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A Green Voice for Southwark

The small stuff that matters

‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is generally good advice. But it’s at the small scale that high level policies are implemented, paving stone by paving stone. Things that seem like small decisions can have long-lasting effects on the way people feel and behave. So while national politics is in turmoil, a friend and I have been knocking on our neighbours’ doors to ask them about the shrubs and bricks they pass every day.

whaddon and melbreak pathThis photo shows a footpath running between Pytchley Road and Albrighton Road, on the East Dulwich Estate. It’s used by residents of the adjacent blocks, and also by parents and children heading to local primary schools, the East Dulwich Community Nursery and the Albrighton Community Centre. It’s a good way to avoid the noise and pollution of the main road, and offers the only step-free route up this part of the hill between Dog Kennel Hill and Bromar Road.

Southwark Council plans to demolish the large brick planter and replace it with four car parking spaces. Does this make any sense at a time when everyone wants to encourage walking instead of the use of private cars? What do Southwark Council’s policies say?

Strategic Policy 5 on Healthy, active lives of the Preferred Option of the New Southwark Plan states that ‘New policies for improving town centres, building schools, and providing the facilities for cycling and walking will address physical and mental health issues to improve the every day experiences of residents, workers and shoppers.Strategic Policy 6 Cleaner Greener Safer states that ‘Southwark will be a place where walking, cycling and public transport is the most convenient, safe and attractive way to move around. We will protect and improve our network of open spaces, trees and biodiverse habitats and green corridors that make places open and attractive.’

It’s good stuff. The council’s high level policies recognise the importance of greenery in tackling air pollution, unsustainable carbon consumption and public health problems. And yet in this small corner of the borough, council officers persist with a plan that flies in the face of those policies.

As residents, we’ve objected to this detail of the plan since it was first proposed in 2013. We’ve attended monthly Regeneration Project Team meetings, and made a deputation to the planning committee in 2013. As a result of our comments, the Planning department said that the plans must be revised to preserve step-free access through the courtyard (the original plans had replaced a sloping footpath with steps). But the revised plans still included new car parking spaces and footpaths that were a mere 1.2 metres wide at some points. This makes it hard for pedestrians to pass – if two people pushing buggies in opposite directions met, one would have to reverse back!

widths

Image from a Scottish Government document on designing streets. The accompanying notes state: ‘In lightly used streets (such as those with a purely residential function), the minimum unobstructed width for pedestrians should generally be 2 m’.

 

Last month an amended plan was presented to us, increasing the footpath width to 1.8m. But it still narrows the footpath significantly and would force pedestrians to follow a tight ‘dogleg’ path round Melbreak House, creating a new blindspot. By reducing visibility and increasing the chance of conflict between pedestrians heading in opposite directions, it is likely to make walking here feel less pleasant and less safe at night.

The design also depends on demolishing a large brick planter containing shrubs. Air pollution is an acknowledged public health emergency in London. Trees and shrubs play a significant role in trapping particulates and taking them out of the air, as well as producing oxygen. We should be planting more, not cutting them down. Here, the proposed car parking spaces would back onto a children’s playground – an undesirable combination from the point of view both of physical safety and air pollution. Greenery also helps to absorb sound – an important consideration since blocks of flats can create hard ‘corridors’ that bounce and amplify street sounds. And replacing a large bed of shrubs with tarmac is contrary to all the current thinking on the need for sustainable urban drainage.

So what of the assumed demand for car parking? In this part of the borough in 2011, 36% of residents owned cars. Census figures show car ownership is falling across London. Our common space should not be designed only for the presumed needs of a minority: after all, every car owner also uses pavements and footpaths to get to their front door. Residents who own cars here would also be affected by the loss of space for pedestrians and the loss of greenery; they also have children who use the playground. Though there has been pressure on parking while Albrighton and Pytchley Roads have been closed off for building work, these nearby streets will offer plenty of spaces once they reopen.

