On Friday, July 25th, Brockley Central and a handful of readers met with Cllr Heidi Alexander and a phalanx of Council officers, to walk Brockley Cross and discuss some of the challenges the area faces. To underline just how joined-up Brockley's community forces are, both BrocSoc and the BXAG were represented in the form of one local superconnector, Des Kirkland.
We should begin by saying that walking and writing at the same time is not something we do well, so apologies to those who attended and whose names we've omitted. You know you were there.
In our original interview, Cllr Alexander said that the key to getting things done was for the community to highlight the problems and keep nagging until something happened [we paraphrase]. This was the highlighting stage. The nagging will follow.
Schools, leisure facilities, businesses - all worthy issues - were not on the agenda that day. The day was about pointing at things and saying "look, if you fixed that, imagine how much better it would be - imagine how grateful we'd be to you, our Council."
Our pitch to Cllr Alexander was that Brockley is an area with huge potential. With a small investment of time and money, really impressive change could be achieved.
Brockley is home to people who genuinely love and care about their area. People who've been working to make things better in small ways for many years and people who've recently arrived, full of excitement about Brockley's potential as a place to live. While the Council rightly wrestle with the problems of Lewisham and Catford, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to capitalise on the arrival of the East London Line is in danger of being missed. If the Council wants to be able to show that things can and do get better, Brockley is the place to prove it. The return on investment would be huge and they would have the support of the people every step of the way.
In our view, the tour was very constructive and - crucially - proposed some positive and realistic steps that could be taken to change things. We're thankful to Cllr Alexander and her team, who were there to help, not to deflect criticism.
We've already highlighted the discussions about Brockley Station, here are the main areas we discussed:
The officers were shocked by the parking in Coulgate Street, agreeing that it spoiled the look of the street, made it dangerous for commuters and probably brought little benefit to local traders, as the cars almost certainly belong to commuters, meaning that shoppers have nowhere to park anyway.
With a 300% increase in commuter traffic forecast, it was felt that action was justified to clear the road around Platform 2.
People worried about the prospects of CPZs can sleep easy - nothing so drastic would be considered [a CPZ would need to extend far beyond Coulgate Street]. We're also unlikely to see full pedestrianisation [sorry, Brockley Fox], but anything to make the streets more pedestrian friendly will be a huge step forward. The group made it clear that they would be happiest with a system which permitted limited short-term parking for customers of the local shops and cafes.
Cllr Alexander has since confirmed that they are now looking at options for appropriate parking controls.
A common theme of the tour was the generally poor state of the streets - tatty street furniture, poor shop fronts and cracked and uneven pavements. The last of these points was dramatised when one of the group tripped and fell, quite spectacularly, on the uneven surface at the top of Brockley Cross.
The railings between Cranfield and Harefield, opposite the Barge, were a source of particular horror. The officers said that if the area was being planned today, the railings would not have been installed at all, but that people were very reluctant to remove railings because no one wants to be the person who takes away railings, only for a pedestrian to be mown down later on. However, there was no doubt that they are twisted out of shape and ugly. It may be possible to remove them (though not without a traffic study), but an alternative option could be to replace them with something less visually offensive. The Council agreed to look at the options and report back.
The wider issue of the poor condition of this stretch of Brockley Road was discussed and the Council agreed that they'd welcome further discussion of how to improve it. One of the key challenges is that the Council appears not to have any money to make any physical improvements. PFIs and grants from other sources are our only hope in terms of raising money to invest in our streets.
Enforcement of planning regulations has been a long-running problem, with high turnover of staff in this department, but they agreed that greater priority needed to be given to making sure that shopkeepers don't continue to flout the rules.
Brockley Cross Roundabout
The roundabout is obviously the biggest and most intractable issue that the group discussed.
Although there have been many options considered in the past, nothing will happen without a full traffic study, which measures traffic flow in a much wider area, to model how changes to the roundabout would impact on traffic elsewhere. Of course, that needs money and there's none available.
The best bet for securing funding would be if there was evidence that the roundabout is unsafe. Despite all the residents (including us) expressing the belief that it is indeed an accident black spot, the figures haven't shown this in the past, perhaps because there have been no fatalities.
Everyone agreed that the roundabout is ghastly for residents and detrimental to local businesses. There was agreement that it would be much easier to find people willing to invest in the regeneration of the timber yard if the road layout was improved, but that we are in a bit of a Catch 22 situation for the time being.
But this tour was about identifying what can be achieved in the short term, as well as worrying about the big long-term challenges. So our attention turned to the scoop of road that leads on to the roundabout from the east. It's circled in the image below and serves no useful purpose other than to provide somewhere for people to double and triple park during the working day and to hang out, shouting at one another from their cars at night. It does nothing for local business and looks like an accident of planning, so that, to people approaching Brockley Cross from Geoffrey Road, the road looks like a six-lane motorway.
We asked why the kerbs couldn't be joined up and the parking space turned in to a little park.
No one could think of a good reason why it couldn't and Cllr Alexander and her advisers seemed to get quite excited by the idea. We've since had an email from her explaining that they are investigating what could be done.
Other stuff we talked about
- On the west side, The Glasshouse needs to be completed before work can begin on the building opposite, due to the physical restrictions of the sites and the necessity to keep the road open. After a few hitches, construction is due to get underway shortly
- No one was quite sure what happened to Eternal Jerk, but it was pointed out that the contractors who occupied its old site are a major company, so it is likely that they were carrying out rail maintenance work
- There was general irritation that the good work done to the flower beds by platform 2 was undermined by the concrete base for a non-existent ticket machine, which had been plonked down on one side of the bed and then taped off, for maximum uglification
- Cllr Alexander was surprised to hear that the Community Art Gallery issue had not yet been resolved and pledged to investigate what was being done at Council level to ensure we actually get the gallery we have been promised
We will keep nagging Cllr Alexander about the issues above and let you know what progress is made. A lot of other points were discussed during the tour and we hope that others who took part will add their thoughts in the comments below.