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Southwark's halls of shame

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Southwark's halls of shame

Earlier this week, we were stunned to read that, allegedly, British Cycling has called Southwark a 'cycling Mecca'. It may well be that, if someone from British Cycling did indeed say that, they simply aren't aware of Southwark's abysmal policies and practices when it comes to cycling. Or environment. Or democracy. Or planning. Or housing.

Southwark is a cycling Mecca as much as it's a Mecca for education (because it has more than one school), or a Mecca for democracy because it has councillors. While 'wailing wall' would've been a more suitable geographical reference, in Southwark, the only thing there can be are Halls of shame.

The transport hall of shame

The spin about cycling isn't fooling anyone any more. A few years back, Southwark's Labour council approved a 'Transport Plan' which, while not proposing any measures which might 'inconvenience' car drivers, included programmes for 'Pedestrian Training', and which, in spite of the 'plan' quoting no evidence of more people and children cycling because they've had cycling training, proposed to waste more money on cycle training. What it was never going to do was create a network of safe, segregated cycling routes across the whole borough.

In 2012, Cllr John, leader of the council, grandly pledged his support for safer cycling and 'Go Dutch' principles which many, naively, thought was in fact a U-turn to adopted Southwark policies and expected the Transport Plan to be scrapped and re-consulted on etc. None of it ever happened and all the announcement achieved was Cllr John getting some press attention for himself and/or Southwark Labour.

Earlier this year, the plans for Peckham and Nunhead Area Action Plan revealed that previously promised cycling lanes were not happening. Most recently, the council has come up with draft standards which completely go back on all of the previous promises, as the draft document states

  • no cycle lanes to be provided on 20 mph roads, potentially even when they are main roads with heavy traffic, and removing existing lanes on these roads.

  • advisory cycle lanes may be introduced on 30 mph roads, but not necessarily, and should never be mandatory or segregated (protected) and shouldn't take priority over parked cars

You can read a further analysis here.

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The environment hall of shame

OK, so they didn't do a good job with transport, but hey, they've 'revitalised' Burgess Park, that's good, right?

In reality, all we have seen this administration do is treat the 'environment' with the same contempt it shows to the people who live in it. Both are easily disposable whenever needed.

Back in 2010, shrubbery was 'making it easier for people to rob others'. Let this sink in then imagine any one plant (including shrubbery) luring people towards them and/or telepathically? Urging them to commit crime. The shrubbery had to go and make room for 'clear lines of sight' with orderly plant life bordering the straight paths in an orderly fashion.

Trees, in spite of the fact that many have been planted before the buildings, roads, etc, are regularly 'in the way' of whatever the latest bit of brick or concrete council's decision makers have dreamt up.

Because 'environment' is a separate entity from people, they can talk about 'enhancing' orchards by destroying them. Or the orchards can, certainly not by willingly or independently transforming themselves from orchards into, say, airplanes, go from 'orchards' in 2010, to 'so-called orchards' in 2012, when a councillor happens to need a legacy to make sure they are re-elected.

Environment gets 'protection' only on paper. In reality, every single one bit of green, open or public space that has not been taken up by a preferrably commercial development, is now up for grabs. We have said this too many times in the past, but we will repeat it again: fewer green spaces mean more air pollution; more air pollution means more ill people; if more people are ill or ill more often, they won't be able to work quite as much as they would if they were in good health, ie the economy suffers; more ill people mean bigger health costs which means less money for something else or higher taxes to make up for the deficit; fewer green spaces mean fewer birds and bees and insects and irrepearable damage to the already unbalanced urban eco-systems. The careerist short-termism, of which we have seen plenty of evidence over the last three years, is just unacceptable.

Most recently, there was the case of private nursery being built on Metropolitan Open Land, (which, officially, has another level of protection, namely in London Plan), before the planning application had even been discussed, let alone approved, at the planning committee meeting.

Balcombe anti-fracking protests brought out another revelation about the current bunch, namely that some (or all?) of them don't actually have opinions on local matters, but are simply vessels for whatever the national Labour party stance is. Just how those kind of people are 'representing' you is anyone's guess.

When it comes to fracking, national labour party 'needs to be sure it's safe' rather than even remotely considers alternative, free sun and wind energy sources. Cllr Peter John went one step further, offering this 'advice'

peterjohn20aug2013

The austerity hall of shame

And then there were claims about how much this administration cared for the most vulnerable in the borough. They cared so much that, the moment the 'evil government' (which it most certainly is) announced changes to benefits, the labour 'opposition' in Westminster shrugged their shoulders and our local council just got on with making sure thousands of Southwark residents were asked for council tax and 'extra bedroom' money. The 'big' Labour Party made it clear from the start that the 'cuts were necessary' and that, as soon as they came into power, they'd continue with the 'evil' policies. Locally, because the council 'cares', they held a number of events around Southwark to tell people how to budget better so they can pay for the 'evil' cuts but not how to make money out of thin air to be able to 'budget' at all, which is the reality for far too many of us.