Previously, there were no private car parking spaces at this entrance to the courtyard: a ‘deliveries/emergency access only’ entrance would ensure that delivery vans and emergency vehicles can park close to the residential blocks when needed.

So far, we’ve spoken to about half the residents in this courtyard. Everyone we’ve spoken to – including car owners – has signed our petition (below). We’re now waiting to see how the council officers responsible for New Homes and Regeneration will respond.

On balance, I think it’s worth sweating the small stuff here. After all, decisions about bricks and mortar, trees and public space are likely to last for a generation.

We, the undersigned, ask Southwark Council officers responsible for New Homes and Regeneration to change their current plans for Melbreak and Whaddon courtyard on the East Dulwich Estate. We urge them to follow the council’s own policies on walking, biodiversity and green spaces. These policies are meant to protect and improve the trees and shrubs around our homes and make sure that walking to school and shops is safe and convenient. We are asking for a new design that

a) keeps the flowerbed

b) keeps a wide pavement

c) keeps access for bin-trucks, deliveries and emergency vehicles only.

Feeling stuck?

So you’ve got a Cycle Superhighway, or a junction on the London Cycle Network with a separate signal for cyclists to help people safely bypass the Elephant and Castle roundabout (as was).  But you can’t get across, even when the light is green. CSH and bus

The junction of Cycle Superhighway 7 with London Road is frequently blocked by stationary traffic when signals are showing a green light for cyclists and pedestrians to cross London Road. It’s inconvenient and dangerous. Pedestrians and cyclists who try to weave between the stopped buses and trucks can’t always be seen by drivers. The same problem occurs at the junction of Rockingham Street and Newington Causeway – but at this crossing there isn’t even any blue paint to alert drivers to the signalised crossing for cyclists. It seemed obvious that a yellow box indicating ‘keep the crossing clear’ would help alert drivers.

Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson took up the problem with TfL and the London Mayor. This post on the Southwark Cyclists website describes a year of trying to get answers…

http://southwarkcyclists.org.uk/the-light-says-green-but-cyclists-and-pedestrians-cant-go/

Questions, questions

hadley consultation
Spot the leading questions?

Today I went to a public consultation event about Hadley Property Group’s plans to redevelop Champion Hill. There will be another chance to look at the plans on Saturday 27 February 11am-2pm, in the bar of the Dulwich Hamlet football club, if you’d like to see for yourself.

I am really keen to see proposals that will give the football club a sustainable future. I also understand the need to build more genuinely affordable homes. I don’t think these proposals will deliver either.

The plans would depend on the developers being given permission to build on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). Like Hampstead Heath, Green Dale Fields are designated as Metropolitan Open Land – this relates to open spaces used for leisure, recreation and sport, or important for nature conservation or habitat interest, for example.  The London Plan states that ‘the strongest protection should be given to London’s Metropolitan Open Land and inappropriate development refused’.

Hadley’s representatives quibble that the community football pitches within Green Dale Fields are not ‘really’ MOL, because they are covered with astroturf. They claim that building a new stadium on the footprint of these pitches would have no impact on the views or wildlife in the surrounding open fields. A similar scheme (to move the stadium onto MOL and build a Homebase store on the site of the current stadium) was rejected by Southwark Council in 2003.

The planning settlement that produced the current stadium in 1992 also gave the local community a supermarket on an inappropriate ‘out of town’ scale, with a massive car park between shop and street, three five-a-side football pitches so crammed together that the ball from one game often ends up in the middle of the next, and the uninspiring St Francis Park, which is managed by Sainsburys. The design of all these elements could have been much better.

Green Dale tennis court
Anyone for tennis?

No one can deny that the previous owners of the football ground neglected Green Dale Fields and discouraged the public from using it. The tennis courts are completely overgrown and the community pitches full of rips. The Friends of Green Dale have done brilliant work in cleaning, rubbish-picking and opening up discussions about the future.

