Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Lambeth council lobby 19th September

Lambeth Save Our Services have called a lobby of the council on 19th September concerning the downsizing of libraries and the privatisation of One O’Clock clubs.

In the run up to the lobby, they are holding a number of street stalls, to make sure library users and those who take their children to One O’Clock clubs know what is going on.

The next stalls will be:

Saturday 18th August
Outside Brixton Library
2pm to 4pm

Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th September
Lambeth Country Show, Brockwell Park
Shifts available from 11am to 5pm

Where planning law fails us?

I don't pretend to be any kind of expert on planning, but I was puzzled by people telling me that Tesco had successfully "sneaked through" a change of use application with Lambeth Council to convert the George IV Music Bar on Brixton Hill to an Express grocery store, leaving opponents with an uphill battle.

Puzzled because there is no evidence of such an application on the council's database, which is supposed to be comprehensive for the last six years. Given that, I found it strange that neither planning officers nor local councillors have sought to clarify the situation to interested parties or through the media. Wilfulness? Ignorance? I'll leave that to you to decide, but I think local people who the council is supposed to serve have a right to know.

Having done some research it transpires that a change of use from pub to shop is not required under current planning law, which must make pubs a very attractive proposition for supermarkets. The situation is well explained here. But to summarise, there are four broad classes of development: (A) high street or shopping area use; (B) other business and industrial use; (C) residential use; and (D) non-residential social and community use. Generally speaking changes of use between sub-categories are permitted - and pubs and shops both fall within category (A).

A very sensible E-Petition proposing a change in the law to give councils greater powers to protect the diversity of town centres in cases such as this has just closed. It received only 80 signatures, showing, I think, how little understood this area of the law is.

Awareness should be raised because pubs up and down the country are being targeted for supermarkets, from here in Brixton, to Croydon, Derby and Manchester, to name but a few locations. My digging has yielded another surprise. I expected to see most of the big supermarkets employing this tactic, yet time and time again, it's Tesco's name that keeps cropping up. According to this article in the  Croydon media, Tesco proposed a "public consultation" in that locality. No sign of that happening in Brixton Hill.

As always, drop me a line at or or contact us via Twitter or Facebook

Saturday, 11 August 2012

More than *just* a pub: a George IV update

Last weekend we brought you news of Tesco's plans to turn the George IV Music Bar in Brixton Hill into an Express grocery store, and the petition to stop it.

I wanted to inform you of several important updates, which should give us heart going forward.

The first is to say that shortly after writing the post I received a lovely email from Vanessa Pope, who is involved in running local arts group The Effort Collective. The significant thing about this is that apart from being a hugely talented group of creative people, they are based at the George IV, both rehearsing and performing at the venue. As I said in the original post, pubs can perform a vital community function, and not just as a place in which to drink and be merry.

Take a look at The Effort Collective's website to see what they've been up to in recent months: some really interesting and innovative work in theatre, film and music. I certainly want to see what they do in the future and want them to be given the opportunity to go from strength to strength.

Vanessa tells me: "We have worked out of the fantastic facilities of George IV has to offer over the past 2 years: filming in the back room, make-up in the front room, theatre rehearsals and performances all over, band rehearsals in the basement.

"We are fully aware of the wonderful, productive uses this historic building can have and it would be a terrible shame to see it turned into a supermarket."

The other great piece of news is on the online petition, which following my blog of last weekend quickly exceeded our target of 1,000 signatures and now stands at more than 1,200. Please continue to sign it. Huge thanks should go to my Lambeth Green Party colleague Bridget Chapman for setting this up and making people aware of Tesco's plans.

I've written to a number of people, who are - or should be - involved in this process, with mixed results, to seek more information and to demand action.

I've written to Tesco: and, whose names were provided as contacts on a letter of consultation that hardly anyone in the immediate area appears to have received. No response, and I would suggest that this speaks volumes.  I urge you to write to them as well to tell them what you think of their plans and to ask why their letter wasn't properly circulated. A change of use at the site of the pub appears to have been passed by the council without anyone being made aware of the scheme, and they've obviously left it very late in the day for people to try to stop the plans.

I've also written to Brixton Hill's three councillors, all Labour. That this Tesco scheme has got this far already should be of great embarrassment to them. They are Florecence Nosegbe (, Steve Reed, Council Leader (, and Alex Holland ( Cllr Nosegbe, has written back to me to say she hopes to meet with the various parties involved and has asked that the decision on the current application goes before a meeting of the planning committee. I've got an Out of Office reply from Cllr Holland. I hope to hear from him on his return. I've have received no response from the leader of Lambeth Council. I've urge you to these councillors and tell them of your strength of feeling on this issue. They're our elected representatives. They should represent us.

Furthermore I've contacted Lambeth Council's planning officers (, because at present the plan before the council, to remove railings and turn the beer garden into a car park, is set to be dealt with by them under delegated powers. I have received an email to say my objection, along with others, has been registered. I suggest you do the same. We can't assume that our elected representatives will do right thing and call this decision in before a full meeting of the planning committee. Tell them that the loss of the George IV would go against stated council policy of preserving historic pubs such as this. And tell them of the effect that having a busy car park on a Red Route will have on traffic. Do so quoting the application reference 12/02757/FUL‏. You need to do this by August 14, so not long.

