Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Will 'social cleansing' come to Lambeth?

As we highlighted a couple of weeks ago, Lambeth has the second highest council house waiting list in London, second only to Newham.

The news that Labour-run Newham council is looking to ship out its poorest families to places like Stoke (branded 'social cleansing' by some), should also be a worry to residents in Labour run Lambeth.

As Lambeth council implements its program of cuts, it will be looking for savings wherever it can. Despite the fact that Lambeth also has the second highest number of empty homes in the capital, it isn't handing them over to people who really need them in any great numbers. In fact, it is evicting people who have invested in these short-life properties and selling the housing off to developers.

The option to ship people out of the borough must have at least crossed their mind.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Labour's smears come back to haunt them in Herne Hill

There was an excellent London Assembly hustings event last night in Herne Hill, organised by the Herne Hill Forum.

It was very well attended, with lots of local people who are very active in the local Herne Hill Community.

I was particularly pleased to take part the event, as there was a Green Party councilor in Herne Hill until the last election. However, she was subject to a disgusting smear campaign by Lambeth Labour party, and lost her seat in 2010.

What was interesting about last night however, it that the smears are now coming back to haunt Labour, and I suspect they will continue to do so.

There was for example, a great deal of support for lowering speed limits in Herne Hill to 20mph. This was something that Labour's Val Shawcross claimed last night she supports. It is in fact a campaign that the Green's have long been championing, and calling for right across Lambeth. The blockage however has actually been the Labour Party on Lambeth council, who are refusing to implement 20mph limits across the borough. This made Val's claims ring rather hollow.

Even more so, when people there realised that this was something Labour had tried to make political mileage out of at the last election. In the literature Labour distributed aiming to smear the Green Party, they even suggested that the Greens were opposed to 20mph limits.

There was also a good discussion about how to cut crime. There has been a spate of burglaries in Herne Hill. Drugs policy came up, and once again Labour's smears in Herne Hill against the Greens on this issue were highlighted.

But it isn't just Labour's smears that are coming back to haunt them. It is also what they are doing now in Lambeth. Even on social housing, Labour cannot with any credibility claim to be standing up for local people, when they are currently in the process of evicting members of housing co-ops and selling off the property to developers.

Steve Reed caught out trying to make political capital from Brixton market

Leader of Lambeth council Cllr Steve Reed has had to change public statements he made, after he tried to make political capital out of Brixton Market.

The story begins a couple of days ago, when the Prime Minister attacked Lambeth Council for wasting £30,000 on a statue. The wasting of money is something that Lambeth Council is particularly sensitive to, as it has a particularly poor track record in the this respect. The wastage also seems to be continuing, with for example expenditure of £9,000 on five olive trees in Clapham recently.

Cllr Steve Reed tried and turn this into an attack on the regeneration of Brixton market itself (where the statue is located) and responded with a blog: "Cameron attacks the transformation of Brixton Market."

I, like many people, am no fan of David Cameron. In fact I challenged him publicly during the last general election campaign over his plans for disabled children. But I was amongst those who contacted Steve Reed, suggesting that it was wrong to try and make political capital out of Brixton market in this way. This clearly wasn't an attack on the market, whichever way you look at it, and to pretend otherwise it just dishonest.

"What a shame the Prime Minister has chosen to play narrow-minded party political games."
suggests Steve Reed. But of course, Steve Reed has done exactly what he accused David Cameron of doing.

And it seems that I am not alone in my feelings. The comments under his own blog post raised similar concerns about his political opportunism. The result is that Steve Reed has quietly changed the blog. Rather than "Cameron attacks the transformation of Brixton market" it became Cameron attacks sculpture that’s part of the transformation of Brixton Market. (Hat Tip to @mein_crustacean )

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

[Update 19/04/2012 12.10 pm Steve Reed now appears to have deleted many of the unfavorable comments under his blog. So much for democratic debate!]

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Greens come out top for cycling manifesto

When we launched our campaign in Lambeth and Southwark for the London elections we promised to do our bit to try and push cycling up the agenda, as well as wider issues of transport inclusion.

Since then the issue has really moved up the agenda, with the Times newspaper, amongst others pushing the issue hard.

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.

Now all the party manifestos have been published, the different cycling proposals have been assessed, and it is good to see that the Green Party's proposals have come out top. You can read more here.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Lambeth: the co-opting council

A Freedom of Information request by Joanna Boehnert has revealed that it cost £440,000 for Lambeth Council to evict people from Clifton Mansions, and set up a housing scheme policed by the rather draconian security firm Camelot.

Clifton Mansions is a council owned block of 22 Victorian flats that have been squatted for the past two decades, because its owners have not bothered to make use of it. Individuals therefore took it upon themselves to make homes in the flats at no cost to the state.

In 2008-2009 a group of Brixton housing activists also developed a proposal for a housing cooperative at Clifton Mansions. This proposal was flatly refused, despite the fact it would have been far cheaper and simpler.