Southwark Council has also proposed various ways of using the space. Initial plans were to over-stuff the fields with play and gym equipment and tarmacked paths, but more recent thinking seems to be towards lighter management in favour of wildlife and informal walking and play, with the addition of a pond.

Like Green Dale Fields, the resources of the current stadium building seem to have been neglected by the previous owners, with little interest in promoting the bar throughout the week, renting it as a community space or improving the gym facilities. This raises questions about the income that might potentially be generated for the football club from the existing stadium.

Hadley’s plans, however, don’t seem to have changed a great deal since the last display in November 2014, so I found myself asking some of the same questions again:

1) If the economic model depends on 2,000 pupils a month visiting the site to use the Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) will they all walk to the site or will some come by coach or minibus? What about schools that use minibuses to get to activities because the group includes wheelchair users or pupils with limited mobility? The plans show no parking area for a minibus or coach (and local streets rarely have room for a car, let alone a coach). We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.

2) Have you spoken to any pedestrian or cyclists’ groups such as Living Streets or Southwark Cyclists about the suggested cycle path? (No) The proposed path is shared with pedestrians and winds in gentle curves along the ‘linear park’. It would not have adequate capacity for commuter cyclists going between Greendale and Dog Kennel Hill; on match days, the path would be blocked by people queuing for the turnstiles. It’s a worsening of the current access, shabby as that is. Yes, I see.

3) How will pedestrians cross Abbotswood Road between St Francis Park and the new linear park? We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.

4) The posters promise ‘as many affordable homes as the scheme can afford, once costs of the stadium have been factored in’. Will Hadley publish its viability assessments? I can’t speak for Hadley.

5) The posters say you are ‘committed to delivering a target of a 35% reduction in CO2’. Compared to what? I don’t know… perhaps an ordinary block of flats without any sustainability measures? So is this any better than what is specified in the London Plan? I don’t know.

6) Will informal groups be able to turn up and play on the MUGA as they do on the community five-a-side pitches? Yes, it’s cramped, as I said above, and the astroturf is in terrible condition right now, but it doesn’t have to be; the point is, anyone can play, anytime, for free. And there are three pitches, instead of just one. Across the road, East Dulwich Estate residents have just lost a kickabout area for football on Pytchley Road – the site of a new block of flats being built by the council. There’s a need for space for informal games. We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.

7) A ‘Match Day Travel Plan’ is promised as part of the planning submission, but has not yet been developed. Isn’t this crucial to the design and functioning of the whole proposal?

In my view, Hadley are proposing a plan as skimpy as the 1992 agreement with Sainsburys. They overstate the biodiversity (meadows! trees! bat boxes!) that can be achieved in a ‘linear park’ that also contains foot- and cyclepaths. They may be overstating the sustainability of the fabled 3G (third generation) pitch too. The Football League voted not to reintroduce artificial pitches last year. As someone asked this evening, ‘What if we get promoted out of the Ryman League?’

Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust

Dulwich Hamlet supporters’ site

Dulwich Hamlet FC are playing a charity match against FC Assyria on Wednesday 2nd March

See also Mayoral candidate Sian Berry visits Champion Hill

 

Let’s have an incredible edible Camberwell

The Camberwell Community Council meeting on 18 November included a discussion on green spaces.

It was very cheering to hear from so many ‘Friends of’: there were representatives from the Friends of Burgess Park, Camberwell Green, Green Dale, Lucas Gardens, Stanswood Gardens, Benhill Nature Reserve and others. These groups are organised by volunteers and work with the dedicated staff of the council’s Parks and Ecology departments, often juggling fundraising, project management and making sure that everyone can enjoy the spaces harmoniously, alongside taking practical care of plants and trees, playgrounds and wildlife.

