27 July 2009

Brockley Station - An Update

I received an update from Lewisham's officers on 22 July:



"Dear All,


I am writing to update you with regard to the Brockley Station Ramp.
Our contractor has worked extremely hard to re-open the footbridge to the station and access to the ticket office, and we can now confirm that the ramp section will be open by the end of next week.

Unfortunately it is not possible to open the ramp earlier as there are some landscaping works to be undertaken along the front edge of the site involving the use of heavy machinery. This could pose a safety risk to members of the public. I'm sure you will appreciate that the safety of the public must always be the Council's primary concern.

It is hoped that works to the steps will be completed in the next few weeks. We are awaiting delivery of specially commissioned railings and surfacing materials. Every effort is being made to complete this was soon as possible.

We are very aware of the difficulties the closure of the footbridge is causing to the many commuters who use Brockley Station on a daily basis. I'm sure the opening will be welcomed by both local people and by commuters. The project is now nearing completion and looks extremely impressive. It is a great addition to the Brockley Cross area and our thanks go to all who have contributed to the design and construction of it.

I hope this information is useful."

However I have also received a letter dated 17 July 2009 sent to me in another way...

"Firstly let me update you on progress to the ramp at Brockley Station. The works began in March, but our original programme had to be revised following the delays due to the discovery of asbestos on the site. This revised programme indicated a completion date during the week commencing 10th August. However recent discussions with the Contractor have allowed us to reduce this to the w/c 27th July.

It was originally anticipated that the footbridge would be closed for 10 weeks - which would have been until the end of May. Following the asbestos removal, this was revised to the end of June. Unfortunately, there have been delays in sourcing some of the materials needed to complete the works, some of which are specialist and individually commissioned. The intention now is to open the footbridge (as long as this can be done safely) by the latest next Friday - 24 July."

There is no obvious explanation for the differences between these updates - occurring less than a week between them. However I have been extremely concerned with the way in which users and people living around the station have been kept up to date with the project.

A very simply board with updates on this seemingly never-ending project would have been sufficient. Instead the only 'official' communication has been the rather testy notice still on Platform 1 at Brockley Station rather hopefully suggesting that the delay was to be only 2 weeks.

25 July 2009

Soon be on holiday

I've had a very busy few weeks - trying to get through a lot of stuff before I go on holiday for the best part of August. Today however I have started to move into holiday mode.

Yesterday I had an earlyish start with my surgery at St Andrews Church - knowing that I won't be holding another one until late September - after the summer, the autumn conferences and the autumnal equinox. I may have had to turn the heating on for an hour or too by that time.

This afternoon I helped out at the Clare Road Estate Community Fun Day. After spending years seeing the Brockley Society BBQ at Hilly Fields, I finally got to use it. It's a fierce beast, but very efficient at cooking lots of food quickly.



After that, I had a quick break and freshen up before joining other members of the local party in Whitstable for the evening. This day is the traditional Lewisham Green Party day out - and we have returned to Whitstable. Today was the last day of the Oyster Festival:


In the picture above I am faking the eating of an oyster by the harbour - I'd had half a dozen earlier. I was slightly dissappointed that the oysters were from Maldon not Whitstable this time...and yes that is Sue Luxton, a bit cold and warming herself up with a glass of Pimms.

Being in Whitstable on a clear night gives a great opportunity for some arty shots:






Anyway at home now, enjoying a glass of wine. Will be in the office tomorrow finishing stuff off and go on holiday Thursday morning and I can't wait.

24 July 2009

Lisa's hangover

Earlier this week I stopped to help a young man prevent a young woman (23), Lisa (name changed) from throwing herself back into the Regents Canal. The woman was clearly drunkand very wet - according to the man she'd had the best part of a bottle of vodka. This probably explained some of her behaviour. It was about 07:45 in the morning.

