News and Views

Select a topic from the menu(s) above, or keep reading for all our latest news and views. You can also download copies of our community newsletters, or read A Green Voice For Southwark, our blog about Southwark news and local issues, with a focus on Camberwell and Peckham.

Elephant & Castle: Latin American community still not getting proper answers

Following ongoing community pressure, the planning application to demolish Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and London College of Communication will now not be reconsidered by councillors until after the local election on 3rd May.

Southwark Labour pushed through the previous controversial demolition of the Heygate Estate two months after winning a council election.

Latin American community newspaper editor Lina Usma said:

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We need a Green Economic Zone

Southwark Council leader Peter John stated there was “no alternative” to displacing existing communities and building only 3% social rented units throughout the Elephant & Castle Opportunity Area (OA). He was wrong in principle and in fact.

I would counter this regressive OA model with a Green Economic Zone. “We need local economies that put communities first, and provide opportunity, dignity and well-being. Whole rivers of wealth run through local places. We need to capture it, because it already belongs to us,” say progressive economic thinkers CLES.

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The Big Spring Dance

A massive thank you to our co-hosts the Friends of Brunswick Park and wonderful band Ceilidh Tree for making our Big Spring Dance such a fab evening. Guests of all ages from across our community were instructed in the art of the do-si-do and the right-hand star, and a good time was had by all. There have already been several requests to do it all over again! Thank you too to Father Nick and Fatima at St Giles church for use of the splendid parish hall, and to the Kernel Brewery, Bermondsey, and the Hill Bakery, Camberwell, for supplies of excellent beer, wine, bread and cheese.

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Starting small, buying in bulk

Making an impact at the neighbourhood level

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A few months ago, a group of neighbours in Nunhead met up to see how we we might act collectively encourage environmentally friendly initiatives. I took responsibility for setting up a bulk buying scheme. We wanted to see how small initiatives such as this could deliver a reduction in waste including fuel and single-use plastic plus encourage positive community action on a neighbourhood level. In addition, it would also make buying ecologically friendly products easier and more affordable than would be the case individually.

The first task was to gauge interest via an online poll on the community’s social media page. Fifteen neighbours expressed an interest and a week or so later we placed the first order for the most popular items (washing up liquid, laundry detergent, dishwasher tablets, handwash and shower gel). The weekend after delivery from a single ethical online retailer we ‘set up shop’ and neighbours called by to collect their choice of products. 

 

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"Affordable" housing is not affordable

Betiel Mahari campaigning in the streets with her \Betiel Mehari is a single mother who became a housing activist to try to save her own home.

Betiel works in retail on a zero-hours contract. She lived on the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton for 11 years, until her family lost their home when the estate was completely demolished by housing association Guinness Partnership in a £75m "regeneration" scheme. She was forced to leave Brixton, losing her much valued local community, with huge disruption to her family. ("That's what regeneration does," she says.) Rehoused in a smaller flat in Newington with no balcony, her two children (aged 11 and 10) are now commuting the lengthy distance from Newington to Brixton in order to maintain their educational stability and friends.

Furthermore, Guinness whacked up the rent in the family's new flat, from a "social rent" of £109 per week to a so-called "affordable rent" of £265 per week. Although Betiel had been a Guinness tenant for 11 years, Guinness claimed that demolishing her flat and rehousing her had created "a new tenancy".

Betiel says: "'Affordable' rent is a con. You'd assume it's based on wages, but it's not. It's set at 80% of market rents, not according to any measure of actual affordability. With two kids it requires an income of £35,000, which is higher than the national average. This measure puts us at the mercy of the housing market - it's absolute madness."

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Cleaning as if health matters

Ekaterina Belcheva - eco-friendly cleaning entrepreneurEco-friendly cleaning business owner Ekaterina Belcheva recently appeared on Sky News to showcase sustainable cleaning techniques.

New research suggests that lung function decline in women working as cleaners or regularly using cleaning products at home was comparable to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years.

The researchers speculated chemicals in cleaning products irritate the fragile mucous membranes lining the lungs, which over time leads to lasting damage and “remodelling” of the airways. 

"When you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all," said Øistein Svanes, a doctoral student who led the study.

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Walworth Town Hall is being stealthily sold off by Southwark Labour

David Powell and Ekaterina Belcheva outside Newington Town HallThe historic Walworth Town Hall building on Walworth Road, and the Newington Library next door which houses the Cuming Museum, suffered significant damage in a fire in 2013. In 2015 plans were drawn up for the comprehensive redevelopment of the buildings, but Southwark Council has now paused these plans. They were costed at around £40 million, almost twice as much as the original budget. Evidently there was no adequate fire insurance policy despite the fact that both these Edwardian buildings are Grade 2 listed.

