Saturday, 25 February 2012

Success: Better access outside Wellfield Centre - Streatham Youth and Community Trust

The Green Party is pushing to make Lambeth an inclusive borough, and issues of the built environment are a big part of this.

Problems with accessibility are not something that many people notice unless they themselves are directly affected - for example having a buggy or pram, being older, having a mobility impairment or using a wheelchair. It is therefore important to have councillors who know their local communities, but also know the needs of their local communities and can identify with them.

Lambeth is an inhospitable environment with regards to accessibility and this needs changing. Lambeth councillors don't often seem to notice, or if they do, don't appear to see it as a priority. Here is an example in a prominent place in the local community which councillors had failed to address, so we have sorted it out.

The issue was the pavement outside the Wellfield Centre (Streatham Youth and Community Trust) and the Well Centre in Wellfield Road (Streatham Wells Ward) which was inaccessible to wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments.

This is what it looked like. As you can see the vehicle crossover had a step each side which anyone in a wheelchair was unable to get up. It was also a significant hazard to anyone who had difficulty walking.

To compound the problem there was also a old drain that had sunk into the road in the middle of the crossover creating an additional hazard. Taken together this was a major barrier to many people - not just those using the Centre but other passers-by too. It meant that wheelchair users had no choice but to go into the road if they wanted to get to the community centre, which was not just inconvenient but dangerous. Neither was there anywhere obvious to get down into the road, so it meant going back around twenty or thirty yards to find a place to get down to the road between parked cars, then going along the road for forty yards (in a narrow street where cars would be unable to easily pass) and finding a place to get back up on to the pavement again.

I asked for the vehicle crossover to be made accessible, and this has now been done.

Not only have we got the sides ramped, but the drain has also been sorted out so there is no longer a hazardous dip in the middle.

This is something that local councillors should be on top of, but they clearly aren't. There is no excuse in the 21st Century for areas of public space to be inaccessible to large parts of the local community in this way.

We will keep pushing for the many other parts of the local area which impede access to be sorted out.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Tesco hub meeting – review promised on facilities for disabled, many questions unanswered

Judging from the £1,000 spent by Tesco on the free bar (not to mention the free food) the supermarket (supported by Lambeth Council) are as keen as ever to try and charm the local community as works continue on the Streatham Hub development.

Several hundred people attended the public meeting last night at a packed Streatham Hideaway. Given the ongoing national controversy over the last week over low pay for Tesco workers, and Lambeth Council’s admission that they hadn’t tried to get assurances from the supermarket over conditions for Tesco workers, you can understand why the meeting was focused by the organisers (as they stated themselves) on the leisure facilities, and not the new store or homes being built.

The meeting began with food and free (non alcoholic) drink whilst people browsed the plans for the development. There was then a twenty minute presentation from the platform followed by forty minutes of questions from the floor to representatives of those involved in the project including Tesco, Vinci construction and Lambeth Council. The opening of the free (alcoholic) bar followed swiftly afterwards.

From the strong opinions expressed during the Q & A it was clear that local people were not in the mood to be fobbed off. Several recurrent themes emerged, encapsulated by an ongoing feeling amongst many that Streatham is being short-changed. There were repeated references to Lambeth council’s investment in Clapham and Brixton, whilst Streatham appeared to be getting a raw deal.
A number of issues were raised both during the Questions and Answers, but also afterwards in the informal conversations that took place. (Many people clearly didn’t get time to put their questions publicly from the floor). These included:

1. The small size of the swimming pool (it is half the size of an Olympic pool)

2. The absence of solar panels on the roof. This, people were told, was “not economically viable”, which people didn’t seem to accept, particularly given the willingness of groups like RePowering Streatham to explore facilitating additional community investment.

3. The absence of a steam room and sauna which the old leisure centre had. The reason given for this was that Lambeth didn’t feel they could manage them well enough. It was pointed out that they had been maintained in the refurbishment at Brixton.