This is another example not just of how Lambeth continues to waste money (from £8,875 on 5 Olive Trees in Clapham to a £5m Overspend on a heating system but also also how it is turning its back on co-operative housing.

Rather than being a co-operative council, it seems increasingly that it is becoming a co-opting council, taking over initiatives by the local community after local people have invested heavily in them. Other examples include Stockwell Studios, sold by Lambeth to a housing developer after artists spent £70,000 on renovations and the Lambeth shortlife properties featured in the local Guardian.

You can read more about the situation at Clifton Mansions here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Local Guardian splashes on co-op housing

This weeks local Guardian has splashed on the issue we raised a couple of weeks ago around housing, and how Lambeth is turning its back on co-operative housing.

The scheme, that originally included a stock of 1,200 homes, now has just 170 houses left.

It quotes us as (the only party apparently) opposed to what Lambeth council is doing. Two articles are now online here and here. Some quotes:

"The self-styled “co-operative borough” has been booting out hundreds of people living in housing co-operatives so it can make millions by selling the run-down houses they have looked after for decades.

"Hundreds of people living in “short-life” housing co-operatives are being handed repossession orders by Lambeth Council and told they must move out, or face criminal prosecution.

"Their houses, which they have spent thousands repairing and sometimes maintained for more than 40 years, are now being sold at auction for bargain-basement prices."

"One property, a 10-bedroom house in the Chase, Clapham, recently netted £1.6m for the council in July 2011, but a smaller six-bedroom house on the same road is being marketed at £2.6m.

"Meanwhile, a three-bed maisonette in Rosendale Road, West Norwood, was sold for £260,000 two years ago, and the flat above, which is the same size, is also in the process of being sold for a similar price.

"Despite this, a neighbouring six-bedroom house was sold for £925,000 in November last year.

"Scores of properties are being sold for more than £575,000 each, according to campaigners, often short of their full market value."

"Those being threatened with repossession, many of whom are families with young children, were recruited by the council in the 1980s to look after homes that it could not afford to repair.

"They were given charge of managing run-down properties, spending thousands on maintenance, while paying rent to a central co-op body.

"Campaigners estimated co-operatives have spent more than £50,000 in maintenance and management on each property over a 30-year period, and co-op members carried out the equivalent of £150,000-worth of labour on their homes over the same period.

"But now, the council is threatening tenants with court orders and occupation charges, as well as refusing to re-house them if they reject calls to leave."

Lambeth Council withdraws from London Air Quality Network

It seems that Lambeth council are following Mayor of London Boris Johnson's lead in their strategy to deal with air pollution - making it harder for the public to get the evidence that it exists.

In an extremely worrying development, Lambeth council has withdrawn from the London Air Quality Network which previously monitored pollution levels in the borough and across London.

Without any public announcement, and in the middle of some of the highest pollution levels in the borough in recent times, Lambeth Council appears to have quietly left the scheme on 1st April. This has been confirmed by the Air Quality Network itself.

Where pollution levels were recorded from three monitoring stations in the borough, all that now appears is a message saying "Lambeth does not participate in the London Air Quality Network. For information convering air quality in Lambeth please contact the council directly."

However, Lambeth Council has itself not listed an annual air quality report since 2009, and holds no information about air quality levels on its website. This development is particularly disturbing as we recently measured pollution levels in residential roads around Lambeth as being of similar levels to those on its busiest streets. Lambeth also closed both the Lambeth 3 (Loughborough Junction) and Lambeth 1 (Christchurch Road ) automatic monitoring stations in 2009 due to "budgetary constraints".

Both the Government and the Mayor accept that over 4,000 people in London die prematurely each year because of air pollution. Lambeth Council has so far resisted calls to let people know about pollution episodes when their occur.

[Update: 11/4/2012 A couple of people have pointed out that Lambeth might now put their monitoring data on the Air Quality England site. A few local authorities do this. Lambeth have not (yet). I am making some enquiries and see whether there are any plans to do so ]

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The 3S petition to get a sauna, steam room and solar panels at the new Streatham Hub Leisure Centre

At the Streatham Hub meeting at the end of February, at which we got a review of disabled facilities at the new Streatham Hub development, it also came to light that the new Leisure Centre would not have a Sauna or Steam Room or solar panels on the roof.

The old leisure centre was popular because it had these facilities - particularly valued by many older people and those with health problems. Given what we have been doing to get solar energy going in Streatham, as well as Brixton, this seemed like a huge missed opportunity to use solar power.

The strength of feeling at the meeting about this took me by surprise. There is a real feeling that Streatham is continually short-changed by the council. And this seems to be another clear example. So I got together with Scott Ainslie and we worked up this petition.

It reads:

"We the undersigned urge Lambeth Council and Tesco to put in Steam Room and Sauna facilities and install revenue generating and CO2 reducing Solar panels.