Labour-run Southwark Council has never published the results of its last public consultation on the future of the building. Instead, it has published a glossy website walworthtownhall.com proclaiming an "opportunity" for "investors, developers, businesses, organisations or other consortia" to express their interest in "play[ing] their part in reviving this historic gem". The council proclaims its willingness to consider "ancillary and complementary commercial uses" alongside arts and culture uses retaining "some genuine public access to... parts of the site".

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School budget cuts are harming our children's education

A governor of a local primary school has spoken of his great concern about the impact of budget cuts on our local schools.

More and more school tests, more and more stress on pupils and teachers alike

David Powell, who is also a visiting instrumental tutor in several Southwark primary schools, said: "It seems very likely that there will be a big reduction in Southwark this year, and possibly further cuts in future years. Despite some careful budgeting by schools aiming to protect excellence in teaching and learning, with the likely decrease in Pupil Premium it looks likely that children from poorer families are going to lose much-needed support. Many schools are already finding it difficult to cater for the significant rise in Special Educational Needs, particularly autism.

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Big Spring Dance

Text: 'Big Spring Dance' over photo of people dancing

Friday March 23rd 7:30pm - 10:30pm, St Giles Parish Hall, 161 Benhill Rd, Camberwell SE5 7LL

The wonderful band Ceilidh Tree ("London's finest ceilidh band" - Evening Standard) are coming to Camberwell to play at our big community social, hosted jointly with Friends of Brunswick Park. The band plays upbeat Scottish & Irish folk tunes on fiddle, guitar, whistle, banjo & melodeon. A 'caller' explains the dances - everyone can take part, of all ages and abilities.

Full details and tickets here... 

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Proposal for 500 homes on Parkhouse Street

Members of the Wells Way Triangle Residents Association have organised informal workshops to help local people look at the plans for redevelopment of Burgess Business Park on Parkhouse Street. The proposal, dubbed 'Camberwell Union' by the developers, would create 505 residential units. The developers claim that with target profit margins of of 17.5% for private residential, 16.67% on commercial, and 6.0% on affordable units - agreed as 'reasonable' by the council's 'viability consultant' - they would not be able to provide 35% affordable housing.

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Reporting abandoned bikes

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We asked Southwark Greens what they've been up to to keep the streets tidy...

What do you do when you see a bike rusting away on the street or on a council estate?
Eleanor: It's sad to see an unloved bike! I do a quick check that it really is abandoned. Rusty chains and missing wheels are a good clue. Then I report abandoned bikes on the Southwark Council website. The council cleaning team puts a note on the bike, giving a week or two for it to be claimed by its owner.

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What happens next?
Eleanor: After a further month in storage to allow owners to get in touch, unclaimed bikes are passed on to local charities like the brilliant Bike Project on Champion Hill. They refurbish old bikes and donate them to refugees. Someone gets a bike of their own and the freedom to get around locally. A bike parking space is freed up for other people who need to use it. And we all get rid of a trip hazard and eyesore. It’s win-win-win!

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A growing solution

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The playground of Goose Green Primary School in East Dulwich is full of activity: there’s a water area where children can create rushing rivers or meandering streams and a music station with percussion and wind instruments, as well as plenty of joyful running about for no apparent reason. But the playground is adjacent to a very busy road carrying 5 bus routes, a main route between Camberwell and the South Circular. It’s one of 1,148 schools in London within 150 metres of roads carrying 10,000 or more vehicles per day.

In 2017, David Jennings and Eleanor Margolies, members of Southwark Green Party, measured nitrogen dioxide levels outside the school as part of an area-wide study.

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Southwark Labour misses its council homebuilding promise

After the 2014 local elections, Southwark's Labour-run council promised they would build 1,500 new council homes by the end of 2018. Now Councillor Mark Williams, lead for regeneration and new homes, has admitted "we will not be meeting this target".

Peter_Baffoe_housing.jpgOnly 400 new homes will have been built - less than one-third of the local Labour promise. Southwark Labour's 2014 manifesto had promised 11,000 new homes, but it didn't say how long they would need to meet this pledge. It has since emerged that the Labour-dominated Council's official homebuilding targets stretch to the year 2043 - 25 years away from now.

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Southwark Council's failure of leadership is hurting Elephant's traders and Latin community

"Before the application we hadn't seen local councillors for 2-3 years"

Diverse small traders facing displacement in Elephant & Castle regeneration are already having their livelihoods damaged by Southwark Council indifference. The Latin American community hub remains particularly at risk without proper guarantees. 