4. The detrimental impact on small businesses in the area and how this could best be mitigated. In response the offering from the platform was three hours free parking at the Hub, in the belief that people will then trek up the high road to buy other things they might not be able to purchase at one of London’s biggest Tesco stores.

5. The impact of traffic in the already congested area, with little, if any apparent moves from Transport for London to address the issue.

6. The absence in the planes of a ‘town square’, which had been promised to local people. Those on the panel claimed no knowledge of this commitment.

7. The disruption to local people, noise and vibration for those living close by to the hub during the deconstruction and building works.

8. Issues around the Zamboni in the new Ice Rink/ Arena

9. The apparent absence of a crèche facility, despite the emphasis from the platform that the leisure centre was for ‘young families’.

10. How many of the 250 new homes would be accessible to wheelchair users.

11. Whether the lift is going to be able to accommodate the demand at the development (and so whether it will satisfactorily meet the access needs of people with mobility issues/ buggies and prams). Also what alternatives are in place when the lift needs to be serviced or goes out of action.

A lot of information didn’t seem to be available to address many of these issues, and there was not enough time for questions from the floor so that they could all be publicly raised. From the response that did come it also looks as if there will be little, if any, progress on many of these things without pressure from local people. Lambeth and Tesco it seems have made up their minds on many of them, and this was clearly not a consultation of local people’s views. But as a public meeting designed to give information neither did it impart enough.

However one concession I was able to get at the meeting was a public commitment from the platform of a review of the disabled facilities. The information available last night appeared to show a significant lack of disabled changing and toilets.

Just 2 of the 50 changing rooms in the multi-purpose sports hall appear to be designated as for the specific use of people with impairments - a major issue when you consider this is the year London will host the paralympics, and that activities like wheelchair basketball are now commonplace. One out of 39 cubicles in the Village Change area (for swimming) appear to be set aside for use by those with impairments. There was no stated disabled provision in the ice arena (but this may have been an oversight in communication).

I will be in contact with Peter Muncaster, the senior project manager at Vinci Construction over the next few days, to clarify what the situation is. They have promised to revisit the planned provision and have stated that they are open to change. This is an encouraging sign, but it is crucial that disabled people themselves are also consulted. I have yet to see any evidence that this has happened, but will push to try and make sure that it does.

There were still people wanting to ask questions when the free bar was opened. The next meeting is apparently scheduled for six months time, but given the speed with which both Lambeth and Tesco want to proceed, it would seem important, indeed necessary, to have a public meeting every three months as work continues.

It was made clear from the platform that the leisure centre and ice rink were for local people, and the drive was to get people to ‘own’ it. If Lambeth Council and Tesco are really serious about this, they will need to give more time and care to listen and update to local people. A free bar - on its own - is not enough.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Tesco u-turn on slave wages, no thanks to Lambeth Labour Party

It is being reported this morning that Tesco has made a u-turn on its 'slave labour' policy.

As the campaign against Tesco's poor treatment of workers increased around the country last week I raised this issue with both Tesco and Lambeth Council last week with regard to the upcoming hub development in Streatham.

I received no response from Future Streatham. However leader of Lambeth Council Steve Reed told me that rather than getting assurances from Tesco they were going to rely on the Conservative/Lib Dem Government to safeguard the rights of workers. This is particularly alarming given the latest suggestions that the Prime Minister is even considering freezing the minimum wage.

Streatham MP Chuka Umunna didn't directly welcome the u-turn by Tesco this morning, but did retweet another Labour MP who did. His new role as Shadow Business Secretary left him ideally placed to speak out on the issue. However he has remained silent. He was even at the London Stock Exchange this week, and so could have easily made it a big issue (to give credit where it is sue he knows how to catch the attention of the media when he wants to).

This all continues to speak volumes about Lambeth Labour Party's reluctance to speak up and advocate for the most vulnerable in the borough.