I stopped a passing cyclist and asked him to call the police and an ambulance. For the next twenty minutes we restrained the woman, people passed, stared and wanted to say something - they didn't. The people in the gardens on the other side of the canal continued to eat their breakfasts. Finally a burly policeman arrived. He was harsh in a sympathetic way - but at least you knew that he'd be able to prevent the woman from harming herself any further. I left my details and went back to my office.

About 2 hours later I received a call from the policeman. Lisa had been to hospital, received treatment for possible hypothermia and Weil's disease. She was now in a police cell having been arrested for her own safety. The policeman asked for my account of the events. However the policeman was also concerned that I might have been affected or found the incident disturbing. Of course it was unsettling - it's not every day that you get involved in a situation like that - but my concern was more for the woman than myself - was she ok? Did she have people who could look after her? It transpires that the policeman was considering charging Lisa with an offence of causing distress in a public place or similar. Does anyone think that treating mental health or social issues as criminal matters really helps solve anything? At the end of the day the only person who has probably suffered any harm from the events is Lisa - the hangover she's got is punishment enough for most; the reality that her life appears to be falling apart at just 23 is even worse.

23 July 2009

Council Houses, Homelessness and Decent Homes

Occasionally I come across issues that seem so straightforward that I am left struggling to imagine what it is that I am missing. Today I came across one of those.

A number of residents have identified two small houses on Friendly Street that are empty. They have been empty for some time and one of them was subsequently squatted. They remain empty. So I asked Officers for an explanation. I have removed the actual properties from the answer and amended it very slightly so it makes sense.

"I have been informed by the Empty Homes Manager that the properties on Friendly Street are owned by the Council, but managed by Lewisham Homes and have been void since Feb and May 2009 respectively. I have been informed that Lewisham Homes have 12 long term voids on their books awaiting a decision on either disposal or awaiting identification of funds to renovate."

So now we have it confirmed that the two properties on Friendly Street are joined by a further 10.

The reply goes on to explain about the costs of rennovating these two properties and the dangers of leaving them void - quite apart from the scandalous waste of voids when we have such a large waiting list:

"One property had been used by squatters however, possession was regained in May 2009. Both properties are being monitored and one is currently being treated by Pest Control. Both properties require substantial investment (possibly in excess of £60K) to repair and bring them up to a decent homes standard. A proposed full survey and schedule of condition is planned so that an informed decision can be made."

It is good news that we will find out how much it will cost renovate the properties - £60k sounds a lot - and perhaps has arisen on account of poor maintenance over the years.

"The Empty Homes Manager has confirmed that even when improved, both these dwellings would not be ideal and will remain small and poorly arranged dwellings. Therefore it may well be that disposal may free up substantial capital receipts that can be made available to improve other urgently needed repairs on other non- decent dwellings."

Lewisham has a large waiting list of people and families waiting for social housing -and I know these include a large number of people in Brockley. I think many would be happy to live in a property in Friendly Street and the reply says nothing about the suitablity of the other 10 homes that could be up for sale.

The argument goes that the money from the sale of these houses would allow more homes to be made 'decent'. Now why does that not work - Lewisham has a legal obligation to make all its homes decent - and has put in place or has plans for all its properties through such things as the Brockley PFI or Lewisham Homes. In fact one of the big drivers for creating Lewisham Homes was to allow money to flow in to create decent homes...

However what that course of action means that for want of money to pay for a backlog of repairs we could be losing twelve Council homes - at a time when waiting lists are astronomically high already and the recession will only put more pressure on to the lists.

There's also another issue - in new build in Lewisham we insist (rightly) on a range of housing tenures not just because we need more affordable housing in Lewisham but that it contributes to balanced communities. This proposal seems to work against our wider planning policies.

21 July 2009

Brockley Station

Just to keep you informed - here's the latest update I received on the works at Brockley Station on 14 July. I have followed this up with a further request today as whilst progress is being made on the works - it isn't at all clear that it will be finished anytime soon.

"Dear Cllr Walton

We are urgently discussing progress on this scheme with the contractor. We are concerned to get the steps opened as quickly as possible.

