Revitalising civic societies

Doing Civics in the 21st Century
February 18th, 8pm
Golden Lion Pub, 116 Sydenham Road, London SE26 5JX


We recently met with Tim Lund, the Chair of the Sydenham Society, who has just announced that he is stepping down after two years in the role. Listening to him talk about his experiences in the organisation, there were clear parallels with Brockley’s various civic societies.

Members are too few, the demand on time is high and the Society doesn’t always have access to the skill sets and experience that it needs to properly campaign on what can often be complex issues of planning and transport. Engagement with the wider public and local authorities is not all that it could be.

At least part of the solution has to be better and closer co-operation between different civic societies, who can share knowledge, skills and best-practice on issues that they often have in common.

In Lewisham, a perfect example is the Council’s Local Development Framework consultation. The LDF plays a major role in shaping the Borough’s future. It’s an area in which many local civic societies would find common ground and by providing a high-quality collective response they could expect their views to carry greater weight.

Tim is helping to organise a meeting designed to encourage closer co-operation between civic societies, not only in Lewisham but across the country. He writes:

A revitalised civic society movement can champion the millions of local people who care about where they live and want to make a difference.

Just over 50 years ago a grass roots movement was born, and hundreds of local groups across the country sprang up to help improve the general quality of urban life. Today, many Civic Societies have ageing and declining memberships, and their former umbrella body has been wound up.

Now established organisations such as the National Trust, Royal Institute of British Architects and CPRE want to help redevelop a national voice for such community activists, and Tony Burton, former Director of Strategy and External Affairs at the National Trust is leading this initiative. Will his ideas work? What do you think should be done?

Tony will be presenting his case at the Golden Lion pub, Sydenham High Street. All are welcome, admission is free.

14 comments:

maxink said...

Great idea, I so much want to comment on the LDF, but it's indeed very complex and unless someone organizes a conference, or better a series of meetings where the document is discussed it's highly unlikely that anyone without a degree in planning can make any meaningful comment on it.

It should really be the Council, they have a duty to consult on the document, but it's all very academic if people are not given the opportunity to grasp the issues involved.

Anonymous said...

There's good live music on at The Golden Lion fri and sat.

Tamsin said...

I can see why they avoid the live music nights, but unfortunate to set the meeting for a Thursday when there are always planning meetings.

Sue said...

Thanks for flagging up the LDF - this is a very important document as it will be the main planning policy document for the borough, on which future planning decisions are taken (along with the London Plan).

I'm told that officers are aiming to start the formal consultation on 19th Feb with an advert in the SLP and that it will last 6 weeks from then and be web based.

This is the third consultation on this, as after each of the previous rounds, the government moved the goal posts or sent new guidelines which meant planning policy officers had to go back to the drawing board.

It is complex, and I know Ladywell Society volunteers and others spent hours responding to the last consultation. The planning team also held consultation events/focus groups with a number of groups, I believe.

Dean and I spent considerable time submitting comments on behalf of the Green Group (you can read our April 09 submission here, though it doesn't make much sense unless read with the document it was referring to). Some of our comments were taken on board, but those which weren't we will recycle for our 3rd submission!

The latest draft came to Sustainable Development committee before Christmas, and we had some useful input from several members of the public at that meeting. We've also had a couple of meetings with the Deputy Mayor, planning officers and the leader of the Lib Dem Group, Chris Maines, to talk about this.

My general take on the LDF is that it is vastly better than the UDP which it is replacing, but some considerable way short of the sustainable vision of Lewisham I'm after.

One of the things the document does is reinforces the strategy of central Lewisham being part of a high density growth corridor. Given that concerns over Loampit Vale are far and away the main issue raised by Ladywell residents to us on the doorstep, I suspect a number of residents may wish to comment on this. I'm not against high density developments in areas next to transport hubs and I don't think the majority of local residents are either, but you can have good high density developments of say 8-12 storeys, rather than 20-26 storeys, which I think is excessive for the location.

I'll try and post a bit more about this on my blog in the next few days and would appreciate residents input on any additional issues we should be raising.

It's difficult to know how best the Council can consult on this, as it is such a vast document, and it is often the same diligent few who have the time/take the trouble to respond, and make valuable points, but aren't necessarilty representative of the broader population. I thought the focus groups they held with young people etc last time round did at least attempt to address this.

Brockley Nick said...

Sue, thanks for such a long reply. We'll definitely return to the LDF soon.

Re: Loampit Vale, why do you talk about density in terms of storeys, rather than numbers of new homes? Surely that's the issue, rather than height, right?

Sue said...

