Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan has talked to Ladywell Live about the environment; healthy neighbourhoods; recycling; social housing; knife crime, assembly funds and speeding.
In response to our questions covering a wide range of topics, the mayor tells LL that Lewisham is soon to set up its first healthy neighbourhood; is consulting on increasing parking charges for higher emission vehicles; and is determined to deliver a high number of social homes. He backs a public health approach to knife crime, says Lewisham is developing People Panels to increase public engagement; and is hopeful the Play Tower development will go ahead. Read the full interview below.
LL – The recent London protests by Extinction Rebellion have raised public awareness of the urgent need to limit carbon emissions. The Labour Party has persuaded UK Parliament to declare a climate emergency. What action can Ladywell residents take to tackle air pollution and environmental degradation and how will the Council be supporting them in that?
DE – Lewisham was one of the first Councils in the country to declare a climate emergency and I am pleased that parliament now has too. Tackling air pollution and climate change go hand in hand.Cllr Tauseef Anwar brought the motion that resolved for the council to declare a climate emergency alongside our Clean Air Champion Cllr Louise Kruspki. In her role, Cllr Krupski has met a wide range of community groups and supported local initiatives, and also meets council officers regularly to discuss what more can be done to improve air quality in the borough.
There are a number of council schemes that support residents to make those small changes that make a big difference. Our healthy neighbourhood programme will change our streets to encourage more people to walk and cycle rather than drive. Subject to securing funding from Sadiq Khan, there will be a range of measures such as traffic management and road closures that will help to make our communities greener and healthier. The first healthy neighbourhood is launching in Lee Green.
We are promoting cycling across Lewisham, including working with Transport for London and residents to develop Cycle Superhighway 4. Over 1,800 residents have also taken up our cycle loan scheme, where they can rent a bike for four weeks for just £10 and then purchase the bike at the end of the month at a reduced rate.
Pollutants from car engines contribute significantly to our air quality, which is why we’ve been taking steps to limit their impact. This includes campaigning successfully for the Ultra Low Emission Zone to be extended to Lewisham, building on our anti-idling programme to protect our most polluted playgrounds and installing more electric vehicle charging points. We are also consulting on changes to our parking policy that would see it cost more to park vehicles that produce higher emissions.
Finally, we are making progress on our pledges to provide water fountains in parks and public spaces to reduce plastic waste, and provide cycle storage in every neighbourhood. Lewisham has also increased its recycling rates by introducing food waste recycling, which has been very popular with residents and allowed them to reduce their black bin waste.
LL – The PLACE/Ladywell pop-up village was an innovative approach to tackling the housing crisis for too many homeless families. Will there be provision for social housing in the new redevelopment of PLACE being planned for 2020?
DE – I’m really proud of PLACE/Ladywell, which just the other week won another award for its innovative approach to the housing crisis facing London. We have three more similar modular developments planned in Lee, Sydenham and Deptford, which will lift 112 homeless families out of emergency hostels and bed and breakfasts.
There absolutely will be a high number of social housing units in the new redevelopment, as we work towards delivering 1,000 new social homes by 2022. We are currently looking at different options to maximise council housing. I have told officers that I expect to have proposals for relocating the development towards the end of the year.
LL – The Lewisham Deptford MP, Vicky Foxcroft, has been vocal in her support for a public health approach to the scourge of knife crime. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a new public health approach to tackling serious violence. Do you support this approach? If so, what are the implications for us in Lewisham?
DE – Vicky Foxcroft is doing fantastic work in parliament by holding the Government to account and leading the way in arguing for a public health approach. We absolutely support this approach and stood on a manifesto to introduce one in Lewisham.
We have been very busy over the last 12 months working on how to adapt this to Lewisham. At Mayor and Cabinet last week, we approved Lewisham’s public health approach to reducing violence, which set out our new approach to tackling serious violence. This includes setting up a violence reduction board and consultation with the community to create a strategy. We are also in close contact with the London Violence Reduction Unit and are working collaboratively towards a pan-London public health approach to serious violence.
LL – Lewisham broke new ground in efforts to empower and engage with neighbourhood communities when it set up its system of ward based local assemblies. Assemblies helped empower local communities and increase council engagement with neighbourhoods. The council’s recent local democracy review has looked at ways of increasing public involvement in council affairs and enhancing openness and transparency in decision making. In what ways do you propose to develop and strengthen local assemblies to achieve these aims?
DE – Lewisham local assemblies are a really powerful community tool. That is why we are looking at ways to reach those who wouldn’t usually choose to attend an assembly meeting.
In addition, we know that ward boundaries are usually larger and don’t always reflect the local area people identify with. Therefore, we are looking at what place-based working can be done to engage our local communities within wards. In addition to our assemblies, we are developing People Panels to engage with seldom-heard voices to help ensure we engage our community in a representative way.
LL – Lewisham has been hit hard by government funding cuts. The small amount of funding provided to local assemblies has been cut as a result, threatening to undermine the valuable role assemblies play in supporting local initiatives and activities. The council is considering replacing some of these funds with money from the community infrastructure levy. Has the council made progress on this? Will assemblies have the means in future to support popular local initiatives?
The Community Infrastructure Levy is a charge that councils levy on developers that helps deliver infrastructure to support the local area. Lewisham has been collecting CIL from new developments since 2015. Some 25 per cent of CIL can be set aside in an all ward Neighbourhood CIL (NCIL) pot, which funds strategic infrastructure or projects based on local priorities identified with local communities.
Almost a decade of Government austerity has hit our communities hard. Lewisham Council has been forced to make difficult decisions in response to cuts to our budget, including ceasing the Local Assemblies Fund. In its place, we are proposing that local assemblies are involved in the allocation of the Neighbourhood element of the Community Infrastructure Levy (NCIL).
Local assemblies play an important role in supporting local initiatives and activities and they will continue to do so under the proposed NCIL process. We are currently finalising the details of the process and this will be presented to Mayor and Cabinet for decision in the coming months.
LL – Plans for a multiscreen cinema in a refurbished Ladywell Play Tower appear to have stalled, raising fears that the Grade II listed building will be allowed to deteriorate further. Could you explain what the problems are with the development? Do you still expect the project to go-ahead? If so, when do you think the project will be completed?
DE – I share residents’ frustration that Ladywell Play Tower, a Grade II listed Victorian bath house, is in a state of disrepair and is standing unused. The organisation responsible for the building’s restoration, Guildmore, has found that the cost of the works is going to be greater than anticipated. They have been looking at how the extra funding can be raised. Curzon remains a key partner in the scheme and I really want to see a cinema open at the Play Tower.
LL – Speeding is an issue that keeps coming up at our Assembly (perhaps more often than bin collections!). How do we tackle the problem of speeding? Are there plans to raise awareness locally among drivers about the potentially tragic consequences of speeding?
We have introduced 20 mph speed limits on our roads to reduce traffic speed in the borough, and are working with the police to ensure the speed limits are enforced. This includes by supporting Community Roadwatch, a road safety initiative where community volunteers go to certain locations with the police and use speed guns to identify drivers who are speeding.
We are also adopting Sadiq Khan’s Vision Zero Action Plan to eradicate all deaths and serious injuries from London’s transport network. It’s important we encourage residents to use their cars less or, if possible, ditch them entirely by making walking and cycling easier and safer. We are taking a range of steps to achieve this, from rolling out secure cycle storage in every neighbourhood to increasing the amount of electric vehicle charging points in the borough.
Residents can report the need for certain traffic calming measures in their local area on the council website. It’s not always possible to accept these requests but each one is reviewed so we can identify the areas most in need.