Ecology Officer Jon Best gave a brief but impressive presentation on the diversity of wildlife in Southwark, including birds, bats and stag beetles, and some of the measures taken to protect them. In the case of stag beetles, for example, that means providing ‘hotels’ of wood that’s allowed to decay, providing a space for the grubs to spend their early years before they emerge in armoured splendour.

cherry2013
Cherry tree in Camberwell Orchard

Eleanor Margolies asked a question about a green space that no longer exists – Camberwell Orchard. While welcoming the new Camberwell library, she noted that a significant number of trees and fruit bushes had been lost as a result of building on this site. When Camberwell Magistrates’ Court was built in 1970, it was on the site of allotments. An alternative site for 32 allotments was therefore provided (next to Lettsom Community Gardens). She asked whether the council had plans to – or would commit to – replace the food growing space that the orchard had provided.

It was deeply disappointing to hear Cllr Barrie Hargrove repeat the canard that Camberwell Orchard had been of no ecological or social value: ‘Some people call a mouldy plum tree an orchard; I don’t,’ he said.

An independent arboricultural assessment of the orchard commissioned by the council noted two fine silver maples, along with 28 mature fruit trees – fig, cherry, pear and plum – as well as blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes. A CAVAT assessment of the value of the trees gave the orchard a financial value in the region of £608,000.

Cherry jam, preserved figs and redcurrant jelly made with fruit from Camberwell Orchard, 2013
Cherry jam, preserved figs and redcurrant jelly made with fruit from Camberwell Orchard, 2013

In his response to the question, Cllr Mark Williams mentioned council plans for tree planting on Lomond Grove, an area to be added to the footprint of Camberwell Green, and the potential to reclaim some space behind Camberwell Magistrate’s Court from the highway, but he didn’t address the question of food growing. Cllr Hargrove was clearly piqued by the reminder of the lost orchard, saying ‘we shouldn’t look back’.  But talking about urban food growing is not looking back: it is looking towards a sustainable future.

For example, Incredible Edible Todmorden is an urban gardening project which has transformed a town in Yorkshire – building community, public health and sustainability. Its membership requirements are simple: If you eat you’re in.’

In Southwark, architects and local residents Katrin Bohm and Andre Viljoen have written about integrating urban agriculture into urban planning and its environmental, economic and social benefits.

Viljoen teaches architecture at the University of Brighton. In June 2015, at an inspiring event organised by Peckham Vision, 12 master of architecture students from the university showed their plans for how food growing might be integrated into a dense urban area, helping to make Southwark more resilient by providing its own food, making use of its food waste as compost, purifying its own water and so on. Their ideas were based on a period of intense research into the actual conditions of Peckham: where are there unused spaces between buildings? what do people here like to eat? who might be interested in fish-farming, growing herbs or cooking with local produce? They are bold ideas but thoroughly researched and achievable with investment and vision.

In contrast, asking the council to commit to replacing the food growing opportunities provided by Camberwell Orchard is not a huge request. Trees and bushes could be planted in small pockets and corridors around Camberwell.

A commitment to providing at least as many fruit trees and bushes as were lost at Camberwell would show that the councillors understand the importance of urban food growing.

Other residents at the meeting asked about:

  • how to make sure that contractors don’t chop back shrubs when they are flowering or covered with berries essential to wildlife.
  • how to make sure that trees planted by Southwark Council are looked after and survive to maturity.  A resident described how trees planted by the council on the Elmington Estate had died in their first hot summer because they were not watered by contractors.
  • how to make sure that volunteers’ work on parks and green spaces is protected by the council for the long term benefit of all.

Afterwards, Eleanor suggested one possible location for food growing to Councillor Hargrove. Low maintenance raspberries and currant bushes could be planted in raised beds on Daneville Road (behind Morrison’s in Camberwell). This street is open for pedestrians and cyclists but closed to cars. Some trees have been planted along the centre of the road – but it’s still dominated by tarmac.

What do you think? What are your suggestions for edible planting in South Camberwell?

