27 January 2012

Leaseholder charging in Southwark - draft report published

Some months ago I posted on the leaseholder charging scrutiny which would be carried out by the Housing Scrutiny Committee.  Since then lots of hard work has gone into unpicking all of the issues surrounding leaseholder charges and we've just published the draft report.   You can see it here.

The report will be discussed by the sub-committee at next Monday's meeting and so there will be changes and additions following that discussion.  However, the central arguments and recommendations of the report are in place and will be of interest to leaseholders in Southwark who want to see a Labour council responding to their concerns.

Our aim from the outset has been make recommendations which would improve the process of leaseholder charging for the benefit of all residents of the borough. We've had excellent co-operation and engagement from council officers, the cabinet member and leaseholder representatives.

There are a number of recommendations, below are just some which are worth noting:

1. The council should offer leaseholders the option of a fixed service charge which incorporates both the annual services charge and major works service charges.

2. Full details of how the actual service charge is calculated should be provided on-line, rather than waiting for individual requests for this information.

3. Steps should be taken to make available on-line details of major works and annual service charges relating to individual leaseholders. Leaseholders would then be able to see an ongoing calculation of the charges being levied and to hold the council and its contractors to account for works which are being charged for. Leaseholders should be issued with details of an individual account to which they can log-on and see details of the annual and major works service charge calculations to which they are subject.

4. Improvements need to be made in cross-departmental working. Works needs to continue to be done in getting officers in the wider Housing Department to work more closely with officers in HO &TMI, and vice versa.

5. Given the consensus that there is a clear lack of appreciation of leaseholder issues by housing management staff. The sub-committee wishes to suggest two possible options which could be considered as ways of rectifying this problem.

a) Expand the remit and function of Home Ownership Division to take on a more general housing management role and activities to cover these issues; OR

b) Have a dedicated leaseholder officer based in each of the other housing management services who may or may not come under the  Home Ownership Division but will have to liaise and report to it.

As I say, we're still only at the draft stage, so I'd be very interested to hear from leaseholders or anyone else  if they have comments on the draft.

21 January 2012

Democracy in Southwark: If you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk

Turning up to meetings is just one part of a councillor’s job, but it’s an important part.  Scrutiny, Community Council and other meetings are a crucial opportunity to stand up for residents’ interests and hold the council to account.  It’s something that you know will take up lots of your time, but you’re fully aware of that before you make the decision to stand for election.  Thisthis and this show just a few examples of times when Vikki, Renata and I have been able to secure improvements for the Peckham Rye area by going along to these meetings.  I’m not saying they’re always riveting, but I am saying it’s important to turn up as often as possible.  
Since the last election residents of Southwark have been able to monitor the attendance of their councillors via the Southwark Council website.  Now, I wouldn’t have mentioned this if Southwark’s Lib Dem Councillors hadn’t been going around in recent months, telling anyone that would listen, just how concerned they were about democratic accountability at Southwark Council.   For example, Anood Al-Samerai, the current leader of Southwark Lib Dems, has been crying crocodile tears over the proposed merger of some community council areas (prompted by cuts made by her own government).  Councillor Michael Bukola  said at a recent council meeting that he was deeply worried about oversight of Housing policy in the borough (even though he's missed the last two Housing Scrutiny meetings and didn't bother to send a sub). I think if you’re going to make such a great play of this issue, then it would be fair to expect Southwark Lib Dem Councillors to have a good attendance record.  But as a group they don’t.  In fact some of them are very far from having a good attendance record indeed. 
For example Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rotherhithe, Columba Blango, has only attended 53% of his meetings since the last election. (Southwark News reported on this today, see above) In 2011 Cllr Blango’s attendance has been even lower, 44%. He has attended just 8 of the 20 community council meetings since the 2010 election and just 2 of the last 10 in 2011.  Former Southwark Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Stanton  has only attended 68% since the election (the third worst on the council). All these figures are correct up to 10th Jan 2012 – the last date they were updated on the council website

But perhaps the most shocking statistic of all is that all 8 of the bottom 8 Southwark councillors in terms of their % attendance at meetings have one thing in common: they are all Liberal Democrats.
On average Labour Councillors have attended  87% of the meetings they were expected to go along to, whilst Lib Dems have attended just 81%.  This is even more surprising when you consider that all Cabinet members are Labour Councillors.  Cabinet members have far more meeting clashes that other councillors because of their portfolio responsibilities.  Even with 9 Cabinet members in our Group Southwark Labour Councillors attend significantly more of their meetings.  

Everyone acknowledges that there will be legitimate circumstances, such as illness, maternity leave or family reasons which mean Councillors can’t make it to meetings, somtimes even over a long period.  I’ve got no problem with that and neither have residents of the borough.  But the statistics don’t lie – Southwark Lib Dems clearly have a problem in their group with turning up to these important meetings.  Some of them seem to have decided that they don’t have to bother. 

