Building control

I’ve had a small trickle of casework referred by residents about Southwark Building control since being elected in 2006. They have usually been quickly resolved and communications seemed to be the common theme. Half a year ago I consolidated these issues into a question at full Council Assembly (question 21). The answer highlighted thatsignificant delays happen with a minority of cases. The cabinet member responsible Cllr Foley agreed to follow this up. For clarity  this is a long term issue spanning numerous administrations.

Lets not forget that Building Control is about helping to ensure new buildings and changes to building are safe and that they meet eco standards to save the planet.

Earlier this week I met with council officials and Cllr Foley to reflect on the service, see how it could be made even better, and see how things have changed since I originally raised the issue.

Apparently the legislation doesn’t require the issue of building certificates unl;ess asked for. But for the last 10 years Southwark has always issued a Building Certificate. Over that period of the project referred to it only around 50% ever complete such that they can be granted a building certificate. Amazing.

Building Control acknowledgement letters have been changed to make it clear exactly what information will be required – electricians certificates.

We all agreed Building Controls web presence on the Southwark Council website could be enhanced as for many this will be the first port of call.

For the last years a proper IT workflow system has been in place helping to ensure projects don’t fall between the gaps. And this new system allows council officials to email out certificates as PDF files. This is particularly helpful when people selling their houses suddenly need a new copy as they lost the original.

But this still leaves 50% of projects that never complete. Cllr Foley accepted my suggestion that all open projects be sent a one off letter reminding them that they officially have an open project and what the council needed to complete it. I look forward to seeing the proposed letter shortly. Cllr Foley also came up with the useful idea of checking incomplete projects to see if a trend of a few builders causing this that might need just some gentle re-education.


Gas leaks

Southern Gas Networks (SGN) have a 15 year plan of gas pipe replacement for Southwark. This is a hugely disruptive programme – Borough High Street, Denmark Hill, Lordship Lane, and Freirn Road – huge traffic congestion for months on end. In the case of Friern Road plans for 15 months work.

Picture to the left is Denmark Hill after two weeks of single lane 3-way traffic lights operation. Still obviously lots of work to be done at this rate.

But is it necessary?

Undoubtedlygas is leaking in tiny amounts from the 100yr+ cast iron pipes across Southwark and replacing them is the UK’s current solution. Natural gas or methane is 20 times worse than Carbon Dioxide as a global warming contributor.

But what if  leaks could be fixed without massive.y disruptive pipe replacement?

In the US a start up company called Picarro has developed a laser-based device (cavity ring-down spectrometer) that can take rapid measurements of gas concentrations down to the parts per billion level.  Its a car based system and can quickly survey a city as they’ve done for San Francisco and Boston already taking  just a couple of days.

Once you know where any leaks are occurring you can fix them, just them, and not need to replace the whole pipe.

Apparently cast iron pipes were sealed with jute which dries our over time allowing leaks. 

 A robot (CISBOT)  has been used to fix thousands of such joints in New York City alone. Currently is has to be inserted every 150m. These fixes can also take place while the gas pipes are kept operational making it much simpler to just get on with it.

So the next time you’re stuck in traffic and can see people working on huge yellow plastic pipes remember they could be working a lot smarter sensing gas leaks and using robots to just fix leaks and not replace whole pipes. They’d also be nearly halving their costs and take a fraction of the time.

Predicted flooding

No joke but on 1 April Southwark Council became responsible for flood prevention.

Initial work suggests the following areas are liable for a 1 in 100 year flooding event:

– Herne Hill area (i.e Half Moon Lane)

– Champion Park area

– Area between Peckham Park Road and Asylum Road.

– Area bounded by Willow Brook, Commercial Way, Southampton Way, Well Way and Saint George’s Way.

– Area bounded by Camberwell Road, Camberwell New Road and Wyndham Road.

– Dulwich Park area

– Belair Park area along Croxted Road

In theory it should mean that flooding events such as the Dulwich 2004 flooding of costing over £1M will be less likely if Southwark Council gets its flood prevention right and encourages us all to take simple but effective measures.

So I’m looking forward to Southwark Council quickly releasing its assessments and guidance of what Southwark Council will such as changes at Belair Park and what households and businesses can do.

Car Club revolution

Last week I met with Car Club gurus from Southwark Council and Streetcar (soon to be renamed Zip Cars to reflect a merger). I wanted to know how quickly we could help them expand in East Dulwich and Southwark to revolutionise car ownership and access to cars.

Fascinating to hear that Zip Cars is a largely north American company with 400,000 members across the states and claims to be the largest car club company in the world.

Every car club car has been shown over time to replace 22 privately owned cars. So short of draconian parking permits car club cars are one of the only ways to relieve car parking pressure. Car Club members tend to give up on ownership of either their primary or secondary cars. They tend to walk, cycle and use public transport more with car club membership.

So far Southwark has 115  car club cars with 23 in the Dulwich area – partly because we funded an extra 10 spaces via our East Dulwich Cleaner, Greener, Safer funding. Transport for London has provided funding to allow another 80 car club spaces over the next two year.

The only thing holding back further rapid growth is getting people to join. So far 7,750 members in Southwark but this is still short of the 15% of adults in Islington who’ve joined. In Southwark we’ll need to reach 35,000 to reach what some have called saturation. So still lots to be done.

If you have any big events coming up and would be happy for the Streetcar promo team to come along please do get in touch with me.

