Thursday, January 17, 2013

Elephant Progress - Heygate Masterplan Approved

An historic and positive step was taken on Tuesday night when Southwark's Planning Committee approved the Masterplan for the regeneration of the Heygate - the sprawling estate at the heart of the Elephant & Castle which is central to the regeneration of the area.  The estate has been virtually empty for the last two years and has become a symbol of the failure of the regeneration to make any progress over that time.

The regeneration of the Elephant was conceived as an idea 15 years ago.  It has been slow progress getting to this point, but it now looks as if the regeneration will become a reality over the next decade and a half.  We still await the proposals for the regeneration of the shopping centre, but with a new leisure centre already under construction; the southern roundabout having undergone a major revamp; and significant progress with TfL towards delivering an improved northern roundabout and access via escalator to the Northern Line, there is real momentum to the project.

Tuesday's meeting was not without objection or controversy.  With any scheme which brings 2500 new homes; 1250 long-term jobs, a new park and public realm improvements, it is unlikely that everyone will be on the same page at the same time.  And many of the objectors rightly wanted to challenge the council and the developers to ensure that the best deal was being delivered for Southwark.

Two of the most controversial elements of the masterplan application concerned the level of affordable housing being delivered and the amount of car parking on site.  I have previously blogged about the affordable housing at the Heygate, but it is crucial to note that the landscape for the delivery of affordable housing changed radically in May 2010 when the Coalition cut grant subsidy for social housing by £6 billion.  This meant that for every unit of social housing on the Heygate site approximately £120,000 of grant subsidy was lost.  The target for delivering 35% affordable housing on-site became impossible from that time.  There are moments throughout the 15 year history of this project when 35% or more affordable housing could have been delivered - but those moments and those opportunities were not seized by the then Administration.

But the masterplan approved on Tuesday will still deliver 25% affordable housing - much more than the  viability tests undertaken by Lend Lease demonstrated; more than the District Valuer thought could be delivered; and much more than is being delivered on similar schemes across London.  Remember that the Government's Growth and Infrastructure Bill gives developers the option to negotiate the level of affordable housing which they deliver down to zero on stalled schemes.  So 25% affordable housing on the Heygate scheme in the current climate is a fair result.  Would I like to see more?  Yes.  Can more be achieved within the short-term?  No.

So I think it's right to place progress on the regeneration of the Elephant as a priority and support a scheme which delivers the majority of elements which I and the community want to see.  I simply don't believe that waiting for something better to turn up is a proper way of managing a major project like the Elephant regeneration or responsible government.  I'll leave it to others to argue that inaction is better.

I respect the views of those who have opposed the regeneration of the Elephant.  I think they're wrong to continue their opposition, but that doesn't mean that they haven't had a major impact on the scheme which was approved on Tuesday.  They have.

The decision on Tuesday to support the regeneration of the Elephant is good news.  As I've already said - it means 2500 new homes; 5000 jobs created during the construction phase and 1250 in the longer term; a new civic presence in the heart of the scheme; the largest new park in Zone 1 for 70 years; major transport improvements for the Elephant and a host of new opportunities.

 It's been a long time coming, but the Elephant is entering a new phase in its' exciting history.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Emergency Services in Southwark

Southwark's emergency services face an unprecedented attack.  With the closure of three Police Stations, one Fire Station, and the partial closure of another, the presence of the emergency services in our borough will be hugely scaled back.

Last week I chaired a meeting at City Hall with Stephen Greenhalgh, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne - who is in charge of territorial policing in London.  The meeting exposed real concerns from the public and local representatives about the loss of the three police stations at East Dulwich, Rotherhithe and Camberwell, and equal concerns about the impact which budget savings will have on Safer Neighbourhood Teams across the borough.  At the meeting we were told that Peckham Police Station would remain as the only 24 hour station in the borough, although this was subsequently corrected to Walworth.

I challenged Boris Johnson in a letter dated the 11th of October 2012 to keep his pledge about the future of police stations in Southwark and in his response to me on the 13th of December 2012 he reiterated his "clear commitment that no police front counter will close unless and equivalent or better facility for public access has been identified".

As a council we are working with the Met and MOPAC to find those "equivalent or better" facilities, but we have not been told what if any budget the police have for these new front counters.  At a time when all of our budgets are being slashed the council cannot just hand over premises or parts of premises to the police without any payment.

There seemed little if any clarity from the police about the structure of Safer Neighbourhood Teams going forward.  And although the much vaunted restructure will apparently bring 1200 new front line police officers into the city's policing, only 2 of those seem to be heading to Southwark.

At the same time the Fire Brigade have announced the closure of Southwark Fire Station and the loss of a fire engine from Peckham.  On the day when the Lakanal fire inquest has begun at Lambeth Town Hall it seems remarkable that the fire service are contemplating removing any fire engines from Peckham.  Surely it would be better to wait for the outcome of the inquest before making any decision about how Peckham will be covered by the fire service in future?

And with The Shard and the London Bridge area bringing new buildings, new attention - and to some extent new risk - to Southwark it seems remarkable that the fire service would choose to close the fire station which is closest to this part of Central London.  Apart from some general justification about ensuring that every part of London is within 6 minutes of a fire station I have yet to hear any specific justification for why Central London is losing so much support.

These are truly worrying times for our emergency services and for Southwark.

Albrighton All Go!

The Albrighton Community Centre in South Camberwell is a brilliant example of how a well-managed and new community resource can really make a difference.  When I first became a councillor in 2002 the Centre was closed and unused.  It was in need of repairs and neither the council nor the community were taking the lead in sorting things out.

But in the past decade under the leadership of Steve Hedger and some truly committed residents the centre has been transformed into the hub of life in South Camberwell.  From toddlers to older people, the Centre now has activities for everyone.  It hosted last year's Southwark Tenants Conference, and is booked up every day of the week.  This Christmas saw the first older people's Christmas lunch run at the Centre - hailed as a great success.  And the innovative book stall in reception helps raise funds for the Centre's ongoing work.

The number and level of activities might not have been possible without the new Centre building, which was delivered as part of the regeneration of the estate.  It has really made a difference.

So a massive "congratulations" to everyone who has and continues to make the Albrighton Centre an example of what a real community centre should be.