So next time you hear one of our yellow friends bemoaning their lack of opportunity to hold the council to account, ask them if they turned up to their last community council meeting.

20 January 2012

Cheltenham and Ivydale Road Road works - What is going on?

Local residents will know that resurfacing and reconstruction works have been going on over a number of week on a section of Ivydale Road (west of Merttins Road) and Cheltenham Road. The works will improve residential roads which have become very bumpy, largely as a result of 343 and 484 buses travelling on these roads.  This has become a particular problem in recent years because the combination of heavy buses and deteriorating roads has lead to serious shaking of people homes.

Through a combination of Councillors' and local residents' campaigning in 2011 we were able to secure the funding for the works.  Prior to works starting there was a joint meeting between local residents, councillors and council officers out on the street.  At that meeting we were told by officers that the works would include full-depth reconstruction of the entire length of Cheltenham Road and the relevant section of Ivydale Road.

Since works have begun it's become clear that full-depth reconstruction of the all of the roads was not in fact happening.  The worst affected sections (such as around the old ramps) were getting full depth reconstruction, but other sections were not.  As you would expect, this has caused a great deal of consternation locally.  Why would people be told that all of the road needed and would get this full depth work and then something less was being delivered? It would be fair to say that the uncertainty was not helped by the fact that we were not getting prompt answers to the various queries we were raising.

Well, to bring you up to date, over the last week we have finally starter to get some answers. On Wednesday evening councillors received an email which suggested that, because of limitations on the budget, only those parts of the roads which required full-depth reconstruction would be getting this work.  The other parts of the road would be resurfaced, but not to a full-depth. We immediately responded to say this was not acceptable to re-iterated that we had clearly been lead to believe that full-depth reconstruction would take place for the whole road.  This morning (Friday) Peckham Rye Councillors met with officers, including the senior manager with responsibility for the project, to put our case.  There was, to put it euphemistically, a full and frank exchange of views.

Officers working on the roads have now told us that in their view, the plan for the roads was to only undertake full-depth reconstruction where is was needed. In their view, not all parts of the roads need this level of work and the money available for the project is not enough to cover full depth reconstruction throughout. We have made clear that not only was this not our understanding, but that we feel that councillors and residents have been misled over the scope of the works at several meetings that were held.

As councillors we feel that we have no choice but to pursue the issue of the misleading information being given through official channels.  We made it clear that we would do this at our meeting this morning.

Unfortunately, it is clear that this process will not change the perimeters of the project for Ivydale and Cheltenham. Parts of the carriageway that clearly need full depth reconstruction on initial inspection are already being subject to this – the two pinch points on Ivydale and the area immediately around them are examples of this. Other sections of the road, where the condition looks better, will be subject to a survey once the top layer of surface has been removed. Where this reveals the substructure is failing, reconstruction will be done, where the substructure is good, it will not be. In better news, officers do not consider the works on Cheltenham Road complete.

They are also unhappy with several patches and parts of the work. The road will be inspected and further works will be done. Usually ‘snagging’ inspections lead to only small improvements been made but officers agree that on parts of Cheltenham, including the stretch that has not received any work, more substantial works will be needed.

On the speed table at the junction with Ivydale and Merttins, this will have test holes dug and will be subject to full depth reconstruction if needed – this is an improvement on the previous position of the council only resurfacing it. The raised table will remain to enforce the 20mph speed limit but the cambers will be as gentle as possible whilst ensuring the table remains an effective traffic calming feature.

13 January 2012

Nunhead and Peckham Rye Councillors get into the groove

At last night's Community Council meeting Nunhead and Peckham Rye Councillors got into a dancing mood with a little bit of help from Peckham's Recycled Teenagers. Who says council meetings are boring!

(Permission to film was sought from and granted by the Chair!)

7 January 2012

Know Your Ryes!

A few weeks ago I was in a meeting with some local residents and council officers. During the meeting one person started referring to Rye Lane, when in fact they meant Peckham Rye East. Later on another started talking about Peckham Rye Common and it took us a little while to work out that they really meant Peckham Rye Park.  

You can't really blame people for getting a little confused. There are so many references to "Rye" in our little bit of South London that even the locals can get mixed up. So I thought I'd have a go at writing a little glossary of all the Ryes hereabout.  Clearly I'm making a rod for my own back here, so please point out any errors I've made in the comments box below. 

Anyway, here are my definitions of the ubiquitous Ryes. Some serious, some not so serious, and in no particular order:

Peckham Rye Ward - The council ward area. Peckham Rye Ward was created out of Rye Ward, Waverley Ward and Bellenden Ward following the Local Authority Boundary Review. See the old and new maps here. A detailed map of the ward boundaries is here.