I will advise you as soon as I have firmer information."

15 July 2009

Cracks in the pavement

I noticed these paving slabs on my way to the station this morning. Users of Brockley Station will be aware that this section pavement was repaired last week. However, either the slabs used were seconds and already cracked - or the vehicles that park up to service the advertising hoardings have already started to cause damage.


Either way it is pretty poor that within a week of the pavement being repaired it is cracking up. I will draw this to the attention of our highways people - who I am sure will be just as annoyed as I am. Whoever is at fault - the contractors or the advertising people - we should not just accept that Lewisham pays hundreds of thousands of pounds in an annual cycle of pavement repair and replacement just have them crumble in a matter of days.

14 July 2009

Managing railway embankments

We have received a reply from the Chief Executive of Network Rail follwing concerns raised about the seemingly brutal works carried out along the tracks in Brockley and around. The reply is here:



About 4 or 5 years ago we had agressive cutting back of the embankments along the line that runs from Nunhead through Brockley to Lewisham (via the High Level Link). At the time the embankment was a barren place. However last night I walked past and was struck by the thickness of the vegetation and what appears to be a good mix of species. What do you think?



Looking back at Network Rail's response - it would appear to suggest that the overall plans for the embankments is to provide cover of the type pictured above at Brockley. The question has to be how best to get there - the brutal works undertaken in Brockley a few years whilst they appear to be successful now were a great cause of concern. The works undertaken that led to the motion and the letter from Network Rail show that things have not moved on sufficiently. Is it not possible to find ways of phasing such works to meet the demands of all, acheive the comprehensive cover, create a real leafy corridor, enhance biodiversity and increase the reliability of the trains and whilst not costing too much?

A poor pastiche...or good job

A year a two ago there was a tragic fire destroying this building at the corner Upper Brockley and Geoffrey Roads. The bulding has been replaced. I was struck by how similar it was to the building that was there before, and how it has now been brought in use as housing again. The point being that frequently in the Conservation Area buildings proposed such as this have been dismissed as a 'poor pastiche' - what do you think? Isn't the building whilst not being an exact copy (but at a quick glance it is hard to spot the difference) of the existing buildings, simply good enough? Too good to be d

13 July 2009

More delays...

The site this morning...



I have asked the Deputy Mayor for a further update this morning. On 24th June she indicated that the bridge would be open soon and that the project was only 'three weeks behind schedule' and the bridge could open 'weather permitting'. It's just as well we had some good weather - goodness knows where we'd be otherwise.

Question by Councillor Walton
of the Deputy Mayor

Question

Please provide a comprehensive update on the progress of the Brockley Station ramp including what the original budget was for this scheme; what the expected final cost of the current scheme is; what explanations there are for any differences; where any additional money has been allocated from; when or whether asbestos was detected on the site; what the implications of this was; whether the original soil surveys should have picked this up? Were diversions put in place for cyclists and fully signed?

Reply

The Brockley Station ramp has been planned as a high quality scheme to improve the area, and forms the core of the Brockley Common project, which originated as a local initiative. The ramp has been developed in close collaboration with Brockley Cross Action Group with a steering group chaired by Joan Ruddock MP. Funding for the Common has been obtained from a variety of sources and Lewisham has managed to find the overwhelming majority of funding from its own resources and by bidding to Department for Transport (DfT) for disabled access funding.

The total budget for the scheme was £182k, which it was hoped would be enough to regrade the area, creating a new ramp and steps from the southern part of the site, along with a small performance area and steps at the northern end of the site. The budget comprised:

• Nearly £8k from the remainder of the Mayor’s growth fund for the area.

• £146k from the Council’s other services Capital programme of which £71k would be reimbursed by DfT once the southern steps and ramp are completed.
• £28k from Section 106 funding.

The scheme was split into two phases, with the performance area and northern steps to be constructed as a second phase if funds permitted.

