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A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2018

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Southwark Council

This emergency is not a metaphor

child in air pollution mask

Lifeboats

Emergency food supplies

Emergency exits in theatres…

No one would think it was acceptable for these to be supplied only ‘if feasible’. But that is what Southwark Labour is saying in the motion proposed by the Cabinet member for Environment to Southwark Council assembly this evening.

I am delighted that a motion to declare a climate emergency is being put to the councillors. Acknowledging the climate emergency is the first step that will allow councils to take radical action to transform housing, transport and waste. It’s something that members of the Green Party and activists involved with Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free and other groups have been asking for at council meetings around the country.

Bristol was first to agree a motion. A Green Party motion in our neighbouring borough, Lambeth, was passed in January. Soon after, the London Assembly declared a climate emergency. However, the Mayor failed to give any concrete budget commitments for a zero carbon plan. As Caroline Russell, Green Assembly Member, has written:

“We are facing 1.5 degrees of warming by 2030. The Mayor’s plans are working to 2050 and are out of date. Unless he updates his plan, he cannot tell government what London needs to tackle the climate crisis.

“This is no time for complacency. We don’t have 30 years. We have just over a decade to cut the risks that extreme heat, drought and flooding pose to the wellbeing of Londoners.”

Like the London Assembly declaration, Southwark’s declaration of a Climate Emergency will be empty words without a plan of action. The motion calls on the councillors who are members of the cabinet to:

‘Develop a strategy, working with local stakeholders, to ensure that the council becomes carbon neutral at a much more rapid pace than currently envisaged. This Carbon Reduction Strategy should aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 if feasible.’ [my emphasis]

I hope this motion is passed tonight. I’m glad to see that the council wants to work with local stakeholders. We have so much expertise in the borough already – from urban gardeners to beekeepers, cooks keeping food out of the waste stream, shopkeepers helping consumers avoid plastic, people delivering passengers and cargo by bike and helping others to cycle… A recent Peckham and Nunhead Community Council meeting brought together some of this expertise.

But in the motion as it stands there is no date for Carbon Reduction Strategy to be ready, let alone implemented, and no detail of how stakeholders will be involved. I would like to see the council use methods of citizens’ assembly or open space – ways of organising discussion that bring out the best from everyone rather than following an agenda prepared in advance.

The climate emergency is not a metaphor. And it is not a problem for the future. It is happening now. We have seen devastating floods this year: cyclone Idai affecting 2.5 million in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe with the loss of hundreds of lives, and potentially another 2 million hit by flooding in the central states of the US. In Southwark, the heatwave last summer caused a spike in deaths, asthma and lung disease is increasing and life expectancy is falling as we choke ourselves with exhaust fumes.

Where is the emergency plan?

Where is the information for citizens explaining the nature of the emergency and the steps we must take?

We already know how to reduce carbon consumption. We don’t have to wait for ‘new carbon reduction technologies as they develop’, as the motion suggests. While being open to technological developments, we mustn’t fool ourselves that commercial solar airplanes or carbon sequestration will be ready in the next five or ten years.

Among the changes councils could make very quickly, they could:

  • apply zero carbon standards to all new building applications in the borough
  • install more secure cycle parking so people who want to cycle can do so
  • increase recycling and composting by simplifying systems and informing people

Within a few months, they could change policies to:

  • install solar panels and insulation on all council properties
  • build many more cycle paths
  • plant more trees and pollution-filtering hedges
  • close school streets to through traffic

The reason for making these essential changes can  be communicated clearly to residents under the umbrella of the Climate Emergency. Cutting carbon emissions is not a ‘nice thing to do, if feasible’. It’s essential, life-saving action.

Last week I was backstage just before the doors were opened at a London theatre. I watched as a Front of House manager rehearsed the ushers on emergency procedure. He said something like: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, for your safety we need to stop the show at this point. Please leave the auditorium by the exits indicated.’ All the ushers then said aloud, in their own manner, ‘This way please’, pointing to the doorway they stood by. They practice this procedure before every performance. It means that if there is an emergency, the ushers won’t stumble over what to say or where to point. And they transmit their calm, purposeful manner to the public.

Please be brave, Southwark councillors. Refuse to say ‘if feasible’. Think of yourself as fire marshals, or theatre ushers if you prefer, calmly announcing what must be done for the sake of public safety.

 

 

 

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Signs matter

Two new blocks of flats on the East Dulwich Estate were completed in 2017. When residents moved in, the signs on the blocks looked like this.

Southdown sign

The signs are a little larger than A3, with very low contrast between the brushed aluminium base and the black lettering. They are not illuminated at night.

