The Brockley Central Interview: Cllr Heidi Alexander

Councillor Heidi Alexander is the Deputy Mayor of Lewisham and Cabinet Member with responsibility for regeneration in the borough.

She agreed to an interview about the future of Brockley with us last week and we have already featured a couple of the things we learned from her on the site here and here.

When we first mentioned on the site that we’d interviewed her, we were immediately asked whether it was good or bad news. The answer is, it depends what you’re expecting.

There were no dramatic revelations about exciting new developments in Brockley or promises of millions of pounds of investment in our public spaces. There is a long list of things that need fixing in Lewisham and not many of Brockley’s faults are currently at the top.

However, she had a clear understanding of many of the challenges the area faces and offered to take further action on some of the issues raised. Most encouragingly, she has offered to walk around Brockley with a few readers of Brockley Central who can highlight the issues that matter most to them. That’s something we are hoping to bring you more news about very soon.

If the key to achieving real, long-term improvements is for the community and the Council to be aligned and working together, then what Cllr Alexander had to say is good news.

Here’s part 1 of the interview…

What is the Council’s vision for Brockley?

We think Brockley’s future is as a vibrant local centre with shops that people want to use, small cafes, restaurants and galleries. Some of that is already there, but we think there’s potential for a lot more.

We’re starting to see the evolution of Brockley. Many of the people now moving to the area have more time and more money to spend locally. There’s great residential architecture and the East London Line is opening up new possibilities.

So what is the Council going to do to help encourage that change?

Well, we have to get the basics right. That means improving the general quality of the environment. Satisfaction rates in terms of street cleaning are already good, for example.

We’re also about to introduce timed waste collections along parts of Brockley Road[see here], which will improve the high street – it’s been very successful in the other parts of the borough that we’ve carried out trials.

Hiding the bins near the sorting office, improving Coulgate Street through the My Street Makeover initiative – that’s the kind of thing we need to be doing more of.

We’re pleased to hear you say that it’s important to get the basics right, because everyone we talk to about the area – from residents to shop owners and estate agents – says that the poor condition of Brockley Road is a major barrier to improving the neighbourhood. What can you do for Brockley Road?

Firstly, we need to promote sensitive development in the area – only granting planning permission for buildings that will enhance the street. Secondly, we want to provide business advice for local entrepreneurs. We’re re-structuring the Town Centre Management team – the previous manager was too spread out geographically to provide the support the area needs. The new council officer, Julie Such, will be a more familiar and accessible face in Brockley.

I recently met with the London Youth Support Trust, a charity which works with young entrepreneurs to provide affordable business premises. I think there is an opportunity to bring more of these businesses to Brockley and I will be speaking to them about sites in SE4.

I live in Hither Green and the areas around Hither Green and Brockley stations are very similar. Some great work has been done by committed local groups [in Brockley’s case, the Brockley Cross Action Group] in both areas, making small scale but important changes.

We need to support these groups, but people need to remember that the Council has a lot of competing groups banging at our door all the time. My advice is, if you’re not getting the response you want from the Council right away, keep banging on the door, it will pay off. People can always contact me through my website if they feel they’re not getting the response they need.

Another of the basics that needs to be got right is the state of our pavements. What works are planned in this respect?

The total amount of money available to resurface roads and pavements in this financial year has not as yet been set (we need to work out how much money we can afford to borrow and this will determine how far down the priority list of pavements we get - the priority order is determined by a rather complex formula. There are some pavements in the top 50 of this list in the Brockley, Telegraph Hill and Ladywell areas, however, there are no guarantees at this stage that we will be able to afford all of this work.

The real glimmer of light relates to possible works on the pavements in Coulgate Street as part of a one-off scheme. We are looking at ways of completing works to the proposed ramp to Brockley station this year (with possible landscaping to follow at a slightly later date) and we are keen to carry out some pavement works on Coulgate Street to complement the improvements in accessibility to the station. Funding needs to be identified for this and council officers are working upon this at the moment.

It’s also interesting you mentioned sensitive development, because one of the frustrations many of us feel is that planning regulation enforcement along Brockley Road in particular is not strong enough. As a result there are many, many poor-quality shop fronts which put-off other businesses from moving in next door. How seriously does the Council take the issue?

It is a very important issue – if there is a contravention of the planning regulations, please highlight it to the Council enforcement team and we will investigate.

Well there have been a number of complaints recently about the new signage outside Speedicars on Coulgate Street. It seems in clear contravention, and the Council say they are investigating, but we have to wait and see whether anything will be done…

I will look in to that issue myself and let you and your readers know as soon as there is any development.

That would be great, thanks. A much bigger problem is the number of shops that are either completely empty or give the impression of being active businesses, without ever actually opening. It makes the ‘shop local’ ideal a little tricky.

I hope this is an issue that our Town Centre manager will get to the bottom of. The changes to business rates which are due to come in to force soon will help, because landlords will be forced to pay rates, even on empty properties, providing a bigger incentive to let them out.

As an authority, we have a limited range of powers at our disposal to intervene. But if landlords break health and safety or security regulations then we can take action.

Part 2 coming soon…