2011 Census in Southwark

This years census appears to be going as badly as the 2001 census. Both times its been organised by a council led by Southwark Labour. I’m sure its just coincidence…

IF you’ve not filled in the forms please do. Census results can seriously affect our areas wealth as central government and other agencies decide where to spend based on the data. Equally businesses use some of the data to decidre where to invest and promote their businesses.

If you have any problems and are a resident of East Dulwich please get in touch and I will put you in touch with help.

New Lordship Lane crossing – step nearer

Earlier this week Cllr Jonathan Mitchell and I met with council traffic officers and a representative of the South Southwark Business Association about two proposed new crossings of Lordship Lane. Please see attached draft plans of what they might look like.

The first is across lordship Lane adjacent to its junction with East Dulwich Grove. This should have the benefit of giving people the chance to turn right across  Lane into EDG as well as cross LL. It will take out approximately 1 non morning peak car parking space. I asked whether a full ‘entry treatment’ could also be installed as part of this making walking along Lordship Lane clearer to everyone so people walking don’t have to dodge vehicles.

The second is a crossing where the Coop is. On the eastern side the kerb would be built out. This reduces the distance to cross so reduces the time vehicles are stopped and minimises parking to be lost – a win win. Due to TfL Buses we can’t do this on the left hand side. This would overall take out around 6-9 car parking spaces – 3 on the eastern side permanently and 6 on the western side outside of the bus lane times of working.

Talking to officers its believed these lost car parking spaces can be made up for by having a very close look at existing yellow lines on LL and the roads leading of off it and replacing with 30 minutes parking with no return in 2 hours ie. the same restrictions as those lost.

Overall these changes would very nearly complete all the changes residents highlighted in a walking audit undertaken in conujunction with Living Streets 4 years ago.

Please do take a look and let me know what you think.

Clever stamps

What a great sounding idea from Denmark. If you need a normal regular stamp in Denmark  just send a text message and receive back a code. You write the code where a stamp would normally go, presumably your mobile phone gets charged for the stamp equivalent, and no trip to buy a physical stamp is required.

How ingenious. Apparently letter up to 50g in weight cost the equivalent of 92p each. So the charge will be that plus the costs of texting. So compared to the UK not cheap but certainly clever.

North Cross Road market extension

After several months of public consultation the final recommendations of the Dulwich Community Council, based on lots of input from market traders, shop keepers and residents, were heard at last nights Licensing Committee about changes to North Cross Road market.

Stunningly the Licensing Committee, a semi judicial committee which is not legally allowed to be whipped along party lines, made its decisions exactly along party lines. Pure fluk?

 The committees Labour members apparently threw out all the proposals including any expansion. The Labour members then APPEAR to have realised they’d thrown everything out. They then APPEAR to have met as a Labour group with officers privately. They then returned to the committee and then decided to re vote approving the scheme but failed to immediately approve Sunday opening – which everyone is locally against – so decided that Sunday opening will be reviewed in 6 months time. Travesty of a decision against local democracy.

I’d like to publicly thank those members of the Licensing Committee who were prepared to listen to the Dulwich Community Councils recommendations based no traders, shop keepers and residents views. Those members who didn’t give the appearance of voting in a whipped way.

So we need to be prepared to yet again fight for the locally sensibly agreed recommendations against the Labour administration. What a waste of residents, shop owner, street trader, officer and councillor time.

What a potentially tragic waste of council resources.

Lib Dems win bank bonus rules

We’ve all felt bruised by how rapidly bankers have bounced back from an economic abyss to being bailed out by trillions of public pounds, dollars and euros to now paying mega bonuses again. 

National Governments such as our own coalition have tried encouraging limits via the £2.5bn Bank Levy and public moral imperatives with varying success. 

But the Lib Dem Euro MP Sharon Bowles has led the introduction of actual tougher new rules on bankers’ bonuses covering the European Union. 

The key points are pensions being paid at least 3 to 5 years after the employee has retired or left. This will stop abuses like that by Fred Goodwin, the former Chief Executive of RBS, where bankers walk away with bonus-style pension pots even if their bank fails. 

Banks will now also have to pay between 40%-60% of their bonuses in contingent capital (a form of debt which turns into equity if there is a crisis) or shares deferred for at least 3 to 5 years. This means that if the bank suffers heavy losses, bankers’ bonuses will automatically take the first hit. So gaining bonuses from short term risk taking will now be discouraged. 

Banks will also be forced to publish bonuses over €1 million Euros. This should also have the happy side effect of employee seeing if such bonuses are fairly given. 

No one can accuse Lib Dems of doing nothing on bankers’ bonuses.

Northcross Road Market changes

During October a public consultation was undertaken about whether to expand this market from 20 to 30 pitches, add Sundays or keep it as it is now.

At the time I asked whether we could increase the Saturday market from 20 to 40 pitches which would have required closing Northcross Road between lordship Lane and Nutfield Road. The administration and officers decided they only wanted to ask about increasing to 40 stalls.

I had imagined that Sunday opening would be strongly opposed by residents affected – certainly nearby residents have brought up the disturbance when I’ve visited them. But of the 2,000 paper surveys 89 only were returned another 250 were completed online which seems rather curious. Unfortunately the online survey didn’t ask for names or addresses but I’ve been assured that via the IP addresses they must have largely been local residents.

Of the 339 responses 2/3rds were in favour of the market opening on Sundays. I’m genuinely surprised. A higher proportion agreed with increasing the stall numbers to 30.

The licensing committee this Wednesday will decide.

If you think it shouldn’t open on Sunday or only if later in the day from current early hours start please let me know.