Peckham Rye Common - The common land area to the north of Peckham Rye Park and not 'enclosed' by fencing.  

Peckham Rye Park - The Park area to the south of Peckham Rye Common. For a history of how the Park came into being see here on the FOPRP website. The great majority of the Park is enclosed by fencing.

Rye Hill Park Estate - The council owned estate to the East of Peckham Rye Park, set back from Peckham Rye (East) Road. The Tenants and Residents Association website is here.

Rye Lane - The lane made up mainly of shops to the North of Peckham Rye Common, ending at Peckham High Street.

Rye Road - A short, and very quiet residential Road in Nunhead.

Ryedale - A residential road in East Dulwich.

Peckham Rye Labour - Us! The collective term for Peckham Rye Labour Party members and the three Labour councillors representing people living in Peckham Rye Ward.  

Peckham Rye Liberal Democrats - The collective term for three people who turn up in Peckham Rye Ward  a few months before a local election and pretend to be "Local Community Campaigners"  (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Peckham Rye Conservatives - See Peckham Rye Liberal Democrats.

Cafe on the Rye - Top notch cafe on Peckham Rye Common, near Strakers Road

Peckham Rye (West) - The road that runs along the west of Peckham Rye Common and Park. It becomes Forest Hill Road at the junction with Colyton Road. Homes on this side have even numbers.

Peckham Rye (East) - The road that runs along the east of Peckham Rye Common and Park.  It becomes Cheltenham Road at the junction with Homestall Road. Homes on this side have odd numbers.

Peckham Rye Station - The overland train station which can be accessed from Rye Lane (and isn't in Peckham Rye 'ward' as we often have to point out!).

The Ballad of Peckham Rye - Novel by Muriel Spark set in and around the Peckham area.

Friends of Peckham Rye Park - Local residents and Park users action group formed in 1995. Their website is here. They also organise the brilliant Peckham Rye Fete each year.   

Nunhead and Peckham Rye Community Council - Community Councils are devolved committees of Southwark Council. Local Councillors and residents hold meetings to discuss and make decisions that affect the wards included in the area. Nunhead and Peckham Rye Community Council currently covers Peckham Rye Ward, Nunhead Ward and Lane Ward.    

The Rye - Pub and (good) food next to Peckham Rye Common and Scylla Road. Used to be called the Rye Hotel. Currently closed for refurbishment.

Peckham Rye (Slang) - Cockney rhyming slang for a tie. 

Rye Oak School - Primary School on Whorlton Road.

Catcher in the Rye - Novel about a kid who has a breakdown. Nothing to do with Peckham Rye!

Rye - A grass grown as a grain and forage crop. This is getting ridiculous...

I give up...  But have I missed any?

1 January 2012

Homestall Road Sports Ground

Residents of Homestall, Mundania and Colyton Road will be aware that there are some proposals to develop parts of the Homestall Road Sports Ground. The sports ground is the home of teams representing Athenlay Football Club.

Some residents are delighted that sports facilities are going to be improved for local young people, but for some this is tempered by an understandable concern that development will lead to over-intensive use of the site which will cause disturbance to their home life.

The problems which Southwark Council has been seeking to solve, in partnership with the club and local people, are:

- The general poor condition of the sports ground
- In particular the poor drainage and quality of the pitches
- The lack of decent changing provision on site.

I think it would be fair to say that early on in this project, the council’s communications with local residents were not good. A proposal (now abandoned) was developed with the local Harris Academy. These proposals were not informed by the views of local residents. Thankfully, this proposal is something of a red-herring, as it is not now being pursued.

At the end of October the project was awarded funding from Sports England’s Protecting Playing Field Fund, and Southwark Council Olympic Capital Legacy fund. This funding will be used solely to address the quality issues of the grass pitches, with works including improvement to the drainage and quality of the pitches. The work will not begin prior to May/June 2012. We have visited the site with council officers and it was made clear at that meeting that all that was going ahead were improvements to the existing grass pitches. Consequently, for residents the changes would result in little more than the pitches looking greener and healthier in the future.

As your local councillors we have secured assurances from council officers that any further stages in the project will be based on full, open and substantive consultation with local residents. Future developments which are being considered include a mini Astro pitch and the changing rooms being rebuilt. Certainly the latter, if built on the existing changing room ‘footprint’ would be a welcome improvement on the current very poor facilities that the teams currently have to use. Council officers (as well as ourselves) are aware of local concerns and are committed to improving the facilities. Nobody wants to see the ‘over-development’ of a site in a residential area. We will make sure we keep you up to date as the plans and consultation develop.

Following an initial meeting and correspondence with several concerned residents a larger meeting about these changes is currently being arranged which anyone can attend. Council officers and local councillors will be there. As soon as I have a date for this meeting I will let you know.

PS: Happy New Year to everyone in the Peckham Rye area!