Adriana Hoyos Rojas representing local traders at Southwark's Planning CommitteeElephant Artworks boxpark will be closing down by the end of this year to make way for new flats. Developers Delancey are offering a 'new' boxpark as replacement temporary accommodation for displaced Shopping Centre businesses. Yet Elephant-based lawyer Adriana Hoyos Rojas, Latin community rep in the Elephant traders' deputation, said: "We first heard about this on social media. We've not been told the cost, quantity or duration of units in the 'new' boxpark. Traders have no information about notice to vacate. Legal advice offered to traders is not independent.

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Elephant & Castle regeneration: Make the developers pay for a fairer housing deal

In December, property developers Delancey put in an application to demolish Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and London College of Communication. Councillors on Southwark Council’s Planning Committee refused to approve the plan, yet accommodated an eleventh-hour promise from Delancey to make an improved offer. This means the committee will hear the proposal again this month.

Shopping Centre doors closed during trading hours

Meanwhile, the Shopping Centre is being run down, conveniently bolstering the claimed 'need' for demolition. Certain entrances are now being closed during trading hours (right). Empty units are no longer available for re-let, enhancing a 'ghost town' feel. Escalators have been left broken for long periods. Pedestrian access has been unsatisfactory since removal of subways. Yet the building is structurally sound and could be imaginatively refurbished, re-landscaped and re-clad. This would avoid nine years of environmental destruction, intense construction noise, degraded local shopping and leisure facilities, and enormous disruption to nearby residents' home delivery access.

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Million-pound home sits empty as homelessness grows

Eleanor Margolies slams council inaction on Camberwell house

A four-bedroom house in Camberwell has been left unoccupied for 20 years.

Eleanor Margolies: Standing up for action on empty homesLocal resident Eleanor Margolies said, "In 2002, I contacted Southwark Council about this house. I was told that the council was “in negotiations” with the owner. It's a scandal that the house is still empty and rotting away 15 years later. This is a shocking waste when so many in Southwark are in need of a home."

Local councils can make a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of unoccupied buildings. Or they can use an Empty Dwelling Management Order — they have to pay to refurbish the building but keep the rental income afterwards.

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Get trains back on track

Peckham Rye stationOur stations are dangerously overcrowded

Local people are increasingly worried about overcrowding at Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye stations. Susie Wheeldon, who lives in Peckham, says: "It’s scary to see platforms and entrances jam-packed at rush hour. And it’s unbelievable that there’s still no step-free access at Peckham Rye!"

Rail fares rose by 3.4% on 1 January — up to £150 extra per year. Fares have risen twice as much as pay in the last eight years. Shareholders made billions of pounds in profits last year, while passengers saw services delayed, disrupted and cancelled. This has to change.

We’re calling for a new exit at Denmark Hill and for lifts to be installed at Peckham Rye as a matter of urgency.

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Walworth's air is illegal

Measuring_tube.jpgWalworth’s air contains levels of a harmful pollutant which greatly exceed European and World Health Organisation standards, shows new research by Southwark Green Party.

Laboratory analysis of air samples taken by local Green parliamentary candidate John Tyson last autumn found nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels at Bricklayers Arms (where New Kent Road, Old Kent Road and Tower Bridge Road meet) were nearly double the EU limit. Studies have shown that excessive NO2 worsens shortness of breath, coughing and lung inflammation, particularly for people with asthma.

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"Opportunity for change": Opportunity for whom?

Heygate_demolition.jpegWe all know the answer to “Opportunity for Whom?” Disregard for existing communities has been the keynote of the Elephant & Castle Opportunity Area. The Mayor’s new London Plan has big ambitions, in particular the target of 65,000 new homes a year, delivered mainly through additional Opportunity Areas across the city. But they will fail unless London stops ignoring or actively displacing existing communities in so-called regenerations, and instead puts them first. A formal recognition of Existing Communities would include a Right to Community, with clear definitions of community and a set of subsidiary rights, including to clean air.

This is an opportunity for change: combining big principles, clear entitlements, and a guerilla localism to bring the benefits of development home.

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Stop the Aylesbury social cleansing

Keep the community together, say local campaigners and Green Party

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Aylesbury residents have been fighting plans from Labour-run Southwark Council to demolish their homes. The second public inquiry is due to complete in April. Across the Aylesbury, 2,700 council homes are to be destroyed. None will be built in their place. Previous experience of the Heygate demolition suggests council tenants will be rehoused in scattered locations across Southwark, losing their communities while rents may increase.

Aylesbury Estate homeowners are being hit with Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) which will force them out with payoffs much too low to buy any other property in the area or even in London. The UK Government previously recognised that Southwark’s plans breach the homeowners’ human rights.

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