I'll be going along tonight to the hub development meeting at the Streatham Hideaway to continue to press for assurances from Tesco about the treatment of workers. It was the Greens who got Lambeth Council to adopt a Living Wage for Council employees. It seems it is only the Green Party in Lambeth wants to challenge big business about their treatment of local workers.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Lambeth Council fails to get reassurances from Tesco over protection for workers at Streatham Hub

Further to my blog yesterday about the danger of Tesco paying ‘slave wages’ in its new store which is part of the Streatham Hub development, I have received a response from Leader of Lambeth Council Steve Reed.

He told me that rather than getting assurances from Tesco about fair wages for workers in Streatham, Lambeth will rely on ‘the law’ as determined by the Conservative/ Lib Dem Coalition.

As this feature on Newsnight last night showed clearly (and I covered yesterday) the Government however is not protecting workers. In fact it is encouraging their exploitation – and this is precisely why Lambeth Council needed to use its influence.

With its acceptance of the bribe from central Government to freeze council tax and its ruthless cuts which are hitting the disabled, Labour controlled Lambeth is looking more and more Conservative by the day.

There are of course alternatives. Indeed, Labour’s failure to get assurances from Tesco to protect workers in Lambeth is an example of huge double standards. As the Newsnight piece points out, an alternative is to get employers to commit to paying a “Living Wage” to employees. The Green Party in fact successfully campaigned to get Lambeth Council to pay a “Living Wage” to its employees. It seems however that what is good enough for the Council, is not good enough for workers in Lambeth.

[Update 12.40pm 17/2/12: HT to @Jason_Cobb for pointing out that Lambeth have form for paying lip service to the Living Wage. First of all they tried to block it. Then they refused to extend it out to Lambeth's contracted out workers.]

Thursday, 16 February 2012

'Slave labour' at new Tesco hub development in Streatham?

I have today written to both Tesco and Lambeth Council to try and get assurances that the new Tesco in Streatham - part of the multi-million pound Streatham hub development - will not be using ‘slave labour’. I will also try and raise the issue at next week’s public consultation on the Tesco development.

It would be a huge oversight if Lambeth Council failed to get any assurances from Tesco about low-pay and treatment of workers, before they agreed to the development.

Tesco is current emerging from a small media storm following this advert which appeared last week for permanent night shift workers to work in its Bury St Edmunds store in Suffolk (you can see it online here)

As Eoin Clarke says:

“They are advertising for night shift workers in their depot in East Anglia and offering no wage. Unpaid. Slavery. Tesco makes a profit of £15,000 per worker, and yet they cannot see fit to pay these positions. Instead, we the taxpayer will pay the worker £53-67 a week in Job Seeker's Allowance.”

Tesco are now saying:

“This was an error made by Jobcentre Plus. It should be an advert for work experience with a guaranteed interview at the end.”

This isn't much better. And there is form here. In 2008 Tesco was also accused of exploiting workers who are paid an average 16p an hour.

This will be a big issue when the Tesco development opens at the new Streatham Hub. The store is going to be huge, and there are ongoing concerns that Tesco is cutting back on costs and maximising profits at the expense of the community.

There are already huge obscenities which all supermarkets can profit from when it comes to workers. The Department for Work and Pensions line from 2011 hasn't shifted. See for example: 'Government admits Jobcentres set targets to take away benefits' or 'Young jobseekers told to work without pay...' No doubt the welfare reform changes will increase this in the coming years.

This comment by Zoe Williams notes how government subsidises enable corporates (and Tesco is here the example cited again) to increase pay to low pay staff, through tax credits and other benefits rather than paying a fair wage.

For the wider impact of Tesco on local communities, see the Friends of the Earth briefing here.

Air pollution hitting dangerous levels in Brixton

I've done some research and discovered that air quality in Brixton has been steadily deteriorating since the start of the year and is now hitting dangerous levels in Brixton.

This is a graph plotted using the Kings College London Air Quality data from the monitoring station in Brixton, which shows average levels of PM10 particulates since the beginning of the year.

