09 December 2006

Long live SoniaJi!

It's Sonia Gandhi's 60th birthday today, and I never thought I'd see a politician (anywhere) being feted this much! I'll show this to Steve Bullock and see if he thinks the adoring populace of Lewisham should arrange something similar for his next...

02 December 2006

Housing Matters

Yes it does!

Last Thursday evening saw a 'social' event for those of us on the Shadow Board ("shadow" until it formally comes into existence) of Lewisham Homes to meet candidates for the Cheif Executive's post.

Then a rush downstairs to join in a slightly odd Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting (that's all the councillors who aren't in the Cabinet - so Labour has a serious lack of majority there) which was deciding on a LibDem proposal to set up a scrutiny subcommittee for the apparent worthy purpose of looking at problems in Housing (repairs, rent collection, prompt re-letting, etc). "Apparently" worthy, because (I suspect) all they actually want to do is rake over the deficiencies (and there were quite a lot) found in a report, requested by the Council a few months ago from the Audit Commission, to help us identify what needed improving as we set up Lewisham Homes to do so. (The LibDems triumphantly "found" this public report before a recent Full Council meeting, then tried to use it to suggest that it was something quite different.)

Meanwhile, I'd much rather devote my time more positively to getting involved in running Lewisham Homes and improving things, than agonise about what the problems used to be. I think the Council's tenants and leaseholders (who are directly represented by the largest number of members of the Shadow Board, outnumbering councillors 7 to 3) would prefer that.

...and the evening wasn't over then! A rather long meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee then approved a vast new housing scheme (270 flats, I think, plus some shop units) to go on part of the Silk Mills Path site between Tesco's and the Greenwich border and Elverson Road DLR station.

By the same time the next night (Friday) I was well on my way to New Delhi, where I'll be until next weekend for a digital libraries conference. I'm in a rather strange hotel at the moment, and the building site next door seems to keep very late working hours for a Saturday (it's 7:45pm, although my laptop and blog are still on Lewisham time).

23 November 2006


It's so good having an opposition, and proper arguments in Full Council meetings! They're in danger of becoming seriously entertaining!

One of the best bits last night was Stephen Padmore's contribution to the 'class war' debate (on a motion about Monson School and Aske's). He was positively evangelical, proving that there's still an overwhelming Labour majority when it comes to serious professional shouting. When he started talking about how so many hundreds of the working class people of New Cross flock to his house, to rejoice in the aura of Socialism there (but not of Socialist Party councillors, obviously), it did occur to me (I'm only two seats away from his usual pulpit in the Council chamber) to check that he'd already got the proper planning permission to use it as a place of worship (Class D1 of the Use Classes Order 1987, and all that). But I'm sure he would have. There was even someone joining-in from the public gallery, but he might have been speaking in tongues because his point wasn't as crystal clear as Stephen's.

I'm definitely going to suggest that (in the interests of open democracy, etc, etc) we start streaming Council meetings as video. The only problem with that is likely to be the technology, because one of the things that adds an extra frisson at present is the plain old PA stuff we have now - the uncertainty, when anyone stands up to speak, of knowing who's mike is going to get switched-on, and who (else's) name is going to come up on the screen that says how much of their 5 minutes they have left. But, of course, Lewisham's a much too austere and responsible council to waste the taxpayer's money on that sort of stuff lightly.

So to appreciate the full experience, you'll still have to regard it as live theatre and come along - as Max Calo did, to bask (and be fair - he deserves it just a bit) briefly in the warm reflection of Good Steve Bullock's* selfless heroism in saving Ladywell Pool.

[* We heard about Bad Steve Bullock, the Mayor's EvilTwin, from the LibDems too - but such was the spirit of righteousness and brotherhood in the Council chamber last night, he definitely didn't show his face.]

21 November 2006

Wandering Lonely

I don't usually blog other websites (I don't have enough time to write about what I promised on R-Wote-GHC, anyway), but here's one talking about special needs education in Lewisham -
Wandering Lonely

20 November 2006

Planning a Marathon

[still catching-up here...]

My last Planning Committee on Thursday 9th November again attracted a large 'angry mob'* - one of those that requires an urgent import of extra chairs at the back, complaints about the PA system being too weedy (which it is), and anxious hovering around by Pat Merry and her security staff at the Civic Suite.

This time people came mainly about two controversial applications. The first was the Green Man pub site in Bromley Road (Whitefoot ward), which we ended up airing for 90 minutes and refused, against the planning officers' advice (but for what I thought were a sustainable set of reasons, so we may stand a good chance of winning the almost inevitable appeal against it). There was a lot of discussion of the profitability for the developer of various proportions of affordable housing, although I don't think it's useful to stray too far into that because it's not really a material planning issue (any more than the "it'll reduce the value of my property" from an objector next door to a development).

After that marathon we dealt with the flats/shop/cafe on the derelict Finches site at the back of Forest Hill station. Again there were a lot of issues to consider, but it was approved and I believe it represents a good compromise of design, profitable (enough) development and regeneration of that rather down-at-heel area. I'm waiting to see how quickly they can at least clean up the rubbish that's been dumped around the site.

And after that, there were still 4 or 5 items, with people waiting patiently to get their fair hearing - which they did. All credit to the worthy members and officers who stuck it out until well past 11pm!