Work towards a greener Southwark continues

Letter published in Southwark News 22 October 2015

At the by-election on 15 October, Octavia Lamb (Labour Party) was elected as a councillor for South Camberwell. Southwark Green Party wishes her well in her new role.

Southwark Green Party will continue to work with local campaign groups to hold the Labour-led council to account. We call on the council

  • to stop pushing out residents to boost developers’ profits,
  • to abandon plans to bulldoze Southwark Woods,
  • to take Southwark’s investments out of dirty fossil fuel companies, and
  • to clean up our air, providing health information to residents and lobbying TfL to provide cleaner buses and better walking and cycling infrastructure.

Please keep telling us your concerns about the area as well as your ideas to make it a better place to live. You can contact Eleanor directly by sending an email to eleanor.margolies [@] southwark.greenparty.org.uk

Figures

Council to rip out its own ‘green lung’ to bury the dead

Camberwell Old Cemetery
Camberwell Old Cemetery has become a sanctuary for wildlife

On 6 October, the council’s own Planning Committee passed an application from Southwark Council to clear 10 acres of urban woodland in Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries to create 5,000 spaces for new burials.

This wild oasis in our borough, a Grade 1 Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, is a “green lung” in south London and a sanctuary for wildlife. Local residents have been fighting to save it for more than a year, and Save Southwark Woods’ petition has so far been signed by nearly 10,000 people, including 1,500 in the surrounding Peckham Rye ward. The planning application itself received more than 600 individual objections – no easy feat, considering how difficult it can be to register an objection on the council’s website.

There were no supporters of the application present when campaigners put forward objections to the Planning Committee on 6 October. Calls for a public consultation had previously been rejected, although the council had agreed to a review by its Overview and Scrutiny Committee. This committee was chaired by Gavin Edwards, Labour councillor for Peckham Rye. Unsurprisingly, the committee found in favour of the council.

Southwark Green Party has supported the SSW campaign from the start. We are deeply concerned by the council’s decision to destroy the woods, which are much valued by walkers and local residents. The council is ignoring the pledge in its own New Southwark Plan “to provide more green infrastructure and to promote opportunities for healthy activities”.

The planned works will cause air, water and noise pollution, with the excavation and reprocessing in the woods of 4,000 tonnes of illegally dumped construction material, and the transporting of a further 8,000 tonnes of rubble off site over many months.

Labour councillors seem determined to press ahead with these disastrous plans despite strong opposition from people in the area. According to Save Southwark Woods, Peckham Rye Ward Councillor Vikki Mills ‘ignored the opposition of more than 1,500 residents in her ward to back these destructive plans’. (More about the Planning Committee’s decision can be found here.)

This Thursday, there will be a by-election in South Camberwell, the ward that council leader Peter John also represents. In the 2014 elections, Southwark Green Party came second in this ward with more votes than the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives combined. We are now calling on voters across the political divide to support our candidate, Eleanor Margolies, who has a strong track record on fighting to protect trees and green spaces in Southwark. A Green vote in South Camberwell is a vote for woodlands, for wildlife and for local democracy.

Gravestone in Camberwell Old Cemetery
Gravestone in Camberwell Old Cemetery

Words: Tracey Beresford

 