(The gap in the graph is due to absent data on the King's website during this period)

These are invisible particles which cause damage to the lungs and airway causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, aggravate asthma – including lifelong respiratory disease, and even premature death.

The London Mayor has now accepted that around 4,200 people are dying as a result of long term exposure to air pollution in the capital each year.

The trend upwards also masks “spikes” in levels during the day. This graph shows that it has sometimes hit levels of 140 where the advice is that people with asthma or other lung conditions should avoid the area, and certainly the elderly and children should stay away.

These are some of the worst levels in London. To give you an idea of how this compares, the average reading in Brixton last year was 39 – and even this exceeded the government’s stated target.

The pollution monitoring station is located on the Brixton Road, just north of Brixton station.

At the end of last year we made public our findings that almost 50 of Lambeth’s schools are located close to London’s busiest, polluted roads. Two weeks ago we invited air pollution expert Simon Birkett down for an air quality summit to see what might be done.

I will ask Greens on the London Assembly to raise this urgently and ask Lambeth Council if they are even aware of what is going on. Lambeth don't seem to have produced an air quality report since 2009.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Is Lambeth now the worst council in England for cuts affecting disabled?

The Brixton Blog has reported Monday's decision by Lambeth council that will slash the number of people granted a Discretionary Freedom Pass (DFP). The borough currently has 767 people who use the free pass, each at a cost of about £600.

More than 500 people with mental health issues in Lambeth could lose free travel on public transport under the new criteria. The council itself estimates only about 200 people will now be eligible, leaving more than 550 without free travel, and sparking fears that vulnerable adults will be left isolated.

An analysis by Demos and Scope has already placed Lambeth Council second bottom of the league for cuts affecting disabled people, for all councils in England. The latest move may well take Lambeth to the very bottom.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Times newspaper gets behind 20 mph campaign

It was good to see The Times getting behind the 20mph campaign today, with it's front page on cycling and eight point manifesto (covenant), which includes the call for a default limit of 20mph on residential streets. There is another story tomorrow (Friday) which features the widespread support that the Times is already getting.

The newspaper's campaign follows the collision with a lorry of Mary Bowers, a Times reporter, at a junction on Wapping Highway close to The Times offices on 4 November.

Two days before that accident (on 2nd Nov), I was out with Jenny Jones and members of Lambeth and Southwark Green Parties highlighting the dangers of cycling, and calling for a 20mph limit to be introduced.

Lambeth and Southwark between them account for half of the ten most dangerous locations in London for cyclists. Of the 32 boroughs in London Lambeth has the second highest casualty rate for both pedestrians and cyclists. Southwark has the fourth highest overall casualty rate. In December we highlighted that road deaths trebled in Lambeth last year.

Jenny has written for the Guardian website today on this issue.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Lambeth has highest school exclusion rate in inner London

I have had a response to a Freedom of Information request from Lambeth Council regarding exclusion rates in the borough.

The stats I asked for show permanent exclusions increasing steadily over the last five years:

These figures are alarming. But also of concern was the commentary that Lambeth provided along with the requested information. Rather than simply providing the facts it claimed in its response:

"Lambeth’s permanent exclusion rates are in line with most Inner London Boroughs which have all fluctuated in the past five years.”

So let's look at the last five years compared to other inner London boroughs. Fortunately comparative stats are available on the Department for Education Website. What a comparison reveals is that Lambeth’s exclusion rates were the highest of all 14 inner London boroughs in 2009/10 (the latest year that statistics are available).

In 2008/09 it also topped the tables with the most exclusions of any inner London borough.

In 2007/08 it had the second worst exclusion rates.

In 2006/07 it had the third worst exclusion rates.

In 2005/06 it again had the third worst exclusion rates.

So as well as being manifestly untrue that Lambeth’s exclusion rates haven’t been in line with most inner city boroughs, there hasn’t been much “fluctuation” either. If anything there has been a steady and gradual deterioration over the last five years compared with other inner city boroughs.

The apparent unwillingness to even acknowledge that there is a problem is the most worrying thing of all.