when services are being run so poorly.

4 February 2010

Community Council on Monday 8th February

Just a quick post to remind those who are interested that the next Nunhead and Peckham Rye Community Council meeting will be take place on Monday 8th February, starting at 7pm. The meeting agenda includes a discussion of accomodation for local community and voluntary groups and an update from our local police team.

The meeting will take place at Rye Oak Primary School and Children’s Centre on Whorlton Road. The community council is a great place to find out what is going on in your local area and a good forum to make your voice heard.

If you're the type who's prepared to wade through the agenda and papers (it's an acquired taste!) You can find them here.

2 February 2010

Meals on wheels sums it all up...

If you’re looking for a policy which sums up the way Southwark Council has been run since 2002, you could hardly do better than the Lib Dem/Tory policy towards the meals on wheels service. This is a service which delivers meals to vulnerable and elderly people in their homes.

In 2008 they decided to increase the cost of a single meal from the council’s meals on wheels service from £2.20 to £3.20. For people already struggling to make ends meet this was a really significant increase. For some it stretched their finances to breaking point. Shocking stuff for anyone who still thought that Liberal Democrats were supposed to be a nice bunch of well-meaning, community minded activists. By anyone’s standard this was mean-hearted stuff, particularly given that the measure was projected to raise just £150,000. A significant amount of money, but not a king’s ransom in terms of local authority spending when we’re talking about an important and popular service. Surely, the savings could have been found elsewhere, possibly by cutting the amount of money the council spends on consultants or by collecting a tiny amount of extra council tax.

But suppose you’re a real scrooge - the kind of person who doesn’t care if elderly and vulnerable people aren’t able to get a warm, nutritious meal - you might think this kind policy is justifiable because it raises £150k of extra money. A pretty strident right-winger might try to justify this kind of policy on the grounds that it tightens the council’s finances. But even in these terms the policy, backed by Peckham Rye Lib Dems and Tories, still doesn’t make sense.

As a result of the price hike, large numbers of people stopped using the meals on wheels service. This year, the reduction in take-up has lead to the council raising £70,000 less than it thought it would. Click here if you’d like to see the figures for yourself (page 6). The Lib Dems and Tories have created a huge amount of upset and disruption for some very vulnerable people, and all for a relatively tiny amount of money.

And this is just one example among many others. A toxic mix of incompetence and some very dodgy political positioning is damaging the lives of everyone in Southwark, but all too often it is the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable who are the first to suffer.