Some of the Southwark Labour Cabinet members, who had made the decision to stop council tax benefits to people who were previously getting it and ask for the bedroom tax contributions, signed the petition asking Southwark Council (and themselves) to pledge they would not evict people who fall into arrears over council and bedroom tax.

The Heygate hall of shame

In 2009, Cllr Peter John was quoted as saying, 'The deal with Lend Lease amounts to little more than throwing Heygate residents out of their homes and building new luxury housing which they won’t be able to afford.'

Come summer 2010, however, and the deal with Lend Lease, or, let's not beat about it, the rip-off, is rushed through, its full scandal unravelling only three years later. The outline planning application for the Heygate was approved although even the councillors who are on the planning committee had not been allowed to see the viability assessment.

Following Information Commissioner's decision that the council should make the viability assessment public, because it is very much in public interest, the council are likely to be appealing this, because 'public' matters less than Lend Lease's interests?

'One the Elephant' was granted permission in spite of 0% affordable, let alone any council housing. Heygate was granted permission in spite of insufficient affordable and council housing, in spite of numerous breaches of council's own planning policies, in spite of there not being any evidence whatsoever that 'regenerations' ever benefit existing residents.

Yet, unperturbed by any of it, Cllr Fiona Colley (Cabinet Member for Regeneration), continues with the well-rehearsed, 'some people don't like change', because...

  • They just cannot undestand how half of existing public green space can be bigger than what's there now and how it can be 'biggest new park in 70 years'.
  • They cannot understand how throwing 1,200 families out of their homes to make room for twice as many homes none of the 1,200 will be able to live in is good for them.
  • They cannot understand how giving peanuts to leaseholders so that they cannot afford a new home in the area is good for the leaseholders.
  • They cannot understand how no car parking in new developments policy means 600+ car parking spaces when Lend Lease needs it.
  • They cannot understand why we should believe there would be 5,000 new jobs when there's no evidence to support it.

If none of us living and working in Southwark now are going to benefit from this scandal, just who, apart from Lend Lease, is?

So, when Cllr John announces 'we will build 10,000 new homes over the next 30 years', what are we to do? 'Believe' because they have showed they care and/or get things done for local residents? Vote Labour for the next 30 years to make sure it happens? Just say 'wahey!' and not question anything, because questioning means disagreement?

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The democracy hall of shame

Democracy 'has left the building' at least three years ago. This administration seems incapable of not just engaging with anyone but the chosen few, but also not allowing anyone but the chosen few to know anything much. This works really well on a number of levels:

  • It allows the few to feel special and appreciated.

  • It allows the rest to feel divided and easily controlled.

  • It makes the rest turn against each other in the fight for 'affection/acknowledgment/appreciation', rather than the dividers themselves.

  • It allows the 'dividers' to continue churning out quite incredulous announcements, in which local residents are expected to be justified and ancient, and never be asked to explain.

The one thing this ain't is democracy.

Outside the circus

If the people who we 'elected' got the environment, transport, planning, 'regeneration', 'austerity' and basic democracy so wrong, how likely are they to be doing better in other areas? The council is currently running 'community conversations' about how the council spends our money, inviting local residents to propose a total of 7% cut to the budget. This, in theory, is a good thing. However, in a culture of deliberate secrecy (where anything worth knowing can only, sometimes, be found out through Freedom of Information requests), no right of say in decision making (where contracts for services are given without any of us being asked about it), unaccountable 'elected' representatives and even less accountable council offices, this latest exercise is pretty useless.

Southwark has had three years of nothing more than hot air all round. Hot air can at best be unpleasant, and at worst disastrous. We have the power to change this, by not granting the privilege to speak and act on our behalf to those prone to high hot air emissions. It really is as simple as that and we in Southwark really need to get our own house in order first.

Small or big acts of peaceful resistance can be incredibly empowering and inspiring and as valid as any one 'formal' challenges.

Growing number of people are considering standing as independent candidates in the next local elections, which is an option, especially as the there is a palpable disenfranchisement from the three 'main' political parties.

Others, from Occupy movement to environment, housing and other campaigns are actively working on alternative, non-hierarchical ways of organising and acting, which is as important.

Creative, peaceful acts of resistance are as

There are many many more of us than them. And we can and need to do it now.

 

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