Hi Nick
No, I don't think it's just about the number of storeys, or the number of new homes, it's about the number of affordable homes (particularly those for social rent), the size of the proposed homes, how the development as a whole fits in with the local area and whether it is fit for a future with higher energy prices and a pressing need to cut carbon emissions.

On affordable housing, Loampit fell far short of the 35% proposed under the UDP, let alone the 50% proposed for the LDF. On the size of those homes it did slightly better as there were more family-sized 3 and 4 bed dwellings than, say in Lewisham Gateway, but these still make up a minority of units overall. In sustainability terms, the development is supposed to achieve code for sustainable homes 4, which is above the minimum requirement of 3, and it meets the London Plans renewables requirement, but is still FAR FROM the zero carbon development that will be expected for all new dwellings in just a few years. I'm not opposed to tall building per se, but I am opposed to buildings which leave a huge carbon guzzling legacy for future generations to deal with and I'm not aware of any zero carbon building of 24 storeys being built yet. I think we need to be clear what the future energy sources for these developments will be and whether that fits in with our need to cut our carbon emissions by approx 90% by 2050.

In terms of how it relates to the local area, where currently views from Hilly Fields, Blythe Hill, the top of Devonshire Road, Brookbank Road and pretty much any other local vantage point, you can see across to Blackheath and Greenwich, in the future you will see 7 (?) big towers. This quite fundamentally changes the character of Lewisham, and I'm not convinced the majority of residents want this. The award-winning Cornmill Gardens will be dwarfed by towers up to 26 storeys high. Yes, we will have a lovely looking swimming pool, but at the price of less affordable housing than we should be getting and I suspect a huge amount of local public resentment about the towers.

It's my personal opinion that something just a little higher density than OneSE8 would have suited this location better than the big towers that are being proposed.

Tamsin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tamsin said...

On Loampit Vale - the regeneration team are doing a presentation on it at a Lewisham Pensioners Forum Meeting on Tuesday 16th March at 10.30 at the Saville Centre (SE13 6LJ) near the UCL. There will be a 12 minute film, question and answer sessions and the 3-d model to look at.

You don't have to be a member of the Forum to attend these open meetings (although it might help if you looked over 50!).

maxink said...

Thanks Tamsin, I'll try to attend that one.

Brockley Nick said...

@Sue - I understand where you're coming from and if the Council can work with the developers to create a scheme which would lead to a less controversial proposal that also delivered everything else (retail as well as the leisure facilities) and didn't eat up more of the open space and helped meet the Council's housing targets, then great. Is that discussion taking place? Are there any ways forward that you can see?

By all means push for the most energy efficient development possible, but this is an entirely separate matter. There are plenty of very energy efficient tall buildings and plenty of very energy inefficient low rise buildings. There is no such thing as a zero-carbon building. Even carbon-neutrality is near impossible for a project of scale - whether fat or tall.

SE8's high density but because it is low and fat, there is next-to-no public space. It's just a big slab of housing, that walls off Greenwich and Deptford. It works OK given the unforgiving nature of the site it occupies, but it's certainly not what I'd want to see in a town centre. I'd prefer Raffles Place in Singapore or the Rockefeller Center in New York - good quality public spaces, with high-rise buildings around them that create urban drama. We do live in the most exciting city in the world, nothing wrong with ackknowledging it visually. When I look out over Lewisham, I don't see the views of Blackheath you describe, I see a sea of brown roofs, punctuated by the horrific Citi tower, a data centre and a multi-storey car park. By contrast, when I look out from Greenwich towards Canary Wharf I see one of London's best views - the contrast of the green of the park with the historic buildings in the foreground and the skyscrapers in the background captures everything that's great about London. Its contrasts, it's greenness and its dynamism. I don't get that feeling when I look east from Hilly Fields.

However, these are just my personal tastes, which are no more or less valid than those of the people who you talk to on the doorstep.

Anyway, apologies for the digression, but I think it's important not to conflate "green" with "low and fat".

Sue said...

Hi Nick
Also keen not to conflate 'green' with 'low and fat'! Re Loampit Vale - rather late for discussions now, I think it's all a done deal, planning permission has been granted, diggers are likely to be on site within a couple of months.

Tamsin said...

A digression - but I heard yesterday that the historic view over Greenwich which featured in the Olympic bid is going to be seriously compromised the the equestrian event stands that will block off half of the Queen's House.

That view is so much improved now that the original Canary Wharf tower has friends of its own size - when it was just that tower - looming - it was monstrous.

Anonymous said...

Oh well, never mind.

Tamsin said...

A reminder - that this meeting is tonight at 8pm in Sydenham.

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