Meet the Mayor

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Around 100 people turned up to question Lewisham’s Mayor on Thursday evening at the Grove centre accompanied by two council officers concerned with the Community & Regeneration plus Sgt Dominic Taylor from the Wells Park Safer Neighbourhood Scheme, our three councillors and Jim Dowd MP.

Steve Bullock had arrived hot foot from a day’s long tour of Sydenham with a fair idea of some of the challenging issues that would be thrown at him.

And they were. About 20 people had questions on topics ranging from the infamous Cobbs Corner roundabout to Sydenham’s contribution to global warming.

Car Parking Zone for Sydenham?

The first (very) hot topic was the CPZ consultation. What was all this about the overwhelming negative response being only considered an ‘initial’ view and the consulation being extended? Was there a secret agenda?

The unequivocal response from Steve was “There will be no Sydenham CPZ while I am Mayor”. The three Sydenham councillors (Chris Best, Marion Nisbet & Liam Carlisle) also through their hats into the “No CPZ” camp. So unless the Green’s sweep next year’s local elections that proposal now looks well and truly dead.

Speakers went on to identify how parking (and business) was being unnecessairly inhibited by the nonsensical parking restrictions exploited by an over zealous wardenry.

Steve agreed and having just got a ‘dodgy’ £80 ticket himself admitted he will be addressing the enforcement contract renewal with deep reservations about the incumbent’s performance. At Steve’s prompting the council officer came out with a specific pledge:

“The Sydenham Road signage will be rationalised this year”. We shall be waiting (but not before 10 or after 4) ….

Traffic Chaos

The overwheming feeling of the meeting expressed by many individual speakers was that car parking was not a major Sydenham problem – it was the movement (or not) of the traffic.

Cobbs Corner was continually referred to as an example of our money being spent to make a bad situation even worse. Cyclists, pedestrians, motorists and bus users all agreed they had lost out. It was, they said, to no one’s benefit yet Sydenham had suffered a year of disruption while the council had not listened to local people.

Pat Hays, the council officer, would only admit that the success of Cobbs Corner changes was “a moot point”. Not a view shared by the meeting. Pat went on to talk about the problems of managing Sydenham’s traffic and the trade-offs between the different interests.

An interesting point Pat mentioned was the pressure being put on the council by TfL (Traffic for London) to keep their buses moving. As most of Sydenham’s roads were too narrow for segregated bus and cycle lanes this implied they were seeking to keep all vehicles moving so the buses could get through. It was also evident that TfL is a major source of revenue for road improvements.

The floor questioned this – it was claimed the time for a bus to travel from Forest Hill to Sydenham at lengthened from 3 to 15 minutes. A newsagent from Kirkdale detailed how the provision of extra bollards/reservations in Kirkdale now meant parked cars and delivery lorries blocked the road for buses.

Another re-occurring theme was the continued disruption caused by the Transco works. While people understood the need for renewal – was it being done in an efficient way? Was too much work being taken on by the contractors leading to little work and consequent delays being done on many major works? And no one has a clue where some of the buses are going these days to avoid the roadworks.

Steve agreed with this and implied Lewisham were seeking to put pressure on those responsible and penalising them where they failed to meet their targets for completion or leave the workings in a dangerous state.

Anti Social Behaviour

Youths on Mopeds was an issue and what was the ‘Moped telephone line’? Sgt Taylor admitted it was a borough wide problem. The police & council were working together to ‘involve & educate’ rather than ‘confront’ the riders. Further alienation would be unlikely to improve matters and the culprits were probably an even greater danger to themselves than to the public.

The ‘Moped Line’ was a council telephone number. Steve thought this was to a police officer attached to the council’s Crime Reduction Unit. The issue here is that the problems usually occurred ‘out of office hours’ which created a mismatch in public expectation.

Another problem particular to Sydenham (spreading over three London Boroughs) of following up cases of damage caused by known people who lived in another Borough. This was because the Police Divisions follow the borough borders. Suggestions of unnecessary delays or worse in communication between police divisions were made from the floor.

Steve said he would take this up with the Borough Commander.

Housing & Repairs

Pinnacle came in for a bashing for their operation on the council’s estates. Repairs were not being done “because Lewisham has not given the money”. When residents call Lewisham they are told Pinnacle have not even asked for it. They feel like forgotten ‘piggies in the middle’.

Steve & Pat agreed they was not happy with Pinnacle’s performance and their stewardship of the money allocated.

Another point was Pinnacle’s use of ‘collection points’ which turned into disgusting fly-tips. The Mayor said “They will be prosecuted”.

Forest Hill Pools

Members of the audience had been involved in various campaigns over the last 20 years to maintain swimming facilities in the area. They were concerned at the rundown in facilities, that if there was a problem such as at Downham Pools we may lose them for years and was Forest Hill Pools being sacrificed for a second Pool in lucky Deptford?

The Mayor came out with a clear pledge: “There will continue to be swimming facilities on that site and they will be better”.

The consultation was to help in the decision to regenerate or rebuild. The delay in the consultation was due to an investigation that if the decision was to rebuild – could some swimming be kept operational during the construction.

The user groups would be contacted during July to plan the consultation.

Adult Education

A speaker was concerned that due to budget cuts the provision of non-vocational evening classes was being cut.

The council officer explained that the funding for adult education came from the Learning & Skills Council. They were switching funding towards vocational qualification courses. This disadvantaged people who were studying for pleasure. Furthermore Lewisham had historical well provided for this type of adult education and the L&SC were pushing money towards the boroughs who had underprovided.

So its seems that non-vocational adult education in Lewisham is being hit by a double whammy in September. The council is seeking to consult as many of the active current classes affected with an aim of seeing if some of these can be turned into ‘self-learning groups’ with, perhaps, occasional outside help.

Planning

The question of satellite dishes in conservation areas was raised. The position was made clear – you have to have planning permission to place a dish in a conservation area. (Ed an informative article can be found on the Telegraph Hill Community Site).

Residents of Peak Hill & Sydenham Park raised the issue of No. 53 and the planning application by the Housing Association to turn this derilict house into “an unsupervised hostel for homeless 16-21 year olds”. Pat confirmed this had now been withdrawn and it was likely to be re-submitted as a request for “a smaller number of family units”.

Councillor Chris Best stood up to say they had got it wrong on the previous consultation and the councillors would ensure any new application would “be properly dealt with”.

Bell Green was raised. Steve positioned himself outside and unable to influence the planning process.

Other Issues

There were many other issues raised to which we cannot do justice here. From my notes I will mention just two:

  1. Health: Withdrawal of chiropody services from Wells Park. Steve said he would raise this with the Primary Care Trust
  2. Leisure: No cinemas in the borough. Steve said that they had a successful programme of less commercial films running at the Broadway Theatre, were discussing the re-opening of the Catford Cinema and there is a strong liklihood of a cinema being part of the Lewisham Centre redevelopment
  3. .

Finally – why does the Mayor subject himself to all this? He had an answer:

“To come to meetings like this and listen to the people to help me make better and more informed decisions”

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