Compare the signs on the adjacent block of flats. Both the original 1930s tile, and the more recent Southwark Council sign, use strong black and white contrast, and individual letters are two or three times as large as those on the 2017 sign.

older signage

Being able to find an address matters:

  • for the emergency services
  • for non-emergency but essential visits, with staff often working on very tight schedules: community nurses and midwives, ambulances taking people to hospital appointments, Dial-a-Ride drivers, carers, tradespeople carrying out repairs
  • for taxis and delivery services, from post office to pizza
  • for friends and relatives …

The importance of legible signage for residents’ safety was the main reason that I asked council officers to look at whether these signs were large and clear enough.

But signs speak of more than just a name.

I have no doubt that the brushed aluminium was chosen to look less ‘council estate’ than the white and turquoise Southwark sign pictured above. This follows the much vaunted aim of ‘tenure blind’ housing – that is, no one should be able to tell from the outside if a flat is owned by the council, a housing association or a private individual.

So far, so uncontroversial. But signs on blocks of flats should be as large and clear as signs on streets. When people can’t find their way, they get annoyed. At night, they can get anxious about being lost, or even about looking lost, in an unfamiliar place. Confusing layout, a lack of signs, a lack of landmarks, blocks that all look the same – these are long-standing complaints about council estates, and contribute to the cliché of ‘intimidating’ estates. Signs also tell a story about the social meaning of different types of housing. In this case, a superficial image (black on silver = classy residential) has been prioritised above legibility.

Analogue accessibility

Isn’t this irrelevant now everyone uses smartphones? Have a look.

Screenshot-2018-1-2 Estate near east dulwich

Google Maps does not give the names of the blocks of flats on the estate – they are simply shown as blank rectangles. The detail on Open Street Maps tends to be much richer:

Screenshot-2018-1-2 OpenStreetMap

And East Dulwich in particular has benefitted from the work of Tom Chance who labelled many of these blocks. Volunteers like Tom have made a vital, largely unsung, contribution to integrating social housing into the digital city. But neither of these online maps yet shows our two new blocks, Gatebeck and Southdown, despite them being fully occupied.

Even if the maps did show the names of all the blocks of flats, navigating by GPS/smartphone is not foolproof. Not everyone has a smartphone. Setting out from a railway station or bus stop with phone in hand is discouraged by the police. Data and charge can run out.

Nine months (and counting)

And so I asked about the signs at the East Dulwich Estate Regeneration Project Team meeting in March 2017. Council officers agreed that the signs were too small and should be replaced. I assumed that they would be. At monthly ‘project team’ meetings since then (in person or by email), I have asked about the progress in replacing them. At the end of September 2017, I was told that new signs were ‘going to be ordered’. But as I write, in January 2018, nothing’s changed.

So residents of these new blocks have now spent nine months without a legible sign showing visitors or emergency services where they live.

What the saga of the signs indicates to me is just how hard it is to get things fixed by Southwark Council – even when a repair or alteration has been agreed – when there are so many layers of outsourcing and sub-contracting. These two blocks were built for Southwark Council by Osborne, ‘one of the leading construction businesses in the UK’  with dozens of sub-contractors working under them. It’s long after the normal ‘snagging’ period. The contractors have moved off the site. As residents, we no longer have regular meetings with Osborne or with staff in the ‘direct delivery’ department of the council. Council officers still have the unenviable job of chasing contractors to finish the job properly, but seem to lack the time or will to do so.

If this repair is delayed long enough, the period of the contractor’s liability to ‘make good’ any defects will be over. In that case, either the illegible signs remain in place, causing inconvenience and potential risk to residents, or they are replaced by the council, at the taxpayers’ cost. Who benefits?

 

 

 

What is a vital high street?

A couple of weeks ago, John Tyson (prospective parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark) and I met Mark Brearley at his factory just off the Old Kent Road. Last year, Mark set up Vital OKR, an association of the businesses along and around the road. There are over 1,000 businesses in the area, giving work to around 10,000 people, but a large proportion of these are under threat from Southwark Council’s draft ‘Area Action Plan’.