[* 'Angry mobs': Cllr Chris Maines seemed to think that I was being somehow derogatory to the (minority of) people who take the trouble to come and participate in the Planning process, by referring in a previous post to what I thought was his bad behaviour for the benefit of, or to further excite the 'angry mob'. Far from it - I have the greatest respect for them as individuals with opinions, I know the power of getting a lot of like-minded people together to make a point (isn't that what political parties are supposed to be about?) and sometimes I'm even scared of them! But democratic decisions are not (or at least shouldn't be) made according to the number of people who turn out to protest, or those that shout loudest. And I still manage to retain a sense of humour, and write honestly about what I think, even though these still appear to be career-limiting traits to people who think politics is a career.]

A busy Saturday

Saturday (18-Nov) was action-packed, starting with attending the opening of Forest Hill School's new sports centre by Steve Bullock (no doubt some of those potentially cringeworthy photos in which we were posed on bits of gym machinery will find their way into the public domain - despite my warning to avoid "Andrew Brown moments" ;->).

Next I dashed to the AGM of Friends of CyberZone (their website can tell you what it is) in time to get re-elected to their management committee (as a parent/user). I failed (yet again) to get this blog up-to-date on Sunday, as I'd planned, because I spent too much of it putting together some blog and wiki tools for CyberZone to experiment with, because the kids (and most of the adults) involved can't contribute to the website they have.

From there I was stuck in traffic getting from Deptford to Blackheath, and so missed the beginning of the presentation of awards to "looked-after children". But I got there in time for the actual presentations and only missed speeches from Steve and Frankie (the "corporate mummie", as she likes to put it) Sulke. Having adopted two children ourselves (and fostered them for a while in the process) I've learned a bit about the deal some of them get from being in the care of a local authority, and something like this makes up (just a bit) for not having a 'real' mum and dad there to say "well done" when you need it.

In the evening I got to Andrew Brown's pub meeting of Lewisham-based bloggers - an event that deserves much coverage all of its' own. I'm sure one (or all) of them will have got down to that already, must check...

04 November 2006

A different view from the station

Originally uploaded by John Paschoud.
Here's one of my photos, taken from a viewpoint just in front of the help-point on platform 1 of Forest Hill station, with a view of Christ Church steeple that might be affected by a development on the Finches site.

03 November 2006

Suitable Cases for Treatment

Another rip-roaring Full Council meeting this Wednesday, with some yellow (as well as red) blood spilled this time. I'm sure the full not-so-biased account will be reported somewhere, so I'll save my version.

Thursday night I had to divide between 3 meetings going on at the same time: one at the constituency Labour Party about selection of our parliamentary candidate; the first meeting of the Lewisham School Governors Association (probably the most worthy of attending, but I didn't need the introduction to the Cabinet and what they do); and a demo of candidates for yet another possible incarnation of a Council-operated "Online Members Casework Sysytem".

I'll ask the other 3 councillors who were there for their thoughts, as I only caught the first half-hour of that (so I only saw the first presentation). Being wary of IT vendors getting huffy (or litigious) about me publishing any honest thoughts about their products or services, I'll say only that I think the Council officers putting together the requirements for this have a perfectly good case for a corporate complaints-handling system (which may stop some people getting so frustrated that they resort to seeking help from councillors - although perhaps we do actually want to hear about how services fail people). But I don't think they really understand the nature of what councillors do (or should do?) about handling casework, and how we use it to influence scrutiny, campaigning, or recognising wider issues (that surface as personal cases) that need some political input. And many of the things people contact local councillors about aren't run by the Council - they're transport services, or health services, or roads looked-after by TfL, or things that should be referred to the right MP.

I'm sure that sounds much too cynical, but I've watched them misunderstand casework for about 13 years so far... so I suppose I am.

29 October 2006

The View from the Station

I don't use the train to commute every day, but I noticed a few days ago that someone (who?) has at least addressed one of the minor things that made it unpleasant to use. The pavement at the foot of the steps down from platform 2 has been tarmacced(sp?), and all the big puddles and
trip hazards are gone!

Of more potential impact on the Perry Vale side of the station is the likely development on the Finches site. I'll make no comment on what I think about the proposed flats (because it may well come to my Planning Committee). I did ask the developers to produce another simulated photo,
to show the impact on the view across Christchurch from the vantage point of platform 1 of the station (a place where a significant number of Perry Vale and Forest Hill residents must spend a while, every weekday). A vast A3-sized booklet duly arrived in my post, with more photos than the Alice's Restaurant crime-scene (the photograph, the photographer taking the photo, the paint-mark showing the spot from which the photographer took the photo...) ; but they chose one of the few spots from which you can't see the bloody church anyway! - demonstrating (I presume) that the impact of their development on the 'local strategic view' will be zero, as long it's a rainy day and you're one of those passengers who huddles under the footbridge!

So my todo list for this afternoon (I think that's when the sun should be in the same place) includes going to the station and taking some photos of Christchurch myself, if only to prove that I can see it from (most of) the platform.

09 October 2006

So far, and yet so near

Oh no! A month's gap without blogging anything! Have I been in a coma? Have I been totally neglecting my councillor-ing duties? No, in fact I've done lots, but have felt short of either the time or the motivation to write about them.

Right now, ironically, I have most of a week 'off' from doing anything as a councillor. My job has taken me to Dallas for the week, to the Educause 2006 Conference, to present a panel session about access to online content for the UK education community. Of course the Internet connectivity from the conference (and from any self-respecting US city hotel) should be excellent, so I'll try and do some catching-up, starting with a couple of interesting (and useful) events last week.