Homeless after a private rental ends – number quadruples in five years

demolition of heygate
Demolition of Heygate estate
The number of people made homeless by soaring rents and private landlords and lettings agents has quadrupled in the last five years, according to figures obtained by Southwark Green Party.
A Freedom of Information request shows that 200 people sought help from Southwark Council homelessness services after their private rented tenancy came to an end in 2014. In 2009, the council saw just 45 such cases.
Eleanor Margolies, the Green Party candidate in the forthcoming South Camberwell by-election, said: 
“These figures show the scale of the housing crisis in Southwark. That the number of families facing homelessness has quadrupled in five years is a damning indictment of both the government and Southwark Council’s lack of action to deal with the problem of evictions and soaring rents.
“Because of a lack of social housing, Southwark residents are being housed in hostels in outer London. Southwark Council need to embark on a programme of mandatory licensing for landlords, and instead of knocking down social housing they should invest in genuinely affordable homes. We need to tackle the issue of soaring rents and insecure tenancies – or the housing crisis in the borough will only get worse.”
Margolies pointed to constituents she has spoken to, illustrating the scale of the problem: “I have seen people with children renting one room in an ex-council flat at £700 per month, sharing kitchens and bathrooms with strangers.
 “A mother and child I know have been given a single room in a B & B with no cooking facilities. It’s now a three hour commute to school. The mother works at a combination of several low-paid jobs, and is unable to get home between them. They are both under unbearable strain and the child is now struggling at school.
“The situation is dire, and radical action is needed now to improve the situation for those in the borough.”
Southwark Green Party is proposing a five point plan to help tackle the housing crisis:
• Adopt mandatory licensing on private landlords, as in Newham.
• Support the creation of a social lettings agency to drive rogue lettings agents out of business.
• Invest in housing enforcement to hold landlords and lettings agents to their legal duties.
• Stop abolishing social housing and instead refurbish estates to bring hundreds of homes back into use.
• Reject any planning application that does not have at least half of any proposed housing held at social rent levels.
“Tackling the housing crisis is the top issue in Southwark. It’s the top issue in London, and it should be top of the political agenda. Electing a Green councillor in Southwark will mean electing a councillor who will make housing a top priority.” Margolies said.

Eleanor Margolies shines at South Camberwell hustings

A councillor-worthy performance at the hustings on 8 October saw Green Party candidate Eleanor Margolies’ odds for winning the by-election slashed, while Labour party candidate Octavia Lamb struggled to make an impact.

Photo of the hustings panel
Eleanor Margolies, Octavia Lamb, Linda Craig, Ben Maitland, Chris Mottau, Stephen Govier

All five candidates in the South Camberwell by-election participated in the well-attended hustings at the Albrighton Centre, expertly chaired by Linda Craig. The candidates responded to questions from the audience about the Dulwich Hamlet FC grounds, the future of Peckham Rye station and what they would do first, once elected.

It was pleasing to see that all candidates had good knowledge of local issues and that there was common ground on many themes. Fascinatingly, even Conservative candidate Chris Mottau spoke out in favour of divesting Southwark Council’s pension funds from fossil fuels, after Eleanor Margolies raised this in her opening presentation. Octavia Lamb, last to speak on this subject, could only offer that she “personally” supported the aims of Fossil Free Southwark, but did not say how she would persuade her Labour colleagues at the council, who have so far ignored calls for divestment.

Liberal Democrat candidate Ben Maitland and the All People’s Party’s Stephen Govier repeatedly stated that Southwark Council does not need another Labour councillor, while Chris Mottau compared the Labour dominance on the council to a one-party state. Eleanor Margolies quoted a report from the Electoral Reform Society raising concern about the integrity of councils where one party holds on to power for a long time. She cited the achievements of Green councillors on councils in Lambeth and Lewisham, as well as the Green Party’s success in getting Southwark to pay its staff London Living Wage – highlighting the difference that one Green councillor can make.

Eleanor Margolies speaking at the hustings
Eleanor Margolies at the South Camberwell hustings

Throughout the evening there was no convincing argument from Octavia Lamb to persuade the audience of the need to elect another Labour councillor on top of the 47 already there. She stated that she was passionate about casework, and that it was important to consult with the community. When the council’s track record on communication with citizens was raised, she could only concede that there was room for improvement, while Eleanor Margolies offered several constructive suggestions on how Southwark Council could provide a better service.

South Camberwell has an interesting by-election ahead. These hustings have certainly given voters something to think about.

Text by Remco van der Stoep. Photos by Nick Hooper.

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