The businesses are incredibly diverse. Some of them, like the tyre and vehicle repair shops, will be familiar from a casual walk along the road. But all kinds of extraordinary businesses are tucked away in the light industrial spaces just off the main road: furniture and prop makers, cafe proprietors, hydraulic engineers, theatrical chandlers, art shippers, metalworkers, picture framers, building contractors, architects, product designers and photographers. There are companies that hire out coaches and companies that hire out projection equipment.
 Yeoman hat
The hats worn by Yeoman Warders in the Tower of London are produced in Bermondsey, near the Old Kent Road, by Royal Warrant holder Patey Hats. And not to forget Mark’s own Kaymet factory which has been producing metal trays in south London since 1947. Altogether, the Old Kent Road is a highly productive and fast-growing economy.
But all this is under threat if Southwark Council’s draft ‘Area Action Plan’ for the Old Kent Road is implemented without a radical rethink. The plan as it stands would see businesses replaced with dense blocks of flats, creating a dormitory district instead of a vibrant high street offering a mix of local jobs.

Why does it matter so much that these businesses remain a part of our city, instead of being pushed out? Take printing as an example. The 17 volume printers in the area employ 400 people. They supply everything from reports to Parliament to the restaurant menus pushed through your door. That demand is not going to disappear. If the printing was done instead somewhere else – in Maidstone, say – we’d lose local jobs and instead see even more delivery vans crawling into the city along the Old Kent Road, with all the congestion and pollution they bring.

The Green Party’s policies on planning are to ‘provide housing that is suitable for and affordable by local people as well as the land, infrastructure and facilities for work, social and cultural activities’. We want to see a mix of homes, shops, workplaces and leisure uses. That’s the pattern of development that best meets sustainable transport and energy objectives – imagine, for example, walking to work and using solar panels on flat roofed factories to generate energy for local homes. Above all, we’re in favour of empowering local communities to be genuinely involved in the development of local planning policy.
As a Green London Assembly member, Jenny Jones visited businesses on industrial estates around London and argued powerfully against the expulsion of local economies.  Caroline Russell AM has also been on a walking tour of the Old Kent Road area with Mark Brearley and Gavin Weber (Weber Industries).
Southwark Council’s draft Area Action Plan threatens the jobs and diversity of the Old Kent Road, offering nothing in return but blocks of flats and mini supermarkets. It is essential that all local politicians understand just what is at stake and work to help this vibrant economy survive and grow.
Setwo, Verney Road
Many of the Old Kent Road fabricators do bespoke work for architects, artists, theatre companies and start up companies. Their expertise and central location are highly valued by their clients. SeTwo make theatre sets and props with a 10 person team at their Verney Road premises.
 
 

 

A minute is the limit

A minute is the limitSome excellent news from the London Borough of Southwark. The council has published a proposal for a Traffic Management Order stating: ‘Engines to be turned off when stationary in parking places, free parking places, loading bays and on waiting restrictions’

This will mean that the council’s own parking enforcement officers will be able to talk to drivers about turning off their engines when stopped, and if necessary issue a Penalty Charge Notice, with a fine of £80 (reduced to £40 if paid in the first 14 days) as opposed to a Fixed Penalty Notice (£20).*

At the moment, cycling up Portland Street on a typical weekday morning,  I notice at least three or four vehicles parked with engines running. These include utilities companies, delivery companies and Southwark’s own vehicles.  The proposal says:

This purpose of this scheme would be to prohibit vehicles from waiting with the engine running, regardless of whether the vehicle is attended, in all pay parking places, free parking places, loading bays and on all waiting restrictions on streets throughout the borough – and thereby reduce the environmental pollution caused by idling vehicles.
If made, the order would be enforced on-street by the Council’s Civil enforcement officers, using contravention code 63.

Southwark Green Party was very critical of the council’s recent Air Quality Strategy and Action Plan for its lack of ambition and of specific measures. We called for the Joint Enforcement Team (a team of community wardens and police officers) to enforce existing anti-idling law. So we welcome this proposal, and hope it will be backed up by:

  1. training for Southwark Council fleet drivers
  2. training for all sub-contractors to Southwark Council (e.g. Conway, Mears, Veolia)
  3. public awareness campaigns

Drivers should be made aware of the law on idling, but more importantly they should know that they can save lives, prevent asthma attacks and save money by turning off engines when they stop. A useful FACTSHEET on idling produced by TfL and Cleaner Air for London gives figures and busts common myths like ‘I need to have the engine on to keep the battery charged’. Air pollution has to be tackled in many different ways. This is part of the answer.

*Leaving your engine running while stopped on a public road is an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. And the Highway Code states: ‘You must not leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.’ (Rule 123). The Traffic Management Order allows Southwark Council to make use of  parking and traffic legislation and issue a Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) as opposed to a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN), which is allowed by the  Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002.  The Fixed Penalty Notice is a £20 fine while a Penalty Charge Notice incurs an £80 penalty which is reduced to £40 if paid in the first 14 days after issue.

 

Details of the traffic order can be downloaded here

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