Search

A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2018

Tag

housing

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?

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