23 March 2010

Another Cllr Dean Walton...

The number of Green Councillors increased today on account of a defection from the Conservatives by Cllr Dean Walton of Babergh District Council to the Greens.

Defections are relatively unusual in their own right, defections from the Conservatives to the Greens even less so...but those with the same name as me must be unique.

Welcome to the Green Party Dean, I am sure that you have made the right decision.

The full story is here.

14 March 2010

Lydd Half Marathon and More...

Absolutely shattered - took part (and completed) the Lydd Half Marathon today - coming in at around 2hrs 10mins. Very happy to have finished at all - but was cheered on by a friend and her three children which really helped!

I have an entry for the London marathon - I won the place in the ballot last year but carried it over to this year due to injury. I'll be continuing my training for the next few weeks - alternating long runs with 'power-leafleting'.

I have nominated the Mayor's Charity, the Lavender Trust, for receiving any sponsorship for my entry in the London Marathon..click here to find out more.

12 March 2010

A New and Visible Police Presence

The Safer Neighbourhood Team has had some changes - two new members of staff PS Don Shrimpton and PC Adam Elwood have joined the team (replacing PS Tyrone Taylor and PC Greg Poynter). However these changes have also coincided with the introduction of some changes to operations across the teams - new shift patterns, the introduction of single-patrolling and the allocation of members of the team to 'micro-beats'.

What does this mean for us - well in very simple terms each officer has a small patch of Brockley allocated to him/her for regular patrols - in police-language a 'micro-beat' - and this should help them to get to know the area and the people within that area much better. In the past there have been some concerns raised by the Metropolitan Police Federation about the introduction of single-patrolling but these now appear to have been overcome. From the public point of view the benefits of single-patrols are clear - police officers are covering a wider area more quickly their visible and reassuring presence is more widely appreciated. (Despite the increase in police numbers in past years and the safer neighbourhood teams at the last Brockley Assembly the apparent lack of a police presence in the local area was raised by a local business man.) Further it is said that police patrolling in pairs talk to themselves rather than local people. I have some sympathy with this view - based on regularly seeing groups of police officers chatting amongst themselves at railway station with their backs to the crowds that they are presumably supposed to be assisting. The final argument is that people are understood to be less likely to approach in police officers walking along in pairs - members of the public can be made to feel as if they are interupting a private conversation and are less likely to stop and chat as a consequence.

Of course the safety of the police officers should not be compromised by the introduction of single-patrols and policing can be a dangerous job. However, what we are talking is trained police constables and community support officers walking the streets that we walk about every day.These new patrols and beats have every chance of increasing the visibility of police on our streets and also increasing the frequency of conversations that take place between the police and Brockley's residents.

8 March 2010

Scope for Savings on Senior Staff Salaries

A lot has been written about the levels of pay in the public sector - many commenting on the salaries of in particular senior staff in the public sector. Comparisons have been made with the PM's salary - and with those earning minimum wage in low-skill jobs.

The argument in favour of the seemingly high salaries for senior staff is generally along the lines of "we need to pay attractive salaries to get the best staff" - and to some extent I think that's a good one. An effective set of senior staff in a local authority is essential if we're to deliver the services that we need and want and get the very best value for money from the Council Tax and Central Government Grants that pay for these. It's about having staff that can see ahead, plan ahead, bring froward the best range of choices for the political leadership - the Mayor and Council to discuss, shape and agree. The focus on the actual salary paid is understandable - and as a politician I have to have a credible response to that.

As a Councillor I'm always keen to find ways of driving down the cost of running Lewisham without having an adverse impact on services available to residents. In terms of senior staff that offers us the following:

(a) having few of them
(b) paying them less
(c) sharing the cost with others

Of the above (a) and (b) are easy to understand - but it is (c) that interests me at the moment.

Some work has already taken place about sharing the cost of Chief Executives across different local authorities. As a London Borough with responsibility for a very large range of services that presents a challenge. Would we support a joint arrangement with say the London Borough of Greenwich? Would this be a step on the way to creating 'Super Boroughs' across London?

I think that if we are to consider joint arrangements as a means of reducing the cost of senior pay or justifying the higher pay of some senior staff we need to look first at other public sectors in Lewisham rather than our local government neighbours. In April last year in Hammersmith the Primary Care Trust and the Local Authority took a decision to do just this.

Doing this in Lewisham could save us a bit of cash...but it perhaps has more important points.

The advantages claimed by the Hammersmith and Fulham Team:

"move designed to better target resources on residents in need and boost future comprehensive area assessment scores"

The local Government article also states:

"Hammersmith & Fulham said it planned to create an integrated management team from the executives of both structures, with the appointment of a new managing director of health who will have day-to-day responsibility for the PCT."

Looking at the points raised in some more detail: Anne McDonald , the Local Government Association director of community wellbeing, said evidence from collaborations so far showed areas with roughly 300,000 residents appeared to be around the right size for shared directors and chief executives to work.

Lewisham would appear to fit the bill...but is it Green?