I have today also written to the local MP and shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna. This is an issue which is written large across the constituency: the dominance of big supermarkets, the decline of corner shops and the decline of the local pub. Last time I wrote to *my* MP, I did not even receive an acknowledgement. I hope to do better on this issue. Why don't you join me in getting him working for us?

I will keep you posted. In the meantime feel free to contact me on or or contact us via Twitter or Facebook

Best wishes

Andrew Child
Lambeth Green Party

Monday, 6 August 2012

Taking on Tescopoly in Brixton Hill

I spent Sunday afternoon talking to local shopkeepers - and their customers - on Brixton Hill about Tesco’s plans to open an Express store on the site of the current historic George IV Music Bar. This quirky turreted building is a landmark to all local residents.

What these shopkeepers reported to me was the detrimental impact that the two existing Sainsbury’s Local stores on the upper reaches of the hill - within a few hundred metres of each other -  had already had on their businesses. Many fear what the addition of a further big supermarket local store would mean for the long-term viability of independent shops such as theirs.

Meanwhile, the customers of these stores say that Brixton Hill cannot sustain another yet another supermarket. They fear the loss of their local store, which provides a real sense of community and where they interact with real people rather than a soulless automated checkout. And they see a further erosion of the character of their local community. 

Not just that, but the loss of another local character pub, a place not just to drink and be merry, but a space which can double up as so many other things: community meeting place, arts and music venue, a centre for learning...the possibilities are almost endless.

George IV Music Bar: Locals fear the loss of another character pub on Brixton Hill

The decline of Brixton’s pubs has been well-documented by the excellent community portal Urban75. The George IV, at 144 Brixton Hill, is just down the hill from another former stalwart of the local pub scene, The Telegraph, which went out of business back in 2010. Clearly the George IV has been struggling, having undergone an unsuccessful rebranding as Southside before its current incarnation as Music Bar.

There’s some great advice pages on the internet for communities trying to save local pubs, for instance at the aforementioned Urban75 and at CAMRA. It’s certainly not an easy time for pubs, but there have been successful campaigns up and down the country. If you want to save the George IV or other pubs like it in the area, then these seem like good places to start. 

As a member of the Lambeth Green Party I share the concerns expressed to me by local shopkeepers and their customers, and I want to do something about them. I therefore urge you so sign the petition to stop Tesco in its tracks: We’re nearly at our 1,000 signature target, but we’d like to exceed it to really bring home to Tesco and Lambeth Borough Council, the real extent of local opposition. You can also sign a paper petition in many local shops along Brixton Hill. If you’d like to help with the campaign, there’s a number of ways you can contact us. You can write to me personally at, or contact us via Twitter or Facebook.

I live on Wingford Road (behind Brixton Prison), and already have two Sainsbury’s Local stores in well under half a mile: at 76 Brixton Hill, and at 266-270 Brixton Hill and in total I have seven Sainsbury’s stores within a mile of me. It’s clear I’m more than well catered for by a big supermarket. But to add to that I’ve got a Tesco Express within a quarter of a mile - at 30 Streatham Place - and a total of five Tescos within a mile. So doing the sums, that’s three supermarket stores within half a mile and a total of 12 within a mile. The figures speak of complete madness. There’s no community or customer case for more. It seems to me that the only reason for Tesco to seek to open yet another store is to play catch-up with Sainsbury’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking sides here. I don’t think there should be more stores from any of the big supermarkets in this area.

The Sainsbury's Local store on the corner of Lambert Road and Brixton Hill.  The area is more than catered for by big supermarkets.

A letter of consultation (here’s the 2nd page) has been sent out by Matt Magee, Tesco Corporate Affairs Manager, apparently to local residents and businesses. The disturbing thing is that few of the local shopkeepers I spoke to seemed to have received it. And I haven’t received it either. I will be writing to Tesco today to try to understand why many local people - whose lives will be affected by the store - have not been contacted. I will also be asking if they have carried out any kind of local impact assessment.

Furthermore I’m trying to establish contact with the owners of the George IV to try to understand their reasons for selling up and if anything can be done to help them keep it as a pub.

Tesco’s letter is a bit threadbare and makes some questionable assertions. It says that “about” 20 local full and part-time jobs will be created. But how many will be lost elsewhere as a result of this? It claims that staff in its stores act as “a deterrent to anti-social behaviour”, even though, unlike may staff employed by pubs, they are not trained in dealing with anti-social behaviour. The basis on which the Tesco store will therefore act as a deterrent seems tenuous. Unfortunately Tesco says it already has permission to operate the site as a convenience store, and that all that remains is for it to get council approval for the removal of railings, turning the beer garden into a car park, adding signage etc. I’ve looked at planning applications currently before the council on its database and Tesco certainly hasn’t put in applications for everything it wants to do. 

We have a fight on our hands - clearly. It’s much easier for Tesco to buy a property - even if it does fall within a conservation area - and make some minor alterations than try to build something from scratch on a brownfield site. We need to show up at the next meeting of the council’s planning committee and raise our objections, but above all we need to show the strength of feeling there is in this wonderful Brixton Hill community of our. We need to deliver a petition with thousands of names and we need to protest and we need to make it clear to Tesco that it will not be receiving our custom. 

There is hope. Go to the website of campaign group Tescopoly and you’ll find plenty of sources of inspiration in campaigns won against the desire and might of the big supermarkets. But we must organise. Again, sign the petition here: and get in touch with either myself, or contact us via Twitter or Facebook

Thanks for your support.

Andrew Child
Lambeth Green Party