"This 3S petition calls on Lambeth Council and Tesco to make sure that the project is a success by putting the following in place:

"Solar Panels could be economically viable if the local community invests in them. There is a newly formed community-owned renewable energy company willing to help ( Solar panels would provide a visible statement and demonstration of a true commitment to environmental sustainability.

"Steam Room and Sauna, which are an excellent and important part of any health and happiness routine for people using swimming pools. It is a normal part of any modern health club. The old facilities in Brixton, Clapham and Streatham contained them, only Streatham stand to lose them. If these were close to the pool, as they are at Putney Leisure Centre, it would allay the concerns that Lambeth has for inappropriate behaviour."

It has been launched in the name of Transition Streatham, as we want it to attract cross-party support.

You can sign the petition here

How Lambeth is going to close its libraries

It's good to see a growing public awareness in Lambeth about the Council's plans for its libraries.

The Tradescant Road blog nails it when it observes:

"Lambeth is not going to shut any libraries - it's simply going to under-fund them to the point where most of them probably shut themselves."

I met with Lee Alley from Streatham Action to discuss the council's proposals last week, and specifically how they will impact Streatham Library, and it is clear that there is rapidly growing concern in Streatham where substantial money will need to be spent on the building, which is not being provided by the council.

You can read the consultation document here. But in a nutshell, the Council is planning to abdicate responsibility and offload its old buildings, and with it their running costs, onto the community - whilst it reserves some key powers for itself.

The proposals saddle local communities with responsibility for:

- Building management and maintenance
- Cleaning contracts
- Rates & utilities
- Refuse collection
- Insurance
- Photocopiers, stationery, equipment, cash collection
- Income generation

In a move akin to the McDonaldisation of Lambeth’s libraries, it is going to turn them into franchises, using similar principles to the privatisation of the railways and the NHS. Or in the words of the council's own consultation document:

“This contract or franchising method is widely used in both the public and private sector in everything from providing public healthcare services to popular chain restaurants.”

The proposals threaten to return Lambeth’s Victorian libraries to the Victorian era, leaving local communities with a choice between financing potentially crippling costs or closing them.

You can respond to the consultation here.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Getting Lambeth council to move its money

We have long campaigned to clean up Lambeth Council's finances. This has included where its pension fund is invested.

More recently questions have also been raised about council taxpayer's money going to an arms manufacturer.

Lambeth Living - owned by Lambeth council - employed the services of Vangeant, which was taken over by the commercial arms company General Dynamics in a £588million deal in August last year. The US-based firm makes machine guns, missiles, rockets and tanks.

Lambeth Living manages around 34,000 tenants' and leaseholders' properties on behalf of the Council. When Vangeant was taken over by General Dymanics, the Council said there was nothing it could do. However Lambeth Living's contract with Vangeant was subsequently renewed and extended.

We will keep campaigning on these issues. But it is good to see that another area where the council could do better has now been identified. The Move Your Money campaign is now focusing on where Lambeth keeps its cash. As the campaign points out:

Councils such as Lambeth [who currently bank with NatWest - a subsidiary of RBS] administer millions of pounds of public funds, which can be better invested to achieve positive change in our local communities.

Ethical alternatives, such as the Co-operative Bank, CCLA, and Triodos, offer similar financial services to the High Street banks, but are more ethically responsible with their investments, whilst actively promoting small business and investing in the development of our local communities.

The key thing here is that it makes sense not just ethically, but financially. Keeping money in the local community, and investing it in local credit unions, helps the local economy by helping to make more local credit available. These are proposals that we are also putting forward during our London election campaign.

You can sign the move your money petition here.

Brixton could lead the way in community energy

There was a time when it looked as if the Government's cuts to Feed in Tariffs would kill off community energy projects completely. I raised the issue on BBC1's Sunday Morning Live last year, specifically mentioning the impact on projects in Brixton and Streatham.

 It is therefore great to see that the Brixton project has now managed to complete its first installation on the Loughborough Estate, despite the Government's lack of support.

These kinds of projects are vital for a number of reasons, not simply because they provide a sustainable and greener source of energy, but they are also a way of providing cheaper energy and tackling fuel poverty. They also mean more energy security and control for local communities, with more decentralised energy production, as well of course, as providing jobs in the local economy.

Brixton is leading the way on this, with some inspirational people like the Green Party's Duncan Law. But with the cuts to Feed in Tariffs (the money paid for the generation of solar energy) the returns for investors are much smaller, and so it is much harder to get the necessary investment from the local community. There is therefore a real possibility that groups around the country will struggle to achieve what is happening in Lambeth.

The Green Party is therefore proposing to work with the financial services sector to establish a long-term infrastructure investment bond. This could work at a London-wide level to support investment in transport infrastructure, but also support community development organisations and councils to follow suit, so that they can get behind schemes like Brixton's solar project. The establishment of the bond would mean that the Brixton model could be rolled out across the country.