We've long thought that there is a clear role for increasing the democratic accountability of the NHS to its local users. The ability of Lewisham's Healthier Communities Select Committee to scrutinise the local NHS is a step in the right direction. Such joint arrangements would fit in nicely to the Green view of a locally and democratically accountable NHS.

As it is getting the organisations to work more closely together via joint Chief Executive arrangements could lead to a significant saving of public money, better democratic accountability and more joined up services for Lewisham's residents. It's co-operation both within the NHS and with others working with the NHS that will lead to lower costs and better services.

5 March 2010

New Plans for the Tiger's Head - A Missed Opportunity

Amicus Horizon was given planning permission for a revised building on the site of the Tiger's Head in Southend Village at my planning committee last night. In my view it was a depressing failure of Lewisham's ability to work with developers to bring about the aspirations of the Bromley Road Supplementary Planning Document agreed just weeks ago in January.

The plan outlines some of the aspirations for this area particular site within the Southend Village area:

* shops or similar at ground floor level
* no more than 5 storeys high
* consideration to saving the historic buildings
* a mix of tenures

Instead what we have is a 100% affordable housing with no shops or commercial development that completely demolishes the pub.

At the committee weight was given to the pledge from Amicus that they were intent on ploughing ahead with the original plans for this site if we turned down their new application. A bullying approach from a body supported with public funds is never a good start in my book. Worse still, even though Amicus intend to proceed with 100% affordable housing - in planning terms we are only able to request 35% - if this housing association sells the site on with the new planning permission we really are stuffed. But I should add that I don't believe there are any plans to sell the property on - but if Amicus are unable for whatever reason to get the grants they need then that of course will be an option. In planning terms unless it's in writing, guaranteed by a condition or a S106 agreement it has little weight - when push comes to shove in the building phase many fine promises made at committee can be conveniently forgotten if needed.

So there it is - a housing association has turned down the opportunity to make use of the Bromley Road SPD to build on the Tigers Head site in line with community aspirations for the area. On the plus side there will be a larger number of affordable homes available in Lewisham when this development is built - but many local people in the local area will also feel let down that a significant opportunity for improvement in the area has been missed - and I share that feeling.

3 March 2010

Brockley News, Brockley Views

Brockley News
The Mayor agreed to ask Lewisham's Officers on possible plans for improvements/part pedestrianisation of Coulgate Street. The short report had one simple recommendation:

"It is recommended that the Mayor asks the Executive Director fora Regeneration to consider and report back to him on the implications of the `Statement of Community Views’ from the Brockley Assembly."

Those views were simply put:

" i) supporting the people of Brockley to develop Coulgate Street as a pedestrian friendly, shared surface street where a regular street market can be held and the many commuters and shoppers that use it can do so in safety and pleasure.

(ii) consulting with residents, station users and local businesses about bringing forward plans to improve the area with the possibility of full or part pedestrianisation to be considered within the options"

I personally am very pleased that what has been a major priority for many in the local area is now being seriously addressed by Lewisham Council. Whilst local people have enjoyed participating in the spending of the Mayor's Fund and the Localities Funds - it is great that we have used this mechanism to put a formal report on the table for discussion by the Mayor. It is truly a step forward in seeing major improvements to this historic street

Brockley Views

After Mayor and Cabinet I rushed to Lewisham College for the last Assembly meeting before the local elections - but the subject of the elections did not come up. I am sure there will be many more opportunities to talk about elections over the next weeks.

We started with an 'end of term' review - which has given some great pointers as to how the next Assemblies can be improved. More and better communication of the time/place of the Assemblies was a key theme. Community updates were well-liked.

We ended with a section in which a number of local groups/people were invited to put forward their views of what they would like to see the Assembly working on in the future. Here are some of the points I noted:

Brockley Society - improvements to Lewisham Way - making it a place that joins the two sides of Brockley rather than divides it as it currently does; the Brockley Mews - improving and preserving these - preventing inappropriate development, misuse by inappropriate industry

Transition Brockley - helping Brockley move to a low carbon economy, more sustainable and protected against the economic shocks that the end of cheap oil could bring; working to get more food produced and sourced locally

Brockley Traders - the representative of the Brockley Traders (owner of Speedicars) expressed a desire for the introduction of short-term parking controls around the Brockley Station area so that people can continue to visit to use the shops and other businesses but without the parking problems caused by commuter parking; concern about the crime and community safety including the need for a real visible Police presence.

Brockley Cross Action Group - the Group reported that it was celebrating its tenth anniversary very soon - yet in many ways the problems it faces are similar to those it faced when being set up - the need for a safe and well-protected environment; and support for small shops in the area that provide a good range of local services. The Group expressed the view that the current shopping hierarchy which places Brockley and other parades of shops at the bottom and Lewisham Town Centre at the top in terms of support and importance given by Lewisham's planners was upside down. The Group sees that one of the main ways of improving the lot of our shops is to improve the physical environment around.

Overall a load of very interesting ideas and initiatives there - and I certainly hope to see some of these themes taken up by the next Assembly which will be on 17 July 2010 - and of course I hope to be there as one of the Brockley Ward Councillors.