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A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2017

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?

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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.

Forward the Hamlet, says Sian, Green Mayoral candidate

Sian Berry came to South Camberwell to support Dulwich Hamlet FC on Saturday 3 October. Proceeds from the Pay What You Like match supported Walworth-based Cooltan Arts and the British Heart Foundation.

Question the candidates on Thursday 8 October

Hustings poster draft

FREE PUBLIC HUSTINGS
7.30pm Thursday 8 October 2015
Albrighton Community Centre, East Dulwich Estate SE22 8AH
(opposite Sainsburys on Dog Kennel Hill)
A chance to meet the candidates, question them on the issues that matter most to you, and hear what they have to say.
Chaired by Linda Craig.

South Camberwell is represented by three Councillors, one of whom has stepped down, triggering a by-election on Thursday 15 October. Our Councillors are a crucial part of the local community and represent it on the Council.
The Council is responsible for local services including schools, housing, roads, social services, waste and recycling, the protection of our built and natural environment, leisure facilities and libraries.

Come along and ensure your voice is heard.

Cleaner Greener Safer – what’s your idea?

Cleaner, Greener Safer (CGS) is a Southwark Council scheme that allows residents to suggest projects. Local councillors draw up a shortlist with advice from council officers. In the past the scheme has funded things like cycle lockers, gardens and street lighting, as well as the beautiful wolf and sheep sculptures of Grove Lane.

On the East Dulwich Estate, we applied for cycle lockers because this…

A bike locked to railings on the East Dulwich estate overnight lost a wheel - not an unusual occurence
A bike locked to railings on the East Dulwich estate overnight had a wheel stolen – not an unusual occurence

…was getting on our nerves, costing us money we didn’t have and putting people off cycling. We’re not allowed to keep bikes on balconies and there’s no room inside the flats – and if you’ve got nowhere to keep a bike at home, how can you cycle to school/work/shops/friends? The result of our application was 20 of these:

Vertical bike locker
Vertical bike locker

They cost £30 a year to rent, to cover maintenance costs. With no advertising, they were rented within a couple of weeks of installation – and residents keep asking for more spaces.

It’s quite simple to apply to the CGS –  you just need a good idea and the support of local residents. Full details here.

If you have a good idea for the CGS but you’re not sure how to apply, then Pete Wood can help. He’s working with Southwark Cyclists, but you don’t have to be a cyclist to get his advice!

In fact, applying to the Cleaner Greener Safer fund might be particularly relevant if you don’t cycle at the moment but have an idea that would make it possible for you to start cycling.

 

 

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