It was expected that the final cost of the initial phase of the scheme would be £150k. It is now expected to be £331k, but there are some costs still to be resolved with the contractor.

Prior to this phase of the scheme commencing, soil tests had been carried out to determine if the area was contaminated. These are of necessity sample tests, but they were taken across the site in areas that were accessible. They did not show any general soil contamination, nor identify any asbestos. However, once works commenced extensive excavation had to take place and unfortunately on 16 April asbestos was found in a small area of the site opposite the northern corner of the ticket office and then a larger area of about 4 square metres was found towards the northern end of the site. These are isolated pieces of asbestos and could not have been foreseen when work commenced. However, once they had been found, removal and disposal of a considerable amount of soil was unavoidable as a much larger area had to be assumed to be potentially contaminated. This had to removed by a specialist contractor and tipped at a specialist site. At that stage there was no option but to complete the phase under construction.

As a result the project has had to be reviewed, to ensure that the current works can be completed to reopen the station access. Furthermore, costs must be contained to avoid any further unplanned or unfunded expenditure.

There has been no additional money allocated to remove the asbestos. lt is proposed to seek approval from Mayor and Cabinet to reallocate some funds from the Council’s Other Services Capital Programme, identified for other stations on the line. However, it will not be possible to construct the northern steps and performance area and the area will be left with topsoil for seeding and planting. It is possible that other pieces of asbestos lie buried in the remainder of the site and there is therefore the possibility of a similar cost being incurred if and when those works are done.

Despite this problem, the scheme is progressing well, only about three weeks behind schedule, with paving being laid to the steps and ticket office access at the moment. The footbridge should reopen at the end of the month, weather permitting. The final result will be an enormous improvement and turn the area into an asset for the community.

A diversion was put in place for users of the footbridge along Coulgate Street to Brockley Cross then along Endwell Road to Mantle Road and back to the other end of the bridge. The diversion was fully signed and checked by the contractor regularly. However, concern has been expressed that the signage did not explicitly refer to cyclists and for future schemes we will be seeking advice from the Council’s Cycling Officer.

An update from Highways 14 July 2009:

"Dear Cllr Walton

We are urgently discussing progress on this scheme with the contractor. We are concerned to get the steps opened as quickly as possible.

I will advise you as soon as I have firmer information."


I am sure we all agree with the need to get the steps opened as quickly as possible.

However the significant delays to the project - which by my reckoning will be more than six weeks have caused serious concerns to both myself as one the local councillors and local residents and businesses alike. The discovery of asbestos on the site caused some delays - however the delays have dragged on beyond that without explanation.

With regards to the looking at what Lewisham should be doing - it is difficult as a local Councillor and poor practice to extrapolate from one scheme, like this, that has had problems. I have heard suggestions that the contract has not been managed properly, that the terms of the contract with Conways might contribute to the problems, that the soil surveys should have identified problems ahead of the scheme starting, that the discussions over the materials might have caused delays etc etc. But without proper evidence it is hard to know what is the answer. We will not know for some time what has gone wrong with this project, what problems could have been avoided, and what actually went well in the implementation of this project. But what I am most keen to hear about is whether there are any policy changes at a Lewisham level which should be made to avoid these problems coming in the future.

Such changes that come to mind are the way in which Highways communicate with local people over such disruptive schemes, how local people are involved in the detailed implementation of such schemes, and how we keep people on board when delays inevitably occcur. In terms of contracts and the like, I understand that (presumably for cost reasons) the contract with Conways specifies a standard paving slab - the use of a different style causing problems for the Brockley Station contract - given the important role our pavements have in terms of setting the scene for our roads, has enough thought been given to this element of the contract, can we not build in more flexibility and given how many of these slabs appear to be cracked can we be sure they are fit for purpose.

Great Day at the Fun Run

A very quick update - I had a fantastic fun run - beating my time from last year by a whopping five minutes - testament to eating fewer pies I guess than any particular athletic ability! Pictures to follow.

Dean